The Medieval Tournament

By | June 15, 2019

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French participants take part in a fight against Serbian fellow enthusiasts during the medieval tournament "Battle of the Nations" at the Smederevo fortress, in eastern Serbia, on May 4, 2019. Source: (

 Most people’s experience of the medieval tournament goes as far as attendance at a summer Renaissance Faire and watching faux knights duke it out while gnawing on turkey legs and washing it down with overpriced mead. Lots of dosts, thees, and miladies are mandatory. Never mind that turkey is native to North America, and it was impossible for the bird to be a part of a real faire’s fare -- it is still great fun, nay? But the essence of the tournament’s pageantry, chivalry, and enduring popularity make for a curious historical subject.

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The two teams stand ready; each side has 24 knights with clubs, each with a banner-bearer (Ms. fr. 2693 56v/57r, King René's Tournament Book). Source: (Wikipedia)

The Tourney

The medieval tournament originated in 11th century France. It was originally a form of training for war and deadly for participants that had evolved from riding exercises by Frankish cavalry riders.

These were war games in which groups of knights fought on horseback. This was known as the tourney or mêlée. Early tournaments were proclaimed over a region. Knights would then gather at the appointed place and be divided into two squads on horseback. Each team typically had twelve to twenty knights though there could be many more. They would then take a position on opposite points of the lists, the battlefield under the command of a leader. Then at a signal, the two sides would charge each other. From the initial clash, some knights would be knocked from their horses. Those still on horseback would then wheel about and reenter the fray. Those on foot would use swords or other weapons. It eventually became a free-for-all. The word for tournament derives from the medieval French word for a turn, indicating the movement of the horsemen. Fighting would continue until a signal was given.