Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Zornhau Ort vs. Zornort: Get Them Straight!

There are two techniques with similar names which can cause some confusion for translators, namely the Zornort and the Zornhau Ort, which I translate as the Point of Wrath and the Point of the Wrath Cut, respectively.  Several authors conflate the two terms, failing to distinguish them as very different techniques.  One example of this can been seen in Christian Tobler’s In Saint George’s Name (e.g., p. 29 et seq.), but I have seen the error in several other sources, too (I chose the example I did because Tobler is a much better translator than I—which makes this very surprising to see—not because I am criticizing his translations in general).

The Zornort is very different from the Zornhau Ort.  The principle difference is that while both are thrusts, and both start from a Bind of the Zornhau, the Zornort is done in an Upper Hengen (it is Liechtenauer’s First Winden), while the Zornhau Ort is done into Long Point.  One of the reasons this can be confusing is that any given master usually only uses one or the other term, not both, and the two terms do seem very similar, after all.  When comparing sources, however, the distinction becomes clear.

Peter Von Danzig explains the Zornhau Ort very clearly, and the matching picture below from Goliath illustrates it, showing a thrust into Langenort.  It is a bind of the Zornhau to counter a Zornhau, followed by a thrust into Langenort done am Schwert when your opponent is soft in the bind.
Wer dir oberhawt / zorñhaw ort dem drawt (Who cuts at you from above, / The Point of the Wrath Cut threatens him.  Codex 44 A 8 fol. 13r.)

Text: “The Zornhau breaks with the point all cuts from above and yet is nothing other than a strike which a peasant farmer would use. Use it as follows: if you come into the Zufechten and your opponent strikes from his right side to your head, then likewise also strike from your right side from above without displacing and bind strongly against his sword. If he is soft in the bind, shoot with the point straight in and long to the face or chest.” (Id.)

Ringeck uses the same term for that play:
Wer dir ober haw°et / Zor[n] haw ort im dröwet (Who cuts from above / The Point of the Wrath Cut threatens him. Rinegck fol. 19r.)

Conversely, in Talhoffer 1467 we see the Zornort:
Zorn ortt Im dröw. (Threaten him with the Point of Wrath.)

Which he clearly distinguishes from the Long Point of Wrath.  This could well be a Zornhau Ort in the sense von Danizg and Ringeck use Zornhau Ort, but Talhoffer is not explicit about that:
Das lang Zorn ortt. (The Long Point of Wrath.)

Jörg Wilhalm shows the technique on two different sides, but is consistent as to terminology:
Das ist der Zornortt (That is the Point of Wrath. CGM 3711 fol. 4r).

Das ist der ander zornortt (That is the second Point of Wrath. Id. fol. 4v.)

As this makes plain, the sources are clear as to the difference between the Zornhau Ort and the Zornort, and they are consistent in their use of each.  This analysis is supported by considering the Zornort in context as shown in different sources.  Talhoffer and Wilhalm may not specifically name the Zornhau Ort (unless that’s what Talhoffer means by the Lang Zornort), but we do see the Zornort as pictured in Talhoffer and Wilhalm being described in Ringeck and von Danzig.  It is the First Winden done from the bind of the Zornhau, as Ringeck describes here:

“When you strike a Zornhau and he displaces it and remains strong at the sword hold strongly against it. With the strong of your sword, slide up to the weak of his blade, wind the hilt in front of your head while remaining am Schwert, and thrust into his face from above.” (Ringeck ff. 20r-v.)

Compare that description of the Winden with this play from Falkner:
In zornnortt thu° recht winden (Do the right [correct] winding in the Point of Wrath / If you wish to find the face open) (fol. 3r.)

It is clear that Falkner is describing the same technique as Ringeck in ff. 20r-v:  You cut with a Zornhau; your opponent binds and is hard in the bind, so you wind up into an Upper Hengen and thrust.  While Ringeck doesn’t name this play (although later in the book, on the chapter on Winden he calls it the First Winden, see ff. 124v-125v), Falkner unequivocally calls it the “zornnortt,” making this impossible to misinterpret.

In conclusion, these techniques are two sides of the same coin.  Both come from a bind of the Zornhau (i.e., a Zornhau displaced by a Zornhau), and both are thrusts, but if your opponent is soft in the bind then you thrust into Langenort for a Zornhau Ort, while if he is hard in the bind you wind up into an Upper Hengen with a First Winden or Zornort.  They are, however, very different from one another and the two terms should not be confused or conflated.

Source Cited:
Tobler, Christian.  In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Martial Arts.  Freelance Academy Press, 2010.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Feather Sword: Another Word You’re Using Incorrectly

One of the most pernicious errors of lexicology to be found among the HEMA crowd is the use of the word “Federschwert” (lit. “feather sword”), or just “Feder,” to describe the swords used in training and in the competitions known as Fechtschulen (that a Fechtschule is a competition and not the term for a martial arts school is yet another ignorant mistake they make, but we will set that aside for now).  This mistake is as deeply entrenched as it is completely misunderstood among HEMA groups—so much so, that they are not even aware there might be an issue.  They do not even know to question it, and most wouldn’t care if they did.

The first use of the term Feder I have been able to find comes from Egerton Castle, who uses it to refer to the practice rapiers used by the Federfechter (Castle 1893 p. 106).  The “Freifechter von der Feder zum Greifenfels” was a fencing guild founded around 1570.  The origin of their name is unclear, however, their arms depict two hands holding a feather and two sword blades with feathered wings for crosses.

The Federfechter were in conflict with a previously established fencing guild called the Marxbruder (“The Brotherhood of Saint Mark”), a group established sometime before 1470.  They were the only group authorized by Frederick III to certify masters of the sword at that time.  Hans Talhoffer may have been a member as their badge shows up at least twice in his Thott Codex from 1459, once on his coat of arms and once on a necklace around the master’s neck (MS Thott.290.2º ff. 101v and 102r respectively).

The Marxbruder and the Federfechter generally represented two different sides of the culture of Germany.  The Marxbruder was primarily comprised of working men, while the Federfechter were generally scholars and what we today would call “white collar” workers.  As a result, the Brothers of St. Mark viewed the Federfechter as somewhat effete and unskilled.

This perception of the Federfechter, coupled with what the Marxbruder considered an infringement of their monopoly, led to acrimony between the two groups.  This acrimony resulted in a series of fierce encounters in both Fechtschulen and in words.  For example, this is an excerpt from a poem written by a Marxbruder named Cristoff Jung:

Ein Marx Bruder bin Ich worn
Dieser thut den Federfechtern Zorn.
Dann Gennssfed’n und Khil
Braucht man nit zum Ritterspiel
(A Marxbruder am I, / One who causes the feather fencers anger … Because goose feathers and quills / Are not needed for knightly games; tr. by the author) (Wassmanndorff 1870 p.37.)

The derision is manifest, as is the clear implication that the Federfechter would do better to stick to their quill pens and leave swords to the Marxbruder.

Note, however, that none of this indicates the use of the word Feder to mean a practice sword, except by Castle, who wrote long after the period and who does not support his assertion. Indeed, linguistically, the term Federschwert appears to refer to fighting with words rather than swords—in other words, using feathers (i.e., quill pens) to do your fighting (e.g., see Heidecker 1739).

Thus, it seems obvious that the use of the term Feder or Federschwert to refer to practice longswords represents a thorough misunderstanding of the word and the practice should be abandoned immediately by anyone with any pretension to academic accuracy.  Like the mistaken use of the word gambeson (see my previous blog entry), it presents one more distasteful example of the HEMA community’s utter lack of concern for scholarship.  Only the "feather brained" will continue to get it wrong.

Some will ignore this, arguing that language changes all the time and that we should just accept that fact, allowing the ignorance of hoi polloi to rule us.  Nonsense.  Certainly language changes over time, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, but we should eschew such changes when they represent error and misinformation, or when they diminish the precision or clarity of the words being changed.  Just insisting that because a large group of people fail to know the correct term for a thing means we should change what that thing is called is to embrace willful ignorance.  For it to happen in a group which should pride itself on scholarship is deplorable.

What, then, should we call practice swords?  As with many such problems, the answer is easily found simply by looking at the terminology in use at the time. Wassmannsdorff provides us with an account of a Fechtschule held in Stuttgart in 1570 in which a Marxbruder by the name of Hildebrand blinded his opponent with a bloß-Fechtschwert (p.19).  This term can be seen in other sources as well.  Thus, the term used in period seems to have been Fechtschwert (pl. Fechtschwerter), and there is no reason not to follow that practice today.

[1] Castle, Egerton. Schools and Masters of Fencing—From the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century. London, 1893, p. 106
[2] Christoff Jung von Breißlaw in Wassmannsdorff, Karl. Sechs Fechtschulen der Marxbrüder undFederfechter: aus den Jahren 1573 bis 1614. Heidelberg, 1870, p. 37. Accessed 5/16/19.
[3] Heidecker, Gotthard. DieLeyr Tyri: Das ist: Altfränkische Possen, mit welchen P. Rudolf Baffer. Frankfurt, 1739, p. 20.  Accessed 5/16/19.

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Review of the Henry V Sword from Arms and Armor

There is a “lovely little sword” (Oakeshott p. 67) in Westminster Abbey which is associated with the funeral achievements of Henry V.  I recently acquired a modern copy of this sword from Arms and Armor of Minneapolis, MN (http://arms-n-armor.com/sword075.html) as part of my collection of reproduction weapons which match the forms our school studies, and offer this review of the sword.  Note that this is the flat-ground sword, not the hollow-ground version shown on the same page.

Physical Characteristics:
Weight: 2.7 lbs. (hollow ground version: 2.3 lbs.)
Length, overall: 33.5”
Length, blade: 27.5”
Length, grip: 3.75”
Width at cross: 2.25”
Width at PoP: 1.25”
Point of Balance: 2.5” from cross
Point of Percussion: ~17” from cross

Oakeshott Typology:
Blade: Type XVIII
A broad blade (2”–2½” at the hilt) of four-sided “flattened diamond” section; the edges taper in graceful curves to a sharp point. The grip is of moderate length (3¾”–4”) ... 

In XV, the edges run quite straight to the acute point, giving a very narrow appearance to the lower part of the blade. In XVIII, the edges run in curves, and the lower part of the blade looks broader. The type is, in fact, admirably adapted for a cut-and-thrust style of fighting, and seems to be a logical development of Type XVI. The strong midrib gives great rigidity, yet toward the point at the centre of percussion there is plenty of width to each edge. The section varies, the four faces may be quite flat, but more usually they are gently hollowed; in later examples the sharp upstanding rib rising from a flat blade is found (fig. 105). Some XVIII's which have been much used and often sharpened are impossible to distinguish from XV's... (Oakeshott pp. 67-69).

Pommel: Type J1
This is an elaborated form of the classic wheel pommel. Its best exemplar is a sword of Type XVIII preserved in the library of the Abbey of Westminster, a most beautiful weapon which is associated with the name of King Henry V (fig. 75). This is no mere funerary object, but a magnificent fighting sword (bearing upon its still sharp edges much indication of use) which comes to life in one's hand. The pommel is very massive, but its weight is kept down because only the central thick disc is of solid iron; the raised rims are beaten out of thin iron and brazed on to the main part of the pommel (id. pp. 103-104).

Cross: Style 9
Akin to 7 in that it is ribbon-like in section, but the resemblance ends there. The ends are always rolled over, in section it is either flat on top and V-shaped underneath or of flat diamond section, and the ecusson grows naturally to a cusp from the slight taper of the arms (id. pp. 117).

Handling Characteristics:
Oakeshott said of Henry V’s sword: “This is no mere funerary object, but a magnificent fighting sword (bearing upon its still sharp edges much indication of use) which comes to life in one's hand” (id. p. 103).

The thing you notice first when taking up this reproduction by Arms and Armor is the nimble quickness it exhibits.  The blade is extremely well balanced, making the sword feel lighter than it actually is.  The proximity of the Point of Balance (“PoB”) to the cross makes the sword very fast and reactive in the hand, with less “blade presence” than swords having the PoB farther from the cross.  In spite of this, the overall heft of the sword gives it a feeling of authority in use—it is no mere willow wand, and it cuts with quick authority.

Oakeshott said Type XVIII swords were “admirably adapted for a cut-and-thrust style of fighting” (id. p. 67), and this modern recreation demonstrates that admirably.  The nimbleness mentioned above, combined with the relative shortness of the blade (bringing the point closer to the hand), the stiffness of the diamond-shaped blade, and the wickedly acute shape of the point combine to create a superb thrusting sword.  It balances so well in one’s hand that point control is effortless.  At the same time, the Type XVIII design brings more of the “meat” of the blade forward than in swords designed primarily for thrusting, such as the Type XV’s they otherwise so closely resemble.  This makes for a highly efficient cutting weapon.  While it is a mistake to think of sword typologies as developing in some linear fashion along a path from one purpose to another, Oakeshott himself called this a development of the Type XVI (id. p. 68), which was, in turn, a development of the Type XV intended to improve cutting ability while still thrusting well.

Another factor to consider is the effect the shape of the blade has on thrusting attacks.  Some people look at early swords with very broad points and mistakenly assume they aren’t intended for thrusting, but, in reality, this is incorrect, they are simply intended for thrusting against entirely unarmored targets.  Having a wider point means the thrust does more damage, but the shape of the points on later swords need to balance that objective against the need (or potential need) to thrust into small gapes in armor, or even into mail links.

We can understand this question of point shape by looking at arrows.  Arrows do not have any percussive effect—they kill entirely by cutting action in the target, with almost none of the hydrostatic shock upon which bullets rely.  Thus, hunting points tend to be extremely broad to maximize the amount of cutting damage the arrow does, while war points tend to be extremely narrow so they can pass between plates (arrows, like swords, can almost never penetrate plate, popular ignorance notwithstanding) or punch through links of mail.  That way armor offers a second kind of defense beyond merely helping to stop most attacks:  It forces your opponent to use a weapon which does less damage when it does penetrate.

Sword thrusts are exactly like arrow strikes in terms of damage.  The wider the point, the more damage a thrust will do; the narrower the point, the better the weapon is against armored opponents.  Type XV swords were developed during the Age of the Transition when armor was becoming more complete and protective.  The initial approach to better armor was to use large “Swords of War” of the Type XIII sort, but these swords proved unsatisfactory, and the Type XV was the result.  With their extremely narrow points, they were superb at thrusting between plates and breaking links of mail underneath.

Unfortunately, dedicated thrusting swords such as the Type XV’s are not quite as efficient for cutting when fighting unarmored opponents.  This led to the development of the Type XVI, with blades which transitioned more gradually to the point, leaving more “meat” further forward on the blade for better cutting while still retaining an excellent narrow point.  The Type XVIII is a further development of the Type XVI, where the fuller near the cross is eliminated to make the sword even more stiff for thrusting.  It is usually a mistake to imagine a linear development of sword types, but in this case Oakeshott makes this particular line of development clear (id. p. 68).

In a sense, the Type XVIII is a compromise design.  It is neither as perfectly suited for thrusting as the Type XV, nor as well suited to cutting as is the Type X; rather, it combines the two designs for a more balanced ideal, a true cut and thrust sword optimized for both cutting and thrusting in armor or out of it.  Arms and Armor has captured that balanced ideal very well in this reproduction, making a sword which, as Oakeshott said of the original, “comes to life in one’s hand.”

Fit and Finish:
Arms and Armor is well known for their craftsmanship and for being among the best of the production sword manufacturers, and their Henry V sword supports that reputation.  The sword is extremely well made.  The shapes are consistent and even, with no “off” or crooked lines.  The decorative lines filed onto the cross are neat and well executed, and they align aesthetically with the edges of the blade.  The cross and pommel are fit to the blade extremely well, with correct alignment and no significant gaps.  The blade, cross, grip, and pommel are absolutely solid and rigid, with no wobble or movement at all, even when tapped against solid object.  The polish is generally clean and smooth, taken to a satin finish which is excellent for this kind of reproduction.  The inside of the pommel cutout is not polished, but it is fairly clean with only a little roughness (and is intended to be filled with some token or symbol anyway).

The grip is covered in leather which is stitched heavily along one side.  The leather fits the hilt reasonably well, with only a slight bunching against the cross, and the fit is very tight and firm.  The grip is the only place where the Arms and Armor sword falls slightly short in comparison with other high-end manufacturers.  The seam is extremely thick and obtrusive, making it slightly uncomfortable to hold the seam side against one’s palm because of the bulk.  The smooth wrap is also less aesthetically appealing than the string-wrapped technique often present on other high-end replicas (although that technique is not universal on real swords, by any means).  It should be emphasized that this is a minor point, and represents a personal preference as much as an objective criticism.

While the Henry V sword is an extremely good sword which captures the essence of the originally very well (and far, far better than most other reproductions), it is not a perfect copy.  Arms and Armor made several decisions with regard to the manufacture of this replica in order to make the sword more readily affordable.  We will consider the three most obvious ones here.

First, the original sword’s pommel is not a solid casting.  The raised lip on the original is hammered out of thin sheet iron and then brazed into place in order to reduce the overall weight while still presenting a large, solid wheel (id. p. 103).  The Arms and Armor pommel is cast from one piece of steel, a process far less expensive than hammering out a hollow fitting and then brazing it into place, a process Oakeshott says was used in others of the type in period (id.), and so hardly worthy of criticism.

Second, on the original, the tang is riveted directly to the pommel, whereas on the reproduction there is a peening block between the pommel proper and the end of the tang.  It is not clear why Arms and Armor chose to do this, unless it is to reduce hammer marks (or the effort of polishing them away) on the pommel from the peening process.  Regardless, this difference is utterly inconsequential, and, in fact, the modern result is, if anything, more aesthetically pleasing.

The third difference, the blade grinding, is much more problematic, although ultimately justifiable.  Of the Type XVIII blade design, Oakeshott wrote “the four faces may be quite flat, but more usually they are gently hollowed” (id. p. 68), and the hollow grind is pronounced on the original blade in Westminster Abbey.  Arms and Armor offers their Henry V reproduction both with and without the hollow-ground blade, but the example being reviewed here is not hollow ground.

The hollow-ground version weighs 2.3 pounds, compared with 2.7 pounds for this version, a significant difference.  However, the hollow-ground blade costs approximately $600.00 more, making flat-ground version far more affordable.  Moreover, the handling of the flat-ground version is superb as it is and does not suffer enough to make this approach unacceptable, especially given that Oakeshott pointed out that not all Type XVIII’s were hollow ground.  Indeed, one might ask whether the heavier solid pommel of the reproduction might not make the flat ground version handle more like the original by giving it a better balance than the hollow-ground reproduction with the same pommel has.

This decision to offer the sword with a flat-ground blade is not a failure of quality or scholarship, but rather a conscious choice intended to offer a more affordable reproduction, and it is perfectly reasonable.  If this sword were as clunky or unbalanced as most other efforts at reproducing Henry V’s sword are this choice might be questionable, but given how this blade feels in the hand, Arms and Armor deserves no criticism for this choice.

The Henry V reproduction by Arms and Armor is a superb recreation of a true fighting sword which perfectly typifies the qualities of the original.  It is quick and nimble with excellent balance, has superb fit and finish, and is quite reasonably priced.  It is reasonably accurate in terms of design, and where it differs from the original it does so not from error but from a conscious effort to make a less expensive but still eminently functional sword.  This reproduction is superb, and should be considered by anyone interested in arming swords of the Fifteenth Century.

Here is a video adjunct to this review:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpsa83Xv85s

Reference cited:
Oakeshott, E. The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. Arms and Armour Press, 1981.