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Arthurian tales of elaborate tournaments originated largely in the High Middle Ages. During the actual High Middle Ages, tournaments as we think of them in Arthurian tales did not exist. However, during the late Middle Ages, tournaments were a common celebration of the golden past that never was. Most people in the late Middle Ages were just as uninformed about the High Middle Ages as people today are about the “wild west.” By the late Middle Ages, knighthood was in decline—by Malory’s time, the knight of romance was obsolete.
We think of tournaments in terms of two opponents in the arena, starting with a joust, then ending with a one-on-one swordfight. The real tournament of the High Middle Ages was the melee, similar to later tournaments only in that it was a game. The melee was staged exactly like…
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