Ice and Fire Sport

Ice and Fire Sport and the Medieval Age

With the popularity of Ice and Fire or “Game of Thrones” as it is popularly known on TV, a fantasy series based in the land of Westeros.  An interesting mix of medieval, Viking, fantasy and more which can be related back to a few different eras that we can compare to life as we once knew it on planet Earth.  Wondering just what the guys wore during battle and during their sports, how they were made, and the costs of it all got me to do a little digging.

Jousting was the main sport and other games that were prestigious were hunting, fighting, hawking or sword play and this all happened during the medieval age on our planet and so to this era we go.


Mock battles and sports were the great sport of early medieval times and these

English: Rüstkammer, Dresden - plate armour. F...
English: Rüstkammer, Dresden – plate armour. France, before 1588 Deutsch: Französische Plattenrüstung, Dresden Rüstkammer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

were fist fought by knights wearing boiled leather or a quilted gambeson underneath a mail shirt (hauberk).

At this time a mail shirt made of 25,000 rings was the equivalent of the entire income of a good sized village! This of course was way beyond the financial means of an ordinary man in the street. In addition a sword was required and these took nearly 200 man hours of labour to produce in the early 1100’s.  Lances were also the thing of the day and eventually had a specially fitted holster, for want of a better word, which was built into a saddle to house it.  All of the above where then placed on top of a horse which at that time would have cost around a £100, which when the average yearly income was around £40, cost a pretty whack (let’s compare it to the equivalent of purchasing a Ferrari today). The horse being such a huge investment was protected by chain mail itself and had its own set of armour.


In early medieval times open faced helmets were used and these later evolved into a closed steel helmet that was tied at the back with laces.  So to be able to identify the jousters, heraldry was added to the outfit so the sportsman could be identified.  In later times they were replaced by smaller head gear which sported visors.

One weakness of chain mail is that it did not stop a lance and when lanced or wounded the mail could get caught in the wounds and cause complications. Then from around 1286 plated armour began to be worn underneath the chain mail as a solution.

The 13th Century saw further improvements in the horses armour, steel gloves (gauntlets) and rounded shields made of a combination of wood and steel to better deflect blows.

As jousting developed more rules were brought in and the choices of weapons were restricted and the shield became the target for your opponent.  The “vamplate” was developed on lances (a protective plate around the handhold of the lance to protect the hand.) The lances were now made from Applewood or Ash (wood) and had blunt tips, which were made for sport instead of war.  Saddles were made higher and offered leg protection. Plate covered leather was replaced with full plate armour and badges replaced surcoats.


Supplies of Iron grew rapidly in the 14th Century due to bellows being used with water generated power, allowing for the generation of much higher heat temperatures. Swords as a result became stiffer and sharper and armour got lighter and stronger and more able to withstand impacts. Which reminds me of Jaimes sword, beautifully crafted and given to him as a gift from his father, Tywin Lannister in the epic Ice and Fire fantasy novels.

There were two main centres for armour in the day and they were Milan and Augsburg. In Milan they specialised in smoother armour suited to repelling lances and swords. In Augsburg a more rippled finished armour was produced and this armour was intended to deflect arrows and bolts.

As production increased it became possible to rent a suit of armour or even purchase a second hand one.

By the mid-15th C a highly sought after “white Armour” was being produced. This armour had a weight of just 36kg, and when wearing this baby there was no question of not being able to rise again when knocked to the ground.


Wealthy knights imported valuable birds and had fine and expensive hawking gloves made from the leather of a particular kind of sheep, the Mouflon. The best of these skins came from Cordoba, Spain, and in England makers of these gloves took the name of “Cordwainers”.  Hawks were so valuable that from 1360 that the theft of a hawk was punishable by death.


Interestingly other sports described that were enjoyed by knights were shooting with bows and arrows, rock throwing, hurling the lance, dice (gambling?) and a huge variety of other games.


Although there is not much recorded history about the various other winter sports one “William FItstephen” recorded sledging way back in 1175, sliding and curling on ice skates made of bone. Skates such as these have since been found in the London sewers. In Finland skis over 2 meters in length have been found dating back to 2000BC and a sledge dating back to 6500BC.


Well, if you have ever seen any pictures of shoes from the middle ages you will know that they had extremely long toes and these even curled upward! Not great for playing or participating in any kind of sport. These shoes became known as Cracow’s (in the UK) and Poulaines (in France) and reached such ridiculous lengths that laws was brought in to limit the length. Cracow’s had no heel and the toes reached up to 60cm in length can you imagine playing a game of football in a pair of these?

It is unlikely that ordinary people had special clothing for playing sport.  Even after the advent of the spinning wheel in the 14th C, clothing was hard to come by.  It was not often that people (commoners) had more than one set of clothing. The same goes for shoes and the custom of sons inheriting footwear from their fathers is reinforced by the sayings “Following in his father’s footsteps” and “filling his boots” all exist from these days.

Clothing for medieval commoners was plain and very simple stuff. The peasant or commoner wore a tight tunic that was short and belted with rope or leather. He might also wear short pants or trousers made of wool and a felt hat (this is the only type of hat he was allowed to wear).


The famous game of ball lived in those days and the ball was made from a cow or pigs bladder and stuffed with sad, straw or chalk and roughly stitched together. A pigs head would often suffice too!

In the 16thC a shoemaker presented the Drapers Company with a new ball which was worth three shillings and four pence for their Shrove Tuesday match, which at the price in the day suggests a top quality item.

It is clear that sport over the years has certainly had its costs and also the gear.

Looking at the cost of jousting and the safety developments in jousting way back then,  I could not help but compare how it reminded me of the huge costs, safety rules and adjustments that have been made in the modern sport of F1 racing sport over the last years, often a trail of Ice and Fire Sport itself and which is also the most expensive sport in the world today!

It is clear that nothing has changed over the centuries and that man will always strive to create both gear and clothing that will give him the edge in his preferred sport.

It all boils down to the same thing , the World of Ice and Fire Sport and the Medieval Ages all required huge sums of money to make things happen. Fantasy or reality, sport and exciting sport adventures in the history of mankind on Earth or in Westeros!

The Middle Ages and Money In Sport

The Middle Ages and Money in Sport

Back in the days of old when knights were both hard-headed and practical

In medieval Britain the biggest money spinner was the tournament.

A knight on his horse
A knight on his horse

This could be viewed as the most professional sport of all times as it was entirely focussed on collecting booty and ransoms.

With the set up costs of a knight’s kit which was armour, arms and a horse costing more than a knight’s yearly income. A tournament could make or break you.

Later as the price of armour and horses went as high as £100, the risk of losing everything in a tournament became too great and ransoms and formal prizes of cash and plate replaced straightforward booty.

One of the Churches many objections to the sport was that it encouraged the sin of greed.

Money to be made in tournaments

Sports Betting today

Making money was formalised by Richard the Lionheart in Britain who in 1194 was making money in a big way from the sport. The Kings sources of income included ten marks from the five licensed grounds each time they held a tournament. In addition there were entry fees which were graded ranging from 20 marks for an Earl down to 2 marks for a landless knight. On top of this were fines for any non-payment and fees for pardons for any fouls in the field.

Sponsorship and funding

Just like sponsorship today, tournament teams were funded for the prestige they brought to their sponsors.  Keeping and maintaining a team of some 200 knights in the field was a hugely expensive business and was limited to nobility and kings with plenty of cash to burn.

Young Henry the eldest son of Henry II, was famous for his spending on tournaments, he met the daily bills and ransoms of a small army of knights, plus their squires, heralds and other personage. At the peak of his spending it was costing him £200 a day, which was, in those days, the equivalent of a good annual income of a nobleman.

As well as wages and prizes, expenses could also include transfer fees for star performing knights. When William the Marshall an English knight moved to the team of William of Flanders, he moved for a huge fee of one quarter of the rents of the port of St Omer!

Such big spending must have been great for the traders of the areas providing that the tournaments competitors didn’t trash the town, which they managed to do to Boston in 1288.

Profit Sharing and Alliances

The knights who competed in these early tournaments often used professional strategies that had more to do with making money and winning than honour and nobility. In 1170 William the Marshall entered into a profit sharing deal with Roger de Jouy in which they agreed to spilt the 103 ransoms they earned over the year.

Cost Cutting tactics

Cost cutting tactics were done by reducing the amount of the ransom you demanded to encourage a defeated knight to surrender to you as opposed to anther rival. You could have alternatively allow a captured knight to go out and fight again to earn his ransom fee.  In addition to ransoms there were formal prizes on offer for the best performance.

Political Appointments

There were valuable political appointments to be had for the most successful fighters, and William   went about as far as any man could, becoming the regent of England after King Johns death.

Horses – A Knights Mount

After a successful tournament there would be money to spend and the Friday horse market at Smithfield outside the City of London became the place to sell off captured horses, or to eye and try out a replacement or upgrade of your existing mount.
It is here that one of the first recorded races for money happened. King Richard challenged three knights to race over three miles for a purse of gold.

The new sport of Jousting

Jousting - a sport of the middle ages
Jousting – a sport of the middle ages

Even without the expense of maintaining a large unofficial army, Edward III was spending a £100 a week. One of the big incentives would have been the huge prizes on offer and there are references to diamonds being handed out to the winners of Jousts.

Gambling and Betting in Medieval times.

In the Middle Ages betting was extremely popular, especially after the Crusaders had returned from the Holy Land, and where, like the Homeric Greeks at the siege of Troy, they had kept themselves occupied during the long campaign with gambling and gaming.

In response to the violence and trouble that betting could cause, Richard I legislated to limit the stakes and restrict gambling to nobles. This was the beginning of 800 years allowing the wealthy to have their fun  while the working class were restricted.
In the following century the Council of Worcester tried to stop the clergy from gambling and further laws were introduced by Richard II in 1388.