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  Medieval Tournaments
 

On his return from captivity in Austria in 1194 King Richard chose land between Tickhill and Blyth as the most northerly of five sites where tournaments could be held according to stringent regulations designed to secure orderly conduct of the participants and income for the Exchequer. Tournaments were already well-established on the Continent. One of Richard’s motives for creating tournament grounds was probably to help train knights in armed conflict for future crusades or against enemies nearer home. Tournaments also became an embodiment of chivalry. The earliest tournaments were mock battles between two groups of up to one hundred knights on each side. Later, jousts between two knights became the norm. Only after c1420 were the two knights separated by a barrier. Here is one view of tournaments by a local clergyman who was a keen amateur historian.

It is the octaves of the Holy Trinity, A.D. 1217, [the eight days after Trinity Sunday, eight weeks after Easter Sunday] and summer has just commenced….The Angel Inn at Blyth, an inn from time immemorial, the Saracen’s Head, and other inns and hostelries there, and at Tickhill, Worksop, Retford, and even Doncaster, are crowded with the grooms and other humbler retainers of the great men who are to take so prominent a part in the proceedings of the coming day, while the magnates themselves and their esquires, are receiving noble hospitality in the mansions of the lords of Tickhill, Worksop, Torksay, Conisbrough and Sprotborough….the champions of England’s liberties, and the admiration of Europe, are to be seen hastening to the field, attended by their esquires, whose special office is to furnish their lords with arms, arrange their harness, and raise them from the ground if haply dismounted.

From every town and village for miles around may be seen the artisan and the peasant, in their best holiday attire, flocking to the great point of attraction, together with numerous wandering pedlars and minstrels, who gain their living by following in the train of English chivalry, and whose wild appearance and restless habits give a peculiar hue and character to these gatherings.

The lists are already fenced off, the ladies and gallant spectators are ranged around, the heralds have read to the combatants the rules of the tournay and announced the prizes, diamond, ruby, and sapphire rings, chargers, bears and other rare and valuable gifts; and the arms are under examination by the constable of the games. The lances must be covered at the point with broad pieces of wood, the swords blunted (glaives courtois), the defensive armour simple….at the cry of the heralds ‘à l’ostelle, à l’ostelle,’ the cavaliers retire within their tents to don their armour, and speedily re-appear with their helmets surmounted with chaplets and their lances adorned with streamers, the gifts of the beautiful and the fair. They are arranged in two hostile troops; and on a signal from the Knight of Honour the heralds cry ‘Laissez aller,’ and drop the cords which separate the combatants…the heralds note carefully the turns and events of the combat.

And now the nobles and knights have tested the skill and mettle of each other; the Knight of Honour drops his white baton and the heralds cry ‘Ployez vos bannieres;’ the banners are folded, the prizes awarded, and the contending troops disarm. The ground is cleared, and the aristocracy in the halls of their high-bred hosts, the more humble spectators in the warm corners of the hostelries, or by their own firesides, discuss the events of the day and the comparative merits of Warren, De Vere and others who have made a conspicuous figure in the tournament field of Blyth.

Rev John Raine The history and antiquities of the parish of Blyth (1860) pp169-171

For another opinion, this time by a medieval chronicler, William of Newburgh c1136-1198, who lived in a priory west of Malton, showing how much the Papacy objected to tournaments see website: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/williamofnewburgh-five.html


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