Tournament: Martial Training or Elaborate Game?

Tournament: Martial Training or Elaborate Game?

By Ben Kerr

Master’s Thesis, University of Glasgow, 2009

Introduction: “No athlete can fight tenaciously who has never received any blows: he must see his blood flow and hear his teeth crack under the fist of his adversary, and when he is thrown to the ground he must fight on with all his might and not lose courage. The oftener he falls the more determinedly he must spring to his feet again. Anyone who can do that can engage in battle confidently. Strength gained by practise is invaluable: a soul subject to terror has fleeting glory…The price of sweat is well paid where the Temples of Victory stand.” – Richard de Hoveden (fl. 1174-1201)

The Fifteenth-Century was a period of much change in Western Europe. Warfare had began to change with the advent of the firearm and the anti-cavalry tactics developed in previous centuries but advancing to a devastating climax during the Hundred Years War. The changes in warfare in turn brought about changes in training methods, yet the change was not sudden and even though it was occuring the melee tournament continued through the fourteenth, fifteenth and even into the sixteenth century. In the past historians such as Johan Huizinga viewed the tournament in the fifteenth century as having become an occasion entirely separate from martial training, but in recent years this view has been contested by historians such as Maurice Keen, Richard Barber and Juliet Barker. Keen states that “the growing apart of tourneying and of martial training was a very gradual affair.” Huizinga was correct in that the tournament of the fifteenth century was a rather decadent display but to what extent was it removed from its martial context? Had the arms, armour and tactics of the tournament become so removed from actual warfare that the tournament was no longer able to provide valuable martial training and experiences? In order to gain a footing from which these questions may be answered I intend to work from the Tournament Book of King Rene of Anjou which was written ca.1460. Before engaging in the study of these questions it is important that a single crucial word is defined; tournament. The word tournament as I use it refers to the melee team cavalry combat in which knights and others participated. The word does not refer to the joust, as is often assumed, which was a preliminary part of the tournament that came to overshadow the melee itself. Both the melee and the joust may also be referred to as hastiludes, a term which refers to martial games played in the middle ages. These clarifications are important to understanding the work of King Rene and much of the academic debate on the subject of the Tournament.

Click here to read this article from the Academy of Historical Arts

Click here to see also an online edition and translation of the Tournament Book of King Rene of Anjou

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine