9

The unknown knight would seem to belong in the realm of fiction - witness Gareth in Le Morte d'Arthur and Wilfred in Ivanhoe, among others - but incognito knights fighting in jousts or melees were not uncommon in reality.

In January 1510, Henry VIII, together his Groom of the Stool and courtier William Compton, entered a joust as 'Stranger' knights with their identity hidden. This was to circumvent a ban on the teenage king taking part in jousts, a ban which had been imposed by his father Henry VII for the obvious reason that it was too dangerous a sport for the then heir to take part in.

Although his father was now dead, the new king was too young to openly flout the ban which the senior officials of the realm supported; his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was pregnant but Henry had no heir. The King was forced to reveal himself when Compton sustained a serious injury; one of the few people who knew who the stranger knights really were panicked, thinking that it was Henry who injured.

Are there any other cases of a King, identity unknown at the time to those he was fighting and to the general audience, taking part in a joust or a melee?

As this question seems to be quite tough, I would also accept an answer for an heir to the throne or, failing any such examples, the legitimate son of a reigning monarch.

9

Yes. King Edward III took part in more than 50 tournaments, sometimes incognito. His son and heir, the Black Prince, also jousted incognito, as did many knights during Edward III's reign.


The Annales Paulini (1307-41) mentions the Dartford jousts of 1331. In Edward III and the Triumph of England, Richard Barber says:

The knights were in uniform costumes of green tunics and mantles with red hoods....To conceal the king's identity, they were all masked.

The easily accessible article Tournaments in the Fourteenth Century also mentions this.

Nigel Saul, in Chivalry in Medieval England, says:

In 1334 at a major tournament at Dunstable the king appeared under the arms of the Arthurian knight Sir Lionel. On several later occasions he appeared wearing the arms of members of his household entourage. Participating incognito in the manner of Arthurian heroes was a way of linking the fantasy world of romance to the practical world of preparation for war.

Edward III appeared several times at tournaments as Sir Lionel, though, so presumably someone eventually figured out who 'Sir Lionel' was.

In A Short History of the Hundred Years War by Michael Prestwick, the author states that:

Edward III was a great patron of tournaments, in which he himself was often an eager participant....often taking part incognito. There was a playacting element, as when Edward and some knights dressed as the Pope and some cardinals at a tournament held at Smithfield in 1343.

The chapter War, Plague and Chivalry (1346–54) from David Green's The Black Prince says that both Edward III and his heir fought incognito:

Meetings of the Garter were often accompanied by splendid tournaments, many of which were staged in true Arthurian style with knights fighting incognito or wearing fantastic costumes. Both Edward III and the Black Prince are known to have participated wearing disguises or costumes.

Saul also offers an explanation as to why jousters sometimes appeared incognito:

Remarkably perhaps, even the donning of disguises in tourneying served a practical purpose. It made for equality between competitors by ensuring that a lesser knight did not defer to the superior blood of his rival.


This question went unanswered for 3 months, and I'd given up looking myself. I came across this answer completely by chance but, perhaps with hindsight, Edward III is as obvious a candidate as anyone.

If anyone can find any other clear examples of kings or heirs jousting incognito, I'll accept that answer ahead of my own. For those interested, Richard II is an unlikely candidate (only one joust apparently), Henry V didn't like jousting (though this doesn't necessarily rule him out), while Edward I took part in many tournaments but doing it incognito doesn't seem to have been common then - still, maybe worth investigating. Also, this question is not restricted to English kings.

-3

Not quite an heir to the throne, but while second-in-line to the throne of England, Henry II's son Geoffrey was killed in a joust in Paris, according to the contemporary chronicler Roger of Hoveden. I don't know whether he would have been jousting as an "unknown", and another contemporary chronicler, Rigord, describes Geoffrey as having died suddenly after an onset of chest pain.

  • 2
    That is why we expect that claimed facts be supported by references. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 28 '18 at 4:16
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    If the speculation is scholarly, please supply citations and quotes. – Samuel Russell Oct 28 '18 at 5:42
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    It's information from the contemporary chronicler Roger of Hoveden. I hope a primary source is better than a "scholarly" source. – C Monsour Oct 28 '18 at 21:51
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    Interesting answer but a key part of the question is that the monarch or heir fought incognito. I don't think there is any evidence that that was the case with Geoffrey. – Lars Bosteen Oct 29 '18 at 7:23
  • @CMonsour Can you supply citations and quotes for your sources? The point wasn't that you should cite "scholarly sources", but rather that your speculation should be supported by references. It's more useful if you can go into more details than just the authors' names. – Semaphore Oct 29 '18 at 12:17

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