How did medieval tournaments really work?

Knight tournaments in the Middle Ages

1st knight tournament in the Middle Ages

This written presentation deals with the European knighthood and the tournament system in the period from approx. 1150 to 1500 AD. An essential part relates to the presentation of this tournament system. The main questions will be whether the tournaments back then really took place as the media tell us today through historical novels and films, what types of struggle there were, how the winner was ultimately determined, or what rules, if at all, were applied were. In addition, it should be considered why the knight tournament was able to manifest itself in everyday life in the Middle Ages for so long, although it certainly not only had positive effects and manifestations.

The European development of the tournament is considered. It is not always possible to relate them to just one territory, as developments usually went beyond the borders. Wherever possible, the events on German soil were discussed. The French and English tournaments also attract attention.

The literature on this subject is wide and comprehensive. There is a problem of limitation rather than lack of information. At this point only a few works should be mentioned that can be regarded as standard literature. [1] The overview presentation The knightly courtly culture of the Middle Ages by Werner Paravicini, [2] which also contains a bibliographical section, is suitable as an introduction. The anthology by Joseph Fleckenstein, The Knightly Tournament in the Middle Ages, provides extensive information in several articles, [3] as well as the anthology by Horst Ueberhorst History of Physical Exercises 3.1. [4] On the subject of knights, Maurice Keen Das Chivalry can be consulted. [5]

Medieval novels and romantic literature are the main sources, as well as various editions and translations of Middle High German or Latin chronicles (Sachsenspiegel, Schwabenspiegel). Evidence for individual knight tournaments could be obtained from tournament books, ancestral samples, lists, exams and tournament letters. In the course of the work, some sources will be discussed in detail.

In Niedermann's opinion, the Middle Ages are still a fertile field for research into sports history. So far, research has largely been limited to the social function and the "sporting" sequence of medieval knight tournaments. Topics such as performance evaluation are only slowly coming into focus. [6]

The key questions posed above should be answered with the help of the literature, taking into account controversial views of the authors. The aim is to gain as comprehensive an overview as possible. A source-based investigation was therefore not carried out.

At the beginning, a brief insight into the life of chivalry, its ideals and its self-image is given, as the medieval tournament system relates directly to it. Chapter 3 first deals with the training and arming of the fighters, before beginning with the presentation of the tournament development, in which the astonishing opinions of the Church and the monarchy also come to light. This is followed by the description of the three main forms of knightly tournament combat used in German territory, the tournament, the buhurt and the joust. Chapter 3.4. refers to the performance measurement and evaluation at the joust and gives an insight into the practice of the work of referees and heralds. The penultimate chapter deals directly with the central questions regarding the rules and the long success of this type of fighting event. Chapter 5 offers the reader a brief summary of the most important content and links it to the author's personal conclusions.

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[1] This evaluation results on the one hand from the usability and on the other hand from the frequency of the information in the relevant bibliographies.

[2] Paravicini 1994.

[3] Fleckenstein 1985.

[4] Ueberhorst 1980. (Here the contribution by Erwin Niedermann is used: The physical exercises of the knights and citizens.)

[5] Keen 1984.

[6] See e.g. Rühl 1988.