Daily Life in the Middle Ages

London Civic Theatre: City Drama and Pageantry from Roman Times to 1558

A water jousting game appears in medieval iconography in one of two styles: either the jousters aim for a quintain, or for another jousting boat. Following are images and descriptions of this sport.

Water jousting is still done in France, where the sport is governed by the Fédération Française de Joute et de Sauvetage Nautique; the French Wikipedia article for water-jousting provides additional historical examples. It appears (iconographically speaking) as early as ancient Egypt, in the tomb of Nefer at Saqqara.

  • “At Easter, the diversion is prosecuted on the water; a target is strongly fastened to a trunk or mast fixed in the middle of the river, and a youngster standing upright in the stern of a boat, made to move as fast as the oars and current can carry it, is to strike the target with his lance; and if in hitting it he breaks his lance, and keeps his place in the boat, he gains his point and triumphs; but if it happens the lance is not shivered by the force of the blow, he is of course tumbled into the water, and away goes his vessel wthout him. However, a couple of boats full of young men are placed, one on each side of the target, so as to be ready to take up the unsuccessful adventurer, the moment he emerges from the stream, and comes fairly to the surface. The bridge, and balconies on the banks, are filled with spectators, whose business is to laugh.”
    William FitzStephen’s Descriptio Civitatis Londoniae, c. 1175
  • Two armored men engage each other in water-jousting in boats rowed by two other men in a bas-de-page, the Queen Mary Psalter (British Library Royal 2 B VII, fol. 159r), c. 1310-1320
  • Marginal illustration, the Luttrell Psalter (Brit. Lib. Add. 42130, fol. 160r), c. 1325-1340
  • A boy tilts at a quintain from a boat rowed by several other boys in a base-de-page, Romance of Alexander (Bodley 264, fol. 89r), c. 1338-44
  • Man tilting at a quintain from a rowboat, book of hours (Douce 62, fol. 39v), c. 1400
  • A group of men row a boat while the man at the front tilts at a quintain set in the water below the martyrdom of St. Andrew, the Hours of Étienne Chevalier (Musée Condé 71, fol. 34r), c. 1450-1460
  • Spectators watch men tilting at a quintain on the water in July, the Book of Hours of Adélaïde de Savoie (Musée Condé 78, fol. 7r), c. 1460-1465
  • Water-jousters on platforms behind two opposing rowboats in the upper border, Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal (PML M.52, fol. 5v), c. 1500-1510
  • “The nexte daye, being Tuysdaye, and the first of September, the Towne havinge buylded a forte at Stoner on thother syde of the havon, the capitanes aforesaid led over their men to assault the saide forte, during which tyme certen Wallounds that could well swym had prepared two boats, and in thende of the boate a borde, uppon which borde stood a man, and so met together with either of them a staff and a shield of woodd: and one of them did overthrowe another. At which the Quene had good sport. And that don, the Capitans put their men into a battayle, and, taking with them some lose shott, gave the scarmerche to the forte; and in the ende, after the dischardge of 11 fawkenets and certen chambers, after dyvers assaults, the forte was wonne.”
    From a description of the reception of Queen Elizabeth I at Sandwich, 1573
  • “I have also in the summer season seen some upon the river of Thames rowed in wherries, with staves in their hands, flat at the fore end, running one against another, and for the most part, one or both overthown, and well ducked.”
    John Stow’s Survay of London, 1598
  • Venetian Party in a Chateau Garden by David Vinckboons, c. 1602
  • Prints with water-jousts on the Seine, by Jacques Callot, c. 1630; see British Museum 1861,0713.953, 1861,0713.955, etc.