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A comparative analysis of literary depictions of social violence in two important 16th Century autobiographies, from the perspective of the fencing manuals of the Renaissance.

Abstract

In the late 16th century two interesting individuals made substantial contributions to the relatively new genre of the autobiography. In 1595 Bartholomäus Sastrow (1520–1603), a north German burgher, notary, diplomat, and eventually burgomeister of the Hanseatic City of Stralsund, penned his life story. Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), goldsmith, soldier, musician and famous Renaissance artist from Florence, wrote his memoir between 1558 and 1563. Though they were born twenty years apart, both men had similar backgrounds. Both were from the lower-middle strata of society but rose to high status, both were widely traveled and directly acquainted with the most powerful individuals of their time (as well as some of the most lowly) and both experienced firsthand some of the most dramatic and important political and military events of the mid-16th century.

Amidst a backdrop of war and severe religious conflict, Sastrow, a German and a Lutheran, traveled to Italy, and Cellini, an Italian Catholic, travelled through Germany to France. This allows us to see each region from both a native and an outsider’s perspective. Both men participated in or were witness to numerous incidents of social violence and warfare during their lifetimes, as described in detail in their memoirs. These accounts give us an opportunity to examine the depiction of incidents of social violence by people who witnessed or participated in them first-hand, allowing us to contrast these episodes with the principles of self-defense as portrayed in the fightbooks. We can also compare these personal anecdotes with documented written and unwritten rules governing dueling, fighting, and the carrying of arms. This will help grant us further insight into the reality of personal armed conflict in the era of the fightbooks, and improve our understanding of their context and meaning.

Open access
Historical European Martial Art a crossroad between academic research, martial heritage re-creation and martial sport practices

Abstract

Historical European martial arts (HEMA) have to be considered an important part of our common European cultural heritage. Studies within this field of research have the potential to enlighten the puzzle posed by past societies, for example in the field of history, history of science and technology, or fields related to material culture.

The military aspects of history are still to be considered among the most popular themes of modern times, generating huge public interest. In the last few decades, serious HEMA study groups have started appearing all over the world – focusing on re-creating a lost martial art. The terminology “Historical European Martial Arts” therefore also refers to modem-day practices of ancient martial arts. Many of these groups focus on a “hands-on” approach, thus bringing practical experience and observation to enlighten their interpretation of the source material. However, most of the time, they do not establish inquiries based on scientific research, nor do they follow methodologies that allow for a critical analysis of the findings or observations.

This paper will therefore propose and discuss, ideas on how to bridge the gap between enthusiasts and scholars; since their embodied knowledge, acquired by practice, is of tremendous value for scientific inquiries and scientific experimentation. It will also address HEMA practices in the context of modern day acceptance of experimental (or experiential) processes and their value for research purposes and restoration of an historical praxis. The goal is therefore to sketch relevant methodological and theoretical elements, suitable for a multidisciplinary approach, to HEMA, where the “H” for “historical” matters.

Open access
Honour and Fighting Social Advancement in the Early Modern Age

Abstract

The article considers the importance of military service in social advancement, here understood as filling the role of “prince” in feudal law and thus participating in the government of an estate, in the transition from the Late Middle Ages to the Renaissance or Early Modern Age. In the context of a city burgher or a petty noble or knight advancing into a government role, did honour require that the individual have experience in fighting – in war, military organisation and leadership? How did mercenaries figure? What role, if any, did Fechtmeister, Fechtbücher, Fechtschulen or Kriegsbücher play?

Open access
A Long Time Ago in a Library Far, Far Away ... The Adventures of the Gladiatoria Manuscript from New Haven

Abstract

In this paper I will describe the adventurous history of an important late medieval German fechtbuch—a fighting manual—that belongs to a number of manuscripts known as the Gladiatoria group. In the beginning, the extent and the characteristics of this group of codices are explained; later on I will deal with one specific specimen that formerly belonged to a library in Germany—the Herzogliche Bibliothek in Gotha—from where it vanished during or after World War II. Until quite recently this manuscript was believed to be lost. I was able to identify a Gladiatoria manuscript from the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, as that missing manuscript. The article presents a detailed description of the manuscript; it follows the path of the many places the codex passed through from the days of its creation until the present time; it offers a thorough line of argument that proves on one hand that the manuscript from New Haven is in fact identical to the one that disappeared from Gotha, and that verifies on the other hand an assumption by the renowned researcher Hans-Peter Hils that it is identical to yet another believed-to-be-lost manuscript that was sold by auction in Heidelberg in the 1950s and 1960s as single leaves; and finally it makes an attempt to reconstruct the original structure of the manuscript after it had been pulled apart.

Open access
The Roots of Fencing from the Twelfth to the Fourteenth Centuries in the French Language Area

Abstract

This article offers a partial overview on fencing, as recognized through archive records, as well as French epics and romances from the twelfth to the early fourteenth century. In the twelfth century, fencing was only attested through knightly vocabulary as a way to describe actions performed during single combats involving a combination of shield and another weapon, most commonly a sword. Fencing was progressively dissociated from the knightly arts and there were even few mentions of its use by common people. There are archive records from the thirteenth century of individuals bearing the nickname “fencer”, although there is rarely enough context to be certain that they were really practicing the art. At the end of the thirteenth century, archives and narrative fiction show an established fashion for a certain form of fencing with a short round shield, the buckler. This is clearly established in London where surviving manuscripts include many regulations on fencing, however the fashion was also spread in the continent, even though it seems to be less documented.

Open access