Codex Manesse 17r Herzog von Anhalt

Duke of Anhalt participating in the melee (Codex Manesse, 14th c.)

The medieval tournament or tourney is the common term for a competition at various hastiludes or forms of mock combat, which may be undertaken for purposes of sport or competition, or in preparation for actual combat. Perhaps the most widespread form of tournament in the Middle Ages was the melee, which bore close resemblance to the chaotic violence of actual medieval battles; but melees came to be fought in tandem with, and eventually supplanted by, the joust. One medieval definition of the term, provided by Roger of Howden (late 12th century), defines tournaments as "military exercises carried out, not in the knight's spirit of hostility, but solely for practice and the display of prowess."[1]

Military and equestrian exercises have been documented back to ancient times, but tournaments, in the medieval sense of the term, were likely an invention of the late 11th or early 12th century. Though no reliable sources document tournaments, strictly defined, prior to 1100, documentation of 12th century tournaments abounds. Georg Rüxner's 16th-century Thurnierbuch, however, details the supposed tournament laws of Henry the Fowler (King of Germany, 919-936), though the earliest known use of the word 'tournament' comes much later, from the peace legislation by Count Baldwin III of Hainaut for the town of Valenciennes, dated to 1114.

Some of the most famous tournament fields were in northeastern France, where hundreds of knights from all over Europe would gather for the tournament season. By the end of the 12th century, tournaments were being held in France, England, Scotland, Spain, Germany and Poland, and while they were periodically banned by royal decree in various kingdoms throughout Europe, tournaments remained tremendously popular among the noble class. Though the term continued to be used in reference to the joust until much later, the medieval tournament, strictly defined, gradually declined in the 14th century, and what may well have been the last medieval tournament was held at Bruges, in Flanders, in 1379.

Forms and stylesEdit

Medieval tournament activities included several forms and styles of mock combat. These often included the use of blunted weapons, though contemporary sources indicate that the weapons used in early tournaments were the same weapons used in war, and they may not have been blunted prior to the 13th century. Medieval tournaments frequently consisted of some opening games, which often included some preliminary jousts by the younger or newer knights present, a procession or parade of all knights and their attendants, followed by the grouping of all combatants into two groups in the list, where, upon the signal given by the presiding herald, both sides would charge with leveled lances, then quickly turn about and attack again with swords drawn, and a melee would ensue. Many sources mention that victorious knights were often able to earn money by ransoming their captured opponents or their lost equipment. Other forms of mock combat, either single or in melee, mounted or on foot, using various swords, cudgels, maces and other weapons, were sometimes included as part of the tournament games.

Primary sourcesEdit

There are a few surviving primary source tournament books, dating from the 13th to the 16th centuries, describing the style, horsemanship and rules of the medieval tournament.

  • L'Histoire Guillaume le Maréschal (ed. P. Meyer, Paris, 1901), ca. 1219
  • Sarrazin, Le Roman du Hem, poetic account of a tournament of 1275.
  • Ulrich von Liechtenstein, Frauendienst, 13th century, ed. R. Bechstein (Leipzig, 1888).
  • Le Tournoi de Chauvency, 1285 (ed. M. Delbouille, Liege, 1932).
  • The Book of Chivalry and Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments and War by Geoffroi de Charny, 14th century[2]
  • Chronicles of Jean Froissart, 14th century
  • Livro da ensinanca de bem cavalgar (1438)
  • Traictié de la forme et devise d'ung tournoy by René d'Anjou (ca. 1460)
  • Pero Rodríguez de Lena, El passo honroso de Suero de Quiñones, 15th century (ed. Amancio Labandeira, Madrid: Fundación Universitaria España, 1977).
  • Alfonso de Cartagena, Chivalric Vision, ca. 1444[3]
  • La form quon tenoit des tournoys et assemblees au temps du uterpendragon et du roy artus, 15th century[4]
  • Díaz de Gámez, Gutierre. El victorial: cronica de don Pero Niño, 15th century (Madrid, 1989).
  • Pas de Saumur, kept in the Russian National Library, St. Petersburg[5]
  • manuals produced at the court of Maximilian I: Freydahl, Die Ehrenpforte
  • Turnierbuch of Duke William IV of Bavaria (1541)
  • Rüxner Turnierbuch (1530, 1532)
  • tournament book of Duke Heinrich II of Brunswick-Lüneburg, State Library, Berlin
  • Challenges and Combats Afoot, Dresden Library
  • Tournament book, Metropolitan Museum of Art, before 1597[6]
  • The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster, 16th century[7]
  • Chacón, Hernán. Tractado de la cauallería de la gineta (1551)[8]


  1. Du Cange, Charles du Fresne (1678). Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis. Paris. (In Latin).
  2. (Charny, Geoffroi de.) Kaeuper, Richard W. and Elspeth Kennedy, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, context and translation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996).
  3. Fallows, Noel. The Chivalric Vision of Alfonso de Cartagena: Study and Edition of the “Doctrinal de los caualleros. Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1995.
  4. Sandoz, Edouard. "Tourneys in the Arthurian Tradition," Speculum 19 (1944): 389-420.
  5. Das Turnierbuch für Rene D'Anjou (Pas de Saumur) Folio Edition, 2 vols. (limited to 580 copies), Commentaries by N. Elagina, J. Malinin, T. Voronova, D. Zypkin, Akademische Druck-u Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria ISBN 3-201-01674-8 [1]
  6. Bashford Dean, An Early Tournament Book, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (1922)
  7. Anglo, Sydney, ed. The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster: A collotype reproduction of the manuscript. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968]
  8. Introduction, Text and Notes, Bibliography, Lexicographical Index., ed. Noel Fallows. Exeter Hispanic Texts 55. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1999.
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