Some of the most characteristic venues for entertainment during the middle ages were jousting tournaments. Middle ages knights practiced their weaponry skills and tested their fitness against other knights as the public watched. These tournaments were both functional and entertaining, serving to provide amusement for the masses while also providing medieval knights with a means of testing their abilities.
History of Jousting
The Gladiator contests in early Rome set a precedent for many competitions to come later, including medieval jousting tournaments.
Knights during the middle ages were bound by a code of chivalry so these tournaments resulted in much less bloodshed and fewer fatalities than the Gladiator contests while still achieving the same goal – providing entertainment for the masses in addition to allowing knights an opportunity to test their mettle against their contemporaries.
Warfare was highly prevalent during the middle ages and tournaments, or tourneys, gave medieval knights a chance to test their weaponry prowess in a relatively safe environment.
While injuries were not uncommon, the goal of many during these tournaments was to defeat the opponent but not to kill him.
Elements of Jousting
Traditionally, a jousting match took place on an open field divided by a low fence. The opposing knights would station them selves at opposite ends of the fence and on opposite sides.
Each knight was armed with a lance – a long wooden spear-like instrument – and, as he rode down the field toward his opponent, he would lower the lance and take aim. The goal of a jousting match was to break the opponent’s lance or to unhorse him.
To protect themselves, knights originally wore chain mail but, in later years, full armor was worn.
Tournaments: Spoils To The Winner
Jousting was only one of the several events that took place during medieval times tournaments and even jousting was practiced in various forms. The Joust a Plaisance was a contest of elimination which took place over the course of several days – pairs of knights jousted against each other and the winner from each match continued on in the contest.
The winner of such a tournament was often presented with a handsome prize. The pas d’armes or passage of arms jousting tournament differed in that all opponents jousted against one knight in particular who announced the specific time and place of the match and for which opponents signed up. Both kinds of jousting event brought in large crowds of spectators including royalty as well as commoners.
Ceremony and Tradition
Jousting tournaments were events for which detailed preparations were made. Once a tournament had been decreed, announcements were sent far and wide to the nobles to inform them of the time and place of the event. Word spread quickly through the castle and town criers made the announcement known in the towns.
Excitement mounted as preparations for the tournament began. In addition to the announcement of the tournament, a key step in making preparations was to post the rules and terms of the tournament. The rules and terms often included the time and place of the event, the sponsor, and the types of combat and weapons that were to be allowed.
Another important tradition was the ceremonies that preceded and were carried out during jousting tournaments.
Middle ages tournaments began with a Vespers Tourney – a tournament held the night before the main event during which the knights bachelor and squires were given opportunity to test their skills against one another. The opening of the tournament itself was celebrated with a grand formal procession of the judges and participants.
The second day ceremony was when the helms of the contestants were presented and the third day was when the Chevalier d’honneur was chosen. The close of the tournament was celebrated with the awarding of prizes. At the end of each day, great feasts were held during which everyone was invited to enjoy music and dancing.
Jousting tournaments were some of the most celebrated events during medieval times. Middle Ages knights, nobles, and commoners gathered in numbers to view and participate in these great tournaments during which the bravest knights of the era battled with the lance and sword.
Medieval Tourney photo by Flickr user An Iconoclast, https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/380662365/
Jousting photo by Flickr user Klobetime, https://www.flickr.com/photos/klobetime/494980155/
Armored Knights photo by Flickr user Marabuchi, https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/3876520475/
Tournament Procession photo by Flickr user Aske Holst
"Jousting," Middles Ages.org.uk, https://www.middle-ages.org.uk/jousting.htm
"Medieval Jousting," Medieval Period.com, https://www.medieval-period.com/medievaljousting.html
This post is part of the series: Life During the Middle Ages
- Life in the Middle Ages: Churches, Knights & Peasants
- Lances, Swords, and Horses: Jousting Fun Medieval Style
- Elements of a Castle During Medieval Times
- Falconry and Hunting in the Middle Ages
- Turn Medieval Tools Into Fun Projects For Kids