Medieval Feudalism was based on the exchange of land for military service. Lords were expected to provide trained soldiers to fight for the King. It was imperative for Knights to acquire excellent fighting skills. Medieval Sports were therefore designed to provide weapon practice and to increase a man's fitness.
Medieval Sports - Sporting Contests
Feudalism can be well described as a Pyramid of Power. It was possible for everyone to move higher up the ranks of the pyramid and this is what everyone aspired to do. A Knight who proved valiant in battle or was successful at jousting in tournaments would become wealthy. His wealth could pay for a castle. His importance in the land would increase and he would join the nobility. A peasant who excelled in Medieval sports could win a purse at a Sporting contest, gain an important reputation and increased value by his lord and his position in life would improve.
Medieval Sports - The Tournaments and Jousting
The really big sporting events were the Jousting Tournaments. These sports were dangerous, men were killed at tournaments. Quintain and Pell Training were essential for the Knights who participated in these sports. Feudal Lords and Knights and their men at arms used such weapons as swords, lances, daggers and battle axes and many Medieval sports were designed to provide practise of such skills.
Medieval Sports - Archery
Archery was not just one of the Medieval sports of the Middle Ages. Lower Class men were required to practise archery by law! The first Medieval Archery Law was passed in 1252 when all Englishmen between the age of 15 to 60 years old were ordered, by Law, to equip themselves with a bow and arrows. The areas designated for archery training were called the Butts. The power of the longbow was so great that at the Battle of Crecy, in 1346, the French army was decimated. It is estimated that nearly 2000 French knights and soldiers were killed by the longbow arrows. The English lost just 50 men. This explains why Archery Laws were passed and why training at the Butts was so important and included as one of the most important Medieval sports of the era.
Different Types of Medieval Sports
There were many different types of Medieval Sports. The majority of which were designed to increase skills and fitness of fighting men. The Medieval sports included the following:
- Archery - Archery contests were especially popular
- Colf - the ancestor of Golf ( a sport for the nobles)
- Gameball - a simple football game
- Hurling or Shinty - a similar game to hockey
- Horseshoes - throwing horseshoes at a target
- Jousting at Tournaments
- Quarter-staff contests
- Skittles - an ancestor of modern ten-pin bowling
- Stoolball - an ancestor of Cricket