Old French: Torneiement, Tornei

A tournament, or tourney, is the name given to chivalrous competitions or mock fights. They were held as military exercises and for display of prowess.

Tournaments were a popular and distinctive form of medieval European martial competition and pageantry that emerged during the Middle Ages. These events combined elements of sport, chivalry, and entertainment and were an integral part of the feudal and knightly culture of the time.

Tournaments are believed to have originated in the early medieval period, around the eleventh century, as a way for knights to train for warfare and showcase their martial skills. Initially, they were often informal and resembled military exercises or melees. Over time, they evolved into more structured and organized events.

Types of tournaments

There were several types of tournaments, each with its own rules and objectives.

  • Melee
    In a melee, large groups of knights would engage in a mock battle, often fought on horseback. The goal was to capture opponents rather than causing serious harm.
  • Joust
    In a joust, two knights would charge at each other with lances while mounted on horseback, aiming to unseat their opponent.
  • Tilting
    A form of jousing where knights would attempt to strike each other’s shields or armor with a lance for points.
  • Pas d’Armes
    These were individual challenges where a knight would issue a formal invitation (cartel) to others to test his skills in various combative scenarios.

Chivalry and Honor

Tournaments were not just about combat, they were also opportunities for knights to display their chivalry and adherence to the code of honor. Participants often wore elaborate armor and heraldic symbols, and they observed rules of courtesy and fair play.

Pageantry and Spectacle

Tournaments were significant social events and attracted large crowds of spectators. They often included elaborate processions, feastings, music, and dancing. The spectacle of tournaments was a means of showcasing the wealth and prestige of the nobility.

Knighthood and Training

Tournaments served as a form of training for knights, helping them hone their combat skills, horsemanship, and battlefield tactics. Young knights or squires often participated in tournaments to gain experience before engaging in actual warfare.

Decline and Transformation

Tournaments began to decline in popularity during the late Middle Ages, partly due to the changing nature of warfare and the advent of gunpowder weapons. They transformed into more ceremonial and symbolic events, and the emphasis shifted away from combat.

Modern Revivals

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was a revival of interest in medieval history and chivalry, leading to the reenactment of tournaments in a historical context. These reenactments continue to this day.

Tournament Locations

See also

Arms and Armor | The Legend of King Arthur
About Knights | The Legend of King Arthur
Arthurian Clubs in the Baltic Region | The Legend of King Arthur
Chivalry | The Legend of King Arthur
Knighthood and Knight-Errantry | The Legend of King Arthur
Shield | The Legend of King Arthur
Sword | The Legend of King Arthur
Tournament Books | The Legend of King Arthur