The Joust as Performance: "Pas d'armes" and Late Medieval Chivalry

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Languages, Cultures and Societies


At the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th centuries, in northern France and the southern Low Countries, a new chivalric phenomenon emerged: the tournament. This form of collective "melée" typically took place in the countryside across an area of several square miles, with hundreds of knights and squires, grouped into two teams, performing mock battles against each other. From the 13th century onwards, however, the tournament was gradually superseded by a more individualised form of combat: the joust. More often taking place in towns than the countryside, the joust served chiefly to showcase the knight's individual acts of chivalric prowess in the field.

The most elaborate type of joust was known as the "pas d'armes" (passage of arms). These costly and elite stagings involved a knight, often adopting a fictional persona drawn from historical or literary models, who issued a challenge to all comers of suitably noble birth who wished to fight him using lances, swords, or axes. Originating in Iberia but popular mainly among the nobility of France, Anjou and Burgundy, the "pas d'armes" would take place over an extended period of days, weeks, or even months. Sponsored by a wealthy nobleman, they were attended by participants belonging to the social elite from all over Europe, officiated by a high-ranking lord or his chief herald, and watched by mixed audiences in terms of gender and social milieu. The "pas d'armes" were described in detailed specifications known as "chapitres", while judgements on the various encounters were recorded by heralds for posterity, along with descriptions of the many banquets and dramatic interludes ("entremets") that formed an essential part of the entertainments post-combat. Many accounts of the "pas d'armes" circulated independently or were incorporated into other works such as tournament book collections and armorials and in historiographical narratives such as chivalric biographies and chronicles, sometimes with lavish illumination cycles. As a major contributor to the formation and dissemination of chivalric culture and values from the 15th-16th centuries, the "pas d'armes" could help mediate social relations between different groups wielding power in the polity; its complex staging and symbolism could also be an expression of aspiration and encouragement to crusade.

The "pas d'armes" has long been known to medieval specialists but has attracted little attention other than from historians and literary scholars interested in tracing the evolution of tournaments and jousting. Yet the "pas d'armes" was not just a sporting event: it was also a political, social, cultural and artistic performance and a multi-media spectacle. For these reasons, it demands to be re-assessed from a cross-disciplinary perspective by scholars from a range of different backgrounds. The proposed research network thus brings together an international group comprising historians (cultural, social, political and material), art historians, literary and performance scholars, some of whom are also professionals from museums of arts and armour, or who have collaborated with colleagues in such museums. Its chief aim is to stimulate a scholarly dialogue among specialists that will cross disciplinary boundaries and shed new light on this important aspect of late medieval chivalric culture in all its myriad dimensions, including physical training for warfare, pre- and post-combat rituals and symbolism, spectatorship, gender identity formation, financing and political significance, collective memory formation, etc. The group's findings will be of interest to academic audiences in a range of different fields (literature, history, gender studies, performance/theatre studies, art history), to museum professionals working with arms and armour and in the culture and heritage industries more broadly, as well as, potentially, to school teachers and members of the general public interested in chivalry.

Planned Impact

The main activities of the proposed research network as outlined here in the Summary, Objectives, and Case for Support, are two workshops and a programme of public engagement events. These activities will lead to the production of a substantial body of innovative, cross-disciplinary work on the "pas d'armes" that will be disseminated to a range of different audiences through its various outputs.

The COLLECTED VOLUME OF ESSAYS arising from the presentation of research papers at the network's workshops will be of benefit chiefly to specialist scholars and students working in a wide range of academic disciplines (history, literature, art history, gender studies, material culture, theatre/performance).

The ONLINE DATABASE to be hosted by the website created by the group will feature:
- a contextualising essay on the place of the "pas d'armes" in the evolution of tournaments and jousting
- a definitive list of historical events that can be classified as "pas d'armes"
- an authoritative bibliography of both primary and secondary sources relating to study of the "pas d'armes"
- blogs and podcasts delivered by members of the research network on aspects of chivalric culture arising from our research; these could feature dialogues between two or more members of the network so as to convey the multi- and cross-disciplinary nature of the group's work
- English translations of "pas d'armes" narrative sources
- links to external archival sources, such as repositories of textiles relating to jousts, digital reproductions of images from manuscripts featuring "pas d'armes" in both historical and literary narrative sources, banqueting resources relating to musical performance, tapestries, and food, etc.

The beneficiaries of these research and teaching resources that are not ordinarily easily accessed by audiences outside academia will include specialist scholars and university students, museum professionals and also, potentially, school teachers and members of the general public interested in chivalry as a source of information about medieval life and culture.

The programme of PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT EVENTS will be organised under the aegis of the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in July 2021 and 2022 and will consist of:
- two round table sessions on the "pas d'armes", one from the point of view of exhibiting artefacts relating to jousts and the other on staging re-enactments of jousts that would take account of the multiple dimensions of such events that the group has identified in its work
- two public lectures on selected aspects of the "pas d'armes" and jousting that would be delivered as part of the IMC's outreach activities, at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

The main beneficiaries of the network's proposed public engagement activities are museum professionals and others working in the culture industries who will gain not only a better understanding of the multi-modal nature of these events that were at once displays of martial valour, affirmations of chivalric and gendered identity, artistic performances, and expressions of political power, but also a greater appreciation of the multiple actors in their various roles who contributed to its staging and commemoration. In more concrete terms, professionals working in museums of arms and armour will be able to supplement their own displays of tournament artefacts with written sources from both historical texts commemorating these events and fictional narratives that were inspired by them, archival sources documenting how they were financed, images from illuminated manuscripts, images of clothing worn prior to, during, and after the combats, aspects of feasting, etc, that all constituted an essential part of a "pas d'armes". This would help to give a greater degree of contextualisation and complexity to the usual exhibitions of jousting artefacts and re-enactments that are featured at such museums.


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Title Pas d'armes and Late Medieval Chivalry - A Database of Primary Sources 
Description This relational database will enable any researcher to access details relating to any primary source about pas d'armes tournaments. Principally, it holds information about who participated in these events and in what capacity, where the event took place, what form it took, etc. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2023 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The database will be available in summer 2023 as we are still building it. It will be hosted on the project website (also under construction). 
Description Online Winter Lecture at Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This talk will take place in November 2023. It is intended to give the general public an overview of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description Virtual exhibition - Pas d'armes: Chivalry, Sport and Spectacle in the Later Middle Ages 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This exhibition will be launched in summer 2023 and will be hosted on the project website (to be created).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023