Tournaments, Jousts & Melees
were a great occasion, they often went on for several days and attracted
A tournament consisted of a series of competitions using a variety
of weapons, usually in sets of three per weapon (such as tilting
with a lance, blows with the battle axe, strokes with the dagger,
or strokes with a sword), often as part of a tournament.Other activities
might include archery competitions, sword fights, and wrestling
The main event was a joust. Two men charged on horse back with
wooden lances and tried to knock each other off. Both men wore armor
and their horses wore richly embroidered cloth. Wielding the lances
took a lot of skill, because they were long and heavy.
As one writer says (Adams, p.22) "Tournaments began in France in
about 1050 when several men took part in pretend battles. Since
these were dangerous, and men were killed, single combat took it
place. The tournament was ideal for men to practice fighting and
prove how skilled they were."
Famous jousting casualties included
- Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond (son of King
Henry II of England & Eleonor or Aquitaine), trampled during
a joust on 19 August 1186.
- Leopold, Duke of Austria, killed under a fallen horse during
a joust in 1194.
- The French King Henry II, killed during a joust in 1559. A jousting
tournament had been arranged by the King with the dual purpose
of celebrating the Peace Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis and also the
marriage of his daughter Elizabeth of Valois to King Philip II
of Spain. On 1st July Henry jousted against Gabriel Montgomery,
captain of the King's Scottish Guard. Henry's eye was pierced
by a wooden sliver from the shivvered lance of Montgomery that
penetrated his brain. He died an agonising death ten days later
despite the efforts of the royal surgeon
On 20 September 2007, Paul Allen, 54, died after a wood splinter
from a lance penetrated his eye socket and lodged in his brain as
he was being filmed for Channel 4's Time Team programme at Rockingham
Castle in Northamptonshire. The splinter had gone through the slit
in his helm, and into Mr Allen's left socket and entered his brain
in the accident - exactly what has happened to the French King Henry
Jousting was one of many types of martial games in the Middle Ages.
These games, requiring great skill, were referred to generically
Though the first recorded tournament was staged in 1050, jousting
itself did not gain in widespread popularity until the 12th century.
It maintained its status as a popular European sport until the early
17th century. The joust permitted a better display of individual
skill and, although dangerous, offered large sums of prize money.
Many knights made their fortune in these events, whilst many lost
their fortune or even life. For example, Henry II of France died
when his opponent's lance went through his visor and shattered into
fragments, blinding his right eye and penetrating his right orbit
The skills used in tournaments were a reflection of the martial
skills applied to battle where the objectiive was to try to kill
or disable an opponent. The primary purpose of the jousting lance
is to unhorse the other by striking them with the end of the lance
while riding towards them at high speed. This is known as "tilting".
The lists, or list field, is the arena in which a jousting event
or similar tournament is held. More precisely, it is a roped-off
enclosure where tournament fighting takes place. In the late medieval
period, castles and palaces were augmented by purpose-built tiltyards
as a venue for "jousting tournaments".
The two most common kinds of horse used for jousting were warmblood
chargers and coldblood destriers.
Chargers were medium-weight horses bred and trained for agility
and stamina, while destriers were heavy war horses. These were larger
and slower, but helpful to give devastating force to the rider's
lance through its weight being about twice as great as that of a
traditional riding horse. The horses were trained for ambling, a
kind of pace that provided the rider with stability in order to
be able to focus and aim better with the lance.
During a jousting tournament, the horses were cared for by their
grooms in their respective tents. They wore caparisons, a type of
ornamental cloth featuring the owner's heraldic signs. Competing
horses had their heads protected by a chanfron, an iron shield for
protection from otherwise lethal lance hits.
Other forms of equipment on the horse included long-necked spurs
which enabled the rider to control the horse with extended legs,
a saddle with a high back to provide leverage during the charge
or when hit, as well as stirrups for the necessary leverage to deliver
blows with the lance.
|Hastings 2006: One of Duke William's knights attacks King
Harold's shield wall.
|2003 reenactment of the 1410 Battle of Grunwald
|Reenactment of everyday life
|Tilting with a lance at a Renaissance Fair.
|Codex Manesse: a picture of mêlée at a tournament
Jousting was popular from the high Middle Ages until the early
1600s, when it was replaced as the equine highlight of court festivities
by large "horse-ballet" displays called carousels, although non-combat
competitions such as the ring-tilt lasted until the 18th century.
During the period jousting was popular, armour evolved from chain
mail (called simply mail at the time), with a solid, heavy helmet,
called a "great helm", and shield.
By 1400 knights wore full suits of plate armour, called a "harness".
A full harness frequently included extra pieces specifically for
use in jousting, so that a light military combat suit could be reinforced
with heavier, "bolt-on" protective plates on the cuirass (breastplate)
and helmet, and also with jousting-specific arm and shoulder pieces,
which traded mobility for extra protection. These extra pieces were
usually much stronger on the side expected to take the impact of
Special jousting helmets were sometimes used, made so that the
wearer could only see out by leaning forwards. If the wearer straightened
up just before the impact of the lance, the eyes would be completely
protected. Some later suits had a small shield built-in the left
side of the armour. In some cases this was spring loaded to fly
into pieces if struck properly by the opponent's lance.
In modern times, jousting is often done for show or demonstration
purposes, and the lances used are usually made of light wood and
prepared so that they break ("shiver") easily. Lances are often
decorated with stripes or the colors of a knight's coat of arms.
In a real joust, the lances were of solid oak and a significant
strike was needed to shatter them. However, the (blunt) lances would
not usually penetrate the steel. The harnesses worn by the knights
were lined on the inside with plenty of cloth to soften the blow
from the lance.
Modern day jousting or tilting has been kept alive by the International
Jousting Association,, which has strict guidelines for the quality
and authenticity of jousters' armour & equipment, and has developed
the use of breakable lance tips for safety.
Jousting under the International Jousting Association rules follows
a points system where points are given for breaking the lance tip
on the opposing knight's shield; note that there are no points given
for unhorsing an opponent. International Jousting Association sanctioned
tournaments also include skill at arms where the riders display
their horsemanship and weapons handling skills with swords. They
use spears for the rings and spear throw, and use the lance against
a spinning quintain.
Many International Jousting Association tournaments also include
a mounted melee with fully armoured riders using padded batons in
place of swords for safety. International Jousting Association events
are not theatrically based and they offer the public a chance to
observe living history as opposed to entertainment oriented jousting.
Tent pegging is the only form of jousting officially recognized
by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. The sport
involves using a lance or sword to strike and carry away a small
wooden ground target. The name "tent pegging" is derived from the
cavalry tactic of causing confusion in enemy camps by galloping
though the camps and collapsing the tents by pulling up the tent
peg anchors with well-placed lance tip strikes. The actual sport
of tent pegging, however, originated in medieval India, when horse
cavalrymen would try to incapacitate elephant cavalry by striking
the elephants with lances on their extremely sensitive toenails.
Ring jousting is the official state sport of Maryland, and was
the first official sport of any American state.
The Italian town of Foligno also holds an annual jousting tournament,
the Giostra della Quintana, that dates back to the 1613. The Knights
have to spear rings from the statue of the Quintana.
Italian town of Arezzo continues to hold an annual jousting tournament,
which dates to the Crusades. Jousters aim for a square target attached
to a wooden effigy of a Saracen king, whose opposite arm holds a
cat-o-three-tails, three leather laces with a heavy wooden ball
at the end of each lace. The riders strike the target with chalk-tipped
lances and score points for accuracy, but must also dodge the cat-o-three-tails
after they have struck the target.
Modern theatrical jousting competitions are popular at American
Renaissance fairs and similar festivals, and feature riders on horseback
attempting various feats of skill with the lance, which may not
always have a basis in history.
Several international organisations, such as the Society for Creative
Anachronism and the International Jousting Association, promote
rules to govern their jousting events.
In Port Republic, Maryland the annual Calvert County Jousting Tournament
is held every August.
Melée generally refers to disorganized close combat involving
a group of fighters. A melée ensues when groups become locked
together in combat with no regard to group tactics or fighting as
an organized unit; each participant fights as an individual.
The French term is the feminine past participle of the verb méler
"to mix". Nominalized, it refers to any confused tangle or agitated
scramble, in particular unordered combat. Like other common foreign-derived
terms used in English, the word is sometimes written without accents
During the Middle Ages, tournaments often contained a Melée
consisting of knights fighting one another on foot or while mounted,
either divided into two sides or fighting as a free-for-all. The
object was to capture opposing knights so that they could be ransomed,
and this could be a very profitable business for such skilled knights
as William Marshal.
There was a tournament ground covering several square miles in
northern France to which knights came from all over Europe to prove
themselves in quite real combat. This was, in fact, the original
form of tournaments and the most popular between the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries jousting being a later development, and one
that did not completely displace the Melée until many more
centuries had passed. The original Meléee was engaged with
normal weapons and fraught with as much danger as a normal battle.
Rules slowly tempered the danger, but at all times the Melée
was more dangerous than the joust.