The weather in London has been glorious, beautiful for weeks now. What better way to enjoy it than a spot of jousting at Hampton Court Palace. As one does.
Jousting, when two men ride at each other carrying long lances and try to score points by hitting each other, rather like fencing on horseback. It is fast and furious and a sport of Kings. Henry VIII was a particularly keen jouster. It was during a jousting tournament at Greenwich Palace in 1536 that he got the injury to his thigh that would never heal properly, become infected and torture him for the rest of his days. It is a dangerous sport, still so today. I had a nice chat with one of the competitors at the end. Last year, at this same event, he “was so broken,” (his words) that he was out of action of the rest of the year. Dangerous, but great fun to watch.
Henry VIII loved Hampton Court Palace and lavished money on the place, once he took it off Cardinal Wolsey in 1529. Banished for failing to get that divorce Henry so desperately wanted from Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow and his wife of more than 20 years, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Anne was there today as well. In fact, a whole host of worthies filled the Royal Box. Wimbledon has their Royal Box, and a few favourites filled the one at Hampton Court for the tournament, including Thomas Cromwell, my great historical crush. He is a very good looking man indeed. And speaking of tennis, when the jousting was over (and I may or may not have been lurking about in a stalkerish manner) I overheard Henry invite Thomas to play some tennis, a game Henry frequently played on the grass courts he had built, (still in use today, refurbished, obviously) at the Palace. He also installed two bowling alleys. His jousting days were behind him by the time he occupied Hampton Court, but his competitive nature was not. Sport, in a gentler fashion, was still necessary. But I digress. Jousting.
Today’s competitors were Henry Grey, Henry Radcliffe, Francis Weston and George Boleyn. Sadly, two of these men will lose their heads soon….as will Anne and later on, Thomas. Historians speculate that part of Henry’s paranoia and rage, often resulting in the bloody machinations that make him famous, were caused by the limitations his injury put on his sporting life. Sport wasn’t just a past time for Henry, it was a passion, and without it he struggled, even more so the people around him. But today he sat back and enjoyed. He in his Royal Box
and me in a rather nifty historical deck chair. My children lounged on picnic blankets on the grass. The sun was out. The horses were gorgeous and high spirited. The palace buildings glistened in the background.
The jousting took the form of 2 runs between each competitor, for a total of 6 runs. Except Francis Weston insisted he get an extra go at George Boleyn and the Knight Marshal let him have it, twice actually. So it ended up two versus two, four times each. Misses, hits, points scored, lances shattered. That is a modern thing, the shattering. Back in the day, lances were solid. Spectators were familiar enough to see what touched where, at top speed, but no longer. We need things to blow up. So the lances are hollow and breakable and what a satisfying smacking sound they make when they clash.
The finalists on the day were George Boleyn and Henry Radcliffe. They had two passes. The first was a stunning lance to lance touch, a thing of rare beauty, so the commentator told us. 5 points each. But the next pass was a total miss. From one extreme to the other. Such is the nature of sport.
Jousting isn’t just about the physical, manners and control count. The Knight Marshal deducted a point from Radcliffe for not being ready when called. The crowd groaned. He gave the point back for Radcliffe’s excellent handling of his horse. The crowd cheered. A draw. A happy finish to a happy day. For now. Storm clouds are gathering for many of those seated here today. And for us too. This balmy weather won’t last forever, so must take advantage while we can. And we did.
We remained in the gardens and played in the sunshine. A band started up. We wandered over to a tent to find our merry Royals dancing. We stayed and watched. Thomas Cromwell may have smiled at me. Oh Thomas, 500 years is but a moment in time when in your presence. And jousting is a perfectly reasonable way to spend an sunny July afternoon in 2017.