Tournaments are an opportunity to win a large prize for a small entry fee. They could also grant you honour and prestige. When announced by a ruler of a realm or the duke of a city, any troop leaders from any realm on the island may join to drink and fight; matching their various skills against each other. It is a good way for relatively inexperienced nobles to gain some prestige, and for more skilled nobles to earn that extra bit of gold.
Hosting a Tournament
If you are a ruler of a realm or the duke of a city, you have the option to host a tournament. This requires an investment on your part: to dip into the realm's coffers or to have a fundraiser with others in the realm is your own decision. This money then goes to construction and maintenance of the tournament fields; entertainment, food and drink of your guests; and the prize money. You set a price of admission (usually in the order of five to twenty gold) for all competitors, which also helps provide the necessary funds. You also set the date when it will be held (a good time is around a week after you plan on announcing the tournament).
You may make a profit or loss holding a tournament: if the prize money is low and the number of competitors is high, you could make more gold from admission then you spent on your investment. However, it is often that the total gold made will not cover the costs and you will make the loss. Most realms accept that they will likely make a loss, and hold them purely for the enjoyment.
You must also choose what type of tournament to hold. If you are the ruler of the realm, you can choose from swordfighting, jousting, or both. If you are the duke of the city, you can choose from either swordfighting or jousting. A duke cannot hold a tournament of both skills.
The city in which the tournament is to be held must have a Tournament Grounds.
You must be a warrior to compete in a tournament. Then, when a tournament is announced "Go to Tournament" will appear on your actions page. Remember to factor in the distance to where it is being held when you decide to go; you may find yourself arriving only to find that it is already over. Be sure to pay your men before you go for they will not go with you, and you will not be able to pay them once you have left.
Once there, the amount of time you have is less than normal, due to the inevitable socialising and drinking that will occur. You do, however, have a small amount of time, in which you can train, show off your skills or have another round on you for all the other competitors.
Once it gets down to the competition, the competitors face each other in pairs for the separate swordsmanship and jousting events. They fight, and the one with the higher skill will most likely be the winner of each match. This continues until two (not necessarily the best) face off in the final match, and the winner is granted the full prize (the runner-up usually receives a lesser prize). Competing may result in some prestige or honour gains, regardless of the level of competition you achieved.
It is then a day or two for the long ride home.
Real Life Medieval Tournament
The festival war games called tournaments first appear in the written records of Northern Europe around the year 1100.
Real wars were at a lull; the barbarian Vikings and Huns were no longer a problem, and the Hundred Years’ War between England and France had not yet begun. The First Crusade had been launched in 1095, but many knights had returned home, bored. Tournaments provided employment and entertainment for those not on Crusade. The object of a tournament was to capture, not kill, the opposing fighter. Losing knights paid ransoms to winning knights, which made tournament skill a possible source of income.
Since the time of Charlemagne, knights had sometimes staged mock battles for training. When there was no war, young knights had to be toughened up by facing danger and being injured. Tournaments made training into a sport. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the main feature was a large mock battle, the melee. Far more than any other sport, tournaments were violent and caused severe injuries. Knights went into the field as well armored as they were in battle, and although they often used blunt weapons, the violence was still savage.
Tournaments, unlike war, had strict rules. There were judges and heralds to register (or disqualify) all invited and uninvited participants. There were fenced zones where injured knights were safe from attack in a melee. These may have been originally called the lists, a word that later came to apply to the jousting field itself. It was a foul to aim for the other knight’s horse; the result was disqualification. One knight was chosen as a field referee, called the chevalier d’honneur. His lance had a headscarf pinned to it, and he could go to any knight in distress and touch him with it, disallowing any further attacks. A melee could continue only until the president of the tournament, the official in charge, decided to throw down his warder as a signal to the heralds. Then the heralds’ trumpeters sounded retreat, and the fighting had to stop.
When a knight unhorsed his opponent, he claimed the loser’s armor and horse. The loser nearly always ransomed them back; if not, the winner could keep or sell the equipment. Ransoms were fixed in advance; the price rose with a knight’s rank. In this way, a poor but talented knight could become wealthy by playing the tournament circuit. Knights errant, who came from noble families that had lost their wealth and land, earned a living by jousting.
Tournaments were a very expensive game for those who were not as talented; the average knight only entered the lists to the point that he could afford the losses. The biggest loser in a tournament would be a highranking nobleman, such as a count or even a king, who was a poor contender and only incurred losses that cost him high ransoms.
Tournaments always offered prizes, paid for by the sponsor or by aristocratic spectators, usually ladies. The most common type of prize was an animal, such as a dog, a falcon, a bear, or even a sheep or a large fish. Tournament records also tell us that some prizes were gilded statues of animals like deer, falcons, or horses. It is possible that the ladies who sponsored the prizes acted as judges. The tournament always closed with a feast at which the winners were honored at the high table.
Knights who made a habit of attending most tournaments in a circuit across France, Flanders, and England traveled many miles with large retinues of servants and horses. When a band of knights traveled together, each with his spare horses, pack animals, squire, and other servants, the group was not only large but also rowdy. They were a notorious roadside hazard to other travelers, with whom they were too eager to get into quarrels. At times they robbed less powerful travelers. This tendency of knights to use their power too freely was a primary motivator of the code of chivalry, which insisted that they must never rob, rape, or bully a weaker party.
During the 12th century, the kings of England and France, and some other ruling lords, opposed tournaments as violations of their decrees of peace. Counts and princes who liked the danger and excitement of tournaments continued to sponsor and organize them, often at outlying fields on the border of two realms.
The “Young King” Henry, son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, was a big sponsor and participant in international tournaments. He kept a team of knights as paid staff to fight in melees and paid the ransoms when they lost. Aggressive, free-spending aristocrats of this type made the tournament the first-ranked interest all across Northern Europe.
There were cases of bored knights in besieged towns or castles challenging the besieging army to a tournament outside the walls. In most cases, both sides respected the rules, and then went back to their war stations when it was over.
The church at first opposed tournaments as festivals of pride and vice and as opportunities to sin by killing, even accidentally. Some bishops excommunicated tournament participants, but wealthy knights bought their way back into grace by giving alms or donating land to the church. Tournaments were so popular among the nobles of England, France, and Germany that the church’s opposition made no difference. People loved tournaments, where courage and skill could be seen close up without the danger and confusion of a real war. By the time minstrels were circulating stories of the Virgin Mary disguising herself as a knight, moral opposition had no effect, and the church stopped opposing tournaments.
Aristocratic women came to tournaments as spectators. By the 12th century, their role in public had changed, and the new spirit of courtly love encouraged knights to fight better to impress the women. Ladies chose champions and gave favors and were prominent guests in the viewing stands. Some ladies learned to joust, and by the 14th century, when knights began to come in costumes, some ladies came costumed as men. Their clothing fashions were also influenced by heraldry ; the cotehardie often bore embroidered heraldic arms so that the ladies could attend the games dressed like modern sports fans, in team colors. A few bold ladies grew so infatuated with tournaments that they began traveling from one to the next, instead of attending only those closest to home.
Tournaments filled nearby towns with participants, spectators, merchants, craftsmen, and horse thieves. When a knight could find a house to rent, instead of staying in the field in his tent, his squire hung his banner or shield in the window of the rented rooms. Local castles and manors permitted friends and other participants to stay, and visiting kings generally stayed at these castles, rather than in tents. In the tournaments where towns served as headquarters for regional teams of knights, halls and kitchens were rented for receptions and feasts. There was usually a trade fair associated with a tournament, and merchants and craftsmen for tournament related business set up booths. Some armor makers became itinerant armor menders, following knights on the circuit. The event was also a big opportunity for local merchants to sell more food and other provisions.
The nature of tournaments changed during the five centuries when they were popular. Early tournaments of the 12th century had both single-combat challenges and a mock battle—the melee. In single-combat challenges, unhorsing the opponent meant victory and the right to claim a ransom. In the melee, the knights were assigned to opposing armies, and they charged each other at a given signal. Although the object was to capture opponents, many knights were seriously injured or killed in melees.
In early tournaments, the mock battle was not formalized or confined to the field at hand. A group of knights could veer off the field and chase into nearby woods or fields. These large mock battles brought out hundreds of knights, and some large 12th-century tournaments claimed to have more than 1,000 participants.
The 13th century may be considered the height of the tournament. Each event, now formalized with traditional rules, lasted about a week. The knights began with some days of practice jousting, and then held formal jousting challenges. While the original meaning of a joust was any kind of single combat with any weapons, by the 13th century it meant only the combat when knights rode against each other with lances. Fights could be to the death (or until injury or surrender), or they could be just for points, like a game. If the lances and swords were blunt, they were called “arms of courtesy.” After a day of rest and paying ransoms, the knights chose sides for a melee. The mock battle was held in a more restricted area, a field rather than the general countryside as in the previous century. The last day was for feasting, dancing, and minstrel performances.
In the late 14th century, tournaments began to have as much pageantry as warfare. In some English tournaments, the knights wore costumes onto the field. They fought as monks or even as cardinals. At the opening day of another tournament, the knights paraded onto the field, each held with a silver chain and led by a lady on a horse. In a French tournament of the middle 15th century, the participants dressed as shepherds. There was a trend away from full armor and real weapons; some places ruled that only partial armor could be worn, and even squires could not bring so much as a dagger.
By the 15th century, tournaments had completely changed. There were no dangerous melees, and the single combats were very formal and stylized. Battlefield fighting no longer used lances, so training with a lance was only for a tournament. Armor had become very heavy, as it was made entirely from plates of metal. It was less necessary and more ceremonial, often covered with decorative etchings and used mostly in parades. Horses were larger and slower, and saddles were improved to the point that knights could not always be unhorsed. Knights rode against each other with a low wall, called the tilt, between them. Contestants won on style points given by judges.