Martial Culture in European Towns (1350-1550) – conference

Next November (11-13, 2021) we will host our closing international conference at the University of Bern.

Check out information about registration, the program and the venue

Our Keynote speaker Prof. Marc Boone (Ghent University) will talk on Thursday 11, 17:15 about: The Town, the Military, and the State

This presentation is also part of the lecture series of the Berner Mittelalter Zentrum. Registration and information about the Online zoom link available on request by email (laura.hutter@ikg.ch).

Attendance at the conference is free of charge and is by registration only (check the web page above), with a limitation of attendance due to the sanitary situation.

The poster session with video commentaries will be published on our blog on the 12th November. Stay tuned. The rest of the conference, except for the keynote is not broadcast.

Proceedings of the Joachim Meyer conference (University of Strasbourg 2020) – an introduction

On the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the death of Joachim Meyer, a conference was organised by O. Dupuis, G. Porte and D. Jaquet at the University of Strasbourg (20-21 February 2020).

Joachim Meyer came from Basel and was a cutler by trade, a burgher of Strasbourg. He authored a famous fencing treatise in 1570, as well as less known manuscripts dedicated to the aristocracy. Researchers, archivists and martial arts experts gathered to share their latest research on the author and his work. A one-day workshop followed the lectures.

Supported by the Martial Culture in Medieval Towns research project, this conference will be published in a special issue of the journal Source(s) (ISSN 2261-8562), forthcoming 2022. Meanwhile, some of the contributors offered their contribution in a blog article version. The posts are in French, with an English abstract. You can read these following the links below:

Olivier Dupuis, “La place de l’escrime à Strasbourg (XVe-XVIIe siècle)”:
https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1312

Pierre Kintz, “Tobias Stimmer, illustrateur du Fechtbuch de Joachim Meyer”:
https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1316

Pierre-Henry Bas, “La modernité dans l’escrime de Joachim Meyer”:
https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1322

Laurent Naas, “L’exemplaire sélestadien de la Gründtliche Beschreibung / der freyen Ritterlichen unnd Adelichen Kunst des Fechtens de Joachim Meyer (BHS., K.161)”
https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1302

Alexandre Legros, “Dans l’oeil du bretteur et du chirurgien”
https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1296

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Proceedings of the Joachim Meyer conference (University of Strasbourg 2020) – an introduction," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 18/06/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1290.

Dancing on the rope, swallowing knives, juggling with daggers. Sword players in the 15th century.

In the town of Metz, the weaver Philippe de Vigneulles (1471-1522) wrote his mémoires. His text is full of anecdotes about “his” world, one of merchants who made their fortune within the walls of the free cities of the Holy Roman Empire. He tells us about the acrobats that he likes to see dancing on ropes in the square of Viller. One of them is “a master above all masters” (maistre par sus tout les aultres maistre), coming from the city of Luca (Lucques) in Italy.

“when the Italian master came to play, he surpassed all the others and did incredible things, that no one could believe without seeing him, on the small rope as well as on the big one. It seemed to touch neither the sky nor the earth, so light was he. And this master was so well dressed that there was no lord in Metz who had a more beautiful dress than he had. He was a master of the sword, the battle-axe, the short dagger and all other weapons and the buckler.”[1]

The city of Luca is known for its martial games.[2] It is also not surprising to read about Italian masters who excel at “playing” with weapons. What is interesting here is the list of his martial expertise, which can be tied to urban fencing competitions, the so-called fencing schools.[3] Such competitions were organised by travelling master-at-arms, some of them belonging to interurban networks, guilds of masters of the sword. The most famous one in the Holy Roman Empire, the brotherhood of Saint Marc, received imperial privileges in 1487. Other masters were not member of such guilds and call themselves “free-fencers”. Other were associated with jugglers, dancers, bear watchmen or other kind of performers, as represented by figure 1. On this illuminated painting of 1480, decorating a house book, one can see a snake charmer, a dagger swallower and a fire eater, next to a pair of wrestlers and a pair of fencers. In between the fencer holding longswords is a master-at-arm holding the staff used to referee a fencing bout. Pairs of long knives, daggers and staffs are lying on the ground at the feet of the fencers. All of these weapons represent known martial disciplines to be found in the corpus of fight books, strongly connected with urban fencing practices at the end of the Middle Ages. The poses can also easily be recognised with fencing “guards” in the technical literature about fencing. In passing, the illuminated painting is attributed to master E.S., who produced other works of art related to fencing and other games, such as playing cards (fig. 1).[4]

Fig. 1: Anonymous, Mittelalterliches Hausbuch von Schloss Wolfegg, 1480 (taken from Christoph Graf zu Waldburg Wolfegg (ed.), Venus und Mars. Das Mittelalterliche Hausbuch aus der Sammlung der Fürsten zu Waldburg Wolfegg (New York / Munich: Prestel, 1997)). Wikimedia Commons.

The status of master at arms, or master of the sword, does not correspond to a trade in its own right at the end of the Middle Ages. Apart from a few exceptions such as masters who managed to obtain the protection of a prince in a court, most of the fencing masters mentioned in the archival documents, or authors of the fight books do have another main occupation, most of the time unrelated with fencing. For example, Jorg Wilhalm is a hatter in Augsburg, but he is also specialised in fencing in armour with all weapons. We also find craftsmen such as furriers, candle makers, cutlers, etc, who hold regular fencing schools in Swiss towns as early as 1463.

Those with acrobatic skills who frequent in or accompany travelling people from city to city were keen to play with swords in public. Such is the case of a troupe of foreigners who performed at the city of Estavayer on the shores of the lake of Neuchatel in 1454 and 1459. They are mentioned in an accounting document as ‘poor Sarracens recently made Christians’ (ppovre Sarragin qui se sont fait cristient), who received ‘eight jugs of wine’ for their performance of ‘a play with two-handed swords’ (qui juerent de l’espée à due main).[5] The show was attended by the town council and the wine was drunk from the cellar of a burgher, member of the council. The circumstances of this performance and its specific kind is unclear, as is usual of dry mentions in accounting documents, but it is likely that it was either a competition, or a sword-dance. Sword dance are cultural practices documented in the late Middle Ages in the whole Europe, and tied to either guild practices in cities, or festivals in more rural areas.[6] Such performances can be very elaborated and include competitions as illustrated in fig. 2. On this painted drawing kept in Nuremberg, two fencers cross their swords from a platform made of inter-laced swords held by other performers.

Fig. 2: Sword dance and play of the sword of the cutler’s guild of Nuremberg. Drawing, ca. 1570. (Nürnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, HB 2286). Wikimedia Commons.
Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Dancing on the rope, swallowing knives, juggling with daggers. Sword players in the 15th century.," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 15/04/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1240.

Acknowledgement: This blog is an expansion of an excerpt of the monograph of Daniel Jaquet, Combattre au Moyen Âge: Une histoire des arts martiaux en Occident (XIVe-XVIe siècles) (Paris: Arkhê, 2017).

Title page image credits: Detail of the children of Luna, Mittelalterliches Hausbuch von Schloss Wolfegg, 1480 (taken from Christoph Graf zu Waldburg Wolfegg (ed.), Venus und Mars. Das Mittelalterliche Hausbuch aus der Sammlung der Fürsten zu Waldburg Wolfegg (New York / Munich: Prestel, 1997)). Wikimedia Commons.


[1] quant ledit maistre ytalliens vint à juer, il paissoit tout les aultre de bien juer et faisoit chose incredible et non à croire à gens qui ne l’airoie veu, tent sus la petitte corde laiche comme sus la grosse. Et n’y ait homme qui sceust raiconter les tour qu’il faisoit sus la dite petitte corde, et sambloit qu’il ne touchait ny à_ciel ny à terre de legiereté qui estoit en lui. Et estoit ledit maistre cy bien acoustré qu’il n’y_ait seigneurs en Mets qui eust de plus belle roube qu’il avoit, et estoit maistre jueulx d’espees, de la haiche d’airme, de la courte daigue, de toutte airmes et du bouclier. Paris, BNF, nouv. Acq fr. 67120, edited by Fanny Faltot, Les Mémoires de Philippe de Vigneulles, unpublished PhD thesis, Paris, École des Chartres, 2015, pp. 128-129. I would like to thank the author for kindly sending me her edition.

[2] Alessandra Rizzi, Statuta de ludo: le leggi sul gioco nell’Italia di comune (secoli XIII-XVI) (Roma : Viella, 2012). The author mentions martial games, including shooting, throwing javelins and the so-called battagliole (team game including fencing).

[3] About fencing school see Daniel Jaquet, ’Die Kunst des Fechtens in den Fechtschulen. Der Fall des Peter Schwizer von Bern’, in Agon und Distinktion. Soziale Räume des Zweikampfs zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit, ed. by Uwe Israel and Christian Jaser (Berlin: LIT Verlag 2016), 243‑58 and Christian Jaser, ‘Ernst und Schimpf – Fechten als Teil städtlicher Gewalt- und Sportkultur’, in Agon und Distinktion. Soziale Räume des Zweikampfs zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit, ed. by Uwe Israel and Christian Jaser (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2016), 221‑42.

[4] See Stefan Krause and Christoph Kaindel, ‘Das Grosse Kartenspiel des Meister E.S. – Frühe gedruckte Fechtdarstellung’, Zeitschrift für historische Waffen- und Kostümkunde 55/1 (2013): 1‑18. The attribution to Master E.S. is a matter under debate, since these images are part of a relative large cycle. For a discussion about this matter, see Daniel Hess, Meister um das „mittelalterliche Hausbuch“. Studien zur Hausbuchmeisterfrage (Mainz: Von Zabern, 1994).

[5] I would like to thank Olivier Dupuis for sharing his discoveries back in 2013. The text is edited by Barbey (1911), quoted in Daniel Jaquet ‘Fighting in the Fightschools, late 15th – early 16th century’, Acta Periodica Duellatorum 1 (2013), 47-66 (54, note 29).

[6] Stephen D. Corrsin, Sword Dancing in Europe: A History (Enfield Lock: Hisarlik, 1997).

Upcoming international conference: Martial Culture in European Towns (1350-1550)

Next November (11-13, 2021) we will host our closing international conference at the University of Bern. Learn about the program and check our call for posters (open until May 30, 2021).

[3rd int. conf. Martial Arts Studies] Martial Arts Knowledge on and beyond the Page (Dr. Daniel Jaquet)

Paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on Martial Arts Studies (Hong-Kong, 11-12 December 2020). This paper will lead to a publication in the proceedings of the conference.

Abstract: Martial arts are cultural phenomena shaped by the society in which they develop. They were – and still are – transmitted through interpersonal exchanges, from body to body. Martial arts experts use speech for devising these martial skills into complex system of bodily knowledge. Once the systems are complex or vast enough to be verbalised, they are transmitted through bodies and speech with mnemotechnical texts such as poems, codified knowledge canons or a constellation of technical words associated with metaphors or images. Some of these mantras (mnemonic devices) found their way into writing or depiction. This process is a transliteration from speech to the page, or to a depiction. The written word or the depiction of bodies fighting on a wall, a painted canvas or embedded into a sculpture challenged time and survived the masters who invented them. However, in most cases those who wrote the words, painted the images, or sculpted the stone were not the martial experts themselves. The documents, depictions and sculptures preserved for the study of martial arts culture of the past have to be explored while taking into account the perspective of those who created them. Based on previous research on circulation of knowledge in the corpus of European fight books, this contribution allows for a new categorisation of martial arts knowledge, on and beyond the page, with a focus on early modern fight books.

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "[3rd int. conf. Martial Arts Studies] Martial Arts Knowledge on and beyond the Page (Dr. Daniel Jaquet)," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 10/03/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1225.

[museum talk] Armour and fashion (Dr. Daniel Jaquet)

On the 24th of February, Dr. Daniel Jaquet was invited to participate to a museum talk at the Old Arsenal of Solothurn (Museum Altes Zeughaus). The museum has one of the largest collections of armour in Europe. The conversation was part of a series of lunch talks at the museum, with a Q&A format. Daniel had the opportunity to present research finds of our current project, as well as of his own research to a broader audience. Through various questions the discussion addressed subjects such as: what are the different types of armour, who possessed it, what was the value of such objects, and when were they worn were addressed. The talk was recorded and you can listen to it following the link below. Interview in German

Click here to open the podcast

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "[museum talk] Armour and fashion (Dr. Daniel Jaquet)," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 10/03/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1220.

Known and unknown Swiss martial figures. Who’s the bastard who pushed me?

This joke is reminiscent of the legend of Winkelried, a Swiss hero who impaled himself on enemy pikes to enable his compatriots to break through the lines. Christophe Vuilleumier and Frédéric Rossi chose this image for their collective book, shedding new light on 100 Swiss historical figures from the pen of thirty historians. Selected entries from the book published in 2016 are now available on the blog of the Swiss National Museum (in French and German), with delightful additional images.

Discover the martial figures by browsing this selection of entries:


Hans Waldmann (1435-1489), the Zurich Tyrant, by Christophe Vuilleumier

How the young peasant Hans Waldmann (1435-1489) rose from war hero to the hated mayor of Zurich.

Wilhelm Tell (14th c.), the brainless hero, by Laurent Flutsch

How a former 14th century mercenary needlessly endangers the life of his son and becomes an icon anyway.

Otho of Grandson (1340?-1397), the last knight poet, by Alain Corbellari

How Othon de Grandson, an important medieval poet, died in a duel.

Niklaus Manuel Deutsch (1484-1530), the macabre mercenary, by Christophe Vuilleumier

How Niklaus Manuel Deutsch lived through the most warlike periods of the Confederation and became a pioneer of the Reformation.

Joachim Meyer (1537-1571), knife maker, free fencer and master at arms, by Daniel Jaquet

How the craftmen Joachim Meyer from Basel published a fight book and held fencing schools in Strasbourg.


Stay tuned for more martial figures. This post will be updated as soon as they appear on the blog of the Swiss National Museum (status as at 14.11.2020).

Forthcoming are:

Arnold Winkelried (14th c.), from war hero to dragon slayer, by Daniel Jaquet
Ulrich von Hohensax (1462-1538), a captain of fury and blood, by Christophe Vuilleumiers
Joachim Meyer (1537-1571), knife maker, free fencer and master at arms, by Daniel Jaquet
Adrien de Bubenberg (1434-1479), Morat above all, by Frédéric Rossi

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Known and unknown Swiss martial figures. Who’s the bastard who pushed me?," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 22/11/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1112.

[IMC2020] Martial Experts. Fencers, gunners, and arbalesters in Swiss Towns (1350-1550)

This paper demonstrates who was considered to be a martial expert in the fifteenth century, and it presents new perspectives on research revolving around urban and military history. It includes a theoretical part where technical literature is examined, and a practical part where networks of martial experts can be revealed based on archival research in Swiss towns. This presentation was intended for the International Medieval Congress 2020 at the University of Leeds, as one of the three papers of the panel “Martial Culture I: Within the Walls of the Medieval Town.” The Congress was cancelled due to the Covid-19 situation, and only a smaller version was conducted virtually. Two of our speakers decided to release their paper on video format. Watch or listen this paper by following the link below.

Watch the video of the talk here

Abstract of the panel: Our research project (2018-22) considers towns as producers, organisers, and brokers of martial culture within the rapidly changing political world of late medieval Europe. It examines how towns transformed and were transformed by military techniques and urban ‘marti­al culture.’ The latter developed at the intersection of legal prerogatives, political requirements, and the evolving ownership and use of weapons. It integrates a number of historiographical approaches that are usually explored separately: ur­ban institutional, social, and political history; military history; arms and armour; urban martial competitions; knowledge production and dissemination; fighting expertise, and the transformation of the urban space itself. (Paper A : Martial Experts. Experts. Fencers, Gunners, and Arbalesters as Masters in Swiss Towns. Paper B : Aspects of Urban Military Organisation in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. The Case of Freiburg i. Ue. (ca. 1440-1500). Paper C :  The Spaces of Martial Culture in Late Medieval Towns).

This paper is also available on the Bern Open Repository and Information System (BORIS) with the following DOI: 10.7892/boris.145074

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "[IMC2020] Martial Experts. Fencers, gunners, and arbalesters in Swiss Towns (1350-1550)," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 10/07/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1009.

[Museum talk] Armour: More than protective clothing. (Prof. Regula Schmid)

On the 24th of June, Prof. Dr. Regula Schmid Keeling was invited to participate to a museum talk at the Old Arsenal of Solothurn (Museum Altes Zeughaus). The museum has one of the largest collections of armour in Europe. The conversation was part of a series of lunch talks at the museum, with a Q&A format. Prof. Dr. Regula Schmid Keeling had the opportunity to present research finds of this current project, as well as of her own research to a broader audience. Through various questions the discussion addressed subjects such as: what are the different types of armour, who possessed it, what was the value of such objects, and when were they worn were addressed. She brought to light many examples of local history from research conducted on documents from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries kept in Swiss archives. The talk was recorded and you can listen to it following the link below. Beware, the ltalk was held in Swiss German dialect.

[click here to open the podcast]

https://museum-alteszeughaus.so.ch/museum/museum-fuer-daheim/
Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "[Museum talk] Armour: More than protective clothing. (Prof. Regula Schmid)," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 30/06/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/996.

Holy gunpowder™ purchased from the Pope for the Solothurner master gunner in 1444

Buried in the lines of the accounting books of the City of Solothurn lies a mention of the purchase of saltpetre from the pope himself in 1444 (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Item dem fürmann der den salpeter von unsern heiligen vatter dem bapst bracht 2 gulden (For the wagoner which brought the saltpetre from our holy father the pope. 2 gulden). Solothurn, Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 4 (1444), p. 105. Transcribed and photographed by the author.

The Pope in Basel… dealing saltpetre?

Pope Eugene IV (1383-1447, see fig. 2) was indeed present in Basel, several times during the longest Ecumenical Council (1431-1449) in history.[1] This council assisted in the city’s great economic expansion and cultural development. Even the Medici opened a banking agency there between 1433 and 1444. Emperor Sigismund was responsible for the safety of the council and expected the Swiss Confederates (with the assistance of the allied towns of Fribourg and Solothurn) to ensure peace during the assemblies. This explains why the city of Solothurn was heavily involved in discussions about matters regarding defences – especially about artillery – between Basel, Bern and Fribourg. It does not explain, however, why the Pope would deal in saltpetre.

Fig. 2: Portrait of Pope Eugenius IV after Jean Fouquet (in the miscellany of Onofrio Panvinio, Rome, 1568). Wikimedia Commons.

 Saltpetre in the recipe… with vinegar or urine?

Gunpowder was used in Europe from the fourteenth century onwards. Its basic components are: saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulphur and coal, but a lot of additional elements found their way into the early recipes, such as wood shavings, urine, wine, vinegar, a variety of salts, camphor or salammoniac. The anonymous author or compiler of the Firework book (Feuerwerksbuch) of ca. 1420 explains how to corn gunpowder into “lumps” (Knollen) to deal with the problem of dampness:

Moisten a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal with “good wine vinegar. And grind the mixture together with a wooden mortar and make it so moist with the vinegar that it will clump together, and then roll the lumps as large as you want them to be. Then take a glazed round deep saucepan or a pot or a copper bowl and press the lumps in wet just as you would force a cheese into a pot; then knock it out onto a board – it will come out easily.”.[2]

This process is illustrated in another Firework book kept in Zürich (Fig. 3) where one can see the air-drying process in the sun. These Knollen are then prepared by the master gunner to ready the gunpowder to fire. The process of producing gunpowder in Europe is not well documented before the second part of the fifteenth century, and remains somehow obscure or even ‘magical’, mostly because its production remained to a large extent experimental.

Fig. 3: Making of Knollen (corning gunpowder) illustrated in anonymous, s.t. [War Technology], Upper Rhine, around 1420-40 (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek,
Ms. Rh. Hist. 33b, fol. 36v). E-codices,
https://www.e-codices.ch/en/list/one/zbz/Ms-Rh-hist0033b.

The least stable element in the mixture is the saltpetre because the potassium nitrate is obtained through a process that involves bacterial action (discovered, in the 19th century, by the microbiologist Serge Winogradsky). Saltpetre was indeed produced in Europe, for example in Frankfurt.[3] However, better-quality saltpetre arrived at the time from the Orient, [4] with northern Italy being one of its most important commercial gateway int Europe. In the same year saltpetre was purchased from the pope, the Solothurn accounting book also registers a greater amount of saltpetre bought at the fairs in Geneva, without, however, giving an indication of its original provenance.[5]

Guns on the wall and master gunners at service

Already in the last quarter of the fourteenth century, several master gunners were hired by towns or princes for their well-needed services.[6] In Solothurn, the first documented master gunner appears in the sources in 1442.[7] By 1444, the accounting books mention at least two master gunners: Master Berchtold and Master Heinrich.[8] Several lines in the accounting books of these years show these masters traveling to Bern and Basel and buying gunpowder, portable firearms and cannons to equip the town’s defences and fighting forces. Portable guns were also produced locally by the skilled metalworkers (here by the armour maker in 1444)[9]. The security of the Council of Basel was not the only concern of Solothurn. East of the town, war was waging in fits and starts (the so-called Old Zürich War of 1436-1450), and in the West, conflict arose with the “Armagnacs”, French mercenaries under the command of the daupin, the future Louis XI (Battle of Saint-Jacques sur la Birse, 1444, see fig. 4). The city of Fribourg, and old ally of Solothurn, follows the same timeline, with the first master gunners in service of the town in 1443/4. But just like in Solothurn, firearms were already in use earlier.[10]

Fig. 4: Battle between Armagnacs and Swiss forces in front of Basel (Saint-Jacques sur la Birse, 1444), illustrated in Benedikt Tschachtlan Bern chronicle, 1470 (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms A120, p. 861). E-manuscripta, Zentralbibliothek Zürich, https://doi.org/10.7891/e-manuscripta-85723

 Papal gunners and holy gunpowder

The use of gunpowder advanced in the fifteenth century, and so did the manufacturing technology of guns and canons, gunpowder circulation and the master gunner’s trade. However, it remained unpopular in discourses and depictions, where gunners are easily associated with diabolic figures. The first printed edition of Saint Augustinus’ De Civitate Dei (printed in Basel by Johann Amerbach in 1489) for example depicts a devil shooting a gun (fig. 5). Despite this widespread association, the papacy had fully embraced the progress of the artillery since early on.[11] Pius II (1458-1464), the third Pope in succession to Eugene VI, owned 13 guns, which he named after the 12 apostles and his mother, Vitoria[12].

Fig. 5: Devil shooting a gun, details, illustrated in the De Civitate Dei of Aurelius Augustinus (woodcut from Meister des Haintz Narr), printed by Johann Amerbach (Basel, 1489), detail. Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum (BSB – Ink A-863 – GW 2888) urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00025317-8

The papacy hired a master gunner in 1450, Jörg of Nuremberg. He was captured by the Turks when casting guns in Bosnia for the Duke Stephen the Great of Moldavia in 1456. He then served the Turks until 1480 when he was sent to Alexandria from where he escaped and returned to papal services.[13]

But what about the pope as dealer of saltpetre in 1444? It remains unclear if this was a regular papal side-business or if some cunning sellers of gunpowder benefited from the presence and fame of the pope in Basel to sell their product to the Solothurn master gunner. With Basel being at the centre of widespread trade at the time, and in view of the fact that a good-quality product from the Orient might have easily found its way to the upper Rhine region, one call well imagine how a “trademark” of holy gunpowder could have impressed a town involved in war at the time.

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Holy gunpowder™ purchased from the Pope for the Solothurner master gunner in 1444," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 08/06/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/961.

Credit for the main image:  Frontpiece of the De Civitate Dei of Aurelius Augustinus (woodcut from Meister des Haintz Narr), printed by Johann Amerbach (Basel, 1489), detail. Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum (BSB – Ink A-863 – GW 2888) urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00025317-8

[1] The 17th Council had 25 sessions in Basel, Florence and Ferrara between the year 1431 and 1449.

[2] Translation of Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 71. The digitized manuscript and bibliographical information about it are available at the University Library of Heidelberg (online: https://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg585, accessed 20.05.2020).

[3] Bert S. Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 58.

[4] Wilfried Tittmann, ‘China, Europa und die Entwicklung der Feuerwaffen’ in Europaïsche Technick im Mittelalter: 800-1400. Tradition und Innovation, edited by Uta Lindgreen (Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1996), pp. 317-32.

[5] Item fazin hatt bracht von Ienf Salpetter und zentner 18lib Ienf gewicht tut an Solott’ gewicht 10 zentner 61lib da hort ein zentner nach Ienfer 12 guld und 12gross. tut in einer / summa 29 gulden und 1gross SS. Solothurn, Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 4 (1444), p. 82. Transcribed by the author.

[6] Leng, Rainer, ‘Zum Verhältnis von Kunst und Krieg in den illustrierten Kriegslehren des 15. und 16. Jahrunderts’, in ‘Mars und die Musen’: das Wechselspiel von Militär, Krieg und Kunst in der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. by Jutta Nowosadtko and Matthias Rogg, Herrschaft und soziale Systeme in der frühen Neuzeit, 5 (Berlin: Lit-Verl, 2008), pp. 33–58, here p. 40.

[7] Item ein Büchsenmeister der die büchsen beschiessen sollte verzart an Clewin lopsinger 10SS. Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 2 (1442). Transcribed by the author.

[8] Louis Jäggi (500 Jahre Schützengesellschaft Der Stadt Solothurn, 1462-1962 : Die Entwicklung Des Schützenwesens Der Stadt Solothurn von Ihren Anfängen Bis Zur Gegenwart (Solothurn: Union Druck, 1962)) mentions the two masters in 1444, but ommitted the master mentioned in 1442.

[9] Item dem Harnascher im Hensli peters hus vmb siben handbüchsen 7guldn. Staatsarchiv, BB25, vol. 4 (1444). Transcribed by the author.

[10] In a document of 1431, large and medium cannons equiped already the fortification walls. For references and details about the master gunner, see Willy Schulze, ‘Freiburgs Krieg Gegen Savoyen 1447-1448 : Kann Sich Eine Mittelalterliche Stadt Überhaupt Noch Einen Krieg Leisten?’, Freiburger Geschichtsblätter, 79 (2002), 7–54 <https://doi.org/10.5169/SEALS-391870>.

[11] Bernard Rathgen, ‘Feuer- und fernwaffen beim päpstlichen Heere im 14. Jahrhundert’, Zeitschrift für historisches Waffenkunde 7 (1915-17), 1-15.

[12] According to the writings of Enea Silvio Piccolomini (1405-1464). I would like to thank Kelly DeVries for this reference.

[13] Based on the master gunner own account (printed in the 1480s), see A. Vasiliev, ‘Jörg of Nurember: a writer contemporary with the fall of Constantinople’, Byzantion, 10 (1935), 205-9, quoted and commented in Peter Purton, The Medieval Military Engineer (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2018), p. 260.

Review of the “Joachim Meyer 450 Years: Strasbourg Symposium” (21-22 February 2020)

For the celebration of the 450-year anniversary of the publication of Joachim Meyer’s fight book, Olivier Dupuis organised a multidimensional event around the fight book, its author and martial culture in sixteenth century Strasbourg. It consisted of a two-day conference at the University of Strasbourg and at the archives of the city, as well as a gathering of martial arts practitioners and researchers over the weekend with workshops and practical exchanges. Finally, a competition was held following rulesets from the sixteenth century. Similar events focused on fight book authors have previously demonstrated the benefits of such gatherings and collaborations of scholars and martial arts practitioners.[1]

Joachim Meyer used a new medium in a new way for the description of the art of fighting, with elaborated didactic features. Based on the so-called Liechtenauer tradition,[2] the art of combat under Meyer’s pen uses the noble character of chivalric symbolism, but displays martial disciplines which are more commonly associated to urban context and foot soldiers (the halberd, the pike, and the rapier). Embedded in what Ann Tlusty coined as “martial ethics”[3] in German towns relying on a militia organisation for its defence, the fight book is connected with practices followed by fencing guilds and with fencing competitions.

Regardless the frequent mention of Joachim Meyer’s work by specialists, and the existence of a translation published by a scholarly publishing house, there is little research published to date on the author and his books (2 manuscripts and 1 printed fight book with two editions). Establishing a state of research on the matter and exploring new avenues for research was very much needed, and this event successfully achieved these goals. This review will focus on the conferences’ part of the event.

With the support of the Laboratoire Art Civilisation et Histoire de l’Europe (ARCHE) Olivier Dupuis and Guillaume Porte brought together historians, art historians and archivists together to discuss different aspects of the topic.

Laurent Naas (Bibliothèque Humaniste de Sélestat) presented the Selestat copy of Joachim Meyer fight book (L’exemplaire sélestadien de la Gründtliche Beschreibung). He presented on the potential identification of the original binder, based on a new study of the remains of the closing devices (now missing) of the cover. He also analysed the dedication of the fight book.

Pierre Kintz (ARCHE, Université de Strasbourg) gave a presentation on the assumption about the attribution of the illustration of the fight book to Tobias Stimmer (Tobias Stimmer, l’illustrateur du Fechtbuch). He outlined the travels of Stimmer to Cômo and its relation to Paolo Giovio, which justifies the elements of Italian architecture found in the fight book.  

David Bourgeois (CRESAT, Université de Haute-Alsace) presented the connection of the towns of Mulhouse and Strasbourg with Basel and the Old Swiss confederation, in the context of warfare and martial culture (Si vis pacem, para bellum. Bâle, la Confédération et la guerre à la fin du Moyen Âge et au XVIe siècle). He reviewed historiographical trends regarding the martial renown of Swiss warriors and developed hypothesis of the a “Swiss” signature in the fight book of Joachim Meyer.

Fanny Kieffer (EA ARCHE, Université de Strasbourg) contributed with her perspective as an art historian, specialised in the visual representation of technical knowledge in Early Modern Period (Sous le regard de l’historien de l’art: les débuts de l’escrime à la Renaissance, entre chevalerie et humanisme). She outlined the general context of “new” weapons: portable guns, rapier and daggers. Several martial sciences (ballistics, military engineering, etc.) benefited from the resurgence of science and scientific methodologies (mathematics, Aristotelian principles) through the new medium of printing. She proposed an investigation on the inclusion of these new scientific methodologies in the corpus of fight books.

Olivier Dupuis (independent researcher), main organiser of the event, presented on the fencing activities in Strasbourg based on archival documentation (La place de l’escrime à Strasbourg du XVe au XVIIe siècle). If fencing practices are discrete in narrative sources, other types of documents attest fencing competition (Fechtschulen). Dupuis found 1500 petitions for the organisation of such events in Strasbourg between 1540 and 1670 (1338 being approved by the city council).

Alexandre Legros (CESR, Université de Tours) analysed questions related to wounds in fencing practices as described by Joachim Meyer (Dans l’œil du bretteur et du chirurgien). He analysed both the discourse and images of fight books related to wounds, and he queried contemporary chirurgical treatises, including one coming from Strasbourg.

Pierre-Henry Bas (IRHIS, Université de Lille) presented his thoughts about the didactic and pedagogic dimension of the fight book (Modernité de l’escrime décrite dans le livre de Meyer). He analysed the construction and conception of the treatise while explaining how “modern” ideas were implemented in the book, in comparison with earlier fight books.

Daniel Jaquet (Université de Berne) discussed the reception of the fight book during the national socialism regime of Adolf Hitler, through the re-use of the content in the Handbook for Hitler Youth (La réception du livre de Joachim Meyer entre 1920 et 1936). The main focus was the institutionalisation of martial arts practice for propaganda and ideology. Questions of re-interpretation and revival of martial arts traditions were also briefly addressed.

On the second day, the lecturers joined by martial arts researchers gathered at the archive of Strasbourg for a morning of discussion and a round table. The first half of the morning was dedicated in establishing a state of research regarding the author and its book. Desiderata for further research were also formalised and discussed. The second half of the morning was spent in a round table discussion on potential contexts of application of the martial art knowledge described in the book. Interesting arguments were put together while reviewing contexts such as: duels of honour, warfare, self defence and fencing for leisure. Material culture and modern-day fencing practice deriving from the book were also briefly addressed.


[1] See “The Art of Combat of Pietro del Monte”, University of Tours, 20-21 April 2018. A short review is to be found on the blog of Daniel Jaquet [insert link:], and its proceedings are published in the volume 7.1 (2019) of the journal Acta Periodica Duellatorum

[2] Bauer, Matthias Johannes, ‘Einen Zedel Fechter ich mich ruem/Im Schwerd vnd Messer vngestuem. Fechtmeister als Protagonisten und als (Fach-)Literarisches Motiv in den deutschsprachigen Fechtlehren des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit’, Das Mittelalter, 19.2 (2014), 302–325 <https://doi.org/10.1515/mial-2014-0018>.

[3] Tlusty, B. Ann, The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany: Civic Duty and the Right of Arms (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011)

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Review of the “Joachim Meyer 450 Years: Strasbourg Symposium” (21-22 February 2020)," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 24/02/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/842.

Review of the exhibition The Last Knight (October 7, 2019 – January 5, 2020, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

This exhibition is not only a major international exhibition about arms and armour, it is also the fruit of years of scientific research spearheaded by Pierre Terjanian (head of the Arms and Armor Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art). This can be appreciated through the vast array of objects presented in connection to original documents, paintings and sculptures on display, through the well written exhibition texts, but also through the exhibition catalogue that includes an essay presenting arms and armour as “the currency of power”.[1] This essay puts forward the art of the armourers as a central concern of the life achievements of Maximilian I and emphasizes his use of printed media for self-promotion tool and political propaganda. This aspect is of particular interest to our research project and will be the main focus of this review.

Fig.1: Promotional videoclip for the exhibition © Metropolitan Museum, NY.

Specialised suits of armour
The armour proto-industry blossomed in the second half of the fifteenth century in Europe. By this time, major centres such as Milan or Innsbruck delivered and exported not only large amounts of either mass-produced defensive equipment (later called “munition armour”), but also highly specialised – and for that time still experimental – custom-made designs for princely armours. Over time, by adapting armour to new needs, new kinds of full suits of armour with specific characteristics were developed. At the basis of this developmend was field armour for military campaign, but specific assemblages were also produced for highly codified chivalric games, each with their own codified and particular set of rules. New techniques were also explored regarding aesthetic features and decoration, turning these exo-skeletons into anthropomorphic sculptures. These armours came with additional interchangeable pieces, that the owner could swap depending on the use. This is later called “garniture”, that is a series of defensive equipment from which the owner could form different suits of armour to fight on foot or on horseback for different types of chivalric games, as well as for field needs.

Fig.2: Foot combat armour of Maximilian I, before 1508. KHM, Vienna. © Metropolitan Museum, NY.

Fig. 2 shows an armour made for single combat on foot in the context of a tournament. It was made by Francesco da Merate for Maximilian I. The armour is decorated with inlaid gold pigment. It consists of fully enclosed leg and arm defences, and a tonlet, a specific protective item for fighting on foot with weapons such as pollaxes and two-handed swords, protecting the lower part of the body above the knees and below the waist. This armour does not allow riding a horse and is not suited for campaigning in the field.

Fig. 3: The Weisskunig (Maximilian) devising with the armourers in the workshop. Engraving from The Weisskunig (compiled by Marx Treitzsaurwein), 1514-16. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Katherine E. Bullard Fund. © Metropolitan Museum, NY. The original woodblock is also on display

On the hunt for armourers

In his essay, Pierre Terjanian demonstrates that the art of armour-making and designing was instrumental for the construction of Maximilian I’s identity and political image (fig.3). Maximilian made sure to choose the best experts to make the best armours, but also to secure access to key raw materials and places of production ideally located in order to allow optimal conditions for production.

Fig. 4: Letter from Maximilian I to Philip I Regarding the Brussels Armorer Pieter Wambaix, April 1496. Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, Vienna.
© Metropolitan Museum, NY.

A whole section of the exhibition is dedicated to Maximilian’s armourers. The spotlight is on technical innovations, masterpieces, production, and promotion. An eye-catching section is based on archival research. As armour-making was a very lucrative business, the towns’ authorities or princes were not keen on letting the masters go. The exhibition documents these and related topics very well by displaying a number of documents such as letters from Maximilian to town councils or princes (fig. 4 and 5).

Fig. 5: Letter from Emperor Maximilian I to the Magistrate of Strasbourg May 20, 1512. Archives de la Ville et de l’Eurométropole, Strasbourg, France.
© Metropolitan Museum, NY.
Fig. 6: Map of Maximilian’s Armourers. Exhibition map, Pierre Terjanian © Metropolitan Museum, NY.

Many armourers worked for Maximilian, both near the court armoury (Innsbruck), but also in other locations set up by the Emperor. A helpful map showing these locations and the names of the armourers known to have worked for Maximilian will support further research (fig. 6). Another interesting list presents noblemen that had received armour as a gift from the Emperor.

A focus on Seusenhofer family, ennobled master armourers
Different armourers’ paths can be grasped in the exhibition with interesting objects on display, including commemorative medals. Most fascinating is the presentation of some of the most beautiful suits of armour conserved to date (including masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, but also from most of the major collections of arms and armour in Europe).

The Seusenhofer family of armourers is well represented in the exhibition. They managed to receive the favour of the Emperor, something that was not always the case for other armourer workshops and families. Different objects and documents regarding the Seusenhofer family are on display:

  • To put a price on their production, an invoice from Konrad Seusenhofer († 1517)
  • To demonstrate the personal relationship the Emperor had with his armorer, a personal correspondance of Maximilian to Konrad Seusenhofer.
  • To show the favour of Maximilian and the recognition for a lifetime work, the ennobling certificate of Hans Seusenhofer († 1555).
  • And to outline the legacy of such masters, the epitaph of Hans Seusenhofer (fig. 7).
Fig. 7: Epitaph of Hans Seusenhofer and Apollonia Forcheimer, designed by Veit Arnberger, 1555. Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck, Austria, Ältere Kunstgeschichtliche Sammlungen.
© Metropolitan Museum, NY.

This major exhibition is a must-see, and its catalogue is a must-have. Among other topics, our research project is interested in how martial expertise (as a relevant part of martial culture) is developed, especially in urban contexts and from the perspective of town authorities. In this regard, design, use, production and market of (offensive and defensive) weapons’ are central concerns. The exhibition “The Last Knight” manages not only to put up a splendid show, it also transports the fruit of impressive scientific research based on archival documents and iconography. The exhibition is on display until January 5, 2020.

[1] Pierre Terjanian, “The Currency of Power: The central Place of Armor in the Ambitions and Life of Maximilian I”, in The Last Knight: The Art, Armor and Ambition of Maximilian I, ed. by Pierre Terjanian (New-York: Metropolitan Museum, 2019), pp. 17-37.

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Review of the exhibition The Last Knight (October 7, 2019 – January 5, 2020, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 03/12/2019, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/424.

Acknowledgement: We thank the Metropolitan Museum for the permission to use the pictures, especially Pierre Terjanian and Chassica Kirchhoff.

Fencing with the blessing of the authorities: Patent for a fencing master in Neuchâtel in 1546

Fencing lessons and competitions are an urban phenomenon, documented as early as from the fifteenth century in Switzerland. Since these activities carried out potential risks for urban peace, early traces of attempts to regulate these activities by town authorities can be (sometimes) found in archives.

Henry de Sainct Didier, Les secrets du premier livre sur l’espée seule, Paris: Jean Mettayer et Matthurin Challenge, 1573, plate 33-34. Taken from the Facsimile of the Société des Livres Anciens et Modernes, Paris 1907.

Fencing was a needed skill for citizens who had to carry out (potential) military duties for their town, but also to prove to their peers that they were trustworthy and able to fight and defend their community. Therefore, displays of martial skills, such as fencing competitions, were needed for the town inhabitants that were willing to show that they adhered to what Ann Tlusty coined as “martial ethic”.[1] Different forms of regulation exist because such practices were usually not institutionalised before the second half of the sixteenth century or even later. However, town authorities developed different policies regarding fencing activities happening within their walls. For example, petitions of fencing masters willing to hold fencing schools can be found in town council minutes, as can expenses due to fencing activities sanctioned by the town council. But, for most of the cases, fencing activities were organised by local or pan-urban networks of fencing experts gathered in associations (corporations such as guilds or brotherhoods). For France, Flanders and the Holy Roman Empire, several of these corporations are known, and they received privileges from town authorities or even the highest princes such as the King or the Emperor. On a more local level, several cities edicted fencing ordinances, or delivered patents and certificates to fencing masters.[2] Such is the case for the document presented here from the mid-sixteenth century in the county of Neuchâtel.

Patente de maître du jeu de la Grande Épée à deux mains, en faveur de Nicolas Lambelet des Verrières, 1546. Copie tirée d’un receuil de minutes de notaire, 1558 (Archives d’État de Neuchâtel, AS-24.31). © Archives d’État de Neuchâtel, reproduced with permission.

This document is actually a draft for the preparation of letters of a notary, full of erased words and lines, revisions on margins or in between lines, and with spaces left blank. Most of the original patents have not survived, since they were handed over to the individuals. This collection of drafts and copies of documents delivered by several notaries is dated to 1558, but the date of the fencing patent is 1546. It would have been signed by the notary, under the authority of the mayor of the small town of Les Verrières, located near the border of modern-day Switzerland and France.

The county of Neuchâtel was under the suzerainty of the Valois, and after that of the Habsburgs. Close to the Duchy of Burgundy through the Châlons with the Franche-Comté (Free-County) as a border, the county formed a network of ties through treaties of combourgeoisie with Swiss towns such as Fribourg (1209), Bern (1308) and Solothurn (1369). It only became part of the Swiss Confederation in 1814. The particular place where the fencing patent originated is les Verrières, a small town in the north eastern valley leading to the castle of Joux. The city was under the rule of the Counts of Neuchâtel. The mayor of the town was at the time Claude Lambelet (mentioned in the document). It must be noted that he was part of the same family as the certified master Nicolas Lambelet.

Nous […] establÿssons [Nÿcolas Lambelet le Jeusne des dites Verrieres de Neufchastel] maistre dudict jeulx de ladicte grande / espee; pour en jouer a pris et dehors pris / en tous lieux et par devant toutes gens de / quelque estatz ou quallitez qu’ilz soyent; et encontre / tous ceulx quilz luÿ plaira […]

Nicolas Lambelet is certified “master of the play of the great sword” (maistre dudict jeulx de la dicte grande espee). Fencing activities include several disciplines. The mastery of the different disciplines is carefully noted in such documents, here only with the two-handed sword. He can therefore “play with or without prize” (this specifies participating is fencing competitions) wherever he wants and in front of audiences of any status, against whoever he wants.

aÿanz le / serement aux dict jeulx de ladicte grande espee [added in margins: et aux ordonnances d’icelluÿ], et qu’ilz / ha desja [added in margins: par cÿ devant] estez passez en ses deffences par les maistres / du dict jeulx

It is mentioned that he pledged an oath and that he passed the final test against other masters, which is called “passing in defence” (passez en ses deffences). It consists of standardised fencing bouts where the applicant is evaluated. More interestingly, there is a mention added in margins about the “ordinances” in relation to the oath he pledged. Several fencing ordinances are known in France, the earliest in Mazan (1501). We do not know to which ordinances the document is referring to, but the closest known was the one of Dijon in 1520.[3] If Neuchâtel edicted a fencing ordinance, there is not a single mention to it in documents surviving in archives. No fencing ordinances are known from this period in Swiss towns, but several documents and petitions of fencing masters offer sporadic details about legal and illegal fencing activities.[4]

En luÿ baillant et concedissant par ces dictes presentes / toute puissance, auctorité et faculté de tenir escolle / et escolliers par dessoubz luÿ en tous lieux ou / il luÿ plaira, et de havoir et recepvoir tous escolliers / qui ledict jeulx vouldront apprendre et recorder, et / de faire et constituyr ung lieuteuant ou plusieurs / soit en escolle, pris ou jeulx, pour par le dict / ou lesdictz lieutenantz leurs aprendre ledict jeulx, comme / sÿ luÿ mesure le dict maistre ÿ estoit present, le tout / en la forme, mode et maniere quil se doit jouer / et que par cÿ devant du temps passez en ha estez jouez / et user [rajout en marge : et de passer escolliers en leurs deffences]

Lambelet received the right and authority to organise fencing competitions and deliver fencing lessons (faculté de tenir escolle et escollier par dessoubz luÿ). He can also name “lieutenants”, which is a rank like “provost”, also mentioned earlier in the document. This technical terminology is widespread and can also be found in fight books (such as the one on the cover image of the blog post, from the fight book of Henry de Sainct Didier published in 1573). It is also mentioned that he can do so (name a lieutenant) in different contexts, that is fencing school, prize fights, or competitions (escolle, pris ou jeulx).

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Fencing with the blessing of the authorities: Patent for a fencing master in Neuchâtel in 1546," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 26/11/2019, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/535.

Acknowledgement:
A previous (partially erroneous and incomplete) transcription of this document has been published by Nicolas Piaget in 1922 in the local journal Musée Neuchâtelois (vol. 9, pp. 207-8) with a brief introductory comment. We would like to thank Olivier Dupuis for sharing this reference; Anne-Caroline and Dominique LeCoultre who also have studied and reviewed the original document; and Jacob Deacon who participated in the new analysis of it.


[1] Ann B. Tlusty, B. Ann, The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany: Civic Duty and the Right of Arms (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011).

[2] For France and for information about neighbouring spaces see Olivier Dupuis, “Organization and Regulation of Fencing in the Realm of France in the Renaissance”, Acta Periodica Duellatorum (3), 2015, pp. 233-54.

[3] Ibidem

[4] See Jaquet, Daniel, ‘Die Kunst des Fechtens in den Fechtschulen. Der Fall des Peter Schwizer von Bern’, in Agon und Distinktion. Soziale Räume des Zweikampfs zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit, ed. by Uwe Israel and Christian Jaser (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2015), pp. 243–58