Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fighting with Thrown Lances in a 15th c. Deed of Arms

Many 15th c. deeds of arms began with thrown lances, and optimal use of this weapon was a delicate set of compromises. To achieve maximum velocity and penetration, the user should throw the lance while running towards the target at high speed, like a modern or classical athlete throwing the javelin. While throws may not have been made at a full run, medieval accounts do describe champions advancing against each other “with vigorous strides”. Throwing when as close as possible to the target would reduce velocity losses from air resistance and give the target minimal time to dodge or parry the blow.

When Alvaro Continge fought Clugnet de Brabant in 1415, Jean Le Févre reported that:

When Sir Clugnet advanced quickly against his man, and sought him near his pavilion, and hastened so near to the Portuguese that he did not have space to throw his lance. And so Sir Clugnet let fall his own, and they came together to fight with axes.

Once the lance was thrown the thrower needed to quickly ready another weapon for attack and defense. If the champions on both sides were trying to throw while advancing as quickly as possible, and trying to throw as late as possible, the time for bringing another weapon into action could be very short indeed, particularly if a champion was also attempting to parry an incoming lance during the approach.

This would explain why 15th c. fighting manuals like Talhoffer so often show different ways the champion could be ready to attack with a thrown lance while already holding a sword in hand ready for use. Or, in the case of the Codex Wallerstein, simultaneously juggle lance, sword and defensive shield.

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