This work started as a collection of notes from my studies of the subject. As the idea arose to give it a more stringent form, many of my books were already packed for my move. Unfortunately, my notes had never been made with this in mind and did not offer always the data needed for a correct identification of the source. Mostly only the book and the chapter was mentioned. Consequently I omitted footnotes almost entirely and mention only the author. At the end of this series I will include a bibliography of books I used.
For further studies I recommend especially the works of Juliet Barker (1) and Richard W. Barber (2), which offer a most comprehensive study of the subject and have influenced my view heavily. I can also recommend the works of Froissart (3) and Ulrich von Liechtenstein (4), two contemporaries of the tournament. A very nice bibliography of primary and secondary sources of the subject can be found at www.nipissingu.ca/department/history/muhlberger/tourbib.htm and can be highly recommended as a starting point.
During my works on this article it turned out that the matter is to complex to press it in a few pages as originally intended. Thus the idea to a series of articles developed. The first article in this series is the present work and will include a short introduction and a chapter about the early development of the tournament. The second part will include the development in the 13th to the 15th century. The third part will be a short survey of the political and social context of the tournament, whereas the fourth and fifth part will deal with the rules, weapons and armor employed in certain forms of the tournament and how those might be applied to SCA tournaments.
The tournament, although as central to the medieval chivalric live as to the current middle ages has, it appears, not sparked a lot of attention from scholars. One of the reasons might be that the available sources are not very accurate with regard to the rules and conduct of the tournament itself. The chronicles rather mention the why and where of tournaments, the scores and the political and social frame than the actual rules and the course of a tournament. Juliet Barker compared the difficulties of the subject to the task of obtaining the football rules from nowadays newspapers. Nevertheless, the observant scholar can find quite a few references, namely in the contemporary literature. It can be assumed that at least some of the writers possessed intimate knowledge of tournament and warfare.
It seems that the tournament has mainly developed in England and France at the beginning of the 12th century. For this reason I will concentrate on this area. I will also not deal with all forms of trial by combat like the Holmegang of the Vikings Although certainly a fascinating object I do regard those as a sideline in the ancestry of the tournament at the very best.
The first accounts of tournaments in the middle ages date from the beginning of the 12th century. “In 1130 the tournament had proliferated to such an degree, …that the Council of Clermont unequivocally prohibited all military sports of this kind” (J. Baker). They were frequently referred to as hastiludium or hastiludes. The term origins from the Latin and means spear game or lance game. This points to one of the possible ancestors, the roman military exercises which might have been, during the migrations, adopted by the various barbarian tribes which built the foundation of the medieval Europe. The term became until the 14th century the most common and general term to describe all forms o the tournament.
The tournament as it is know to us seems to have developed as a training ground for and a simulacrum of real warfare. The difference of the two was rather a difference in intention than in methods and conduct. The goal was not to kill the opponent but to gain experience in warlike situations and especially in formation combat. Although, according to the records, death was not very common in this tournaments, killing a opponent was source of grief and regret rather than of pride as it would have been in war. The tournament was also a way for a knight to distinguish himself before his fellow warriors and advance his career. This seems to be indeed one of the facts that led in later times to the development and predominance of the joust.
The early tournaments have been fought, almost like the wars in the SCA, in a confined patch of land with more or less well defined borders. Certain areas, frequently called list (providing for the later name of list field for the battleground (R.W. Barber)), in the battle grounds were of bounds for fighting. Wounded or exhausted knights could take refuge there without the shame of leaving the battle prematurely, tend their wounds take some rest and join the battle at a later point. Two or more parties, which could be made up by the followers of a baron, knights from a certain region, men of the same political allegiance or just by chance fought with weapons of war against each other. The numbers of mounted knights in each party could be as many as 200 or as few as 20 or 30.
The rules in this early tournaments were most certainly very limited and rather like ad hoc arrangements than like the more formalised rules of the later times. The most distinct difference between the early tournament and war was that the goal was not to kill the opponents but take them prisoner and get a handsome ransom. “There was evidently no limitation on weapons at this period for knights fought with lance, swords maces as they did in war”(J. Baker). It was also not forbidden that a number of combatants attacked a single fighter nor were ambushing and similar tactics. This supports the view that the early tournament was rather a training ground for war than a chivalric sport. This did not change until the 13th century when rules concerning the safety of the combatants occur more frequently. It seems that the only common rule at this time was, that a prisoner had to be set free once he promised to pay his ransom. The ransom to be paid was determined later. The amount to be paid was coupled to the social rank of the person.
Despite the fact that the name hastiludium suggest differently and although the sources mostly report the feats of arms performed by knights, foot soldiers were not that uncommon. Becoming more and more unusual towards the end of the 13th century, they were a frequent feature in the early days and could outnumber the mounted knights by far. Even the use of bow and crossbow has been reported occasionally.
The winner was the party holding the field or that had the most booty at the end of the day. Nevertheless, it seems to have happened sometimes that the fight had to be ended by agreement if no clear-cut winner could be made out.
Soon in the 12th century tournaments with rebated or specially crafted tournament weapons were fought. R.W.Barber mentions a tournament that took place in England, apparently 1136, that was fought in specially made leather armour including helmets and with swords of whalebone covered with silvered (sic!) parchment. This seems to be the beginnings of the taming of the rough war game to get the civilised and courteous tournament of the 15th century. We will see that in later times the fighting and especially war tactics move more and more to the background to make room for ceremony and pageantry.
(1) Juliet Barker, The tournament in England 1100-1400
(2) Richard W. Barber and Juliet Barker, Tournaments: Jousts Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle ages
(3) Froissart, Chronicles
(4) Ulrich von Liechtenstein, Service of Ladys
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