Urban political violence in the fifteenth century, from Prague to Hamburg

Note to reader: This present essay is complemented by Polish and Czech sources translated and annotated in

The Free City

Medieval urban spaces took on a variety of forms, and in North Central Europe the Free City emerged as a somewhat unique type in the 13th-14th Centuries. Not quite as independent or ruthless as a true City State like Venice or Veliky Novgorod, they were also far more independent than many Western cities like London or Paris. The so called Free Cities of Central Europe were generally speaking largely autonomous and self-managed, while still being integrated into larger polities such as the Holy Roman Empire the Crusader State of the Teutonic Knights, or the Kingdom of Poland.

Also called Royal Cities[1], Free Imperial Cities[2], and by a variety of other euphemisms, these were typically walled and well-fortified communities, but fairly small in size (often between 2-5000 residents[3], with as many as 50,000 or so in German-speaking areas, and as high as perhaps 100,000 in Flanders). They were governed by their own councils and burgomeisters, protected by elaborate fortifications and well-armed militias, and tended to be active in defense and sometimes aggressive in the pursuit of their rights and economic interests, but rarely invested resources in acquiring territorial power[4]. Instead they placed a strong emphasis on maintaining the “peace of the roads”[5] so as to allow commerce to thrive from town to town. Beyond that they typically stayed out of princely politics and the endless game of Hausmachtpolitik as much as they could, forming alliances of several towns[6] when they deemed it necessary to take on the princes.

Figure 1: A weavers uprising in Köln (Cologne) is put down by the ruling elite of merchant-Patricians in 1371. A later artisans uprising in 1396 was successful, leading to many changes in the city.

Political unrest in the Free Cities

Aside from external threats, Free Cities also faced many challenges from internal power struggles and political unrest. According to one estimate, there were at least 210 uprisings in just 40 towns in the Holy Roman Empire between the late 13th and mid-14th Centuries[7] Again, in comparison to true city-states these internal disputes were not quite as extreme or bloody, but they could still be quite consequential. Often various factions would posture and push one another quite a bit before any actual violence broke out. Sometimes this resulted in catastrophe for the town, as was the case in Mainz in 1462, when Bishop Adolph II von Nassau took advantage of ongoing internal strife and captured the city, killed 400 people and heavily fined and then exiled all “disloyal” citizens[8]. He permanently rescinded their rights to self-governance in 1463. In a similar conflict called the Rostocker Domfehde from 1483-1492, Rostock, weakened by internal conflicts over the construction of their new Cathedral, lost their rights to an aggressive Duke Magnus II of Mecklenberg.

Quite often however, the opposite occurred, resulting in the city being significantly strengthened, especially when the factions managed to reach a Rezeß or compromise, such as the famous Hamburg Rezeß of 1410. This conflict started with a public dispute between a visiting duke and an armorer to whom he owed money, leading to a tense standoff between the artisans and the town council which lasted two years. The 1410 Rezeß resulted in the formation of the cities first constitution and the addition of a second house in their internal parliament, contributing to the comparative stability and prosperity that Hanseatic town enjoyed and its status as a republic for the next five centuries[9].


Political unrest within towns could have substantial repercussions well beyond the town walls. Two good examples of this occurred in Prussia during the 13 Years War, one of several conflicts between the Teutonic Knights and Poland from the 14th through the 16th centuries[11]. After the major Polish victory in the pivotal battle of Grunwald / Tannenberg in 1410, the tide had turned in favor of the Poles. But the Order was tenacious and intractable, and their decline was very gradual, lasting generations, and full of violent episodes.

The 13 Years war broke out in February 1454, and it was to become another hinge point in the multi-generational power struggle. Twenty mostly German cities in Prussia rose up against the Teutonic Order and made an alliance with Poland. It began with successful uprisings of town militias pushing the brother-knights out of Gdansk, Torun, Elbing and several smaller towns. But Poland suffered a setback at the major battle of Chojnice in September of 1454, and from that point struggled to contend with the resourceful and aggressive Teutonic Knights in a variety of smaller battles, sieges and raids over the next several years.

Several incidents of urban strife afflicted the Prussian cities and Poland during the 13 Years War, with two proving particularly damaging. The first was the Battle of the Kneiphof in Königsberg. This town was part of the initial uprising against the Order in 1454, with the militia successfully evicting the Knights. But the town, as was often the case, was split into three municipalities and each of those municipalities had their own factions. Artisans in two of these towns mistrusted the mercantile elite and resented the new high taxes imposed by Poland to finance the war.

They rose up against the merchants in 1455, and seeing an opening, the Teutonic Knights rushed in several knights and a few hundred native Prussian cavalry to support the rebellion. Relatively feeble assistance, consisting of just a few ships and a few dozen soldiers from Danzig was too little, and came too late. The Order captured the municipality of Kneiphof and the town of Königsberg. After the Teutonic Order was pushed out of their castle town in Malbork, Königsberg became their new headquarters and remained a bastion of German military and economic power until the end of WW2. Thus a relatively small street battle involving a few hundred people had long-lasting consequences.

The second major setback came six years later in 1461, in the Polish royal capital of Krakow. After several years of struggling both financially and militarily in the war, Poland had begun winning some battles, thanks in part to a new commander, a noble named Andrzej Tęczyński.  On the heels of his recent victories, and flush with cash gifts from the king, Andrzej entered Krakow to make some purchases. During his visit he got into an argument with an armorer over an ill-fitting harness, and unlike in Hamburg, there was no Rezeß.

Andrej and his courtiers beat the armorer twice, the second time very badly and in front of a crowd, outraging the local artisans. In spite of warnings from his men, and attempts by the queen to intervene (the King was traveling elsewhere) the proud young lord remained in the town and a crowd of outraged artisans captured and killed him, resulting in a major setback for the Polish army in the war.

The following excerpt is from Jan Długosz “Annales”, the Maurice Michael translation (IM Publications, Sussex UK, 1987) in the entry for 1461, P.539. This passage was originally written by Jan Długosz prior to 1480.

“While the king is in Włocławek[12], there is an unfortunate episode in Cracow, one that is to poison relations between the city and its knights for years to come. On July 16, Andrew of Tęczyń[13] angrily rebukes the armourer Clement for failing to deliver a suit of armor on time and for not making it fit; and when the armourer makes a vigorous reply[14], strikes him, but only lightly. The armorer goes to the town hall and complains that he has been grievously assaulted, and, on the way back from lodging his complaint, he is accosted by Tęczyń, whom he berates for hitting him and brandishing his fist, threatens to reply the blow with interest; he was of course, angry, and he may have been hoping for compensation; but, as a result, Tęczyń and his servants fall upon him and beat him[15]. When they learn of this, the City Fathers are indignant and more angry than is justified; indeed, they seem to have been more inclined to inflame the quarrel between the artisans and the nobility than to composite it; for the close the city’s gates and report the incident to the young Queen[16].

She demands sureties of 8,000 marks[17] and enjoins both parties to keep the peace and await her judgement., which she was to give in the morning, for it is already late in the day, indeed, ten o’clock. The City Fathers return to the town hall and order all householders to arm themselves and assemble there. Meanwhile the Queen and his friends are advising Tęczyń to leave the city and go to the castle. To Tęczyń this smacks of cowardice and, with his brothers and friends, he shuts himself up in a house in Bracka Street intending to resist any attack.

Then a bell in Mariacki Church starts pealing- on whose order no one knows- and this proves the signal for a riot., which the City Fathers could have quelled with a little common sense and exercise of their authority[18]. Everyone stops work and a crowd, not only angry, but tipsy, presses round the house, intending to kill Tęczyń, who seeing that his house cannot withstand such an attack, escapes with three companions and some of his servants to the monastery of St. Frederick and takes refuge in its tower.

Then, convinced that he is not safe even there, though his companions try to restrain him, he leaves the tower and hides in the sacristy. The rioters break down the monastery door and, after a long search, find Tęczyń and split his head open. His corpse is dragged through the streets open sewer to the town hall and kept there for two days, riddled with stab wounds and with the hair singed off his face. It is then moved to the Church of St. Wojciech and finally handed over to the victim’s friends and relatives. Tęczyń’s friends in the tower are besieged there all the following day and night, after which they are released. Because of this, the knights of Cracow and Sandomierz[19] at first refuse to take part in the Prussian campaign, but when the King promises that Tęczyń’s death shall be avenged, they agree to take part.”

Fortunately for the Poles, a new military leader named Piotr Dunin helped win a substantial victory against the Order at Świecino in 1462, and went on to help win the war, so it turned out to be a temporary setback.

Not all confrontations of this type ended so violently. A more typical example in Krakow is mentioned by Dlugosz in his entry for 1438[20].

“The increasing import of counterfeit coin causes a popular revolt in Cracow aimed in particular at the Inspector of the Michalow Serafin, the city councilors, and others. Everyone feeling guilty, have taken refuge in the castle itself. When the commotion has subsided and most people hve returned to their homes, Serafin and the others still do not dare leave the castle. Perhaps they would never have been safe had not Bishop Olesnicki of Cracow, after much persuasion from the King, spoken to the proletariat in their own tongue, and pacified them. Serafin and the others are made to do a fortnight’s penance in the castle prison”

The implication here is that some financial malfeasance by Royal and municipal officials which was causing economic harm to the citizens was the cause of a brief uprising, and to placate the burghers the Bishop and the King intervened to put some people briefly in jail, and they in turn presumably curtailed their corrupt activities somewhat (at least enough to prevent another riot). This kind of thing happened on a routine basis in dozens of Free Cities throughout late medieval and Early Modern Europe.

Figure 2: Prague today is typically associated with art, architecture and beer. But the medieval coat of arms sends another, quite unambiguous message.

The Defenestrations of Prague

Prague was prominent among the Free Cities of this era, being in this case a Royal City. Prague was the spiritual and intellectual center of the Kingdom of Bohemia (thanks largely to Charles university, founded by Emperor Karl IV). It was also by far the most formidable fortification in the Kingdom, having proven itself in numerous defensive and offensive battles from the 1420s through the 1470s. Control of Prague effectively meant control of Bohemia.

Arguably, urban strife in Prague was the most consequential of the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods. The First Defenestration of Prague, which took place in 1419, led in short order to the famous Hussite Crusades, and Prague itself was the site of many of the key battles during the Hussite Wars. Defenestration means throwing people out of a window, and in Prague specifically, it always meant throwing the local rulers who were acting on behalf of a foreign prince out of the window, to their death. The Third Defenestration in 1618 started the apocalyptic 30 Years War, which devastated Central Europe and lead to permanent changes in European history with the establishment of the Absolute Monarchies in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

The Second Defenestration in 1483, which occurred between those events is comparatively little known. It did not trigger a Crusade or a huge international war, but it was consequential in the region, buying Bohemia a bit more time of independence and the freedom to practice their own “Heretical” religion for another couple of generations, and re-asserting the political autonomy of the city and the kingdom.

In the 1480s, Bohemia was experiencing one of their many periods of foreign rule. Since the death of the mighty Knight-King George of Podeibrady in 1471, the monarch was officially the Hungarian King Vladislaus II, though the extent to which he actually controlled this kingdom was yet to be tested. Bohemia was unique in Europe at this time in that both Catholic and Heretical (Hussite) forms of Christianity were still openly being practiced, and due to the repeated interregnums and their complex history, much of the actual governance was managed by Landfrieden, treaties of mutual support and protection of commerce between towns and nobles. Attempts to force conversion of the Hussites had been renewed by another Hungarian, Mathias Corvinus, from 1468-1478, but the results were inconclusive. Matthias captured outlying Catholic regions but ultimately failed to defeat the wily Podeibrady, leaving Bohemia itself as a heretical enclave.

After the end of the last Crusade in 1478, under pressure from the Vatican and various Catholic princes, Vladislaus II began to appoint his supporters (also ardent Catholics) to the city councils of Prague and some other Bohemian towns. By the 1480s there was acute tension in the city, as both the Kings urban representatives and new magistrates, and the Catholic nobles he supported in the countryside, were treating burghers heavy handedly and began taking steps against the local Hussite heretics. Two overlapping issues were once again coming to a head – the autonomy of the town and the continued existence of the heretics.

In September 1483[21], after a series of escalating incidents and the discovery of a conspiracy for mass arrests and mass-murder by the monarchist councilors, the townfolk of Prague acted, leading to the Second Defenestration of Prague. The following is summarized from a translation from a 19th Century Czech source which I have edited slightly[22]

The account by Tomek gives us some insight into the exciting and dangerous climate, and some of the martial details of a major urban uprising. Of course we can’t necessarily assume that this is an unbiased account, but it presents an interesting and dramatic narrative which points up some of the elements which seem to often play a role in these events. The incident starts with the long buildup of grievances by the citizens of Prague. In many cases historically where there are people of one (privileged) religious group ruling over another, corruption and abuse become a major problem. According to Sir Tomek, the town councilors appointed by the King were taking bribes, blackmailing people, stealing land and money, using the courts against the non-Catholic citizens, and so on.

The councilors began to feel some push back from all this and tensions rose. There were religious-sectarian incidents in which Catholics disrupted Hussite church services and confiscated property belonging to the locals, and the locals in turn organized some mass-meetings and began arming themselves. Things came to a head when a plot was discovered by the citizens, in part confessed by one of the councilors on his death-bed, that they were planning mass arrests of burgher and artisan leadership followed by executions. The Hussite faction was forewarned and made preparations. They wrote letters to their allies in some other Czech towns, and prepared for a fight.

On the day of the coup, the town authorities had bells rung which was the signal to arrest the prominent Hussites and for their supporters to come out into the streets. But the Hussites, led by a draper named “Bohuslav Legat“, armed with a spear, got the jump on them, charged into the town halls and arrested the city council. There was some street fighting, during which one burgomeister was stabbed with a Guisarme and then thrown out the town hall window (‘defenestrated’) and another who had escaped was captured by “Jan the Tailor” who was also armed with a spear. Nearly identical counter-coups took place in the Czech towns of Nymburk, Žatec, and Hradec Králové.  

After the Czechs finished off any resistance in all three municipalities of Prague and the other towns, they interrogated the corrupt gang of ‘foreign’ city councilors under torture, leaving some other councilors who were not deemed to be part of the corrupt faction alone. The conspirators gave details of the plan and other co-conspirators, (under torture it’s worth pointing out, so the accuracy of their testimony is suspect). The new regime quickly had a few of these people executed and others exiled, while militia and mercenaries prepared for a possible attack from outside, and restored order on the streets after some commoners had robbed Jewish families and ransacked some Catholic churches.

After this followed a complex round of diplomacy. Having restored control of the town, the new council set about trying to smooth over the potential diplomatic shockwaves caused by their counter-coup. They passed laws guaranteeing the rights of both religions (Catholic and Hussite). They drafted polite letters to the more powerful Czech Catholic nobles, such as the Lords of the Rosenberg family of South Bohemia, and to regional princes such as the Duke of Saxony and King Mathias Corvinus of Hungary, as well as the Burgomeister of Nuremberg and other regional knights and gentry, asserting their intention to carry on trade and uphold all previously established alliances and treaties. They emphasized that their revolt was not directed against King Vladislaus (who wisely left town during the disturbances) but merely against his corrupt servitors who were engaged in evil acts without his knowledge. They also pointed out that some of the deposed councilors and their allies had also wronged Catholic gentry and nobles in their depredations.

A counterattack was considered (and heavily encouraged by the Vatican) but Prague had proven her ability to defend her walls many times, and after conflict raged in the area through the 1470s, further war would be destructive and costly. In the end, Vladislaus confirmed the new aldermen in 1484[23], and then again at the Bohemian Diet or assembly in the Rosenberg stronghold of Kutná Hora in 1485, which is considered by many scholars to be the definitive end of the Hussite Wars[24]. The King gave up on his plan to purge Heresy from Bohemia and resumed his complex power politics rivalries the Hapsburgs, the Corvinus family, and other mighty Princes, and life in Bohemia went on as it had before his reign.

The Second Defenestration of Prague is a good example of the significance of urban uprisings. In many of these cases, the Defenestrations, the uprisings in Königsberg and Rostock, political standoffs in Hamburg, and street violence in Krakow could have far-reaching effects both for the town, and for the region. Cities in the 15th and 16th Centuries were important centers of innovation, manufacturing, trade, and political control. Conflicts between mere handfuls of people in a back alley could have ramifications which were felt hundreds of miles away, and for many generations of time. This is yet another way in which the martial culture of urban polities, and the actions of just a few people wielding a sword, a spear, or a bill-guisarme had a significance which far outweighed their own personal experiences.

Cite this article as: Jean Chandler, "Urban political violence in the fifteenth century, from Prague to Hamburg," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 19/07/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1373.

[1] Notably in Poland, Hungary, Sweden and Bohemia

[2] German Freistadt. Most (including those in Poland, Hungary, Sweden etc.) were chartered under German Town Law.

[3] And perhaps a third as many citizens

[4] With some exceptions, like Ulm and Bern. For a good overview see David Eltis, “Towns and Defense in Later Medieval Germany” from Nottingham Medieval Studies: V.33 (1989)

[5] Peace of the roads aka Landfrieden, Landfrydy to the Czechs.

[6] The German term for city-alliances was Stadtbünde. Most of these were temporary and limited in scope, but some lasted for a long time or were repeatedly re constituted. Notable examples of the latter include the Décapole (German Zehnstädtebund) in Alsace, the Three City League in Thuringia (German Thüringer Dreistädtebund), the Pentapolitana in Hungary, the Lusatian League (German Oberlausitzer Sechsstädtebund) in Upper Lusatia, and the Prussian Confederation in Prussia.

[7] “Imperial and Free Towns of the Holy Roman Empire, City-States in Pre-Modern Germany?”, Peter Johanek, p 12 / 306 (from “A comparative study of thirty city-state cultures: an investigation, Copenhagen Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab 2000)

[8] Including Johannes Gutenberg who was heavily fined and exiled from Mainz.

[9] Hamburg was a Republic for 352 years or 583 years, depending on how you count it. See my article about the Rezeß here for more on this subject.

[10] “Imperial and Free Towns of the Holy Roman Empire, City-States in Pre-Modern Germany?”, Peter Johanek, p 12 / 306 (from “A comparative study of thirty city-state cultures: an investigation, Copenhagen Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab 2000)

[11] One hundred and eleven years after Tannenberg none other than Nicholas Copernicus was leading militia against the Teutonic Order in yet another skirmish. See my HROARR article about that incident here.

[12] A city in central Poland almost 400 km north of Krakow.

[13] Aka Andrzej Tęczyński

[14] According to other sources the Armorer apparently pointed out that Tęczyń had gained weight since ordering the harness.

[15] According to other sources the armourer Clement was severely beaten at this time. The real issue though was probably that the nobles continued to consider burghers and especially artisans so far beneath them in status as for it to be permissible to beat them up, while the latter contested this notion. Długosz, as a member of the elite strata of the priestly estate, sympathizes with the knight Tęczyń but as is typical for his narratives, seems exasperated with all the unnecessary violence.

[16] The Queen dwells in Krakow castle, which is a separate entity from the town.

[17] A huge amount!

[18] The City Fathers (Burgomeisters and city council) were probably concerned for their own safety.

[19] Rural nobles in the districts of “Lesser Poland” surrounding these two cities.

[20] This is from page 475 in the Maujrice Michael translation of Dlugosz “Annales”

[21] Boubín, Jaroslav (2011). “The Bohemian Crownlands under the Jagiellons (1471–1526)”. In Pánek, Jaroslav; Tůma, Oldřich (eds.). A History of the Czech Lands. Charles University in Prague. pp. 173–187

[22] I found it quite difficult to find anything about the details surrounding this event in English[22], so I asked a friend Ondřej Vodička to recommend a source, and he suggested the twelve volume Dějepis města Prahy (History of Prague city) published from 1855-1905 by the Czech scholar, knight and parliamentarian, Vaclav Vlaqdivoj Tomek. The next step was to find a translator, of whom via my friend Pedro Maal, Petra Kleinhamplová came to my assistance. The full translation of this passage, which covers pages 31-52 of Dějepis města Prahy, can be found here: https://hroarr.com/article/polish-and-czech-sources-on-medieval-urban-violence/?fbclid=IwAR0EFTpj4_rlOlIZ9kFPg_rm853PqMQsjoRVOS2nUUEL0ipelF9D8y_yAZc.

[23] Boubín page 181.

[24] See Hugh LeCaine Agnew, The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown.

Abuse of Arms and Trigger Words in a 16th Century Fechtschule

On the 23rd of July 1546, the city council of Solothurn received a special request from local furrier Hans Tägenscher. An avid fencer, Tägenscher petitioned to hold a so-called fächtschule, or Fechtschule, where he would teach the lobliche manßzucht [laudable masculine virtue] of fighting to those interested and willing to pay.[i] Such an event required the blessing of local authorities, who might fear for disorder. Getting this blessing then depended on Tägenscher’s ability to convince the council his school would be a trouble-free exercise in martial virtue.

            The survival of the Ordnunge des Fächtens halb [Ordinance for the benefit of fencing] in the Kanton Archives of Solothurn is a stroke of fortune. While sources related to Fechtschulen become more common from the sixteenth century onwards, documented viewpoints from their would-be-organisers are rare. Tägenscher indicated which techniques he was to teach, for what price, and at what intervals the schools were to be held.[ii] More than that, however, he listed punishments for a selection of bad behaviour. While ranging from the mundane to the curious, it is reasonable to assume that all these rules were included for good reason. Whether they targeted real risks of disorder or merely disarmed stigmas surrounding martial contests, the rules would have helped Tägenscher to put the council’s mind at ease. To find out how exactly, this post compares a few of his articles with other documents from Solothurn and a set of similar Fechtschulen-regulations from Augsburg. They reveal careful manoeuvres along the complex martial culture of a town like Solothurn, from simply dictating responsible weapons’ usage to preventing lethal conflict.

Fig.1: “Ordnunge des Fächtens halb” (photograph by the author).

First on Tägenscher’s list is a ban on swearing with God’s name (Gottes namen in zornes wyse), for which perpetrators would be fined one Fribourg shilling.[iii] Such a concern with keeping language civilised was not unique for this particular Fechtschule. The late fifteenth-century Fechter Ordnung from Augsburg, for example, mentions how inappropriate words (ungepürliche Reden) would be met with a stern warning from officials.[iv] Nor did Tägenscher’s rule stand isolated from council policies in Solothurn itself. Between 1525 and 1545, the town issued no less than nine ordinances featuring bans on swearing, often also targeting recreational activities such as drinking and games.[v]

Personal insults were granted their own special rule set apart from swearing, although the rule in question only covers one particular example. Those who denounced someone as a liar (den andern heiß liegen) were to pay a fine of one Fribourg shilling.[vi] Again, such a rule was not unique for Solothurn, as the Augsburg document also distinguishes between mere ungepürliche reden and insults. Attendees there were expressly forbidden from calling their fellows rogues (schelm), thieves (dieb) or using similar outrageous attacks (frvuenlichen antaschen).[vii] Failure to respect this rule would not be met with a warning, but would result in the immediate fine of one Rhenish guilder.

At first glance such bans seem oddly specific. The identical fines for both language-based offences in Solothurn raise the question why Tägenscher bothered to list them in two distinct articles. The drastically increasing severity shown to denunciations in Augsburg is equally remarkable. That these insults merited such serious attention was because they held a special significance in urban culture, however. They were fighting words. Being willing to shame an adversary as a rogue, a thief, or a liar was a standard element in early modern masculinity, as was the physical response that often followed.[viii]

Solothurn appears to have been no exception to this rule. The violent culture of shaming that lurked underneath Tägenscher’s regulations is revealed by an ordinance passed about a year before, on 13 October 1545. The council was concerned by the fights and strife (stoß und span) caused by people using force to seek satisfaction for insults (mitt der hande […] vil rechtens zehaben).[ix] This could escalate fast, and slander is mentioned as causing major injury and even cases of manslaughter (zu zytten groß schaden unnd todtschlage vollgen mogen).[x]

While Solothurn had already reconfirmed its law on breaching the peace (Trostungsbruch) in 1491, the city council considered a new law to be necessary.[xi] The old law punished a breach of the peace through a system of progressive fines, depending on whether the incident involved mere words, fists and blades, bloodshed, or manslaughter. The specific insults listed in 1545 were deemed so shameful, however, that the council understood people could turn to violence to satisfy their honour.[xii] As a result, the council would always hold the insulting party liable for the incident whenever such words were used.

Such a rule has also been presented for other German towns. Its justification was that a breach of honour effectively constituted an attack on one’s person, making any response justifiable as self-defence.[xiii] It is telling that the one insult Tägenscher explicitly forbids (den andern heiß liegen) was also first on the list in the ordinance of 1545 (den andern fräffenlich heist liegen). Maybe calling someone a liar was indeed the most common form of sedition in sixteenth-century Solothurn, necessitating a special treatment. Maybe Tägenscher merely used its perceived prominence to represent insults in general. Whatever the case, it was a rule with which he accounted for the potentially volatile combination of aggressive masculine values and weapons’ practice.

Both the regulations that policed language in the Fechtschule therefore seem to represent something more than just a punishment for using certain words. They represent a careful dissociation from the troublesome discourses surrounding pastimes and martial identity in the sixteenth century. Play in general was the subject of recurring legislation, mainly aimed against its blasphemous character. Fechtschulen were not exempt from this suspicion towards recreational gatherings of men, with a sixteenth century Luzern ordinance only allowing them if they involved no form of play whatsoever.[xiv] Moreover, the martial cultures that merited the existence of a Fechtschule also constituted a risk, as men were expected to not only defend their city but their own honour as well.[xv] Rules policing language must then have helped Tägenscher to present his Fechtschule as a serious martial event, rather than a potential source of unrest.

Regulations covering weapons-discipline would also have contributed to such an image. Tägenscher forbade the throwing down or otherwise improper placement of a weapon (gwer), with offenders having to pay the common fine of one shilling. A rule against throwing weapons also features in the 1555 ordinance for the shooting guild in Solothurn.[xvi] While they thus seem related, bans on carelessly throwing and misplacing missile weapons in German towns commonly resulted from a fear for accidental shootings.[xvii] The melee weapons used in the Fechtschule were obviously free from such concerns, and the rule also fails to account for more obvious causes for injuries, such as careless swings. Punishing the abuse of arms in the Fechtschule may then not have been out of concerns for the safety of participants, but rather for the well-being of the equipment itself.

Whether participants were required to bring this equipment themselves or whether it would be supplied by the town is impossible to say for certain. Like any autonomous Swiss or German town, Solothurn expected its citizens to be armed and ready. At the same time, it is unlikely that the weapons mentioned in the numerous Harnischschau-inspections were intended for use in Fechtschulen, for which specialised training swords were used from the late fifteenth century onwards.[xviii] Moreover, references to collective stores of training weapons have been found for other towns, with Strasbourg supplying swords and staves to a fencing tournament in 1470 for example.[xix] In a similar fashion, the Fechtschulen in Augsburg were organised by the local fencing fraternity that possessed its own arms collection for that purpose. The text describing this initially even referred to the town, yet this was struck through later.[xx] As such, it is not impossible altogether that the weapons for the Solothurn Fechtschule were to be supplied by the town’s armoury. The necessity of bringing the equipment back in one piece would then explain Tägenscher’s concern with careful handling.

            The second arms-related rule by Tägenscher seems very vague at first sight. It instructs participants who stopped using a ‘weapon’ (gwer) to let the others be, at least until Tägenscher had finished teaching, after which they could begin with another one.[xxi] Elsewhere, the term gwer refers to weapons in general, individual objects that should be treated with care. This cannot be the case here, however, as it does not explain the sudden difference between one weapon and the others. The term gwer could also be used to describe types of arms and martial disciplines, however. In Augsburg, prospective organizers of Fechtschulen were required to pass a test in at least three disciplines (wöhren); stave, sword and dussack, to demonstrate their merit.[xxii] The same document also uses wöhr to describe ‘any weapon’, with raising or lowering one being the ritual marker for the beginning and end of a match or lesson.[xxiii]

If we accept that the term gwer had a similar dual meaning for Tägenscher, the second arms-related rule starts making sense. If the Fechtschule in Solothurn was to cover multiple arms disciplines, it would have made sense for Tägenscher to emphasise how pupils would only use those weapons pertaining to the lesson taught at a particular point in time. Taken together, both rules on weapons usage then also contributed to representing the Fechtschule as a disciplined martial event, where (the town’s?) equipment would be handled with care and not without proper supervision.

            It is well established that the martial cultures of late medieval and early modern towns possessed many facets that would not always align and would sometimes even clash. What is interesting to see is how competing elements were effectively woven into a small sixteenth century petition. Hidden within vague or odd regulations is a complex martial discourse, revealing the ideals, biases and logistical challenges surrounding a Fechtschule. To uncover more would require careful comparison of other ordinances with related source material on Fechtschulen. This could then trigger a greater understanding of these complex events that combined self-defence, civic duty and recreational fun.


This research was carried out as part of an overarching project on Tägenscher’s Ordnunge des Fächtens halb, involving Dr. Daniel Jaquet (University of Bern), Maciej Talaga (University of Warsaw), and Miente Pietersma (University of Bern – University of Groningen). More results will be published in upcoming scientific events, including a special panel in the 2021 (postponed to 2022) ‘Martial Arts, Tradition and Globalisation’ Conference in Lausanne. The project relates to a planned exhibition on the late medieval martial culture of Solothurn in the latter’s Old Arsenal Museum (Museum altes Zeughaus), an exhibition organised by the Martial Culture in Medieval Towns Research Project at the University of Bern.

Cite this article as: Miente Pietersma, "Abuse of Arms and Trigger Words in a 16th Century Fechtschule," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 24/05/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1282.

[i] “Ordnunge des Fächtens halb,” 23 July 1546, Mandatenbuch 1, pp. 358-359, l. 31. Staatsarchiv Kanton Solothurn. See also the text’s edition in Charles Studer, Rechtsquellen des Kantons Solothurn, Zweiter Band, Mandate, Verordnungen, Satzungen des Standes Solothurn von 1435 bis 1604 (Aarau: Verlag Sauerländer Aarau, 1987), pp. 332-333.

[ii] On these elements see Daniel Jaquet, “Fencing and shooting in the city of the Solothurn during the 15th and 16th century. A closer look into regulations for martial contest.” In Urban Contests of Renaissance Europe, eds. Christian Jaser, Jean-Dominique Delle Luche and Daniel Jaquet. Turnhout: Brepols (forthcoming).

[iii] “Ordnunge,” l. 19-20.

[iv] “Augsburger Fechter Ordnung,” 16th century, Cod.I.6.2º.5, fol. 4v, l. 3-4. Oettingen-Wallersteinische Bibliothek, Universitätsbibliothek Augsburg.

[v] See Mandates numbered 101, 105, 130, 140, 163, 181, 204, 224, and 236 in Stuber.

[vi] “Ordnunge,” l. 23.

[vii] “Augsburger Fechter Ordnung,” fol. 4r, l. 25-29.

[viii] B.A. Tlusty, The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany, Civic Duty and the Right of Arms (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 103.

[ix] Studer, p. 324.

[x] Idem.

[xi] Studer, p. 86-87.

[xii] [5] Aber wär sonst siner eren geschollten würde, der sol darum dhein gwalltige hande bruchen, sonders das rechte zü rettunge derselben siner siner eeren suchen und fürnämmen […] [7]Wan aber einer dem andern flüchtett, mit was flüchen oder schwüren das sin wurde, unnd der annder darüber schlüge, sol dasselb je nach ungeschicklickeytt unnd gestallte der schwüren gehallten und gestrafft werden. Studer, p. 325.

[xiii] Tlusty, p. 66.

[xiv] Walter Schaufelberger, Der Wettkampf in der Alten Eidgenossenschaft: Zur Kulturgeschichte des Sports vom 13. Bis ins 18. Jahrhundert (Bern: Paul Haupt Verlag, 1972), 143.

[xv] Tlusty, p. 63.

[xvi] Stuber, pp. 364-365.

[xvii] Tlusty, p. 80.

[xviii] Mandates numbered 143, 196, 198, 221 and 230 respectively in Stuber.

[xix] Tlusty, p. 214; Olivier Dupuis, “A fifteenth-century fencing tournament in Strasburg,” Acta Periodica Duellatorum 10 (2015): p. 72.

[xx] “Augsburger Fechter Ordnung,” fol. 5v, l. 5-18.

[xxi] Und so einer in einem gwer vffhörtt, sol er die andern ligen lassen, biß er vßgelertt hatt, alls dann mag er in einem andern wol anfachen. “Ordnunge,” l. 27-28.

[xxii] “Augsburger Fechter Ordnung,” fol. 2r, l. 24-28.

[xxiii] Idem, fol. 3v, l. 15-30.

York: Capital of the North, stronghold against the Scots and Richard III’s retinue

Capital of the North

When we think about the North of England, in contrast with the south, most of us imagine beautiful landscapes, the stunning countryside, industrial cities, and regional accents. However, the vast English North is far more complex and intricate than that. It is filled with culture, political disputes, intrigue, and a spirit of community attached to displays of loyalty for its people. Moreover, it was even more so during the late Middle Ages, which is the focus of this article. The great cities of the North were the centre of the social, political and economic life of the region, and none more so than York. Made prosperous by its production of wool, trade and pilgrimage[1], York and the county of Yorkshire were at the very centre of Richard III’s government and support in the North.

Figure 1: The most famous and fayre Citie Yorke described, John Speed, 1610.
© University of Cambridge Digital Library

            The city of York, a stronghold in the North surrounded by a 4km wall[2], whose foundation was built by the Romans around the 71 A.D. and reinforced from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries with limestone to defend the city, with the addition of four gatehouses or “bars”, as well as three-metre deep ditches surrounding the wall itself. The gates controlled the influx of people, the taxation of goods and tolls, as well as serving as defensive positions in times of war and conflicts, such as was the case in the Wars of the Roses. Like many European cities of the medieval period and more than fifty English ones, the fortress-like construction serves as both a protection and a prison.

            The Micklegate Bar, the most important gateway in the city during the Middle Ages, served as both a commemorative display for kings — since it was traditional for the ruling monarch to enter the city through it — and a warning to rebels and traitors. Their heads were put on pikes and displayed above the gate. Such were the case of Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy and Richard III’s own father, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. Not to mention, York being the centre of the county and one of the military powers of the North was one of the defense line against the Scots. As pointed out by Palliser, “York’s geographical position continued to give it military significance during the intermittent Scottish Wars”.[3]

Figure 2: The southern entrance to York, Micklegate Bar. Photograph taken on 11 April 2006.

Richard III and the City

During the same conflict that killed his father in 1460, the then nine-year-old Richard, who was made Duke of Gloucester in 1461 when his brother Edward ascended the throne as Edward IV, rose to greatness a decade later. Between 1471 and 1483 due to his military prowess against the Scots, his political mind and intellect — chiefly in his administration of the northern territory where he spearheaded the Council of the North as Lord President and de facto Lord of the North — Richard commanded power and authority that no other nobleman in England possessed. His relationship with the city is well documented in the York Civic Records. Volumes of books dedicated to the record of Council meeting, transactions, letters, appointments and events. And in it, precious accounts of Richard’s character and allegiance. As stated by the editor of the first volume, Revered Angelo Raine,

To retain the good will of the City of York was of importance to the rulers of England. Richard III was able to do this, not merely because he was a strong character and a clever man, but also because of his knowledge of the North.[4]

            It was his knowledge of the North, having lived there for most of his life and being a Yorkshireman both in name[5] and birth, Richard was schooled by none other than the Kingmaker himself — the Earl of Warwick — on how to handle and retain the people and the councilmen’s trust and loyalty. That is reflected on the respect the city bestowed upon him as well as the way they remained loyal to him after his death in 1485. In 1480, in one of the Scottish Expeditions, Richard sent a letter to the Councilmen of the city requesting[6] that men of the York be called to arms to aid him against the Scots. In another letter, a month after the battle, Edward IV congratulates the city for its collaboration during the conflict, based on a report given by the Duke of Gloucester. A few years later, once again, the city’s men were called to arms against the Scots and once again, Richard sent a letter on 14 May 1482 thanking the Councilmen for “bearing the change of 80 able men well arrayed and horsed.”[7]

            Therefore, it seems that the Duke’s power and knowledge of the North earned him the respect and obedience of the Councilmen of York as well as some of its citizens. For as Raine also notes on his introduction, “ there is evidence to show that a considerable section distrusted Richard”.[8] Nevertheless, in April 1483 when his brother died and a power vacuum was installed, and during those troubled time, Richard in his capacity as both Duke of Gloucester and the Lord Protector of the Realm, requested the Councilmen for “ as many men as you can make, defensibly arrayed”[9] to come to London in order to aid him against the Queenmother — Elizabeth Woodville — and her family. It was no surprise when the Council readily replied not only in paper, but also in action: two hundred horsemen, properly armed for combat if necessary, joined other northern troops and together marched to London, where they remained for Richard’s accession to kingship and coronation. 

            However, during the event of the Battle of Bosworth, the eighty men who were dispatched to aid Richard against Henry Tudor never made it to the battlefield. It is never explained in the civic records why that happened. To this, Paul Murray Kendall[10] states that the delay was caused by a plague[11] that was prevalent in the City. Nevertheless, the city mourned its king and benefactor — at least on the councilmen’s part — when news of his death reached York on the 23rd of August 1485. So much that even Edward Hall[12], Tudor historian and writer, noted how loved and esteemed Richard had been by the men of the North.

Cite this article as: Beatriz Breviglieri, "York: Capital of the North, stronghold against the Scots and Richard III’s retinue," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 07/05/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1271.

Referenced Bibliography:
Edward Hall, Hall’s Chronicle, Containing the History of England During the Reign of Henry IV and the Succeeding Monarchs to the End of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. by Sir Henry Ellis (London: , 1809).

P.M. Kendall, Richard III (London: Allen & Unwin, 1955).

John M. Theilmann, ‘Sweating Sickness’, in Encyclopedia of pestilence, pandemics and plagues, ed. by Joseph P. Byrne (London: Greenwood Press, 2008).

A History of the County of York: The City of York, ed. by P. M. Tillott (London: Victoria County History, 1961), in , <https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/city-of-york> [accessed 7 February 2021].

‘The West Ridinge of Yorkeshyre with The most famous and fayre Citie Yorke described. 1610’, in The theatre of the empire of Great Britaine presenting an exact geography of the kingdomes of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the iles adioyning: with the shires, hundreds, cities and shire-townes, within ye kingdome of England, divided and described by Iohn Speed.by John Speed,  (London, 1611.). <http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/PR-ATLAS-00002-00061-00001/66> [accessed 7 February 2021].

The Southern Entrance to York, Micklegate Bar, by Darren Wortley, 2006.<https:

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Micklegate_Bar.jpg> [ accessed in 7 February 2021].

York Civic Record Volume I, ed. by Angelo Raine (Wakefield: The West Yorkshire Printing Co., 1939).

[1]‘The later middle ages: Communications, markets and merchants’. In: P. M Tillot (Ed.) A History of the County of York: the City of York. London,Victoria County History, (1961), 97-106. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/city-of-york/pp97-106 [accessed 2 February 2021].

[2] What currently remains of the medieval limestone masonry.

[3] D.M. Palliser. “Medieval York. 600-1540.”, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 244.

[4] Angelo Raine, York Civic Records, Vol I. (Wakefield: The West Yorkshire Printing Co. Limited, 1939), p. vi.

[5] Alluding to the House of York’s heritage through the title of Richard’s father, Duke of York.

[6] Angelo Raine, York Civic Records, Vol I. (Wakefield: The West Yorkshire Printing Co. Limited, 1939), p. 34-35.

[7] Ibid, p. 55.

[8] Ibid, p. vii.

[9] Ibid, p. 73.

[10] P.M. Kendall, “Richard III”, London, Allen & Unwin, 1955, p. 347-349.

[11] Sweating Sickness as reported by John M. Theilmann, ‘Sweating Sickness’, in Joseph P. Byrne (ed.)

“Encyclopedia of pestilence, pandemics and plagues”, London, Greenwood Press, 2008, p. 686.

[12] Edward Hall, “ Hall’s Chronicle, Containing the History of England During the Reign of Henry IV and the Succeeding Monarchs to the End of the Reign of Henry VIII”, London, 1809, p. 426.

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 6

In this sixth and final part we discover the fate of both our protagonist and his silver sallet. This, in turn, opens up a wider debate as to the fate of so much of the martial material culture of the period.

A Bloody Red Herring

Sir William would never return to redeem his sallet. He, his big brother Sir John, and the vast majority of his countrymen fell in the sair fecht against the Auld Innemie. At Rouvray on 12 February 1429 a Franco-Scots force sought to cut off a supply train loaded with barrels of herring headed for the invested city of Orléans. The Scots were abandoned by their pusillanimous native allies including Duke Louis of Orléans’ natural son Jean (count of Dunois from 1439) (Figure 1). This Bâtard d’Orléans, however, would prove himself to be a key figure in turning the tide for King Charles. Once trapped in the net of the wily Sir John Fastolf at this Battle of the Herrings, the Scots felt the bitter edge of this English commander’s ‘werre cruelle and sharpe without sparing of any parsone’.[1]

Figure 1: A Knight in Prayer, Stone figure sculpture, French, 15th century, Glasgow Museums, 44.25.

‘white harneys of old facion’

Where then, is Sir William’s sallet now? And indeed the harness of so many of those who fought at this time? Documentary evidence such as indentures, household, business and governmental accounts, and wills attest to the fact that there was a great deal of it.[2] The final act of the Orléans play, alluded to in the first essay, has the defeated English soldiers marched away bareheaded – their sallets in their hands (‘la teste nue […] leurs salades en leurs mains’).[3] Sumptuous artworks depict harness in fine detail (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Ordeal by Fire of St John the Evangelist (detail), stained glass panel, France, c. 1510, Glasgow Museums, 45.390.a.

            Sir John Fastolf, a commander who had grown filthy rich from the wars in France, was dead by 1459. In 1462 an inventory was made of his goods at his house at Southwark. There listed are ‘viij white harneys of old facion […] x peyre breganders, febill […] x basenettes, xxiiij salettes, vj gorgettes […] ij haberions and a barell to skore [t]hem’.[4] On 4 November 1454 two London armourers were tasked with providing a valuation of the stock of Court Pothof, late of Southwark, armourer.[5] Of those classed as an ‘old haubergeon’ (‘vet’ haberion’) three were valued at 20d., one at 16d. and another at 12d. There was one sallet that was black from the hammer, meaning it had not been planished or polished (‘j nigra Salet’) worth 10d., one old basinet (‘j vet’ Basenet’) worth 16d., and one pair of greaves (‘j par’ Greves’) (lower leg defences) worth 8d. These sorry scraps were probably not worth much more than the roll of parchment on which they have been recorded.

Figure 3: Sallet/salade/ barbut, Italy, late 15th century, originally fabric covered, Glasgow Museums, E.1939.65.al.

            The answer, then, to our question is simple: until the Gothic Revival of the eighteenth century, mail and plate armour was considered perfectly reusable iron and steel. A good example is to be found in Glasgow Museums’ collection. A mid-fifteenth-century helmet has had its face opening crudely sheared back, most probably to provide an archer with a better view (Figure 3). Visitors to Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum can gaze in awe at the ‘Avant’ harness (Figure 4). It is a remarkable survival from the fifteenth century. Yet it is also a sight that would have once been commonplace in every town, city, and castle and on every battlefield across Europe.

Figure 4: Milanese Armour by Corio Workshop, Italy, c. 1445, Glasgow Museums, E.1939.65.e.

From the Siege of Orléans to the Soo side

Today Scottish schoolchildren readily recognize the name Lord Darnley as that of the notorious second husband of Mary Queen of Scots (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Portrait of Lord Darnley, Henry Stuart (1545-1567), 16th century, Glasgow Museums, PL.1927.248.

Yet the vital role of his ancestor – and so many of theirs – in weakening the English cause in France is largely forgotten. Darnley is a neighbourhood in, what is now, the Southside of the City of Glasgow very close to Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. In nearby Castlemilk, Sir William’s castle was demolished to make way for an (also demolished) country house, the stables of which have been converted into a community hub. Here can be seen a fantastic nineteenth-century fireplace carved with the dramatic scene of Sir William and his men fighting heroically at the gates of Orléans (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Old fireplace rescued from Castlemilk House depicting Sir William fighting at the siege of Orleans.

[1] Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Wars of the English in France […] Vol. 2, Part 2, ed. by Joseph Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1864, repr. 2012), p. 518.

[2] R. Moffat, ‘Armourers and Armour: Textual Evidence’, in The Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles, c. 450-1450, ed. by Gale Owen-Crocker, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Maria Hayward (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 49-52.

[3] Mistère du siège d’Orléans, ed. Guessard and De Certain, p. 745.

[4] London, British Library, Additional MS 39848, fol. 50r-fol. 53r, printed in Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century, Part I, ed. by Norman Davis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 107-14 (at pp. 113-14).

[5] London, London Metropolitan Archives, Plea and Memoranda Roll A80, membrane 4.

“As turf is thrown, a remarkable battle begins”: A martial game in the late-medieval town of Hirschberg, Silesia

“Oh, milk-giving walls!”: The fortified town of Hirschberg in the late fifteenth century

Silesia is a region in today’s southern Poland which throughout the whole Middle Ages maintained close relations with the German and Czech cultural circles (Fig. 1). In effect, the process of urbanisation started relatively early there in comparison to other lands claimed by dukes or kings of Poland. Hence, when medieval Silesian towns become traceable in the historical record they are often already chartered and quite developed. Such is the case of Hirschberg – today’s Jelenia Góra (Polish); formerly known also as Hiršberk (Czech) and Mons Cervini or Cervimontium (Latin). As early as the thirteenth century, the town would have a mill and enjoyed an urban charter granted by Silesian dukes. However, it must have been founded not long before, as there are no accounts about the town walls prior to 1341 – a reliable indicator, as burghers were obliged to erect fortifications by their charters[1]. Nevertheless, despite its small size[2] – dictated partially by its location on a rocky outcrop at the foot of the Karkonosze Mountains (Czech: Krkonoše; Silesian: Riesageberge) – the town developed quickly[3]. Before 1350, it was fully fortified with walls, gates, and towers and in 1346 became an active member of the League of Towns (Stadtebundt) of the Świdnik-Jawor Duchy. The latter information is especially relevant here, because such membership meant that Hirschberg had to participate in military actions undertaken by the League, mostly to secure trade routes from robber knights and brigands[4]. In 1377, the Council bought out the town’s voigtship, thus rendering Hirschberg effectively independent from ducal jurisdiction, whereas when the whole Duchy was inherited by Czech kings in 1392 Hirschberg had its privileges confirmed and even expanded[5].

Figure 1: Location of the town of Jelenia Góra (German: Hirschberg) on the contemporary map of Poland and the neighbouring countries. Wikimedia Commons.

On the downside, Hirschberg’s incorporation into the Czech monarchy brought not only exciting trading opportunities, but also grave threats when the Hussite Wars broke out in the early 15th century. Luckily, for them, the town’s residents apparently invested their resources well in the times of prosperity, as they managed to repel three Hussite assaults during a siege in 1427[6]. Moreover, they did not rest on their laurels and continued to develop town’s defences (Fig. 2). In 1433, Hirschbergers bought and demolished the neighbouring knightly castle and re-used the resources obtained this way to strengthen their own fortifications[7]. When their armed expedition decisively defeated local robber knights’ family and razed their castle in Borowy Jar (ca. 1450), town’s security seemed complete. After a period of peace, however, new measures became necessary at the turn of the centuries, when the Turkish threat rose in the south-east. Unsurprisingly, the proactive Hirschbergers responded by building a second ring of fortifications with ten guardtowers (bastei) and artillery posts. In effect, a Silesian geographer and chronicler, Bartholomäus Stein, noted in his Descriptio Totius Silesiae (1505), that Hirschberg “is a small town, but splendidly fortified”[8]. This commitment and trust shown by the burghers towards their fortifications, as well as still quite vivid memory of their victories against the Hussite besiegers and robber knights, clearly echo in yet another description of Hirschberg, Panegyricus Silesiacus by Pancratius Vulturnius (1506), which praises the town’s “milk-giving walls” (O manantia moenia lacte)[9] and martial prowess of its inhabitants:

Oh, town of great fortune, praised throughout centuries! / Laud joyfully your all-encompasing defender [i.e. Saint Pancratius[10]]. / Under such general you shall return to your walls victorious / whenever your warriors encroach castles grim[11].

Figure 2. Reconstruction of the town of Hirschberg and its fortifications in the fourteenth century. After S. Firszt, Architectura militaris urbis Montis Cervini (budownictwo obronne Jeleniej Góry). In K. Stąpór (ed.), Rola wojska w rozwoju intelektualnym Jeleniej Góry, Jelenia Góra 2008, p. 25, fig. 2.

Hirschberg in Pancratius Vulturnius’s Panegyricus Silesiacus

The poem quoted above by Pancratius Vulturnius (actually Pankratius Geier; born ca. 1480 in Hirschberg), a Silesian theologian and humanist, is an important source on the history of the region in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century[12]. According to the author, the work was created during his stay at the university in Padua as a reply to other students praising their homelands – Pancratius allegedly realised back then that nobody had yet composed a poetic laudation of his land[13]. In result, he borrowed from the best Latin classics to create a description of the province in general and its particular towns, of which the largest was Breslau (Vratislavia) and the dearest – his own home town of Hirschberg (Mons Cervini). Whereas his poetic descriptio is quite formulaic in many places, thus raising justified doubts about the author’s actual knowledge of the described places[14], this is by no means the case in his treatment of Hirschberg. In the fragment commonly called Laus Hyrschberge (“Praise of Hirschberg”), poetic tropes are given their most creative use to confer genuine affection and paint a very detailed image of his “little homeland”[15]. Most interestingly, he recounts unique folk customs observed in Hirschberg, which could have not been copied from any classic auctor and thus their descriptions can be treated as reliable historical accounts[16]. Notably, one of these customs is of clearly martial character and shall be discussed below in detail.

“Turf war”

The interesting passage mentioned above comes from verses 392-414 and is quoted in its entirety in the Appendix according to the eighteenth-century transcription published by Johann Jacob Füldener[17]. According to Vulturnius, in early October boys would be relieved from school by their teachers in order to take part in a mock battle, which was an ancient tradition (quae dicenda fuit stans consvetudo per annos). They were divided into two teams, one of which represented defenders of Hirschberg and the other – foreign invaders. They would don helmets, carry shields, and spend the next three days combatting each other in the hills surrounding the town. This noisy and cheerful recreation, vividly described by Vulturnius, is termed a “turf war” (cespite bellum), because the young combatants erected earthwork fortifications and fought at them using turf projectiles as weapons, without complaining even when hit.

Given that Vulturnius was born ca. 1480 and that “turf wars” must have been practiced before he left to Padua, it is possible to date this custom to the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and hence –approximately two generations after Hirschberg’s successful defence against the Hussites in 1427. Based on this, Stanisław Firszt proposed that it was a kind of spectacle commemorating these events[18]. Alternatively, if we believe the poet that it was a long-standing social practice, one may follow Joanna Rostropowicz and speculate that it constituted a local mutation of much older pre-Christian beliefs regarding the eternal rivalry between summer and winter – according to ethnographers, different sorts of folk combative spectacles celebrating it were still performed in Silesia as late as in the 20th century[19]. Regardless of its actual origins, however, it has to be noted that it was a mock siege, not a pitched battle or any other form of skirmish – a choice quite logical in a town so reliant on and proud of its fortifications. Therefore, while it remains unclear whether the helmets and shields used by the boys were actual pieces of armament or just imitations[20], the game itself could certainly serve as a kind of early military preparation tailored to fit local conditions.

Closing remarks

Recent broad-based studies on violence in early-modern German cultural milieu have revealed not only its clear ethical underpinnings and implications, but also deep role played by martiality in period’s ideas of masculinity and social identity, in case of both nobles and common folk. The picture that emerges is that of a society where “violent conflict is not dysfunctional”[21] and knights, clerics, and burghers alike are men socialised into the “culture of the sword”[22]. However, due to the available source base, these studies shed light mostly on the lives of adults already immersed in this culture – such as members of urban shooting fraternities or participants of various feuds. From this perspective, the “turf war” offers an important window into how ludicity was harnessed to turn boys into men capable of standing their ground against real violence. Moreover, by embedding a dose of socially-appreciated violence in the direct geographical vicinity of the town and engaging its residents’ collective memory of siege warfare, it undoubtedly helped young Hirschbergers appreciate the martial aspect of their social and physical environment. Hence, even if we assume that this game was mostly a performative event, a spectacle, the recurring references to town’s fortifications and valour of its defenders made by Vulturnius, presumably a participant in the “turf war” himself, indicate that its impact went beyond entertainment alone. It made young burghers see themselves as inheritors of martial feats of their elders and members of a martial community of their peers –Hirschberg’s future defenders. In other words, in this small Silesian town Barbara Ann Tlusty’s “culture of the sword” manifested itself in such a way that it could be more accurately described as the “culture of the walls”.

Cite this article as: Maciej Talaga, "“As turf is thrown, a remarkable battle begins”: A martial game in the late-medieval town of Hirschberg, Silesia," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 24/03/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1236.

Appendix: Laus Hyrschberge (fragment)

In ferias septem tu relligiosa diebus Patribus impendis venerans altaria donis et cruce gestata tua figis lumina templis. Tunce placidus pueris indulget iure magister, qui simul in patrios excedunt agmine campos, gestantes galeas, clipeo subeunte coruscas. Vociferant et saxa petunt in montibus alta, seque ipsam subito puerilis dividit aetas. Qui tua felices suxerunt ubera nati, parte manent una: sed et advena turba secundam sortitur partem: stant ambae in rupibus altis. Hinc, ubi tempus adest, evulso cespite multo fortiter accurrens illam petit altera partem, ut redeat valide victrix clamore per urbem. Exoritur mirum vibrato cespite bellum. Terra volat castris, hic cespitis excipit ictum, huius pulvureum perturbat gramen ocellos, ast ille excussos arcens umbone lapillos cespite collecto simulatum vibrat in hostem, haec tribus instaurant pueri sua castra diebus, quae dicenda fuit stans consvetudo per annos.

[1] J. Piekalski, Od Kolonii do Krakowa. Przemiana topografii wczesnych miast, Wrocław 1999, p. 23. It remains possible, however, that a borough functioned there earlier, as claimed by Polish medieval chroniclers who date Hirschberg’s beginnings to the early twelfth century. Nevertheless, archaeological investigations conducted in the town so far do not support such view, cf. S. Firszt, Architectura militaris urbis Montis Cervini (budownictwo obronne Jeleniej Góry). In K. Stąpór (ed.), Rola wojska w rozwoju intelektualnym Jeleniej Góry, Jelenia Góra 2008, p. 11.

[2] Approximately 1000 inhabitants ca. 1329, see Firszt, op.cit., p. 15.

[3] Ibidem, pp. 11-14.

[4] S. Firszt, Uzbrojenie oddziałów miejskich w średniowieczu na przykładzie miast śląskich, Archeologia Historica Polona, 7, 1998, p. 182.

[5] Firszt, Architectura militaris…, p. 15.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Firszt, Uzbrojenie oddziałów…, p. 187.

[8]parvum est oppidum, sed eggregie cinctum, B. Stein, Descriptio totius Silesiae. In F. Nieländer (ed.), Schlesische Kultur. Heft 1, Breslau 1927, p. 28.

[9] J.J. Füldener, Bio- et bibliographia Silesiaca, das ist: Schlesische Bibliothec und Bücher Historie. Volumen I, Breslau 1731, p. 377.

[10] The patron saint of the town and Vulturnius’s namesake. Alternatively, this line may perhaps be interpreted as referring to the fortifications surrounding the town from all sides.

[11] O nimium felix urbs, o dicenda per aevum, / Exulta gaudens hoc undique defensore. / Hoc Duce Martipotens repetes tua moenia victrix, / Irrueris quoties in tetrica milite castra, see Ibidem.

[12] For the most recent and comprehensive study of his life and work, see J. Rostropowicz, Pankracego Vulturniusa Pochwała Śląska. In J. Rostropwicz (ed.), Tradycje kultury antycznej na Śląsku, Opole 1997, pp. 95-125.

[13] Ibidem, pp. 96-98.

[14] Ibidem, pp. 104-109.

[15] P. Bering, Średniowieczne „małe ojczyzny” czy centra świata? Studia Europaea Gnesnensia, 1-2, 2010, pp. 291-292.

[16] Rostropowicz, op.cit., pp. 105-106.

[17] Füldener, op.cit., p. 376.

[18] Firszt, Architectura militaris…, p. 16.

[19] Rostropowicz, op.cit., p. 106.

[20] S. Firszt, contrary to J. Rostropowicz, seems to assume that they were real armaments, but it does not seem supported by the source, cf. Firszt, Architectura militaris…, p. 16 and Rostropowicz, op.cit., p. 106.

[21] H. Zmora, The Feud in Early-Modern Germany, Cambridge 2015, p. 21.

[22] B.A. Tlusty, Martial Identity and the Culture of the Sword in Early Modern Germany. In D. Jaquet, K. Verelst & T. Dawson (eds.), Late Medieval and Early Modern Fight Books, Leiden-Boston 2016, pp. 547-570.

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 5

Evidence for the role of plunder is addressed in this fifth piece of this six-part essay to explain how Sir William Stewart of Castlemilk may have obtained his silver sallet.

A Helmet with a Coronet ‘of purest gold ornamented with the most precious gems’

Thomas, duke of Clarence, was the eldest of Henry V’s younger brothers and heir to the English (and French) throne. His reckless charge at a force of Scots who were enjoying a wee swally and a game of footie would prove to be his last. The Battle of Baugé (22 March 1421) utterly destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the English ‘Band of Brothers’.[1]

            The unnamed chronicler at Pluscarden Abbey in Moray, writing later in the fifteenth century, tells an intriguing tale:

[…] sed tamen publica vox fuit quod quidam Scotus montanus, Alexander Makcaustelayn nominatus, de Levenax oriundus, de familia domini de Bachania, dictum ducem de Clarencia occidit; quia, ac hoc signum, coronellam auream, quae in galia sua de auro purissimo, gemmis preciosis ornatum, super caput ejus in campo inventa fuit, praedicus Makcastelan secum in campo portavit, et pro mille nobilibus domino de Dernly vendidit: qui eandem coronellam Roberto de Houston pro quinque millibus nobilium sibi debitis in pignore postea reliquit.

[…] but folk said, however, that a certain mountain Scot (i.e. Gael) from the Lennox, of the lord (earl) of Buchan’s household, named Alexander Makcaustelayn, slew the said duke of Clarence who, as proof of this, found on his (Clarence’s) helm on his head in the field (of battle) a gold coronet of the purest gold ornamented with the most precious gems. The aforesaid Makcastelan [sic] carried it with him into the camp and sold it to the lord of Darnley for 1,000 nobles, who afterwards pledged this same coronet to Robert Houston for 5,000 nobles.[2]

Fig.1: St. George and the Dragon, stained glass panel, c. 1400, made in England, Glasgow Museums Collections, 45.86.

“This day should Clarence closely be mew’d [or hewed!] up”

A remarkable survival is a household account recording payments to Bartholomew Winter ‘arm[o]rer’ to the hapless Duke Thomas. It dates to sometime between 1418 and 1421 in anticipation of the departure ‘versus p[ar]tes Normandie’. We are provided with a great amount of detail as to the lavish equipment this nobleman took on campaign. I have included in this extract the armour only.

j par’ de plates nouis liij s. iiij d. j nouo basinet xliij s. iiij d. vno pare’ [sic] Cirotecar[um] de plate xiij s. iiij d. j breeke de maile j pair gusset iij pair’ [sic] voiders xxj s. viij d. j lorica xxvj s. viij d. pro exambio vni’ pair’ [sic] legharnays & j pair’ rerbrace viij s. […] margarete Strawston’ pro iij verges de corsez rubij p[ro] garnisshing’ del legh[ar]nays vaumbrace & rerbrace & aut[re]s v s. Henrico aurifabro london’ p[ro] Bukles & pendantz de arg’ pro eod[e]m xxj s. vj d. […] pro iiij dozein poyntes p[u]r armyng de j h[a]b[er]geon’ Girdell’ ij d. j tresse ij d. sim[u]l cu’ Bothirs de london’ vsq’ Grenewyche p[u]r assayng del dit h[er]neyse v d. […] pro emendac[i]one vni’ basinet’ cu’ vno pare [sic] de plates & totu’ h[er]nec’ d[omi]no Comiti xx s. p[ro] j salade xx s. vno par’ nouar[um] sabatou[n]s vj s. viij d. et p[ro] imposic[i]one de nouo de vno par’ cirotec’ de plate empt’ pro d[omi]no Comite iiij s. iiij d. vna lorica xxxiij s. iiij d. vn’ pysan’ xiiij s.

one new pair of plates 53s. 4d., one new basinet 43s. 4d., one pair of plate gauntlets 13s. 4d., one breech of mail and one pair of gussets, three pairs of voiders 21s. 8d., one hauberk 24s. 8d., for canvassing one pair of legharness and one pair of rerebrace (plate arm defences) 8s. […] Margaret Strawson for three ells of red silk for equipping the legharness, vambrace and rerebrace, and others 5s., Henry, goldsmith of London, for silver buckles and pendants for them 21s. 6d. […] for four dozen points for the arming of one haubergeon girdle 2d., one tress 2d., along with boat hire from London to Greenwich for assaying the said harness 5d. […] for mending one basinet with one pair of plates and all the lord earl’s harness 20s., for one sallet 20s., for a new pair of sabatons 6s. 8d., and for newly-fitting one pair of plate gauntlets 4s. 4d., one hauberk 23s. 4d., one pisan (mail collar) 14s.[3]

None of this harness survives but some idea of its finery is given by beautiful artworks produced at this time (Figure 1 and Figure 2).

Fig.2: St John the Evangelist Hands the Palm to the Jewish Chief Priest, stained glass panel, c. 1450-55, Glasgow Museums Collections, 45.92.

This same account records a payment ‘for gilt mail to repair my lord Edmund’s hauberk along with its making etc.’ (‘pro giltmayle p[ro] emendac[i]one lorice d[omin]i mei Ed[mund]i simul cu’ factura eiusd[e]m &c’’). Edmund Beaufort, the future duke of Somerset, was Clarence’s teenage stepson. Edmund’s elder brother Thomas was captured in the mêlée at Baugé by Darnley’s retinue and was (very likely) passed on to Jean, duke of Bourbon, for doubtless a handsome fee.[4]

Might Sir William’s sallet have come from this valuable haul? It is certainly a very strong possibility. What then was the fate of Sir William and his silver sallet? Find out in the final instalment.

Cite this article as: Ralph Moffat, "Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 5," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 14/03/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1230.

[1] John D. Milner, ‘The Battle of Baugé, March 1421: Impact and Memory’, History, 91 (2006), 484-507.

[2] Liber Pluscardensis, ed. by Felix J. H. Skene, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Paterson, 1877-80), I, 356. Might this man be the ‘matasselin’ who was gifted a harness by King Charles in 1447, as mentioned in the third essay?

[3] London, Westminster Abbey, Muniment 12163, fol. 12r-fol. 12v, and fol. 20r.

[4] Rémy Ambühl, Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War: Ransom Culture in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 66-68.

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 4

This fourth, and the following piece, of this six-part essay examines the evidence available to provide an explanation as to where such equipment as Sir William Stewart of Castlemilk’s silver sallet may have come from: purchase and plunder.

Bang! Bang! Maxwell’s Silver Banner

Glasgow’s Mitchell Library holds an exceptionally rare document. It is a later copy of the now-lost original will made by Sir Robert Maxwell of Calderwood at Angers in 1420. Calderwood Castle (now demolished) was just seven miles south of Sir William’s at Castlemilk. The arms of the Maxwell kindreds are variations of argent (silver), a saltire sable.[1]

Fig.1: Battle of Otterburn – Death of Douglas and Capture of Sir Ralph Percy by Sir John Maxwell, Glasgow Museums, NR.89.

Sir Robert bequeaths one armour (‘vna’ armatura’’), one Milanese-made hauberk (‘vnam lauricam de milam [sic]’), and ‘totam Integram armatura’ meam factam apud poictiers’.[2] His ‘complete armour made at Poitiers’ is an enigma. There is, as yet, no information on armour production in this city. It must be borne in mind that there were places of production other than such celebrated urban centres as Milan. As the Baron de Cosson sagely advises in reference to one of the largest of the city’s family firms: ‘we must not get Missaglias on the brain’.[3]

Fig.2: Right gauntlet, probably made by the Missaglia armour-making family of Milan, 15th century. Associated with the ‘Avant’ armour E.1939.65.e, Glasgow Museums, E.1939.65.e.13.

Indeed, A. V. B. Norman has convincingly argued that a pauldron (plate shoulder defence) in Glasgow Museums’ collection has a mark that is most likely that of a Milanese craftsman who had set up in Tours.[4]

Fig.3: Steel Pauldron, Italian or French, 1490–1500, Glasgow Museums, E.1939.65.o.[2].

Pierre Terjanian has discovered that a sallet in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection was made by a previously-unknown craftsman in Basel.[5] There are bound to be many more just waiting to be identified.

This bequest is evidence that Sir Robert had commissioned bespoke armour. Four of the harnesses (complete plate armours) purchased from our Tours-based Milanese – as identified in the second essay – were made to measure (‘harnoiz faiz à mesure’).

Not Scot-Free

Another glimpse of the goings-on in France is an entry in an inventory of an armourer’s workshop at Tours compiled in 1512. There is ‘one pair of gauntlets worth 2 écus, made for a Scot’ (‘une paire de gantheletz prisés deux escuz, fait pour ung Escossoys’).[6] As with the makers and urban centres there must be much more documentary evidence of this nature in libraries and archives.

Armour and weapons might be acquired in the most unusual of circumstances. A good example is the extraordinary phenomenon of merchants being granted permission to purchase armour in London for a Scottish earl at exactly the same time as this formidable warrior was waging war against his English foe in the Borders.[7] That Sir William may have paid for the silver sallet himself is a strong possibility. Yet there is another – a grim scenario that will be dealt with in the next installment.

Cite this article as: Ralph Moffat, "Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 4," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 24/02/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1210.

[1] Those of Calderwood (‘de quarehut’) are recorded in Berry Herald’s Armorial on fol. 160r, as are other Maxwells on fol. 158r and fol. 161v. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b85285803/f327.item

[2] Glasgow, Mitchell Library, T-PM99/1.

[3] C. A. de Cosson, ‘Milanese Armourers’ Marks’, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 36 (March 1920), 149-53 (p. 153). For more on the wide popularity of Lombard and South German products see R. Moffat, ‘Armour’, in A Companion to Chivalry, ed. by Robert W. Jones and Peter Coss (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2019), pp. 159-85.

[4] A. V. B. Norman, ‘A Pauldron in the Scott Collection’, Scottish Art Review, 7 (1960) 8-11.

[5] Pierre Terjanian, ‘Armor Made in Basel: A Fifteenth-Century Sallet Attributed to Hans Blarer the Younger’, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 36 (2001), 155-59.

[6] J.-B. Giraud, Documents pour servir à l’histoire de l’armement au Moyen Âge et à la Renaissance, 2 vols (Lyon: Giraud, 1895-1904), I, 174, citing Tours, Archives d’Indre-et-Loire, minutes Foussedouaire, t. IX. These are almost certainly the minutes of Jacques Foussedouaire, notaire royal (1495-1532): cote 3E1.

[7] R. Moffat, ‘“A hard harnest man”: The Armour of George Dunbar, 9th Earl of March’, Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian & Field Naturists’ Society, 30 (2015), 21-37.

Sword and Buckler in Hebrew Letters: Traces of Early Illuminated German Fight Books in Jewish Manuscripts

Two manuscripts produced in early fourteenth-century German-speaking areas reflect similar iconography of  fighting with sword and buckler; one is the well-known fencing treatise, Leeds, Royal Armouries, MS I. 33, produced ca. 1320,[1] and the other is a Hebrew manuscript of the Bible made in 1304, that will be the focus of this article. Four figures with sword and buckler are portrayed as masorah figurata[2] on the lower margins of the opening page of Hebrew Bible, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France héb. 9, fols 104v-105r (figs. 1-2). All four are wearing gloves with long cuffs, holding swords and bucklers, and have their outer garments rolled up to their waists and tucked into their belts in order to free their legs, and because of this we can see their positioning. I wish to demonstrate in this preliminary research, that the iconography was adapted from German Fechtbücher (fight books), and demonstrate how Hebrew illuminated manuscripts can shed more light on the study of fight books iconography.

Figure 1: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France héb. 9, fols 104v–105r, Germany 1304
Figure 2: Detail. BnF, MS héb. 9, fols 104v–105r

The micrography-forming verses in this manuscript are from Jeremiah 10.22–13.1. Not all the words that make up the image come from Jeremiah 10–13 and most of them are related to Jeremiah 11.22: ‛The young men shall die by the sword, their boys and girls shall die by famine’. Thus, it is clear that the artist’s choice of verses for the micrography was intended to relate not only to the words of Jeremiah, but also to the meaning of the opening page and with a focus on the sword and the danger about which the prophecy speaks. The clothing of the figures discussed here is not typically identified with any particular group or religion; the figures are wearing coifs, which were common among all of the societal strata. Warriors, especially knights, are portrayed in Jewish manuscripts as both Jewish and Christian figures.[3]

Figure 3: Detail. BnF, MS héb. 9, fol. 104v

The figures with the swords, as the texts imply, were designed to arouse fear in the hearts of the viewers, as they might represent the Gentile inhabitants of the urban space, that is, they may reflect a fear of Christian neighbors. The manuscript was produced six years after the 1298 riots known as the Rindfleisch Massacres, so we may find in this micrography an echo of the pogrom’s outcome, especially as the text of Jeremiah and the micrography-forming verses tell of severe judgment and harsh prophecy; the emphasis is on the sword that brings death. As the masorator (the person copying the Masorah text) also created the image, even though someone else might have designed it, we see a tight connection between the text and the image it forms.

Figure 4: Detail. BnF, MS héb. 9, fol. 105r

The portrayal of the fighting men in manuscript BnF, MS héb. 9, fols 104v–105r (figs. 1-4) predates the earliest illuminated fencing manual, Leeds, MS I. 33 (fig. 5). Both manuscripts, which were produced in early the fourteenth-century German lands, reflect similar iconography of the fighting posture as well as of the gloves and garments,[4] as can be seen even in the details of the flared gloves, which are displayed with a line and round decorations along the edge of the cuff. Therefore, we may assume that both were copied from similar sources, perhaps model books for fighting. Of course, one principal difference is that in BnF, MS héb. 9 there is no close combat, as the characters are separated by the four lines of Masorah text between them.

Figure 5: Leeds, Royal Armouries, MS FECHT 1 (previously listed as I. 33), fols. 10v-11r, Germany ca. 1320

Similar iconography does not necessarily mean that one was copied from the other, but rather that a common prototype copy or other manuscripts of fencing treatises might have been circulating in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, especially as we find similar iconography in a Hebrew manuscript from around the same time and place. Such an evidence of an earlier iconographical model can be found in a Jewish prayer book, known as the Michael Mahzor, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Mich. 617, produced in German lands in 1258. An even earlier example is found in the Ambrosian Bible, Milan, Ambrosiana B. 32 Inf., fol. 34v, produced in Germany 1236-1238, displaying two fighting hybrids with sword and buckler. Thus, looking at Jewish illuminated manuscripts may shed more light on earlier models used for portraying fighting with this type of equipment.

Cite this article as: Sara Offenberg, "Sword and Buckler in Hebrew Letters: Traces of Early Illuminated German Fight Books in Jewish Manuscripts," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 09/02/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1203.

[1] Franck Cinato and André Surprenant, Le livre de l’art du combat: Liber de arte dimicatoria (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2015); Jeffrey L.Forgeng, The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship Royal Armouries MS I.33 (Leeds: United Kingdom Royal Armouries Museum, 2018).

[2] ‛Micrography, also termed “masorah figurata,” has been adopted as the name for a unique Jewish art that creates the outlines of miniature ornamentation in manuscripts of the Bible and adorns their margins … It is generally fashioned from Masoretic Texts, which are lexical texts that are designed to preserve the biblical text and its precision’. Dalia-Ruth Halperin, ‛Micrography’, Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception 18 (2020), p. 1179.

[3] Sara Offenberg, Up in Arms: Images of Knights and the Divine Chariot in Esoteric Ashkenazi Manuscripts of the Middle Ages (Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 2019); Joseph Shatzmiller, ‛Fromme Juden und christlich-höfische Ideale im Mittelalter’, Arye-Maimon-Vortrag an der Universität Trier, 7. November 2007 (Trier: Trier Universität, 2008), 9–29.

[4] I should note that sometimes in Hebrew illuminated manuscripts the iconography is reversed from left to right in a mirror view, so a certain known guard may be flipped in BnF, MS héb. 9.

Assault on the church

The passage commented on this article is taken from a chronicle written in the last years of the fifteenth century by the notary Iacopo Malga from Brescia. This interesting passage demonstrates the bellicosity of the inhabitants of Brescia’s valleys, in particular that of Val del Garza and Val Trompia. In the last years of the twelfth century the hermit Costanzo founded a church and a monastery on the mountain (Conche mountain) that separates these two valleys. He was later sanctified after his death[1]. In 1443, following the transfer of the religious complex to the nuns of Santa Caterina in Brescia, the Dominican fathers set out in search of the remains of the holy founder, hidden inside the church. The remains were found only in 1481 and then brought to Brescia in the same year. This transfer was at risk of degenerating into a proper carnage, as Iacopo Malga reports:

Fig.1: The complex of Conche, Photo credit: Mik2001.

“[…] Men from neighbouring villages were involved in the transfer of the saint’s body from the church of Conche. The inhabitants of the villages of Nave, Caino, Lumezzane and certain other villages had heard of the discovery, and many went to Conche, armed with partesane (partizans), giaverine, and even sticks. They had the support of some citizens of Brescia, such as the late Count Luigi Avogadro and others who had an interest in those lands. Their intention was to force the local friars to give up the relics. One of them, the Venetian Tommaso Donato — prior priest of the convent of San Domenico, a talented theologian, good preacher and currently patriarch of Venice — decided to hide the body inside the church tower, to ensure that the villagers would not find it. It was a useless attempt because the villagers — furious — climbed the bell tower, damaged it and took the body from the friars by force. They carried it, kept inside a chest, down the mountain into the land of Nave. Some of these villagers animatedly discussed friar Tommaso inside the church, and also tried to kill him with the ronche (bills), but he managed to escape. The villagers acted like this out of devotion to the saint: they said that few would know him as long as his body remained in Conche. Some of them were imprisoned, but they came out of prison cursing the saint and swearing they never knew him[2].

On the one hand, the passage quoted above shows all the bellicosity of the inhabitants of the valleys, driven into homicidal fury for several reasons. In addition, we should consider, at least in part, the religious devotion towards the saint and the willingness — reported also by the notary — to give his remains a more prestigious allocation. On the other hand, some noblemen supported the expedition. The counts of Avogadro, mentioned in the chronicle, had kept Lumezzane as a fiefdom since 1427 and had every interest in the glorification of a saint who had worked in the vicinity of their territories. The expedition was not that of a feudal army, but these noblemen probably manipulated the commoners and created a kind of “popular militia”. The local rulers appropriately exploited the ferocity of the inhabitants of the two valleys, on more than one occasion. In 1512, the people of Nave, under the leadership of the condottiero Valerio Paitone, heroically resisted the French assaults, at least until the sacking of the 26th July[3]. The Venetians integrated the inhabitants of the valleys into the cernide, the military corps recruited in the mainland of the Serenissima[4]. The militiamen of the valleys were harquebusiers, unlike those of the Brescia plain, who formed regiments of pikemen[5]. The governors of Brescia in their reports to the Consiglio dei X repeatedly celebrated the value of these highlanders and their attachment to Venetian rule[6].

Fig.2: Saint Costanzo and Beato Innocenzo, Saint Maurizio Church of Niardo (Brescia),
Photo credit: Luca Giarelli.

The reference to the arms used by the inhabitants is also quite interesting Partisans, chiaverine, bills and even sticks[7] are mentioned in the passage cited above. Except for the bills, we do not know and cannot exactly establish the type of the first two arms described. There is no exact correspondence between the current terms and those used at the time in the territories of Brescia. They were certainly hafted arms, hardly distinguishable improvised agricultural tools — in particular in the case of the bills[8].

Fig.3: Italian bill from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1500 c., inv. 14.25.159. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Curiously, all three villages mentioned in the testimony, namely Nave, Caino and Lumezzane, were all known for arms manufacturing. In 1609-1610, swords pommel were produced in Lumezzane and at the beginning of the nineteenth century flintlock mechanisms and bayonets[9]. Swords were produced in Caino from the end of the sixteenth to the end of the seventeenth century[10]. In Nave, the same production has been recorded starting from the fourth decade of the sixteenth century, despite two forges that were already active from the end of the fifteenth century[11]. It is not known what exactly was produced in those forges in those earlier years but we can speculate that it was either arms or agricultural tools.

In conclusion, the passage reported covers two important aspects of Brescian history relevant to modern research on martial culture: first, the (successful) attempt by Brescia noblemen to create a “paramilitary” force, exploiting the bellicosity of the inhabitants of the valleys; second, the mention of the arms used by the villagers. It is indeed a peculiar fact, although not directly connected with the story, that the origins of the armed men could be traced to three cities known for their arm production. Nonetheless, as the Brescian illuminist Carlo Maggi wrote in 1781, the manufacture and use of arms were closely linked in the Brescia territories, and it contributed in making their inhabitants particularly warlike[12].

Cite this article as: Paolo De Montis, "Assault on the church," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 31/01/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1189.

[1] San Costanzo was born in the second half of the twelfth century, perhaps in Niardo in Val Camonica. He was from a noble family and served in the comune of Brescia as an official and general, until he decided to walk away from his wealth and become a hermit. He retired and went to live in Conche, a locality between the villages of Nave (Val del Garza) and Lumezzane (Valtrompia). There, he devoted himself to the study of the sacred scriptures [Carlo Doneda, Notizie di San Costanzo Eremita bresciano e Memorie istoriche del monastero di S. Caterina di Brescia (Brescia: Giammaria Rizzardi, 1755)].

[2] Cronaca del notaio Iacopo Malga, Le cronache inedite bresciane, Vol. I, ed. by Paolo Guerrini (Brescia: Moretto, 1922), 4-135 (pp. 35-36).

The remains of San Costanzo were brought to the church of Santa Caterina di Brescia, apart the bones of one of its arms, and then splitbetween the church of San Domenico and the Duomo. The relics are currently kept inside the parish church of Nave. The saint is the patron of Nave and Niardo, and he is celebrated on the twelfth of February.

[3] Carlo Pasero, Francia, Spagna, Impero a Brescia (1509-1516) (Brescia: Tipo-Lito Fratelli Geroldi, 1957). Sanuto claims that on 25 April 1512: “[…] the French had gone to loot the valley of Nave: they returned to Brescia wounded and humiliated, many of them having died. San Marco wanted to show him that he was the defender and the protector of the Venetians” [I diari di Sanuto, Vol. XIV (Venice: F. Visentini, 1886), p. 293].

[4] Carlo Pasero, “Aspetti dell’ordinamento militare del territorio bresciano durante il dominio veneto”, Commentari dell’Ateneo di Brescia, 1937, 9-39; Francesco Rossi, “Le armature da munizione e l’organizzazione delle cernide nel bresciano”, Archivio Storico Lombardo, 1971, 169-186; John Halle, “Brescia and the Venetian Military System in the Cinquecento”, in Armi e Cultura nel Bresciano 1420-1870 (Brescia: Tipo-Lito Fratelli Geroldi, 1981), 97-119 (italian traduction: 121-139).

[5] An interesting document found by the author in Nave’s archive reports about a military drill, which took place in the village on 24 October 1563. Captain Hieronimo Negro arrived that day in the village, along with his faithful sergeant Tamburino, to conduct the drill of the territorial ordinance. We know that the men who participated in the drill were harquebusiers from a specific reference in the document: “[…] so (the captain) distributed or had distributed to those equally powder for the harquebuses” (Nave Archive, Sezione Antico Regime [1509-post 1785], busta 1, fasc. 4, n. 65).

[6] Report by the Captain of Brescia Marino Cavalli, 1554: “This second valley is the Val Trompia, crossed by the Mella. It has many good lands and about 18,000 souls, and they are men who are estimated to be more ferocious and more belligerent than all the others […] They are very loyal to the Serenissima”.

Report by the Captain of Brescia Antonio Lando, 1611: “I have visited the three valleys – Valcamonica, Val Trompia and Val Sabbia: they are worthy of all esteem. In these valleys there are 900 service soldiers, good and very well disciplined by Captain Giacomo Negroboni […]” [Relazioni dei rettori veneti in terraferma. Vol. XI: Podestaria e capitanato di Brescia, ed. by Amelio Tagliaferri (Varese: Dott. A. Giuffrè for the Istituto di Storia Economica, 1978), pp. 49 e 211].

[7] According to current terminology: Chiaverina: A kind of spear with a wide blade and two wings in the haft.

[…] Partizan: Dagona-shaped blade with two wings at the bottom. It derived from the spiedo alla bolognese towards the end of the fifteenth century or in the first decades of the following century. It remained in use as a representative arm for most of the eighteenth century” [Carlo De Vita, Armi Bianche dal Medioevo all’Età Moderna (Firenze: Centro Di, 1983), p. 30].

[8] Mario Troso, Le armi in asta delle fanterie europee dal 1000 al 1500 (Novara: Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1988), pp. 137-253.

[9] Il Catastico Bresciano di Giovanni De Lezze (1609-1610), Vol. I, ed. by Carlo Pasero (Brescia: F. Apollonio, 1969), p. 190; Giovanni Battista Brocchi, Trattato mineralogico e chimico sulle miniere di ferro del dipartimento del Mella con l’esposizione della costituzione fisica delle montagne metallifere della Val Trompia, Vol. I (Brescia: Nicolò Bettoni, 1808), p. 95. Lumezzane is also home to the Erede Gnutti company, famous throughout the world for the quality of its foils.

[10] Sandro Rossetti, Le fucine della Valle del Garza (Brescia: Grafo, 1996), pp. 52-59; Caino, ed. by Roberto Gotti (Brescia: Punto Marte, 2011).

[11] Rossetti cit., pp. 39-47.

[12] Carlo Maggi, Del genio armigero del popolo bresciano. Saggio politico (Brescia: Daniel Berlendis, 1781), pp. 23-24.

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 3

This third, and the following two parts, of this six-part essay examine the evidence available to provide an explanation as to where such equipment as Sir William Stewart of Castlemilk’s silver sallet may have come from: royal gift, purchase, and plunder.

‘A ung homme d’armes natif du pays d’Escoce […] un harnoiz’

On 26 May 1447 King Charles forked out 2,726 livres 5 sous tournois for seventy-five harnesses and thirteen brigandines. A harness is the term for a complete plate armour. A brigandine is a flexible torso defence constructed of fabric and metal plates (Figure 1 and Figure 2). A number of these were gifted and distributed (‘donné et fait distribuer’) thus:

A ung homme d’armes natif du pays d’Escoce nommé Matasselin; un harnoiz, à un grant homme d’armes du dit pays d’Escosse nommé Unfroy Coningnam, un harnois; à Gilbert, archier de la garde du corps dudit seigneur, que ledit seigneur luy a donné pour envoyer en Escosse, un harnoiz […] à Robert Hounter, homme d’armes, ung harnoiz […] à Robert Conignan, trois harnoiz et une brigandine dorée; à un archier, une brigandine commune.[1]

The payment for these was made to ‘Balsazin de Trez, marchant de Milan, armurier’. Such royal gifts of martial equipment were entirely dependent on urban centres and their inhabitants.

Fig.1: Glasgow Museums, Hercules and his Companions on Mount Olympus or Hercules Initiating the Olympic Games (detail), 46.80, tapestry, Belgium, c. 1465-1470.

Wise Guys’ Supplies: The Milanese Connection

On 12 October 1455 Francesco, duke of Milan, wrote to Charles VII to request safe conduct for Balzarino da Trezo, armourer of our City (‘armorero de questa nostra cita’). He also asked that this be revoked if necessary ‘so that Balzarino does not bring any craftsmen of his art outwith our jurisdiction’ (‘non condure alcuni lavoratori de l’arte sua fuora della nostra jurisdictione’).[2] But the Duke could not put the genie back in the bottle. Balzarin and his brother Gasparin (Lombard versions of Balthazar and Caspar – presumably there was a third brother to make up the Magi: the Three Wise Men) had been granted letters of naturalization between 1449 and 1450 and were firmly ensconced at Tours.[3] An extract from the letter granted to their fellow Milanese business partner conveys the importance of such men to the French war effort. The King extends his thanks for ‘the good and agreeable service that the said supplicant has done us in times past with sale of harness, wishing to attract this in our said realm’ (‘bons et aggreables services que le dict suppliant nous a faiz le temps passé ou dict fait de marchandise de harnois, voulans icelui attraire en nostre dict royaume’).[4]

Fig.2: Royal Armouries, Brigandine, III.1664, Italy, 1470.

It is up for debate if Balzarin and his compatriots were craftsmen or merchants (or indeed both). In a document of 1477 Gabriel de Trez is named as the son of ‘sire Balsarin de Tres, valet de chambre et armurier du roi’.[5] What is indisputable is that they were able to shift a quality product.In Parisian regulations of 1407 the charge was levelled that German-made haubergeons are ‘not of such sure work as is made in parts of Lombardy’ (‘pas si seurs ouurages que on fait esd[i]c[t]es partes de lombardie’). It is, it was claimed, in ‘good towns of Lombardy where they are accustomed to make and work good and secure armours’ (‘bonnes villes de lombardie ou len a acoustume faire & ouurer de bonnes et seures armeures’). Worse still, these knock-offs were being flogged off to unwitting buyers with false marks or signs (‘faulses marques ou saigns’).[6] Three years later an unscrupulous merchant was slapped with a fine of 100 Parisian sous for attempting to sell three haubergeons ‘signe et m[ar]quez du saing de milan’.[7]

Fig.3: Glasgow Museums, Haubergeon, E.1939.65.e.14, Germany, 14th century.

English fighters too, appreciated the quality. For instance, one hauberk of Milan (‘vna[m] lorica[m] de milayne’) was bequeathed by Sir Philip Darcy in his will of 16 April 1399.[8] In 1464 Sir John Howard lent out ‘a salate of fyn melen wethe a veser’, ‘a fyne salat of melen wethe a veser’, and another of his men ‘hathe on[e] of my fyneeste salates of melen, wethe a veser’.[9]

That the silver sallet was a gift to Sir William is a strong possibility. The next two instalments deal with two alternatives: purchase and plunder.

Cite this article as: Ralph Moffat, "Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 3," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 15/01/2021, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1180.

[1] Chronique de Mathieu d’Escouchy, ed. by G. Du Fresne de Beaucourt, 3 vols (Paris: Renouard, 1863-64), III, 255-56. The original document – if it survives – is probably in the Archives nationales.

[2] Jacopo Gelli and Gaetano Moretti, Gli armaroli milanesi. I Missaglia e la loro casa (Milan: Hoepli, 1903), p. 5, citing Milan, Archivio di Stato di Milano, Missivi ducale, no. 25, fol. 139r.

[3] Paris, Archives nationales, JJ//180, no. 1403, fol. 94r: ‘Gasparinon et Balsarino de Trez’. The toponymic Tres/Trez reflects the Lombard pronunciation of Trezzo.

[4] Paris, Archives nationales, JJ 180, no. 111, fol. 50r, printed in Françoise Mighaud-Fréjaville, ‘Être naturalisé dans la vallée de la Loire (1450-1501)’, Annuaire-Bulletin de la Société de l’histoire de France, unnumbered(2011), 3-13 (p. 12).

[5] Tours, Archives départementales d’Indre-et-Loire, 37, 3E1/2.

[6] Paris, Archives nationales, Y//2, Châtelet de Paris, Livre rouge vieil, fol. 237r.

[7] Paris, Archives nationales, Registres des sentences civiles du Châtelet, Y//5227, fol. 173v.

[8] York, Borthwick Institute, Abp Reg. 16: Richard Scrope, fol. 134v. The Latin name lorica was specifically applied to the hauberk at this time. See R. Moffat, ‘The Manner of Arming Knights for the Tourney: A Re-Interpretation of an Important Early-14th-Century Arming Treatise’, Arms & Armour, 7 (2010), 5-29 (at pp. 13-14).

[9] Manners and Household Expenses of England in the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Centuries Illustrated by Original Records, ed. by T. H. Turner (London: Nichol, 1841), p. 440. The original document is likely in the archives at Arundel Castle.

The Arms & Armour of the Guilds in the Leugemeete Chapel: A Case of Individual Taste?

Brugsepoortsraat (roughly translating to “Bruges Gate Street”) was a major thoroughfare in medieval Ghent, running through most of the western sections of the city outside of the walls proper. In the early fourteenth century, alongside considerable interest in re-fortifying much of the city itself, the existing gates that enclosed the extramural sections were heavily fortified and new ones were built; this effectively enclosed previously opened sections of the city and brought them into the corpus urbanum proper.[1] One such property that was effectively absorbed into the city itself was the Chapel of Saint John and Saint Paul; later known as the “Leugemeete” or “liar” due to a broken a clock on its façade.[2] Demolished in 1912, the chapel housed a suite of monumental wall paintings, which are now preserved in a series of watercolour paintings and wax calques.[3] The chapel was founded in 1316 as a charity for women, and then patronised by the guilds circa 1334.[4] The visual programme included patron portraits of its titular saints, a donor portrait in the form of a prayerful Count Louis I of Flanders (c. 1304 – Aug. 25, 1346), his son Louis II (1330 – 1384), and his wife, Margaret I, Countess of Artois (1310 – May 9, 1382), and a depiction of Christ in Resurrection on the eastern wall—perhaps suggesting the presence of an Easter chapel. Most importantly for scholars of late medieval guilds, however, were the series of monumental guildsmen painted in procession along the upper sections of the chapel, accompanied by pennants and trumpeters and marching towards the altar (Fig.1).[5]

Fig.1: Water colour rendering of the Leugemeete murals by Felix DeVigne, circa 1846. Archive, UGhent 446419BE

            The degree to which autonomous towns and cities such as Ghent took their defence seriously can be inferred by how much money and effort they spent on organising their civic defenders.[6] However, cultural artefacts such as the wall paintings in the Leugemeete are also indicative of the degree to which certain guilds and confraternities asserted their influence throughout their respective urban communities. Just as importantly, liminal visual representations of the guilds—scarce though they may be—provide insight into facets of their organisation and armament that are otherwise lost within armoury inventories and expenditure reports. The relationship between civic defenders and their local arsenals has recently gathered renewed interest among historians of the period, though most of the information at hand is reserved to the early modern period.[7] There are eight distinct, extant groups depicted in procession: the city watch (known as the Witte Kaproenen or “white caps” for their unique head coverings),[8] the Brotherhood of St George (as indicated by a standard bearing a singularly large cross), two unidentified cohorts, the butcher’s guild, the fishmonger’s guild (or poissoniers), and finally for the south wall the baker’s guild. The only extant guild iconography on the north wall is the textile cutter’s guild.[9] All of these attributions are predicated upon the renderings of De Vigne and Bethune, which will prove more than adequate for the purposes of this essay.[10]

Fig.2: Calque reproduction by Jean-Baptiste Bethune and company, circa 1860.
STAM, Ghent, 09555.6-6

            Starting with the city watch, a number of weapons appear alongside the defenders (Fig.2).[11] The mounted man atop the front-facing horse holds a spurred crossbow aloft, while the crowded assemblage of men next to him wield a mix of bows, spears, goedendags (the infamous Flemish spiked club), and small swords at their sides. The diverse nature of their weaponry seems conducive to the aims of a permanent military force, and the specific emphasis being placed on the presence of skilled weaponry such as the bow would appear to corroborate this. Next we have the Brotherhood of St George, who uniformly exhibit their weapon of choice—the crossbow. After them come the first of the two unidentified groups of soldiers, their standard emblazoned with two shields and five crosses. This group carry shields, as well as a variety of spears and goedendags. The second group, similarly unidentified, is of particular interest. They carry shields, like the group just before and dissimilar to the city watch and the Brotherhood of St George, but contain a plurality of weapon varieties that are not present elsewhere in the visual programme (Fig.3 and Fig.4).[12] Lead by a helmeted soldier with his visor upraised, the group contains spears, goedendags, falchions, and axes. The latter two stand out, as aside from a single curved blade seen amongst the ranks of the fishmongers; this group is the only extant cohort of soldiers wielding these specific weapons. The first inclination here is to fixate upon the presence of the axe—single bladed and attached to a long wooden haft—to potentially identify this particular assemblage. Save the unidentified confraternity marching in front of them, this group appears between the civic associations of the city watch and Brotherhood of Saint George, and the beginning of the gathered craft guilds. Using said context, the presence of the axe could indicate a particular craft guild with which said implement would be associated; woodworkers (scrinewerkers, coopers, etc.) of some fashion. However, the prominence with which the falchion is displayed in conjunction with the axe seems to indicate that these weapons function less as indicators of occupation and more as signifiers of prestige. This is most apparent in the last soldier in the party, his massive falchion ostentatiously set against his shoulder for all to see. These members of the militia are defined as being both skilled and wealthy enough to afford particularly notable weapons, and though the contribution of burghers to town militias became much more prominent in the early modern period, could indicate that these specific militiamen were separate from both holy confraternity and craft guild—or at the very least are attempting to indicate as much.[13] The presence of a group of artisans who were not necessarily affiliated with the craft guilds is not without precedent in medieval guild procession, as demonstrated by the participation of the cloth-sellers guild in Leuven and Mechelen.[14] Contemporary documents list the constituent parts of the corpus urbanum as “the mayors, the aldermen, the council, the headmen of the burghers, the deans and sworn men of all the craft guilds, and all the collective commons”, and this descending hierarchical list is reflected in the order by the groups are marching in the Leugemeete.[15]

Fig.3(A): Calque reproduction by Jean-Baptiste Bethune and company, circa 1860.
STAM, Ghent, 09555.4-6
Fig.4(B): Calque reproduction by Jean-Baptiste Bethune and company, circa 1860.
STAM, Ghent, 09555.5-6

            The presence of a group of burghers wielding a personalised assortment of weaponry is notable, as it disrupts the traditional narrative that town militias were dominated by the craft guilds and indicates a broader level of civic participation in their collective defence that is usually relegated to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It also suggests that these weapons were provided—and prized—by the individuals wielding them; a luxury that may have been unattainable for many craft guilds but demonstrably possible for other civic associations. Above all else, I hope this essay has demonstrated the inherent value in utilizing guild iconography to further understand the functions of a considerable substrata of urban life in the later medieval period.

Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank Dr Kelly DeVries for the exchange from which this essay stems.

Cite this article as: Noah Smith, "The Arms & Armour of the Guilds in the Leugemeete Chapel: A Case of Individual Taste?," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 31/12/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1169.

[1] For a breakdown of the urban development of fourteenth-century Ghent, see Dumolyn et al: Jan Dumolyn, Marc Ryckaert, Heidi Deneweth, Luc Devliegher, Guy Dupont, Medieval Bruges c.850-1550, ed. by Andrew Brown, Jan Dumolyn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 152-195

[2] Jeannine Baldewijns, Lieve Watteeuw , ‘Calques van de muurschilderingen uit de Leugemeete met vourstelling van de stedelijk milities (1861-2004)’, Handelingen der Maatschappij voor Geschiedenis en Oudheidkunde te Gent, LX, (2006), 337-367 (p.340).

[3] The water colours were done by Felix De Vigne, an antiquarian who initially discovered the paintings under whitewash in 1946 and published his illustrations the following year: Félix De Vigne, Recherches Historiques sur Les Costumes Civils et Militaires des Gidles et des Corporations de Métiers, leurs Drapeaux, leurs Armes, leurs Brasons, etc. (Rue des Peignes: Gyselynck, 1847). The calques were undertaken by Baron Jean Baptiste Bethune and a team of historians and architects circa 1860 and are now housed in the STAM museum in Ghent.

[4] J.-B.C.F. Béthune de Villers, Alfons van Werveke, Het godshuis van Sint-Jan & Sint-Pauwel te Gent, bijgenaamd de Leugemeete, 2 edn (Gent: Annoot-Braeckman, 1902, p.IX

[5] Appendix, Fig. 1, Archive, UGhent 446419BE

[6] Jean Henri Chandler, ‘A brief examination of warfare by medieval urban militias in Central and Northern Europe ‘, Acta Periodica Duellatorum, 1, (2013), 106-150 (p. 109).

[7] For an overview of state armouries during the early modern period, see: Kelly DeVries, ‘State Armies in Theory and Practice during the Renaissance’, Krieg in der Geschichte, 111, (2019), 43-69.

[8] Carina Fryklund, Late Gothic Wall Painting in the Southern Netherlands (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepolis, 2011), p. 53

[9] As identified by Felix De Vigne.

[10] There is some evidence of artistic invention in the antiquarian renderings of the wall paintings; I unpack this in my thesis, which is still forthcoming.

[11] Appendix. Fig. 2, STAM, Ghent, 09555.6-6

[12] Appendix, Fig. 3, A / STAM, Ghent, 09555.4-6, B / STAM, Ghent, 09555.5-6.

[13] Chandler, p. 112

[14] Jelle Haemers, Artisans and craft guilds in the medieval city, in V. Lambert & P. Stabel, Golden times. Wealth and Status in the Middle Ages in the Southern Low Countries, Tielt, Lannoo, (2016) 209-239, p.213

[15] Jan Dumolyn, ‘Guild Politics and Political Guilds in Fourteenth-Century Flanders’, The Voices of the People in Late Medieval Europe, Communication and Popular Politics, ed. By Jan Dumolyn, Jelle Haemers, Hipolito Rafael Oliva Herrer, Vincent Challet, Turnhout 2014 (Studies in European Urban History, 33), p.15-48, p. 15

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 2

The second instalment this six-part essay identifies the most likely owner of the silver sallet. It explains why he, his kinsmen, and many of his compatriots were to be found in France’s urban centres at a critical juncture in the Hundred Years War.

A Desperate Dauphin

To say that Charles’s fortunes were at a low ebb by the start of the siege of Orléans in October of 1428 would be far too generous. A fairer oceanic metaphor would be that his fortunes were stranded in mudflats facing a rushing incoming tide. But the tide was to turn. Thanks to the Auld Alliance of 1295 French monarchs had secured the aid of the Scots. Such scholars as Michael Brown have demonstrated that the large forces of fighting men (and boys) commanded by Scottish magnates were raised from their own private retinues bound by ties of landholding and kinship.[1] There are, therefore, no detailed records of the nature of those of England such as muster rolls and service indentures. It is likely that up to 15,000 Scots were involved, many of them skilled archers.[2] This is a staggering number given the small size of this northern realm. For the crucial role played by the Scots one need only refer to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries for such war leaders as Archibald, earl of Douglas, John Stewart, earl of Buchan, and Sir John Stewart of Darnley.

Desperately-needed aid was soon to arrive at Orléans in the form of a cyclops, his brother, and some hard fighting men.

Fig.1: John Hassall, Bannockburn, 1914-15, Glasgow Museums, ID No. 1386.

Billy the Kid Brother to the Connétable

Two Stewarts appear as characters in a play about the siege of Orléans, probably written not long after the conflict itself. One is ‘Le Connétable d’Écosse Lord John Stuart de Darnley’ the other is ‘Messire Guillaume Estuart’.[3] Sir John had been appointed to one of the highest military ranks. There are royal lettres patentes of 1423 granting ‘la ville, leur chastel et Chastelline d’Aubigny […] à Jean Stuart, seigneur de Darnelle et Concressault, conestable de l’armee d’Ecosse, [… et] à ses hoirs [sic] males descendants de son corps’.[4] In a payment to his Connétable, Charles refers to ‘his ancient enemies and adversaries of England’ (‘ses anciens ennemis et adversaires d’Angleterre’).[5] This is somewhat of an understatement. Sir John lost his half-brother, great grandfather (and his two brothers), and great great grandfather in battle against them – he even lost an eye before his capture at Cravant (31 July 1423). Such epic clashes with the ‘Auld Innemie’ have proved themselves an enduring inspiration to many artists across the centuries (Figure 1, Figure 2, and Figure 3).

Fig.2: Sir John Maxwell, Battle of Otterburn-Death of Douglas and Capture of Sir Ralph Percy, 19th century, Glasgow Museums, ID No. NR.89.
Fig.3: Sir William Alan, Heroism and Humanity, 1802-50, Glasgow Museums, ID No. 1233.

The coat of arms of ‘Le s[eigneu]r de dernele’ is recorded in Berry Herald’s beautiful armorial produced in the middle of the fifteenth century (Figure 4).[6] On the following folio is ‘Le s[eigneu]r de chastelmont’ (Figure 5).[7] The blazon on each features a gold field with a distinctive central, horizontal, band checkered with blue and silver – or, a fess chequy azure and argent. This proclaims their kinship with the royal Stewart dynasty. The second has a diagonal red band (bendlet gules) that passes under the fess chequy as a mark of difference. These are the arms of Sir William Stewart of Castlemilk, Sir John’s younger brother, and the most likely candidate for the owner of the silver sallet.

Fig.4: Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Français 4985, fol. 158r.

Sir William’s lactose-like title comes from the lands of Castlemilk in Lanarkshire. The name’s origin lies with an ancestor’s castle on the Water of Milk, a tributary of the River Annan in the far south-west of the country.

Fig.5: Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Français 4985, fol. 159r.

So, how did Sir William come into the possession of such a fine piece of armour as the sallet? One possibility is that it was made in, or imported into, his own realm. Unfortunately, due to the paucity of sources, it is incredibly difficult to construct a picture of armour production in Scotland.[8]

In the next three installments I examine three possible explanations: gift, purchase, and plunder.

Cite this article as: Ralph Moffat, "Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 2," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 10/12/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1156.

[1] Michael Brown, The Black Douglases: War and Lordship in Late Medieval Scotland, 1300-1455 (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1998), p. 153 and pp. 216-23. See also M. H. Brown, ‘“Men, Brave and Strong”: Bannockburn, the Auld Alliance and Scottish Martial Identity in the Later Middle Ages’, in Scotland and the First World War: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Bannockburn, ed. by Gill Plain (Lanham, MD: Bucknell University Press, 2017), pp. 49-64 (esp. pp. 55-57).

[2] R. Moffat, ‘Armour’, in A Companion to Chivalry, ed. by Robert W. Jones and Peter Coss (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2019), pp. 159-85 (at p. 164).

[3] Le Mistère du siège d’Orléans, ed. by F. Guessard and E. De Certain (Paris: Imprimerie Impériale, 1862), p. xlviii and p. 255.

[4] Paris, Archives nationales, K 168, no. 91.

[5] Jules Loiseleur, ‘Compte des dépenses faites par Charles VII pour secourir Orléans pendant le siège de 1428’, Mémoires de la Société Archéologique de l’Orléanais, 11 (1868), 1-209 (p. 184). The account published by Loiseleur is a seventeenth-century copy of a lost original.

[6] Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 4985, fol. 158r.

[7] Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 4985, fol. 159r.

[8] A detailed study drawing on surviving royal records is David H. Caldwell, ‘Royal Patronage of Arms and Armour Making in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Scotland’, in Scottish Weapons and Fortifications, 1100-1800, ed. by David H. Caldwell (Edinburgh: Donald, 1981), pp. 73-93.

Norse Towns in Middle Irish Historical Literature

The modern Irish cities of Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford were founded around the year 800CE by Old Norse-speaking Vikings. These and other smaller Hiberno-Norse towns became important players in Gaelic Irish dynastic struggles of the ninth to eleventh centuries. Archaeology provides valuable information about the footprint of these towns, but their actual appearance from century to century is difficult to ascertain. Additional textual evidence comes from sources, which narrate the history of the Norse in Ireland for a patron.

Fig.1: © National Museum of Ireland. Three axes dating to the 11th or early 12th century from Lough Corrib, Co. Galway, Ireland. These axes are associated with the Norse, but the date and place of their discovery indicates a Gaelic Irish adoption of the weapon.

The most famous of these sources is Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib, written about Brian Bóru for his great-grandson Muirchertach Ua Briain around 1100.[1] Two others are Cathréim Cellacháin Caisil written for Cormac Mac Cárthaig around 1130,[2] and the Cerball of Osraige saga written for the Mac Giolla Phádraig dynasty around 1030 and preserved in the Fragmentary Annals.[3] These sources describe war with the Norse in the ninth and tenth century, as well as the 1014 Battle of Clontarf in Dublin within Cogad. Where the Viking settlements in these narratives have features such as walls and battlements, the description likely matches the Hiberno-Norse towns of the author’s awareness.


Dublin is described in Cogadh as two settlements: Dubhlinn (‘Dark-pool’) which became Dyflin in Old Norse, and Atha Cliath (‘Ford of Reed Hurdles’), which survives in modern Irish as Baile Átha Cliath. At one point the Norse town is described as ‘Dublin of Áth Cliath’[4], which suggests that, Dubhlinn may be the specific name for the Norse region, while Áth Cliath is the general settlement on the River Liffey. There is a town (baile) and a market (margad, a Norse loan word) where Brian sets up camp, as well as a fortress (dún).[5]

This fortress is associated with Hiberno-Norse ruler Amlaibh, who submits to Brian and as part of their agreement gets back ‘his fortress’ (a dhún).[6] The plain of Clontarf is visible from this fortress, as Amlaibh’s son Sitriuc watches the famous battle of 1014 from his personal quarters (grianan féin)[7] on the battlement. There is also an open space or green (faci) to the west, in the area of modern Kilmainham.[8]


Limerick is Luimneach in Middle Irish and transposed into Old Norse as Hlymrekr. Cogadh describes a fort and a ‘good town’ (degbali)[9] there. It is unclear if there are also residences within the fort, as Brian’s men enter the fort and then slaughter the Norse ‘on the streets and in the houses’ (ar na srathaib 7 isna taigib).[10] The Norse who escape regroup in the ‘western harbour of Limerick’ (iartharach Lumnig),[11] the seaward side of the River Shannon.

A similar scene in Cellacháin sees the titular character’s forces go into Limerick, where the Norse cannot ‘close the gates’ (na doirsi na dunad) of the fort and are slaughtered ‘in the houses and in the towers’ (isna tignibh 7 isna toraibh). There are civilians present in Limerick, as the Norse give up ‘their wives and children [lit. dear sons] and households’ (mna 7 a maccaemha 7 a muintera) to Cellachán and his men.[12] 


Waterford is Port Láirge (‘Lárag’s Port’) in Middle Irish and Veðrafjörður (‘Wether [i.e. Ram] Fjord’) in Old Norse. In the saga of Cerball, the Norse are driven ‘into a small town with stone fortification around it’ (i mbaile beg 7 cloch dhaingean ime) and one of their leaders goes ‘up onto the rampart’ (ar an chaisiol).[13] The Norse are besieged and a few of them escape, with wealthy spoils and ‘beautiful women left behind’ (ban caomh ro fagbhaid ann sin),[14] indicating the presence of noncombatants.

Waterford also hosts civilians in Cellacháin, and may have been the designated place for the families of Norse across Munster. Cellachán’s men capture Limerick, Cork, and Cashel within the narrative and then go to Waterford. After winning a battle outside the town they go ‘where the women and families of the Norse were’ (a rabhatar mna 7 muinntera na Lochlannach) then burn the ‘town’ (baili). Cellachán’s forces then go onto the ‘green’ (faigthi) of Waterford, when a fleet of Norse ships arrives. The Norse already in Waterford close ‘the gates’ (doirsi) and attempt to defend themselves; nonetheless they are defeated once more by Cellachán and his men.[15]

Fig.2: © National Museum of Ireland. The magnificent sword from Lough Derg near Curraghmore, Co. Tipperary, dates from the 11th century and is decorated with silver niello and copper alloy.


Norse towns in these three Middle Irish texts are described with nearby greens (faichi), a town (baile), and a fort (dún) or other enclosure that can be closed with a gate (doirse). In Dublin, the fort seems to have been separate from the living quarters of the town, although both Amlaibh and Sitriuc have a personal connection to the fort. Noncombatants reside within the gates in Limerick and Waterford. Little is said about the harbours, which must have been vital for these towns, nor the mechanisms by which they collected tribute and supplies from their hinterlands. These ninth and tenth century Viking towns of the Irish imagination give us a snapshot of the eleventh and twelfth century Hiberno-Norse reality they encountered, which is hidden from us today by centuries of development.

Cite this article as: Annie C. Humphrey, "Norse Towns in Middle Irish Historical Literature," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 03/12/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1143.

[1] Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh: The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, or, The Invasions of Ireland by the Danes and Other Norsemen, ed. and trans. by J. H. Todd (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1867).

[2] Caithréim Cellacháin Caisil: The Victorious Career of Cellachan of Cashel, or, The Wars Between the Irishmen and the Norsemen in the Middle of the 10th Century, ed. and trans. by A. Bugge, Det Norske Historiske Kildeskriftfond (Christiana: J. Chr. Gundersens Bogtrykkeri, 1905).

[3] Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, ed. and trans. by J. N. Radner, (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1978). Also available online through Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT): <https://celt.ucc.ie/published/G100017/index.html>

[4] Cogadh ed. Todd, p. 35.

[5] Ibid., p. 113.

[6] Ibid., p. 119.

[7] Ibid., p. 191.

[8] Ibid., p. 151, 155.

[9] Ibid., p. 81.

[10] Ibid., p. 79.

[11] Ibid., p. 85.

[12] Cellacháin ed. Bugge, p. 66.

[13] Fragmentary Annals ed. Radner, p. 109.

[14] Ibid., p. 125.

[15] Cellacháin, p. 70-1.

Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part I

The aim of this six-part essay is to investigate the fortunes of a fighting knight in the 1420s, his armour, and the key role of urban centres in supporting the martial culture of his ilk. They are illustrated with objects from Glasgow Museums’ collections and others.

A Silver Sallet at Orléans in 1437

On 7 February 1437 the notaire of Orléans scribbled the following entry:

Olivier des Brosses et Jehan Phelippe, armeurier demourant a Orliens, receurent de Jehan Bourgeoys, cousturier demourant a Orliens, une salade appartenant a Guillaume Stewart, Escossoys comme ils disoient, bordee d’argent, avecques une hoppe d’argent, tout ledit argent pesant deux marcs sept onces comme ilz disoient, que ledit Bourgeoys avoit en gaige dudit Escossoys pour trois reaulx d’or

Olivier des Brosses and Jehan Phelippe, armourer of Orléans, have received from Jehan Bourgeoys, couturier (tailor) of Orléans, one sallet belonging to William Stewart, a Scot, as they claim, bordered with silver with a silver hoop, all the said silver weighs two marcs seven onces, as they claim, that the said Bourgeoys had accepted as a pledge from the said Scot for three royaux d’or.[1]

‘The most common and the best, as seems to me’

The sallet is a type of helmet. An anonymous Frenchman writing in 1446 of the arms and armour of his day understood that it afforded the fighting man good protection whilst allowing ease of movement, vision, and breathing: ‘the most common and the best, as seems to me, are the head defences called sallets’ (‘la plus co[m]mune et la meilleur a mon semblant est larmeure de teste qui se appelle sallades’).[2] It might be of one piece (Fig. 1) or fitted with a visor (Fig. 2). Some are beautifully-decorated works of art: examples being the one crafted as part of the harness for Archduke Sigismund of the Tyrol in the Kunsthistorisches Museum,Vienna, the sallet of Emperor Maximilian I in New York’s Metropolitan Museum and that of Philip I in the Real Armería, Madrid.

Fig. 1: Sallet forged in one piece with central flattened keel form ridge over the skull passing into long pointed tail at the back and descending sharply to horizontal sight slit in front, the lower edge of which juts beyond the upper; lining rivets surround the base of the skull at eye level and are continued inside on metal strap fixed to the brow of the sight slit. Germany.

 The silver borders referred to in the notaire’s entry were applied strips of decoration. An elegant survival of this type is the sabaton (plate foot defence) from the components of armour for the young Dauphin (later Charles VI) dedicated to Chartres Cathedral in the 1380s (now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chartres). On it are the remains of a border of silver-gilt fleur-de-lys.[3]

Fig. 2: Sculpture featuring a visored sallet. Stone head of a warrior, possibly from a statue of St George. Made in France , circa 1520.

We now have our silver sallet, but who was its owner? What was he doing pawning his martial equipment in this urban centre and why? Find out in the next installment.

Cite this article as: Ralph Moffat, "Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part I," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 16/11/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1125.

[1] Orléans, Archives départementales du Loiret, 3E10151, fol. 114v. I am extremely grateful to Prof. Kouky Fianu for her kind assistance locating this document and generously sharing her transcription.

[2] Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 1997, fol. 64r. A full scan of this MS is available at: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b9059047w/f36.image

[3] F. H. Cripps-Day, ‘The Armour at Chartres’, The Connoisseur, 110 (1942), 91-95.

Mastering Artillery and Festivities?: Burgh Appointments in Aberdeen in 1523

In April 1523, an entry in the council register of the Scottish burgh of Aberdeen appointed two individuals, Thomas Menzies and Patrick Lesly, as Masters of Artillery for the following year.[1] Out of context, this appointment seems unsurprising. The first recorded Masters of Artillery in Aberdeen were appointed in 1512; both Menzies and Lesly were significantly involved in burgh government in the 1520s and in April 1523 had also been appointed to a small council advising on defence against a feared English attack.[2] However, eyebrows are often raised for, in the same register entry, the two men were also appointed as Lords of Bon-Accord, Aberdeen’s ‘lord of misrule’ figure, who led the burgh’s traditional seasonal celebrations.[3] At first, appointing the Lords of Bon-Accord to take charge of the burgh artillery, particularly in a year in which war with England threatened, seems irresponsible, if not wilfully ignorant, on the part of the burgh council. However, further investigation highlights that the two roles shared several key similarities.  

Image: Map of New Aberdeen from James Gordon, Abredoniae novae et veteris description (1661). Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland from https://maps.nls.uk/towns/rec/209


Firstly, it is important to recognise the organisational scope of both roles. The Lords of Bon-Accord might be expected to organise plays, burgh ridings, decorations, dances, and banquets.[4] The role of the Masters of Artillery in Aberdeen involved acquiring supplies for the artillery, raising relevant funds, ensuring gunners were paid, and playing a role in organising the physical defence of the burgh.[5] Both roles therefore required an individual with both the time to facilitate, and the skill to organise, the activities within their remit.


Aberdeen’s civic government was relatively closed, and only limited individuals, like Menzies and Lesly, would be considered appropriate holders for roles which confirmed, or affirmed, status. Indeed, in Aberdeen in 1531 the role of the Lord of Bon-Accord was described specifically as ‘an office of honour.’[6] While the prestige of the role of the Master of Artillery was less explicitly stated, at the national level Lord Methven, the third husband of the Dowager Queen Margaret, was, in 1528, appointed ‘gret Lieutennat of the gret artilyhie quhilk with us is an office honourable’, suggesting that a command role over artillery imparted a degree of status and honour.[7] It is also notable that the Menzies family, who dominated Aberdeen’s politics in the sixteenth century, continually ensured their control of the burgh’s artillery, seemingly both for security and as a statement of status and authority.

Utilising Gunpowder

Masters of Artillery were involved in ensuring the burgh was supplied with gunpowder which was, in turn, frequently used during burgh festivities. Gunners commonly played a role on these occasions while, in Edinburgh, entertainments in the first half of the sixteenth century often referenced payments for gunpowder, sometimes explicitly delivered to the local equivalent of the Lord of Bon-Accord.[8] In Aberdeen, it is also known that an artillery salute was fired in 1512 at the royal entry of Queen Margaret, and that the Lords of Bon-Accord were heavily involved in organising royal visits to the burgh in 1492 and 1552.[9] It is highly likely, therefore, that the Lords of Bon-Accord would have played a role in organising the salute in 1512, although it is perhaps not coincidental that this is also the first year for which a record of the Masters of Artillery survives for the burgh.

The roles of Master of Artillery and Lord of Bon-Accord therefore, shared several common features – both required organisational skills, bestowed status and required a degree of mutual knowledge. While there is no evidence at present that the conflation of these roles was explicitly repeated, a recurrence would perhaps not be as surprising as it had, at first, appeared.

Cite this article as: Kirsty Haslam, "Mastering Artillery and Festivities?: Burgh Appointments in Aberdeen in 1523," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 09/11/2020, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/1119.

[1] Anna Mill, Medieval Plays in Scotland (Norwood, 1978), p. 142.

[2] ACA/1/9, p.108; ACA/1/11, p. 272; William Kennedy, An Alphabetical Index [….] 1398 – 1800 (copy), MS 595 (1826), Vol. 10 p.81; Vol. 11 p.99.

[3] Mill, Medieval Plays, p.142; Michael Lynch & H. Dingwall, ‘Elite Society in Town and Country’ in E. Patricia Dennison, David Ditchburn & Michael Lynch (eds), Aberdeen Before 1800: A New History (East Linton, 2002), p. 183.

[4] Mill, Medieval Plays, p. 27.

[5]ACA/1/11, p 90.

[6] Mill, Medieval Plays, p. 143.

[7] David Caldwell, Guns in Scotland: The manufacture and use of guns and their influence on warfare from the fourteenth century to c. 1625 (University of Edinburgh, Unpublished PhD thesis, 1981), pp. 181-2.

[8] Philip Butterworth, ‘Theatre of Fire: Special Effects in Early English and Scottish Theatre’ (London, 1998), pp. 132-3; John Smith, The Hammermen of Edinburgh and the Altar in St Giles Church (Edinburgh, 1906), p.30.

[9] Mills, Medieval Plays, p. 133, 149; Priscilla Bawcutt (ed.), The Poems of William Dunbar, Vol. 1 (Glasgow, 1998), p. 64.

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