Tourneys are some of the most completive events in all of the High Fantasy Society The winning or losing of them make the reputation of fighters and make or break their dreams of being knighted for marshal endeavors.

Definition Edit

A Tournament, or tourney is the name popularly given to chivalrous competitions or mock fights of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (12th to 16th centuries). It is one of various types of hastiludes. Of the several medieval definitions of the tournament given by Du Cange, the best is that of Roger of Hoveden, who described tournaments as "military exercises carried out, not in the spirit of hostility (nullo interveniente odio), but solely for practice and the display of prowess (pro solo exercitio, atque ostentatione virium)."

Many combatants in the HFS have fought in some kind of "William Marshal" tournament. These are inspired by the accounts of the Histoire Guillaume le Mareschal which tell of the tournaments of William Marshal's youth in the late 12th century, when tourneys were mêlée combats over large areas. Ransoms of captured opponents were the prize, and there was little to distinguish the tournaments from actual battles except the provision of a safe area, and an increased unwillingness to injure one's rivals.


Military games were organized in Europe around 1000. Equestrian games of war are known from before the Romans: for example, chariot racing and the like were popular in Celtic Europe. Something like the medieval tourney was practiced by the Roman cavalry, from early on a critically important arm of the legions: two teams took turns chasing and fleeing each other, casting javelins in the attack and covering themselves with their shields in the retreat. These games, known as Hippica Gymnasia are known from ample archaeological and literary evidence to have been quite elaborate displays and were intended to impress their audiences. Special armour was made for them, including helms that fully covered the face against accidental injury, unlike the war helmets that left the face open for unimpeded vision and hearing. During the Early Middle Ages such cavalry games were still central to military training as is evidenced by Louis and Charles' military games at Worms in 843. At this event, recorded by Nithard, the initial chasing and fleeing was followed by a general melee of all combatants. But the tournament, properly so called, does not appear in Europe before the 11th century. Medieval people themselves devised myths about its origins.

In the middle ages, martial sports evolved out of the training exercises that knights and squires practiced to hone their skills. These mock combats, or hastiludium (games with spears), took many different forms throughout the middle ages; the more famous ones were the spectacular tournaments, involving teams of combatants in melees, and the joust, in which champions engaged in single combat. Both of these forms were elaborate and expensive to produce or participate in; the weapons used were usually of steel, and although they were often blunted, they still made expensive armour a necessity for the participants. The earliest use of the word 'tournament' comes from the peace legislation by Count Baldwin III of Hainaut for the town of Valenciennes, dated to 1114. It refers to the keepers of the peace in the town leaving it 'for the purpose of frequenting javelin sports, tournaments and such like.'

The BehourdEdit

Alongside these more visible and spectacular events, another older type of hastiludium called the behourd also existed throughout the middle ages. This form of combat was much less formal and dangerous to participate in, and was often used as a training ground for young knights and squires; indeed, its roots stretch back to the training exercised practiced in the Roman Empire. The behourd was also used as an informal and friendly type of tournament to be held at special occasions such as weddings, knightings, coronations and other social occasions where the chivalry gathered.

These behourds were often fought using mock swords, usually made of wood, or more rarely of whalebone. The painting of a melee on an early fifteenth century chest at the Musee de Tours shows the knights and foot-soldiers armed in normal field armour, but wielding simple undecorated staves of wood. These wooden practice swords, called batons, are also referred to in medieval documents and accounts; a fifteenth century treatise on cries des joustes specifies a wooden baton two and a half feet long as the main offensive weapon and another text refers to swords made of wands from lime trees - King Richard I of England is even recorded as haven taken part in a tournament fought with sugar canes outside the walls of Messina during his journey to the Holy Land!

For the more formal behourds, it was sometimes the case that the weaponry was decorated to make them look more like real swords. For example, in 1278 Edward I of England hosted a behourd in Windsor park in which the weapons were swords made of whalebone with leather hilts. The whalebone blades were decorated with strips of silvered parchment held on with glue (period duct-tape!) and the leather hilts were gilded.

The KolbenturnieEdit

In the fifteenth century the baton was becoming ever more popular in tournaments; in Germany, a form of tournament called the Kolbenturnier, or club-tourney, was gaining wide popularity among the nobility. Then, as now, the use of practice swords allows the warrior to train and compete in the medieval martial arts with safety - and it is clear from the regulations of the Fifteenth century German tournament societies that safety was a factor. Hitting below the belt was forbidden, the steel sword was only used to hack at an opponents' crest, and to prevent accidental injury to the face, there were strict controls on the size of weapons as well.

The Fifteenth century tournament, like a modern HFS war also had its weapon checks and judges' marks. Thus it seems that even in the fifteenth century they were worried about marshaling standards - some things never change.


It is a contraversial issue as to what extent specialized arms and armour were used in mêlée tournaments. A further question that might be raised is to what extent the military equipment of knights and their horses in the 12th and 13th centuries was devised to meet the perils and demands of tournaments, rather than warfare. It is however clear from the sources that the weapons used in tournaments were initially the same as those used in war. It is not by any means certain that swords were blunted for most of the history of the tournament. This must have changed by the mid 13th century, at least in jousting encounters. There is a passing reference to a special spear for use in jousting in the Prose Lancelot (c.1220). In the 1252 jousting at Walden, the lances used had 'sokets', curved ring-like punches instead of points. The Statute of Arms of Edward I of England of 1292 says that blunted knives and swords should be used in tournaments, which rather hints that their use had not been general until then.

Traditions of the TournamentEdit

Tournaments centred on the melee, a general fight where the knights were divided into two sides and came together in a charge. Jousting, a single combat of two knights riding at each other, was a component of the tournament, but was never its main feature.

The standard form of a tournament is evident in sources as early as the 1160s and 1170s, notably the Life of William Marshal and the romances of Chrétien de Troyes. Tournaments might be held at all times of the year except the penitential season of Lent. The general custom was to hold them on Mondays and Tuesdays, though any day but Friday and Sunday might be used. The site of the tournament was customarily announced a fortnight before it was to be held. The most famous tournament fields were in northeastern France (such as that between Ressons-sur-Matz and Gournay-sur-Aronde near Compiègne, in use between the 1160s and 1240s) which attracted hundreds of foreign knights from all over Europe for the 'lonc sejor' (the tournament season).

Knights arrived individually or in companies to stay at one or other of the two settlements designated as their lodgings. The tournament began on a field outside the principal settlement, where stands were erected for spectators. On the day of the tournament one side was formed of those 'within' the principal settlement, and another of those 'outside'.

The evening before the event parties hosted by the principal magnates present were held in both settlements, and preliminary jousts (called the 'vespers' or premieres commençailles) offered knights an individual showcase for their talents. On the day of the event, the tournament was opened by a review in which both sides paraded and called out their war cries. Then followed a further opportunity for individual jousting carried out between the rencs, the two line of knights. The opportunity for jousting at this point was customarily offered to the new, young knights present.

At some time in mid morning the knights would line up for the charge. At a signal, a bugle or herald's cry, the lines would ride at each other and meet with leveled lances. Those remaining on horseback would turn quickly (the action which gave the tournament its name) and single out knights to attack. There is evidence that squires were present at the lists (the staked and embanked line in front of the stands) to offer their masters up to three replacement lances. The mêlée would tend then to degenerate into running battles between parties of knights seeking to take ransoms, and would spread over several square miles between the two settlements, which defined the tournament area. Most tournaments continued till both sides were exhausted, or till the light faded. A few ended earlier, if one side broke in the charge, panicked and ran for its home base looking to get behind its lists and the shelter of the armed infantry which protected them. Following the tournament the patron of the day would offer lavish banquets and entertainments. Traditionally, prizes were offered to the best knight on either side, and awarded during the meals.

Popularity and ProhibitionsEdit

There is no doubting the massive popularity of the tournament as early as the sources permit us to glimpse it. The first English mention of tourneying is in a charter of Osbert of Arden, a Warwickshire knight of English descent, which reveals that he travelled to Northampton and London but also crossed the Channel to join in events in France. The charter dates to the late 1120s. The great tournaments of northern France attracted many hundreds of knights from Germany, England, Scotland, Occitania and Iberia. There is evidence that 3000 knights attended the tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne in November 1179 promoted by Louis VII of France in honour of his son's coronation. The state tournaments at Senlis and Compiègne held by Philip III of France in 1279 can be calculated to have been even larger events.

Aristocratic enthusiasm for the tournament meant that it had travelled outside its northern French heartland before the 1120s. The first evidence for it in England and the Rhineland is found in the 1120s. References in the Marshal biography indicate that in the 1160s tournaments were being held in central France and Great Britain. The contemporary works of Bertran de Born talk of a tourneying world, which also embraced northern Iberia, Scotland and the Empire. The chronicle of Lauterberg indicates that by 1175 the enthusiasm had reached the borders of Poland.

Despite this huge interest and wide distribution, royal and ecclesiastical authority was deployed to prohibit the event. In 1130 Pope Innocent II at a church council at Clermont denounced the tournament and forbade Christian burial for those killed in them. The usual ecclesiastical justification for prohibiting them was that it distracted the aristocracy from more acceptable warfare in defense of Christianity. However, the reason for the ban imposed on them in England by Henry II had to have lain in its persistent threat to public order. Knights going to tournaments were accused of theft and violence against the unarmed. Henry II was keen to re-establish public order in England after the disruption of the reign of King Stephen (1135-1154). He did not prohibit tournaments in his continental domains, and indeed three of his sons were avid pursuers of the sport.

Tournaments were allowed in England once again after 1192, when Richard I identified six sites where they would be permitted and gave a scale of fees by which patrons could pay for a license. But both King John and his son, Henry III, introduced fitful and capricious prohibitions, which much annoyed the aristocracy and eroded the popularity of the events. In France Louis IX prohibited tourneying within his domains in 1260, and his successors for the most part maintained the ban.

Urban FestivitiesEdit

There was a family of events which resembled the tournament in their day, and which are often confused with it. The most common was the bohort (buhurdicium). This was a play tournament, which might be held informally on a variety of occasions. There is a record of one being held regularly by the youth of the city of London in the life of Thomas Becket by William fitz Stephen (composed 1171). Bohorts might be held between travelling knights, or between parties of squires, or within an encamped army. They might also form part of court festivities. Their main feature was the limited use of arms and armour and emphasis on horsemanship.

The tirocinium is first mentioned by Otto of Freising, referring back to an event at Würzburg in 1127. That and later references indicate that it was a tournament held exclusively for newly-knighted youths. The new knight was often an easy victim for older and more experienced colleagues. The tirocinium allowed them to gain experience with less danger. Tirocinia were often held following the knighting of royal and princely youths, who were usually knighted in company with dozens or scores of other aspirants.

A further addition to the family of related events was the urban tournament, designed for the youths and young men of wealthy patrician families. These were facsimiles of the aristocratic event rather than simple bohorts. The most famous of them were the tournaments held in the market streets of the great Flemish cities, notably at the religious feast of the Epinette, which is mentioned at Lille as early as 1283. They were not exclusively urban, and attracted neighbouring country knights, but their location and patronage distinguished them from the parallel aristocratic events. This form of mêlée tournament survived the longest.

Jousting and the TournamentEdit

As has been said jousting formed part of the tournament event from as early a time as it can be observed. It was an evening prelude to the big day, and was also a preliminary to the grand charge on the day itself. In the 12th century jousting was occasionally banned in tournaments. The reasons given are that it distracted knights from the main event, and allowed a form of cheating. Count Philip of Flanders made a practice in the 1160s of turning up armed with his retinue to the preliminary jousts, and then declining to join the mêlée until the knights were exhausted and ransoms could be swept up.

But jousting had its own devoted constituency by the early 13th century, and in the 1220s it began to have its own exclusive events outside the tournament. The biographer of William Marshal observed c.1224 that in his day noblemen were more interested in jousting than tourneying. In 1223 we have the first mention of an exclusively jousting event, the 'Round Table' held in Cyprus by John d'Ibelin, lord of Beirut. Round Tables were a 13th-century enthusiasm and can be reconstructed to have been an elimination jousting event. They were held for knights and squires alike. Other forms of jousting also arose during the century, and by the 14th century the joust was poised to take over the vacancy in aristocratic amusement caused by the decline of the tournament.

Last DaysEdit

The decline of the true tournament was not a straightforward process, although the word continued to be used for jousts until the sixteenth century. Tourneying continued to be regarded as the best test of a warrior in 14th-century society, an idea reinforced by the prominent place that tourneying occupied in popular Arthurian romance literature. The tournament had a resurgence of popularity in England in the reign of the martial and crusading king, Edward I (1272-1307) and under his grandson, Edward III (1327-1377), yet nonetheless the tournament died out in the latter's reign. Edward III encouraged the move towards pageantry and a predominance of jousting in his sponsored events. In the last true tournament held in England in 1342 at Dunstable, the mêlée was postponed so long by jousting that the sun was sinking by the time the lines charged. The tournament survived little longer in France or Burgundy.