Of Clerics and Kings
Amid the princely pall of knights, lords, counts, barons, earls and dukes that might attend the tournament with those lesser but no less affluent merchants, patricians, businessman and perhaps depending on what law had recently been passed, glimpsing the odd ringlet of a Jewish merchant or money lender (a magnet for the pickpockets and thieves that lurked on the edges of the festivities) as they went, there was in this crowded assembly a distinctly noticeable absentee, that linchpin of medieval society the clergyman.
Amongst the ducal coronets, jaunty aristocratic hoods and high ladies mantles the shaved crown of a monk and the high mitre of a bishop was glaringly absent.
Why? Might well we ask, for usually were the aristocracy was the church was never far away, casting a disapproving eye on the affairs of the worldly. But though some monks might attend a tournament to preach of it’s evils, tournaments were strictly taboo for the clergy and would probably prefer to warn their flocks against it from a pulpit.
To the pope and indeed to many secular kings tournaments were breeding grounds of violence, thievery, drunkenness, immorality and a couple more choice sins. It was thought that these fake battles also distracted knights from their true duty, the defence of Christendom.
The papal feeling towards tournaments was made very clear when in 1130 Pope Innocent II banned Christian burial for those killed in them and it was suggested that anyone who competed in them would be excommunicated. That this was seen as a deterrent to knights shows just how dangerous these tourneys were, the gamble for a knight entering the lists would now not just put his purse in danger but his very soul.
It was not just the church either that cast a dim view on these events. A king could not very well be pleased if every year a good amount of his bravest knights got themselves killed in a mock battle, also it must be admitted that in terms of lawlessness and attracting rather unwanted elements, the church did have a point.
The Kings of England were especially strict. After King Stephen died in 1154 and Henry II came to the throne, Henry, a far stricter monarch than his predecessor did his level best to discourage tournaments in his kingdom, much to the disgust of the aristocracy, however he drew the line when it came to his continental dominions, and all three of his sons were avid competitors on the proving grounds of France, his son Geoffrey Duke of Brittany in fact died in 1186 when he was trampled in a Melee, no wonder perhaps that the King was not a fan.
Such prejudices did not sit well with his successors however. His eldest son Henry (The Young King) competed avidly in tournaments and hired the champion knight Sir William Marshal to protect him from capture, he famously arrived at the field of Langy Sur Marne in 1179 with a team of over 500 knights for which he paid £200 a day. As might be expected Richard I was only too happy to lift the ban on the sport, after all it would be a rather kittenish Lion that decided to continue the clampdown because it was a threat to public order.
In the opinion of the Coeur de lion, the Kings will would be enough to restrain the excesses that might or might not cause a little disturbance to a few priggish clerics or townsmen.
The great Crusader might have been a great and pious King but he was not the sort of man to discourage the warlike tendencies of his subjects just to please he sensibilities of the Church, of whom he would become the greatest defender of.
In 1192 he lifted the restrictions and instituted guidelines that brought the giving of tournaments within the law. Six grounds were selected were tournaments would be permitted, any held away from these sanctioned fields was illegal and the host subject to prosecution, further more, just to regulate the process a little more he ordered that no tournament could be held without a licence, which patrons could pay to obtain, the price varied depending on the circumstance.
King John and his successor Henry III however did not have the same martial bent or sporting spirit and irksome prohibitions were placed upon the holding of tournaments, making Richards admirable strictures almost obsolete, so much so did they clamp down on the practice that enthusiasm began to wane dramatically in England.
Well might it seem that the unpopular signer of Magna Carta and then rather feeble Henry had finally put paid to the English tourney but that would be reckoning without Henry’s eldest and most warlike son Prince Edward who would become one of the most feared monarchs in history, ruthless and cunning, his skill at arms was legendary and his prowess on the battlefield unsurpassed but before the Hammer of the Scots became as such Prince Edward was an avid and lethal jouster.
When in 1272 he took the throne the Tournament in England experienced a popular resurgence which lasted until the last days of his grandson Edward III’s reign.
In it’s purest sense the tournament, with the biggest attraction being the melée or tourney, had it’s heyday in the 12th and 13th centuries and while they lack something of then popular image we conjure today of such events there is no doubting their more practical appeal to warriors, despite their dangerous reputation.
In November 1179 King Louis IIV held a tournament at Langy sur Marne that attracted 3,000 knights, moving on into the next century the purist tournament seems to have reached the pinnacle, with attendances well exceeding Louis’ grand muster entering the state tournaments of Phillip III in 1279 at Senlis and on the old proving grounds at Compiegne.
Last comments: The end of the Tourney.
The Royal banning of tournaments was not restricted to the English of course, in 1260 Louis IX banned tourney’s in his domains and this ban was largely kept up by his successors.
By this time safer weapons were being used more and more and in 1292 Edward I, in his statute of arms, states that blunted swords and daggers would be used for tournaments.
It is interesting to note that Louis specifically banned Tourney’s and not tournaments and indeed from the 13th century and especially from the reign of Edward I and by the time of his grandson the melée begins lose ground to the more familiar jousts so much so that in 1342 the single jousting or Vespers at Dunstable lasted so long that the melée lines made their grand charge as the sun was sinking, the crowd would not have seen much else.
So it was that the joust superseded the melée, which became known as a tourney and was scaled down considerably from the massed battles of the 12th century.This was as much to do with a growing inclination for pageantry and refinement, as for martially practical reasons, the event was the most dangerous of the day.
By reducing the numbers and constricting the field, the crowd was able to have a much better view of the fight and the gorgeous heraldry that had come into use as time progressed, real weapons had faded from the lists and so ‘war’ had disappeared from the game entirely, however it was still seen as the greatest test of actual martial skill well into the 14th century.
In France the tourney lingered a little, the last known being held at Bruges in 1379, as for the tournament itself, jousting became king of the lists, followed by many other displays that hitherto had just been part of the tapestry that had been the melee, sword, spear, axe and mace were sectioned into different events that added colour and more scope for prizes.
However enthusiasm for the tournament in its modern form was becoming ever more unpopular, the main reason being a lord or King would tax his subjects more and more as they became increasingly gilded.
Not least because of the popular and probably credited medieval person’s fear of plague spreading crowds, the sign of the times was becoming evident as the 13th century began to draw to a close. As the last tourney teams charged at Bruges, the citizens of Ghent rioted when they heard they were to bear the brunt of the finical burden for their own tournament.
Tournaments in the fashion we know today carried on well into Tudor times but little by little, just as the knight disappeared from the battlefield so too did the tournament fade into history, the grandeur and drama of those exiting days living on only in books, movies and our imaginations.
Hope you enjoyed the Melee, series, that was the last one, I’ve had fun writing it, and this is the first of my original “Flagship” series’ to finish.
To see the beginning please click here https://adventuresinhistoryland.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/lets-go-down-to-the-melee-part-1/
See you again for another Adventure in Historyland