A growing body of research on fight books and historical European martial arts has appeared in academic circles over the last fifteen years. It has also broken through the doors of patrimonial institutions. From curiosities in exhibitions about knighthood, to dedicated temporary exhibitions about historical European martial arts, the fight books have received more and more attention from museum professionals. This article attempts to present an exhaustive list of fight books displayed in museum exhibitions over the last fifty years. It then proposes a critical view about how and why they were displayed from the perspective of the curators, based on a review of the exhibition catalogues.
The cavalry horse, tactics and training in Western Europe – the Euro-pean provinces of the Roman Empire of the West and the Frankish Empire – du-ring the Early Middle Ages (c. 500-1000) are still subject to many myths in both popular media and academic literature. Source material is admittedly thin, yet it is specific enough to allow us to correct many of these misconceptions and outright errors.
The article initially summarises the current state of knowledge on the war horse of the period, by reference to the archaeological record. It then reviews the cavalry’s battlefield tactics, derives the skill level required to execute the manoeuvres described in the sources, and analyses where and how this training could have been provided.
The information gleaned provides an insight into the skills and expertise neces-sary to achieve the requisite sophisticated level of horsemanship. We shall argue that these imply a considerable investment in organisational infrastructure, per-sonnel and institutional memory, which has so far not received much academic attention, and has wider implications for our view of the era.
The author presents a study of Bibliothèque National de France MS Latin 11269, a manuscript that he argues was associated with the court of Leonello d’Este and which represents an attempt to “fix” or “canonize” a vernacular work on a practical subject in erudite Latin poetry. The author reviews the life of Fiore dei Liberi and Leonello d’Este and discusses the author’s intentions in writing, how the manuscript shows clear signs of Estense associations, and examines the manuscript both in light of its codicological context and in light of humanist activity at the Estense court. He also presents the evidence for the book having been in the Estense library. Finally, he examines the place of the manuscript in the context of the later Italian tradition of fencing books. A complete concordance is presented in the appendix.
The Thun-Hohenstein album, long-known as the Thun’sche Skizzenbuch, is a bound collection of 112 drawings that visualize armoured figures at rest and in combat, as well as empty armours arrayed in pieces. The collection gathers drawings that span the period from the 1470s to around 1590. While most of the images were executed in Augsburg during the 1540s, the album’s three oldest drawings date to the late-fifteenth century. Two of these works, which form a codicological interlude between the first and second quires, find parallels in the illustrations of contemporaneous martial treatises. This article traces the pictorial lineages of these atextual images through comparative analyses of fight books produced in the German-speaking lands, and considers how the representational strategies deployed in martial treatises inflected the ways that book painters and their audiences visualized the armoured body. This exploration situates a manuscript from which one of the drawings derives, Peter Falkner’s Art of Knightly Defense, now in Vienna, within the Augsburg book painters’ workshops that would later give rise to the Thun album. Finally, this study considers how the transmission and representation of martial knowledge in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Augsburg contributed to the later depictions of armoured bodies that populate the album.
Military footwear for the fifteenth century includes arming shoes worn under sabatons. Written sources suggest arming shoes and footwear used for fighting were ordinary shoes adapted for the purpose. Archaeological footwear was examined for signs of such modifications. Medieval shoe technology is presented, showing the range of footwear and its uses and gait biomechanics. Based on experiences from re-enactors wearing armours, medieval shoe styles are discussed for appropriateness as arming shoes. The question of why medieval military footwear shows no purposed development is addressed.
The designation Harnischrödel (rolls of armour) lumps together different kinds of urban inventories. They list the names of citizens and inhabitants together with the armour they owned, were compelled to acquire within their civic obligations, or were obliged to lend to able-bodied men. This contribution systematically introduces Harnischrödel of the 14th and 15th c. as important sources for the history of urban martial culture. On the basis of lists preserved in the archives of Swiss towns, it concentrates on information pertaining to the type and quality of an average urban soldier’s gear. Although the results of this analysis are only preliminary – at this point, it is not possible to produce methodologically sound statistics –, the value of the lists as sources is readily evident, as only a smattering of the once massive quantity of actual objects has survived down to the present time.
During the twentieth century, clothing permits a real freedom of bodily movement. However, when examining past athletic activity, we must take into account the period approach to the body: liberty of movement is at the same time controlled by morality, gestures and clothing. The French term “tenue” initially referred to behaviour, but since the end of the eighteenth century concerns the manner of dressing, and later by extension, the “dignity of conduct”. In the past times concerned with “sporting” activities such as the HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts), physical appearance is affected by rules of etiquette imposed by morality and civility. From the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, each period offers a different overview of the dress standards in relation to the different approaches to corporal identity, and the constriction first necessary for military activities becomes indivisible from the moral and physical construction. As a practitioner of the 21st century, the question raises about our relationship, not only with our bodies but also with past cultures. As demonstrated by some concrete examples, if it is desired to fully approach the ancient practices, it is therefore necessary to also adopt the garment, in the same way as the accessories.
Ms. I.33 is not only the oldest of the known fencing treatises in European context, it is also the only one showing a woman fighting equally with contemporary men. The author presents her research about the garments this female fencer wears, including her shirt, dress and overdress, hairstyle and footwear. Special consideration is given to the questions whether Walpurgis wears a belt, the length and hem circumference of her garments as well as the methods of draping them in the way depicted. The results of the analysis are compared with contemporary pictorial and archaeological sources of the early 14th century. Some personal insights gathered by the author while fighting in this kind of clothes shed light on the possibilities of moving without being disturbed by them. The clothes and hairstyle worn by Walpurgis, give clues about her social status and thus help to understand the context and dating of the whole manuscript.
Jack Gassmann, Jürg Gassmann and Dominique Le Coultre
This article is based on the talk presented on 27th November 2016 in the course of the Journées d’études sur le costume et les simulateurs d’armes dans les pratiques d’arts martiaux anciens. The talk itself involved practical demonstrations and interaction with other presentations given at the event; this article does not purport to be a transcript of the presentation, but elaborates on the key themes of the presentation: The objectives of HEMA as a modern practice, and their relationship to what we know about the historical practice of the European martial arts in the Middle Ages, including physical fitness, fencing techniques and tactical awareness, based on the Fechtbücher extant. A key element of the discussion involved a comparison between the objectives of and drivers behind historical and modern tournament rule-sets.