It is estimated that in Germany knights’ tournaments began in August 1127. The first tournament is said to have been fought between two dukes during the siege of Würzburg. Tournaments spread further afield and also became popular themes for poets and painters. The Church, however, disapproved of such contests and even refused to allow a Christian burial to participants killed in tournaments.
There were various types of martial contests. The Joust was a contest where two knights tried to knock the opponent off his horse using lances. There were two types of blows used. With a blow beneath the chin, the knight was numbed by the impact and fell to the ground. The blow to the shield knocked the knight off his saddle due to the force of the blow. When the opponent was lying on the ground he was not allowed to be trodden on by the horse.
The Bohort was a less dangerous contest with many participants. The name meant something like “bumping into” or “impact” and described an important feature of the contest. The knight was armed with shield and spear and wore no armour. Sometimes no weapons were used during the fight in order to demonstrate the skilfulness of the knights. The victor was the one who knocked the most other knights off their horses.
The actual tournament (from the Latin word “tornus” meaning “revolving disc”) was a hard contest, whereby the emphasis lay on practising for war. That is why the knights were equipped as if they were really going into battle, but they used blunt weapons. Right at the beginning, the time and place, number of knights and the ransom for prisoners were agreed upon. Any knight was allowed to participate. The participants were divided into two teams, who then lined up in a wedge-shape. The teams rode towards each other as a closed group. During a tournament there were also jousts or contests between small groups. A tournament could last for several days.
There were often men injured or even killed during a tournament. This was one of the reasons why the Church disapproved of these contests. Whoever was captured by the opponent during a tournament had to buy himself free according to his rank. For this reason, some knights became rich through the contests, but others became impoverished. The victor was the knight who proved to be the bravest and had distinguished himself. Mostly the victor only won symbolical prizes like hunting falcons or dogs, but he was sure to have won great admiration.
A tournament wasn’t only popular with the contestants, but also attracted a large audience. It was mainly “see and be seen”, and tournaments were even used for looking for a wife. Such contests were carried out as far as the 16th century. However, the actual tournament gradually disappeared, but more jousts or bohorts were carried out. By that time these contests had practically become exercises of skill, and not only knights but also ordinary citizens were allowed to participate. Even today, such contests entertain spectators during Medieval Markets.