Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Description of a Pollaxe Bout From Histoire Plaisante et Cronicque du Petit Jehan de Saintré

One of the most instructive descriptions of a pollaxe bout in the literature: Look at the mention of strikes without specifying the part of the axe used (presumably meaning the mail was used by default), but then the strike to the fingers, which does, specifically saying the "sharp of his axe," meaning the taillent; the mention of striking the "bars of his visor" (meaning they were wearing grilled visors of the kind many of the LH crowd says didn't exist); the fact that he struck to the visor with the "handle" (i.e., the queue) of the axe, just as we're taught to do in Le Jeu; and the fact that he worked to disarm his opponent, which is one of the most highly favored tactics in Le Jeu.


How they marched one against the other; each doing valiantly.

And when the Mareschal had given them leave to go, as they advanced one upon the other, you had thought they had been two lions unchained. But there was this difference; as Saintré was making for him, he cried aloud, that all might hear him, “Hah, my ever-gentle dame, and whose I am!” and then they began to fall upon one another. Then Sir Enguerrant, who was a most valiant Knight, strong and powerful, and larger built than Saintré, raised his axe, and dealt him such a blow upon the shoulder that he made him reel, while Saintré, in return, struck him with the handle of his axe upon the bars of his vizor, driving him several paces back. Then Sir Enguerrant elevated his axe to strike a second time; but Saintré, making for him, gave him such a cut over the hand with the sharp of his axe that neither guard nor anything else could avail, so that all his fingers were smashed and benumbed. Sir Enguerrant, who was now hot, nor knew anything of what had happened to his fingers, thought again to lift his axe, and it was only then he began to feel the pain, and that he could no longer wield it. So, as a wary and a dauntless Knight, holding his axe in his left hand, he opened his arms to seize Saintré by the waist. But when Saintré perceived his aim, he continued to strike, nor ever once let him approach. And when he saw his moment, all on a sudden he gave him such a blow on the hand in which he was holding the axe, that he sent it flying in the air; and when Sir Enguerrant saw that his axe was gone, in sheer desperation he rushed upon Saintré, to close with him, catching him by one arm. But when the King saw the axe of Sir Enguerrant upon the ground, and the two together by the middle, as Prince and Judge sovereign, he at once threw down his wardour, and said, "Ho, ho!" Then were the two champions separated by the guards. Then the King, by the Mareschal, called the two champions before him, and then had said to them, “You, Sir Enguerrant, and you, Jehan de Saintré, the King desires you should know, that you have each so nobly and so valiantly acquitted yourselves that it would have been impossible to have done better; but, according to the articles, the Lord, the King, who here is, has recognized that the combat was to end either when one or other of you were borne to the ground, or either had lost his axe from both his hands. So, by the terms, Jehan de Saintré, the Lord, the King, adjudges to you the prize.”

Vance, Alexander. The History and Pleasant Chronicle of Little Jehan de Saintré. London: Chapman and Hall, 1863, pp.128-130.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Some Observations on the Judicial Duel as Practiced in Fifteenth-Century Germany

I have written a monograph on judicial combats in 15th-century Germany.  It focuses upon
information from the Fechtbücher, but examines other sources, too, both modern and historical.  Most of the scholarship available today regarding deeds of arms is focused on France and England, while this paper focuses strictly on judicial combats in Germany, and is intended  primarily  for students of historical European martial arts--especially those who follow the Liechtenauer school--who want to understand the context of the arts they study.

This paper may be distributed freely, within the rules of copyright.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Where's the Axe?

Few terms used in the study of medieval combat are as often confused or misused as the word “pollaxe.”  Partly, this is due to the fact that modern people want to apply modern rules of logic to medieval subjects, something which is not supported by actually reading what medieval men wrote.  They also tend to ignore the root forms of words and focus only on the modern forms, ignoring the shifts of language so apparent to the historian.

For example, in period, the term was not “poleaxe” as people use it today, but “pollaxe.”  This makes little sense to  the modern reader because he doesn’t know what a poll is, and since he just sees an axe on a pole, “poleaxe” makes sense to him.  Unfortunately, as Kettering’s Law says, it is often true that:  “Logic is an organized way to go wrong with confidence.”  In fact, in the Middle Ages “poll” meant head (as in our modern term for counting heads, or “polling"), and the term refers to the head of the axe and not the shaft of the weapon.  Thus, the modern term “poleaxe” represents a gross misunderstanding of the real word.

The poll (or pole) is not the greatest lexicological problem, however; in fact, most non-English-speaking sources don’t use the term pollaxe, simply calling them “axes.”  The real problem is that people think an axe must have an axe blade—after all, isn’t it logical?  As a result, when they find examples of “poll weapons” which do not have axe blades, they decide they can’t be pollaxes and invent fanciful  names for them.  The great Ewert Oakeshott is a good example.  In his European Weapons and Armour, he seems to have invented the term “Lucerne Hammer” to describe this kind of weapon because there were many of this style found in Lucerne, Switzerland:

I cannot find who coined the term Bec de Corbin, or “crow’s beak” for this kind of weapon:
The ignorance displayed thereby is appalling, and yet its use is almost universal among living history folks.  In fact, “crow’s beak” is never used for axes in any source; rather, the term “falcon’s beak” is used to describe the hook on the back of an axe, not the weapon in whole:  “And immediately place the dague of your axe between his bec de faucon and his hand…”  (“Et incontinent mettre la dague de la vostre entre son becq de faulcon…,” Le Jeu para. 16).  Moreover, neither bec de corbin nor bec de faucon is an appropriate term for describing an axe.

Some people call these kinds of weapons—with a hammer head backed by a spike—“pole hammers,” demonstrating (and compounding) their ignorance about the terms being used.  In reality, the weapons shown above, both the so-called “Lucerne hammer” and “Bec de Corbin,” are called “axes” in most medieval sources, or pollaxes in English sources.  The French call them “Hache,” the Italians “Azza,” and the Germans “Axe” (or axt), with no mention of hammers.  And indeed, with just a single exception (Codex 11093) all of them show only this kind of axe (the hammer head backed with a spike) and none show axes with an axe blade (Mair shows something with an axe blade and some wild spikes on the back, but it appears to be a specialized weapon for unarmored combat, if, indeed, it ever existed—Mair was sometimes somewhat fanciful).  So every time a Fechtbuch says something about an axe, azza, or hache, it always means a hammer backed with a spike for hooking, and never a weapon with an axe blade (again, except Codex 11093).  Here are some examples:

“The first bind with the axe.”  (“Das erste anbinden mit der axt,” Talhoffer 1467 fol. 41r.)

“The way you will confront someone with the axe.”  (“Wie dú dich gegen aim[e] anndern schick[e]n sollt mit der axe,” Kal fol. 37v.)

“The first bind with the axe.”  (“Das erste anbinden mit der Axe,” Kal fol. 38r.)

Then, there is the question of weapons with an axe head and a spike (bec de faucon), such as this one (pardon my use of a reproduction, but the design is accurate):
Most people call these pollaxes or axes, today, and yet they are not.  I do not blame people for this misunderstanding; indeed, if you read my pollaxe book, you will see I include this weapon among the pollaxes because at the time I did not know to question the “common beliefs” on the subject.  It was not until a translation of the Peter Falkner Fechtbuch came out that it was possible to know that these weapons are actually halberds, and not axes at all.  The Falkner Fechtbuch is explicit about this, and it makes sense when you think about it.  What is a halberd but a blade with a top spike and a back spike on a shaft?  It is only that some of these weapons are very elaborate, as if for use by real men at arms (i.e., knights) and not common troops (i.e., billmen and halberdiers), and we associate the pollaxe with men at arms, not with common troops.  This can excuse those who got it wrong before we learned what Falkner had to  say, but there is no excuse for those who  ignore this and cling in ignorance to the wrong term.  One has but to look at Falkner’s plain text and pictures, and it becomes impossible to confuse them.

“If you have a murder axe or halberd…”  (“Merck hastu ein mordtagst oder hellebarten,” Falkner fol. 62v.)

“Wind to him the blade of your halberd in front to the neck.”  (“wind ym das platt diner hellenbarten,” Falkner fol. 63v.)

“Note, this piece is plain and simple: If you have a halberd and he likewise…” (“Merck das stück ist schlecht und gerecht hastü ein hellenbarten vnd er einen,” Falkner fol. 64r.)

Note that the weapons above from Falkner are axe blades backed by a spike/hook, making them halberds.  The only exception is the one on the left in folio 62v which shows a hammer backed by a spike, making it an axe, and the reader can see the master was explicit about this in the text.

It is popular today to ignore historical fact in an effort to appear hip or trendy or something, because people fear—fairly dread—being thought of as pedantic, or, god forbid, a scholar.  Even when you teach them the facts, they tend to ignore them because they fear the disapprobation of the reverse snobs among their fellows who laud ignorance; weaklings always care more about the opinions of the popular crowd than they do about facts.  This issue, however, is not open to doubt.  Put most simply, an axe, within the context of historical combat, must have a hammer head.  That hammer may be backed by a spike/hook (and they are only used for hooking, never for striking in any Fechtbuch), as they are in almost all Fechtbücher, or by an axe blade, as seems more common in the non-Fechtbuch iconography, but it is the hammer head which defines it as an axe, not an axe blade.

Sources Cited:
Hans Talhoffer 1467:  Cod.icon. 394a
Le Jeu de La Hache:  MS Français 1996
Paulus Kal:  Cgm 1507
Peter Falkner:  MS KK5012

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Master the Art of the German Longsword

Announcing the publication of Hugh Knight's newest book, The Longsword Training Guide, now available on Lulu.com: HERE

Mr. Knight's previous book, The Knightly Art of the Longsword, taught the techniques of historical German swordsmanship, but just learning techniques is not enough if you want to understand how to actually use the system.

The Longsword Training Guide picks up where that previous one left off, taking those techniques and putting them into realistic context by combining them into drills and partner exercises intended to teach the reader how to use the art as Master Liechtenauer intended. It is almost 300 pages in length, stuffed with hundreds of detailed photographs showing every step of the forms and drills being taught.

As a special feature, the book is being released in a spiral binding designed to allow the book to be laid flat for easier use during training sessions.

The Longsword Training Guide is intended to be used in close conjunction with The Knightly Art of the Longsword. The author recommends buying them together since the new book does not contain detailed instruction for most of the techniques themselves. It can be purchased HERE.

Note: I need to tell people who are considering buying this book that Lulu.com has changed their printing process, and the pictures came out very dark, even though the photographs I used were good (the cover photo is a perfect example). I have shown the book to people and they all agreed you can make out the techniques easily in spite of this, but I wanted to be honest about it. I am becoming very disappointed with Lulu.com, but in spite of this flaw I believe the book will be of great interest and highly useful to anyone who  wants to understand Master Liechtenauer's art.