Thursday, June 29, 2006

How Sir Jacques de Lalaing did arms in Scotland 1449

How Sir Jacques de Lalaing did arms in Scotland; and of many other particulars in the house of Burgundy.

And when Sir Jacques saw that he could find nothing more to do there he returned and found the good Duke of Burgundy in his city of Lilles where he received him full lightly and with a great heart. But it was not long before he took leave of the Duke, and took himself by sea to the realm of Scotland. And he was accompanied by Simon de Lalainge, his uncle and Herves de Meriadet and many other good people. And as I understand Sir James Douglas, brother of the Earl Douglas, and the said Sir Jacques de Lalaing had formerly agreed to do the will of one against the other and each sought each other to meet together, and so Sir James Douglas arranged that a battle would be done before the King between him and Sir Jacques de Lalaing. But the matter increased and multiplied so that a battle to the outrance was concluded, for three noble Scotsmen to meet with Sir Simon de Lalaing, Sir Jacques de Lalaing and Herve de Meriadet, and that they would all do arms at one time for the King of Scotland. And when the day came for the battle, the King received them in the lists most honorably, and because I was not there at that feat of arms I must omit certain ceremonies which occurred as an example in times to come.

But there were three memorable things in the battle, which was very fiercely fought on both sides. The first was that when the three were being armed at the lodgings of the Duke of Burgundy, each one with his coat of arms on his back and about to leave to go to the battle, Sir Jacques de Lalaing spoke to Sir Simon de Lalaing, his uncle, and to Meriadet and told them “My lords and my brother, in this fine day of battle you know that it is for my enterprise that we have come into the realm and that the battle has been put together by agreement with Sir James Douglas, and although each one of us is able to aid his companion, I pray and require of you that whatever happens to me today neither of you come to me or rescue me, because it will seem that you have crossed the sea and entered into this battle only to help me, and that you do not hold or know me as a man to sustain the assault and the battle of a single knight, and hold a low account of me and my chivalry.”

And after that request the champions left their pavilions armed and equipped with axes, lances, swords and daggers, and they were able to either throw or push with the lances as they pleased. The two knights, James Douglas and Jacques de Lalaing were in the middle to encounter each other as they did; and on the right hand was sir Simon de Lalaing, who was to encounter the Scots squire, and Meriadet to encounter with a very powerful and renowned knight; but they found themselves in the opposite position so that the knight was on the end with Sir Simon. And so Meriadet who desired to meet with the one that he intended, without having regard or thought of his fame, crossed to put himself before the said Sir Simon to meet with his man. But the good knight with coolness and assurance turned himself towards Meriadet and said to him “Brother let each one hold with the one that he meets and I will do well, if it please God” And the said Meriadet returned to face his man and that is the second thing which I wish to recount.

And the champions took themselves to march the one against the other, and the three of the party of Burgundy doubted that the place was suitable for the lances, and they all at one time threw their lances behind them and that is the third matter of my tale, and taking their axes they ran against the Scots, who came to the push of the lance but it profited them nothing. While they all fought at one time, I am only able to speak of their adventures one after the other.

The two knights, James Douglas and Jacques de Lalaing approached each other and pressed each other so closely that they had no weapons remaining to them,neither the one not the other, except for a dagger that the Scotsman held; and the said Sir Jacques held him by the arm near the hand in which he held the said dagger, and he held him with the other hand beneath the elbow, so that they turned themselves around the lists by the strength of their arms, and that went on for a long time.

Sir Simon de La Laing and the Scots knight were two powerful knights and there was no doubt of the subtlety of their axe play, and like two valiant knights and hardy, they so sought each other and found each other so often that in a little while they damaged the visors of their bassinets and their weapons and their harness with the strokes that they had given and received, and they gave up little ground to each other.

And on the other part came Herves de Meriadet and the Scotsman came to hit Meriadet with a push of the lance; but Meriadet turned aside the blow with the handle of his axe, so that the lance fell out of the hands of the Scotsman and Meriadet followed up so vigorously that before the Scotsman was able to unsling his axe he entered within, and with a throw carried him to earth. And Meriadet stepped back to let the Scotsman rise who was quick, light and of great courage, and he lifted himself quickly and ran under at the said Meriadet for the second time, and Meriadet who was a man who was one of the most redoubted squires of his time, strong, light, cool and dextrous in arms and in wrestling, received the Scotsman coolly and with great watchfulness and soon after made an entry on the Scotsman. And with that entry he gave such a great blow that he carried him to earth with a stroke of the axe, and quickly the Scotsman sought to lift himself, but Meriadet put his palm and knee against the back of the Scotsman, and again made him fall and kiss the sand. And despite the request that Sir Jacques de Lalaing had made of him, the said Meriadet, seeing the two knights wrestle together, went to aid the said Sir Jacques, but the King of Scotland threw down his baton and had them parted with the said Meriadet free in his battle to rescue his companions at his pleasure. And because this was done against my order I have written of this battle without personally having seen it. I have written the truth according to the report of the Scots and those of our party, so that I was able to recount it without error, because I would charge to Sir Jacques the enterprise of this fine adventure and others that came about.

Oliver de la Marche, Memories Paris 1884 II. 105

Translation by Will McLean, Copyright 2006

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Alvaro Continge vs. Clugnet de Brabant 1415

In the month of April, 1415, two knights did arms before the Duke of Bar at Bar le Duc, one named Alvaro Continge of the realm of Portugal, the other a Frenchman, Sir Clugnet de Brabant. On the day of their arms they were well accompanied by knights, squires and many others. The two knights were to fight with thrown lance, axe, sword and dagger. And when they had reached the hour to meet, the weapons examined and measured and the cries, warnings and ceremonies accomplished, Sir Clugnet issued from his pavilion, holding his lance in his hand and garnished with his other weapons. They could see that to perform his arms he had his visor raised so that he might throw his lance more easily. 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. Sir Clugnet at first stepped back to close his visor, and they had only struck two or three blows and no more when the Duke of Bar threw down his baton and they were separated with honor on both sides.

Jean Le Févre, Seigneur de Saint-Remy Chronique Paris 1876 I. 205-206
Translation copyright 2006 Will McLean

Review: Jousts and Tournaments

Muhlberger, Steven
Jousts and Tournaments:
Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France
Union City: The Chivalry Bookshelf 2002 ISBN 1-891448-28-5

Reviewed by Will McLean

The number of surviving medieval treatises on tournaments and jousts is small, and the number that are accessible to the general reader are even smaller. Charny’s Questions are a unique survival from the mid-14th century, and Steven Muhlberger’s translation fills a significant gap in the study of deeds of arms.

Around 1350, Geoffroi de Charny, strenuous knight, captain, bearer of the Oriflamme and first recorded owner of the Shroud of Turin, wrote down a series of questions related to the joust, tournaments and war. We do not have the answers. Even so, the questions asked tell us a great deal we would not otherwise know about how such deeds of arms were performed in Charny’s time. They show us the questions his companions, the members of the doomed Order of the Star, considered both debatable and worth debating. The work illuminates not only the mechanics of contemporary deeds of arms, but also the chivalric values of the time. Charny was a knight writing for knights, and his unfiltered voice is one of the charms of the work.

Muhlberger translates all of Charny’s questions on the joust and tournaments, as well as those questions on war that relate to more peaceful deeds of arms. The French text is presented in parallel. While the questions often give vivid glimpses into situations that might arise at such deeds of arms, they also leave much unsaid. Charny does not answer the questions he raises, and he wrote for men who already knew and understood how such events might be expected to proceed.

Muhlberger analyzes the questions, and refers to a great deal of other medieval material to flesh out the information implicit in Charny’s work. Invitations to jousts in 1390 are quoted, as are tournament regulations from the end of the 13th century, accounts of jousts in Froissart and other sources. Many elements of these are also recognizable in the questions Charny raises. However, the customs clearly changed over time. Without Charny’s questions we would have a weaker grasp of how his deeds of arms differed from earlier and later ones. Comparisons with other surviving treatises, such as that written by Sicily Herald sometime before 1437, and King René’s, written in the mid-15th century, show that the customs of the joust and tournament formed a conservative but evolving tradition. Muhlberger is careful to recognize that the evidence of the questions is often suggestive without giving us explicit answers to our questions.

For Charny, formal jousts and tournaments were events where one could gain the horse of an opponent either by unhorsing them in a joust or by capturing the horse in a tournament. There were also less formal events where horses were not necessarily at stake. Many of Charny’s questions hinge on what distinguishes formal, high stakes jousts and tournaments from lesser events. Formal announcement, proper division into teams, and recognized formalities in beginning and ending the contest were all seen as factors. Charny also raises the possibility that an event held between two towns rather than within one may not count as a true tourney; or that the failure of some of the eligible knights present to take part may invalidate the event as a legitimate tourney. Jousts for knights and jousts for squires are contrasted, with the implication that the second may involve different equipment and different assumptions about the loss of horses. This logical hierarchy is quickly complicated when Charny discusses cases where a knight enters a joust for squires and vice versa.

Other questions examine what constitutes proper unhorsing. Suppose a knight is knocked off his horse, saddle and all, but stays in the saddle. Is he unhorsed? If compensation is owed for killed or injured horses, how promptly must it be claimed? Under what circumstances can retainers dissolve a contract to serve so that they may accept a more favorable arrangement?

A warhorse could represent half a year’s income for the owner, so these are serious issues indeed. Muhlberger notes the tension that must have been inherent in high stakes disputes between men whose profession is violence. The value of a body of precedent to resolve such cases is clear. Charny refers repeatedly to “the law of arms and tourneys”, so some sort of body of precedent, frequently oral, must have been available to guide Charny and his fellow men-at arms in disputes that might arise in their profession. However, each of Charny’s questions represents an issue on which the “law of arms” does not, at the time of writing, give a clear answer. His questions, then, represent an attempt to codify and extend the existing “law of arms” in written form.

Steven Muhlberger may be better known to members of the Society for Creative Anachronism as Duke Finnvarr de Taahe. He is also a horse owner, which may give him some insight into the men that gave so much attention to the loss and gain of expensive horseflesh. He writes with sympathy about their concerns, and offers some interesting speculation into the role these deeds of arms may have served as a market for the scarce and troublesome stallions prized as warhorses. Other work about medieval deeds of arms that he has written or edited may be found here.

This is a fine work, invaluable to anyone with an interest in the jousts and tournaments of the period. It also offers a rare window into the values of a strenuous knight in the middle of the 14th century, manifested not in the observations of others, but in his own words and voice.

Copyright 2003 by Will McLean
Review originally published in Tournaments Illuminated Issue 147, Summer 2003

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Tarte of Parys

Geoffrey Chaucer has interviewed the famous Paris Launcecrona. I’ve never believed that the Parys Launcecrona Naughtie Marginalia was produced and released without her knowledge and consent, The image with her and the wheelbarrow alone must have involved several minutes of posing, even with a quick illuminator.

She wore hir hemlines verray, verray hye
And sikerly she hadde a lazy eye
As a wezel was hir body gent and small
And in hir brain there were no thoughts at al

14th Century English Armor Terminology

Listing from the feet up and the skin out:

Sabatons: Feet
Greeves: Lower Legs
Polayne: Knees
Cuisses, Cuissews (earlier pronunciation) Thighs
Legharness: Complete leg protection
Shirt: Frequently worn as inmost layer, but 15th c. Howe a man shall be armyd recomends lining for doublet instead
Doublet: Closely fitted inner garment to which hose and armor can be laced with points
Aketoun, Acton: Padded garment worn beneath armor or as only defense for body
Hauberk, Bruny: mail shirt
Habergeon: as above, but generally shorter
Jesserawnte, Gesserawnte, Iesserante: Mail shirt lined and covered with fabric
Pauncer: belly protection, may be plate or mail
Plates: Body armor of overlapping plates riveted below or above textile or leather
Gambisoun: Padded garment worn with or as armor. May be made of silk and brightly colored
Jupon, Gypoun, Gypon, Gyppon, Gippon, Iepon, Iopon: Garment that can be worn over armor, or beneath breastplate but over other harness. One variant is worn by the knight in the Ellesmere Chaucer, with points visible on the chest where a breastplate might be laced on over the gypoun
Breastplate: Breast
Cote-armure: Garment worn by men-at-arms over armor or by heralds, frequently if not always embroidered or otherwise decorated with heraldic design.
Gauntlets, Gloves of plate: hands
Bracers: Arms
Couters: Elbows
Vambrace and Rerebrace: Upper and lower arm protection. Dividing point between them may or may not be at elbow.
Pisan: Mail collar
Aventail: Mail cape to bascinet
Urison: Fabric covering for aventail
Bascinet: Bowl shaped or conical helmet
Kettlehat: Kettle or hat-shaped open helmet

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Authentically Medieval Ahistorical Tripe

It turns out that a lot of the historical travesties in Braveheart aren't actually Hollywood inventions. Wallace's romance with babesome English royalty? Straight out of Blind Harry's 15th c. poem. Mass hanging of Scottish nobles in a barn based on misunderstanding of earlier account? Blind Harry. Nonexistent assault on York? Blind Harry. Undocumented encounter between the Bruce and Wallace at Falkirk? Blind Harry.

However, Gibson's team still get the blame for the anachronistic blue face paint that makes the Scots look like homicidal smurfs. And filming the battle of Stirling Bridge without the bridge because it got in the way. Which is a lot like filming storming Omaha Beach in Omaha because it's more convenient.

Eureka: Ringeck/von Danzig Study Aid

I downloaded a big chunk of von Danzig. I then cut apart pages when necessary so that I could fit each technique between the appropriate pages of Tobler's Ringeck translation. I did the same with illustrations from Goliath. Now I can easily reference two different versions of the same technique and illustrations when available.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Myths About the Middle Ages

Everybody was much shorter then.

Knights always lived in Castles.

The King could do whatever he wanted.

The English had a weapon they called the English Longbow. It was so deadly that the English could stop charges by armored knights with arrow fire alone.

Medieval people weren't as smart as we are.

In 1492, everyone said "OK, time to have the Renaissance now."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

When Adam Delved and Eve Span, Who Was Then the Gentleman, eh?

That was the question John Ball and his followers were asking in the late 14thc. It’s a pretty pithy attack on hereditary privilege. If we are all equally sons of Adam or daughters of Eve, how do some of us get the hereditary right to lord it over the others?

As it turns out, the other side had an answer. You don’t get to stay at the top of the social pyramid by sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “Lalalala I can’t hear you”. The argument is laid out in a fairly coherent form in the Book of Saint Albans, and goes like this:

“A bond man or a churl will say we all be comen of Adam: so Lucifer with his company may say we all be comen of heaven” Adam and Eve did not have gentilesse, any more than they had umbilical cords. Since gentilesse is defined by your parents, the term didn’t apply to them. Cain, however, became a churl through his slaying of his brother: nothing could be more ungentle. Seth became gentle through his father’s blessing, and so their children after them. Seth’s offspring, Noah, was likewise gentle.

Noah had thee sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Ham looked on Noah in his nakedness, and “laughed his father to scorn. Japheth….reproved his brother”. Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan to bondage. “I give to thee the north part of the world to draw thine inhabitation, for there shall it be: where sorrow and care cold and mischief as a churl thou shalt have in the third part of the world: which shall be called Europe, that is to say the country of churls.”

Noah blessed Shem and Japheth “and made them gentlemen.” The quoted material is the Book of Saint Albans’ interpolation, and not actually found in the Bible. However, in an age when very few people had access to the Old Testament in a form they could read, few readers would notice the liberty taken.

However, even without refuting the Book of Saint Albans’ version of Genesis, there are limits to the hereditary elitist argument. The Book of Saint Albans itself warns that gentle birth is at best a necessary but not sufficient condition for gentilesse. Cain and Ham are horrible examples of men of gentle birth who lost gentilesse because of their base actions.

Chaucer goes further at the end of the Wife of Bath’s Tale and in his own voice in the poem Gentilesse. Christ’s redemption trumps Old Testament curses and pride in distinguished ancestors. Gentilesse comes not from them, but ultimately from him. Gentle is as gentle does.

Medieval Superheroes

Geoffrey Chaucer is up to his usual form, although I'm sorry to see that he left out my favorite medieval superhero, Everyman.

Geoffrey Chaucer writes better than any dead author I know of. Even L. Ron Hubbard. (d. 1986, but it hardly slowed him down at all)

Review: Journal of the Armour Research Society

The Journal of Armour Research Society is an annual publication that may be of interest to the armor enthusiast: the articles in the first issue from 2005 will give you a flavor of the contents. The links below should carry you through to the first page of each article on the Society’s site. The site also has information on the Society’s workshops, forums, and links to several museum collections.

Observations on Armour Depicted on Three mid-15th Century Military Effigies in the Kirk of St. Nicholas, Aberdeen by Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour, Glasgow Museums, Scotland

There aren’t a lot of Lowland effigies of armored knights and or squires from this period that survive in decent condition. Toby Capwell covers three in detail.

The Armourers of Cologne: The Organization and Export Markets of a Foremost European Armour-making Center (1391-1660) by Pierre Terjanian, Associate Curator of Arms and Armour, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Organization, masterpieces, workforce, quality control, maker’s marks and export markets, with a few examples of high quality Cologne harness and construction details.

The Treatment of Mail on an Arm Guard from the Armoury of Shah Shuja: Ethical Repair and in situ Documentation in Miniature by Simon Metcalf, Queen's Armourer, St. James Palace, UK

How do you conserve a plate arm guard in which most of the connecting mail has been lost, while reliably documenting your work for anyone that might want to study the piece in the future? In this case, by making replacement links of riveted mail, and stamping each and every one of them with a tiny “VA”.

The Glancing Surface and Its Effect on 14th Century Armour by Douglas W. Strong, Independent Scholar

Flanged edges and applied stop ribs protecting eyeslots, arm and neck openings, cuisses, shoulder harness and vambraces and deflecting lugs on bascinets. Not necessarily a lot of new information for those familiar with the existing pieces, but he does present the insight that it is easier to apply a fabric covering to pieces like the Chalcis body armors if applied stop ribs are used than with a flanged edge.

Armour Purchases and Lists in the Howard Household Accounts: Part II by Robert W. Reed, Jr., Independent Scholar

For me, this was the most interesting article. It contains extensive lists and descriptions of armor loaned or given out to Howard’s retainers or already in their possession for military expeditions in 1464, 1468 and 1481. Valuation of different pieces of armor is sometimes provided as well as many other payments associated with the great household. It ends with notes regarding Lord Howard’s own equipment stowed aboard the Greate Cobbam, including “my Lordes cloth sak, a panyer with spises, the boketes of leder, the almondes, and the rys, the lampreys, and the sturgeon” a note to “remember the cheesses” and finally twelve books, including the Destruction of Troy, the Tree of Battles and “Le Jeu des Des”

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Halfsword Image in Goliath MS corresponds to the technique illustrated by Tobler's Illus.37.4 in Secrets of German Swordsmanship. You will see that in Goliath R's* pommel is not so low, resulting in a thrust between the legs rather than the armpit, and his left hand is further forward on the blade. If he’s thrusting at the inner thigh of the right leg, that would fit Ringeck and von Danzig’s instructions to “attack him to his right side”

The technique is also described in von Danzig’s fechtbuch on page 62-R:

I’ve tried both, and like the Goliath version better.

*For brevity, I use L for the left hand figure and R for the right hand one in such scenes.

SCA Errata Sheet: White Belts and Chains

Medieval knights did not, as a general rule, typically walk around in a white belt and plain chain, and the white belt and chain were not restricted to them alone. Try this simple test. Look at a dozen medieval depictions of knights from various periods, reproduced in color. Are they always wearing white belts? (No). Do they often wear belts of other colors? (Yes. In many periods it is very rare to find depictions of knights in white belts.) Do the knights wear simple chains, as opposed to the decorated chains of livery or of specific knightly orders? (Rarely, if ever) Now look for pictures of non-knightly types, peasants and simple infantry and the like. Can you find them wearing white belts? (Yes).

What did happen was this: as part of the ceremony of knighthood the candidate would be girded with a sword belt, a token of the profession of arms. Sometimes, but not always, the belt was white, to signify purity. The Ordene de Chevalerie, one of the few sources to specify white, also says that the belt should be small and narrow in token of humility!

But the evidence I mention above suggests that the white belt was not normally worn afterwards as a symbol of knightly rank. Think of it as being like a modern wedding dress: you wear white to the wedding but you don't spend the rest of your married life in a white dress to show people you are married.

An SCA Errata Sheet

The Society for Creative Anachronism has a variety of customs and observances, some following medieval practice and some not. Some were created decades ago on an ad hoc basis by people that were sincerely trying to create a medieval ambiance, but didn’t fully understand actual medieval practice. The inertia of a large organization with decades of history means that many of them will never change, even thought the people involved would do things differently if they had a time machine.

That’s life. If you’re participating with an organization, you need to respect its rules and customs. But from an educational point of view, it creates problems when people see something in the SCA and assume that it’s actual medieval practice. Over time I hope to create the equivalent of an errata sheet for SCA participants, so they can know which SCA practices follow historical reality and which don’t.

Monday, June 12, 2006

New Fair

Here is a jolly amusement that is mentioned in Piers Plowman. Later, the same game seems to have been known as Handicap. The details I've filled in from later descriptions are marked (thus).

Clement the Cobbler casts off his cloak, and offers to "Sell it at New Fair" Hick the Hackneyman offers his hood against it. Robin the Roper offers himself as noumpere (umpire). He will try to broker a fair trade. The two items aren't worth the same amount, so one side must offer "amends" to make the trade even. The noumpere will determine the amends. In this case, he rules that Clement must "fill the cup" to make the trade even.

(Clement, Hick, and Robin each put up a stake. For example, a penny. Clement and Hick hide their hands in their cap or hood, and then show that they either hold, or don't hold the coin. Holding the coin shows that they are willing to trade.

If both show, they trade and Robin keeps the stake.
If neither shows, they don't trade and Robin keeps the stake.
If one shows and the other doesn't, the one that shows keeps the stake and there is no trade.

It follows that it is very much in the interest of the noumpere to make amends as fair as he is able. Side bets on whether the trade will happen can be made by bystanders)

That amends between the hood and cloak are a drink implies that both articles are very drasty indeed.

(But later examples are for more valuable stakes. A horse against a gold watch, chain, and fob, for instance)

Pagan Gods Renamed as Saints

All good Catholics are familiar with how St. Dionysos is venerated by ripping small mammals to bits. And how the saint day of St. Jupiter is celebrated by dressing up as waterfowl and domestic animals and then trying to get dates. St. Thor is the patron saint of blacksmiths, venerated by collecting His comic book. As for the reliquary of St. Hermes, don't even ask.

Of all the all the pagan borrowings, of course, Santa Claus is the most obvious. His celebrations involve hanging stuff from trees. He knows if you've been bad or good.

Just ask yourself, do you ever see Santa Claus and Odin together at the same time? Think about it.

Mel Gibson's Historical Offenses, Continued

In addition to Classic Cliches # 1, 1a, 2, 3, 3a, 6, 6a, 6b, 7 & 9 in Braveheart:

Edward I was a hard man, quite capable of having those he considered rebels executed with deliberate cruelty. On the other hand, he did much to improve England's laws and government, and was a loving husband. There is no evidence he threw his son's boyfriend out a window, although it might have saved time if he had. See below.

As a soldier, Edward was generally a skilled tactician, with a high regard for the value of infantry. His actual tactic against Wallace (after an unsuccessful cavalry charge, launched contrary to his wishes by a sub-commander, was recalled) consisted of keeping his troops out of melee, bombarding the Scots with arrows until holes began to open in their formation, and only then sending in the heavy cavalry. Worked like a charm.

Edward's son, later Edward II, may or not have been a homosexual. His marriage produced several children, but he certainly had a number of male favorites who exercised excessive influence on him. The most famous, Piers Gaveston, was evidently not fatally thrown out a window by Edward I, since he survived into the next reign. He was ultimately executed by disgruntled barons. Edward II was a large, vigorous man, who more closely resembled Mel Gibson than the wimp that played Edward in the movie.

The wife of Edward II was about eight at the time of the events depicted in Braveheart, and living in France, which would have limited her opportunities for romantic entanglements with William Wallace. She would eventually prove to be adulterous and murderous, and was eventually removed from public life by her son.

William Wallace was not a Romantic Highlander, but came from and operated around Glasgow. As the son of a knight, he was probably rather higher up the social food chain than depicted in the movie.

There is surprisingly little evidence that even Romantic Highlanders were wearing kilts as early as William Wallace’s lifetime.

He was apparently betrayed to English, but there is no evidence that Robert the Bruce was involved in any way.

The battle of Stirling Bridge was so named because there was a bridge involved that played a critical role in the outcome of the battle.

And why is it that the only major actor in the movie that's actually Celtic is playing the King of England?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Classic Cliches for the Medieval Historical Movie

#1. There Is No Problem That Cannot Be Solved by the Application of a Sufficient Quantity of Pyrotechnics. Movie special effects departments are good at making things burst into flame or explode. If an automobile goes off a cliff, expect it to burst into flames without fail. If a siege weapon throws a missile, expect it to be a flaming one.

Thus the classic cliche of the historical movie, the fire arrow. While these weapons had some utility against flammable structure, they weren't actually very good antipersonnel weapons. If you have an arrow sticking out of your neck, the fact that you are also suffering a nasty burn is a secondary consideration. Wrapping bulky flammable material around an arrowhead is bad for air resistance, accuracy, range and penetration, and pausing to light the arrow slows the rate of fire. In clicheland, none of this matters, since fire arrows look good on the screen, especially if the battle is fought at night.

In the real world for most of history, fighting at night was something generals tried to avoid, since your troops were likely to get pointed to the wrong direction and start killing their friends. If you did fight at night, you wanted a stealthy sneak attack that avoided things that might spoil the surprise and make you an obvious target, like carrying flaming torches.

Timeline brought the cliche to a new level: a night attack with flaming arrows, siege engines and cannons throwing photogenic incendiaries, soldiers carrying torches, and a flaming moat. Why attackers don't just wait for the moat to burn out is not explained.

"We'll give them an unpleasant surprise" laughs Cardboard Villain #1 "NIGHT ARROWS." His archers fire a barrage of ordinary, non-flaming arrows. "AAARGH! NIGHT ARROWS" scream the terrified French opponents.

Flaming arrows are a useful resource for any director that has run out of plot or characterization

#1a; Medieval Napalm. Cheap and ubiquitous petroleum distillates are a commonplace of the modern world. Just pour a can of gasoline on the ground, strike a match, and WHHUMPP! Not so in the premodern world. Try this experiment: pour some vegetable oil on the ground and try to set it alight and see how far you get. There was some use of naphtha and naphtha based incendiaries, but they weren't easy to get, and more common in the Middle East than elsewhere.

In the counterfactual universe of Braveheart, William Wallace has easy access to large quantities of gasoline. At the battle of Falkirk, he apparently has a tanker truck parked behind the lines, so that he can wet down a broad stretch of the front-line as a death trap for the enemy. It is then set alight by flaming arrows, to set the enemy stuntmen on fire so that they can run around screaming while the flammable stunt clothing blazes merrily over their Nomex jumpsuits. Wiliam Wallace can also generally get his hands on fire starter whenever he wants to burn English soldiers to death in a cottage.

#2. Heroes Don't Wear Helmets. Against real world edged weapons, a helmet is your first buy and best value. Your head is right on top of your body where it is easy to hit, and a blow to the head will give you a bad day in a hurry. For the Hollywood hero, a helmet is an encumbrance to be discarded as soon as possible, so that the hero's face can be more easily seen and recognized. Unless it is desirable to wait until later to suddenly reveal that the armored figure is female, evil or somebody who we have already met.

#3 Men of Iron, Armor of Cardboard. Armor is surprisingly useless against most forms of attacks. Whenever the plot requires, arrows and sword thrusts will punch through armor with ease. This is related to:

3a. Braveheart Brigandine: This consists of metal plates riveted beneath a leather covering with a gap between the plates. This as flexible and easy to make, and virtually useless as protection, because any thrust will slide along the plate until it reaches the gap, slides into it, and kills the wearer. Its most perverse variant is the Braveheart Pajama Bottom of War: trousers with metal plates riveted to them with *large* gaps between them so the wearer can move. These gaps allow William Wallace to chop the wearer's legs off with ease.

3b. Studded Armor. Leather armor with decorative studs. This is designed to look like brigantine or similar armor to someone who doesn't have a very good idea what brigantine looks like. The studs offer approximately the same protective value as loose change in the wearer's pocket. However, the combination of metal studs and leather is very popular in bad historical movies, as well as the kind of bar where the patrons like that sort of thing.

#4. Real Men Don't Wear Dresses. Costume designers often fear that actual male medieval clothing looks like a dress and will confound the gender expectations of their audience. Medieval tunics and robes can end up morphed into short jackets, smoking jackets (Knight's Tale) and dusters (Timeline). Hosen tends to turn into pants (Knight's Tale) and trousers (Branagh Henry V)

#5. Bad Hair. The modern filmmaker is really reluctant to put their characters, and particularly protagonists, in hairstyles they think their audience will find unflattering. Thus the unmedieval bangs in Timeline and the '30s mustaches in the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. Olivier's Henry V and The Warlord show rare courage in putting their heroes in appropriate haircuts that look unflattering to many modern eyes.

#6. The Antagonists are Eeeeevil. Particularly if the protagonists are killing large number of the antagonists, having completely evil bad guys helps avoid any nasty moral ambiguity to the body count. Cardboard Cliche Villains don't hesitate to promiscuously slaughter random civilians (Timeline), rape and kill women (Braveheart), not necessarily in that order (The Messenger) or toss babies into the fire (Alexander Nevsky)

6a. And Yucky. Cardboard Villains can be unattractive in other ways, to make them even lesss sympathetic. The Edward II in Bravheart is a weak and mincing effeminate. The historical Edward II was physically strong, well formed and vigorous, whatever his moral faults. The Commodus in Gladiator was a dark, puffy faced dissolute. His historical model was an athletic blond. Alternatively, the Cardboard Villains can have bad teeth or other deformities. (The Messenger)

6b. Droit de Seigneur, the legal right to deflower unwilling virgins would have been a great way to be a Cardboard Villain if the institution had actually existed in the Middle Ages

#7. Protagonists can do no wrong. If a historical protagonist has actually made a belt from the skin of an opponent, or carried out a campaign of burning and pillage aimed at civilians, this will not appear in the movie (Braveheart)

#8. Amazing Portable Siege Weapons. Enormous multiton siege weapons can always be deployed from somewhere else over medieval roads to where they are needed in whatever time is required by the plot (Timeline)

#9 Random Melee. Some modern fight choreographers like to show the chaos of battle by scattering fighters of both sides randomly about the field in a series of mostly single combats. (Braveheart, Branagh Henry V, etc, etc, etc.). If you have gotten yourself into this kind of situation on a medieval battlefield, you, your companions, and/or commander are incompetent and will probably be dead in a few minutes. If you're doing it right, you are standing in good formation with an ally on your left and your right, and you won't break formation until your enemy is fleeing in rout, if then. Alexander Nevsky is one of the few movies that comes close to getting this right.

The Social Pyramid

The following illustrates the levels of late 14th c. English society between Baron and plowman. In general I have followed the ranks used in the 1379 Poll Tax, supplemented at the lower levels by the Sumptuary Laws of 1363. I have simplified some of the finer gradations of income in the 1379 law.

The ranks are illustrated by portraits from the Canterbury Tales, from the prologue unless otherwise noted. In many cases I have had to make educated guesses as to the wealth of the people described. Just how wealthy was the merchant or the prioress?

In some cases I have been guided by Russell’s Book of Nurture, a 15th century work on etiquette and manners. At dinner he would sit a prior with a knight, and so I have placed the prioress at that level. The monk is “to been an abbot able” but currently manages a cell, or subsidiary house, so I have placed him one level lower. The Wife of Bath is, or considers herself to be, the most substantial woman in her urban parish, and I have ranked her as a “sufficient merchant”

Chaucer doesn’t say what town the guildsmen, “shaply for to been an alderman”, are from. London aldermen were quite wealthy, with an implicit property qualification that was codified in the 15th c. as £1000 in goods or in money loaned out. This would suggest an income of over £100 a year. However, London aldermen were almost always from richer and more prestigious trades than Chaucer’s pilgrims. I suspect that they are either from a smaller town than London, or Chaucer is suggesting that they have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, or both.

Edith Rickert and other writers have noticed that Chaucer’s merchant corresponds in many details to Gilbert Maghfeld, a London merchant who handled goods worth £1,150 in 1390, and loaned money to Chaucer and many others. That would put him in the upper ranks of London merchants. Records from the Court of orphanage, 1350-1497, suggest a median estate of £200-£400, so even a more typical merchant would expect an income like a substantial squire.

The Social Pyramid: 1. Laborer's Estate

Many peasants had only a little land, or none, and depended on paid labor for others to survive. The income from such work could be very sporadic.
Also: Monks , etc, from houses worth less than 40 pounds, other clerks without advancement.
Income: £1 10s.-<£3

Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy;
For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
For hym was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of aristotle and his philosophie,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie.

The Social Pyramid: 2. Husbandmen

A holding of 30-15 acres of arable land, a yardland or half yardland, was generally reckoned enough to support a peasant farmer and his family. A groom in household service would live about as well., perhaps receiving somewhat finer clothes than the husbandman in livery as a matter of display.
Also: Poorest landed lesser merchants or artificers. Pleaders. Monks and canons from lesser houses.
Income: £3-<£5

The Social Pyramid: 3. Yeoman’s Estate

A yeoman farmer would hold substantially more land than the minimum required to support a family: perhaps 100 acres or more. A skilled craftsman like an ordinary master carpenter would live about as well. The middle rank of household servants, between the grooms and the squires, were ranked as yeomen or valets. Note, however that while this was a common term for servants of this rank, it doesn’t seem to have been regularly used to describe the free famers from whom those servants were recruited until the 15th c. Also: Middling to poor innkeepers, married pardoners or summoners, farmers of manor or parsonage, wholesalers dealing in stock and other lesser trade, and landed lesser merchants or artificers. All other benificed curates, and parish and annual chaplains. Monks and canons from middling houses.
Income: £5-<£10

And he was clad in cote and hood of grene.
A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene,
Under his belt he bar ful thriftily,
(wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly:
His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe)
And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe.
A not heed hadde he, with a broun visage.
Of wodecraft wel koude he al the usage.
Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer,
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that oother syde a gay daggere
Harneised wel and sharp as point of spere;
A cristopher on his brest of silver sheene.
An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene;
A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.

A swerd and bokeler bar he by his syde.
His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys..
He was a janglere and a goliardeys,
And that was moost of synne and harlotries.
Wel koude he stelen corn and tollen thries;
And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee.
A whit cote and a blew hood wered he.

In youthe he hadde lerned a good myster;
He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.
This reve sat upon a ful good stot,
That was al pomely grey and highte scot.
A long surcote of pers upon he hade,
And by his syde he baar a rusty blade.

Carpenter’s Wife: Miller’s tale
A ceynt she werede, barred al of silk,
A barmclooth eek as whit as morne milk
Upon hir lendes, ful of many a goore.
Whit was hir smok, and broyden al bifoore
And eek bihynde, on hir coler aboute,
Of col-blak silk, withinne and eek withoute.
The tapes of hir white voluper
Were of the same suyte of hir coler;
Hir filet brood of silk, and set ful hye.
And sikerly she hadde a likerous ye;

And by hir girdel heeng a purs of lether,
Tasseled with silk, and perled with latoun.
In al this world, to seken up and doun,
There nys no man so wys that koude thence
So gay a popelote or swich a wenche.
A brooch she baar upon hir lowe coler,
As brood as is the boos of a bokeler.
Hir shoes were laced on hir legges hye.

Parish Clerk: Miller’s tale
Ful streight and evene lay his joly shode.
His rode was reed, his eyen greye as goos.
With poules wyndow corven on his shoos,
In hoses rede he wente fetisly.
Yclad he was ful smal and properly
Al in a kirtel of a lyght waget;
Ful faire and thikke been the poyntes set.
And therupon he hadde a gay surplys
As whit as is the blosme upon the rys.

Miller: Reeve’s Tale
Ay by his belt he baar a long panade,
And of a swerd ful trenchant was the blade
A joly poppere baar he is in his pouche;
Ther was no man, for peril, dorste hym touche.
A sheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose.

His Wife
The person of the toun hir fader was.
With hire he yaf ful many a panne of bras,
For that symkyn sholde in his blood allye.
She was yfostred in a nonnerye;
For symkyn wolde no wyf, as he sayde
But she were wel ynorissed and a mayde,
To saven his estaat of yomanrye.
And she was proud, and peert as is a pye.
A ful fair sighte was it upon hem two;
On halydayes biforn hire wolde he go
With his typet bounden aboute his heed,
And she cam after in a gyte of reed;
And symkyn hadde hosen of the same.
Ther dorste no wight clepen hire but dame;
Was noon so hardy that wente by the weye
That with hire dorste rage or ones pleye,
But if he wolde be slayn of symkyn
With panade, or with knyf, or boidekyn.

The Social Pyramid: 4. Landless Squire

4. Landless Squire
Landless Squire in Service or Arms Poorer franklins or sergeants of the country. Richest innkeepers and married pardoners or summoners. 2nd rank of farmers of manor or parsonage, wholesalers dealing in stock and other lesser trade, lesser landed merchants or artificers. Clerics with appropriate income, monks and canons from the wealthiest houses.
Income: £10-<£20

Embrouded was he, as it were a meede
Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede.
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day;
He was as fressh as is the month of may.
Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde

The Social Pyramid: 5. Substantial Squire

Squire of lesser estate, or widow of one. Other sufficient merchant, or widow of one. Apprentices of law and attorneys of lesser estate, Middling or poor mayors of small towns. Richer franklins or sergeants of the country. Richest farmers of manor or parsonage, wholesalers dealing in stock and other lesser trade, lesser landed merchants or artificers. Cleric with appropriate income.
Income: £20-£66 13s. 3d

At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire;
Ful ofte tyme he was knyght of the shire.
An anlaas and a gipser al of silk
Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk.

A monk ther was, a fair for the maistrie,
An outridere, that lovede venerie,
A manly man, to been an abbot able.
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable,
And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel here
Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere
And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle.

Therfore he was a prikasour aright:
Grehoundes he hadde as swift as fowel in flight;
Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
I seigh his sleves purfiled at the hond
With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond;
And, for to festne his hood under his chyn,
He hadde of gold ywroght a ful curious pyn;
A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was.
His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
And eek his face, as he hadde been enoynt.
He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt;
His eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed,
That stemed as a forneys of a leed;
His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat;

Wife of Bath
A good wif was ther of biside bathe,
But she was somdel deef, and that was scathe.
Of clooth-makyng she hadde swich an haunt,
She passed hem of ypres and of gaunt.
In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon
That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon;
And if ther dide, certeyn so wrooth was she,
That she was out of alle charitee.
Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground;
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound
That on a sonday weren upon hir heed.
Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.
Upon an amblere esily she sat,
Ywympled wel, and on hir heed an hat
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe;
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,
And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe.
In felaweshipe wel koude she laughe and carpe.

The Social Pyramid: 6. Knight’s Estate

Knight bachelor, squire that ought to be knight (40 pounds or more from lands), widow of these, Commander of Hospitalers, Middling apprentice of law or attorney, rich mayor of small town, municipal officer of large town, great merchant, or cleric as above with appropriate income.
Income: £66 13s. 4d.-< £200

Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war
Of smal coral aboute hire arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene,
And theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which ther was first write a crowned a,
And after amor vincit omnia.

His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian he wered a gypon
Al bismotered with his habergeon,
For he was late ycome from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.

A marchant was ther with a forked berd,
In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat;
Upon his heed a flaundryssh bever hat,
His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.
His resons he spak ful solempnely,
Sownynge alwey th' encrees of his wynnyng.

Guildsmen: Dyer, Haberdasher, Weaver, Tapestry Maker, Carpenter.
Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was;
Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras
But al with silver; wroght ful clene and weel
Hire girdles and hir pouches everydeel.
Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys
To sitten in a yeldehalle on a deys.
Everich, for the wisdom that he kan,
Was shaply for to been an alderman.
For catel hadde they ynogh and rente,
And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente;
And elles certeyn were they to blame.
It is ful fair to been ycleped madame,
And goon to vigilies al bifore,
And have a mantel roialliche ybore.

The Social Pyramid: 7. Baron’s Estate

Baron, banneret, widowed baroness or banneress, knight able to spend as baron, Prior of Hospitalers in England, Alderman of London, mayor of great town, sergeant or great apprentice of the law, married advocate, notary or procurator, abbot without mitre, prior, prioress, dean, archdeacon, provost, precentor, chancellor, treasurer, or parson with benifice or office worth appropriate income.
Income: £200 £.-<£400 .

Man of Law
He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote.
Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale;
Of his array telle I no lenger tale.

The Social Pyramid

The following illustrates the levels of late 14th c. English society between Baron and plowman. In general I have followed the ranks used in the 1379 Poll Tax, supplemented at the lower levels by the Sumptuary Laws of 1363. I have simplified some of the finer gradations of income in the 1379 law.

The ranks are illustrated by portraits from the Canterbury Tales, from the prologue unless otherwise noted. In many cases I have had to make educated guesses as to the wealth of the people described. Just how wealthy was the merchant or the prioress?

In some cases I have been guided by Russell’s Book of Nurture, a 15th century work on etiquette and manners. At dinner he would sit a prior with a knight, and so I have placed the prioress at that level. The monk is “to been an abbot able” but currently manages a cell, or subsidiary house, so I have placed him one level lower. The Wife of Bath is, or considers herself to be, the most substantial woman in her urban parish, and I have ranked her as a “sufficient merchant”

Chaucer doesn’t say what town the guildsmen, “shaply for to been an alderman”, are from. London aldermen were quite wealthy, with an implicit property qualification that was codified in the 15th c. as £1000 in goods or in money loaned out. This would suggest an income of over £100 a year. However, London aldermen were almost always from richer and more prestigious trades than Chaucer’s pilgrims. I suspect that they are either from a smaller town than London, or Chaucer is suggesting that they have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, or both.

Edith Rickert and other writers have noticed that Chaucer’s merchant corresponds in many details to Gilbert Maghfeld, a London merchant who handled goods worth £1,150 in 1390, and loaned money to Chaucer and many others. That would put him in the upper ranks of London merchants. Records from the Court of orphanage, 1350-1497, suggest a median estate of £200-£400, so even a more typical merchant would expect an income like a substantial squire.

A Modest Proposal for Establishment of a Worshipful Guild of Vampyres, Nosferatu, and Undead

Insomuch as many false persons have claimed to be or presented themselves as Vampyres, to the great mischief of the realms' true Undead and good and honest Nosferatu, there shall be established by royal license the Guild afforsaid.

And no person may claim to be a vampyre, or walk about with pointie teeth and darke cloakes, save that he or she be admitted to the said Guild.

And before a person may be admitted to the Guild, they shall be be put to public examination.
And first they shall be dropped from a tall tower, to see that they may properly turn themselves into a bat, or cling to the face of the tower like a lizard, as all true vampyres may.

And next they shall be stabbed with a sharp sword, to show that colde steel has no force against them, but only a wooden stake.

And next they shall placed in an iron chest, well hasped and locked, to show that they may seep through the tiniest crack or intersice like unto a mist or fog. and that they may have leisure to make a proper attempt they shall be allowed to remain in the chest or box for a time not under the space of three hours.

And when they have properly acquited themselves in all these trials they shall be judged worthy to enter the aforesaid Guild, and then they shall do their Vigil. And they shall be placed in a closed coffin with dirt heaped upon it from sunrise to sundown, that their vigil may be properly accomplished.

Four 15th Century Fighting Manuals

Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship: Sigmund Ringeck's Commentaries on Liechtenauer
Translated and interpreted by Christian Henry Tobler
Union City: Chivalry Bookshelf; 2002 ISBN: 1891448072

Sigmund Ringeck's Knightly Art of the Longsword
By David Lindholm and Peter Svard
Boulder: Paladin Press; 2003 ISBN: 1581604106
Codex Wallerstein: A Medieval Fighting Book from the Fifteenth Century on the Longsword, Falchion, Dagger, and Wrestling by Grzegorz Zabinski with Bartlomiej Walczak
Boulder: Paladin Press; 2002 ISBN: 1581603398
Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth-Century Illustrated Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat translated and edited by Mark Rector
London: Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal; 2000 ISBN: 1853674184 (Hardback, out of print) 2004 ISBN: 1853675822 (Paperback)
Arte Gladitoria Dimicandi: 15th Century Swordsmanship of Master Fillipo Vadi
translated by Luca Porzio & Gregory Mele
Union City: Chivalry Bookshelf; 2002 ISBN: 1891448161

However, read this important information about Chivalry Bookshelf

Reviewed by Will McLean

These are exciting times for students of medieval martial arts, as more and more translations and interpretations become available. Not only have four different 15th century manuals been published since 2000, but one is now available in two different and complimentary versions.

As valuable as the manuals are, it’s important to know what to expect from them. Many of the techniques are so dangerously effective that they are unusable in the sort of friendly but competitive recreation practiced in the Society for Creative Anachronism. To the extent that shields are discussed at all by the surviving pre-16th century manuals, they are almost always small bucklers or huge pavises rather than the medium sized shield favored in Society combat. Many, if not all, of the manuals were designed not so much to teach the techniques as to remind the student of what he had already been taught: brief mnemonic verses or snapshot illustrations that may not be readily accessible to someone that does not already know the technique. Often, much of the manual is devoted to wrestling rather than armed combat. A reader interested in medieval swordplay might be tempted to skip these sections entirely , but this would be a mistake. The fighting systems of the medieval masters formed a coherent whole. The techniques and mechanics of unarmed combat were complimentary to those of armed combat, and both followed common principals. An understanding of one enhances understanding of the other. All that said, these manuals are invaluable tools for understanding medieval combat.

Of the manuals published to date, Christian Tobler’s translation and interpretation of Sigmund Ringeck’s commentaries offers the richest and most accessible window into the complexities of medieval combat. Written sometime between 1420 and 1440, and ascribed to Sigmund Ringeck, the original manuscript glosses and explains the cryptic verses of the earlier Master Johannes Liechtenauer, who was probably born around 1320. Tobler not only translates Ringeck, but reproduces a series of photographs illustrating a plausible interpretation of Ringeck’s techniques. In each sequence Christian demonstrates the correct application of Ringeck’s techniques, his partner, the patient but doomed Ben is invariably thrown, pummeled, stabbed or otherwise defeated. The work covers wrestling and unarmored combat with longsword and sword and buckler, armored combat with spear and longsword, and mounted combat. It is difficult to find fault with this excellent work. While the book includes the original German for Liechtenauer’s verses, it would have been improved by the inclusion of the original text for Ringeck’s commentaries. Also, the equestrian combat is not as fully explained as combat on foot.

David Lindholm and Peter Svard have produced an independent translation and interpretation of Ringeck. Their work has two virtues. They illustrate their interpretation of Ringeck with lucid illustrations: arrows show the path followed by the sword and a sort of Arthur Murray footprint diagram explains the footwork. They also include the original German for the relevant portion of Ringeck’s text.

Their book suffers from two serious flaws. Only unarmored swordplay is covered, so only about half of Ringeck’s work is presented. Lindholm and Svard’s interpretation of the techniques, which differs from Tobler’s on several points, is not always the most the most plausible explanation of the meaning of Ringeck’s text. Sometimes it seems to be in serious conflict with what Ringeck writes. For example, their explanation of the “squinter“ stroke is difficult to reconcile with Ringeck‘s text. They also argue that we should ignore the distinction that Ringeck makes between armored and unarmored combat. Yet Ringeck explicitly draws such a distinction himself, and prescribes different tactics in each case.

Of course, neither interpretation should be regarded as definitive. Tobler, with admirable humility, acknowledges that our understanding of the manuals will continue to be improved and refined with further study.

The Codex Wallerstein is actually two manuals that were bound together at some point. One was probably drawn, judging from the armor and clothing, sometime in the first third of the 15th c. and illustrates wresting, dagger and sword techniques both in and out of armor. The armored combat includes spearplay and some limited use of the knightly shield. Interestingly, the shield is shown being used mostly in the early stages of the combat, and quickly discarded or thrown at the opponent. The large specialized dueling shields used without armor in some German judicial duels are also shown. In the early sections of the manuscript the techniques are illustrated without text. The other parts were probably written around 1470, and both describe and illustrate wrestling and unarmored combat with dagger, falchion and longsword . The editors provide both a transcription of the text and an English translation, and the combination of text and illustration will often to allow the techniques to be reconstructed. Some techniques are fairly straightforward, but some may require considerable study to achieve a reasonable reconstruction.

Talhoffer’s 1467 manual is most useful as a supplement to other works, as the short original captions and snapshot illustrations are better suited as reminders to someone who already knows the techniques than an unaided source of instruction. Mark Rector’s captions combine translations of the original text with his own explanation of the technique, and it would have been helpful of the text had been presented in a way that more clearly distinguished between Talhoffer and Rector. The original German text is included as an appendix. A study of Talhoffer can often confirm or clarify techniques described in other manuals, and Talhoffer includes a section on the pollaxe, which is absent from Ringeck and the Codex Wallerstein.

Filippo Vadi’s late 15th century manual is richly illustrated with delicately colored depictions of the combatants, and Porzio and Mele’s translation reproduces these in full color, giving a good sense of the sumptuous qualities of the luxurious little book. Unillustrated pages of text, written in a very clear humanistic hand, are reproduced in black and white. Vadi’s teaching closely follows the tradition of Fiori dei Liberi, who wrote at the beginning of the century, and this Italian school represented a related but different tradition of swordsmanship from the German masters. Vadi while he closely followed Fiore in many ways also shows how the Italian school evolved over time.

Techniques of wrestling, unarmored combat with dagger, sword and spear, and armored combat with sword or pollaxe are captioned with short mnemonic couplets. Vadi’s most original feature is a lengthy initial discussion of tactical principals. Fiore taught the principals of his system in the course of teaching the individual techniques. Ringeck, it is true, does include brief passages describing general principals of swordplay. Vadi, on the other hand, spends over two dozen pages describing both general combat principals and specific issues like the proper length of the sword. The translators include a useful discussion of Vadi’s system and his relationship to other masters.

Some Resources for the Liechtenauer School

Transcription of Doebringer (1389)

Summary in English of contents

Translation of Liechtenauer's unarmored longsword from Doebringer

Sigmund Ringeck,ca 1440
Partial Translation:

German Transcription:

Two translation/redactions reviewed

Peter von Danzig's Fechtbuch, 1452

Goliath (ca 1500, but very similar to von Danzig's text. Illustrated

The equestrian sections of Von Danzig/Goliath,Lew, Speyer and Ringeck, presented side by side along with images from Goliath.

Durer's Fechtbuch, 1512. Stongly derivative of the Codex Wallerstein, but with better art.

Formats for Consensual Deed of Arms

Earlier Formats: Tournaments and Festive Jousts

The tournament and the festive joust were designed to serve the needs of teams of horsemen. In the tournament, each team fought as a group. In the joust, the members of each team vied against each other as pairs of individuals. Mounted combat was paramount. From the middle of the 14th c. other contests emerged that treated combat on foot as a worthy deed in its own right.

Challenges to Deeds of Arms

Beginning with the famous combat of the thirty in 1351, challenges to perform deeds of arms became a popular alternative to the tournament or festive joust. Unlike the judicial duel or gage of battle, these deeds were done for their own sake rather than to settle a defamatory quarrel. These combats, however, did appropriate much of the format and procedures of the judicial duel. Although there is no mention of judges at the earliest contests, it soon became customary and expected for these deeds to be controlled and supervised by a judge, usually the most powerful noble or senior commander in the area. In the 14th century these combats were always between national enemies, but in the 15th it became acceptable to challenge the subjects of friendly sovereigns. Often these deeds of arms included an agreement that the loser would pay a forfeit or ransom. However, it was possible to complete these contests without either side being considered a loser, and this is what actually occurred more often than not.

Challenge to Group Combat

Who would fight who was agreed prior to the combat. In theory, this was always a fight to the finish, but judges, if present, might choose to stop the fight at any point and often did in later combats. Champions would go into the fight carrying multiple weapons. Typically, a pollaxe was the primary weapon, but some fights started with thrown spear, and sometimes targes or pavises were used in this phase of the combat. In the Lalaing-Douglas fight both sides had the option of using lances as their primary weapon, although the Lalaing party immediately discarded theirs, preferring to fight with axes. Swords and daggers were carried as secondary weapons.

These contests were extremely dangerous. A group combat is harder to control than a single combat, and the dynamics of such combats put a high premium on eliminating one or more members of the opposing team early. Once this was done the remaining opponents could be overpowered in a succession of unequal contests. Keeping the first casualty alive while putting them out of action was only a secondary goal. Group combats were a risky business, and only rarely fought out in full earnest.

Challenge to Single Combat

By the 1380s, challenges to single combat became popular. More than one single combat might be arranged for the same day, as at Vannes. Who would fight who was agreed prior to the combat. The combat was either for a set number of blows or “as long as they hold out”. The agreed number of blows was often spread among a variety of weapons. If a limited number of blows were to be exchanged, the sequence would end when either champion had struck or attempted that number of blows. Judges had an explicit or implicit ability to end the fight earlier. Other conditions, such as falling or being disarmed, might also end the fight. These contests might be mounted, on foot, or both sorts of encounters. In the earliest contests the weapons were unblunted with no stated restrictions on use. However, Continge vs. de Bars, 1415, was fought with axes without spikes and “without pushing”. This was by no means universal, and spikes and thrusting attacks continued to be used in many later axe combats

“Push” is a term that recurs frequently in accounts of medieval combat, and needs some explanation. From context, it appears to describe an attack delivered with the point of a weapon with the goal of delivering the maximum shock and impact to the target. A successful “push” might drive the target backwards or to the ground. Other techniques could deliver less shock but more penetration, and contemporary accounts refer to “throwing” or “thrusting”.

A specific scenario may help to understand the term. Two men-at-arms face each other. Each is dressed from head to foot in armor of proof, and each holds a spear weighing about two pounds. The spear can be thrown like a javelin, and if it is, and hits the target, it has a significant chance of piercing metal armor, but very little of knocking down a man.

Alternatively, the man at arms can clamp the spear under his arm and charge at his opponent while screaming like a maniac. What makes contact is no longer a two pound missile moving at tens of mile per hour, but a 200 pound or more projectile moving at a few miles per hour. Penetration is limited, but the potential for a knockdown blow is considerable. Not all “push” attacks were done in this way, but the term does seem to have been used for attacks that were intended to maximize shock and momentum transfer rather than pure penetration.

In Que vs. Lalange, the Englishman’s very sharp axe blade and spike raised unfavorable comment. Perhaps there was generally a sort of gentleman’s agreement in many of the later contests that, while the weapons were not blunted, neither would they be particularly sharp or acutely pointed.

If the challenge was for a specified number of blows, it was typically for different weapons in turn: for example, ten blows with spear and likewise with axe, sword and dagger, all fought on foot. In other combats the spear or dagger was omitted. The total number of blows possible for each champion could range from 15 to 63. The sequence could also include mounted combat, or be fought entirely on horseback.

In several cases the sword specified was an estoc, designed only for thrusting and with rondels to protect the hands. Often a set number of paces, such as three or seven, were specified for the run-up in an attack with spear or estoc. In at least one case, the combat between Galiot de Baltasin and Phillipe de Ternant in 1446, immediately following up such an attack was not permitted, and the champions would retreat the set number of paces after each attack with spear or estoc.

Contests for a set number of blows often had a pause at each change of weapons, so that there was an opportunity for the champion to receive the new weapon from an assistant.

In challenges where no number of blows was specified and the champions were to fight “as long as they hold out” or to the utterance, the dynamic was different. As in group combats to the finish, in these contests the champion carried not only their primary weapon, typically a pollaxe, but backup weapons such as sword and dagger in case they lost their primary weapon. In addition they might carry a spear to throw in the initial encounter, and sometimes a shield for protection against their opponents’ throw. In the accounts I have found to date, the shield, if used, was discarded once the champions came to handstrokes

Towards the end of the 15th c., single combats on foot began to be fought across a barrier at about waist height.

Challenge to Single and Group Combat.

At least one challenge, ca. 1400, presented both options. Five French knights wore a garter with a rod and lace attached as token of their enterprise. The rod could be won by nine strokes each on foot with lance, sword, axe and dagger. The lace could be won by twelve courses with lances and thirty-six strokes on foot with sword. To win the garter, the challengers were required to fight to the finish five against five.

Pas d’Armes

Tenans issued a challenge agreeing to meet all comers. The contest might be mounted, on foot, or both sorts of encounters. Although the term is not used in contemporary accounts, the deed of arms at St. Inglevert had the essential characteristics of a pas d’armes or passage of arms. The Perilous Passage of Great Adventure at Valladolid in 1432 was a spectacular event that seems to have made the term popular, and the Pas of Charlemagne’s Tree in 1443 extended the format to combats on foot. Pas d’armes often featured elaborate settings and dramatic scenarios.

Each contest was limited rather than to finish. Typically, each combat was for a specified number of blows. The Pas d’armes de l’Arbre d’Or had jousts timed by a sandglass. Often the comer had a choice of possible encounters. Prior to 16th c., the norm was unblunted weapons for combats on foot, with same caveats as in challenges to single combats. Lances with coronels were sometimes used for mounted combats in pas d’armes from St. Inglevert on.

In 15th century passages of arms each combat on foot used a single weapon, usually an axe but sometimes a sword, rather than a sequence of weapons as was common in individual challenges. However, a comer might undertake more than one type of combat if the rules permitted.

16th century passages of arms might include more than one weapon in each combat: combat with spear before drawing the sword at the champions’ sides, or throwing a partisan before laying on with a two handed sword, as at Noseroy in 1519.

Later passages of arms could include group combat. In the Pas d’armes de l’Arbre d’Or of 1468, the defender and those that had jousted against him in the pas formed one of two teams for a mounted tournament. English deeds of arms in the late 15th and the 16th c. frequently included a mounted melee with the defenders forming one team. The announcement for one of these events specifies that if there are more comers than defenders, the excess would either be fought on a later day, or divided between the comers and defenders. In an English passage of arms of 1512, 1524, or 1548, comers could choose to assault a mock castle defended by the tenans.

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