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January 12, 1510 – Henry’s First Joust

Detail showing Henry VIII tilting in front of Katherine of Aragon, courtesy College of Arms – Westminster tournament roll (via Wikimedia Commons)

Henry VIII had been very protected as a youth – at least from age eleven on, after his older brother died and he moved up from the “spare” to the “heir.” As the then-Spanish ambassador reported, he was kept in an apartment “from which there was neither an entrance nor an exit except through the chamber of the king” and he never spoke “a word except in reply to what the king asks him.” Then Henry’s father died, right when Henry was turning eighteen, and the whole world changed. Admittedly, his ministers remained worried about the idea of him jousting…but they had to know he was going to try it eventually.

And the way he tried it seems to have imprinted a pattern that he returned to more than once during these early years: a fondness for disguising himself. Hall’s Chronicle has a lovely description of that first joust and that first disguise – and interestingly, the very next entry in the Chronicle covers the second instance of Henry disguising himself. This one didn’t sound terribly successful – but it was still lightyears better than his final disastrous attempt to fool Anne of Cleves.

But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. For today, let us enjoy an uplifting portrait of a young monarch who was a good king for many years until the wheels fell off the wagon….And yes, I’ve cleaned it up a teeny bit – here’s the link if you want to see the original. Enjoy!

And the 12th day of January, several freshly-appareled gentlemen prepared themselves to joust, unknown to the King’s Grace, whereof, he being secretly informed, caused himself and one of his privy chamber, called William Compton, to be secretly armed, in the little Park of Richmond. And so they came into the jousts, unknown to all persons, and unlooked-for, the King never having run openly before. There were broken many staves, and great praise given to the two strangers, but specially to one, which was the King. However, at a course by misfortune, Sir Edward Neville Esquire, brother to the Lord of Burgayne, did run against Master Compton and hurt him sore, such that he was likely to die. One person was present who knew the King and cried, God save the King. With that, all the people were astonished and then the King discovered himself to the great comfort of all the people.

The King soon after, came to Westminster with the Queen and all their train. And after a time being there, His Grace, the Earls of Essex and Wilshire, and other noble men, to the number of twelve, came suddenly one a morning into the Queen’s chamber, all appareled in short coats, or Kentish Kendal, with holes on their heads, and hose of the same, every one of them, his bow and arrows and a sword and a buckler, like outlaws, or Robin Hood’s men. The Queen, the Ladies, and all others there were abashed, as well for the strange sight as also for their sudden coming, and after certain dances and pastime made, they departed.

Halls Chronicle – “The I Yere (1509-1510)”


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  1. Banditqueen Banditqueen

    Love this incident, the King hiding his identity and jousting. The King at this time was an athletic and charming young man, a far cry from the legendary monster of his last eight years or so. He was a new King, a new husband and gallant and still had some mercy. This is the Henry Viii we have forgotten. I love the famous tale of him dressing as Robin Hood and entering Queen Katherine’s Chamber and pretending to abduct her, then revealing himself. I believe he really loved Katherine of Aragon and none of his other wives came close to her, but it was only his lack of male heirs, a great tragedy really when one thinks of the loss and grief of the loss of all those little babies, which moved him away from her to seek a marriage elsewhere. Otherwise Anne Boleyn would have been a footnote in history, another mistress and life would have gone on.

    Beautiful illustration and beautiful article. Thank you.

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