Calafia: Library

"Early Tourneys - and How to Recreate Them
By Lord Avenel Kellough

This was originally printed in the August 1996 (A.S. XXXI) issue of Calafia's newsletter, The Serpent's Tongue"

One of the enduring myths about our period of interest is that the Middle Ages was a social evolutionary zero, a mere placeholder between the Classical and Renaissance periods. This simply is not true. The Middle Ages were a time of dynamic social evolution, and the tournament was no more stagnant than any other cultural item. The tournament underwent enormous change, evolving from a free-for-all military exercise to a cerimonial pageant completely divorced from warfare. In this article, we will look at the beginning of this developement, and, hopefully, we will get a feel for the tournaments of that time for the upcoming Leodamus of Thebes event (8/96).

The tournaments of the Middle Ages began as military exercises, intended to hone skills needed in war, and were hardly distinguishable from warfare except by the stated intention that the competition was merely sport. The origins of the tourney are somewhat obscure, but it is likely that they began in France around the middle of the 11th century. Some medieval chroniclers credited a French baron, Geoffroi de Preully with originating the concept.

The tournaments of the 11th -13th centuries were rather chaotic affairs. Opposing teams met each other at a specified area, squared off, and fought, feeling free to range wherever neccesary to accomplish the task of capturing the knights of the opposing team. While a theoretical combat area might be laid out, knights frequently ranged miles from the center, raising havoc in nearby fields and villages. The object of each knight was to capture opposing knights, who had to forfeit their armor and horse to the victor, sort of medieval racing for pink slips. The loser then paid a ransom to get their armor back. The best could make a fortune, but some addicts with less skill mortgaged lands over and over to be able to afford to return to the field.

William Marshall, the Michael Jordan of the tourney, made a great amount of money on the tourney fields of France. There were little or no restrictions on the weapons or tactics, and Marshall brought a squad of archers with him to at least one tourney. Casualties could be high, however, and gradually more and more restrictions were added by authorities to reduce the number of warriors lost in "sport". As a side note, a "Tourney of Peace" held in 1278 used whalebone swords covered in silvered parchment for swords. Rattan covered by duct tape does seem to be a reasonable substitute.

Another major difference between out tournaments and early medieval ones was that there was no objective winner in the medieval ones. Prizes may be awarded by an individual nible, or by a guild or tourney society, but the winner of the prizes would be decided by a judge or a panel of judges. The concept of an objective winner based on individual head to head competition would be alien to the medieval mind.

At the upcoming Leodamus of Thebes Tourney, we hope to evoke the feeling of those early tournaments. As fighters sign up for the lists, they will be gifted with largesse by the Baron and Baroness, according to their rank. That is, each fighter will receive a sack of tokens, with the number of tokens decided by the highest fighting award the individual has received. That is 5 tokens for no awards, 10 for a Crescent Sword or Serpent's Talon, and so on up to 30 for a duke. The combatants will be seperated semi-randomly into two-teams of approximately equal strength.

The combat will take place on a single large field, with an entrance on each end marked for a specific team, and two neutral exits, one on each side. The combat will be under melee rules, no killing from behind. When one fighter delivers a killing blow to another, both combatants leave the field. The vanquished fighter gives a ransom to the victor commensurate with his or her rank, that is, one token if no award, two if a Crescent Sword or Serpent's Talon, and so on up to six for a duke. After the exchange of ransom, both combatants may return to the field through their team's gate. Once a fighter no longer has enough tokens for his or her ransom, they are eliminated for the day.

We are also asking individuals, guilds, households, warbands and other such organizations to provide prizes to be awarded. Prizes can be sponsored for any reason the awarding parties desire, and some suggested areas are for chivalry, courtesy, prowess, ferocity, best death, best heraldic presentation, or any other area a group or individual wants to promote on the field of combat. (Note: the Leodamous of Thebes Tourney was held on August 17, 1996, to the enjoyment of all who attended)

Cantor, Norman. The Civilization of the Middle Ages. New York: HarperCollins 1993
Hopkins, Andrew. Knights. London: Quatro Publishing 1990.
"Tournament". Encyclopedia Britannica: Micropaedia. 1986 ed.

Return to the Calafia Homepage - Return to the Calafian Library

Last updated on 5/02/00 (P)