The Medieval Tournament as Spectacle

Tourneys, Jousts and Pas d’Armes, 1100-1600

Edited by Alan V. Murray & Karen Watts

Miss Watts, Dr Murray, many thanks for agreeing to answer our questions. Would you please introduce yourselves to our readers with a brief summary of your work and studies to date?
Karen Watts: My background is both as a museum curator and university lecturer in history, art-history and material culture. I am Curator Emeritus at the Royal Armouries museum where I was formerly Senior Curator of Armour, working for 30 years both at the Tower of London and at Leeds. I am Professeur de Patrimoine et Archéologie Militaires at the Ecole du Louvre and Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds.

The Medieval Tournament as Spectacle: Tourneys, Jousts and Pas d’Armes,

Edited by Alan V. Murray & Karen Watts
264pp, 9781783275427
Hardback: £70 / $99
(eBook available – ask your librarian)
Royal Armouries Research Series
Boydell Press
20 colour & 17 black and white illustrations

Alan Murray: I am Senior Lecturer in Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds, with research specialisms in the history of warfare and chivalry. I first became interested in tournaments as a result of many elaborate descriptions of them found in medieval French and German romances, but was often disappointed that literary scholars devoted little attention to these, although they show how central tournaments were to chivalric society. Since 2010 Karen and I have jointly taught a module on the Medieval Tournament as part of the MA in Medieval Studies at Leeds; we believe that this is the only taught course on tournaments anywhere in the world, and we are pleased that several former students have made contributions to this volume.

Your book is the first in the new Royal Armouries Research Series. Did you know it would be the opening volume when you began work on it?
KW: Not at first, but we were delighted that it was chosen. This volume showcases new research on medieval tournaments and we hope will inspire more in the field (that is the tournament field rather than the battlefield!).

AM: Half of the essays feature armour, weapons, saddles and manuscripts held at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, and we are delighted that the Armouries provided so many beautiful illustrations for the volume which have really helped make the subject come alive.

What was the original inspiration for the collection and how did you go about selecting your contributors?
AM: We were aware that while interesting research was being done on tournaments by individual scholars on different aspects of tournaments, it would be great to bring together specialists in historical sources, vernacular literature and material culture to bring about a truly interdisciplinary perspective on the diversity of tournaments.

KW: We organised a series of sessions at the International Medieval Congress held at the University of Leeds in 2018, which included both established academics and young scholars. The speakers presented their new research for the first time to an academic audience. The audience response was so positive that we were encouraged to bring fuller versions of the papers together in a single collection.

Do the essays focus on just one region or do they range across Europe?
KW: Tournaments were popular events all over Europe. They were occasions for young men to prove their worth on an international scene. People travelled to compete in them – often between different countries – and they were talked and written about afterwards. The essays consider tournaments in England, Scotland, Germany, Italy and France.

How did tournaments change over time? Was a tournament in 1600 radically different to one in 1100?
KW: Tournaments certainly began as training for war: the original main event was a mock cavalry battle called a tourney. My favourite quote about early tournament participation is that of Roger of Howden, a 12th century chronicler, who said: He is not fit for battle that has never seen his own blood flow, who has not heard his teeth crunch under the blow of an opponent, or felt the full weight of his adversary upon him. Tournaments were always a dangerous sport. They were never choreographed events. These knights fought hard and the unexpected could and did happen.

AM: By the 13th century the tournament had begun to develop diverse and distinct forms. The joust – a combat between two knights – showcased individual prowess and allowed knights to gain honour in the eyes of their peers. By 1500 knights also dismounted and fought on foot with swords and staff weapons. Increasingly armour became very sophisticated and inventive to offer the maximum combination of protection and manoeuvrability.

What form(s) of social display are considered? How great a role does chivalric culture play in this?
AM: Just as much chivalric literature devoted considerable space to descriptions of tournaments, we find influences in the opposite direction: 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.

And did tournaments across Europe generally follow the same trends or were there marked differences between them?
KW: There were so many different types of possible tournaments that it is inevitable that some were more popular that others in different areas in Europe. 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.

What is next for you now? Do you plan more work in this field?
KW: One of our authors, Professor Rosalind Brown-Grant, is leading an exciting new research project on the ‘pas d’armes’ tournament form and we look forward to participating in it.

AM: To further the study of tournaments we need to make more sources available. I am hoping to translate some of the tournament accounts in Middle High German.

We like to finish with the same question to all our contributors. In this issue we’re asking how do you keep abreast of new publications and research? Is there anything that publishers could do better to keep academics informed?KW: Before Covid-19, I would have said that attendance at major conferences, such as the International Medieval Congress are occasions for presentations of new research, meetings and lively debate. It will be interesting to see how online conferences and research forums develop.

AM: For academics, bookstalls are one of the most attractive features of conferences. In future we may see more conferences that are virtual rather than being held in single physical location, and it is logical that publishers should have a presence at such events. Online resources, such as the International Medieval Bibliography (which is produced at the University of Leeds) and the Bibliographie de Civilisation Médiévale, will also prove increasingly important. I would encourage more publishers to get in touch with projects like these and work with them as a way of making their newest publications know to academics around the world.


CONTRIBUTORS: Natalie Anderson, Catherine Blunk, Rosalind Brown-Grant, Ralph Moffat, Alan V. Murray, James Titterton, Iason-Eleftherios Tzouriades, Marina Viallon, Karen Watts.

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