Thursday, January 29, 2015

Of evil orders or customs in our English Fence schools, & of the old or ancient teaching of weapons, & things very necessary to be continued for the avoiding of errors, and reviving and continuance of our ancient weapons, and most victorious fight again.

There is in my opinion in our fence schools an evil order or custom in these days used, the which, if it might stand with the liking of our Masters of Defence, I think it necessary to be left. For as long as it is used, it shall be hard to make a good scholar. That is this, at the single sword, sword and dagger, & sword and buckler, they forbid the thrust, & at the single rapier, and rapier & dagger, they forbid the blow. Either they are both together best, or the thrust altogether best, or the blow altogether best. If the thrust is best, why do we not use it at the single sword, sword & dagger, & sword & buckler? If the blow is best, why do we not use it at the single rapier, rapier & poniard? But knowing by the art of arms, that no fight is perfect without both blow and thrust, why do we not use and teach both blow and thrust?

But however this we daily see, that when two met in fight, whether they have skill or none, unless such as have tied themselves to that boyish, Italian, weak, imperfect fight, they both strike and thrust, and how shall he then do, that being much taught in school, that never learned to strike, nor how to defend a strong blow? And how shall he then do, that being brought up in a fencing school, that never learned to thrust with the single sword, sword and dagger, and sword and buckler, nor how at these weapons to break a thrust? Surely, I think a down right fellow, that never came in school, using such skill as nature yielded out of his courage, strength, and agility, with good downright blows and thrust among, as shall best frame in his hands, should put one of these imperfect scholars greatly to his shifts.

Besides, there are now in these days no grips, closes, wrestlings, striking with the hilts, daggers, or bucklers, used in fencing schools. Our plowmen will by nature will do these things with great strength & agility. But the schoolmen is altogether unacquainted with these things. He being fast tied to such school-play as he has learned, has lost thereby the benefit of nature, and the plowman is now by nature without art a far better man than he. Therefore in my opinion as long as we bar any manner of play in school, we shall hardly make a good scholar. There is no manner of teaching comparable to the old ancient teaching, that is, first their quarters, then their wards, blows, thrusts, and breaking of thrusts, then their closes and grips, striking with the hilts, daggers, bucklers, wrestlings, striking with the foot or knee in the cods, and all these are safely defended in learning perfectly of the grips(1). And this is the ancient teaching, and without this teaching, there shall never scholar be made able, do his uttermost, nor fight safe.

Again their swords in schools are too long by almost half a foot to uncross, without going back with the feet, within distance or perfectly to strike or thrust within the half or quarter sword. And in serving of the prince, when men do meet together in public fight, are utterly naught and unserviceable. The best length for perfect teaching of the true fight to be used and continued in fence schools, to accord with the true statures of all men, are these. The blade to be a yard and an inch for men of mean stature, and for men of tall statures, a yard and three or four inches, and no more(2). And I would have the rapier continued in schools, always ready for such as shall think themselves cunning, or shall have delight to play with that imperfect weapon. Provided always, that the schoolmaster or usher play with him with his short sword, plying him with all manner of fight according to the true art. This being continued the truth shall flourish, the lie shall be beaten down, and all nations not having the true science, shall come with all gladness to the valiant and most brave English masters of defence to learn the true fight for their defence.

Side notes:
1 In the wars there is no observation of Stocatas, Imbrocatas, times, nor answers.
2 Long weapons imperfect.

Paragraph breaks added.

Silver, George, and Cyril G. R. Matthey. 1898. The works of George Silver: comprising "Paradoxes of defence" [printed in 1599 and now reprinted] and "Bref instructions vpo my paradoxes of defence" [printed for the first time from the ms. in the British Museum]. London: G. Bell.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Credo in Deum Patrem Omnipotentem
Creatorem coeli et terrae
Et in Jesum Christum Filium eius unicum, dominum Nostrum
Qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto
Natus ex Maria Virgine
Passus sub Pontio Pilato,
Crucifixus Mortuus, et sepultus
Descendit ad inferna
Tertia die resurrexit a mortuis
Ascendit ad coelos
Sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis
Inde venturur judicare
Vivos et mortuos
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,
Sanctam Ecclesiam Catholicam,
Sanctorum communionem
Remissionem peccatorum
Carnis ressurectionem
Et vitam aeternam.

I beleve in God, Fader almyghty,
Makere of heven and erthe,
And in Ihesu Crist, his onely sone oure Lorde
That is concyved by the Holy Gost,
Born of the Mayden Marye
Suffred under Pounce Pylate,
Crucifyed, Ded, and beryed;
Descended to helle;
The thridde day he aros fro dethes
Styed [rose] up to hevene
Sitte on his Fader half [side]
Schal come to deme [judge] The quick and dede. I
 beleue in the Holy Gost,
Holy Chirche, That is alle that schulle be saved,
And in communion of hem,
Remissioun of synnes,
Risyng of flesch,
And everlastynge lyf.

Translation from Book to a Mother, ed. Adrian James McCarthy, Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies 92 (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1981), 1.

Ave Maria

Ave Maria, gratia plena
Dominus tecum
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
Et benedictus fructus ventris tui.

Heil Marye, ful of grace
God is with the [thee]
Of alle wymmen thou art most blessed
And blessid be the fruyt of thi wombe, Ihesu.
So mote it be.

Translation from Book to a Mother, ed. Adrian James McCarthy, Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies 92 (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1981), 1.

Pater Noster

Pater noster, qui es in caelis:
sanctificetur Nomen Tuum;
adveniat Regnum Tuum;
fiat voluntas Tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a Malo. Amen

Fader oure that art in hevene
halwed be thi name,
thi Kyngdom come to,
thi wille be doon
in erthe as in hevene,
oure eche daies bred gif us to day
and forgive us our dettes,
as we forgive to our detoures
and lede us nought into temptacion
bote delivere us from yvel, Amen.

English translation from MS. G. 24, ,of about AD. 1400, in St. John’s College, Cambridge:

The Month. 1882. London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co. p.281

George Silver and John Smythe Did Not Like Rapiers at All

In his Paradoxes of Defence, George Silver wrote:
…when the battles are joined, and come to the charge, there is no room for them to draw their bird-spits, and when they have them, what can they do with them? Can they pierce his corselet with the point? Can they unlace his helmet, unbuckle his armour, hew asunder their pikes with a stocata, a riversa, a dritta, a stramason, or other such tempestuous terms? No, these toys are fit for children, not for men, for stragling boys of the camp, to murder poultry, not for men of honour to try battle with their foes.
Sir John Smythe, in his Certain Discourses Military of 1590, didn't care for them either:
 … our such men of war, contrary to the ancient order and use military, do nowadays prefer and allow that armed men pikers should rather wear rapiers of a yard and a quarter long the blades or more than strong, short, arming swords… a squadron of armed men in the field, being ready to encounter with another squadron, their enemies…being in their ranks so close one to another by flanks, cannot draw their swords if the blades of them be above the length of three quarters of a yard or little more. Besides that, swords being so long do work in a manner no effect, neither with blows nor thrusts, where the press is so great as in such actions it is. And rapier blades, being so narrow and of so small substance, and made of a very hard temper to fight in private frays, in lighting with any blow upon armour do presently break and so become unprofitable.
Of course, Smythe was something of a crank, an unreliable ranter overly quick to dismiss changes in military technology since the 15th c. It's just as well he couldn't post on the internet.

Say what you will, Mr. Silver had a gift for invective.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Shooting Speed of Longbow and Crossbow

This video suggests that with a belt hook, the disparity in shooting speed was not as great as commonly supposed: four shots in 30 seconds for the crossbow vs. nine for the longbow. Of course, a windlass crossbow would be much slower.

Leo "Tod" Todeschini was present at the shoot, and reports that the crossbow had a draw weight of 150 lbs, far too light for a war weapon. He reckons that a belt and claw can span a crossbow up to about 350 lbs in draw, at a rate of about six shots a minute. This agrees with the contemporary Florentine chronicler Villani's account of Crecy that the English shot three times in the time it took the Genoese crossbowmen to fire one.

Ca. 1400, minutes and seconds are things known only by the very learned. A first person portrayal of an English bowman might  say " I can shoot six times in the time it takes to say the Lord's Prayer, three times the speed of a crossbowman spanning from the belt."

"But, if I shoot as fast as I can, I'll use a whole sheaf of 24 arrows before French men-at-arms on foot, starting 200 yards out, are still more than 60 yards out. And this is not to be thought on, since everyone knows that an archer does the greatest injury at close range.  So I will shoot more deliberately at long range, especially since there is much advantage to marking where your first shot falls before firing the second, which can scarcely be  done if you shoot when your first shot is still in the air."

An English bowman who shoots his arrows wisely will shoot his last arrow only a few seconds before he drops his bow and takes up another weapon.

In these videos Tod Todeschini shoots heavy crossbows spanned with a belt and pulley and a goat's foot lever, getting off about three and five shots a minute respectively.  I don't think he's trying to shoot as fast as he possibly can. The belt and pulley is, of course, somewhat more cumbersome than a simple belt hook, but allows a heavier draw.

Note Tod's superior biomechanics compare to the first video: he presses downward with one leg rather than lifting his entire body as he spans the bow. The downward leg press is often visible in medieval images of crossbowmen spanning from a belt.

In comments, Jason Daub says that he can get off six shots in 34 seconds with a 240 lb. bow using a simple belt hook. It is well to know that the draw weights of crossbows and hand bows are not directly comparable, since the crossbow generally has a much shorter power stroke. A 240 lb. composite crossbow might put no more energy into the missile than an 80 lb. hand bow. And crossbows with steel prods suffer further  in comparison, because much of the stored energy goes into accelerating the relatively heavy prod.

Friday, January 23, 2015

SCA Errata Sheet: Knighthood and Fealty

In the SCA, all knights must swear fealty to the crown. This is not what was done in the actual Middle Ages. The order of chivalry was entirely distinct from the question of who owed fealty for what. You could have landless knights who owed no fealty to anyone because they had no fief. You could have men that already held land in fief to the crown and had already sworn fealty. And you could have men that held land in fief, and swore fealty to an intermediate overlord.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

SCA Errata Sheet: "Only a Knight Can Make a Knight"

There is a very old tradition within the SCA that "only a knight can make a knight"

I am reliably informed that Queen Elizabeth I did not believe this at all, nor did any Pope since knighthood became a thing.

SCA Errata Sheet: Precedence

In the SCA, the members of the Order of Chivalry, of the Laurel, and of the Pelican are members of the peerage. In some kingdoms they outrank barons.

This is quite ahistorical. In medieval England the lay peerage was composed of barons and higher titles, and knights without a higher title were not peers. The French peerage was even more exclusive.

Knights had high status, but there were many ways to achieve status outside the  hierarchy of nobility and the crown as the fount of honor.

In John Russelll's mid 15th c. Boke of Nurture, the following were all ranked equal in estate to a knight: unmitered prior or abbot, dean, archdeacon, Master of the Rolls, under justices and Barons of the Exchequer,  Clerk of the Crown,  Mayor of the Staple of Calais, Doctor of Divinity or Both Laws (i.e, civil and canon), provincial, prothonotary, or Pope's collector.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SCA Peerage Kerfuffle

If you have no interest in the Society for Creative Anachronism, move along, nothing to see.

If you do:

The following is an excerpt of a message was sent out to the SCA, Inc. Announcements mailing list.

The Board Votes.

The Board was split on the question of the rapier peerage. Three directors voted to approve the Corpora changes and the resulting establishment of a rapier peerage because they believe that while rapier should really be recognized by the Chivalry, trying to force inclusion in the Chivalry by Board fiat would not work, and they were willing to vote yes on the proposal as a good compromise. Two directors felt rapier should be recognized as part of a peerage that recognizes all non-rattan martial arts and not a separate peerage. Two directors believed rapier should be recognized in the Chivalry. So, with a 4-3 vote against the proposed Corpora changes, which would have established a separate rapier peerage, no change will take place at this time. 
The only other action the Board took concerning rapier in the SCA was removing language dating from 1979 saying that rapier was an “ancillary” activity of the SCA and, to make it clear that we are not discarding the traditions of Crown Tourney, the Board then made it very clear that only rattan combat may be used in a Royal list. This change to Corpora received the unanimous approval of the Board. 
Response to Social Media Discussions. 
First, the Board received commentary from less than 2% of the membership over the entire 3 years and all requests for comments on the rapier peerage issue. Many people wrote in more than once, but repeating an opinion doesn’t count as a separate opinion. However, it was not the lack of commentary that influenced some Board members to vote against the proposal; it was the fact that the small amount of commentary the Board did receive trended against a separate rapier peerage. The majority of comments received in favor of recognizing rapier with a peerage said that rapier should either be included in the Order of the Chivalry or in a new peerage that included all non-rattan combat. The result of such a relatively small number of people commenting is that the opinions the Board did receive were given greater weight – if a larger number of those who supported the separate rapier peerage had commented, a different result might very well have resulted. There’s no way to know that for sure, but it underscores the importance of writing in to let the Board know your opinions about proposed changes to Corpora. 
Second, the Board did not open the Order of the Chivalry to inclusion of rapier fighters. There is a 1999 policy interpretation from the Society Seneschal (upheld by the Board at that time) specifically stating that the Order of the Chivalry is intended for rattan combatants only. It would take a new policy interpretation (which would need to be upheld by the current Board) or other Board action to change that fact. The Board’s intention in removing the “ancillary activity” language had nothing to do with making rapier knights. The Board removed the “ancillary activity” language because it was simply no longer accurate or true. It may have been true long ago when it was added to Corpora, but times have definitely changed. Rapier has permeated the fabric of the Society, and the Board felt that the language needed to be removed. However, in order to clarify that we weren’t changing the rules regarding Crown Tourneys by the deletion of the “ancillary activity” language, the Board added language restricting Crown Tourneys to rattan weapons.
I think this was the right call. A bestowed peerage wasn't the only way to recognize excellence in the Middle Ages and it isn't the only way to do it in the SCA. And often it isn't the best way. For rapier combat, an officially recognized guild-like organization like the Company of the Masters of Defense of London seems far more historically appropriate. There's no reason why the masters of such a company couldn't be given social rank equal to the bestowed peerages if the kingdom desires to. And if the people of a kingdom don't think the best rapier fighters are equal to the chivalry in dignity, making them a bestowed peerage isn't going to change that.

We need to be more aware of the many ways that rank and dignity could be recognized in the Middle Ages. The Order of Chivalry was only one approach, and it wasn't considered a peerage. There were paths to high status that didn't involve the crown at all. You could rise through the church, civic government, law or academia and the crown often had little or no involvement in the process.

That said, I think some martial arts could be profitably recognized within the current Order of Chivalry.  it seems to me that a splendid horseman who is an average rattan fighter is a more fitting member of the Order, as a medieval knight would have seen it, than a splendid rattan fighter that never rides. And a cut and thrust fighter who has studied his Fiore well, and fights accordingly, is perhaps a more worthy knight than a man who fights well with rattan because he has tailored everything he does to the specific rules of SCA sport combat.