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The Tourney
14th century jousting - notice how the ladies are loving it.

By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney,
Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end
Methinks it is no journey.
Tom o'Bedlam's Song

When knights were bold, they fought not only in battle, but in tourneys. Originally this was a melee — divided into two sides, the knights proceeded to go at each other with great vigor and frequent deaths. As time went on, the more familiar jousting was added; by the time of the Rennaissance, jousts often dominated, along with other entertainments, especially highly stylized pageantry. (The original tournaments, named so for the way the horses would turn to do the next pass at arms.)

Not unsurprisingly, this often features in fiction with knights from the Chivalric Romance onward. Usually just jousting, and fairly innocuously — deaths are treated as rare freak accidents. Though the jousting can also contain hidden rivalries, or even be Trial by Combat. In some cases, a princess or great lady will marry the victor.

The Black Knight may show up, unidentified. Indeed, some knights have taken advantages of the armor to maintain a Secret Identity as a menial servant — often three tournaments before he's unmasked.

It can be distinguished from the Gladiator Games in that tourney are fought in by men of Royal Blood, or Blue Blood. Without being knighted, a character can't compete. (At least, if he tells the truth.) It's very common for it to be part of the celebration after a knighting — after all the new knight must show what he's made of. It's also very common for a knight to carry The Ladys Favor for it.


Fairy Tales
  • In The Golden Crab,the king tries to have such a tourney to substitute a bridegroom for the crab his daughter married.
    Then the King said to her, 'I will appoint a tournament in your honour, and I will invite all the princes in the world to it, and if any one of them pleases you, you shall marry him.'


  • Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur. At one point Lancelot disguised himself by carrying Elaine's favor — everyone knew he was in love with the queen and wouldn't carry another woman's.
  • In TH White's The Once and Future King. Unusually, he actually uses the melee form, and talks of the time that Lancelot and Gareth took the other side from Arthur and Gareth's other brothers.
  • In Sir Walter Scott's Quentin Durward, in the Back Story, Isabelle's aunt was married off to the victor of a tourney; the king, citing that, decides she shall be married off to whoever brings him the head of de la Marck.
  • In Ivanhoe, Ivanhoe and other knights fight in one. Much is made of the violence of the melee.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Roswall and Lillian, Roswell magically appears as an armored knight to fight in the tourney for three days, despite working as a menial servant in between.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Ipomadon, Ipomadon appears at the tourney in disguise — pretending to be hunting in the meantime, even though it is for the hand of the princess he loves.
  • In The Armor of Light, James's court stages one. Sir Philip Sidney, fighting, is targetted by Black Magic but still manages to triumph.
  • The tourney in honor of Eddard Stark becoming the Hand of King is a major plot point in book one of A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • There are several famous tourneys referred to in the backstory, as well. Most notably, at the Tourney of Harrenhal, the married Prince Rhaegar won, and crowned the betrothed Lyanna Stark as Queen of Love and Beauty, an event which caused a lot of outrage and hinted at the affair between them which would ultimately lead to a civil war.
    • In the same universe, "The Hedge Knight" (a "Dunk & Egg" story) has the two characters meet up on the way to a tourney. Duncan, a squire to a dead knight, pretends to be a knight himself in order to enter, and over the course of the series continues Becoming the Mask. From main-series history we know that he will go on to become Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
  • In Victoria Ugryumova's Doppelganger for the Jester, a tourney in the honor of the new empress is marred by an assassination attempt on The Emperor. Also, by tradition, the winner of the tourney challenges a member of the Emperor's Guard to one-on-one combat—and gets his ass handed back to him, just like every other challenger before him.
  • In Spencer's The Faerie Queene, the knights regularly have tournaments to honor Queen Gloriana.
  • In Edward Eager's Knight's Castle, the children visit a world of toy knights who host a tournament.
  • In L. Sprague de Camp's Harold Shea series, when Harold and friends visit the world of The Faerie Queene, they arrive just in time for a tournament.
  • In the Belgariad and Malloreon, the Arendish people, who basically embody a parody of Chivalric Romance, have tourneys regularly for various reasons, including the purposes of Trial by Combat. A few other races have tourneys as well, usually to settle arguments over which warrior is the best with the minimum of bloodshed.
  • King Wilfrid's Faire stages a tourney daily in Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon. Lilian Bunting enthusiastically notes it is complete with the melee.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Sir Isumbras, Isumbras is reduced to menial work as The Blacksmith. However, he makes himself armor, and when some characters, as a jest, give him a horse, he distinguishes himself at the tourney.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Partonope de Blois, the last thing Partonope must do to win back his beloved Melior is to win at three days of tourney.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham, one excuse the knights gave for not fighting the dragon was they would miss a scheduled tourney.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Richard Coeur de Lion — bearing minimal resemblence to the historical figure — Richard appeared in disguise for a three day's tourney, once in black, once in red, once in white.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Sir Degare, Degare fights in a tourney for the hand of a princess. Only once he has won does it occur to him to test the princess with a token left with him when he was abandoned as a child; this enables her to recognize him as her son before the situation gets out of hand. He later meets his father and reunites the couple.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Sir Degrevant, Degrevant, long persecuted by a neighboring lord and long in love with the neighbor's daughter, enters and win a tournament for her hand.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel In the Lion's Mouth, the Pedant notes that the pasdarms is certainly descended from this. While the fighting bears no relationship, the pageantry was very like the late medieval tourneys.
  • In The Unhandsome Prince, Melinower hosts a regular one, with separate categories for regular and enchanted weapons. Prince Hal decides to enter with the apparently-useless enchanted sword he recently bought, and, since no one knows that he's finally discovered the sword's secret, he can bet heavily on himself.
  • In Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles novel Talking To Dragons, they stage a fight between a knight and a dragon, which, Daystar knows, is not a proper tournament even though they call it one.
    • A proper one is held in "Utensile Strength", before the bake-off to trick a hero into discovering he's the proper wielder of the Frying Pan of Doom.
  • In Debra Doyle and James MacDonald's Knight's Wyrd, the newly knighted Will sets out on the round of tourneys throughout the land. Unusually, this is the melee.
  • In Susan Dexter's The True Knight, Titch and Gerein fight in one; Titch hopes to make his fortune there.
  • In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the traveler recognizes the minstrel from he competing in tourneys — being Prince Zorn in disguise.
  • In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the Knight's tale has one central to the plot.

Live-Action TV
  • Game of Thrones: The most notable one was the Tourney of the Hand in Season 1, but we also see tourneys hosted by King Joffrey Baratheon and King Renly Baratheon in Season 2.
  • Practically a Once a Season thing on Merlin.

  • Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament starts as a friendly contest of skill and jousting prowess between the kingdom's best six knights, but quickly escalates into a tournament filled with battles to the death to determine the kingdom's champion once the story hits full stride.

Tabletop RPG
  • These occurred on a regular basis in Chaosium's Pendragon game, which makes sense because it's based on the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
  • Dungeons & Dragons. Some Dragon magazine articles provided information on tournaments, such as "The Fairest of the Fairs" in Dragon #137 and "Campaign Components: Knights" in Dragon #299.

Real Life
  • Queen Elizabeth I's Accession Day (the anniversary of the day she became queen) was annually celebrated with a tourney, which was more than half pageantry. Every knight would choose his alias, his pageant car, the proper attendants and a motto to flatter the queen, make a grand speech in her honor, — and, oh yes, actually riding in tilts against another knight.
  • Henry II of France was accidentally killed in a tourney.
  • William Marshal is became known as "the greatest knight who ever lived" and started his career as a Tourney fighter when his father send him away to France to get rid of him. He became so successful and famous, that he was chosen by King Henry II of England to be the personal trainer of his son and to take him into his tournament team. He came to serve the royal household under four kings and for some time even was the regent of the kingdom.
  • Aside from the European version, stylized martial games can be found in many cultures to this day and were the origin of many major sports like Polo. There are even updated tourneys that include contests with modern weapon's platforms like the Tiger Meet fighter competition regularly held in Belgium.
  • Henry IV of England had a pretty illustrious reputation as a jouster, and was probably the best in England when he was a young man. His chance to prove it against his only real rival in a Duel to the Death was cut short by Richard The Second exiling them.

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