Wednesday, 9 March 2011

It's all a bit Academic

Jeffrey Hull recently posted over at HEMA Alliance's forums that:
It seems to me that the lack of any substantial dedicated fight-book materials for the large High Medieval triangular shields has simply to do with timing.
The vast majority of fighting manuscripts started appearing after 1400 - thus well-after the era of common usage of those things.  By then, the high nobility had taken to full plate armouring, with only those little cavalry targes to be seen (cf. Gladiatoria versions circa 1425-50).  Otherwise it tended either to be bucklers or pavises.
That's a perfectly good explanation as to why not much 'heater-shield HEMA' goes on. But let's turn the question on its head...

Why is it that most fighting manuscripts appear after when heater shields were used? 
Codex Manesse, a book of romance and chivalry from c. 1304-40
Was it because there were changes in society? Did the type of people writing things down change or after the black death were different groups taking part in structured martial activities? Was it because the nature of warfare and combat changed; with the new technologies encouraging martial systems to be recorded? Was it because the type of people involved in combat wanted to show their intellect as well as their prowess?

This is a bit too much of a derailment to be brought up on HEMA Alliance in this embryonic form, but to me these are questions that the HEMA community needs to explore, especially if we want to engage with academics and institutions. Sure, they may not affect sword-swinging too much, but I feel that if you're not asking 'Why am I learning to swing this sword in this way?' then you're not trying hard enough.
Codex Gladiatoria, an illustrated guide to breaking another person from the 1430s.
For example we know from the archaeological record shows a different distribution of trauma at Visby then at Towton. To my mind, this strongly implies a difference in the mechanics of the two different battles. Furthermore, in the century between these two combats, documents about the mechanics of individual combat popped up from Portugal to Poland, from Italy to England. What was the relationship between these two connected developments?

Sod it, that's my dissertation fodder. Back to this essay.


  1. I'd say take a big swing at this and run with what falls out

  2. That's kind of my feelings at the moment. In any case, some points Pete brought up by IM, so I don't forget about them:
    "Peter: major thoughts are: Is there a potential reason why less SURVIVES from before?
    Such as "it was irrelevant and so recycled"
    Wheras a hundred years later, people might have been happier to keep around useless books for curiosity
    M: Good thinking. Also, oral culture
    P: But yeah, 14th century being perhaps the critical change date (assuming a "long 15th century" hypothesis) it might be that Lichtenauer school stayed relevant for long enough compared to earlier systems."

    Eugh, I need to research Oral/Written culture relevant to the period as a thesis as to how/why Fechtbuchs are C15th onwards.

  3. don't forget that according to Lichtenauer (and his successors) that he only wrote down an art that was already "hundreds of years" old. Ie. martial arts existed...but in a looser form, being taught father/uncle to child. This of course means that there would be a wide range of variation even within a single culture.

  4. Yep, although IIRC there's some kind of Fechten/Schirmen difference?

    And evidence for several systems is given by the fact that there seem to be several German traditions, from Siber's New Zedel (an offshoot of the Lichtenauer tradition that influenced Meyer?), the Gladiatoria Group, the Nuremberg Group and even texts which contain different traditions, like the Eyb Kriegsbuch.

  5. So then there are really 3 separate lines of inquiry here: 1) what changes in society or technology allowed or encouraged Lichtenauer (and Lutegerus)to put pen to paper and record these systems?
    2) what can we learn from these other traditions. What can they tell us about martial traditions prior to the 1300's?
    3) we may be martial artists/fencers...but are we not also (and perhaps more importantly) experimental archaeologists/historians?

  6. "...Is there a potential reason why less SURVIVES from before? Such as "it was irrelevant and so recycled""Wheras a hundred years later, people might have been happier to keep around useless books for curiosity"

    Turn that around a bit...what if the reason so little survives is because it was ubiquitous. Perhaps what we have is due to its uniqueness, and so the horsemanship and shield and sword, etc was so commonplace as to be unremarkable. As in why preserve something everyone is already taught from childhood...and since this has been common practice for hundreds of years it was inconcievable that it would not continue to be so. In fact I think you see an increase in these sort of things being recorded at the end of the period as it becomes clear that in fact knowledge is being lost.