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Mounted Combat:
Weapons: The Lance

© 2000 Maitre R.P. Alvarez, All rights reserved

Richard Alvarez bio


Introduction to Mounted Combat
The Horse: Selection and Training
The Rider: Technique and Tack

Saddle, Lance and Stirrup


"Our pride was in stout lances and surpassingly fine mares and robbery by violence."

- (from El Qutami)

There are essentially two types of lance, heavy and light. The heavy lance is from 10 to 12 feet long and 1.5 inches to 2 inches in diameter. The heavy lance is a "Shock" weapon. It's purpose is to unhorse a rider in single combat, such as in the "joust for peace"; or smash through the armor of opposing lines. For the first purpose it is seldom mounted with a sharp "Point of War", and never sharpened for the purpose of recreating a medieval joust.

16th Century lances. Note the crown shaped cornels on far left and
third from left. The lance on the far right was designed for ring jousting.

Medieval guilds were assigned the task of making special fluted and hollow "break away" lances for the later tournaments. The lance for war was a solid shaft, usually of ash, though cedar and poplar are also mentioned. Today's re-enactor might find it hard to locate quality wood in such large lengths, though I have a poplar lance specially turned for me by a mill in New England. Pine, or fir stair railing, approximately 1 and 5/8ths inches in diameter may be purchased at lumber yards. Be sure to buy the full round and not the shafts with one flat side. The lance should be as straight as possible and free of chips and cracks. Of course, if you are handy with a plane and sander, it is possible to buy square stock in the requisite length and hand-shape it.

Various lance heads used by Author.
Left To Right: Striped Lance with painted blunt tip - Broad spade spear head
"Viking" diamond lance head - 18th Century Spanish Lance head

For practice and re-enactment purposes, instead of a sharp lance head, the end may be routed or milled to a rounded appearance and then painted with a bright metallic paint to give the effect of a blunt metal tip. At distance this will look sufficiently threatening. Never leave the end squared off. The flat end, striking at approximately 25 - 30 degree angle, at a speed of 40 miles per hour, becomes a sharp point capable of penetrating even three quarter-inch ply wood.

The blunt end of this lance passed through 3/4 inch plywood
in a joust pass, narrowly missing the rider's arm.

For tournaments in medieval times, when a joust "for peace" was chosen, the lances were tipped with a coronal. This was a crown shaped metal cap consisting of three or more blunted metal prongs. The purpose of the coronal was to allow the lance to catch on the shield and hold fast, thereby making it easier to unhorse your opponent, or break a lance on him. Either of these accomplishments scored highly in the tournament.

15th Century Lance heads in Tower of London

Modern Jousting Companies Cornel,
note fox tail attached behind head as pennon.

Some modern companies place a rubber cap, similar to a chair or crutch tip over the end to achieve the same result. The tips must be continually painted silver or black. Other companies use a wooden ball at the end of their lance, to prevent the tip from slipping through the eye sights of the helm. This adds extra weight to the lance and appears awkward to the audience.

European company utilizing ball - point lances

Painting or staining the lance is highly recommended to protect it from the elements. Striping the lance with festive colors is not only authentic, it allows the audience to see the lance more easily in motion.

"Many a lance was carried there, painted silver and red, others in gold and blue, and many more of different kinds, some banded and some spotted..."

("Erec at Enide" - Chretien de Troyes)

The vamplate or funnel shaped hand guard was added to the lance in the 14th century. It first appears as a small disk in the 1300's, and then grows to assume the funnel, or conical shape in the late 14th century. It appears to be an innovation applied mostly to the tournament, and seldom used in warfare. Although lances for war and the tournament did acquire a kind of "swell and dent" for the hand. The presence of a vamplate affords some protection to the hand holding it in the joust. Unfortunately, it also prevents the lance from sliding backwards in the rider's grip, increasing the chance of a broken wrist in the event of a bad hit.

Author's heavy lance and light lance equipped with vamplate.

By the late 1300's a small "rest" was mounted to the breastplate of the medieval Knight, to aid the rider in supporting the lance. At this same time, a round "grapper" or ring was placed around the shaft of the lance, behind the hand and ahead of the armpit. The purpose of the grapper was to prevent the lance from sliding back under the arm. When it was used in conjunction with the rest, it served to distribute the force of the impact more evenly across the rider's chest. This had the added advantage of allowing more weight and force to be put directly into the impact.

Elizabethan Tournament armour, equipped with Lance rest.

The light lance can range between 6 to 10 feet long and 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter. In its short form it is technically a spear or javelin and may be used as a projectile weapon from horse back. Closet rods of pine are suitable and readily purchased. They are usually 1.25 inches in diameter.

Prussian Trooper from "Royal Prussian Cavalry" - 1825

For Napoleonic and Victorian era lances, bamboo is the proper material. The grip of the bamboo lance should be wrapped with cord to prevent the hand from slipping and keep the lance from breaking in the trooper's hand. A word of caution; bamboo lances were designed to break off in the target, and be discarded immediately. While historically correct for certain periods, they should be used with caution for target practice.

Victorian era bamboo lance, appx. 11'9", wt 4.5lbs.

The Germans used a metal pole at the beginning of World War I. This generated formidable penetrating power, but also flexed very little, transmitting the shock of impact directly to the hand and shoulder.

The author does not recommend PVC piping as lance material, as it is either too flexible or shatters with sharp edges when over-stressed.

The point of the light lance or spear will reflect the period represented; ranging from broad leaf-bladed points to long narrow awl spikes. They may be mounted with rivets or fasteners through the turned socket of the head, or through holes located in the long steel straps called langets, extending down the shaft.

Assorted lance heads for light lance.

The effective area of engagement with the heavy lance as a shock weapon is within a 30 degree angle of attack off the centerline of the horse on either side of the neck. That is between ten-thirty and one-thirty o'clock. The area directly in front of the horse is not counted as this would require the horse to run head on into the target. To strike beyond this angle at the charge would put unacceptable torque on the rider's grip and result in an ineffectual "Slap" with the point, and a probable disarm.

The area of engagement for the light lance is different. It can be used as a shock weapon like the heavy lance, couched in the charge under the arm of course. But since it is more readily handled, it can also be used overhand or underhand like a spear. The thrust at melee assumes that the rider is relatively motionless or riding in parallel or pursuit with another rider. The area of engagement in such a case then broadens to encompass the thrust delivered by the rider. This includes the area to the rider's left, or 9 O'clock, all the way around to the rider's rear, or Six O' clock. This last position is assumed as a repulse to an attempt at charge to rear. These positions are covered under Skills and Drills.

15th Century combat with light lances - Talhoffers Fechtbuch 1459

The so called "blind side" for a weapon is that area of engagement that is unavailable for either offence or defense with the weapon in hand. This is the area where the rider is himself most vulnerable to attack. For the heavy lance, it is all the area extending from about three O'clock overhead, around to Nine o'clock overhead. The light lance, being more maneuverable, only leaves the area just to the left rear, or about six to seven on the over head clock.

Guarding the rear with a light lance - Talhoffers Fechtbuch 1459

The Sword

Mass Weapons

Projectile Weapons

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This file was last modified Sunday, Mar 26 2006, 17:15:14 EST