- Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.
Tuesday, November 13, 2018
For the most part when many people think of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms) they think of "those people who dress up in funny clothes and do medieval stuff" rather than looking at it from any sort of idea of a martial arts tradition. For the most part SCA heavy combat is seen as two guys beating at one another with sticks until one or the other lays a blow on the other at which point in time he falls down "dead". More or less like some bad job of acting out one of the scenes of some medieval movie. It is not approached from the point of view of a combat art. This post will ask you to challenge those preconceptions of SCA heavy combat and have a look at it as a "living tradition".
So a tradition is something which is passed from one generation to another usually orally, sometimes physically. A living tradition means that it is something which has been going on for quite some time. There are claims by many oriental martial arts of living traditions which extend back hundreds of years, and even some occidental ones too. What should be noted is that SCA heavy combat has been passed down from one fighter to another for about the past fifty years or so. So in that respect it does qualify as a "living tradition".
To be more accurate, there are even some "schools" within the tradition of SCA heavy combat fighting. These are groups of heavy combatants who have been trained by the same senior fighter or fighters, usually one/s of renown and experience, who have developed a particular style and this style is reflected in the individuals who have trained under these senior combatants. Of course each will have added his own individual flavour due to differences in body-shape and movement, but the "school" of movement will definitely be there.
While some would argue against SCA heavy combat as being a martial art, it is most definitely a combat art. The practitioners are actively trying to strike one another and often there is a price that is sometimes paid for in pain when a blow strikes flesh, or simply a part of the fighter which is not armoured sufficiently. As this form of combat progresses through time it gathers more complexity and its training also develops more complexity as it is understood better, it also progresses towards the elements of a martial art that some would claim are missing. Could it be used in a self-defense situation? In the right situation, it most definitely could. Could it be used to disable an opponent to prevent them from doing harm? Again, in the right situation it could.
The next time you look at SCA heavy combatants fighting, or training, examine what they are doing. Go up and ask what they are doing and you will find a lot more complexity that you did not know existed. Ask about the history of their art and you will also find that there is a lot more there than you would have expected. While this living tradition could be seen as quite young, it is nevertheless a living tradition which is not just alive but thriving. Maybe it could do with a little less ridicule and a little more recognition for the common path which they travel.
Saturday, October 13, 2018
So for the following post, as indicated the discussion will be about shields. This is a subject which is often pushed aside or ignored as it is often assumed that shields are pretty simple in their construction and development. It is actually far from the case. There is also often a sort of evolutionary view, that one form of shield replaced another as it became more popular, not the case either. The shield was a part of the fighting man's kit for longer than it has not been used in later periods, ever since someone had the smart idea of putting a large surface area between them and the opponent's weapon. To really understand the use of swords, especially on the battlefield, it is necessary to understand shields. (Yes, it is a little on the long side.)
“From the Greek hoplon to the Scottish targe, the shield was more than simply an afterthought in the warrior's kit. Not only was the shield an integral part of the soldier's equipment, but it was also responsible for the development of the basic tactics used by armies throughout the centuries.” (Kelly, 2017)
“Although they were all used in a general way, each type of shield that developed did so for a particular manner of combat. There are trade-offs with any size and shape of shield and those factors had to be weighed in relation to the user’s personal preference.” (Clements, 1998:90)
“The shields of the 11th to 15th centuries were not only used for defense but to also display the coat of arms and the wealth of the owner. It is likely that at first the fronts of the shields were simply painted, but by mid-13th century both sides were painted, with the fronts often containing tooled or molded leather adornment.” (Kelly, 2017)
The use of heraldry was originally designed so that a person could be easily identifiable on the battlefield. Most often this was so that a person could see who was fighting on whose side and therefore which people they should be fighting and which ones they should not be fighting. This is a point which is often underestimated in its importance. In the Renaissance armour improved, this resulted in the shield being used less and less by those who could afford better body armour.
“The shield of the Renaissance began to see less and less use on the battlefield. This at least partially owes to the development of better body armour. Since many soldiers and knights began wearing some sort of plate armour, the shield was an unnecessary form of protection, and a fighter could instead opt for using both hands on his weapon.” (Kelly, 2017)
Defensive and Offensive
“The shield was an important defensive weapon rather than a piece of armor. It evolved through the period and, at least in some forms, could also be used offensively in combat.” (Bouchard, 2009:85)
“Often in the Middle Ages the most effective defensive armament was the shield. It was produced in a number of different shapes, sizes, and materials, depending upon what it was likely to be defending against. The shield could also be employed in an offensive way, either in combination with another weapon, or even, in some circumstances, on its own.” (Bouchard, 2009:86)
More than Just a Defensive Tool
“More than simply a defensive tool, the shield was a weapon in its own right and the definitive symbol of the warrior caste in many cultures. For much of the history of edged weapons the shield marched hand-in-hand with the sword in terms of prestige and importance. It is an object worthy of intense study, and any collection of antique or replica arms is incomplete without it.” (Kelly, 2017)
“The [Anglo-Saxon] thanes brought other retainers, known as liens, with them to fight; these men were lightly armored (or not at all) and carried lighter, round shields and usually had both a spear and a short sword.” (Cummins, 2008:161)
“The shield is approximately one metre in diameter and made of pine planks, covered in treated pig leather, and trimmed in ox rawhide. On top of that, it has a whole lot of battle scars.” (Kusnitzoff, 2016)
Kusnitzoff (2016), much like Grant (2009), describes a wooden shield of planks which is covered in leather, and then further edged with toughened leather for reinforcement. He also notes that the shield is also quite large being a metre in diameter.
“Round shields These were made from linden wood planks riveted together and edged with rawhide, then decorated with hand-painted designs.” (Grant, 2009:57)
Again from Grant (2009) there is a caption for an image describing much the same as Kusnitzoff above; a wooden shield which is edged in rawhide for additional support. In this case the shield is painted on the front and there is a central boss of metal on the shield. This is the image of the Viking shield, a wooden shield which was supported by leather and sometimes reinforced by metal edging, which had a metal boss, and a hand painted face.
“The shield was an important part of the Viking’s battlefield armoury. Made from wood, they were covered in leather. Bound around edge with leather or iron. Brightly painted often with crosses once Christianity was adopted.” (Holmes, 2010:52)
“Carrying a shield on the arm allows it to be held close in against the body and suits it to both mounted and foot combat. It also allows the user to fight much closer to an opponent.” (Clements, 1998:91)
Having the shield on the arm means that the shield is like a large forearm, it can be extended from the body, but it can also be brought close to the body. This means that the shield becomes more a part of the user and thus enhances the strength of the shield. It allows a person to fight closer to the opponent because it does not have the arm in the way like the central grip does, the arm just folds in against the body.
“Further protection [of the Norman] was offered by a metal helmet with noseguard and a kite-shaped shield. The Norman cavalryman’s main weapons were a long lance and a sword, the latter being employed for close-in work after the lance was broken or lost.” (Cummins, 2008:160)
“The heart of the Crusader army – the killing force that their leaders depended on – was the cavalry, almost all of whom were knights. The knights fought with lance and sword; wore iron helmets and tunics made of chain mail; and carried huge, kite-shaped shields.” (Cummins, 2008:176)
We think of the battlefield as a chaotic place of clanging metal, the screams of wounded men, and actions of heroism and brutality combined all together in one. What is often not realised is that while the sword, lance and other weapons were the prime weapons of war, the shield was also used as a concussive weapon as well, as noted below.
“‘Shields, helmets, and coats of mail were shivered by the furious and impatient thrusts of his sword; some he dashed to the earth with his shield...’ Orderic Vitalis describing William fighting at the Battle of Hastings” (Grant, 2009:63)
While this description of the kite shield does not deal particularly much with its use and is more curatorial, and thus descriptive, in nature, it must be realised that the shield was also used as a weapon where opportunity was found. This is one of the elements that is often forgotten when dealing with shields, they were not a passive defense, they were very much active.
“The long kite-shaped shield, concave towards the body and with rounded top, is the typical horseman’s shield of the period, but many representations show a round shield used by the infantry and very occasionally by the cavalry. Both types frequently have bands radiating from the central boss and a broad edging, which may represent metal reinforces.” (Norman, 1970:9)
The example presented by Norman (1970), above, has all of the classic features of the kite shield of the period, with additions. The central boss on the shield is a feature which was present on the earlier shields but was removed on later ones, especially where they were curved. The bands radiating away from the boss are also reminiscent, like the boss, of the round shield from which the kite was based. What is common with all of these types of shield is that, “The main part of the shield was of wood covered with leather.” (Norman, 1970:10). What also needs to be noted is that, in general, they were quite large, 20 by 45 inches in size and 8 to 10lb in weight (Clements, 1998:95). This was not a small shield to be moved around quickly.
“The shield was held by passing the fore-arm either through a series of straps on the back or through a simple strap and gripping a bar set behind the hollow of the boss. A long loose strap allowed the shield to be hung up in the hall, or slung on the back when both hands were required in combat.” (Norman, 1970:10)
What will be noted is that there is a rather wide array of methods for strapping the kite shield. The combination of the solid bar behind the boss is an earlier form of gripping method which comes from the round shield. The series of straps through which the arm was passed is a later form, but the solid bar was not necessarily abandoned completely, “Kite shields were held in a variety of ways, and their grips were much more individual.” (Clements, 1998:97). On the same page as indicated, and several following, Clements (1998) indicates several other different strap configurations, and many of these can be found by examining extant shields and also manuscripts. What is known is that, “The two-enarme version is a fairly standard form of shield grip and existed on many types.” (Clements, 1998:99).
“Each housecarl wore a chainmail coat and carried a kite-shield, and his chief weapon was the long-handled battle-ax. In order to wield his ax in both hands, the housecarl had to sling his shield on his back [by the guige]; consequently, for protection, he was usually assigned a spearman,” (Cummins, 2008:161)
“By the eleventh century, the shield was often kite shaped. ... when on foot ... its sharp bottom edge could be “planted” in the ground, while its wider part was overlapped with a shield on either side, thus producing a shield wall – a favorite, effective tactic used against cavalry. Kite-shaped shields can be seen being used by Norman knights in the Bayeux Tapestry.” (Bouchard, 2009:86)
The Bayeux Tapestry is often looked upon as a great piece of art, and very infrequently looked upon as an effective piece of documentation. In the stitches of this fabric can be found evidence for how arms and armour were both used and also other smaller details like how it was removed from the body. This sort of thing should not be under-estimated. The kite shield remained popular for an extended period of use.
“The large kite-shaped shield of the kind used by the Normans was still popular in the second half of the twelfth century. In Scandinavia during this period its form remained unchanged, but further south it tended to be modified by having its upper edge made straight.” (Oakeshott, 1996:274)
The flattening of the top of the kite shield will be discussed below, as it is significant and alludes to the development and progression to the next stage of development of the shield, the heater. This change did not quite herald the end of the kite shield it was to hold on for at least another hundred years. Kelly (2017) gives an excellent presentation of some of the documentary evidence for the use of the kite shield available, from its beginning to the beginning of its decline.
“From the end of the Viking period at 1066 until the beginning of the 13th century the most widely used form of shield was the kite-shaped shield. The single best source for the shape and form of this shield during the 11th century is the Bayeux Tapestry. It portrays many of the Norman warriors carrying kite shields of half-body length. These shields have rounded upper edges, central bosses and an outwardly convex shape. During the 12th century the main shape of the shield remained the same, though not all depicted shields had central bosses. The so-called Temple Pyx bronze casket fragment from 1140-1150 shows knights carrying bossed kite shields much like the ones from the Bayeux Tapestry, but the Winchester Bible, 1170, and an illustration from the 12th century work The Life of Guthlac depict smaller size kite-shaped shields without bosses. The shields still featured a convex shape to offer better protection. As the 12th century progressed, the curve at the top of the shield became less prominent and at the beginning of the 13th century it flattened completely (Victory of Humility over Pride, 1200, from the Trier Jungfrauenspiegel, Kestner Museum, Hanover).” (Kelly, 2017)
“the evidence of innumerable documents shows that after 1150 a type of large triangular shield with a straight upper edge predominated. Some still had central bosses, some did not. This feature is occasionally seen as late as the mid-thirteenth century,” (Oakeshott, 1996:274)
This was the beginning of the change from the kite to the heater shield. Further development took place for the shield to change to its classic shape. One of the first things that happened was that it became more triangular, thus shorter in length. This improved its utility off the horse, and also lightened the shield, and the central boss began disappearing.
"With the flattening of the top, the shield of the 13th century acquired a more triangular form (see the effigy of William Longespée, 1240). It was still convex but became even smaller in length. The majority of depicted shields do not have central bosses, although some did (Relief from Church of St. Justina, Padua, 1210).” (Kelly, 2017)
Kite Not Gone
"Until the middle of the century [13th] the large kite-shaped shield remained in vogue, but already a smaller form, shaped like the base of a flat-iron, was becoming fashionable. Both types were usually slightly curved to the body. In Italy the kite-shaped shield remained in use by the infantry until the fifteenth century.” (Norman, 1970:14)
“By about 1250, somewhat shorter shields of a more triangular shape with flatter tops emerged from the larger kite styles. The heater ... is the shield so classically associated with the Medieval knight and heraldry.” (Clements, 1998:102)
The kite shield eventually changed shape into the classic style of the heater which is so well-known and so associated with knights and heraldry, but the shield itself cannot be just taken as being simple. There are varying complexities that need to be taken into account. “At first, they too were flat, but after 1300 or so heater shields commonly were convex.” (Clements, 1998:102). The heater also changed shape, if only on one plane and there were also larger ones and smaller ones present, though it was the smaller variety which were to last longer in the service of the armoured warriors.
Smaller and Gone?
“Towards the end of the 13th century the shield became even smaller and the shape changed to [heater] ... This is the shape that predominated until the early 15th century. This is, of course, an oversimplification, since in Italy the kite-shaped shield seems to have been as popular as the heater-shield. The heater shield was much flatter than its predecessors and did not feature the same convex shape. Towards the end of 14th century the top-right corner of the heater shield was notched. This allowed the shield to be used to guide the lance during mounted charge, likely during tournament jousting, but perhaps also on the battlefield.” (Kelly, 2017)
“Several surviving shields from the 12th to 14th century give us much detail about how the shields were constructed. One in the Landesmuseum, Zurich, dating from circa 1180, was made of lime wood covered inside and out with leather. Another shield from the late 13th century in the Armeria Real de Madrid is made from cedar-like wood with parchment covering on both sides, the parchment being thicker on the front. Both faces of this shield were painted black. Another late 13th century triangular shield bearing the arms of Von Nordech from Rabenau in the Nationalmuseum, Munich was made from three planks of wood, covered with leather and gesso (gypsum) and then painted. One of the most well-known examples of a surviving 14th century shield is the purported shield of Edward the Black Prince in the Canterbury Cathedral. This shield is thought to have been made especially for Edward's funeral achievements as it lacks any of the attachment straps that are required for military use. The shield measures 28 3/4 inches in height and 23 1/4 inches in width. It is made of joined poplar wood planks. The wood is covered with canvas and gesso, which are overlain by parchment and finally, leather. The front is painted and the Plantagenet coat of arms, made from molded leather, is glued on top. The three vertical metal bars on the shield represent Edward's rank in the family as first-born son. The back of the shield was painted green.” (Kelly, 2017)
“From the early years of the thirteenth century the shield was a good deal shorter – about 30 in. from base to apex – and considerably wider, often strongly curved to enclose the body in the manner of old Roman shields. Towards the century’s end a type of very small, flat shield seems to have been popular as an alternative to the big one. We find them on many English brasses and monuments dating between 1280 and 1325. They appear to be rather similar in purpose to the little flat fist-bucklers which were often used for fighting on foot, but they were of the flat-iron shape” (Oakeshott, 1996:274)
The comparison is made between the heater and the kite shield. This smaller shield was more mobile, thus able to complete quicker movements from one position to another. The smaller shield was also in response to an increase in the protection provided by armour. What was most interesting is that these shields were actually thicker than the previous ones in some instances.
“Shields were also made thicker. The smallest, lightest heaters allowed the warrior to release the second hand for use on a weapon. These smaller buckler-sized heaters were in use as early as 1280. Some Italian cavalry of 1300s also used a small shield called an ecu.” (Clements, 1998:102)
Like the kite shield, the heater could be mounted in various ways. Some of the same techniques were used, and some were not. The single central handle with a boss was left behind in favour of the enarmes, or arm straps. More specific examples can be found by examining extant examples, and iconography.
“The way the shields were carried is most easily understood by studying the effigy of Sir Robert de Shurland (1330) and a surviving shield from the first half of the 14th century, currently in the Tyroler Landesmuseum, Innsbruck, which retains all its original straps. Both shields have two sets of straps. The first set consists of two buckled, adjustable straps forming a single loop called a guige, which is used to carry the shield over the shoulder. The second set of straps consists of three loops called enarmes, through which the left arm of the user goes. The left-most strap is near the elbow, the middle one is near the wrist, and the right-most strap could be grasped within the hand of the user if his hands were not used to hold the horse's reigns. The distancing and location of the three enarmes appears to have varied according to personal taste.” (Kelly, 2017)
Kelly (2017) gives two examples of shields which retain all of their original strapping. What will be noticed is that in both cases enarmes and a guige are both used. These were both common on the kite shield, and no doubt were retained on the larger of the heater shields. Kelly notes that the arrangement of the straps varied according to personal taste and this is clearly noted by the different methods of locating straps on different shields noted in various iconography, and also extant examples. Time is still being spent to see how these shields were used correctly so that these straps could be properly utilised.
Target and Rotella
“although d’Evoli believes that the small round shield known as the rotella is a useful defence for infantry against pike, he is unimpressed by the cavalry’s targa or wooden shield. The latter has to be secured to the man using it with a leather strap and buckles so entangling him that he is no longer free to move about quickly. Moreover, because the targa is made of wood, the metal tip of a lance strikes it full on rather than slipping off safely to one side or another. Worse still, it defends only one side of the body, leaving the rest unprotected,” (Anglo, 2000:220)
In general, it could be said that d’Evoli is not particularly in favour of the use of the shield at all, but he has a preference for the rotella over the target due to construction and utility. Both of these shields come to prominence during the Renaissance period, primarily as infantry shields, but also in some instances as cavalry shields as indicated above. With the simple difference, the target being made of wood and the rotella being made of metal, it is possible to investigate both of these shields further.
“Other foot soldiers used the targe, or target, a fairly large, concave shield that came in a variety of shapes, although it was often round. It was equipped with enarmes, or leather straps, which allowed it to be attached to the left forearm and gripped with the left hand.” (Bouchard, 2009:87)
The target was most commonly round but was also found in square and other shapes. It had enarmes (arm straps) with which to hold it. Thus it was held on the forearm. This shield could be seen as a cross between the old round shield and also that of the heater in some ways, though it was often smaller than the heater. The target is most often related as a later development of the shield.
“Another type of small Medieval shield was the targe, or targatt, associated most commonly with Scots. Unlike bucklers, targes were worn on the arm, as were typical shields, and ranged in size from 20 to 23 inches.” (Clements, 1998:105)
Kelly (2017), once again, gives some very in-depth detail about the rotella. In the beginning of the statement about it there is a reference about how it is often referred to as a target and it often is, as far as the English are concerned, in the period. This blending between the rotella and target should be noted, and while the target may be either steel or wooden, the rotella was only steel; this is the real defining characteristic between the two types of shield. This is the same sort of blurry line that exists between the classifications of swords.
“Variants of the round shield existed and were known by names such as the Italian rotella, the Spanish rodela and the English target. In the late 17th century many European armies had units of targeteers, soldiers armed with sword and target whose job was to storm breeches in walls during sieges. Even though the shield no longer enjoyed as large a role as it had in the Middle Ages some armies still favored it. An account by Beranl Diaz, a soldier in Herman Cortez's 1519 expedition to Mexico, records that the vast majority of Cortez's troops during his campaigns in the New World were rodeleros, or shield bearers, and outnumbered arquebusiers and crossbowmen. This was atypical, as other armies in Europe relied far less on the shield, and may have more to do with other factors of the New World, such as climate or availability of gun powder.” (Kelly, 2017)
What will be noted is that these metal rotella and target only appear in the Renaissance period, usually in response to pike formations. Rather than having the opponent’s point stick to the shield, it is designed to slip off the shield, “Only in the later Renaissance did some large metal shields find limited use against pike formations.” (Clements, 1998:92). This meant that men armed with sword and shield could move between the pikes to attack the formations, within the pikes. The shield was losing its place on the battlefield as firearms were becoming more effective, however it became more popular as a civilian defence.
“While the shield may have become less popular on the battlefield, it became more popular as a civilian form of defense. An interesting point to note is that, with the exception of specialized shields and bucklers, there is no surviving manuscript detailing the use of the shield prior to the Renaissance, when shields were more common. Yet in the Renaissance, when the personal duel became more common, there are several fencing manuals explaining the usage of the round shield. While other weapon combinations seem more common in these manuscripts, it would make sense that some combatants would prefer the defensive qualities of a shield since gentlemen usually were unarmoured in the duel.” (Kelly, 2017).
“The targe (targaid) is the Scottish version of a small wooden shield worn on the arm. According to Dr. Stephen Bull (curator of the Lancashire County and Regimental Museum), the targe was in use in Scotland from the 12th century until late in the 18th (long after shields had disappeared from military service elsewhere) but most of the surviving examples date to the 16th century or later. The Glasgow workshops appear to have made the majority of mass-produced targes. The overall shape and face embellishments on the targe make it one of the easiest shield types to spot and distinguish. This type of shield is almost invariably circular with diameter of about 20 inches. The face of the shield is usually covered with leather, often heavily ornamented by tooling elaborate patterns onto the leather and/or by developing complicated designs with metal tacks. Stewart Maxwell recently developed a typology of the Scottish targe based on these decorative elements. The targe often featured a central boss sometimes fitted with a metal spike projecting forward. Such spikes were removable and could be stored in scabbards in the back of the targe. Carrying straps appear to have been uncommon.” (Kelly, 2017)
The Scottish targe is a classic accompaniment to the Scottish broadsword especially in the 18th-century. Images of this can be found in literature and discussed in manuals into the 18th-century, but as has been noted the targe has a much longer history. This is the shield that most people think of when the word “targe” is mentioned. Their construction was much the same as other shields of similar periods.
“According to Collin Rolland, most surviving targes appear to have been made from oak or pine. The oak examples appear to be a bit thinner, as oak is heavier. On average targes were about half an inch thick. Damage or X-ray inspection of surviving examples reveals that all targes were of two-ply construction. Each ply consisted of irregular number of boards simply butted together. The boards were of different width, and were laid cross-wise to the other ply. The plies were held together by concentric rows of wooden pegs.” (Kelly, 2017)
The two-ply construction is similar to that found on early round shields along with the thickness of the wood used in the construction. The major difference is that while the round shield was glued in place or held by the outside covering, wooden pegs held the Scottish targe together resulting in a much more solid construction. The covering of the shield was in much the same fashion as the round shield, using leather to cover the front and back.
“The backing of the targe varied from simple leather and calf or cow skin, to dear skin, seal or mountain goat skin. Often the skin used for the backing of the targe retained some of the animal hair. It typically also was stuffed with hair, straw, animal skin, etc. under the portion of the backing contacting the user's arm. The stuffing was held in place by a pair of parallel leather bands about 7 inches apart.” (Kelly, 2017)
The strapping for the targe works by the use of enarmes as can be expected, with a handle for the hand. These were placed for the greatest utility of both the shield and the arm so that even with the shield on the arm, the hand could still be used. This concept is also seen on previous shield types.
“The targe is usually depicted as worn on the left arm to protect the upper body from cuts and thrusts. It was secured to the user's arm by a wide leather band (or two narrow, closely spaced bands) at the forearm (arm-loop) and by a leather or metal handle held in the palm (hand-grip). The forearm loop was secured to the targe by means of a metal staple or nails and so were the hand-grips when made of leather. These leather hand-grips had the thickness of a sword grip (by virtue of the wooden or rope core of the grip). The metal grips (the less common of the two types) were attached to the targe by means of two split pins and usually were inwardly concave to allow the user to pass his arm through the handgrip” (Kelly, 2017)
“Often in the Middle Ages the most effective defensive armament was the shield. It was produced in a number of different shapes, sizes, and materials, depending upon what it was likely to be defending against.” (Bouchard, 2009:86)
A smaller shield may be more suitable for the close-in situation of the melee, whereas a larger shield may be preferable for better protection during a siege. There was also the consideration of whether the individual was mounted or not. A longer shield may impede his movement while mounted, yet a shorter one would not give as much protection while being on foot. While it is likely that each individual had their preference for armament and shield, it is also likely that this would have changed depending on the particular scenario that they faced. Of course it should be noted that each shield had its own characteristics.
“Although they were all used in a general way, each type of shield that developed did so for a particular manner of combat. There are trade-offs with any size and shape of shield and those factors had to be weighed in relation to the user’s personal preference.” (Clements, 1998:90)
The particular manner in which a shield was used along with its particular characteristics would be a reason to choose a particular shield, or even change to a different type of shield for a particular encounter. There is no doubt, as stated each combatant would have had their preference, but this preference would have also taken into account different situations which they would have faced. Thus changing shield to suit a particular scenario is not that unlikely. Most importantly it should be noted that there were a wide variety of shields which were used, and that they were not as restricted as some would like us to believe.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Some when they talk about concussion discuss it as if it is just a simple hit to the head which they can recover from easily and everything is fine. It is just a little smack to the head, they can continue, no worries. The thing is that this is not the case at all. Concussion is no joke and is something that needs to be taken seriously, very seriously.
I have produced a discussion on the subject of concussion, why it needs attention and some of the very important aspects pertaining to it. This can be found here: http://www.academia.edu/37041914/Concussion.pdf, or I can be contacted for a copy of the same document. This is a subject close to me as I have received quite a few concussions and know that they can have a debilitating effect on your life.
The above change needs to be made at a community level, simply that people who strike to hard need to be told that they are hitting too hard and that they need to stop. A community can simply refuse to engage with such people as a sign of support for such a move also. At a policy level, organisations can stipulate the levels of impact allowable and permitted in competitions. If there are no such organisations, event organisers can achieve the same by stipulating the same in their rules for competitions.
Some will suggest target restriction. This does not prevent the area from being struck, it just means that the it gets struck unintentionally, or gets placed in the way "gaming" the rules. In sport fencing, in foil, the head is off target, but it does not prevent them from wearing masks to protect against the blades which manage to go in that direction.
The greatest argument will be for increasing protective equipment, and for some this will be the first place where they go. It is the easiest thing to change, but it is a patch job and can lead to worse situations. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the least effective method for reducing risk of injury. Often an increase in PPE can lead people into more risk taking situations thus reducing or neutralising the effectiveness of the PPE. Larger helmets make for larger targets, and also can lead to whiplash injuries. There is also the brutish mentality of some who think that because a person is wearing extra gear they can hit them harder.
People simply need to stop hitting so hard. Officials need to enforce rules of play which discourage hard hitting and enforce them strongly. Clubs also need to create a culture where hard hitting is also discouraged. If you have people in your club who are hitting hard and you do not feel safe, talk to them. If this comes to nothing, talk to the head instructor. If this comes to nothing, leave. Only when people use the power that they have will an impact be noticed. Remember, this is your safety we are talking about.
Monday, August 13, 2018
The following is a subject which I have been considering whether writing it would be of any use or not and I have decided that even if I get one person interested, it is worth the effort. For all of my usual Historical European Martial Arts readers I apologise, this one is for the Society for Creative Anachronisms crowd. Well, actually it is so you can both talk to one another in a similar language so it is actually for understanding, so in that way it is for both of you.
Communication is the AimThe subject which is raised here is one which I proposed quite a while ago and simply just never got around to dealing with. The purpose of this post is to take the standard SCA "heavy" (armoured combatant) blows and translate them into Italian language, or at least that used in many of the period manuals. Why? So then these manuals may be more accessible to these members of this group, also so that there is more understanding between the two sets of martial artists. I have chosen Italian terms because they are more familiar to me.
"Snap" and "Off-Hand"Ok, so we are going to start simply. Anything which is thrown as a fore-hand blow is known as a mandritta. Anything which is thrown as a back-hand blow is known as a riversa. So a "snap" is a mandritta, and an "off-hand snap" is a riversa. This delineation works for all blows which are thrown in this direction from the combatant (Please note I am using a particular spelling and nomenclature for these words some manuals may use others).
Next, a blow which comes horizontal is called a tondo, so your average "snap" is a tondo, and so is the "off-hand snap". To delineate between the two the former is a mandritta tondo and the latter is a riversa tondo. Remember, this is because one travels in from the combatant from the right and the other from the left, as previously explained. Where the angle changes so will the descriptive word.
A diagonally downward blow is called a squalembrato. So a "snap" to the leg would be a squalembrato, as would be an "off-hand snap". Again, we have the mandritta squalembrato for the "snap" to the leg, and a riversa squalembrato for an "off-hand snap" to the leg. The pattern of side then direction is a format which will give a general idea of the blow followed by more specifics about the blow.
"Wrap"Even the "wrap" a blow which supposedly has no place in period manuals actually does have a description in Italian. The first word that is used is the word falso, which describes an action using the false, or back, edge of the weapon. The next is to simply describe the blow as it is delivered. A standard "wrap" is simply a falso mandritta tondo as it is a false edge blow which comes from the right at a horizontal angle. The "rising wrap" is a little different it is a diagonally upward blow from the right hand side which is called a falso dritto.
"Slot"The last blow that will be discussed here is the "Slot" shot. It is a vertical blow designed to pass down between the sword and shield of the opponent to strike them. A vertical blow in Italian is called a fendente. So, in essence, this would be the simplest naming of this particular shot.
Left-HandersSo the question that often gets asked is "What happens to the terms if I am a left-hander?" Nothing. Except that, as per usual, you will drive your average right-handed opponent up the wall, and probably left-handers as well. The terms do not change as the directions originate with the person throwing the blow rather than the person recieving them. In fencing the Lines simply swap over, and it is much the same here, because the weapon is in the opposite hand all of the same names apply to all of the same blows as before.
Blow EffectivenessOne of the questions which always arises with regard to a blow is how effective it is. One of the issues with regard to this is that the average rattan sword is round so it is difficult to see what is edge and what is flat. With an edged sword some of the blows which are called flat would have actually struck with the edge were the weapon shaped in the correct fashion. An example of such a blow is the "rising wrap" to the hip, or a falso dritto as it has been described above.
With the round rattan sword there is the chance due to the nature of the weapon it could be called "flat" whereas in reality the edge would be cutting into the target. To gain the best appreciation of what would actually be flat and what would be edge, a weapon with an edge is the best for simulation, however the rattan sword could be shaped in such a fashion that a clearer edge is present on the weapon (BTW: The best source for a weapon with an edge would be one of your fencing compatriots).
More Blows, More ActionsReally, this has been an introduction to this particular subject in which I have focussed on some of the most basic shots which are delivered by the SCA heavy combatant. There are more shots which can be described using Italian terminology no doubt and definitely actions which can be described using such terminology which have not been included to prevent this from getting too technical. One of the easiest ways to access this information would be to ask a fencer, or me of course.
The Italian terms which have been used above are common in many period manuals and this is one of the reasons why this language has been used to "translate" these blows. It could have just as easily have been German, or Spanish, except I am not so familiar with either of them. Accessing such period manuals will supply infomation about fighting techniques which were used in period combats in the period which are being studied, so what is a good reason that such information should not be accessed?
Added to this, familiarising yourself with the terminology of period manuals will mean it will be much easier to communicate with other Western Martial Artists about what you do and also what they do also. Such communication can only be a benefit to both groups as it will increase the knowledge of both groups. More to the point you will find it easier to communicate with SCA fencers who often access period manuals and can pass on information which they have learnt, which can only be an asset to your group and the SCA as a whole.
Friday, July 13, 2018
The following article is going to get all anatomical. For those who are waiting for my Part 2 about Females and Combat Training, this is not it, you are just going to have to wait. This article will be addressing some of the parts of the body which we assume that we all know about, but actually do not know as much as they thought. In my case, it was necessary that I learn about these things due to various medical conditions and to understand how to maximise my abilities. Another important thing, I do not have any sort of medical degree or medical training, I just want to point out some stuff that people may not realise.
So, you are fencing away with a friend and you get hit in the area around your shoulder. To be more precise, a couple of inches inside where the ball-joint of your shoulder is. According to SCA rules that is a "killing blow" and you are out, it may not be according to other rules. This discussion will examine why this shot would most likely be a killing blow in the period in which swords were most prevalent, but before this we are going to have a look at breathing.
|Human lungs showing lobes|
This means that they are not utilising nor gaining all of the advantage of their lungs. Of course to gain access to these extra parts of the lungs takes practice. One way to access part of them is to lift your arms above your head and place your hands on top of your head. Sportsmen do this in a passive fashion. People with lung complaints, be it sickness or injury learn to utilise various parts of their lungs due to practice. It takes a lot of concentration.
Lungs and Combat
|Lungs in the torso|
"Shoulder" HitSo, now we will have a closer look at the subclavian area, for this so-called "shoulder" hit and see exactly what can be hit should a weapon strike this area. Even if the lung is not struck the combatant will still be left in a very sorry state.
|The right shoulder|
This has been a very brief anatomy lesson with regard to the lungs and the shoulder. There are other systems which are damaged when the shoulder is struck by a sword, such as nerves and muscles, however to keep this a little more succinct I decided to go for the elements which would have the greatest impact. When fencing, consider what you are fencing with and what the actual impact of a real weapon of that kind would do to the part of the body that just got struck. For starters, it will help improve your defense and that can only be a good thing. Hopefully it will also make you really appreciate the martial side of the combats you are involved in. [Edited: Thanks Beth Tobin for the correction about the number of lobes and their location]
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
The following post is a deeper discussion of the subject of female combat training and females in combat written to supplement my previous post Myth Debunking: Female Combat Training. One of the purposes of this article is to answer some of the critics of the previous article that sufficient evidence was not supplied for the case that was presented. This previous post created a lot more discussion than I thought it would, though I should have expected it to considering the content. The reader is warned that, unlike the previous indicated article, this one will be of quite some length.
That it is necessary that this sort of article is written in this day and age makes me wonder just how far we have actually proceeded as a species. That such a subject could cause so much division, rather than the acknowledgement of some new sources as a good thing and thus uniting, demonstrates that the unity of the sexes as we might like to have it has not been achieved as yet. This, and the previous article, are designed to empower the reader with knowledge regardless of what gender they identify themselves as. The information is not meant to be divisive even though there are some, who are so guarded about their prejudices, and preconceived ideas of matters past, that will see this information in such a light.
The following article will present evidence of female combat training, and also females in combat situations from some of the earliest periods, and through the Middle Ages, to the Renaissance and up to contemporary times. That females are trained and serve in the current military forces cannot be denied, this is evident in most of the military forces in developed nations. What is also evident is that women have fought in front-line positions in military forces in the modern world, in recent history. There will be a little of this addressed at the end of the discussion. First, evidence of much earlier training and combats.
“women’s lives are generally every bit as threatened in a combat zone; and they counter the stereotype of women as a Madonna to be protected from the plundering enemy” (Hayton-Keeva, 1987:iv)
"Women also participated in gladiatorial contests. Their involvement in these spectacles throughout the 1st century and in the first half of the 2nd century AD is documented in historical writings and rare portrayals in painting and sculpture." (Rea, 2018:16)Gladiator spectacles originally were put on to honour people in death as part of their funerary rights, something which was considered an important ritual. The nature of "the games" changed over time until they became spectacles for the people to come and watch and for people to look in awe at the power of life and death people had over one another. Nero is well-known for his excesses, "'Gladiatrices' first appeared under Nero's reign, a time when female attendance in the arena could be easily observed." (Rea, 2018:16). So in some ways the entrance of female gladiators was for the entertainment of the female attendees. Something which needs to be considered.
Gladiatrices in the arena places females in combat, but there is also evidence that some took on the training. Even though they may have had no intention of entering the arena. Was this for personal protection? Was this for fitness? What can be said is that the training as female gladiators happened.
"Some older, married women also trained as gladiatrices. Juvenal, author of The Satires, describes them as hitting a pole hard enough to dent it and, with their shields in their hands, performing as well as if they were actually inside the arena." (Rea, 2018:16)
|Gladiatrix relief from Halicarnassus|
Boudicea, Queen of the Iceni
“Ever since 60 AD – and probably long before that – when Queen Boadicea challenged the Roman Empire to battle, there have been women warriors.” (Hayton-Keeva, 1987:iv)The image of Boudica is one which is brought to mind alongside Joan of Arc any time the concept of women in combat is brought to mind. What is also brought to mind is the legendary and somewhat mythical nature of both of these women. What needs to be noted is that they were both real and their achievements need recognition as real.
“The Boudican revolt has been described as ‘the most serious rebellion against Roman rule in any province during the early Principate’ next to the great Batavian (Rhinelander) revolt” (Fraser, 1989:77)
“Boudica led a rebellion of the Iceni and members of other tribes resentful of Roman rule. After defeating the Roman Ninth Legion, the queen’s forces destroyed Camulodunum, then the captain of Roman Britain, and massacred its inhabitants. They went on to give similar treatment to London and Verulamium (modern St. Albans).” (Pruitt, 2016)
“as Tacitus implies and Dio Cassius states, the royal house to which Boudica belonged was that of the Iceni; the tribe she would successfully stir into action.” (Fraser, 1989:59)
“The size and indeed strength of Celtic women was also something on which they [Roman sources] were prone to comment: Diodorus Siculus went further and complimented them on being the equals of their husbands in courage as well.” (Fraser, 1989:59)
|Located on the Thames embankment next to the Houses of Parliament|
Statue by Thomas Thorneycroft
“Tactius’ portrait of the Queen on this occasion, driving round and round the assembled tribes in her chariot, with her daughters in front of her, which has made an indelible impression.” (Fraser, 1989:96)
“In the clash that followed–the exact battle site is unknown, but possibilities range from London to Northamptonshire–the Romans managed to defeat the Britons despite inferior numbers, and Boudica and her daughters apparently killed themselves by taking poison in order to avoid capture.” (Pruitt, 2016)
"Walpurgis"Royal Armouries MS I.33 presents two plates in which four images are presented in which there is a female involved in the combats. She has been identified by the document itself as "Walpurgis". That this manual has been translated, interpreted and used by many members of the Historical European Martial Arts community and that there are still arguments that females were trained in the arts of the sword, at least in this community, remains a mystery. The second of the two plates from the treatise is presented below.
|MS I.33 32v|
The captions which go with the respective images are as follows, for the former, it reads; "Here are the bindings above and below which have often been executed before; hence the verse: "The one who binds and the one who is bound," etc." (Foreng, 2003:147). This simply points out that the actions of the two combatants are a repetition of those which have been presented previously in the treatise and have been repeated here. The latter is the result, "From the abovementioned bindings Walpurgis gets a Shield-Strike, because she was above and the first one ready." (Foreng, 2003:147). The lady combatant, Walpurgis, takes the advantage and makes a strike to the opponent using one of the actions described previously. Clearly she has been trained in the use of the sword and buckler.
"Fight Between a Man and a Woman"While not exactly "trained" combat, it is combat nonetheless, there is evidence presented for combat between males and females presented in the form of judicial duels between men and women. Such an example of one of these types of combats is presented in Talhoffer's treatise of 1467, as presented in Medieval Combat, translated and edited by Mark Rector. This is a judicial duel between a man and his wife.
|(Talhoffer, 2000:Plates 242 and 243)|
Joan of Arc
|Joan of Arc (15th century miniature)|
"Afterward she [Iane Pulzela] tooke armes her selfe, and behaued he selfe in such sorte among the other Captains and men of armes, that in a verye shorte time she was made Captaine generall of the whole armye, and being armed and mounted on a barbed horse, in such sorte as she was not knowne but to be a man, made a sally with all her troupes both horse and foote, and assailing her enemie with an undaunted courage, followed her enterprise with such valour and prudence, that she freed the Cittie of Orleance from the siege, being her selfe shot through the shoulder with an arrow:" (Saviolo, 1595)
Whenever female symbols are held up, especially when fighting is concerned Joan of Arc is mentioned, "Joan of Arc, that symbol of the Middle Ages, had raised the English siege of Orleans with the help of artillery." (Canby, 1965:54). She is seen as a symbol of medieval feminism in part and also Christianity and also, of course a united France. What seems to be missed is that she rode, and fought with the men in the battles that she was in. She did not just take a side-line and watch.
First of all she was a real person, "Joan (Jeanne d'Arc) was born in January of 1412, to Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romée, at Domrémy, on the River Meuse in eastern Champagne." (Cummins, 2008:213). One of the arguments that is leveled against this figure is that she was not real, indeed she was real. The evidence for her eventual trial prove that she was real also, which is where the evidence for most of her deeds come from.
"The Maid was the strangest commander these men had ever had. She attacked the prostitutes who followed the army with the flat of her sword, forbade the men to swear, and wore her heavy armor at all times, to the amazement of at least one knight" who stated that she bore the weight of the armour incredibly well (Cummins, 2008:201).
"[Joan] took her men out of the city to attack another bastion, St.-Jean-le-Blanc, ... The English were so surprised that they abandoned the bastion immediately, fleeing toward a stronger and far larger fortress, a monastery called Les Augustins. In a wild frenzy of fighting, with Joan alternately shouting to the Lord and weeping, the French gave chase and took Les Augustins as well," (Cummins, 2008:206)
by Lorenzo di Credi
“When Giovanni dei Popolani de’ Medici married Caterina Sforza, the Medici family could now call the Duke of Milan brethren. He would not be her first husband and the road to the Florence court was a long, twisting, and, at times, treacherous journey for the famed Caterina.” (Morin, 2015)
“Caterina Sforza, who ruled Forli and Imola, part of the territory stretching from Ravenna through the Romagna over which the Pope [Alexander VI] claimed overlordship.” (Fraser, 1989:197)
“Caterina was born in 1463 ‘on the wrong side of the bed,’ the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, and his feisty mistress, Lucrezia Landriani” (Morin, 2015)
“There, surrounded by artists and writers, Caterina, and her other illegitimate siblings, were raised in the rarefied, tyrannical air of the Milanese court. There she received a Humanist education, the same education as her brothers, perhaps an indication of the fiery woman she was to become. Classic literature and Latin were taught officially. Unofficially, Caterina learned much from her paternal grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti, who fostered a pride in her warlike ancestors, audaciousness in the use of arms, and the intricacies of government. It is to her credit that Bona of Savoy, Galeazzo’s second wife, treated all of her husband’s children as her own, showering them all with maternal love and care, eventually adopting them all. With this myriad mix of influences, it is little wonder that Caterina’s personal proclivities including hunting (like her father), alchemy, and dancing.” (Morin, 2015)
“Caterina was betrothed to the Pope’s newphew, Girolamo Riario. Accounts differ concerning her usurping her own cousin in this marriage, with disputes as to whether Caterina’s marriage was consummated then, in 1473, or four years later, in 1477, when she reached the required legal age of fourteen.” (Morin, 2015)
“Her earliest soldiering was in 1483 when she defended her husband’s territory of Forli from the Venetian threat. From the first Caterina relished such martial activity as he had once relished hunting;” (Fraser, 1989:197)
“The death of the Pope [Sixtus IV], her husband’s uncle (and fear for the decline in the Riario [her husband’s family’s] cause) found Caterina, riding at the gallop to hold the fortress of Sant’Angelo until it could be handed over to the legal successor of Sixtus.” (Fraser, 1989:197)
“With her husband, Caterina seized control of Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome during the turmoils (1484) - she surrendered 13 days later (Caterina was 7 months pregnant at the time and aged 21).” (d'Outremer, 1998)
“Much is debated as to the true power in this couple, many stating Caterina held the reins rather than her weaker husband, many state she herself believed him to be her inferior. With Girolamo away plundering other parts of Italy, Caterina, from her position in the fortress and with the strength of the her soldiers behind her, held the city in her grip, refusing to loosen her hold until her husband returned and a new pope was elected.” (Morin, 2015)
“Life there was a ruse, Girolamo’s rule a shame, and in April of 1488, after many failed attempts, Girolamo was assassinated by a conspiracy led by the Orsis family. The lordship's palace was sacked and Caterina and her children taken as hostages. The conspirators ordered her, by sword-point, to order the garrison of the castle to surrender it. Using her wiles, she agreed, asking for time for the negotiation. Once back in the palace, she followed through on her own plans, gathering all the forces of the city in defense.” (Morin, 2015)
“Caterina acted as regent for her eldest son Ottaviano. Her first act was to punish those who murdered her husband. No one was spared, not even the wives and children of the conspirators or their property. For eight years she ruled and governed all aspects of her position, taxes, building, fostering relations with neighboring courts. She married and was widowed twice more.” (Morin, 2015)
Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli
|Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli|
“I utterly disallow the opinion that one does not attribute nobility unto women but also abridges them from power and ability to ennoble and impart nobility unto others.” (Kirby, 2013:180)
“Women being endowed with both beauty and virtue and seeing that women can learn whatsoever men can, having the full use of reason or else nature (who does never do anything in vain) should have to no purpose given them the gift of understanding. I think they deserve fellowship and communing in honour with men considering nature has bestowed upon them as well as on men a means to attain learning, wisdom and all other virtues active and contemplative.” (Kirby, 2013:180)
"Petrarch writeth, that he knewe a damsell at Pozzuelo called Marie, who borrowing the habit of a yong man, after the fashion men wore apparell there, armed her selfe, and was even the firste that fought with the enemie, and the last that retired:" (Saviolo, 1595)
“Ursina, wife unto Guido chief of the house of Torello, understanding the Venetians had laid siege to Guastella a castle of her husband’s, but he being abroad, armed herself and led a company of men to the defended castle and spoiled many Venetians.” (Kirby, 2013:182)
Catalina de ErausoNot all women were so lucky as Ana to be themselves and triumph. Some had to cross-dress to fit in and stand as men rather than themselves, though as will be noted throughout this discussion this was not an uncommon theme.
“Her father was an officer in the Spanish army, and from an early age Catalina wanted nothing more than to also be a soldier. Of course in the deeply conservative Spanish society of the time, such a thing was unthinkable.” (Conliffe, 2016)
“He got into a fight with a young man at the theatre, and only after Catalina had cut his face and left him scarred did he find out that he was the nephew of his master’s mistress. ... Off he went to manage a store in Trujillo on the coast. The young man and two of his friends decided to come out there after Catalina and teach him a lesson, one he was more than willing to return. One of the friends was killed, and Catalina wound up in jail again. His old master managed to get him released, but he had to move on once more.” (Conliffe, 2016)
“he decided instead to join the army. There was always a demand for soldiers in Chile, as the Mapuche there were one of the few native peoples who had managed to resist Spanish conquest. Catalina headed off to war against them in 1619. It is here that his adventures become a lot better documented, due to the military records,” (Conliffe, 2016)
“Catalina gained a reputation for brutality during his time in the military, though the efficiency he combined it with impressed his superiors. One of those superiors was his brother, Don Miguel de Erauso, who was the secretary of the governor and who didn’t recognise Catalina. After three years Catalina reached the rank of second lieutenant, but also made himself unwelcome in the city due to his temper.” (Conliffe, 2016)
“Back in Concepcion his boredom (and residual battle trauma) led him to drink and gamble to excess, and on one of these debauchs he got into a fight and almost killed a man in a brawl. Rather than face a court martial, he took sanctuary in a church attached to a Franciscan monastery. He wound up staying there for six months until he was asked by another officer to serve as a second in a duel. The duel took place in a dark alley, and when it began Catalina got into a fight with the second of the other participant. Only after he’d killed him did he realise that it was his brother Miguel. ... Filled with guilt and grief, he decided to desert from the army.” (Conliffe, 2016)
“Grief-stricken she became an outlaw and con-artist, on one occasion absconding with a dowry paid to her to marry a young woman. She eventually entered into a convent in Lima after confessing her sex to a bishop. On return to Europe in 1624 De Erauso’s story had become public knowledge and she toured Italy as a celebrity. She was so famous that she was reportedly granted special dispensation by Pope Urban VIII to wear men’s clothing.” (Rae, 2015)
English Civil War
"Countess of Portland who at Carisbrooke Castle ‘behaved like a Roman matron’ and rather than surrender ‘declared she herself would fire the first cannon’. Or there was the lioness Lady Mary Winter, wife of Royalist commander Sir John, who declined to give up Lidney House, near Gloucester, to the Parliamentary commander Colonel Massey with some well-tuned words on the subject of her absent husband’s ‘unalterable allegiance to his king and sovereign’.” (Fraser, 1993:183)
“Wives as well as whores proceeded to ‘counterfeit’ their sex and adopt soldiers’ attire. Sometimes they did so purely in order to follow their man. It was often better to be a man’s comrade, however rough the going, ... a soldier’s pay, a soldier’s keep was at least a form of sustenance.” (Fraser, 1993:221)
“Calvanist Lady Ann Cunningham – ‘a notable Virago’ – struck terror not only into the hearts of the English, but also into that of her own son, the Marquess of Hamilton, who did not share her religious convictions. At Berwick on June 5 , she rode with a case of pistols at her saddle, and her ‘dags’ (daggers) at her girdle, the head of her troop of horse. All her attendant women had been obliged to become expert marksmen; the Marquess aroused her special ire.” (Fraser, 1993:224)
Charlotte de la Trémoille, Countess of Derby
“Although the actual military manoeuvers were conducted by Captain Farmer, it is evident that without a woman of the lofty courage – one might add the aristocratic arrogance – of the Countess of Derby, Latham House would have fallen to the enemy almost immediately.” (Fraser, 1993:189)
Between Two Sisters
"We are informed that the younger sister had learnt from her brother, ... how to use a sling with such deadly effect that she could kill the smallest of birds with it." (Baldick, 1965:169). Now, we think that the sling, in general is a weapon which would not do a lot of damage, but with a stone at high velocity in the right place it could cause some serious injury. This skill was known by the elder sister, and when the falling out happened between them, she had to pick her moment.
The story goes that sometime at a ball that the two were attending, which was at a castle, the elder sister made her move, "Pulling her younger sister after her, she led her to a piece of land very close to the castle, took her sword in her hand, and belaboured her severely, so that she received a wound in one arm." (Baldick, 1965:170). There is not a lot of the story to go on. What is known is that the two of them crossed blades and the elder of the two won. The fact that they both owned swords is something to remark about also considering it would not be likely that a person in that age would own one and not know how to use it.
Comtess de Saint-BelmontA French example. The Comtess de Saint-Belmont remained on her estates while her husband was at war. A cavalry officer took up quarters there without permission so she complained to the officer, which he ignored. Next, she sent a letter of challenge to him over it signing it as her husband, which the officer complied with, she turned up dressed as him as well.
"Within a few moments, the countess had disarmed her opponent, after which she reduced him to utter shame and confusion by saying: 'You thought, Monsieur, that you were fighting the Chevalier de Saint-Belmont, but you are mistaken. I am Madame de Saint-Belmont. I return your sword, Monsieur, and politely beg you to pay proper respect to any request made by a lady in future.'" (Baldick, 1965:170)Like the example of the Countess of Derby, the Comtess de Saint-Belmont was defending what was hers. In this particular case the Comtess actually took up the sword and fought the opponent displaying some skill obviously learnt. This creates a pattern of knowledge of ladies in this period with regard to the use of the sword.
Julie D'Aubigny AKA "La Maupin"
|Mademoiselle Maupin de l'Opéra (1700)|
Publisher Se vend à Paris, chez Trouvain, rue St. Jacques, au grand Monarque
“Julie D'Aubigny was a 17th-century bisexual French opera singer and fencing master who killed or wounded at least ten men in life-or-death duels, performed nightly shows on the biggest and most highly-respected opera stage in the world, and once took the Holy Orders just so that she could sneak into a convent.” (Thompson, 2012)
“This French R. Lee Ermey trained young Julie the same way he trained the King's Squires, and as a young woman she learned the finer points of necessary life skills such as horseback riding, horse maintenance and repair, drinking excessively, gambling, fistfighting, avenging your honor, and stabbing people” (Thompson, 2012)
“By the age of 14 she had become d’Armagnac’s mistress and he found her a husband, the timid Sieur de Maupin, who was promptly dispatched to the provinces to a stimulating job in tax collection.” (Gardiner, 2014)
“she quickly tired of d’Armagnac and ran away with a fencing master called Séranne, with whom she found herself down on her luck, for the first of many times, in Marseille. They earned what they could from giving fencing demonstrations at fairs and in taverns – at one, a man refused to believe she was really a woman because she was simply too good. She took off her blouse and the crowd fell silent. (Gardiner, 2014)
“She began her singing career with the Marseille Opéra, and her early appearances on stage were admired, particularly by one young woman (name unknown) with whom she fell in love. The girl’s family quickly packed her off to a convent in Avignon. Julie followed, entering as a postulate. One night after an elderly nun died, the pair stole the body, placed it in the girl’s cell and set fire to the convent, and escaped.” (Gardiner, 2014)
“The girl was returned to her family eventually, and Julie continued her journey through the countryside, now back in men’s clothes. One day she literally bumped into a young nobleman, Comte d’Albert, who challenged her to a duel, not realising she was female. She beat him, wounded him, nursed him back to health, and in some accounts he is the great romance of her life. At the very least they were lifelong friends.” (Gardiner, 2014)
“Oddly enough, kicking peoples' asses for money eventually led to a completely unrelated job prospect – a career as the star attraction of the Paris Opera. Apparently, while this chick was singing songs to humiliate her enemies in the dueling circle, some powerful record execs were in the audience, and they were so impressed by her melodious contralto voice that they decided she should be doing better shit than stabbing people in the balls for spare change. In the span of a few months, the woman known in Marseilles only as "La Maupin" (meaning "The Mapuin") went from a completely untrained street performer to the lead actress in the world's most respected Opera,” (Thompson, 2012)
“Of course, her fiery temperament in love and combat meant that she slept with or sword-fought with most of the men and women in the opera at various points during her career.” (Thompson, 2012)
“Her career in Paris was interrupted after she attended a court ball in men’s clothes and kissed a young woman on the dance floor, for which insult she was challenged to a duel by three different noblemen. She told each of them she would meet him outside, fought them all at once, and beat them all. But given that Louis had outlawed duels, she had to flee to Brussels, where she became the lover of the Elector of Bavaria.” (Gardiner, 2014)
“La Maupin was pardoned for her duels, this time through the intervention of Monsieur, the King’s brother, and returned to the stage. She performed for the court at Versailles, appeared once again in most major Opéra productions, and introduced the Italian idea of the contralto voice to France. She defended chorus girls against lecherous barons and pompous tenors, became infatuated with the soprano Fanchon Moreau, tried to kill herself, threatened to blow the Duchess of Luxembourg’s brains out, and ended up in court for attacking her landlord.” (Gardiner, 2014)
"the most famous female duellist of the time was the actress Maupin, a performer at the Opera. One of her lovers was the great fencing-master Serane, and he gave her a great many valuable lessons in his art, which she was impatient to put into practice." (Baldick, 1965:171)
Princess Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg Vs. Princess Christiane Anna of Anhalt-Köthen
While there were several duels involving women in the 18th-century, and several instances where women involved themselves in various conflicts in the same period, serving in military forces the story of the duel between these two princesses stands out a bit more than the rest. This incident occurred sometime in June of 1743.
"Sophia and Christiane were German princesses, second cousins, and still teenagers when they developed a beef that could only be quashed by blood. The insult that drove them to lock swords in Sophia's bedroom when she was 14 and Christiane 17 has been lost to history, and the outcome of the challenge is unknown other than that both parties survived." (Drusus, 2016)
So there was a falling out between the two princesses, over what is not known, but it was serious enough, or seemed so that they would lock themselves in a room with a pair of swords to settle the dispute. To the modern audience a pair of relatively young girls with sharp swords is quite shocking. That the result of the duel seems to have been lost is most interesting, what is more interesting, however is the later identity of one of the duelists.
"It must have been a formative experience for young Sophia. A year later, she converted to the Russian Orthodox religion and was betrothed to the future Peter III of Russia. Her new name was Catherine, and when she ascended the throne of all the Russians, she would be known as Catherine the Great." (Drusus, 2016)
"As ruler, her attitude toward dueling was markedly more tolerant than Peter the Great's had been. He made it a hanging offense, but she reformed the law, making the penalty for dueling a loss of social status. When it came to women's duels, she was even more tolerant: In 1765, she is said to have acted as second in eight different duels. Catherine insisted they only be fought until first blood, however; she disapproved of her court ladies killing each other. (Drusus, 2016)
“As early as 1931, anticipating a global war, the Communist Party had mandated universal military training for boys and girls beginning in elementary school. Thousands of young women learned to handle rifles in a nationwide network of shooting clubs. Some achieved top scores in marksmanship.” (Markowitz, 2018)
“In March, 1942 a Central Women’s School of Sniper Training was established in Vishniaki, a village 8.7 miles outside Moscow. The school recruited women aged 18-26, physically fit, with at least seven years of education.” (Markowitz, 2018)
“Women were thought to make good snipers, because they could endure stress and cold better than men, and they had “more patience” to wait for the perfect shot. A special few achieved recognition and fame.” (Markowitz, 2018)
“hundreds of thousands of Soviet women fought at the front against Nazi Germany on equal terms with men. Some of them were snipers whose phenomenal results helped swing the course of the war.” (Timofeychev, 2017)
|Lyudmila Pavlichenko - 1942|
“In early 1941, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was studying history at Kiev University, but within a year, she had become one of the best snipers of all time, credited with 309 confirmed kills, 36 of which were German snipers.” (Lockie, 2015)
“Like many young people in the Soviet Union at that time, Pavlichenko participated in OSOAVIAKhIM, a paramilitary sporting organization which taught youths weapons skills and etiquette.” (Lockie, 2015)
“Eventually, the Red Army gave her an "audition" by giving her a rifle and showed her two Romanians downrange who were working with the Germans. She shot down the two soldiers with ease, and was then accepted into the Red Army’s 25th Chapayev Rifle Division.” (Lockie, 2015)
“Pavlichenko then shipped out to the battle lines in Greece and Moldova. In very little time she distinguished herself as a fearsome sniper, killing 187 Germans in her first 75 days at war.” (Lockie, 2015)
“Snipers in these battles fought between the enemy lines, often far from their companies. It was extremely dangerous and careful work, as she had to sit perfectly still for hours on end to avoid detection from enemy snipers. After making a name for herself in Odessa and Moldova, Pavlichenko was moved to Crimea to fight in the battle of Sevastopol.” (Lockie, 2015)
“She spent eight months fighting in Stevastopol, where she earned a praise from the Red Army and was promoted. On several occasions she was wounded, but she was only removed from battle after taking shrapnel to the face when her position was bombed by Germans who were desperate to stem the tide of her mounting kill count.” (Lockie, 2015)
“Wounded in June 1942, she was pulled out of combat and sent on a propaganda tour of the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain, becoming the first Soviet citizen welcomed at the White House by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.” (Markowitz, 2018)
“In less than one year, Pavlichenko eliminated 300 enemy soldiers and officers. It is said that some of Germany’s top snipers were sent to take her out, 36 of whom she neutralized. One of her adversaries, according to media reports, was a German sniper with over 400 kills.” (Timofeychev, 2017)
“More typical was the experience of Privates Mariya S. Polivanova and Natalya V. Kovshova, a spotter and sniper team killed in action together near Novgorod on August 14, 1943. Wounded and out of ammunition, they waited until German troops approached their trench, then detonated their grenades.” (Markowitz, 2018)
“Tanya M. Baramzina had been a kindergarten teacher before the war. After the German invasion, she trained to become a sharpshooter while attending nursing school. After scoring 16 kills on the Belorussian Front, she was selected for a parachute raid behind German lines. She killed another 20 Germans before taking charge of caring for the wounded when her unit was surrounded. Captured by the enemy, she was tortured and executed.” (Markowitz, 2018)
“After the war, the combat role of women (except for those glamorous aviators) was gradually written out of Soviet history as the Communist Party promoted more traditional gender roles, emphasizing the sisterly and motherly qualities of female field medics, for example. Research by a new generation of Russian historians, like Anna Krylova, offers some valuable insights for the ongoing debate over “women in combat,” which is too often long on emotion and short on facts.” (Markowitz, 2018)
“Women have been drafted into Israel’s armed force since 1949. Although few have fought on the front, some have asked to serve there. All receive battle training, however, and are instructed in the use of firearms.” (Hayton-Keeva, 1987:v)
Women have been active participants in Israel's military for an extended period of time in fact, "Women were active participants in Israel's 1948 war for independence. At some point during the war it was decided that women would no longer participate in battle but would fulfill other roles." (Katz, 2018). So, it needs to be noted that even though they do not serve in front-line positions currently they have previously. It should also be noted that they are also put through the same training as the male members of the military, just as in any military force. The same is the case for the military services of other nations it is essential just in case the units in which the women serve find themselves in a combat situation.
The investigation then proceeded into the medieval period, where the argument should have been defeated for any person who had studied the manual MS I.33 with the depiction of "Walpurgis", followed by the canonised Joan of Arc and the formidable Caterina Sforza. Three strong female figures all clearly trained in the combative arts. It was in this period that this discussion started with the four manuscript images that were presented in previous post, and it is here that it could lie, however man more women needed to be spoken of.
There are lady combatants spoken of by Vincentio Saviolo in his Second Book, mostly as justification for what he is writing and the glorification of Queen Elizabeth, but examples are presented by him. Further examples are presented from his period and close after from the English Civil War where ladies defended themselves either directly or as figureheads of their households. Clearly the combative spirit is present in the female of the species as much as it is in the male especially when the home is threatened, but not only.
Men were known to go and seek fame and fortune, but so did women Catalina de Erauso is one of the well-known ones but there are others who dressed in male clothing to hide their sex to follow their men into battle to be by their sides. Some women would even don male clothing to seek out their male halves, travelling far and wide, enlisting in military forces to find them.
Then we have some spectacular examples of women who stayed as women, yet who fought as well. There is the duel between two sisters as one small example. There is the well-known "La Maupin" the opera singer/duellist who lived just as much of her life by the skills of the blade as she did by the skills of her voice. Finally in this group there is Princess Sophia who would argue with a cousin, and who would later become Catherine the Great. A lady with a sword in her hand should never be underestimated.
To cap it all off there have been given two examples from modern times, one from World War II and one from more modern military forces. Russian women snipers were a force to be reckoned with as can be seen by the story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko. They were trained at sniper school just as the men were, sent to battle just as the men were, and often died just as the men did. The Israeli military, while it is probably not popular to talk about at the moment, is a prime example of females in the army. All have the same combat training, and women did previously serve in front lines, and have wanted to again.
Many of these strong female figures which have been presented are not the figures which are shown to people as the prime example of women because they do not present the socially-acceptable image of a woman. To this point there has been created an Internet page for such women who show strong character, but are not seen as the sort of thing that younger girls should be seeing as what to follow, this page is, Rejected Princesses.com. It details the lives of some real strong female characters including some of the ones which have been spoken of above. There is also a page which details women in combat.
Fraser, A. (1993) The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in seventeenth-century England, Mandarin Paperbacks, London
Katz, M. (2018) "Women in the IDF", Israeli Krav International, http://www.your-krav-maga-expert.com/women-in-idf.html
Morin, D. (2015) “Caterina Sforza Joins the Medici Family”, GoodReads, https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7693300-caterina-sforza-joins-the-medici-family
Saviolo, V. (1595) His Practise in Two Bookes...