There's no shame in loving Medieval Times. From the dulled clang of the knight's lances to the queen's overacting to the bland but substantial feast, it's all unironically cheesy. However, there are worse ways to spend a night than laughing at jesters’ pratfalls, watching horses run around a sand pit and eating chicken with your hands.
The first two Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament actually opened in Spain in the late 1960s. The show expanded to North America in 1983, with the first location lowering its drawbridge in Kissimmee, Florida (near Orlando). In the ensuing decades, eight more Medieval Times have opened across the continent, including one in Toronto's century and half old Exhibition Place.
But how historically accurate is Medieval Times to its namesake? Did knights really joust for honor? Did hundreds really attend medieval banquets? Was there always an opportunity after the show to purchase a magnet photo of you with the queen? (Guessing no on that one).
Here are 3 things that Medieval Times gets historically wrong and 2 things that, surprisingly, they get right:
WRONG: The Medieval Times' menu is not even close to historically accurate
This may not come as any surprise, but the modern-day fare is far different than anything that would have been served. Frankly, many of the foods and ingredients we eat today weren't available anywhere during the Middle Ages. For example, tomato bisque is often on Medieval Times' menu, but tomatoes weren't even brought to Europe until the 16th century. Same thing with the potato, its arrival coming years after the Middle Ages
Wild game, like deer and boar, were the most popular entrees during the Middle Ages, mostly due to their ubiquity in Europe's wilderness. Honey, nuts and berries—as opposed to baked goods—were often the desserts of choices. Perhaps the strangest things on the menu, however, were pies filled with live creatures, like live frog pie and, yes, pies filled with live birds.
RIGHT: If Medieval Times' horses look authentically royal, that's because they are.
Beautiful, calm and with a very braided-able mane, the Andalusian Horse (also known as the Pure Spanish Horse) is the breed most often used at Medieval Times shows. In fact, the Andalusian Horse has a long and illustrious history that dates back to the Middle Ages. A favorite of Spanish royalty since at least the 12th century, they were often used for battle due to their size and strength. Because of this, they are considered rare and expensive today.
Medieval Times owns a large ranch in Texas where they breed Andalusian Horses exclusively for their shows. Priding themselves on this, the company considers itself "the leader in North America when it comes to preserving (the Andalusian Horse)."
WRONG: Food in the Middle Ages wasn't bland—it was full of spice, but not for a good reason.
Today, the food at the Medieval Times leaves much to be desired in the taste department. The result of being quickly prepared in massive quantities, the chicken tends to be bland and the potatoes overdone. But at least you can count on (likely) not getting sick.
Perhaps in contrast to the myth, food during the actual Middle Ages wasn't bland, but rather full of unique spices. This wasn't necessarily a good thing. Medieval royalty loved to spice up their food with sugar, vinegar, mace, cloves, cumin, cinnamon and pepper, so much so that it would overwhelm our palate today. As spices became less expensive and more readily available, the middle-class started to overpower their food with bold flavors too. But this wasn't simply done to give the meal a little kick. Sometimes spice was added to cover up the taste of spoiled meat. At least it tasted good going down.
RIGHT: Medieval Times' jousting is similar to the real thing, except way less violent.
The medieval sport of jousting dates back at least a thousand years and was conceived as a way to train knights for battle. In the years that followed, jousting became more than simply a training exercise, but popular entertainment. Like the Romans' gladiator battles, the jousting tournaments were often commissioned for a royal ceremony, like a wedding or a coronation. The jousting tournaments today at Medieval Times are set up pretty similarly to those of centuries past, with teams of knights competing to impress the royal family.
However, there's one big difference. While modern-day jousting matches are tame and staged, in the past they were certainly not staged and very, very violent. Besides sharp lances, knights would often go after each other on horseback with axes, swords and pikestaffs (like wooden spears). Recent archaeological finds have revealed that jousting injuries were brutal and could be deadly, especially since there was no such thing as modern medicine.
WRONG: Middle Age feasts didn't compare in size to today's Medieval Times. They were much, much bigger.
On average, hundreds of people attend a Medieval Times show and dinner nightly. That's a lot of mouths to feed all at once, but that's nothing compared to some of the documented royal feasts of the Middle Ages. According to Slate, the marriage feast of Henry III's daughter in 1251 was likely attended by tens of thousands and took many months to prepare for, requiring 1,300 deer, 7,000 hens, 170 boars, 60,000 herring and 68,500 loaves of bread. A feast for Richard II in 1387 needed at least 11,000 eggs. About 70 years later, the Duke of Burgundy's public Feast of the Pheasant in 1454 was likely attended by upwards of 10,000 people.