Fallows — Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia (Muhlberger)

Noel Fallows

Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia

Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2011, 574pp. US$99. ISBN 978 1 84383 594 3

This substantial study might almost be called “The Encyclopedia of Iberian Jousting.”  It brings together a wide variety of evidence – textual, artistic and material – on the practice and significance of jousting in Spain and Portugal between the late fourteenth and late sixteenth centuries.  That may seem to casual inspection a rather narrow subject, but a sympathetic reader will soon be persuaded that jousting, its culture and its technology were as important as medieval art and literature have always told us it was.  Indeed, Professor Fallows’ thorough investigation of his chosen subject has succeeded in producing what may be the single best book on jousting.

It may be deceptive to identify a single inspiration for such a vast work, but it could hardly exist if there was not a rich and unique late medieval/early modern Iberian literature on jousting written by jousters.   None of these manuals are at all well known to non-Iberian scholars, even King Duarte of Portugal’s Livro de ensinança de bem cavalgar toda de sela.  Fallows focuses on three men of lesser rank, but all practicing jousters, and their books:  Ponç de Menaguerra’s Lo Cavaller (The Knight), Juan Quijada de Reayo’s Doctrina del arte de la cavalleria (Doctrine of the Art of Chivalry) and Luis Zapata’s Del Justador (On the Jouster).  Fallows has edited the three books and translated them into English for the first time.   They, together with an edition and translation of Pero Rodríguez de Lena’s eyewitness account of a great jousting festival, El Passo Honroso de Suero de Quiñones (discussed below),  make up about a third of this book.

If that were all Fallows had done, it would be a major contribution to the literature of chivalry, not just for Iberia, but for all of Europe. But there is much more here. Follows uses these manuals to open other explorations and create a nuanced view of jousting’s place in late medieval culture.  Believing that one cannot appreciate chivalry without coming to terms with its visual and material elements, Fallows devotes not one but two chapters to the arms and armor of the jousts, relating the physical evidence to the contemporary testimony of the manuals. This section will be a major resource for other scholars including as it does more than a hundred illustrations, many of them in color. Fallows of course discusses the technology of offense and defense, saddles, lances and so forth, but also the esthetics of armor and its relationship to the politics and the economic situation of the period.

Chapters four and five, “The Quest for ‘the Good Thrust’” and “Keeping the Score” constitute the most detailed discussion of the techniques, the scoring and the esthetics of jousting since Sidney Anglo’s pioneering work using English sources. Again, Fallows uses a variety of sources to good effect.  The most interesting is the record of the Passo Honroso of 1434. The “Honorable Passage” was one of many late medieval formal combats, noteworthy because it was written by a practicing jouster, Rodríguez de Lena, who was commissioned by the host of the event.  One might say it is the Iberian equivalent of the spectacular Anglo-French joust at St. Inglevert in 1391, which was famously described by Jean Froissart.  This, however, does not do the account of the Passo Honroso justice.   Froissart, who may not even have been at St. Inglevert, subordinated accuracy to literary elegance, and the Spanish writer’s understanding of jousting was far more profound.   Fallows’ incomplete but extensive edition and translation of Rodríguez de Lena’s book (which even incomplete is 100 pages long) makes available to Anglophone audiences the most important and most expert description of late medieval jousting.

The last two chapters treat how jousting related to war, and how it related to sport.  In outline the story is a familiar one.  The realities of cavalry combat inexorably diverged from the practice of jousting, so that jousting became more and more sport-like, with its own rules, equipment and esthetics.   Eventually this expensive and specialized sport lost its appeal, its ability to manifest chivalric values, and lost the support of wealthy and powerful patrons without which it could not survive.  Here as elsewhere Fallows musters a variety of sources to create a rich account including a variety of perspectives, such as what other sports rivaled and eventually replaced jousting.  (Fallows has also included two chapters on cane games and bull-runs from Tractado de la cavalleria de gineta by Hernán Chacón as a relevant counterpoint to the jousting manuals.)

The word “rich” has suggested itself to this reviewer more than once; any review of reasonable length has to skip past many valuable aspects of Fallows’ book.   It is obvious that academic historians of chivalry and chivalric sport will find this a work of unique value, and obvious, too, how modern-day jousters, especially the more serious re-enactors among them, will enjoy and use it.  It may be less clear how those interested in, say, cultural and gender history may find gems of information and insight in its pages.  Let me cite one example:  Fallows argues that the manuals at the core of his book are among the earliest printed technical works and were aimed at what passed in the 16th century for a mass audience.  Thus historians of the book who have no particular interest in jousting may have something to learn from Fallows.  Indeed, the number of people who will want to page through his book will far outnumber the more specialized group who will have to own it.  Serving many audiences, it is a remarkable scholarly achievement.

Like many scholars, I have often complained about the sometimes outrageous cost of academic books, so it is only fair that in this case I should congratulate the publishers on the price of Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia.   Given its size, attractive design, apparent lack of typographic errors, high quality paper and excellent color illustrations, the book is, if not exactly cheap, quite reasonably priced.


Steven Muhlberger

Nipissing University <stevem@nipissingu.ca>

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Professor (Asst., so far) of history of technology and science at Michigan Technological University (formerly Penn State)
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