When not fighting wars, knights needed to hone their skills. One way to do this was through tournaments and jousting. These events were a great way to keep in shape during times of peace.
Two Knights Jousting by Friedrich Martin von Reibisch
Tournaments were pretend battles between groups of knights. When a town or area would have a tournament they would invite knights from other areas. Typically the local knights fought against the knights from outside the area.
The battle took place on a large field. On the day of the tournament a large crowd would gather to watch. There would even be stands built where the local nobles could sit to watch. Both sides would parade past the spectators shouting war cries and showing off their armor and coat of arms.
The tournament would begin with each side lining up and preparing for the charge. At the sound of a bugle each side would lower their lances and charge. The knights that were still on their horses after the first charge would turn and charge again. This "turning" is where the name "tournament" or "tourney" comes from. This would continue until one side won.
As you can imagine, tournaments were dangerous. The lances used were blunted so that knights would not be killed, but many were still injured. The best knight from each side was often awarded a prize.
Jousting was another very popular competition among knights during the Middle Ages. A joust was where two knights would charge each other and try to knock the other off their horse with a lance. Jousting was the highlight of many games and events. The winners were heroes and often won prize money.
Two Knights Jousting, one falling by Friedrich Martin von Reibisch
The Ideal Knight
Knights were expected to behave a certain way. This was called the Code of Chivalry. The ideal knight would be humble, loyal, fair, Christian, and have good manners.
Code of Chivalry
Here are some of the main codes which Knights tried to live by:
To follow the church and defend it with his life
To protect women and the weak
To serve and defend the king
To be generous and honest
To never lie
To live by honor and for glory
To help widows and orphans
Many knights took vows that they would maintain the code. Not all knights followed the code, especially when it came to dealing with people of the lower classes.
Interesting Facts about Tournaments, Jousts, and the Code of Chivalry
Sometimes a knight or group of knights would stake out a bridge and refuse to let other knights pass unless they fought. This was called "pas d'armes".
Tournaments and jousts attracted crowds of people for entertainment. In many ways, the knights of the Middle Ages were like the sports stars of today.
Tournaments, jousts, and pas d'armes were all part of a number of competitions called "hastiludes".
Sometimes the winning knights won the losers' horses and armor. The losers then had to buy them back. Talented knights could become rich this way.
The word "chivalry" comes from the Old French word "chevalerie" meaning "horseman".
Jousting was outlawed in France when King Henry II was killed in a joust competition in 1559.