Headland Archaeology has analysed the bones of over 700 individuals excavated at Hereford Cathedral to study life, disease, accident and injury in England from the Norman Conquest through to the 19th century. Among the lepers and those with severed limbs is one individual who bears the hallmark injuries of a knight killed in a jousting tournament.
He was a well-built man who, at 5 feet 10 inches, was tall for his era and was at least 45 years old when he died. Isotope analysis of his teeth found that he was raised in Normandy and moved to Hereford later in life.
The skeleton, buried in a partial stone lined grave dated to between 1100 – 1300 AD, displays numerous localised fractures to the ribs and the shoulder on the right side. Some had healed while others hadn’t, suggesting an occupational hazard of hits to the right upper body which eventually killed him. An unusual twisting break to his left lower leg further suggests a violent impact, perhaps caused by his left foot being caught in a stirrup.
The first recorded reference to a jousting tournament was in 1066 (the same year as the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of England). Tournaments in the High Middle Ages from the 11th to 14th centuries were much rougher and less chivalrous affairs than in the late medieval era. They involved rival parties fighting in groups with the aim of incapacitating their adversaries for the sake of gaining their horses, arms and even ransoms. Combatants would begin riding on one another with the lance, but might continue with shorter range weapons after the distance was closed or after one or both parties had been unhorsed.
Headland Archaeologist Andy Boucher said: “Obviously we can never be sure how people came about their wounds, but in this case there is a considerable amount of evidence suggesting this man was involved in some form of violent activity and the locations of his injuries do match quite closely what might be expected from taking part in mock battles. The fact that he was still doing this after he was 45 suggests he must have been very tough.”