Pierre Chaffard-Luçon (université Paris I)

Canonical prohibition of the Tournament

Medieval canon law was highly concerned by violence and gives a perfect illustration of the famous adage “Ecclesia abhorret a sanguine”. The Peace and Truce of God represented the most significant contribution on this subject — the Church wished to dampen chivalry and to protect women and children. But Rome’s action was not limited to times of war, it also concerned itself with knight’s tournaments and the entertainment of the nobility.

Pope Innocent II was the first pope to prohibit these games at the Council of Clermont in 1131. Eight years later, the Council of Lateran II renewed this ban and called these games “Detestabiles autem illas nundinas vel ferias” (Lateran II, canon 14).

For two centuries, the prohibition was repeatedly renewed: by the Ecumenical Councils of Lateran III (1179) & IV (1215), Lyon I (1245), at least eight pontifical and provincial councils, many papal bulls, etc. The Liber Extra itself transposed a decree from Alexander III on this subject. Still, we have to admit, nobody personally abided by this ban; some kings – Henry II and Richard Lionheart in England, Philippe III and Philippe IV in France – made legislation about tournaments, but with a different justification, a different aim and, mostly, without the universal dimension of the Church. Finally, Pope John XXII revoked this ban in 1316.

The purpose of this talk is to tell the story of this ban from the Church’s point of view and to focus on understanding how European history can explain all the subtleties of the different conciliary prohibitions. Two elements justify these: on the one hand, the death of the knights, on the other, the danger for their souls, and so both the material and the spiritual dimensions of death. During the 12th century, the great number of deaths justified the canonical restriction but none of the temporal sovereigns followed it. During the 13th century, the Crusades brought kings and popes to agree on the subject, but only for economical reasons: tournaments were expensive and caused the death of many horses. To protect the Latin States of the Near East, all the parties needed the knights to be fully equipped. To broaden this analysis, decretalists and theologians – and amongst them especially Saint Thomas Aquinas – will be studied in order to understand the way the norm was received by the local religious authorities.


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