tournament or tourney, in the Middle Ages, public contest between armed horsemen in simulation of real battle. In this military game, which flourished from the 12th to the 16th cent., combatants were frequently divided into opposing factions, each led by a champion. It differed from the joust, a single combat bout fought with weapons of war. Tournaments perhaps originated in trials by battle (see ordeal) or in the earlier gladiatorial combats. The tournament, a typical feature of the Middle Ages, was based on the ideals of chivalry. Thought to have originated in France in the 11th cent., tourneys spread to Germany, England, and S Europe; laws governing them became more or less universal. Such affairs, usually held at the invitation of kings or nobles, were the occasion of much pageantry. Knights with their entourages camped near the field of combat, and their qualifications were examined by judges of the day. The typical tournament field, or lists, was an oval or rectangular area enclosed by barriers and flanked by pavilions for important personages, the ladies who sponsored the combatants, and the judges. Heralds announced the participants, and then, with a fanfare of trumpets, the warriors made their entrance, clad in armor and astride richly caparisoned horses. Their weapons were usually blunted lances or swords. The events of the day normally began with combat between individuals and ended with a collective contest. Prizes were awarded the victors by the queen of beauty, chosen to preside over the tournament. Knights were often killed or gravely injured at tournaments, and to lessen that danger a barrier, or tilt, was sometimes stretched along the length of the lists. The combatants fought across it, and this version of the sport was known as tilting. Although attempts were made to suppress or regulate tournaments, the practice continued until changed social conditions caused a decline in its popularity.
See studies by F. H. Cripps-Day (1918) and R. W. Barber and J. Barker (1989, repr. 2000).