Jousting—The Sport of Kings

1840 jousting

Figure 1. “A Maryland Tourney: Riding at the Quintain.” This silhouette shows the riders jousting at a mannequin knight, seen at the far right of the rendering (Private collection, copy at the Maryland Historical Society).

After last week’s essay on Babe Ruth, a colleague informed me that all of my future blogs should be about sports.  While I won’t always be able to oblige Ed, I was inspired to post another sports topic this week.  After opening Calvert County’s tourism e-newsletter, I was astonished to learn that 2013 marks the 147th anniversary of the jousting tournament held each summer at Christ Church in Port Republic.  

Now, I knew that jousting was the official state sport of Maryland, but I was under the mistaken impression that its origins in Maryland were much more recent. Chivalry made a come-back in the mid-nineteenth century among young Maryland gentlemen, who would don medieval attire and compete on horseback to spear, not each other like knights of old, but sets of rings.  The sport is believed to have been established in Maryland after William Gilmor attended a Scottish jousting tournament in 1839 (NJA 2013a).  Gilmor, who lived on the family estate outside of Baltimore known as The Vineyard, hosted a tournament there the following year (Hiss 1898:342).  This event is believed to have been depicted in a silhouette that shows riders jousting to the delight of male and female onlookers (Figure 1).  

jousting in SC 1955

Figure 2. A rider in a 1955 tournament held near Moncks Corner, South Carolina aims for the small ring (Photograph from Cumming 1955).

Jousting tournaments were well-attended spectator events where men competed by capturing rings suspended six and a half feet above the ground from crossbars (Figure 2).  The rings, measuring an inch and three quarters in diameter, were speared through the point of an eight foot lance, as the rider hurtled at top speed down the straight course (Hiss 1898).  The victor not only received some sort of prize for his efforts (a set of pistols, for example), but also was awarded the honor of selecting a tournament queen.  A wreath of flowers was carried on the victor’s lance and lowered to the ground at the feet of the soon-to-be-crowned queen (Hiss 1898:341). 

Tournaments were held at a number of Maryland estates in the mid-nineteenth century, including Cowpens and Doughregan Manor (Hiss 1989:343). Proceeds from the tournaments often benefited some worthy cause, like a local church, or to aid sufferers of yellow fever (Cumming 1955).


Figure 3. Today jousting is a sport enjoyed by people of all ages, as shown in this photograph of a child jousting at Maryland’s Talbot County Fair – photo © Bill Thompson on Flickr.

Initial interest in the sport was linked with the Romantic Revival that began in the early nineteenth century, but after the Civil War became wrapped up in ideas about the “Old South”.  Writing in 1898, Hanson Hiss stated that “it was but natural…that the Southerner should have gone back to a period fruitful in romance and instances of personal bravery and daring” (1898:338-339). Jousting, in southern Maryland in particular, has been linked to reasserting a southern identity after the Civil War (Seay 2003, 2004). Riders chose titles for themselves, most often picking a name that reflected their town or their estate.  But some titles—Knight of the Lost Cause, Knight in Grey, Knight of the Sunny South—obviously reflected sympathies for the southern states after the Civil War (Seay 2004:61). 

Interest in the sport continued into the twentieth century, and in 1950, the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association was formed (NJA 2013b).  In 1962, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to establish jousting as the Official State Sport of Maryland—giving Maryland the distinction of being the first state to adopt a state sport (MSA 2013).  There are currently five jousting clubs and associations in Maryland, hosting some forty tournaments annually (McIntosh 2010).  Today the sport is not just the domain of young men—instead jousting provides an opportunity for multi-generational fun.


Figure 4. This late seventeenth-century boss and bit from the town of Old Baltimore (18HA30) was probably not used by a rider participating in jousting, but is a great example of the decorative metal pieces that were attached to the sides of some curb bits in the colonial period.

While I would be hard-pressed to argue that this week’s archaeological object, a decorative boss and bridle bit from the late seventeenth-century town of Old Baltimore (18HA30), was used during a round of jousting, it is a good example of late seventeenth-century horse hardware.

References Cited

Cumming, Inez Parker.   Vestige of Chivalry:  Ring Tournaments in the South.  The Georgia Review, Volume 9, No 4:406-421. 1955

Hiss, Hanson.   Knights of the Lance in the South. Outing Magazine. Baltimore, Maryland, 1898.

List of U.S. State Sports.  Wikipedia.

Maryland State Archives (MSA).   State Symbols: Jousting. Maryland Manual Online.  Website accessed July 25, 2013 at

McIntosh, Phyllis.   Jousting, Maryland’s Official State Sport.  Maryland Life.  March, 2010 Website accessed on July 22, 2013 at

National Jousting Association (NJA).   The Romantic Revival.  National Jousting Association. Website accessed July 23, 2013 at, 2013a

National Jousting Association (NJA). One Thousand Years of Jousting History. National Jousting Association. Website accessed July 23, 2013 at, 2013b.

Seay, Kelley N.   To Cherish and Preserve the ‘Old Ideals of Southern Chivalry”: Jousting and the Evolution of Southernness in Maryland in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries.  Master’s thesis, University of Virginia, 2003 .

Seay, Kelley N. Jousting and the Evolution of Southernness in Maryland.  Maryland Historical Magazine. Volume 99, Spring: 50-79, 2004.


2 thoughts on “Jousting—The Sport of Kings

  1. Hi, I was curious if you could tell me where the slave shoe is currently located? I am a docent at Rose Hill Manor in Frederick. Thanks.

    • The shoe is at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab in St. Leonard, Maryland. We are the state’s archaeological curation facility. We would be happy to arrange a time for you to see the shoe and other items from this site, if you would like.

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