The Middle Ages and Money In Sport

The Middle Ages and Money in Sport

Back in the days of old when knights were both hard-headed and practical

In medieval Britain the biggest money spinner was the tournament.

A knight on his horse
A knight on his horse

This could be viewed as the most professional sport of all times as it was entirely focussed on collecting booty and ransoms.

With the set up costs of a knight’s kit which was armour, arms and a horse costing more than a knight’s yearly income. A tournament could make or break you.

Later as the price of armour and horses went as high as £100, the risk of losing everything in a tournament became too great and ransoms and formal prizes of cash and plate replaced straightforward booty.

One of the Churches many objections to the sport was that it encouraged the sin of greed.

Money to be made in tournaments

Sports Betting today

Making money was formalised by Richard the Lionheart in Britain who in 1194 was making money in a big way from the sport. The Kings sources of income included ten marks from the five licensed grounds each time they held a tournament. In addition there were entry fees which were graded ranging from 20 marks for an Earl down to 2 marks for a landless knight. On top of this were fines for any non-payment and fees for pardons for any fouls in the field.

Sponsorship and funding

Just like sponsorship today, tournament teams were funded for the prestige they brought to their sponsors.  Keeping and maintaining a team of some 200 knights in the field was a hugely expensive business and was limited to nobility and kings with plenty of cash to burn.

Young Henry the eldest son of Henry II, was famous for his spending on tournaments, he met the daily bills and ransoms of a small army of knights, plus their squires, heralds and other personage. At the peak of his spending it was costing him £200 a day, which was, in those days, the equivalent of a good annual income of a nobleman.

As well as wages and prizes, expenses could also include transfer fees for star performing knights. When William the Marshall an English knight moved to the team of William of Flanders, he moved for a huge fee of one quarter of the rents of the port of St Omer!

Such big spending must have been great for the traders of the areas providing that the tournaments competitors didn’t trash the town, which they managed to do to Boston in 1288.

Profit Sharing and Alliances

The knights who competed in these early tournaments often used professional strategies that had more to do with making money and winning than honour and nobility. In 1170 William the Marshall entered into a profit sharing deal with Roger de Jouy in which they agreed to spilt the 103 ransoms they earned over the year.

Cost Cutting tactics

Cost cutting tactics were done by reducing the amount of the ransom you demanded to encourage a defeated knight to surrender to you as opposed to anther rival. You could have alternatively allow a captured knight to go out and fight again to earn his ransom fee.  In addition to ransoms there were formal prizes on offer for the best performance.

Political Appointments

There were valuable political appointments to be had for the most successful fighters, and William   went about as far as any man could, becoming the regent of England after King Johns death.

Horses – A Knights Mount

After a successful tournament there would be money to spend and the Friday horse market at Smithfield outside the City of London became the place to sell off captured horses, or to eye and try out a replacement or upgrade of your existing mount.
It is here that one of the first recorded races for money happened. King Richard challenged three knights to race over three miles for a purse of gold.

The new sport of Jousting

Jousting - a sport of the middle ages
Jousting – a sport of the middle ages



Even without the expense of maintaining a large unofficial army, Edward III was spending a £100 a week. One of the big incentives would have been the huge prizes on offer and there are references to diamonds being handed out to the winners of Jousts.

Gambling and Betting in Medieval times.

In the Middle Ages betting was extremely popular, especially after the Crusaders had returned from the Holy Land, and where, like the Homeric Greeks at the siege of Troy, they had kept themselves occupied during the long campaign with gambling and gaming.

In response to the violence and trouble that betting could cause, Richard I legislated to limit the stakes and restrict gambling to nobles. This was the beginning of 800 years allowing the wealthy to have their fun  while the working class were restricted.
In the following century the Council of Worcester tried to stop the clergy from gambling and further laws were introduced by Richard II in 1388.

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