A tourney is a tournament popular in the Seven Kingdoms. They play a central role in A Song of Ice and Fire. Large parts of the plot are arranged around a number of major tourneys, and stylistically, they are used as an evocative medieval trope.
The continent of Westeros, where the largest parts of the books take place, has a culture and level of technology that is based on Northwestern Europe in the Middle Ages. The dozens of tourneys that are described or mentioned in the series are important social events, and form the background of many of the major plot developments. For the knights, the tourney outcomes are an important part of their personal history.
George R. R. Martin's descriptions of these tourneys vary wildly. Some, like the Hand's tourney in A Game of Thrones or the tourney at Ashford Meadow in The Hedge Knight are part of the basic plot and are narrated first hand. Martin describes their pageantry in detail that is characteristic of his style in A Song of Ice and Fire, often mentioning the heraldry and the armour of individual entrants and the results of every tilt. Other tourneys of pivotal significance, like the tourney at Harrenhal, are described piecemeal in flashbacks by various characters, and the reader must assemble the information from numerous small fragments.
Formats and rules
Tourneys in Westeros vary according to the region in which the tourney is held, the desires of the hosting lord, and the rules devised by the lord's master of the games. They may be held to celebrate a marriage, such as the War for the White Cloaks at the Golden Wedding. Many forms of competition are known, including jousting (also called the lists), mock battles between teams of knights, archery competitions, or the melee, in which many warriors fight individually in one large battle. Tourneys can be small events focusing on one competition held on a single day, or they can be large events that take several days and may include several different competitions.
The central event of many Westerosi tourneys is jousting, in which two armored knights aim to knock each other off their mounts with a jousting lance, continuing on foot with a variety of blunted weapons. The loser of a joust must often forfeit his horse and armour to the winner, thus jeopardizing a considerable part of his possessions.
Many tourneys pit pairs of warriors in rounds, where the loser is eliminated and the winner proceeds to the next round. The winner of the last round is declared champion. This is similar to how many tournaments in real life were performed, with exception of the best-of-three rule. Some ladies allow contestants to wear their favors during a tourney. The queen of love and beauty can be chosen from the ladies by the competition's victor.
Another format was used at Ashford Meadow. This type of tourney starts with five champions who defend the honor of a woman, often a daughter of the lord who arranges the tournament. Other participants can challenge one of the champions to a joust, and if successful take his place. At the end of the tourney, the five remaining champions either confirm the original queen of love and beauty, or chose a new one.
Some Westerosi tourneys are open only to anointed knights, whose privileges are jealously guarded; this forms an important plot element in The Hedge Knight. Indeed, tourney culture is closely connected to chivalric tradition and its spiritual basis, the Andals' Faith of the Seven. These traditions dominate southern and central Westeros, especially in the Reach, but they are uncommon in the North, where many follow the old gods. However, the rules for entering tourneys vary with time and place, and there have been many events where freeriders, squires, or followers of the old gods have entered the lists.