Tournaments in the High Middle Ages

From time to time, I dip into my other hobby here, which is medieval recreation. The following article is one that I wrote for our local Society for Creative Anachronism group.

In the High Middle Ages in Europe, a knight would often travel many places to take part in tournaments held to celebrate festivals, the birth of a new prince or any number of reasons to celebrate. These tournaments are well recognized in the modern world as a part of the culture of Europe. Knights would attend these tournaments for prizes and keep up their fighting skill for the crusades or war.

Tournament – Medieval Chronicles

            The tournament was a place to show prowess, power and skill with weapons form against others trying to do the same. These tournaments were intended to test the skill of the fighter as much as their honor and gentility. The tournament was not designed to be a glorification of violence, but a celebration of skill and determination, though they would often lead to serious injuries and death. The tournament would be set in the style of the lord of the land where it was held, it would often include jousting, and fighting with different weapons forms. Whether it was single sword, weapon and shield or two weapons. Two fighters would enter a lyst and fight until one fighter submitted, if they submitted, they were eliminated from that part of the tournament. The tournaments were opened to the public so that all could enjoy, other events of the tournament were restricted to gentry.

            Often after the days tournament there would be a feast hosted by the host. There would often be dancing which would give the Knights the chance to show off their love and knowledge of gentler arts. The tournament feast also gave the host a chance to show off his riches from the serving dishes, to the spices used in the meal to the entertainment provided for those that attended. These feasts were the social gatherings of the time and where deals of trade or property were often made. The tournaments were also often a place for gentile men and women to find a suitor. Women would often give those fighting in the tournament a token to show their interest in the fighter and an opportunity to join them for a dance at the feast.

            In 1130, Pope Innocent II, took issue with these tournaments, he believed that the only use for violence was to protect the Catholic faith. The Pope issued an edict banning the practice of tournaments in the eyes of the church. While the Pope’s edict did not stop tournaments, it likely was the beginning of the end. In 1192, Richard I severely limited where tournaments could take place on British soil and in 1260, Louis IX of France banned the practice of tournaments all together.

            In the 1300’s tournaments returned in popularity, although different from the earlier tournaments. The new tournaments had the same display of chivalry and drama, but the features were aimed more towards entertainment. The weapons were rounded, blunted or in some cases made from wood rather than metal. The fights were more theatrically staged rather than true tests of skill, and the fighters were more traveling celebrities than true warriors. Their purpose was one of entertaining rather than skill.


Greetings! I am Shawn MacIntyre, and I grew up with a love of history. When most kids were watching cartoons I was watching documentaries. After a long career in public safety, I chose to return to college to seek a new career path bringing history to the public. In April 2019. I graduated from Point Park University with a Bachelor's Degree in History, Magna Cum Laude. My new path is to make learning history fun, exciting and accessible to everyone. I invite you to join me on my journeys to historic destinations, learn interesting facts about the past, and spark a love for history!

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