The Gallery

The role of the consort in the context of the tournament, her chivalric role, perspecitve, both in the Middle Ages and today.

Welcome to The Gallery! This area of the KCT Library is designed to be a growing inventory of research and links about spectator activities during medieval tournaments. 

Some of the areas may still be under construction when you get there. Bear with me. Also, if you have interesting information to add to the area, please let me know. I would love to add your information!

Table of Contents

  • The Helm Shau
  • Courts of Love
  • Procession
  • Castle of Love
  • Awarding and Scoring
  • Veil of Mercy
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  • Role in Ransoms
  • Feasts and Balls
  • Other Activities
  • Favors & Inspiration


None here yet–contribute something!

The Helmschau

(literally, the helm show) played prominently in tournaments of the 15th Century period. As described in this excerpt from a modern English translation of King Rene’s Livre Tournoi, translated by Elizabeth Bennett, the basic format was simple. After dinner the judges for the tournament lead in the ladies of nobility who look over all the helms, with their crests and banners. The knight is named by the King of Arms and the ladies look over the selected device of the knight, probably to ensure that they will know them in tomorrow’s tournament.

The final, and strangest part of the Helm Shau, is that of the grievance. Any lady may publicly state any grievance they have against anyone partaking in the tournament. These range from usery to speaking ill of the lady. The judges then discuss the charge privately and, depending on the grievance, the knight may be asked to gain mercy from the ladies of the gallery or may be beaten and forced to ride the barrier as though he were riding a horse.

Courts of Love

A pastime which often proceeded tournaments was the Court of Love. This was particularly popular during the Late Middle Ages. There is little evidence that there were Courts of Love before the 14th Century. There is also little said of courts of love in England. The primary information on these courts comes from France and Italy.

The courts were, literally, a court where the patroness (and it was always a lady) hears cases of wrongful treatment of consorts. As her rulebook, she relies on the Rules of Courtly Love. This lead to some VERY strange rulings. One of the strangest was a determination by Isabella d’Este in favor of a man who approached her court. His claim was that a lady had stated that were she not married to a certain count and already enjoying the favors of a lover, this man would be her second choice as lover. The Count later died and the lady married her lover. The man’s claim was that now she was free to take him as a lover, since she already had her love as her husband. It was determined by the “court” that, indeed, she must take this man as her lover or pay a fine unto him (Her husband, wisely, paid the fine).

These courts were described as finely arrayed pavilions and high seats where sat the finest of ladies with troubadours and other entertainment. It was clear that they were primarily oriented toward entertaining the ladies and lords in question, rather than any serious matters of law.


It is clear from the writings of a number of authors devoted to the tournament and from the manuscripts of the day, that the Procession figured very prominently in the tournament. The procession was the chance for the patrons of the tournament to “show their stuff” as it were. Often there were small theatrical presentations going on along the streets. If the tournament was associated with a wedding then the presentations might surround romance and great unions of love (such as scenes from Tristan and Iseult). If it was associated with a Coronation, there would be displays of the stories of great leaders (such as Solomon).

The procession was frequently a place where most favored children were very much on display. One description of Twelfth Night festivities in late 1400’s in York, for example, make clear that the procession was lead by a King and Queen of Misrule and a Boy Bishop. These were noble children under the age of reason (seven years according to the Catholic Church). There is similar to display of children described in Rene’s Book of the Tournament.

Castle of Love

Like many other activities related to the gallery, there is little evidence for this before the end of the 13th Century. The Castle of Love was, literally, a scaffolded tower which was placed within the boundaries of a melee. There is not enough description of the activities of the Castle to really determine exactly what was done here but it is clear from both manuscripts and artistic renditions, that there are a good number of Ladies in the “tower”. These ladies are frequently depicted throwing flowers or chess pieces, as though to defend themselves. Meanwhile, the knights who are depicted seem to be climbing the “tower” to steal kisses, sleeves and other favors from the ladies. Given that the tournament is usually depicted as continuing around the tower, it appears that this is a voluntary activity. Those who desire to please the ladies allow themselves to be vulnerable by climbing the tower. This is also corroborated by the fact that a number of texts describe knights as either pleasing the ladies or taking home a healthy ransom. It seems that this tension between winning the tournament and winning the renown of the ladies is very old. The one difference is that often the ladies had a good prize of their own to award. For more on this, go to the award section.

Awarding and Scoring

It is clear from descriptions such as this one, that ladies were given prizes to award but it is not clear whether or not they did the actual scoring.

And the said ladies and gentle women shall give unto the best jouster of all a costly diamond. Unto the next best a ruby worth half as much. And to the third a sapphire worth half of that. And on the said day there should be officers of arms to measure that the spears are of the same length, that is the coronal, vamplate and ‘grapers’ inclusive and anything else pertaining. They shall joust with the said comers, who may take the length of the said spears with the advice of the officers of arms, who shall be indifferent to all parties on the said day.

Illuminations of the tournaments often show ladies holding up fingers. They appear to be keeping score of lances broken or crests dislodged but it is not clear whether they are doing it because they are wagering with each other, keeping score for the judges or just as a way for the artist to indicate their level of interest.

Veil of Mercy

King Rene’s book of the Tournament gives a great description of the Veil of Mercy and how it was commonly used. In the description, the ladies select a man of honor to wield a veil of mercy. He is to place this veil upon any man who the ladies judge to have become too exhausted to continue. The combatant may then exit the field without shame to receive the ministrations of the ladies (food drink, shade and medical aid if needed). There are also some illuminations that indicate that the ladies themselves may have wielded the veil in some tournaments. Again, this may be artistic license since the mercy of the ladies is being bestowed figuratively in the case of Rene’s description. The artist may simply have wanted to drive that home by displaying the ladies as bestowing their mercy literally.

It is interesting to ponder what the reaction of the knights was to such an action. Would they have thought the person so veiled a sissy? Was this instituted to prevent undue violence upon the field?

Role in Ransoms

One clear area where the gallery did take part in early period tournaments was in the raising of ransoms. In Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies she describes one of the responsibilities of a noble wife to be the raising of ransoms for her husband from both war and tournament. It is also clear that knights recruited ransoms from among the spectators, even in early tournaments. They would seek out patrons and attempt to gain increased ransom to return to the tournament. They would also, apparently, shake down the craftsmen from an area unfortunate enough to have a tournament in their village.

Feasts and Balls

There is little known about the feasts of early William Marshal tournaments and of the smaller Pas d’Armes. Little of the documentation is devoted to the feast. In later 13th century through 15th, Tournaments the feast earns a mention, though it is slight. On the other hand, there is good documentation for what goes into a feast, so we know that the Feast was a multiple course meal with entertainment between courses. In Italy, it was broken up by lazzis while in England it was probably broken up by scenes from a play presented by a travelling troupe or sponsored by the patron of the tournament.

Court is not typically associated with a tournament—dancing most definitely is. A number of descriptions of tournaments make clear that the knights and Lords and Princes were expected to attend the dancing and to dance for as long as the ladies want to dance.

It is typically during the ball that awards are given, many challenges are made, the King at Arms is selected, the wielder of the veil of mercy is selected, the helm shau is presented (and many of the knights involved get kissed and consorted by the finest lady there). The description in the Book of the Tournament lists three days of fighting and three days of dancing. After dancing, spiced wine is served to all the guests.

The ball is sponsored as part of the tournament. The tournament awards and pageantry are heavily incorporated into the ball. This frees the knights to have evenings of pageantry when they are not wearing armor and to be free to fight when they are wearing armor.

For those who are looking to reenact a tournament, it might be considered that this allows for a great display of pageantry without unduly taking time away from the fighting.

Other Activities

This is a list, in no particular order, of some of the activities listed as being done by nobles during festivals (in particular festivals where tournaments also took place)

1. Gossip, of course.

2. Theatre was associated with many festivals where tournaments took place. They were usually in the afternoons, since there is no artificial lighting. There are no playhouses until the 1400s in Spain and Italy and as late as 1576 in England; the performance is very likely in an inn yard. Ladies attend, but in England they are usually veiled or in masks. Many Tournament sponsors would have the players into their house to perform during the feast.

3. Footraces: At the Tournament of the Cloth of Gold, footraces were held for children and ladies during the slow times. The patrons put out three mechanic toys (for the children’s race) and three ells of fabric (for the ladies race) They then invited all in attendance to come upon the field and race for the prizes.

4. Skittles, a bowling game, (2-20 players) played with wooden pins and a rubber or wooden ball or disc of hard wood derived from the French game “quilles” was in England by the 13th or 14th century. Other bowling games included lawn bowling, and shuttlecock (like badminton).

Favors and Inspiration

Nothing here yet–stay tuned!

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