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Middle Ages Tournaments

Tournaments in the Middle Ages allowed for great warriors to gather and test their skills in a relatively safe format. The ultimate goal wasn't to kill an opponent, but to overpower them or force them to quit. Many younger participants, especially inexperienced knights and new nobles, used tournaments to practice combat.

Middle Ages Tournaments

Combat

Jousting is often the symbol of Medieval tournaments, but this sport was only a part of the tournament and not the main event. Early on, jousting was a popular test of will and strength as two horse riders sped towards each other with lances attempting to unmount one another. The night before the start of the tournament, a group of knights would enter the arena and have a free-for-all jousting, which left only a handful of jousters for the next day. Soon, jousting found itself banned at tournaments not because it was unsafe, but because many tournament sponsors found participants cheating. For example, one popular knight would decline to enter the initial group melee but would enter the fray to fight the leftover knights when they grew tired.

Much of the combat in the tournament let knights and fighters battle as practice for warfare. Other combat games included sword fighting and archery. To appease the commoner who wanted to enter tournaments, other martial games were added, like wrestling. However, commoners and peasants were not allowed to fight nobles and knights, unless given permission.

Over the course of two or three days, the participants would battle with a winner declared based on the highest percentage of wins. A knight had a choice in how they wanted to battle.

  • The standard tournament declared a winner over a number of victories. In the joust, the knight would have three attempts with each opponent.
  • In the Passage of Arms Tournament, the knight would fight any challenger at any place or time, usually specified by the knight.
  • One type of melee tournament included teams of knights battling on foot.
  • The other type of melee tournament had knights in combat on horseback.

Injuries

Injuries and death were common in the early days of the Middle Ages' tournaments. Valuable knights were killed and, at the end of the tournament, the village holding the tournament found itself pillaged and the buildings burned. The locals wanted some sort of protection, so in 1292, the Statute of Arms for Tournaments was enacted. In it, the laws stated only blunt weapons could be used and only authorized participants could be armed.

Winnings

Winnings didn't just include the prize money offered by the noble or organizer. By right, the knight had the opportunity to seize the spoils—the weapons and armor of a defeated opponent. Since weapons and armor were expensive, this gave the victor more incentive to win. When a code of conduct (the Chivalric Code) filtered through the knights and tournaments, the right to take the fallen opponent's property was waived.

Finding Love

Women and ladies of the court attended the tournaments as spectators, watching during the day and attending banquets at night. A knight would often try to "win" the love of a lady by performing well in a tournament while trying to secure a token from the lady, like a scarf, veil, or part of the lady's sleeve. This token would be tied to the knight's weapon or arm to show which lady supported him.

Entertainment

In the end, medieval tournaments entertained those who watched. From jousts to rambunctious melees and Chivalric code to arenas full of color, the tournaments usually promised exciting fights and big money prizes.