Medieval times seemed to be a serious time mainly because of the emphasis on religion and spirituality, however the people of the medieval period were by no means devoid of fun. People did all kinds of things for entertainment. There were feasts, banquets as well as dancing, music and acrobatics. Minstrels, troubadours and Jongleurs took charge of entertaining the lords and their guests.
Medieval inhabitants also enjoyed a number of outdoor activities. They loved plays and regularly sold and bought goods at fairs. Medieval people were fond of rough and physically challenging games and sports such as jousts, tournaments, hawking and hunting. At times they used animals like bears, monkeys and dogs to amuse themselves. These forms of entertainment broke the monotony of Medieval life.
The best games in medieval times were fighting games, games about combat skills such as archery, and indoor games which primarily tested the mental prowess such as Nim and Checkers. Read more about the Best Medieval Games >>
Falconry was a medieval pastime or sport of the medieval elite that nobility and royalty enjoyed, the Falcons were well trained and Falconry was popular throughout Europe Read more about the Falconry >>
Hawking in Medieval Times was a popular sport among elite people such as the nobility and Royals that gained prominence from the 9th Century Read more about the Hawking >>
Jousting was initially a minor part of knight tournaments. In 14th and 15th centuries, though, it became so popular as to surpass even the melee as the major attraction of the tourneys. Read more about the Medieval Fighting Games >>
Outdoor games in the Middle Ages were chaotic and less organized compared to most of today’s games. There were no set rules and safety precautions so the games often took a bloody turn. Players could get injured and, in more extreme cases, die. Jousts (combat between two knights) and tournaments (mêlée combat between two teams of knights and their squires) were games that started around the 11th century. The nobility and village folks also enjoyed playing non-brutal games – mostly board games – through which they could time in peace.
The most esteemed Medieval board games included the likes of alquerques (a strategy game that inspired Checkers), hazard, the shuffleboard, chess and backgammon. An early version of the dice, called the knuckle bone, was likewise an early source of enjoyment. Even the Romans played with it. Players had to throw several knuckle bones in the air and catch as many as possible using the back of their hands. Other variants of the game required players to pick up as many bones as they were able to from the ground while one piece was thrown up. Medieval people loved complicated board games like Fox and Geese and Rithmomachia (The Philosopher’s Game). The latter involved complex arithmetic computations and was a strategy game in every sense of the word.
To break off their humdrum way of life, people in the Medieval period invented a number of games. They had to entertain themselves to stave off boredom – a common human affliction. They started with banquets, feasts, fairs and carnivals. In a bid to increase the level of local entertainment, such occasions expanded until they covered more vigorous outdoor activities. These festivals were usually held during special Christian holidays including Christmas, Easter and the feast days of various saints.
Medieval people, regardless of status and position in the feudal system, enjoyed playing outdoor games. Some of their notable favourites were hunting, archery, hammer-throwing, horseshoes (won based on proximity to the target), tennis (reminiscent of contemporary handball games), skittles (predecessor of the ten-pin bowling), colf (Medieval version of the modern golf), stoolball (similar to the cricket game), horse races, shinty (ancestor of hockey) gameball (Medieval football) and wrestling. People in the Middle Ages were just as sporty as the people today except that they played less controlled and more challenging outdoor games.
Jousting and tournaments were all-time favourite sports among the nobility. The former required the participation of two knights (often representing different lords), both decked in armour and equipped with a shield and a blunted lance. The horsemen would charge at each other from opposite ends. The first one to unseat the other would be declared the winner. Jousting events served as a platform for knights to display chivalry usually by tying their lady’s scarf around their sleeves. This meant that he would be her champion. The Tournament mêlée, on one hand, were some of the bloodiest games in history. Two teams of knights as well as their squires battled it out on the field to the cheers of nobles and villagers. Unlike jousts, most tournaments prohibited the use of horses. The participants chose any kind of weapon for defence and offence. The results were often brutal.
Hunting was among the few sporting events that noblewomen participated in. This outdoor game was also exclusive to members of the royalty and nobility. The peasants did not own a vast amount of land to hunt as they pleased. Nobles rode horses and used their train dogs to capture their prey. There were no established rules. Besides dogs, they also trained winged creatures like hawks and birds of prey to make hunting easier. Many jousts and tournaments were commissioned by royals and members of nobility. They had to be in attendance during such games to hand out rewards or support their subordinates. Lords were required to send representatives to jousting events and tournaments initiated by the king. Lords and ladies who preferred intimate settings played tennis in closed courts within their manor. The game was one of their favorite pastimes.
Peasants or serfs had more opportunities to play all kinds of games. The types of outdoor games they played lacked sophistication and were generally rough. However, they were more varied and creative than the games normally played in noble quarters. Ballgame, skittles, horseshoes, shinty, wrestling, hammer-throwing and stoolball were thought to have originated outside of the manor. Villagers who were exposed to manual labour created games that made full use of their physical capabilities. Those in the habit of drinking at pubs also developed a habit for gambling. Thus, card games like All Fours, Ruff and Piquet came into existence. While the serfs went about their daily activities, their children played hide-and-seek, tag and other simple games.
Medieval games were a great source of fun and entertainment. Not only did they make Medieval life less monotonous, but they also contributed to the flourishing of Medieval culture. Although the rules or appearance may have changed, many of the games played in the Middle Ages have continued to exist in today’s era.