One of the most important aspects of chivalry is the knight and his horse. Without these two, chivalry or even the knight of the Middle Ages, would be somewhat very less interesting. For it was the loyalty, honor, and bravery of the knight and his trusted steed, that became legend and the subject of many stories and fables. This image is what inspired Chaucer’s “A Knight’s Tale” and many other medieval writer’s inspirations. It was also what became the main symbolic aspect of the medieval tournament.
The standard tournament or model for such event, arose from Roman times as depicted through early works of art, but was further developed and branded during the 1160’s and 1170’s and through such works as The Life of William Marshal and many of the works of romances by Chretien de Troyes, who was renowned for his works of chivalry and courtly love romances.
Throughout the Middle Ages, chivalry and the knight was an important symbol to secular society. Tournaments were knights would showcase their skills, were a height of popularity in Tudor times, as well during the time of Edward IV and Richard III. References are slim but they did hold these events. It is entirely possible that Richard himself was trained to participate as well. But we do not know, nor have the evidence at hand to know if this really happened or not, least I have not come across it of late. (Richard competing in a tournament, would be like jackpot in my book!) We know from historical record that Edward paid for Richard to be tutored in the ways of knighthood up at Middleham Castle, while he was staying with Richard Neville, the “King Maker.”
|Aneurin Barnard as Richard, Duke of Gloucester|
There are records that in 1465, when Richard would have been 14 years of age, he began his study of arms under Warwick. His age corresponds to the average age of when most youth of noble linage would enter the tutelage of one who would prepare them for the ways of taking up arms whether it be for warfare or for sport. It is noted, Edward IV paid “for costs and expenses incurred by him on behalf of the Duke of Gloucester,” while Richard was at Middleham. It is presumed that Edward IV was thinking of the future of his throne when he made this move. He knew Warwick’s reputation, as it was beyond excellent, and he needed as many allies as possible on his side to maintain the throne and keep the peace in the land. Henry VI was still alive, dethroned, but alive. That alone was enough of a threat. He needed allies, and ones of blood were the best kind. So by training Richard in the finest art of warfare to the highest degree and preparing him for the most honorable position of knighthood, later becoming a knight of the Order of the Garter, was a perfectly planned move. The skills and expertise later won Richard his renowned reputation on the battlefield as well as being an excellent equestrian.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of tournaments and the “big picture” is the contribution that Richard started while he was king; he started the College of Arms. The College of Arms still exists today and housed the heralds and their work. The heralds kept track of the genealogy aspect of the noble families that bore their crests, as well as the use of arms in battle and on the jousting or tournament field. The heralds have been known to be of use since the twelfth century. In 1484, the heralds were granted a charter to have their services housed in London, by Richard III. When Henry Tudor came to power, he dismantled the heralds giving their authority of their order to his mother, Margaret Beaufort. It wasn’t until 1555, that it was reestablished. The heralds whether they are in funeral processions, or other stately events also were present at tournaments. There they confirmed and recording participation in events and proved proof of genealogy of the competitors during these events. They were also quite noticeable because their tabards were of the royal coat of arms, which distinguished them from other members of court and signified their importance.
(Image: King Richard III and his family in the contemporary Rous Roll in the Heralds' College. Left to right: Anne Neville, Queen of King Richard III; King Richard III; Edward, Prince of Wales, their son. ) 
So why where tournaments important? Besides working on skill and equestrian expertise; knights alike could tone their skills so when it was time for battle, they knew what they were up against. It was also a place to display and build a reputation for their houses, as well as training. It is uncertain that Richard III actually competed in any of these events, but it is known that Edward IV held them, and Henry VIII did participate, hence his famous jousting accident that caused him pain in later years of his life.
One of the most famous events of these tournaments, was jousting. Which involved two-armored knight on horseback. While on horse back, the knights charged each other very fast, using lances and the goal was to either break the opponent’s lance or unhorse him. Jousting was very popular in England and Germany through out the Middle Ages. It was highly popular in France until 1559, when King Henry II was killed in a jousting tournament. It was discontinued in France as a sport as a result. Horses used in these events were not light breeds such as Arabians, or Thoroughbreds of today, but heavier breeds similar to warm-bloods chargers and “Destriers.” Chargers were bred for aglity and stamina and the destriers were similar but larger to Andalusians, but not as big as today’s draft horses. Kind of in the middle.
15th-Century Manuscript Illumination of a
Knight in Armor from the Codex Capodilista
In the tournaments and also on the battlefield the horses wore it’s riders herald or coat of arms on his blanket or “caparison”, had armour on his head called “chanfron.” The rider almost all the time had spurs to help drive the horse forward, as well as saddle and bridle. The different colors and the overall display was one that was very appealing to many, espeically the sepectators of the sport aiding in its popularity. Later in the 15-16th century armor even had branched off to specific uses, even one for tournaments. Modifications were made to the suits to help with lance blows and helms were fashioned for more movement and better overal fit. Tournaments were mostly held on Mondays, Tuesdays and other days of the week with the exception of Fridays and Sundays. As well as put on during the year, except during the 40 days during Lent. Announcment of such events were made about a fortnight before, or two weeks. At the end of the day, the patron or whom ever put on the event celebrated the days festivities with food, banquet, prizes and various forms of entertainment. It was an event that many would not want to miss. Because of the festivities surounding such events, it is prehaps why its allure and importance still remains today and is an important symbol of midieval life and culture. Adding to its perservation, the contrubitions made by King Richard III, with the housing of the Heralds aided directly its preservation for years to come and is probably why we know of it today.
1. Original from the Rous Roll, by John Rous, 15th century. Image is printed in: Jesse, John Heneage (1862) Memoirs of King Richard the Third and Some of His Contemporaries: With an Historical Drama on the Battle of Bosworth (PDF), London: Richard Bentley, pp. p. X Retrieved on 10 April 2009. (Accessed: 2/6/2014)
2. Halsted, Caroline A. Richard III: As Duke of Gloucester and King of England. Vol. 1 Longman. London, England. c. 1844. Pp. 109- 116
3. Jones, Robert. Knight, The Warrior and World of Chivalry. Metro Books, New York, New York c. 2011
7. Email from Amy Licence 2/7/2014