KnightsIf we look back in history, it’s easy to trace the origin of tournaments. Basically tournaments started as practice to ensure knight maintained their skills. The tournament made it possible for knights of an army to practice battle together to keep their skills honed to perfection. It was also a way for knights who were looking to be drawn into service to prove their reputations.

The early tournament was nothing more than an uncontrolled melee that was spread for miles across the country. This pitted one group of knights against the other. There were no safeguards during these tournaments except for a recess that was available for knights to get out of the skirmish for a short time.

The same weapons were used in battle that was used during tournaments. Every knight in the opposing army was classed as the enemy during the mock battles. Men were often seriously injured and many were killed. A large number of others died of infection since there were no antibiotics or tetanus shots available.

Fortunes could be won or lost during a tournament. A knight who was defeated had to pay his victor a handsome sum that often included his armor, horse and weapons. These were the things that were highly valued, as a knight couldn’t go into battle without them.

Tournaments provided opportunities for both knights and lords. Knights who were not in service could be easily identified by a lord who was looking for soldiers to expand his army. Knights who were in service to a lord had the opportunity to build his reputation and prove his skill. If he was defeated, his position in his lord’s army could be in jeopardized.

Early tournaments didn’t follow the rules of chivalry. Each knight fought with all of his skill and power, thinking nothing of killing his opponent. Some knights cheated by staying out of combat until the tournament was almost over, then attacking those who were exhausted from battle, thus gaining victory and claiming armor, horses and weapons. This method was called a “Count of Flanders.”

Many knights enjoyed the dangerous tournaments and continued to participate even when the church tried to have them banned and refused to give any knight who died as a result of a tournament a Christian burial. Some knights even traveled to France in search of tournaments and the jobs that could be found when their superior skills were recognized.

Kings, princes and lords were also concerned by the high death rate during tournaments. The loss of men, horses, armor and weapons were costly. They needed their knights for more significant battles and the financial losses were extensive as well.

Political leaders were also worried about the activities of treachery that took place when knights gathered for tournaments. But the knights, some of whom were addicted to killing and the thrill of battle, protested.

King Richard I of England tried to gain control of the tournaments in the final years of the 12th century. He implemented a licensing system. In 1194, he issued licenses to knights for five tournament locations in England. Foreign knights were banned and English knights had to pay a fee in order to participate. This allowed King Richard to raise money for his military campaigns and to control political unrest.

Gradually the melee disappeared and knights began to battle on an individual basis. This allowed knights to show off their skills and they agreed to the terms. It was out of the one-on-one battles that the joust originated.

In the early 13th century, special weapons with blunt tips and special jousting armor were adapted. Deaths decreased and tournaments began to be witnessed by spectators.

Tournaments continued to evolve and finally turned into a grand celebration. They were organized and announcements were sent out weeks in advance to draw people from the far reaches of the region. Evening banquets and grand processions became part of the festivities. Ladies dressed in their most beautiful gowns watched from the gallery and often bestowed a special favor, such as a scarf or flower, on the knight that they favored so he could display it as he battled. Knight’s minstrels cheered for the knight who employed them, merchants sold their goods and the knights entertained the audience.

The tournament grew in popularity and soon the celebrations and feasts lasted for days. People from all classes enjoyed the events and the tournaments were something that no one wanted to miss.