Geoffrey de Preuilly did not invent the tournament

If you ask Google about the first tournament where knights fought against each other, an answer you might get is that it happened in the year 1066, and it was invented by Geoffrey de Preuilly. This is almost undoubtedly wrong.

Where does the story of Geoffrey de Preuilly come from? There is a medieval account - the Chronicle of St Martin of Tours - that notes in the year 1066:

In the seventh year of the emperor Henry and the third year of king Philip, there was treacherous plot at Angers, where Geoffrey de Preuilly and other barons was killed. This Geoffrey de Preuilly invented tournaments.

While this account seems straightforward, it was actually written in the early thirteenth-century by Pean Gatineau, who was living in the French town of Tours. Pean also noted in a different chronicle that “Geoffrey de Preuilly, who invented tournaments, was killed at Angers,” although he places that entry under the year 1062.

Since no other work mentions any connection between Geoffrey and tournaments, most historians have reasoned that this was just a local legend that Pean had heard and included it into his own works.

One of the most thorough reviews of the question when did tournaments begin comes from Richard Barber and Juliet Barker. They describe a series of references to them from the early twelfth-century - for example a charter from 1114 that prohibited personal feuds from taking place at tournaments - which shows that these events were happening and quickly becoming more popular. Barber and Barker believe that the origins of tournaments begin in the late eleventh-century in northern France as a game to train knights using lances. They write:

The significance of the new method of combat was that it required training and practice in order to carry it off. Moreover, as its maximum effect could only be obtained by a number of knights acting in unison, it was team training and team practice that was necessary. The tournament fulfilled all these needs admirably and indeed may have developed precisely as a result of those needs.

The book by Richard Barber and Juliet Barker, Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages, was published by Boydell in 1978.

The latest issue of Medieval Warfare magazine also looks at the emergence of tournaments with the article “Quintain, dice and young knights - Jousting on the First Crusade” by Conor Kostick. Click here to learn more about the issue.

 

 

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