Skip to main content

Jousting Rules in Medieval and Modern Times

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

The author shares her knowledge on a variety of topics, including the history of jousting.

A modern knight on horseback taking part in a jousting competition.

A modern knight on horseback taking part in a jousting competition.

Jousting is a competitive sport between armored riders on horses, who use a large lance to charge at each other at high speed.

Not much is actually known about the rules of Medieval jousting tournaments. General ideas can be gleaned from the writings and etchings of the time period, but much is open to interpretation.

Medieval Jousting Rules

An individual joust consisted simply of two knights in armor on horseback, charging at each other with raised lances in an attempt to unseat one another. Tournaments were held where many knights could gather, often accompanied by other combat events and festivities.

Most tournaments were loosely constructed, barely regulated, and either for the training of knights or entirely for the amusement of the nobles. The most basic requirement was an invitation from the host of the event, which often required the rider to be of noble lineage himself.

The long runway where jousting matches took place, called a list, had no set requirements for length, breadth, or ground type. Rather, the hosting noble prepared an arbitrary area for jousting, often simply because it was suitable for the viewers and not for the jousters.

Lance Length and Construction

In medieval times, lance length and construction were not regulated as they are today. Each knight developed his own lance preferences based on his experiences in the lists. Stronger knights might choose a larger, heavier, or longer lance to gain a reach or weight advantage, while more agile knights might choose a lighter lance and rely on technique to unseat their opponent, rather than brute force. Lance styles and constructions changed over the many years that jousting took place to accommodate different jousting objectives and new materials such as iron.

Differing Tourney Rules

Tourney rules varied from place to place and country to country. Some tourneys involved no-holds-barred jousting with very few rules; others permitted only direct blows to the shield to unseat the opponent. Most individual jousts ended when one knight was unseated. Although at some tourneys, the battle continued on the ground with sword combat until one knight yielded or was killed.

Occasionally, a knight would yield to his opponent even if not unseated due to injury to himself or his horse. The knight would ride down the list with lowered lance in order to demonstrate his defeat. Disqualifications were not often seen, as knights were expected to be chivalrous at all times. Sometimes the noble's or crowd's displeasure would cause a knight to be disqualified for unchivalrous behavior, such as striking his opponent's horse.

As jousting became more popular among nobles, the trends changed. In some countries, it became more desirable to see a knight's lance shatter explosively, rather than see him injure or unseat his opponent. Eventually, the sport of ring jousting was invented, where knights used their lances to spear a ring dangling on a ribbon, thus demonstrating their expertise and gentility before the ladies of the court without causing any harm to anyone.

After several hundred years of popularity and evolution of the sport, the people's passion for jousting faded away during the 17th century.


Modern Jousting Rules

After many years, jousting as a competitive sport came back into fashion with the rising popularity of renaissance faires and the romantic idea of the Arthurian knights. Modern-day jousting tournaments occur in the United States, Canada, and across Europe. There are many modern forms of jousting with various rules. Some jousting forms are not about riding against an opponent, but using your lance to pick up a tent peg or to spear a ring.

The state of Maryland has proclaimed ring jousting to be its state sport.

In North America, many knight-against-knight jousting tournaments are held by the Society for Creative Anachronism. Each "kingdom" in the SCA is able to refine their own rules of the tournament; however, the SCA does provide guidelines.

Here are the Equipment and Armor guidelines from the Society for Creative Anachronism's Jousting Rules.


  1. Total lance length shall be 10 feet.
  2. The lance shall be constructed in three sections, including the tip, middle, and base. The tip and the base will socket into the middle section.
  3. Lances must have a tip of a minimum of 24 inches and a recommended maximum of 48 inches of expanded polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) or Extruded Insulation Foam of 2-inch diameter and 2-pound density, projecting beyond the middle section.
  4. The middle section consists of a cardboard tube with a 2-inch interior diameter and a maximum of a 1/8 inch sidewall. The cardboard tube must be cleared of broken foam after each run.
  5. The base section may be made of any non-brittle material. The maximum length of the base section is 45 inches, including a recommended 6 inches extending into the middle section. The grip for the base section should be located so that there is a maximum of 96 inches from the center of the grip to the front of the lance. It is recommended the base section be carved from wood.


  1. Helm: Helms must be of rigid materials (18 gauge mild or equivalent). There can be no openings that allow the penetration of a 1 1/2-inch dowel. Helms must have sufficient strapping and/or padding to prevent the rigid material from contacting the rider and so as not to be readily dislodged when subject to a moderate frontal impact.
  2. Gorget: According to heavy weapons standards.
  3. Body: Rigid material covering chest and torso. Standard equestrian riding vests are deemed equivalent.
  4. Groin: Groin area must be protected by sufficient means, including saddle or armor.
  5. Hands: Hands must be protected either by shield, gauntlet, or equivalent (i.e., vamplate on lance).
  6. Leg, Arm, and Shoulder Protection: Armor recommended, but not required.


  1. The shields must be constructed of rigid, non-brittle materials—recommended is 1/2" plywood. The edges should be blunt and corners rounded.
  2. The shield should have at least 300 square inches of surface area to present a reasonable minimum target area to the opponent.
  3. Shields must be strapped in such a manner that the rider has control of his or her equipment and mount at all times.

Equipment is inspected by a Marshall before each tournament.

How to Win

A match consists of three passes, or tilts, of the knights along the list. In modern jousting, the goal of the joust is not the unseat the opponent, but to break your own lance on their body or shield.

The Marshall of the joust may determine the scoring, but standard scoring rules are as follows, from highest points given to lowest:

  1. Lance tip is shattered.
  2. Lance tip broken off as a single piece.
  3. Knight's lance tip makes contact with the opponent but does not break.

Multiple matches are held to eliminate contenders and arrive at one winner. Disqualification can occur if a knight's lance makes contact with his opponent's horse. A knight may forfeit his tilt by riding along the list with his lance lowered.


dick head on June 08, 2020:

It is not very bad and can be improved a lot.

Student on April 20, 2020:

maybe explain stuff a bit better because I did not learn anything about the rules or points of jousting.

lily (13) on September 02, 2019:

great sight! helped a lot with my assignment :)

A Student on May 24, 2019:

Didn't learn anything about the rules or points of jousting from this webpage

logan dow on March 08, 2019:

did not help much infact it did not tell the rules of the medieval time

Casey on June 19, 2018:

So much information

Rob on February 23, 2018:

umm can you do one on chivalry

Olivia on February 21, 2018:

Wow this is a lots of information, thanks for writing this!

Laura Brown from Barrie, Ontario, Canada on January 25, 2012:

You have far more than I expected when I saw this come up on the feed. Really enjoyed your post and the links. Voted up!

Laura Brown from Barrie, Ontario, Canada on January 25, 2012:

I read that Merry-Go-Rounds were inspired by jousting. I'm looking forward to reading your post and see if you wrote about that. :) I really like the Hub feed for finding new Hubs to read.

Nell Rose from England on January 25, 2012:

Hi, this is great! I love watching the old films with jousting, there are quite a lot of reinactments shown at Warwick Castle in England, I keep meaning to go, but never got there yet! of course the one thing wrong with tv programs is that they always show jousting in King Arthurs court, but of course King Arthur was back in the 600's? I think, maybe wrong of the exact century, and jousting didn't start until the 11th Century, maybe later, but I still love watching it, my favorite tv program is Merlin, watch it every saturday when its on! rated up! cheers nell

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on January 25, 2012:

Well, well--how very fascinating! I've often read about jousting in the old tourneys, but as you say, the details or rules are sketchy.

Now that I read it in your hub, I do recall hearing about the SCA--but had forgotten. I must look them up, for there are certain to be other options besides jousting. The local Ren Faire we used to attend did not have a joust, so I've never seen an event in person...oh, maybe once, at the dinner event at the Camelot Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. ...

Voted up, interesting, awesome and shared!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on January 25, 2012:

CeeGunn, you ROCK for writing this!!! I've been so curious about jousting.... ever since I was a kid and watched A Knight's Tale! It's interesting to see how rules are more fixed and uniform now than they were back in the day- I had not realized there was so much variation, though it makes perfect sense. Oh, it would be SO COOL to go back and see a tourney back in the day! Though.... I bet it would stink to high heaven!