The battle with sword and shield in wonderful illustrations: the oldest and one of the most famous fencing books of the Middle Ages

Illuminated Fightbook

Illuminated Fightbook

Illuminated Fightbook

  1. The art of medieval swordsmanship is taught in wonderful miniatures in this famous manuscript

  2. Elaborate garment folds and demanding postures underline the high artistic quality of the illustrations

  3. The sword and buckler style of fighting was both a courtly amusement and a practical, deadly art

Illuminated Fightbook

Illuminated Fightbook – Ms. I.33 – Royal Armouries (London, United Kingdom)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

One of the most famous texts on martial arts from the Middle Ages, manuscript I.33 of the Royal Armouries in London, also known as the Tower Fightbook. In this wonderful historical treasure, originating from the beginning of the 14th century, probably in Franconia, the art of medieval swordsmanship is taught in wonderful miniatures and with explanations in Latin. A clergyman, presumably the author of the text, conveys to his students the art of sword and buckler – a special kind of dueling in the Middle Ages.

Illuminated Fightbook

Complicated stances, bold attack maneuvers, and reliable defensive techniques – all of this fell under the basic knowledge of a sword fighter in the Middle Ages. This fighting technique was significant both as a courtly amusement and symbol of nobility, but also necessary for practical application in serious violent confrontations. The so-called Tower Fightbook, the famous Ms. I.33 of the Royal Armouries in London, originated ca. 1310 from the region of Franconia and as such is considered to be the oldest known handbook on swordsmanship there is!

A Turbulent History

This great treasure of the Armories was first referenced in the year 1579 in Heinrich von Gunterrodt’s De veris principiis artis dimicatoridae (On the True Foundations of the Art of Combat). There it is written that the manuscript was discovered by a certain Johannes Herbart von Würzburg in a Franconian monastery. This probably occurred while the monastery was plundered by Margrave Albert II Alcibiades. Subsequently, the treasure found itself in the possession of the Duchy of Saxony-Gotha, where it was registered until the beginning of the Second World War and was then lost. It reappeared in the year 1950 and was finally acquired at auction by the Royal Armouries.

Battle with Sword and Buckler

The 32 parchment pages of the valuable martial arts manual are richly illustrated with colored pen drawings. This step-by-step depiction of fighting presents a clergyman, identifiable by his tonsure, who is conveying the art of fencing to his student. Both are concentrating on the fight with sword and buckler, a small, special round shield, which would have been typical at the time. After a depiction of the seven starting positions, 38 combat sequences are presented.

A Textbook on the Art of Fighting

The paintings wonderfully depict the body in a combat stance. Elaborate garment folds and demanding postures underline the high artistic quality of the illustrations. These elegant visual depictions are accompanied by a clarifying text. This is recorded in Latin and features some technical terms in German. The combat depicted is described therein, demonstrating alternatives and giving helpful tips. Additionally, the manuscript was furnished with comments by Herbart and his fencing student Friedrich Wilhelm at a later time. With all of these noteworthy components, the Tower Fightbook presents itself as a true treasure chest of medieval martial arts!

Illuminated Fightbook - The Royal Armouries Edition

Illuminated Fightbook

Fighting with Sword and Buckler

“Above, the priest displaced the pupil. Here now, the pupil is executing the same action as the priest before. But the displacer should enter first, if the pupil omits it, as below. Also, he should take care that the other reach not his head, which he may.
And from the above actions, the priest enters, I have said: he should therefore mind his head.”

Thus reads the Latin/German captions for these two miniatures in register, which oddly depict a priest, identifiable by his tonsure, teaching the art of swordsmanship. These wonderfully colored drawings do an excellent job of portraying the postures and gestures of the fencers. For example, they are shown standing on the balls of their feet with their weight evenly distributed.

2 available facsimile edition(s) of „Illuminated Fightbook“

Illuminated Fightbook - The Royal Armouries Edition
Illuminated Fightbook – Ms. I.33 – Royal Armouries (London, United Kingdom)
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Illuminated Fightbook - The Royal Armouries Edition

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Extraordinary Editions – London, 2013
Illuminated Fightbook - The Exemplary Edition
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Illuminated Fightbook - The Exemplary Edition

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Extraordinary Editions – London, 2013
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