Pas d’Armes and Late Medieval Chivalry: Tournament, Sport and Spectacle

A virtual exhibition

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Bruges, 3 July 1468: in one of the richest and most powerful cities of Flanders, hundreds of people have gathered to celebrate the wedding of Charles the Bold, the mighty duke of Burgundy, and Margaret of York, the sister of Edward IV, the English king. But now extraordinary things are happening on the marketplace. A golden tree stands in its centre, surrounded by three people: a dwarf with an hourglass, a reclining giant and a nobleman. A herald announces the imminent arrival of his lord, Adolf of Cleves, who wishes to challenge the ‘Knight of the Golden Tree’. This knight is none other than Antoine, the Great Bastard of Burgundy, Charles the Bold’s half-brother. Today, he has assumed the identity of the ‘Knight of the Golden Tree’ in order to fight anyone who comes to challenge him and Adolf was the first of twenty-six competitors to do so...

So what was going on here?

This event, known as the Pas de l'Arbre d'or (‘Golden Tree’), held in Bruges was an example of a pas d’armes (English: passage of arms), a type of chivalric tournament inspired by themes from courtly literature. At this pas in 1468, the town marketplace became a lavishly decorated stage, with stands covered in rich tapestries for the judges and onlookers to sit in. An entire court, its visitors and the citizens of Bruges were all there to watch noblemen fight to acquire honour, reputation and wealth and to demonstrate their worth and masculine prowess. Yet this was no mere theatrics as the risk of injury was very real...

Setting of the Pas de l'Arbre d'or (the Pas of the Golden Tree). Excellente Cronike van Vlaenderen, 1490-1500. Douai, Bibliothèque Municipale, 1110, fol. 268v. Photo: Douai, BM.

The pas d’armes is much less well-known now than other forms of tournament such as mêlées (pitched battles) or single combat in the lists, but in its own day it had a fascination and a glamour that were unrivalled. This exhibition seeks to promote a better understanding of the important place of pas d’armes in late medieval chivalric culture by asking the following questions:

  • What were the main characteristics of a pas d'armes? What were the origins of these events?
  • Where and why were pas d'armes organised? What preparation was needed in advance?
  • Who was involved in the staging of a pas d'armes? What form did the combats take?
  • What other festivities were involved? How were these events recorded after they took place?


This virtual exhibition is one of the outcomes of an international, interdisciplinary Research Network funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), entitled ‘The Joust as Performance: Pas d’armes and Late Medieval Chivalry’. The principal investigators of the project are Rosalind Brown-Grant (University of Leeds) and Mario Damen (University of Amsterdam).

The texts of this exhibition can be freely used and cited under the CC BY-NC 4.0 licence mentioning:
Rosalind Brown-Grant, Mario Damen, Jacob Deacon, and others, Pas d’armes and Late Medieval Chivalry (2023) [].

The Pas d'armes and Late Medieval Chivalry Research Network would like to express its thanks to the following:

  • the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) and the Fondation pour la Protection du Patrimoine Culturel, Historique et Artisanal (Switzerland);
  • LAB1100 for the web design of the virtual exhibition;
  • the Algemeen Rijksarchief (Brussels), Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal (Paris), Bibliothèque Municipale (Douai), Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris), British Library (London), Hofjagd und Rüstkammer (Vienna), J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles), Koninklijke Bibliotheek/Bibliothèque royale (Brussels), National Library of Russia (Saint Petersburg) and Rijksarchief Kortrijk for permission to reproduce images from manuscripts held in their library collections;
  • the Royal Armouries Museum and Glasgow Museums for permission to reproduce images of arms and armour held in their museum collections.