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The Tourney

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14th century jousting — notice how the ladies are loving it. note 

"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 Renaissance, 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 surprisingly, 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 advantage 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 Lady's Favor for it.

Compare and contrast the modern trope of the Tournament Arc, which can overlap with The Tourney if the entrants are sufficiently high-profile in the setting and there's enough pageantry, intrigue, and stakes around the events.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Aruosumente, there's a tournament held during an important public holiday where the White Knights and the Black Knights compete against each other, although it is more of a background event and an excuse for Lante to drag Legna with him.
  • Berserk: In volume 9, when the story shifts back to Guts in order to show what he's been doing during his yearlong absence from the Band of the Hawk, the scene opens on a lavish tournament that includes jousts, foot combat, archery, and tests of strength. The sponsor is an unnamed noble who loves to watch such a spectacle and boasts that the fame of his tournament over the years has drawn strong fighters from different countries. Guts makes a splash by entering the ring and defeating the Bakiraka prince Silat, who up to then had been wiping the floor with the competition. The impressed noble offers Guts a lot of money to work for him in a bandit-hunting expedition, which Guts at first refuses...until the noble mentions that this group of bandits has a female leader, and Guts finds out that the Band of the Hawk has fallen in deep trouble while he was gone.
  • Kengan Ashura centers around the Kengan Association, who arbitrates disputes between Japan's corporations by hiring gladiators to engage in unarmed combat. Ashura centers around the Kengan Annihilation Tournament, which will decide the next chairman of the Kengan Association, while the sequel Kengan Omega centers around the Kengan-Purgatory which will result in a merger between both organizations.

    Card Games 
  • Ivanhoe is a card game in which players take part in five different forms of combat (sword, axe, flail, jousting and hand-to-hand) in order to win the tournament.

    Comic Books 
  • Sleepless: King Surno hosts a tournament to celebrate his accession to the throne of Harbeny, even asking Lady Poppy (the daughter of his brother, the previous ruler King Verato) to bestow The Lady's Favour as the tournament opens.

    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."

    Fan Works 
  • The second part of the Person of Interest series fic Catalyst Verse involves Shaw competing in a jousting tournament.
  • The Hand of the King Tourney is examined in Purple Days. A far more mature Joffrey, finally comprehending the worth of money, despairs at the enormous prizes Robert is offering, especially when the realm is already pretty strapped for cash and he particularly needs a lot of gold to implement his ideas for a unified Royal Legion. Robert refuses to cancel or diminish the prizes. It takes an aghast Joff a second to realize the best way to finance his personal Legion — simply enter in the tourney himself and win the money.
  • DGD Davidson's My Little Pony fanfic To Woo a Princess is set around a fighting tourney for unicorn stallions, where the ultimate victor gets to fight against Princess Luna herself in hopes of winning the right to marry her.
  • One of the several in-universe fanfics in Skyhold Academy Yearbook puts Varric on the back of a horse, trying to win a joust in order to earn the right to marry the woman he secretly loves. He loses badly, but because of the nature of the story, things work out anyway.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Robin Hood (1973), Prince John organizes an archery tournament to lure Robin out of hiding, and uses the perfect bait by awarding the winner a kiss from Maid Marian.
  • In Shrek, one is organized by Lord Farquaad to find a suitable knight to rescue Fiona and bring her back for marriage. Shrek barges in and defeats all the knights when he becomes the target of the tournament, becoming the "winner" by default.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the traveler recognizes the minstrel from him competing in tourneys — being Prince Zorn in disguise.
  • A tourney shows up in The Accursed Kings. It's not really central to the plot, apart from showcasing the dynamics between the characters: the king is privately cursed for organizing a tourney when the kingdom is near bankruptcy, Social Climbers figure out which family members can be sent to possibly catch a well-connected noble's attention, queen Jeanne of France (an Alpha Bitch if there ever was one) has to be stopped from recommending (prevent from participating and singling out for ridicule) Villain Protagonist Robert d'Artois. Robert is noted to be quite a good jouster due to his size and weight, though he can't really enjoy himself due to how badly his plans are going and has to flee the country when the last one fails.
  • In The Armor Of Light, James's court stages one. Sir Philip Sidney, fighting, is targeted by Black Magic but still manages to triumph.
  • Arthurian Legend:
    • Thomas Malory's Le Morte D Arthur. 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 T. H. 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.
  • 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 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.
  • In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the Knight's tale has one central to the plot.
  • The Dinosaur Knights: Who will lead the Army of Correction is determined by a joust where the participants ride, you guessed it, dinosaurs. Jaume is tricked into looking like a coward by attacking a surrendered foe while Falk (said foe) is instructed in no uncertain terms to throw the match.
  • 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 Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles:
    • In 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 Spencer's The Faerie Queene, the knights regularly have tournaments to honor Queen Gloriana.
  • 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 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 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 Ivanhoe, Ivanhoe and other knights fight in one. Much is made of the violence of the melee.
  • In Edward Eager's Knights Castle, the children visit a world of toy knights who host a tournament.
  • In Debra Doyle and James MacDonald's Knights Wyrd, the newly knighted Will sets out on the round of tourneys throughout the land. Unusually, this is the melee.
  • Moth and Cobweb: In John C. Wright's Green Knight's Squire, the knights of Summer and Winter fight in one that verges on highly ritual combat. We also hear that in the back story, Ygrainne had talked the elf knights into this instead of Gladiator Games, pointing out that they should be able to do what merely human knights did.
  • 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.
  • Begin appearing frequently in Squire, the third Protector of the Small book. Keladry begins taking part during the Royal Progress, having been trained by her knightmaster Lord Raoul, one of the kingdom's greatest jousters, and turns out to be quite good at it. She eventually winds up competing against her former training master Lord Wyldon, who promptly dumps her on her arse in the dirt — when he's not dumping her on her face, her shoulder, or her back. Lord Raoul consoles her by pointing out that he no longer jousts against Wyldon simply to preserve his pride, as Wyldon beats him every time.
  • 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 the Chivalric Romance Richard Coeur De Lion — bearing minimal resemblance to the historical figure — Richard appeared in disguise for a three-day tourney, once in black, once in red, once in white.
  • 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 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 wins a tournament for her hand.
  • 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.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The tourney in honor of Eddard Stark becoming the Hand of King is a major plot point in the first book.
    • 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.
    • After crowning himself king, Renly Baratheon holds frequent tourneys, something that strikes Catelyn Stark as frivolous considering that there is the Serious Business of a civil war to be settled.
    • Tales of Dunk and Egg: "The Hedge Knight" 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.
  • Spiral Arm: In 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.
  • The Traitor Son Cycle: There are several tourneys, organized either to celebrate victories or as a cover for more insidious actions.
  • The True Knight: Titch and Gerein fight in one; Titch hopes to make his fortune there.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Galavant: Galavant enters a jousting tourney because the group is out of money, only to be woefully underprepared because he's become an alcoholic, lazy Heartbroken Badass since his girlfriend left him. His reputation gets him moved to the championship bracket, giving Isabella a day to whip him back into athletic shape. She tricks his opponent, Jean Hamm, into getting wasted on absinthe for good measure. Galavant is too sore to move much during the actual joust, leading to the most anticlimactic match ever as both get knocked off their snail's-pace horses. The confused referee deems whoever stands up first to be the winner, which Galavant luckily is.
  • 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.
    • A tourney is held in the pilot episode of House of the Dragon to celebrate the birth of the son of King Viserys I Targaryen, and Daemon Targaryen is the most notable and showy contestant. Alas, the son dies that very day along with his mother so it was All for Nothing (several knights died in that tourney that quickly turned ruleless Blood Sport, besides).
  • Practically a Once a Season thing on Merlin.

  • A Dragon of the North features numerous tournaments. Jon Snow not only competes in the first he attends but wins.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
    • The occasional rulebook or supplement (such as the Complete Fighter's Handbook for AD&D's second edition) would also provide special-case rules on how to resolve tournaments and jousts in particular.
  • 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.

  • Dinner Theatre: 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.

    Video Games 
  • Parodied in Blazing Dragons. An upcoming tournament is offering the hand of the lovely Princess Flame in marriage, but its events consist of log-rolling (which protagonist Flicker handily wins thanks to wearing roller skates) followed by thumb wrestling.
  • In Defender of the Crown, you can hold jousting tournaments against the other lords, with a chance to win part of their territory without going to war over it. Even if your opponent doesn't have any land for you to take, you can still gain leadership and fame if you win, which will make it easier for you to complete most of the other events in the game.
  • The Barons of the March in King of the Castle love a good jousting tournament and hold them regularly. Several story events involve the King being invited to such contests, and they can either sponsor one of the knights in the tournament or declare their intent to compete themselves; if the King competes openly, their opponents will deliberately lose out of fear of retaliation for injuring the ruler, but if they don a Secret Identity, they will actually get a proper fight out of their opponents.
  • Mount & Blade: Set in fictional not-Europe of 1257. Features tournaments that occasionally crop up in major cities. Anyone can enter the games and bet, and winning a tournament grants renown and the favor of court ladies. In a tournament, contestants are given identical gear which varies on the faction hosting the tournament; the knightly Swadians naturally feature horseback jousting, while the Mongol Empire-esque Khergit Khanate features Horse Archer combat.

    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. The man who accidentally killed him, Gabriel de Lorges, Count of Montgomery, had to go to Normandy, where he lived, even though Henry II himself absolved him on his death bed.
  • William Marshal 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 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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