Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mummer's Joust

This raucous and violent farce has been a part of life in the shady boulevards and beggar’s courts for at least a century. At it’s highest it’s an outrageous pantomime affair between mummers troupes put forth by the low guilds aping the contests of chivalry at it’s lowest it’s a sporting brawl between neighborhoods or tavern gangs.

The Mummers Joust is held in a square, empty lot, or back alley court. There will typically only be two teams (sometimes with classical rivalries) and each team will consist of 4 to 12 men of equal number on each team that will bear carry a rider seated upon a barrel fastened to staves (held by the aforementioned bearers). The rider is often costumed as a knight is not lucky enough to be wearing a set of second hand antique armor; bearers are typically unarmored but clever ones will wear a helmet of some sort and good thick gloves. Only the rider (sometimes called the Mum-ritter) is armed and that will typically be with a staff, a wooden sword, a broomstick, a baldder filled with sad or a sack of rocks. The goal is to be the first team to parade about the field a half dozen times without the rider falling off his steed (the barrel held aloft). 

The only restrictions in completion of the half dozens circles of the jousting “field” are the field must be crossed through the middle at least 3 times by each ride team. Riders may strike each other and the bearers of the opposing teams. Bearers may strike each other with their hands but if a bearer releases both hands from a stave he is required to exit the field (he is typically allowed parting blows against the opposite team but grabbing another rider or bearer while jettisoned is not sporting).

While in spirit this is nominally a contest it can be a contest that has an outcome that has already been decided upon by the hosting each troupe but even them there is a small chance pride of bearers and riders will overwhelm compliance with the wishes of their sponsors. Gambling is still seen in these events but it is often towards the lower end as many recognize likely collusion but to do speak of it. When a more obvious rivalry comes to bear the outcome is less certain and gambling will leap to whatever foolish heights onlookers desire.

Like many public contests the Mummer's Joust offers a distraction to cover larceny and cutpurses and pick pockets will surely try to ply their trade intermingled with the crowd if they do not fear the wrath of the sponsors. The distraction will of course open chance for trespass and other crimes in the periphery of the Mummer's Joust.

While the Mummer's Joust is far less dangerous than an chivalric joust it is still an affair with the potential for violence and injury. It's unlikely by not impossible for a rider or bearer to suffer broken bones, disability, or even (unluckily) death. Injuries suffered in a Mummer's Joust are not considered an appropriate situation for private recourse and open vendetta or duels would be frowned upon and even considered criminal. A death in a Mummer's Joust that isn't sanctioned by town officials (or high guild) may be considered a crime by some but evidence is not offered up as a point of honor among witnesses and participants in the joust as everyone in the contest has nominally entered it voluntarily.


  1. For some reason this reminded me of the oddball bicycle jousting scene in the movie Quick Change.

    1. Never saw the film but I have seen bicycle jousting in real life and it was pretty darned funny.