La place de l’escrime à Strasbourg (XVe-XVIIe siècles)

English abstract: This essay sheds light to the cultural, economical and institutional contexts of fencing practices in Strasbourg during Joachim Meyer’s time of activity as a fencing master (1561-1570).

Part of the proceedings of the Joachim Meyer 2020 conference. For more information see: https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1290

L’objet de cette communication vise à présenter la place que l’escrime à pu prendre dans la ville de Strasbourg de la fin du Moyen Âge au XVIIe siècle, période qui englobe la présence de Joachim Meyer à Strasbourg (1560 environ à 1571). Il sera ainsi possible, je l’espère, d’éclairer le contexte culturel, économique et institutionnel de cette pratique.

Je vais restreindre le sens d’escrime à celui de pratique en duel de combat ritualisé à armes égales. Cette pratique s’apparente en grande partie à une activité physique de loisir et bénéficie d’un accueil favorable dans la culture allemande des XVe et XVIe siècles. Ceci tient probablement au fait que cette pratique fait partie des activités physiques considérées idéales pour la construction du corps, en ce qu’elle est associée à la chevalerie, symbole d’élévation social, et répond au souci de défense personnel, ou de défense de la communauté[1]. On en retrouve peu de traces à Strasbourg même au Moyen Âge, dont quelques rares sculptures sur des édifices religieux ou des décors de poêle (ill. 1).  Lors du dernier tiers du XVe siècle, Strasbourg organise des tournois de lutte et d’escrime en marge de concours de tir ou de course de chevaux et, surtout vers 1471, fait exceptionnel dans le Saint-Empire, un tournoi d’escrime ouvert aux escrimeurs locaux et étranger hors de tout autre contexte connu[2].

Frise d’une église romane de Strasbourg (disparue), Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre Dame, photo de l’auteur

Escrime et préparation militaire

Machiavel écrit au début XVIe siècle que les villes allemandes disposent d’immense quantité d’argent dans leur caisse car elles n’en gaspillent pas à faire appel à des mercenaires pour assurer leur défense. Il cite directement Strasbourg comme disposant d’un trésor important, dont l’estimation à un million de florins semble exagéré[3]. Selon lui ces villes feraient appel à leurs bourgeois, entraînés à cela, bien disciplinés et armés, et ayant un goût pour cela puisqu’ils jouent à manier les armes les jours de fête.

L’obligation pour les bourgeois de Strasbourg de participer à l’effet de défense de la ville a clairement contribué à la présence d’armes blanches dans l’environnement quotidien des habitants de Strasbourg. Mais on ne retrouve pas de traces de programmes ou d’injonctions à la formation militaire individuelle ou même collective.

Selon Francis Rapp, au contraire des affirmations de Machiavel, les villes d’Empire ont progressivement renoncé à faire briller leur infanterie sur la scène militaire à partir de la fin du XVe siècle, faute de pouvoir aligner un nombre suffisant d’hommes en armes. Dans le cas particulier de Strasbourg, la participation aux guerres de Bourgogne a été ruineuse, sans que la ville puisse faire autre chose que mettre sur pied une force d’appoint. Selon Rapp toujours, la médiocre réputation des fantassins strasbourgeois durant ce conflit fait douter de l’existence d’une réelle formation militaire. De fait, à partir de 1500, dans un contexte de fort développement du mercenariat dans le sud de l’Empire, la ville de Strasbourg concentra sa stratégie de défense sur l’amélioration de ses murailles, l’entretien d’un important arsenal d’armes à feu et l’engagement de mercenaire pour les expéditions[4]. Il paraît donc difficile de voir dans l’escrime une réelle préparation à la guerre, ou alors à l’efficacité douteuse, ce qui questionne l’indication dans le prologue du livre de Meyer où il vante l’intérêt de la pratique de l’escrime pour la défense de la patrie.

À l’inverse il est possible de trouver des influences de la sphère militaire sur la pratique de l’escrime en important dans la culture matérielle des bourgeois les armes employées à la guerre comme la hallebarde ou la grande pique que l’on retrouve chez Joachim Meyer. Ce dernier mentionne d’ailleurs pour ces deux armes une garde spécifique pour le champ de bataille, ou « Feldhut ».[5]

Discrète escrime

La pratique de l’escrime à Strasbourg aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles n’a guère laissée de traces. Elle est par exemple absente des réglementations sur les jeux ou activités de loisirs. D’un côté ceci est positif puisque la plupart de ces réglementations consistent essentiellement en des restrictions, mais d’un autre, cela donne l’impression que l’escrime n’est pas une matière ayant un intérêt suffisant pour être réglementée.

L’escrime est aussi absente de la politique de rayonnement de la ville : contrairement au XVe siècle, il n’y a plus d’organisation par la ville de démonstrations ou de concours d’escrime, y compris lors du grand concours de tir de 1576.

Il est possible d’en trouver quelques traces dans la littérature et les chroniques. Johann Fischart, ancien Strasbourgeois, adapte en 1575 le Gargantua de Rabelais en y introduisant un vaste vocabulaire propre à la culture de l’escrime des XVe et XVIe siècles qui n’a pas d’équivalence dans le roman français. Une poignée d’autres chroniques mentionnent les spectacles d’escrime, ou « Fechtschulen », de la fin du XVIe à la fin du XVIIe siècle, donnant l’impression d’une certaine permanence dans les pratiques. Finalement, seul Daniel Martin détonne dans son dictionnaire français publié en 1637 où il décrit une salle d’arme à la mode française qui devait être une autre face de l’escrime pratiquée à Strasbourg, assez éloignée semble-t-il de celle de Meyer, en tout cas n’en partageant en rien le vocabulaire.

« Fechtschulen »

Les rares chroniques ne mentionnent guère l’escrime autrement qu’à travers la principale activité connue : les « Fechtschulen ». À Strasbourg, la première mention de ce type d’événement remonte à 1511 mais les lacunes dans la conservation des archives de la ville ne permettent pas d’avoir un aperçu plus précis que depuis 1540. Il apparaît que ces événements, mélanges de compétition publique, gala et spectacle d’escrime, organisés par des maîtres d’arme locaux ou étrangers, deviennent dans la deuxième moitié du siècle un véritable phénomène de mode à Strasbourg. Leur déroulement intégrait une demande officielle faite au Magistrat, une procession avec tambours et fifres avant le déroulement des assauts sur une place publique ou dans la cour d’un des poêles de tribus. Ces assauts publics se déroulent essentiellement les lundis ou lors des foires de la Saint-Jean ou de Noël. Pendant 40 ans, de 1580 à 1620 environ, les demandes faites au Magistrat étaient en tel nombre que celui-ci a ponctuellement imposé de n’en recevoir qu’une par quinzaine hors temps de foires[6].

Au final la pratique réelle de l’escrime peine à être mesurée. Le grand nombre de « Fechtschulen » recensés traduit plus sûrement la popularité du spectacle que sa pratique régulière qui pouvait rester cantonnée à un public réduit (nobles ou praticiens peut-être) ce qui ne devait pas offrir de gros débouchés financiers pour les maîtres d’armes s’ils voulaient pouvoir s’y consacrer à temps plein. De fait, avant l’annexion française, Strasbourg n’a jamais reconnu au maître d’arme le statut de métier officiel.

La production de livres de commandes comme les manuscrits de Meyer et surtout son imposante œuvre imprimée en 1570 à Strasbourg survient à une époque où ce type d’ouvrage est rare en langue allemande, mais où l’escrime est très présente dans l’espace public et la culture populaire. Ces ouvrages devaient être, selon toute probabilité, destinés à une clientèle riche ou prestigieuse probablement assez éloignée des participants aux « Fechtschulen ».

L’escrime à Strasbourg reste donc dans un statut équivoque, entre spectacle reconnu et apprécié, une activité physique que le Magistrat n’a jamais vraiment incitée mais qui devait participer de la culture martiale de l’époque, sans non plus jamais devenir un jeu et donc soumis à des restrictions régulières. Cette situation explique en partie la grande discrétion des pratiques qui lui sont associées malgré le grand nombre de spectacles et de combats publics qui se sont déroulés et surtout la parution d’un livre remarquable à tous égards.

Cite this article as: Olivier Dupuis, "La place de l’escrime à Strasbourg (XVe-XVIIe siècles)," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 01/07/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1312.

Bibliographie

Baumann Reinhard, Die Landsknechte. Ihre Geschichte und Kultur vom späten Mittelalter bis zum Dreissigjährigen Krieg, München, 1994.

Dupuis Olivier, « A fifteenth-century fencing tournament in Strasburg », dans Acta Periodica Duellatorum, vol. 1, 2013, p. 67-79. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/apd-2015-0010, consulté le 10/05/2021>

Dupuis Olivier « Fencing contests in Strasbourg during the Renaissance and Modern times (1543-1673) », actes du colloque Urban Cultures of Contest in Renaissance Europe (Institut für vergleichende Städtegeschichte, Münster, 20-–2 October 2016), en cours de publication.

Dupuis Olivier, « When Fencers and Wrestlers were the Children of the Sun », dans Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 26 février 2020, en ligne : <https://martcult.hypotheses.org/780, consulté le 10/05/2021>

Füssli Johann Heinrich, Johann Waldmann, Ritter, Bürgermeister der Stadt Zürich, Zurich, Orell, Gessner, Füssli et al., 1780, p. 2-3.

Machiavel Nicolas, « Rapport sur les affaires d’Allemagne fait le 17 juin 1508 », dans Idem, Oeuvres complètes, éd. J.A.C. Buchon, vol. 1, Paris, Auguste Desrez, 1837.p. 302-303.

Meyer Joachim, Gründtliche Beschreibung der freyen Ritterlichen unnd Adelichen kunst des Fechtens in allerley gebreuchlichen Wehren mit vil schoenen und nuetzlichen Figuren gezieret und fuergestellet, Strasbourg, Thiebolt Berger, 1570.

Rapp Francis, « Les villes du saint Empire et le problème militaire : l’exemple de Strasbourg », dans Journal des savants, 1996, p. 377-417

Tlusty B. Ann, The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany, Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillian, 2011.


[1] Sur la vision favorable de l’escrime, voir Olivier Dupuis, « When Fencers and Wrestlers were the Children of the Sun », Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 26 février 2020. Pour la culture de l’arme et de la défense corporelle, lire en particulier B. Ann Tlusty, The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany, Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillian, 2011.

[2] Un tournoi de lutte vers 1460 est mentionné dans la biographique d’un bourgmestre de Zürich, Füssli, Johann Waldmann, Ritter, Bürgermeister der Stadt Zürich. Pour les tournois d’escrime voir Olivier Dupuis, « A fifteenth-century fencing tournament in Strasburg », Acta Periodica Duellatorum, vol. 1, 2013, p. 67-79.

[3] Nicolas Machiavel, « Rapport sur les affaires d’Allemagne fait le 17 juin 1508 », dans Idem, Oeuvres complètes, éd. J.A.C. Buchon, vol. 1, Paris, Auguste Desrez, 1837.p. 302-303..

[4] Francis Rapp, « Les villes du saint Empire et le problème militaire : l’exemple de Strasbourg », Journal des savants, 1996, p. 377-417

[5] Joachim Meyer, Gründtliche Beschreibung der freyen Ritterlichen unnd Adelichen kunst des Fechtens in allerley gebreuchlichen Wehren mit vil schoenen und nuetzlichen Figuren gezieret und fuergestellet, Strasbourg, Thiebolt Berger, 1570.

[6] Olivier Dupuis, « Fencing contests in Strasbourg during the Renaissance and Modern times (1543-1673) », actes du colloque Urban Cultures of Contest in Renaissance Europe (Institut für vergleichende Städtegeschichte, Münster, 20-–2 October 2016), en cours de publication.

Timeo Clipeos et Plagas Ferentes, or the Accidental Death of a Fencing Master in 1331

By Olivier Dupuis and François Siedel (transcription and translation)

Source: gallica.bnf.fr / BnF Français 25527 fol. 38v

Context

Civil fencing with the use of the buckler is attested by documents written as early as the thirteenth century, in England, as well as by literary works in the German language. It is different to fencing with the large shield, worn and used by knights and their servants, and above all the buckler is usually handled at that time with little other protection. Traces of such a practice remained rare before the middle of the fourteenth century outside of England, where archives are both well preserved and well-studied.[1] For the Kingdom of France, we can observe large amounts of small illustrations in the margins of manuscripts from the beginning of the fourteenth century where men, hybrids or monkeys are fighting using a buckler in one hand. The illustration above is one of the many remaining examples that deserve a general study. Such buckler could be compact and light enough to be worn in the belt with the sword, as illustrated in a comic way in the second illustration taken from a bas-de-page of the Smithfield Decretals, painted in England around 1340. The following extract from the French novel, Restor de Paon, written before 1338, confirms this possibility: “He took a buckler of strong steel which hanged at his sword, and drew the sword.”[2]

One must also mention that the oldest known fencing treatise produced in Europe, focuses uniquely on the combination of sword and buckler and dated from the first half of the fourteenth century. It is written in Latin combined with vernacular German words.[3] This type of sword fencing with no other protection than this little shield was still in its infancy and was one of the most important forms in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe, and in particular in France.[4]

The case in question comes during a particular period in the history of the city of Laon, seat of the important bishopric of Picardy, located about 140km northeast of Paris. The municipal status of the city, granted in the twelfth century by the King of France, was abolished in 1322 following complaints from the cathedral chapter. However, it was not until nine years later, in March 1331, that an ordinance of the King of France established the office of Royal Provost of Laon, who had in charge everything in the city with the exception of possessions and personnel attached to the chapter and the bishopric.[5] Historiography accredits a certain Jean de Milon as the very first provost in 1331, but as our text indicates clearly Jean Crenes as provost in the eyes of the Parliament of Paris, it is therefore necessary to consider an ambiguity on the tenant of the office, at least the first months after the establishment of this institution.[6]

Source: The British Library, Royal MS 10 E IV, fol. 60r>

Text description

The original is preserved on paper in the French National Archives in Paris, in the archives of the Laon Cathedral Chapter. This letter was produced by the Royal Provost of Laon, Jean Crenes, for Colard Tribourdaine, whose precise function at that time is unknown. In 1336 a judgment of the Parliament of Paris seems to indicate that Colard Tribourdaine was some time earlier commissioner of the provost of Laon, perhaps he was already in 1331, but nothing is less certain, especially since the presence of this letter in the archives of the chapter could suggest that Colard Tribourdaine was in the service of the chapter and that he changed functions afterwards.[7] This text essentially reproduces a copy of the letter in Latin sent by the Paris Parliament to the said provost, accompanied with instructions of his own, in French, to diligently apply the instructions. This letter from the Parliament is certainly in response to an initial letter which unfortunately has not been found.

In summary, a certain Ponceletus of Miromonte, servant of a member of the chapter, was taking lessons in buckler play. The word used in the text, clipeo (l. 7), seems to indicate these small round shields as opposed to the large shields of knights and soldiers. These classes were given by an Englishman residing in Laon, Jaquermard, who was to have several students, from what can be understood from the text, and grant a particularly advantageous rate to Ponceletus in particular. It seems that he was badly paid for it because an injury occurred while Jaquermard was allegedly poorly protected, but the text is unclear regarding this fact. Jaquemard also allegedly neglected the advice or care of surgeons (sirrugicorum). Incidentally, we can note the use of several Latin terms related to fencing, also used in the aforementioned fencing treatise: ludum (l. 9), scolas/scolaris/scolaribus (l. 7-8), custodiam (l. 10). Finally, Jaquermard died a few days later from the wound caused by Ponceletus, his pupil. The latter was therefore put in the chapter prison. This accident, however, made Ponceletus fall under the jurisdiction of high justice, and therefore of the king’s justice. This motivated Nicolas Raoul the Younger, lieutenant of the provost to seize Ponceletus. However, the chapter most likely contested this before the Parliament of Paris, that the murderer was a servant of a member of the chapter, and that he fell within the exceptions provided for in the ordinance of 1331, leaving the right of high justice to the bishop of Laon. By the letter transmitted to the provost, who is the subject of the studied document, the Parliament of Paris confirms well the error and asks that Ponceletus be put back in the hands of the bishop’s justice.

This text is certainly not of great historical significance, but mentions of the practice of fencing at the beginning of the fourteenth century are so rare that it deserves to be brought to the attention of an informed public. It is also noteworthy that the teaching concerned not only the entourage of a member of the chapter, but also other pupils, making this secular practice, dissociated from military training, part of everyday life in the North of France. The presence of an English teacher, finally, was not insignificant. It echoes the numerous mentions of fencing with the buckler found in the archives of this country, and could be the witness of a cultural influence in the field of this practice in the North of France and Normandy, but this possibility needs further research.

Edition and Translation

The text proved to be difficult to transcribe, and no less difficult to translate. It is offered here slightly rough, particularly the translation, because of the lack of sufficient expertise in the legal formulas of the time.

The contractions, which are numerous, have all been developed and marked in italics, the line numbers are indicated in the transcription between two vertical bars. The reverse side of the letter indicating the addressee’s address is heavily stained and extremely difficult to exploit without being able to really bring anything to the substance of the case, therefore it is necessary to mention its existence even without giving an overview of it.

Jehans Crenes preuos de Laon a nostre amé Colart Tribourdaine, salut. Nous auons veuez les lettres dou roy nostre sire contenant ceste |2| fourme. Philippus dei gratia Francie rex baillio Viromanduensi ceterisque justiciariis nostris aut eorum loca tenentibus salutem. Sua nobis. Decanus et capitulum ecclesie |3| Laudunensis graui conquestione monstrarunt quod licet ipsi per priuilegium regium omnimodam juridictionem habeant in omnes familiares suos |4| et seruitores quoscumque in villa et terminis quondam communie Laudunensis, Oriundum in dicta villa Laudunensi dumtaxat exceptis. Indeque sint |5| et fuerint in possessione pacifica quocienscumque se casus obtulit, a tanto tempore quod competit ad bonam saizinam acquirendam |6| ipsique dictam continuando possessionem ; tenerent in sua possessione Ponceletum de Miromonte famulum cuiusdem canonici dicte ecclesie. |7| Pro eo qui ipse scolaris Jaquemardi anglici Laudunensem residenciam facientis ac scolas de clipeo conitis exercentis et tenentis medietatem |8| salario quod a suis scolaribus accipere consueuit ipsum Jaquemardum vulnerauerat plagam modicam faciendo eidem ut dicitur |9| non motus ira vel odio, sed solummodo dictum ludum prout consueuerat exercendo ; quiquidem Jaquemardus, non solum dicto vulnere medi-|10|-ante, sed per custodiam minus ydoneam nolens consilio sirrugicorum uti ut dicitur post paucos dies a tempore dicte vulnerate |11| dicitur decessisse ; de quo Ponceleto dicti canonici sunt et erant parati exhibere iusticiam cuilibet conquerenti de ipso. Nicholaus |12| Radulphus iuuenis locum tenens prepositi Laudunensis ad carcerem dictorum conquerentium accedens dictum Ponceletum a dicto carcere extraxit |13| et ipsum penes se detinet  eumdem ipsis deliberare renuntiationes minus iuste  in dictorum conquerentium graue dispendium, ac contra tenorem |14| dictorum suorum priuilegium et possessionem superius allegatam temere veniendo. Idcirco tibi committimus et mandamus quatenus si visis |15| dictis priuilegiis et auditis partibus si premissa veritate nitantur dictum Radulphum aut prepositum dicti loci ad reddendum et restituendum   |16| eisdem decano et capitulo dictum Ponceletum compellas vt de ipso exhibere valeant iusticie complementum. Si vero inter partes super |17| hec oriatur oppositio seu debatum, dicta oppositione ad manum nostram posita, tamquam superiores et exequtione  dicti Ponceleti quacunque |18| fuerit, aut existere debuerit in suspenso posita dicta oppositione pendente adiornes partes ad instantem   vicesimam diem nativitatis |19| domini coram dilectis et fidelibus gentibus nostris  presens parlamentum nostrum tenente non obstante quod dictum nostrum sedeat parlamentum |20| super dicta oppositione processurum ut fuerit rationis curiam nostram certificans competentem ad diem de adiornamento predicto et alijs |21| que feceris in premissis. In quibus tibi ab omnibus nostris subditis pereri volumus et mandamus. Datum parisius in parlamento nostro. XXIII |22| die decembris anno domini millo CCC trecesimoprimo. Si vouz mandons et commettons que vous les dictes lettres |23| ci dessus transcriptes pour nous, et en ce lieu de nouz enterinez, accomplissiez et mettés a   exeqution deue de point |24| en point selont leur teneur, en la fourme et maniere que li roys nous le mande. Et tant en faites que |25| pour vous ni ait deffaut, mandons et commendons a tous a cui il appartient, requerons autres que a vous |26| ce faisant obeissance et entendent diligences. Donné souz nostre scel, le samedi prochain apres icel. L’an mille CCC |27| trente et un. Jehans Crenes, provost of Laon to our loved Colart Tribourdaine, salute. We have seen the letters from the King our sire containing this form: “Philip by the Grace of God King of France to the Bailiff of Vermandois, and to all our other justice officials or their lieutenants, salute. The decanus and the chapter of the church of Laon have shown us by their great investigation that they are allowed to have -thanks to a royal privilege- global jurisdiction over all their familiars and their servants whoever they are within the domain and the limits of the former commune of Laon, insofar as they are considered as such those who originate from the said domain of Laon. Thereafter, they are and were in peaceful possession of the abovementioned jurisdiction at any such time from then on that a case presented itself that pertained to the acquisition of good seisin, and they continuously remained in said possession of said jurisdiction.[8] They hold in their possession Ponceletus of Miromonte the servant of a canon of the said church. Ponceletus, himself a pupil of the English Jaquemard, the latter taking up residence in Laon and taking care of collective buckler schools and receiving for salary the half he used to receive from his pupils. The said Ponceletus had inflicted on Jaquemard himself a slight wound while sparing, as it is said, not from a movement of anger or hatred but only the playing the said game, as he had been accustomed to do so; it is said that Jaquemard died a few days after having been wounded by Ponceletus, not only because of the said wound which opened up[9], but also due to an incorrect guard[10], the latter refusing to listen to the decision of the surgeons, as it is said; the said canons were ready to render justice to any plaintiff about Ponceletus himself. Nicolas Raoul the Young, lieutenant of the provost of Laon going to the prison of the said plaintiffs took the said Ponceletus out of the said prison, and in his hands, prevents him less equitably from deciding on the renunciations of the heavy burden of the said plaintiffs, and by opposing without reflection the content of their said privileges alleged above. For this reason we give you to execute and ask you that the said Raoul or the provost of the said place hand over and restore Ponceletus to the canons themselves, since you have seen, after the privileges have been declared and the parties heard, whether they are based on the truth above all. Bring the said Ponceletus to justice before the decanus and the chapter so that they may be able to show the fulfilment of justice about Ponceletus himself. If an opposition arises, or if there will have been a debate for the execution of the said Ponceletus whatever it may be between the parties concerning this affair, as the said opposition has been entrusted to our hand, so to speak, superior, or if there will have to be a pending debate, since the said opposition is uncertain, you will adjourn the parties at the moment of the 20th day of the nativity of the Lord, in the presence of our elected and faithful people. Our parliament, since the said opposition retained but did not prevent the said parliament from sitting above the said opposition, is about to go ahead furthermore if as a matter of reason will be by certifying the people of the said parliament. The latter will set the day for the aforementioned adjournment and for other matters that you will have done in missives sent in advance, missives in which we want and ask all our subordinates to obey you. Given in Paris in our Parliament on the 23rd day of December, the year of the Lord 1331.”   We entrust you with the task of endorsing the said letters transcribed above for us, and to carry out and carry out our decisions from point to point according to their content, form and manner as the King requires of us, and so that you are not lacking, we ask that you be obedient and diligent. Given under our seal on the Saturday following this one, in the year 1331.

Bibliography

Manuscripts

Archives Nationales de France, L//734, document 23.

Secondary sources and editions

Actes du Parlement de Paris, ed. Henri Furgeot, 2e série, vol 1 (1328-1342) (Paris: Plon, 1920).

Cinnato Franck, Suprenant André, Le Livre de l’art du combat, édition critique du Royal Armouries MS. I.33 (Paris: CNRS éditions, 2009).

Dupuis Olivier. ‘Organization and Regulation of Fencing in the Realm of France in the Renaissance’, in Acta Periodica Duellatorum, vol. 2 (2014), p. 233-54. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/apd-2015-0019.

Dupuis Olivier, ‘The roots of Fencing from the Twelfth to the Fourteenth Centuries in the French Language Area’, in Acta Periodica Duellatorum, vol. 3 (2015), p. 37–62. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/apd-2015-0002.

Jean le Court dit Brisebare, Le Restor du Paon, éd. Richard J. Carey (Genève: Droz, 1966).

Melleville Maximilien, Histoire de la ville de Laon et de ses institutions, 2 vols. (Laon, Paris: 1846).

Ordonnances des roys de France de la troisième race, vol. 2 (Paris : 1729).

Ordonnances des roys de France de la troisième race, vol. 12 (Paris : imprimerie royale, 1777)


[1] Olivier Dupuis, ‘The roots of Fencing from the Twelfth to the Fourteenth Centuries in the French Language Area’, in Acta Periodica Duellatorum, vol. 3 (2015), p. 37–62. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/apd-2015-0002.

[2] “.I. boucler d’acier fort qui pendoit a s’espee / Prist et l’espee traist […]”. Jean le Court dit Brisebare, Le Restor du Paon, éd. Richard J. Carey (Genève: Droz, 1966), p.66, v.550-51.

[3] Cinnato Franck, Suprenant André, Le Livre de l’art du combat, édition critique du Royal Armouries MS. I.33 (Paris: CNRS éditions, 2009).

[4] Olivier Dupuis, ‘Organization and Regulation of Fencing in the Realm of France in the Renaissance’, in Acta Periodica Duellatorum, vol. 2 (2014), p. 233-54. DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/apd-2015-0019.

[5] Melleville Maximilien, Histoire de la ville de Laon et de ses institutions, 2 vols. (Laon, Paris: 1846),vol. 1, pp.273-74. The ordinance is published in-extenso in Ordonnances des roys de France de la troisième race, vol. 2 (Paris : 1729), pp.77-80.

[6] Melleville, Histoire de la ville de Laon, vol. 1, p. 283.

[7] Actes du Parlement de Paris, ed. Henri Furgeot, 2e série, vol 1 (1328-1342) (Paris: Plon, 1920), p. 174.

[8] This is a good example of an obscure Latin sentence that cannot be only roughly translated. The translation of this obscure Latin sentence has been improved by Ariella Elema.

[9] Free interpretation for mediare, which means to divide in two.

[10] The meaning is unclear here, does custodiam minus refer to a poor protection during the fight, or to the bad care Jaquemard took of himself after being injured?

Cite this article as: Olivier Dupuis, "Timeo Clipeos et Plagas Ferentes, or the Accidental Death of a Fencing Master in 1331," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 20/04/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/926.

When Fencers and Wrestlers were the Children of the Sun

Introduction

A quick investigation of fifteenth century fight books shows in certain books a potpourri of subjects mixing fencing, alchemy, astrology and onomancy. Without pretending to be comprehensive, at least four German manuscripts include this mix of subjects. For example, the manuscript ms 3227a de Nuremberg [M14] contains intercalated passages on magic, alchemy, fencing and a treatise on medicine.[1] The manuscript from Talhoffer composed in 1448 [M13] integrates at its end a text of onomancy aiming to choose the appropriate day of the fight according to the name of one’s opponent in order to facilitate a victorious outcome. The manuscript of the Erlangen-Nuremberg university library also contains pages dealing with astrology and probably with onomancy.[2]  Finally, the manuscript Thott.290.2º from Copenhagen is composed of a military section, an illustrated fencing section and finally an astrological treatise.[3] This is not specific to German language document since the first sheets of the English manuscript MS Harley 3542 of the British Library [M16] also consist of an alchemical treatise before a few pages dedicated to fencing.

Looking more closely at folio 280v from [M11], it contains a small medallion located under a large crowned knight personifying the sun. In this medallion are two wrestlers and a stone thrower in front of an audience. A handwritten note accompanies this medallion: “Also thun der Sonnen kindt”, “so do the children of the sun”.

Children of the Sun in their medallion, M11, fol. 280v.

Children of the planets

The theme of the children of the planets is established during the Middle Ages around an older substrate, deriving from Antiquity and Arab scholars. This theme really belongs in the realm of astrology, the planets in question are the stellar bodies visible to the naked eye (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury and the moon) which come to influence beings depending on the time of their birth, in association with the calendar (zodiac calendar, date in the week etc). This influence can vary from affecting physical characteristic (big feet, pale complexion), to temperament (angry, melancholic) and to the affinity for particular trades or activities. An important feature of this theme is the common association of text and images, but also a fluctuation in the symbolism attached to each of these planets.

Among these fluctuations, a particular tradition associates the Children of the Sun with wrestling and throwing stones. It seems to settle in the first third of the 15th century, when a poem in German associated each sphere with a fairly precise and consistent symbolism. The poem was modified from one document to another, but was essentially supplemented or shortened rather than distorted. In the same way the associated illustrations maintain a great coherence in the symbolism and the depicted activities from one source to another. However, no specific name is attached to this tradition, which nevertheless clearly stands out within the broad theme of the Children of the Planets.[4]

If we dwell on the representations of the Children of the Sun in the manuscripts and incunabula of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it is particularly astonishing to note the frequent representation of wrestlers, stone throwers, and to a lesser extent acrobats and fencers.[5] In this context, the relationship between these activities and the sun is not obvious, at least for the use of weapons for which one would have expected to associate it with planet Mars. However, this is not the case, but the case of the Children of Mars will be discussed later.

This representation seems to be a direct illustration of the associated poem; the children of the sun would naturally be noble, happy and beautiful (“geluglich edeln und feyn”), pious (“vor mytterntag sie dynert gote vil”) but also would devote themselves to the throwing of stone, fencing and wrestling (“Dornoch sie leben wy man wil / Steynstoßen schyrmen ringen”).[6]

These activities were popular body exercises in Germanic spaces, at least if we associate them to finds from literary traditions.[7] When, for example, Hans Waldmann’s brother won prizes in crossbow shooting, wrestling and stone throwing, tests supposed to have taken place in Strasbourg around 1460, there is reason to doubt the reality of this episode, or in any case to see it as the manifestation of exceptional physical aptitudes, in what resembles initiation tests.[8]  Some texts complete this list of activities with acrobatics and strength exercises (“Der sunnen lewt sint springer starcklewt, stainwerffer ringer”).[9]  In any case, the expression “sie leben wy man wil” should be understood as an opposition to labour, to work.

UB Heidelberg Cod.Pal.Germ.438 fol. 150r [M2], fol. 150r, vers 1445, (CC-BY-SA).
UB Heidelberg Cod.Pal.Germ.832 fol. 100 [M10] fol. 100r. In the right it is possible to see the poem mentioning “Stainstossen schirmen ringen” without these activities being represented (CC-BY-SA).
[M6] Engraving by Baccio Baldini from 1460, which takes up the symbolism of the German tradition in two series of engravings from 1460 and 1465, Source: gallica.bnf.fr.

The illustrations therefore echo these passages from the poem, representing the Children of the Sun in their natural activities, alongside a personification of the sun, either in the same illustration or in two separate illustrations. The sun is personified by a man wearing a tiara or a crown, often holding a sceptre and a book, standing or sitting in a cart, and associated with a lion, this one recalling the sign of the zodiac with which the sun is associated. In the section concerning the Children of the Sun, there is often a seated crown prince or king who seems to be witnessing various lively and peaceful games. Physical activities seem to be a reminder of the training of nobility, but also the expression of activities to develop beautiful bodies. Close to the crowned prince musicians can often be found, including generally a harpist, as well as people praying in front of an altar, stone throwers, wrestlers, fencers and acrobats.[10]  It is interesting and curious that several illustrations include a stick carrier appearing to want to use his stick to jump with it but rarely to throw it. Some illustrations also represent crossbowmen or javelin throwers without ever appearing in the texts. Notably, the people represented are almost always men, with only one exception in all documents consulted.

From one illustration to another, not all of these activities are always represented. The table below presents a small inventory of occurrences of the common lineaments from 12 manuscripts or incunabula consulted relating to this cycle.

Legend: X presence of the pattern, X+ wrestlers having weapon on the ground, P presence of the poem, P- only a partial version, P+ poem extended with the mention of acrobats.

These representations of fencers and wrestlers as stereotypes of the children of the sun is a strong symbol, and obviously quite widespread in Germany. Its repetition in different media (illuminated manuscripts, incunabula, engravings) over more than a century shows an undeniable permanence and reception by the society of the time. They symbolize bodies in movement in what they are beautiful and pleasant, and this certainly for some time: it is thus possible to locate in the Manessische Liederhandschrit, an illuminated manuscript from the early fourteenth century,  two representations of swordsmen with sword and buckler and a stone thrower, alongside other activities of the court (music, hunting, tournament), showing the proper integration of these practices with those of courtly activities, at least on a representational level.[11] Moreover, the association of the sun and gold with healthy activity, cheerfulness, power, pleasure is a shift in values associated more broadly with the colour yellow. This change took place during in the Middle Ages, leaving only to gold the positive symbolic associations of yellow, a colour that essentially maintained only the negative symbolic values at the beginning of the Renaissance.[12]

The representation is clearly positive, in favour of these practices and we should question the influence of this symbolism on the thought and mentalities of the time, particularly to what extent did this positive vision of wrestlers and fencers can have an influence on the production of fight books.

Regarding the representation system, it is possible to note that the wrestlers are all represented standing and generally entwined, with arms around the body of the opponent, with the exception of the Splendor Solis where the postures differ: grasping in the hollows arms for the first wrestling couple and seizure of the leg for the other wrestling couple.

Fencers are more rarely represented, and when they are, it is usually with two-handed swords, in one case with staves [M9] and another with sword and buckler [M7]. In the absence of representation of fencers, weapons are often represented at their feet, essentially two-handed swords accompanied in a single case with shields [M4]: no dagger, even less armour or horse. The stereotype is clear: the practice of the two-handed sword without armour almost alone symbolizes the fencing of that time, accompanied in a minor way by the stick and the sword and buckler.

In many cases, a person holding a stick stands alone, away from the wrestlers. Rather than being interpreted as an acrobat, he can be perceived a single fencer performing tricks with his stick. In the case of the Italian illustrations [M7 and M8], the stick bearer acts as a referee. On the other hand, in the Splendor Solis [M12], the meaning may have been lost because the character holds his stick as if he is about to throw it.

Curiously at the Italian engraver Boldoni’s work [M6], a character seems behind the scene trying to bend his sword, giving it a curved shape. This depiction may have been distorted in the Splendor Solis [M12] where a second couple of fencers are shown behind, holding curved weapons in their hands, in a guard stance similar to those found in fight books.

The Children of Mars

The text associated with this planet in [M11] indicates “I thrust, I cut, I hit and fence, hence do also all my heirs (“Ich steche, ich schlahe, ich streit vnd fechte. Also thut auch allern mein geschlechte”). It seems to associate the fighter’s values with this planet. But the text of the poem of the cycle of the children of the planets differs and shows children of Mars overheated, quarrelsome, angry, thieves, plunderers and quick to war.[13]  And in fact the scenes representing the children of Mars are scenes of massacre, destruction, pillage. The separation of the games of wrestling and fencing, linked to the positive values of the sun, and war, at least in this system of values is by no means trivial. It is in itself an answer to the question on the link between fight books and war: German culture of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries visibly distinguished between fencing and fighting in battle. In fact, in any case according to the values translated in the cycle of the Children of the Planets, it is on the contrary important to keep well separate the arts of war from those of wrestling or fencing. By further pushing this distinction, it is possible to say that the first destroys, and the second flourishes. However, it is not so simple to establish this division because other value systems exist.

Other traditions of the Children of the Planets

It was mentioned earlier that the specific tradition of the Children of the Planets which is the subject of this study made up only part of the complete cycles dealing with this theme.

German sources thus have other traditions existing at the same time. For example, the ms. Thott 290.2° offers a system of values associated with the planets which is fairly close in general terms: the sun makes men well in their bodies, with a blood temperament, that is to say, gay, active, or angry, in all cases, an active temperament.[14]  This source, however, does not take up the poem from the main tradition of the children of the planets, nor does it offer any illustration to accompany its text.

A manuscript from Salzburg also offers insights to another tradition, keeping the principle of large illustrations filled with symbols. But here the planets are associated with the ages of life: for instance here the sun is associated with adolescence.[15]  The activities illustrated seem to mainly take up stereotypes from these ages of life and therefore leave the register of the main tradition

Outside German spaces, the first large text on the cycle of the Children of the Planets appears in a work by Christine de Pizan, the epistle of Othea, of which there are illustrated copies throughout the fifteenth century, in which the representation of Children of Planets differs greatly from the main German tradition. By taking up a manuscript from the very beginning of the century, the sun, or Phebus, sheds light on troubled things and personifies itself in scholars, but absolutely not in the physical games of learning of the nobles. And in parallel, the sons of Mars are depicted in a more positive manner: they are knights accomplished in chivalry that obtain fame and value (“any knight who loves or follows weapons and make chivalry and renown of value can be called sons of Mars”).[16]  Note that in this cultural space, it is possible to find favourable relationships between blood humour and physical activity, as in a French text of 1451: blood is inclined by its good comprehension and its implication in the physical activities (“The blood […] has a good subtle sense and inclination for bodily operations”).[17]

I have already mentioned the advantage that the discipline of fencing could derive from such a reputation made for its practice: it is seen in a positive, healthy and favorable way for the bodies and dissociated a priori from excessive violence. The dissemination of this thesis, in part thanks to this astrological tradition, may have contributed to the ultimately late development of the Fechtschulen. I do not bring any argument but note in any case that the auspicious period of production of beautiful manuscripts taking up the cycle of the Children of the Planets, between 1450 and 1480 corresponds to the beginnings of these public fencing shows, of which we have not really a trace before 1480. These shows would require the authorization of the authorities, but also the enthusiasm of the public: they could only benefit from a favorable opinion.

Possible influences of the Children of the Planets cycle on the world of fencing

The association of the sun with fencers probably did not stop at the favourable influence in public opinion. It is also possible that the fencers themselves adopted and integrated this symbolic heritage: the zodiac sign of the lion and the crown. The first is found associated indirectly with the German fencers in 1487 because the first brotherhood of the masters of the sword, created in Holy German Empire, chose the patronage of Saint-Mark, symbolized by its winged lion. The crown is another symbol of the sun is a regularly repeated symbol in the form of laurel wreath, given to the winner, and taken up in numerous engravings of the sixteenth century, up to the crown surrounding dussacks and rapiers at the frontispiece of the cover page of the book by Joachim Meyer printed in 1570: on the only upper banner on this page we can distinguish two laurel wreaths, the crown with swords, and two bushels of arms surmounted by shields and under which two lion heads spit foliage, all symbols related to the sun.

Joachim Meyer, Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens (Strasbourg: Thiebolt Berger, 1570), frontpiece detail.

Conclusion

The estimated influence of concepts from astrology in German Renaissance culture has not been addressed in depth in this present article. However, it is impressive to observe what is now called martial arts and physical activities appear as allegories of children of the sun and thereby represent physical activities favourable to the body. Likewise it is important to note the consistency with which the sons of Mars are devalued, quarrelsome, and go to war.

It would be interesting to investigate how this tradition spread in Europe. The examples already show at least two important Italian sources [M6 and M7] which share the same symbolism but without the written tradition. It is clear in any case that this symbolism was widely picked up from the second half of the sixteenth century by Dutch art, both in engravings and tapestries.[18]

It would be interesting for future studies to focus closely to the parallels in the form of alchemical discourse and compare it with that of fight books. This will be the subject of a second article.

Bibliography

Manuscripts and primary sources

[M1] Heidelberg ms. Cod. Pal. germ. 438, about 1440, fol. 149v-150r <https://doi.org/10.11588/diglit.236>

[M2] Berlin Staatsbilbiothek ms. germ. fol. 244, fols. 181r-183v, about 1445, <http://digital.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/werkansicht/?PPN=PPN785884734>

[M3] Kassel, University Library, 2° Ms. astron. 1, about 1445, fols. 69r-70r, <https://orka.bibliothek.uni-kassel.de/viewer/image/1300793634809/142/>

[M4] Zurich, Central library, Ms. C 101, fol. 11v, about 1453-70, <10.5076/e-codices-zbz-C0101>

[M5] Munich, BSB Cgm 312, vers 1450-1473, fols. 54v-55r, <http://mdz-nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00093677-8>

[M9] Mittelalterisches Hausbuch, Schloss Wolffegg, about 1480, <https://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Mittelalterliches_Hausbuch>

[M6] Baldini engraving from 1460, <https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b10022694r>

[M7] Este, University Library, alfa.x.2.14, Sphaerae coelestis et planetarum descriptio, about 1460-70, <http://bibliotecaestense.beniculturali.it/info/img/mss/i-mo-beu-alfa.x.2.14.pdf>

[M8] Munich BSB Clm 4394, about 1477, fol. 69r <http://mdz-nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00110794-5>

[M10] Heidelberg, University Library, Cod. Pal. Germ 832, about 1491, <https://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg832>

[M11] Erlangen-Nuremberg MS.B 26 University Library, fol. 280v, <https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:bvb:29-bv040674061-7>

[M12] Berlin Kupferstichkabinett, Nr. 78 D 3, 1532.

[M13] Erfurt/Gotha, University Library, ms. Chart.A.558. <https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:urmel-d010e5c0-48e3-4c36-afdb-ee09b55d647d6>

[M14] Nuremberg Ms 3227a, <http://dlib.gnm.de/item/Hs3227a/1>

[M15] Copenhagen, Royal Library, ms. Thott.290.2º, <http://www.kb.dk/manus/vmanus/2011/dec/ha/object23662/da/>

[M16] London, British Library, MS Harley 3542 <http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?docId=IAMS040-002049374&fn=permalink&vid=IAMS_VU2>

[M17] UB Salzburg MIII36 <http://www.ubs.sbg.ac.at/sosa/handschriften/MIII36.htm>

[M18] UB Heidelberg Cod Pal. Germ. 848, <https://doi.org/10.11588/diglit.2222>

[M19] BNF fr. 606,
<https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52000943c>

Secondary sources

Blume Dieter, ‘Children of the Planets: the Popularization of Astrology in the 15th Century’, in Micrologus. Natura, scienze e società medievali. Nature, Sciences and Medieval Societies. Rivista della Società Internazionale per lo Studio del Medio Evo Latino, vol. 12 (2004), pp. 549-84.

Ciboule Robert, ‘Le Livre de saincte meditacion en congnoissance de soy, ed. by André Combes’, in Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge, vol. 8 (1933), pp. 176-224.

Füssli Hans Heinrich, Johann Waldmann, Ritter, Bürgermeister der Stadt Zürich (Zurich: Orell, Gessner, Füssli et al. 1780).

Klingner Annett, Die Macht der Sterne. Planetenkinder: ein astrologisches Bildmotiv in Spätmittelalter und Renaissance,  Dissertation zur Erlangung des akademischen Grades doctor philosophiae, Humbolt Universtity of Berlin, 2017. <https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/bitstream/handle/18452/19957/dissertation_klingner_annett.pdf >

Kotelmann Ludwig, Gesundheitspflege im Mittelalter. Kulturgeschichtliche Studien nach Predigten des 13., 14. und 15. Jahrhunderts (Salzwasser Verlag, 1890).

Pastoureau Michel, Jaune, histoire d’une couleur (Paris : Seuil, 2019).

Schmitz-von Ledebur Katja, Die Planeten und ihre Kinder. Eine Brüsseler Tapisserienserie des 16. Jahrhunderts aus der Sammlung Herzog Albrechts V. in München (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009).


[1] To ease of reading, each manuscript or incunabula is referenced by an Mxx-type code referring to its full description in the bibliography.

[2] M11, fols. 280r-82v and fols. 283r-84v.

[3] M15, fols. 140r-50v.

[4] Blume Dieter, Children of the Planets. Klingner, Die Macht der Sterne, especially pp. 55-56.

[5] The article « The Rose and the Pentagram » from Roger Norling does not deal directly with the subject of the Children of the Planets, but offers a large number of illustrations of the Children of the Sun from the studied tradition, enough to give you a good overview: https://hroarr.com/article/the-rose-and-the-pentagram/

[6] Complete text in Klingner, p. 298.

[7] Kotelmann, Gesundheitspflege im Mittelalter, pp. 184-85.

[8] Füssli, Johann Waldmann, pp. 2-3.

[9] Klingner, p. 310.

[10] Klingner, Die Macht der Sterne, pp. 22, 130 and 192-228.

[11] M18, fols. 115r, 190v and 204r.

[12] Pastoureau, Jaune, pp. 38-45 and 84-109.

[13] Klingner, Die Macht der Sterne, p. 21.

[14] M15, fols. 145v-146r.

[15] M17, fols. 236r-239r.

[16] M19, fols. 7v-7r.

[17] Ciboule, Le livre de saincte meditacion, p. 218.

[18] For the engravings, see Klingner, Die Macht der Sterne, pp. 219-26. For the tapestry see Schmitz-von Ledebur, Die Planeten und ihre Kinder.

Cite this article as: Olivier Dupuis, "When Fencers and Wrestlers were the Children of the Sun," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 26/02/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/780.