Monday, February 9, 2015

The Tournament World

From Henry the Young King:
The 12th century saw the rise of tournament as one of the main features of aristocratic life. One reason the aristocrates and knights were fascinated by the tournament was because they could parade their skills and thus win fame. The other was the sheer joy of participating. Of course they could also reap profit on it, especially landless knights such as William Marshal. Theologian and canon of Cirencester Alexander Nequam gives yet one more reason for organising and participating in that knightly game, namely that 'they [the knights] engage seriously in war games and occupy themselves in the image of war, in order to becomemore adept in military conflict". However, he did express his disapproval, too, writing that knights "desire to barter their lives for praise and, careless of their own souls, expose themselves to mortal danger in pursuit of vainglorious reputation". Even if that was Henry the Young King's chief motif, and he indeed sought the "vainglorious reputation' we understand why he was doing that. Bieng king only in name, he had to find some other way to win fame. Often accused of "playing at war” and participating in "mock battles”, he, as most of the young aristocrats of the 12th century, found participating in tournaments a way to make himself a "man of account”. When he was forced to spend a year in England at his father's side, learning the bisuness of kingship, he did not try to hide his impatience and discontent. He was to say:

"It should be a source of much harm to me to stay idle for so long, and I am extremely vexed by it. I am no bird to be mewed up; a young man who does not travel around could never aspire to any worthwhile thing, and he should be regarded as of no account” (The History of William Marshal)

Note what the Young King takes for "idleness”. Do not forget that taking part in tournaments was the matter of views and attitude of the entire generation of the young aristocracy, not only the Young King's fancy.
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