Training skills, acquiring virtues, bodily traits and moral improvement in early printed fencing manuals, 1450-1550

Abstract: German and Italian towns in the 15th and 16th centuries held the notion of a well-armed citizenry in high regard. Citizens were encouraged to exercise themselves in martial disciplines in order to contribute to their town’s defence and create strong masculine virtues. The presentation explores this perceived link between training and moral improvement in the first generation of printed manuals on the art of fighting, contextualizing them with contemporary discourses on the acquisition of virtue.

The capacity to use armed force was a cornerstone of citizenship in the South-German cities of the 15th and 16th century, and features prominently in historiography.[1] Likewise, the use of arms as an element of masculine culture continued to thrive in Italy, even when authorities occasionally tried to curtail it.[2] The contemporary emergence of manuscripts and books on martial disciplines such as fencing and wrestling connected to these cultural ideals. They were praised by some of their authors for helping young men to avoid sinful pastimes and strive to become virtuous instead. The exact link between training the body and training the virtues remains underexplored, however. This presentation analyses how the adjectives and adverbs used by these authors for describing the body and its actions connect with contemporary ideas on bodily grace and moral character. This will shed more light on the ways in which martial skill equalled social distinction in the late medieval town.

[1] B.A. Tlusty, The Martial Culture of Early Modern Germany, Civic Duty and the Right of Arms (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 6-7.

[2] Peter Blastenbrei, “Violence, arms and criminal justice in papal Rome, 1560-1600,” Renaissance Studies 20, no. 1 (2006): 84.

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Acknowledgement: This poster was presented in the panel: Burghers and Fighters: Social mobility and urban martial culture, during the conference Martial Culture in European Towns (1350-1550), at the University of Bern (11-13 November, 2021)

Military defense in the royal towns of Touraine during the Wars of Religion: a daily martial culture

Abstract: During the Wars of Religion, the urban spaces of Touraine were affected by civil and religious violence, but above all by the presence of soldiers. The rich corpus of administrative sources preserved for the royal towns of Amboise, Chinon and Loches allows us to understand the central place occupied by military issues in these different municipal policies, as effective ways of preserving the urban space and identity.

The three royal towns of Amboise, Chinon and Loches, spread across the Touraine region, all had fortresses, real royal strongholds, which had to be defended from the crown’s enemies in the context of the Wars of Religion. The three municipal authorities, responsible for ensuring the defense of their urban areas through a system of citizen guards, were therefore in regular contact with the soldiers, whether they were sent by the royal authorities to guard the town and the castle, or
simply as a stopover on their way to a war zone . Military and defensive1 issues are therefore omnipresent in the administrative documents of these three cities and are manifested by the militarisation of urban spaces. This paper proposes, among other things, to compare the military and defensive mechanisms of the three cities, as well as their impact on urban life, in order to understand the place of the martial fact in the political culture of the second half of the 16th century.

1 SOURIAC Pierre-Jean, « Foules et guerres civiles. Mobilisation, présence militaire dans la région toulousaine durant la première décennie des guerres de Religion (1562-1570) », L’effort de guerre, Actes du 127e congrès du C.T.H.S, Nancy, 2002, CTHS, p.31-51, 2004.

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Acknowledgement: This poster was presented in the panel: Martial Urban Space: Defending and safeguarding the town, during the conference Martial Culture in European Towns (1350-1550), at the University of Bern (11-13 November, 2021)

German longswords revisited. Late-medieval south-German sword-makers as brokers of urban martial culture

Abstract: This poster presents a broad-based reconsideration of the available archaeological and archival evidence for sword production in southern Germany in the late 14th and early 15th century. Particular focus is put on physical and dynamic dimensions of preserved swords. This data is then discussed in the wider context and enables proposing important insights on period’s socio-cultural realities, especially the process of emancipation of towns and development of urban martial culture.

Late-medieval and early-modern martial culture can be aptly characterised as the „culture of the sword” (Tlusty, 2016). Although the weaponry in use at the time, both in knightly and urban contexts, was demonstrably more diverse, the sword still held a prominent place in symbolic and pragamtic domains. Symbolically, it was a crucial nexus within period’s conceptualisations of chivalry, masculinity, and power. Pragmatically, in turn, it was still widely used in actual combat, redesigned and improved (Oakeshott, 1996), and considered a central weapon in the curricula of sword-fighting fraternities throughout the Holy Roman Empire and beyond (e.g. Dupuis, 2014; Jaquet, 2015; Gevaert & Van Noort, 2016). Hence, it should be expected that sword-makers were prominent, even if silent, actors during the transitional period when the military monopoly of knighthood was gradually uprooted by new models based on urban infantry. The proposed poster explores this hypothesis in greater depth on the basis of extensive source review backed up with statistical analyses.

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Referenced works:

Dupuis, O. (2014). Organization and Regulation of Fencing in the Realm of France in the Renaissance. Acta Periodica Duellatorum, 2, 233–254.

Gevaert, B., & van Noort, R. (2016). Evolution of Martial Tradition in the Low Countries: Fencing Guilds and Treatises. In D. Jaquet, K. Verelst & T. Dawson (eds.), Late Medieval and Early Modern Fight Books (pp. 376-409). Leiden-Boston.

Jaquet, D. (2015). Fighting in the Fightschools late XVth, early XVIth century. Acta Periodica Duellatorum, 3(2), 47–66.

Oakeshott, R. E. (1996). The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armor from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry. Monaloa-New York.

Tlusty, B.A. (2016). 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 (pp. 547-570). Leiden-Boston.

Acknowledgement: This poster was presented in the panel: Weapons: Production, trade, and exchange, during the conference Martial Culture in European Towns (1350-1550), at the University of Bern (11-13 November, 2021)

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