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fiddle bow

Royal Armouries Ms. I.33

Royal Armouries Ms. I.33, also known as "the Tower manuscript" because of its long stay in the Tower of London, is the usual name for the earliest known surviving European fechtbuch, although it deals only with the sword and buckler. The illuminated manuscript, of German origin, is now in the collection of the Royal Armouries at Leeds, England. It is also referred to as British Museum No. 14 E iii, No. 20, D. vi.

The 64 page treatise shows a martial arts system of defensive and offensive techniques between a master and a pupil, referred to as sacerdos (priest) and scolaris (student), each armed with a sword and a buckler, drawn in ink and watercolour and accompanied with Latin text, interspersed with German fencing terms. On the last two pages, the pupil is replaced by a woman called Walpurgis. The priestly teacher can be recognized by his tonsure.

The manuscript has not been conclusively dated in printed publication; Alphonse Lhotsky in a handwritten note suggested the late 13th century and identified the scribe as a secretary to the bishop of Würzburg, but other experts tend to assign it to the early to mid-14th century.

The manuscript is first mentioned by Henricus a Gunterrodt in his De veriis principiis artis dimicatoriae of 1579, where he reports it to have been discovered by a friend of his, one Johannes Herbart of Würzburg. The manuscript was part of the ducal library of Gotha until it disappeared in World War II and resurfaced at a Sotheby's auction in 1950, where it was purchased by the Royal Armouries. The author of the treatise may be a cleric called Lutegerus (possibly a Latinised form of the German proper name Liutger appearing in the text).

The fencing system is based on a number of wards (custodie) which are answered by displacements (obsessiones). The wards are numbered 1 to 7 on the first two pages and supplemented by various 'special' wards later in the text. The seven basic wards are:

  1. under the arm (sub brach)
  2. right shoulder (humero dextrali)
  3. left shoulder (humero sinistro)
  4. head (capiti)
  5. right side (latere dextro)
  6. breast (pectori)
  7. 'long-point' (langort)

The German terms appearing in the Latin text are the following:

  • albersleiben (possibly the fool's guard position)
  • durchtreten, durchtritt ('stepping through')
  • halpschilt ('half shield', one of the obsessiones)
  • krucke ('crutch', a defensive position)
  • langort ('long-point', may be either a custodia or an obsessio)
  • nucken ('nudge', a specific attack)
  • schiltslac ('shield-blow')
  • schutzen ('protect')
  • stich ('stab')
  • stichschlac ('stab-blow')
  • vidilpoge ('fiddle-bow', a specific custodia)

Sporadic dialectal elements in these terms (notably nucken and halpschilt) suggest a location of composition consistent with the reported discovery in a Franconian monastery in the wider area of Würzburg.

Literature

  • Jeffrey L. Singman (now Forgeng), The medieval swordsman: a 13th century German fencing manuscript, Royal Armouries Yearbook 2 1997, 129-136.
  • Jeffrey L. Forgeng, The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship, A Facsimile & Translation of the World's Oldest Personal Combat Treatise, published jointly with the Royal Armouries at Leeds, Chivalry Bookshelf, 2003; ISBN 1-891448-38-2
  • Paul Wagner & Stephen Hand, Medieval Sword And Shield: The Combat System of Royal Armouries MS I.33, Chivalry Bookshelf, 2003.

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