Medieval Tournaments

Medieval tournaments seemed to have started around the 11th century. The best definition of a tournament was given by Roger of Hoveden. To quote him:

"military exercises carried out not in the spirit of hostility but solely for practice and display of prowess"

A tournament would be centred around the melee or general fight. The knights were divided into two sides and come together in a charge. The more familiar jousting, where two knights would fight each other was only ever a small part of the tournament.

A tournament could be held at any time of the year except during Lent. It was usual to have them on a Monday or Tuesday, although any day other than a Friday or Sunday was possible.

The most famous meetings were held in the North East of France. Hundreds of foreign knights would arrive here for the tournament season. On arrival the knights would be split into one of two camps. The evening before the tournament would begin was a time for partying and preliminary jousting. This fighting was also known as Vespers and it gave the knights a showcase for their individual talents.

The next day, the first day of the tournament, would start with a review in which both sides would parade. After the parade any new or young knights would have an opportunity for individual jousting. Around mid morning the two sides would separate and prepare for the charge. Both lines would ride towards each other , at speed, with lances levelled. As soon as they had met each other those that remained on horseback would turn around very quickly and seek out an "enemy" to engage in individual combat. At this point the tournament would be reduced to individual battles which could spread over a wide area. Exhaustion or the end of day would bring proceedings to a close.

Historically the tournaments were not universally supported by either the monarchy or the church. There were times when they were forbidden and times when they were strictly limited. The last tournament in England was held at Dunstable in 1342 AD. The last tournament in France was held at Bruges in 1579 AD.