The Medieval Tournament as Spectacle
Virtual roundtable hosted by the Royal Armouries, held on September 18, 2020
Abstract: In this roundtable event, Alan Murray and Karen Watts will highlight some of the groundbreaking research showcased in their new book The Medieval Tournament as Spectacle: Tourneys, jousts and pas d’armes, 1100-1600. Tournaments were popular events all over Europe, evolving from training for war to an opportunity for young men to prove their worth on an international scene. Just as much chivalric literature devoted considerable space to descriptions of tournaments, many tournaments were held within an allegorical framework derived from romance, so that jousts were interspersed with theatrical elements involving damsels, dwarves and elaborate staging.
But they were not only entertainment: they brought honour, prestige and social capital to organisers and competitors alike. By the later Middle Ages tournaments could be very expensive, but organisers clearly thought that the money was well spent. By the 13th century the tournament had begun to develop diverse and distinct forms, whether on horse or on foot. Tudor England favoured the ‘Joust Royal’, a form of joust with blunted lances, whilst in 15th-century Burgundy a theatrical form called a ‘pas d’armes’ attracted role-playing jousters. In the Holy Roman Empire, Emperor Maximilian and his contemporaries devised about a dozen different forms of joust, each with its own rules and specialised equipment. Yet, despite increasingly sophisticated and inventive armour designed to offer the maximum combination of protection and manoeuvrability, tournaments remained a dangerous sport in which the unexpected could and did happen.
The book The Medieval Tournament as Spectacle: Tourneys, jousts and pas d’armes, 1100-1600 is published by Boydell and Brewer. If you order the book through this link and use the code BB881 you can get 50% off the price.
Top Image: British Library MS Additional 18850 fol. 12v