Heritage > Medieval Life
Entertainment in the Middle Ages
Life in the middle ages was not all hard work! Even the loneliest or poorest peasant could take part in church festivals, join a marriage or funeral procession, or watch and listen to travelling poets, musicians, acrobats and dancers. Perhaps the village would be visited by a troupe leading a performing bear or dancing monkey. We would consider this sort of "entertainment" as cruel nowadays but in the middle ages it was quality entertainment.
Fun and games were often centred around particular times of year. At christmas, groups of villagers would dress up as "mummers" and visit the lord's home. There they would sing and perform some sketches in return for special christmas food and perhaps some money. On May day, young men and girls would get up early in the morning and play games in the bright spring sunlight, before gathering green branches to decorate their homes.
There were other festivals related to the seasons and to the agricultural year. Many of these had survived from pre-Christian times and were frowned on by the church, which was however powerless to stop them. At Midsummer for instance the villagers would light bonfires and hold various sports and games. People thought that by lighting a fire when the sun was at it's strongest, they would make sure it returned to ripen their crops the following year.
The Church also frowned upon the medieval tournament as they felt too much blood was spilled during the action this type of contest though proved highly popular with the people of the middle ages. The tournament probably started life as training for the knights in preparation for war but they soon became a great source of entertainment. Defeated knights had to give up their horse and their armour so a good fighter could make a fortune at the tournament. At first battle armour and sharp weapons were used but in the 13th century blunt weapons were introduced. Other contests such as jousts and archery were added later. In the pas d'armes, popular in the 15th century, one or more contestants held the tournament ground and sent challenges to other knights and squires. In the 17th century the tournament was replaced in most countries with displays of horsemanship called carousels.