Tournaments are a great form of entertainment, enjoyed by both commoners and Nobles. A rich noble will sponsor a tournament and supply the purse for the prizes. A series of mounted and armoured combats, fought as contests; a number of combatants compete and the one that prevails through the final round or that finishes with the best record is declared the winner and awarded the prize.
Tourneying forms an important element of military and social life, once described as "military exercises carried out, not in the spirit of hostility but solely for practice and the display of prowess". They keep the knight in excellent condition for the role he may need to play during warfare.
The contests in the tournament are fought with blunted swords or lances but there are still many casualties; as many as 10% of competitors were injured, and there were also often fatalities. Healers are always at hand during the events.
Knights fight as individuals but there are also team events. There are many different types of events which each have a different combat method. The usual events of the tournament are the joust, the melee, and fighting on foot.
The Different Types of Combat
- Joust a plaisance Tournament - A series of elimination jousts over several days and an overall winner is determined. Each Knight will run the lists three times with each opponent
- Pas d'armes or passage of arms Tournament - A Knight sends out a proclamation that he will take on all challengers at a specific time and place.
- Melee a pied Tournament - Teams of knights fighting on foot
- Melee a cheval Tournament - Teams of knights fighting on horseback
Tournaments last over several days and the location is allocated by the sponsor; often a rich noble who would finance the prize. The tournament is usually, therefore, located on a field near to the nobles holding and local village. The Lists are the designated area for jousting, fenced off in the centre of the field. Wooden bench seats are sometimes erected but usually commoners just sit on the ground in view of the lists. The Nobles sit in the galleries - pavilions erected to provide shelter. The whole area is usually blazoned with color - the tents and sigils of the Knights. Even the horses are draped in flowing cloth, called a caparison, which is patterned according to its owner's heraldic signs.
The Kippers and the Spoils!
Tournaments are a good source of revenue for a successful Knight - if they're lucky they claim the champion's prize money. But they are also allowed, as was the right of a knight and particularly in Melee a cheval, to seize the armour and weapons of a fallen adversary during the tournament, including his mount.
To claim the armour and weapons the knight employs a vassal, serf or peasant, as his 'Kipper'. A Kipper is expected to collect the 'Spoils of Combat'. Weapons and armour are expensive and a fallen knight would not give them up easily. The Kipper is therefore armed with blunt but heavy clubs with which they could knock the unfortunate Knight into an unconscious state!
To claim an opponent's mount, in Melee a cheval, the Knight had to grasp the animal by its bridle and either have its rider yield, or drag both to a specified area - similar to modern day 'Capture the Flag'.
Ladies Favours, Courtly Love and the Chivalric Code
Ladies do attend tournaments, watching the exploits of the men during the day and attending the feasts and banquets in the evening. The ideals of courtly love are dominated by the concept that honor should be done to a lady by her champion. The Rules of Courtly Love allow a Knight to express his admiration even for married ladies. Knights beg "tokens" from ladies and are presented with "favours" such as a veil, ribbon, or the detachable sleeve of a ladies dress. These 'favours' would be displayed by the Knight attached to his arm, his helm or tied to his lance. The lady thereby shows her favour to the knight, who would then, in turn, dedicate his performance at the tournament to the lady.