While searching for an explanation of why some women in the 14th century were termed “Dame” I found that it meant they were a knight’s wife/widow. Apparently Dame preceded Lady, which came about in the 17th Century—or so it seems. I can’t quite believe that. Anyway, I also learned that it wasn’t unknown for women to actually participate in tournaments.
According to Wikipedia Wikipedia “….The Order of the Ermine, founded by John V, Duke of Brittany in 1381, was the first order of chivalry to accept women….” Well, not quite the first. The Order of the Garter accepted women from 1376, because that was when Isabel, daughter of Edward III, became the very first Lady of the Garter. This, by my reckoning, pre-dates the Order of the Ermine by five years.
There is a famous story (possibly apocryphal) of an English noblewoman named Agnes Hotot beating a man in a horseback duel with lances. It seems she disguised herself in armour, took her father’s place after he fell ill before the duel, and only unmasked herself after unhorsing her opponent. I’ll bet said opponent had a hard time living down this humiliation!.
So I’m afraid that in 2016 ABC News and all the other sites that reported the event at Kenilworth Castle, got it wrong to claim women were to compete “for the very first time”! The ladies of the 14th century got there well before that.
You can read more about Agnes Hotot here.