The Shrovetide joust: ‘Declare I dare not’

Henry VIII's jousting

In 1526, Shrove Tuesday (the 7th of February) was celebrated with a traditional solemn joust at Greenwich Palace.  Jousting was one of Henry’s favorite sports.  The Shrovetide joust was a special event for Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, as the English monarch’s motto tentatively reflected that he had found a new love.

Henry VIII's jousting

Edward Hall, a famous Tudor chronic, wrote of this day:

“This vere the kvn on Shrouetewesdaie, kept a solempne lustesathis Manour of Grenevviche, he hvmself and.  xi.  wer on the one part, and the Marques ot Excester with, x, were on the other parte: the Kynges barcle and base and all his bende, wer of cloth of gold and sillier richely embraudered, with a mannes harte in a presse w.th flames about ,t, and mete were written, Declare ie nose, in Englishe, Declare 1 dare not, the Marques and his bend wer in Grene Veliiet, & crimosyn sattynembrodered with hartes burnyng, and ooeieuery we a Ladies hand commyng out of acloude, holdyng a garden water pot, which dropped iuer droppes on the hitl”.

It is not easy for us to read and understand contemporary chronicles written in old English, but I often do this for educational purposes.

The most important takeaway from Hall’s writings (in modern English) is that King Henry rode out in cloth of gold and silver, richly embroidered and displaying the device of ‘a man’s heart in a press, with flames about it’, and the motto ‘Declare I dare not.’

The Marquis of Exeter and his men and their horses were caparisoned in green velvet and crimson satin, embroidered with burning hearts.  Above these hearts, there was a female hand appearing out of a lovely cloud and holding a watering can, dropping small silver droplets on them.  My creative imagination conjures pictures of the cooling passion in these hearts.

Renaissance-era depiction of a joust
The Renaissance era depiction of a joust

Eric Ives writes of the Marquis of Exeter on this day:

At the Shrovetide tilt in 1526 {which Anne would have attended} the recently remarried Marquis of Exeter announced that his amours were now over by displaying the device of a burning heart being sprayed from a watering can held in the hand of a woman.  And, of course, unless the European fashion for courtly posturing had really existed, Don Quixote makes no sense”. 

Edward Hall describes that many spears were broken at the Shrovetide joust, and that this was the occasion when Francis Bryan lost one of his eyes.

The Shrovetide joust of 1526 can be considered the first indication of the monarch’s growing feelings for Anne Boleyn.  She had first joined the English court in 1522 upon her return from France.  It had taken Henry several years to notice her among other ladies, and Anne’s exotic looks and her sophisticated personality definitely helped her caught the king’s eye.  The ruler had noticed her, and he quickly became enamored with her and was longing for her affection, perhaps pursuing her for over a year before she reciprocated.

Henry VIII's jousting armour
            Henry VIII’s jousting armor

It seems that, in February 1526, Henry felt very strong emotions for Anne. ‘Declare I dare not’… no mortal and immortal force would have dared try and extinguish the vivid flame of love in the king’s heart which was strong, overwhelming and even dangerous.  His first letter, accompanying the gift of the buck he had killed on hunting trips would belong to the autumn of 1526.

More than a year later, about Easter 1527, Henry would offer Anne to become his maîtresse-en-titer, in spite of the fact that he would already make moves to divorce Catherine of Aragon in order to remarry.  Anne would vehemently refuse his proposal, considering it degrading for herself, and Henry would accept that she would give her maidenhead only to her husband.  As Anne could solve both his sexual and his matrimonial frustrations, their courtship would flourish into a beautiful romance and later short and tumultuous marriage.


All images are in the public domain.

Text © 2018 Olivia Longueville