Tournament (It. torniamento; Fr. tovrner, to turn), a military sport of the middle ages. It took its rise after the establishment of the feudal system, and appears to have been introduced into northern Europe as early as the middle of the 9th century, although several centuries elapsed before it came into familiar or reputable use. This was owing perhaps to the costliness as well as the sanguinary character of the contests in the early tournaments, which often resulted in the death or serious injury of several of the combatants, and were conducted very much in the spirit of the gladiatorial shows of the ancient Romans. Hence the prohibition of the practice by such princes as Henry II. of England, and the steady opposition of the church down to a late period.
With the institution of chivalry and knighthood, however, the tournament lost many of its objectionable features; and as an incentive to martial exploits and to a generous emulation in all knightly offices, it began during the period of the crusades to be tolerated, and eventually was encouraged in most countries of Christendom. The church, which had prohibited persons from engaging in tournaments on pain of excommunication, and had denied Christian burial to such as lost their lives in them, finally relaxed its opposition, and until the latter part of the loth century the sport continued in full activity. It thenceforth became gradually transformed into a court pageant, often of the most magnificent and costly description; but the death of Henry II. of France of a wound received at a tournament in 1559 occasioned its abolition in all parts of Europe, although for nearly a century later it continued to be occasionally revived at court festivities. The decay of chivalry, the introduction of firearms, and the gradual disuse of defensive armor, together with the rise of the commercial spirit and the new civilization thereby extended over the world, were the real causes of its decline.
Whatever may have been the nature of the combats in tournaments at the origin of the practice, they soon became for the most part encounters between mounted adversaries (whence the derivation of the term, as illustrative of the agility required by the combatants in turning or managing their horses), who were knights or at least candidates for knighthood, as esquires or pages. A joust was, properly speaking, a combat between two knights, while the tournament included several jousts, or an encounter of several knights on a side. - In-the course of time numerous regulations, having the authority of a code of laws, prescribed the manner in which tournaments should be conducted; and, except where national pride or rivalry, or personal enmity, inflamed the combatants, no serious result was likely to happen. They were generally held at the invitation of some prince upon the .birth or nuptials of royal persons, during royal progresses, or at high court festivals, and heralds were sent into the neighboring kingdoms to invito the knights to be present.
These frequently came from distant countries, attended by splendid retinues; and on the appointed day the galleries encircling the lists, or level enclosed space in which the knights contended, were gay with banners and costly draperies and crowded with spectators, conspicuous among whom were the ladies, whose approving smiles were the rewards most esteemed by the victors. In the flourishing period of tournaments two kinds of arms were employed, those made expressly for the purpose, consisting of lances with the points blunted or covered with pieces of wood, called rockets, and swords blunted or rebated; and those ordinarily used in warfare, termed armes a' outrance, which in many cases were not permitted by the judges of the tournament. The blows, whether of lance or sword, were required to be directed at the head and breast, and no combatant was permitted to strike an adversary after he had raised his visor, or to wound his horse. Each knight in attendance was obliged to prove his noble birth and rank, which were originally proclaimed by the heralds with sound of trumpet; whence the word blazonry, signifying the art of deciphering the heraldic devices on a coat of arms, from the German blasen, to blow.
At a later period the emblazoned shields of the knights, suspended at the barriers or entrance of the lists, sufficed to indicate their rank and family. If upon the accusation of any lady present the bravery or loyalty of a knight was impeached, he was excluded by the heralds from the contest. The heralds having proclaimed the laws of the tournament, at the sound of the trumpet the whole body of knights, each with his attendant squire, entered the lists in a glittering cavalcade, distinguishable only by their emblazoned shields or by the favors of their mistresses suspended from their crests, after which the martial exercises of the tournament began. At the word of the heralds, Laissez-aller, the opposing combatants rode at each other in full career, striving to direct their lances fairly upon the helmet or shield of their adversaries, that one being adjudged the victor who broke most spears "as they ought to be broken," who held his seat the longest, and who showed most endurance in keeping his visor closed. Sometimes dismounted knights encountered each other with swords or axes.
The prizes were announced by the judges, selected from the older knights, but were awarded by ladies. - A favorite form of the tournament was the so-called passage of arms, in which a party of knights, assuming the office of challengers, offered combat to all who dared oppose them. Of this, as also of the melee or encounter of bodies of knights attended by their squires, a splendid description is given in Scott's "Ivanhoe." The later tournaments were comparatively harmless.