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Entertainment in the Middle Ages

Entertainment in the Middle Ages did exist, although times were historically hard for most people during this period. Those who enjoyed time for entertainment were those individuals of a higher social class— royalty, nobility (like lords and ladies), and those who owned land. Still, there were many different forms of recreation people of all social classes engaged in during their leisure time.

Entertainment in the Middle Ages

The Medieval times, also known as the Middle Ages and the Dark ages, took place in Europe between the fifth and fifteenth centuries. The period is characterized by religious unrest, war, death, and the plague. Many people consider this to be a period when there were little or no advancements and no one had any fun. However, this is not the case. Advancement did occur during this time and much needed entertainment in the Middle Ages was available.

Festivals and Holidays

One of the ways people were entertained during the Medieval time period was through festivals and holidays. Typical festivities were held for every major holiday such as Christmas, Easter, and May Day. Festivities were also held when the plowing of the fields was complete and when harvesting was completed. The festivities were a chance for people to get away from the monotony of everyday life.

Entertainers

Entertainment was also provided by paid entertainers. This was typically reserved for the royals who lived in the castles constructed during the Medieval times. The entertainers of the Middle Ages included jesters, mummers, minstrels, troubadours, acrobats, jugglers, and conjurers. Jesters entertained audiences by acting like fools and mummers entertained by dancing at festivals in masks and costumes.

Those with the resources and income to do so were able to hosts banquets and special events in the manor houses or castles of the time. Entertainers would come to the events to delight guests.

Games and Sports

Games and sports were also a popular form of entertainment in the Middle Ages as they were played by the lower class, the upper class, and those in between. Some of the popular board games that were played indoors included games that we still play today, such as chess, backgammon, Alquerques, Fox and Geese, the Philosophers, shovelboard (an ancestor of the game shuffleboard), knucklebones (an early version of a game of dice), and hazard (an early version of the casino game craps).

Outdoor sports were also enjoyed by many regardless of what class they were. A good number of the sports played during that time are outdoor sports we still enjoy today, although some of the rules have evolved since these early games. These sports included archery, bowls, colf (an ancestor of golf), gameball (a simple version of the game football), hurling or shinty (a game like hockey), horseshoes, quarter-staff contests, skittles (a game that gave way to bowling), stoolball (an ancestor of cricket), and wrestling.

Upper Class Activities

Some forms of specific entertainment were only enjoyed by the upper class. For instance, members of royalty often found entertainment by watching knights perform in jousting tournaments. Knights (link to new Knights of the Middle Ages article) were the highest of the three classes of fighting men in medieval society. They often wore full and extravagant suits of armor, which were extremely expensive, and started training as young boys (usually around aged 14) to learn the skills needed to fulfill this important position. Even when the knights were no longer actually engaging in fighting to defend the king, they kept up their skills with the sword through these tournaments.

Members of the upper class also found entertainment in attending balls and dances.