Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Tournament Books

Tournaments originated as training exercises for deadly warfare; the early tournaments, known as Round Tables, were immensely popular exercises of both military and carousing skills. By the time tournaments became fashionable court entertainments, however, the mounted knights had lost their effectiveness on the battlefield. Henry V of England’s victory over the French at Agincourt in 1415 completed the rout.

Tournaments continued, and in fact reached now popularity, in the nostalgic revival of a romantic chivalry in the fifteenth century under such enthusiasts as King René I of Naples and Anjou and the Tudor monarchs in England (who came to power in 1485). King René wrote the finest book of tournament ceremonial, 1460-65, in which he described and illustrated every detail of the pageant.

Heralds, whose function of announcing and identifying the participants had expanded into that of judges, scorekeepers, and ultimately genealogists who recorded and authenticated coats-of-arms, also had their tournament rolls. The military roll of arms, known as Sir Thomas Holmes’ Book, 1448, illustrated with paris of jousting knights, recorded arms of knights of the shires.

The ceremonial extended into literature; King Arthur and his knights also had their personal coats-of-arms, recorded in such manuscripts as the Names and Blazons of the Knights of the Round Table (Pierpont Morgan Library). Specific events might also be recorded; The Great Tournament Role of Westminster depicts the tournament held in honor of the birth of a son to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon 12-13 February 1510/1511. The procession at the entrance, the king tilting, and the exit of the participant are depicted in continuous narrative.

Tournaments continued to be popular under Elizabeth and James I. The Queen’s Champions organized spectacular Accession Day Tilts, which were pageants designed around allegorical themes often based on the stories of the knights of the Round Table.

See also
Arms and Armor | The Legend of King Arthur
Shield | The Legend of King Arthur
Heralds and heraldry | Knighthood and Chivalry