About Me

My photo

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

SCA Combat as a Living Tradition


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

The Medieval Shield


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)
          When items of arms and armour are discussed and researched, the significance of the shield seems to be left behind. Most people do not realise the significance of the shape and size of the shield which is carried by the warrior and how it shaped how an army would function.
The Romans started off with shields which were reminiscent of those carried by the Greeks, but when this form of battle of the Greeks could not be matched against their opponents they had to change. One of the first things that changed was the shield, from the hoplon to the scutum in its earlier form. This changed how the Romans fought and forged a different kind of army which would eventually conquer most of the ancient world. This is the significance of the shield. Armour and weapons of other kinds tend to be far more exciting and interesting so the shield tends to be left behind. “The shield has been undeservedly overlooked as a weapon and tool of martial study.” (Clements, 1998:xx). This is disappointing as much of the history of warfare is the history of the shield.
          Many people talk about the medieval shield, “as with Medieval swords, we should refer to shields in the plural, for there were many types that saw use during the period.” (Clements, 1998:89). This will be noted in the research and presentations of the different types of shield that follow. What should be noted here is that this discussion is primarily focussed on shields rather than bucklers, and infantry shields rather than cavalry shields. What will be noted is that there is some cross-over between the two, but there is also some instances where the two are definitively separate.
“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)
          A larger shield will cover more by virtue of its size, but it will also be heavier. A smaller shield will cover less, but be more mobile because it is smaller. The larger shield was usually fought around while the smaller shield was often moved about. These are some of the different characteristics of shields, and only general ones at that. Just as with swords they changed over time.
“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)
          What should be noted is that the shield did not completely disappear. It still found a place on the battlefield, as will be noted, and was found to be useful against pike formations. Further, the shield found its way into the civilian combative situation where we have most of our information about how the shield was used. Information about how the medieval shield was used comes from iconography and the very few sources which mention the use of the shield.

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)
          When the shield is discussed, especially with regard to its use, thoughts of a defensive nature are automatically brought to mind. What needs to be noted is that while it is true that the shield was exceptionally good at defending its user it also had offensive capability as well. This aspect of the shield is often forgotten and the shield assumed used in a passive sense, but the shield was sometimes designed for use as an offensive device.
“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

          Shields appear in many places in many different cultures. They marched hand in hand with offensive devices as symbols of warrior castes around the world. There are few cultures which did not use the shield in some format at some point in time. Yet as a piece of historical evidence it is infrequently studied, thus leaving a hole in the understanding of systems of defence and also the understanding of the warrior cultures also. This is an item which requires and indeed deserves as much attention as any weapon in the arsenal of the medieval and Renaissance warrior.
“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)

 Round Shield

 “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) 
With regard to shields, the round shield was a common sight on the battlefield especially in early periods. They were common with the Anglo-Saxons, as indicated above and also with the Norsemen, “They [Vikings or Norsemen] carried round shields and most wore helmets; many wore mail as well.” (Holmes, 2010:52). This form of shield was also used on and off throughout the medieval period and regained popularity in the form of the rotella and targe in the Renaissance and later periods. While these two later shields may be indicated in the following discussion, they will be discussed in more detail in a later section.


When discussing the round shield it must be emphasised that it is a “round” shield which is being discussed, thus oval shields are also included in this description. This being said, the most common shape was round shield ranging from 14” to three-and-a-half feet; the flat, round 28 – 32” diameter, weighing 8 – 12 lb among the earliest (Clements, 1998:93).
In movies we see these shields being splintered by the blows of opponents, what needs to be noted is this is not particularly realistic at all. The shields were made to withstand such blows. They were sturdy in construction. The shields were made from planks glued together, very few were made from a single piece, this was a layered construction, to ¾ of an inch thick (Clements, 1998:92). This means that the shield even in this form was not a flimsy piece of wood ready to be destroyed by the blows of an opponent’s weapon.
What is also known about these shields is that the thickness and layered construction was not their only means of inherent strength. They were also reinforced around the edges. Many were only leather-covered wood, but some trimmed with iron, rims ¾ to 1¼ inch wide, leather to absorb, metal strengthens the shield (Clements, 1998:92). This was designed to strengthen the edge of the shield against the blows of the opponent’s weapon, and also the leather was to assist to hold the entire construction together.
The early forms, both round and oval had a boss in the middle to protect the hand, the later shields had straps with boss attached to face, but not for protection (Clements, 1998:91). The strapping of the shields will be discussed further along. The boss remained on the front of the shield both as decoration and also as an additional defensive device.


“large rounded shields used by the Anglo-Saxons (also noted for their shield walls), with a wooden frame being covered with leather and a metal boss, and possibly trimmed with a metal rim.” (Bouchard, 2009:86)

Bouchard (2009) gives a classic description of a shield of the Anglo-Saxon, and also of the shield described in the construction above. It will be noted that a wooden frame is covered in leather for reinforcement, and then metal trim is added for additional reinforcement to the edge. This idea is further reinforced by the image presented and captions given by Grant (2009) in which he describes the shield as being a “Shield of wooden planks riveted together” (Grant, 2009:61), with “Rawhide edging” (Grant, 2009:61). There is also a central metal boss on this shield.


“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)


          While the above gives all great descriptions of how the shield was constructed and how the shield looked, it gives the reader no idea how the shield was carried. This is often one of the mistakes made when discussing shields, only the front is discussed, not discussion is made of how the shield was carried. The strapping can have a great impact on how the shield can be used.
          There are two styles, a rigid central handle and leather straps (Clements, 1998:91). The rigid central handle sits behind the boss on the shield, while the straps are attached to two different spots on the shield and the arm is usually slipped through one of them and the hand holds the other.
The central handle is the older of the two methods. The fixed handle of metal or wood was riveted to the shield. “Protruding over the handle on the front of the shield was a protective bowl-like, metal cup called an umbo or boss.” (Clements, 1998:91). This method of holding the shield means that the whole arm could be used to move the shield about, and it also kept the shield further out from the body, “A single-center grip allows the shield to be more maneuverable and kept farther out from the body.” (Clements, 1998:91). The problem with this is that the user had to have a good grip or the shield could be turned by the opponent, thus this method relies more on mobility in its use.
          There are two types of strap, the hand strap or enarme, and the shoulder strap or guige. Needless to say, both do different jobs. The hand strap is the one by which the user holds the shield. The shoulder strap is the one by which the shield can be carried over the shoulder and take the weight of the shield, or simply sling the shield when it is not being used.
“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.
           Of course then there is a combination of grip and strap, “Some shields had both arm straps and a rigid hand grip.” (Clements, 1998:91). In this case, the front strap was replaced by a rigid hand grip for the user to hold on to. This was a sort of middle-ground between the two except the method of use was still by the strapped method, eventually the round shield went to two enarmes (Clements, 1998:94), and the use of enarmes became standard for most shields.

Kite Shield

“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 classic image of the kite shield is seen in the Norman cavalryman as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, as depicted above. He is noted for his conical helmet with simple nose-guard protection for the face. His neck to knee chain hauberk with padded gambeson underneath, his long cruciform sword, and his kite shield. These are the essential elements. What is most interesting is that this format was the standard for many Western European military forces in the period and for quite a while afterward as well.
“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 teardrop, or kite-shield, was among the most popular forms of shield (Clements, 1998:95). This can be seen by its longevity and presence in manuscripts of the medieval period. It was a large shield, this made it easy to protect upper or lower parts, and this made up for less mobility (Clements, 1998:95). We must look at the shield in context to really understand it. The “long kite-shaped shields intended to provide maximum protection on horseback.” (Holmes, 2010:59), thus it was not really designed to be used on foot, though it was used quite effectively for this particular purpose. This was a shield originally designed for the Norman cavalryman.


          Of the construction of kite shaped shields we have a little to go on due to the construction materials being perishable in an archaeological sense. Luckily there have been some good examples found. The first thing that needs to be noted is that, “Medieval shields were made in both flat and convex forms” (Clements, 1998:95). This is regardless of their type, shape and also the period in which they were constructed. Some later shields were made flat, while some earlier examples of the same type were convex, so one cannot say because it is “x-type” it will be either flat or convex.
“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).


          The guige is a shoulder strap. It is primarily used when the shield is not in use for slinging the shield over the back. It is also useful for hanging the shield up. It is also useful for freeing the hands up so that a weapon can be used with two hands while using the shield for protection. This is demonstrated in an image from Grant (2009) in which a Norman foot soldier with his kite shield held close has his hand free to use a spear because the shield is slung by the shoulder strap (Grant, 2009:63). One could say on the opposite side of the Battle of Hastings, a similar approach using a similar, though slightly different method of using the guige was also used.
“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)


          Thanks to manuscripts, documents and the few extant examples of kite shields left behind, it is possible to trace the rise of the kite shield, and also the process of its decline. The beginnings of the kite shield, and its documentation are found in the eleventh century, by this time the kite shield was established.
“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)

Flattened Top

          Previously it was indicated that the kite shield had round tops and then they were flattened. “Kite shields at first had round tops, but by 1150 they had gradually flattened out.” (Clements, 1998:96). What was not known at the time was that this was actually the beginning of the end for the kite shield. The top was flattened to allow the user more vision of the opponent, and thus make them more able against the opponent. Next the shield became smaller, and shorter. The kite shield was used into the 1200s until a smaller, shorter, more triangular-shaped shield appeared (Clements, 1998:96). This was the heater.


          The “heater” shield is the one which is most likened and related to medieval history. It is related to heraldry and it is related to the medieval knight. As soon as someone says the word “shield”, or at least “medieval shield”, it is usually this shield which comes to mind. How did it get its name? Quite by convenience of its shape, “the so-called "heater" shield, due to its resemblance to the bottom of a heating iron.” (Kelly, 2017). A fine example of a heater shield is depicted in Figure 1.


To find the beginnings of the heater is to examine the kite shield which came before it, and was also a contemporary of it. The heater was a modification of the kite shield, rather than the rounded top edge, it was changed to a flat top edge, so it was easier to see over.
“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)
          What needs to be noted is that the kite shield did not vanish suddenly, or even quickly. This style of shield was to remain in use with some popularity with some troops for an extended period of time. Often it’s assumed that when one type of weapon or armour or shield comes in another simply vanishes, this is not actually the case, most often the former one lingers and sometimes remains, if in a lesser amount.

"Classic" Heater

 “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?

          A trend can be noted in the change in shape of the shield. In the 13th century “the shield began to evolve into a shorter and wider triangular shape.” (Bouchard, 2009:86). This is where the change went from the kite shield to the heater shield, and this is discussing in very general terms. The 14th century knight’s equipment included both, a shield and a sword (Grant, 2009:67), the shield being in the classic smaller heater form. Of course at this stage armour was improving for foot combatants. This in the 1300s and 1400s, foot combat became more common, due to better armour, the heater became smaller and smaller, and eventually abandoned due to need for both hands on weapon, because of the better armour there was no need for the shield (Clements, 1998:104). It would seem that the shield, according to Clements (1998) disappears almost completely, but this is not exactly true. Kelly (2017) gives a good review of the heater from its beginning through its use to its later prime use in tournament jousting, thus it is noted that the shield does not quite disappear, especially as it reappears in the forms of the Renaissance rotella and targe.
“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)
          Kelly (2017) gives some excellent sources and examples of the construction of heaters from various museums. This provides a great over view of how they were constructed, and also supplies some specifics also. This form of information is most useful especially should a person want to reconstruct a shield from this period because it can be compared against historical examples. On the other hand, for a more general approach, it can be said that heaters and later shields were ½ to ¾ inch thick, they were covered front and back with linen, parchment or rawhide, which was glued or tacked on (Clements, 1998:92). In both cases it can be seen that these shields were made to last and were not the flimsy items that some movies would like us to believe that they were.


          What will be noted of the heater is the size, which is smaller as compared to the kite shield as a result the weight is also smaller. This is especially the case with regard to the smaller variants with a weight of 3 to 6lb, 20 x 30 inches for the larger and 14 x 18 inches for the smaller (Clements, 1998:102). This is a reduction in size, but an increase in mobility. This change in size is also noted as significant by Oakeshott (1996).
“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. 
Oakeshott (1996) notes that on the effigy of Sir Robert Shurland c.1330, previously noted by Kelly (2017) multiple straps were used: guige, long strap fixed by rivet to top right-hand side, shorter with buckle on top left; enarmes, loops through which arm is passed, three straps - one at elbow, one at wrist, one held; held strap could be discarded to hold reins, or other, if required (Oakeshott, 1996:274). This description gives us some idea how some of these straps may have been utilised and some of the reasons why a strap may or may not have been added to a shield.

Target and Rotella

The two classic Renaissance shields are the target or targe and the rotella. Often they are considered to be the same type of shield simply just in a different format. What is important is that there are some differences between the two and even period sources note these differences. Cesare d’Evoli (1583) Delle ordinanze et battaglie which is an obscure resource in comparison to most, makes note of the difference between the targe and the rotella, especially in their utility.
“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).

Scottish Targe

“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)

Other Shapes

          There have been three different shapes of shield and essentially four different types of shield which have been investigated in this discussion. This would almost give the impression that they were the only kinds which were used. In actual fact, this is far from the truth, “Like the Medieval sword, the Medieval shield existed in great variety over many centuries.” (Clements, 1998:89). There were many different shapes of shield which were used throughout the medieval and Renaissance periods.
          The featured shields which form the previous investigations only form a very small portion of the shields which were used during the period. This is an important note that needs to be made to ensure that it is understood that while there were some dominant forms of shield there were others also which were used. The particular shield that was used at the time could entirely depend on what was required in that particular circumstance.
“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.


          The shield is one of the most under-rated and under-researched objects known extensively to historians and western martial artists. More than just a companion to another weapon it was a weapon of its own with its own development and changes over time. While often accompanied by another weapon, it could be used to defend and could also be used to offend the opponent. Some shields were even designed to be used alone with not accompaniment for offence and defence. These were a specialised kind of shield which were not mentioned in this study.
          There were four main types of shield which were investigated in this discussion of the shield, as the final part of the discussion makes known, it should not be assumed that these were the only shapes of shield which were made or used. There were many other different types of shield which were made and used. The only reason that these four types of shield were used and discussed is because they were the most populace of the types of shield available. They also provide the greatest amount of data about them, which can be used to infer about other shield types.
          The use of a shield was specific to its shape. A large shield gave better coverage but was heavier and thus moved slower. A small shield had less coverage but was lighter and thus moved quicker. These characteristics of the shield makes it important that while some general ideas can be made about shields, it is important to be more specific when discussing them as their use changes with their shape.
          The shield is known as a defensive device. It was primarily designed to protect the wielder from incoming attacks from an opponent or opponents. What needs to be noted is that this most often was not a passive defence and it also does not take into account the offensive capabilities of the shield. The shield can be used to strike out at an incoming blow in defence, but it can also be used to strike out at an opponent as well. This capability of the shield should not be underestimated.
          Shields were not as weak as Hollywood would have us believe. In movies we see shields being shattered and broken. This is simply not the case for real shields, they were designed to last. They had reinforced edges and faces, the destruction of a shield would take a great amount of time and effort. Opponents did not try to go through shields, they went around them.
          The round shield was the most common shield, especially in the early periods. What will be noted is that the same shape appears again in later periods as well. The rotella for example is a round shield and appears in the Renaissance. These shields were used by the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, at least these are where we have the best examples of round shields from the earliest medieval periods. These shields were solidly build, glued together, often multi-layered, edged with leather or metal. Obviously they were designed to last. Strapping was in the form of a solid handle behind a boss or two leather straps, some had both. There was also a shoulder strap which could be added.
          Next is the kite shield which held popularity for an extended period of time, evidence for this type of shield can be even found in the fifteenth-century. The prime users of this shield were the Normans. The prime place where they are often seen is on the Bayeux Tapestry. Again, this was a solidly build shield following a similar pattern of construction to the round shield. Multi-layered, edged and then covered with linen or leather. Strapping was with a handle or straps with a supporting shoulder strap where required. Later kite shields had flat tops so that they could be more easily seen over. Eventually, these lost ground in the main to the heater, a smaller shield, which was based on the kite.
          The heater started out as a shortened but broadened kite shield. This was the change from one to the other. The flattening of the top of the kite shield was the start of the process. The use of the shield in foot combat meant that the shield was more convenient shorter, thus the kite lost its tail and the heater came about. The heater is the greatest expression of the medieval shield. It is what people think of when the term “medieval shield” comes up. It is also heavily related to heraldry. The same construction process that was established previously follows through with the heater shield. For strapping, the heater, except in the larger examples mostly dispensed with the shoulder strap and primarily used the straps for holding it. They were in many different configurations. For the most part the organisation of these straps would depend on personal preference.
          So the rotella and target are not medieval per se, but they form the end of a selection of shields which were used in a particular fashion and present the end of the shield on the battlefield. The rotella is really the only metal shield to see full-scale use. These were primarily effective against pikes where they could be used to deflect the pikes and thus move in and strike against the pikemen. The target in its “classic” form saw use in the Scottish rebellions and other places; it is really the last western wooden shield. Both of these had straps on the back.
          The shield moves through the medieval and Renaissance periods changing as it goes. Some designs continue, others disappear, and others get left behind. What is known is that the shield was an item which was not a single-use and throw away item. It was used often repeatedly by the same user and a lot of work went into its construction to make it so. The shield should not be underestimated as a legitimate item of research or collection, learning how to use the sword in sword and shield is only half of the study, the shield also needs to be learnt. Effective use of the shield is essential and appreciation of the ability and the history of the shield is also essential for understanding.


Anglo, S. (2000) The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe, Yale University Press, New Haven

Bouchard, C. (2009) Knights in History and Legend, Global Book Publishing Ltd, Lane Cove

Clements, J. (1998) Medieval Swordsmanship: Illustrated Methods and Techniques, Paladin Press, Boulder, Colorado

Cummins, J. (2008) The War Chronicles: From Chariots to Flintlocks: New Perspectives on the Two Thousand Years of Bloodshed that Shaped the Modern World, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest

Grant, R. (2009) Warrior: A Visual History of the Fighting Man, Dorling Kindersley Limited, New York

Holmes, R. (ed) (2010) Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armour, Dorling Kindersley Limited, London

Kelly, P. (ed.) (2017) “The Shield: An Abridged History of its Use and Development”, myArmoury.com, https://myarmoury.com/feature_shield.html

Kusnitzoff, J. (2016) “Archaeologist discovers a new style of Viking combat” in Science Nordic (Oct. 30), http://sciencenordic.com/archaeologist-discovers-new-style-viking-combat

Norman, V. (1970) Arms and Armour, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London

Oakeshott, E. (1996) The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry, Dover Publications Inc., Mineola

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Smack in the Head: Let's Talk Concussion


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.

Of the things that need to change, the first thing that needs to change is our approach to striking one another in our martial art, or any martial art for that manner. The intent of the blow needs to be presented to the opponent, that is true. The force of the blow, not so much. This is especially the case when talking about swords. It should be noted that when trying to strike with muscle, that hard impacts will actually do less damage because that is not the way cutting with a sword works. Simply bashing the edge into the target does not work. The blow needs technique to work, not power. Perform the technique properly and ample power will be present.

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

Italian Blow Translation


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 Aim

The 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.


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.


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.


So 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 Effectiveness

One 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 Actions

Really, 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

Human Bodies: It's Just a Shoulder... No It's Not


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

Your average adult does not utilise all of their lungs when they breathe. In fact they only utilise about 66% of their lungs when they breathe. This is because they have not learnt how to use all of the upper lobes of the lungs. Lobes? Ok, so the lungs are divided into five lobes, three on the right and two on the left. For the most part people are content to use all of their middle and lower lobes and some of their upper 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

What has this got to do with the previous conversation about the "shoulder" shot? Well, examining the lungs as they are separate from the body does not help with allowing us to see how they are situated in the body. So, we need to have a look at how the lungs, complete, sit within the body to see how this is going to affect a shot which is made against the torso.
Lungs in the torso
What can be seen in the image is that the lungs actually cover a much wider area that previously thought. Pretty much all that is rib-cage, protects lungs, except for the much lower parts which protect the liver and other parts from the rear. Pay special attention to how close the lung is to the "shoulder" area. This anatomical model does not actually fit the internal structure all that well, but you get the idea. A shot to the "shoulder" has a likelihood of striking the lung. Not a good prognosis for living in the Renaissance period.

"Shoulder" Hit

So, 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
What can be seen in this graphic is that the pink area is all lungs and other associated breathing apparatus. The red lines are arteries, i.e. coming from the heart, and the blue lines are veins, coming back to the heart. Just in case you did not know the carotid artery is the one which carries blood to your brain. The subclavian artery is the one which supplies blood to the arm. Needless to say if any of these are struck the combatant would be in real trouble.


Much more could be said on this subject, but it was designed to simply point out some elements of note for people to understand. Breathing exercises will improve the efficiency of your lung use and will enable you to fence longer. It is also a useful skill to have in case you are not able to use some part of your chest or lungs due to illness or injury. Talk to a medical professional or physiotherapist or someone similar about breathing exercises, you can only try them and find out.

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

Female Combat Training Part 2


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)
It could be claimed that what has been presented is some evidence of mere talk of females being trained and fighting with real weapons, but as has been indicated previously, there is also other evidence in sculpture of the same occurring as well.

Gladiatrix relief from Halicarnassus
The actual object is held in the British Museum and commemorates the release from service or discharging after a draw of two female gladiators, Amazon and Achilla. These two are fighting with swords and shields in the form of many of the male gladiators. What is most interesting is that there is also, "The writer Petronius mentions a woman coming from Britannia and driving a chariot as a female essedarius [chariot-borne gladiator]." (Rea, 2018:16). This leads to the question of the ever-popular Queen of the Iceni, Boudicea.

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.

To begin with, “Boudica (also written as Boadicea) was a Celtic queen who led a revolt against Roman rule in ancient Britain in A.D. 60 or 61.” (Pruitt, 2016). So, we have an estimated date early in the time of Imperial Rome for the Boudican revolt. The reasons for the revolt are something which is for another discussion, for the moment it is to establish the reality of the situation. For the Romans in Britannia it was very 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)
The revolt which Boudica led was not some small collection of farmers who were annoyed about the price of wheat marching on the local governor’s house. This was a serious grievance about Roman rule and how it was being carried out in Britain against the Britons, and it was not just the Iceni who joined the rebellion.
“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)
So this bunch of rebels cut a large swathe of destruction through Britannia and routed most of a respected Legion of Roman troops. Where do we get the evidence for all of this? Unfortunately not from both sides of the action, the primary evidence comes from Tacitus and Cassius Dio (Fraser, 1989:55), both Roman sources because the Britons did not leave any written evidence that is currently known.

So the revolt led by Boudica has been established, the results of the revolt have also been established in history, and will be presented below. Next is to examine Boudica herself, the woman. “Boudica did exist; she did spring from a particular society; her conduct, whether heroic or reprehensible, was the product of that society and its standards.” (Fraser, 1989:44). With the evidence presented, it is undoubted, regardless of any feeling one way or another. Boudica was a real person, a product of her time; and needs to be judged from the perspective of her culture and her time.

Having a female leader in the modern world is almost something that the newspapers have to write about and make a big deal about. Not for the Britons, “Tacitus described female leadership as something known among Britons as opposed to the Romans,” (Fraser, 1989:55). The Romans, on the other hand, were more close-minded, and this is where some of the trouble started. The death of Boudica’s husband left no male to rule, so no ruler according to the Romans.
“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)
While the social structure of which Boudica was a part is difficult to judge from a modern perspective, she is often labelled as a “queen” due to her leading the revolt. This is a convenient label. That she was from a noble house is implied by her husband, in any case, she was the one to lead. “It was Boudica who led her people in the general uprising,” (Fraser, 1989:63). It was not just the Iceni who noted the leadership capability of Boudica, she attracted other tribes who had been dealt with hardly by the Romans, “other tribes ... joined in with the Iceni under Boudica’s leadership,” (Fraser, 1989:64).

So evidence is clear, both evidential and allegorical, that Boudical led the revolt against the Romans and was the leader of the Iceni and the other tribes in this revolt. The question that will remain for some is whether or not this extended to command in a military sense, and the answer is in the positive according to Tacitus’ account of her last battle, “ ‘We British are used to women commanders in war’ the Queen cries,” (Fraser, 1989:96). Thus she was also the military commander.
“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)
That Roman sources were prone to comment on the size and strength of Celtic women, of which British women were a part, is quite notable. Further that Siculus notes their courage increases their participation in martial endeavours. What we know is that women were habitually were part of the army of the Britons (Fraser, 1989:97). They participated as warriors as well as the men.

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)
Of note here is that it is her chariot, not driven by some other person, but her chariot. It is this image that the statue by Thomas Thorneycroft is based. The scythes on the wheels are a fiction, but the rest is based on this portrait. It was noted before that Boudica was the leader of the revolt and also their military leader and this meant that she led in battle. “Like other ancient Celtic women, Boudica had trained as a warrior, including fighting techniques and the use of weapons.” (Pruitt, 2016). Of course, the tactics of the Britons being as primitive as they were could not stand up to the discipline of the Roman army.
“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)
Boudica met her end either by taking poison as is indicated above or from the wounds that she suffered in battle as is indicated by another source. Either way, the charge of the Britons was repulsed by two waves of thrown javelins, followed by a disciplined counter-attack launched by the Romans. In any sense of the word Boudica was a combat-tested leader of men in battle and obviously combat trained undoubtedly.


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)
There are further plates for this combat and what they do demonstrate is that this combat can result in victory for either the male or female combatant. That it was allowed for a man and his wife to combat one another and that some sort of even ground could be found in a judicial and martial setting demonstrates the respect that the legal system had for the ability of the woman in this situation.

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)
The piece above discusses Joan of Arc's raising of the Siege of Orleans. It comes from Saviolo's (1595) His Practice in Two Bookes. To be more precise it comes from the Second Book of this treatise which discusses the subject of Honor and Honorable Quarrels. It is not the only noble exploit of women that Saviolo discusses, in fact there are a few more, as will be noted below. That Joan of Arc is discussed here places her within the realm of knowledge of that period and also in a fencing treatise of the Elizabethan period.

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).

So, most of what is written here is irrelevant to the current discussion. First it must be remarked that she is referred to as "the Maid" rather than by her name, just to save confusion. The most important point is that she wore her armour all of the time, and it was remarked that she wore the armour "incredibly well". This is of special note as armour, while distributed about the body is still quite a load to carry, especially if it is worn all of the time. A person can be a clothes-horse quite well, but fighting in the armour as well is another question.

"[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)

What needs to be noted here is that Joan is in charge of the men, and in a medieval battlefield when you are in charge, you lead. She led the charge against the bastion and was in the thick of the fighting as can be seen. She swung her sword and killed as can be seen by what is presented. To detail each of her engagements with the English in her assault on Orleans would take quite some time, so only some of them have been pointed out here.

"May 7, [1429], ... Joan led a force in a direct frontal attack on the fortified towers of Led Tourelles. This was perhaps her greatest act of bravery."  She was struck with an arrow in the shoulder but returned to the battle, when one of the commanders was going to call it off, and eventually broke the siege (Cummins, 2008:207). That she was struck with an arrow places her in the thick of the fighting, of this there is no doubt. That she returned to the fighting when one of her commanders was going to call off the attack, while wounded demonstrates a lot of courage. Joan of Arc is the prime example of a female in a combat situation, and she is often held up as a "one-off", but as is noted by the length of this discussion, this is a little hard to argue with the evidence presented.

Caterina Sforza

Caterina Sforza
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)
Her name alone brings certain images to mind for anyone who has studied elements of the history of the Italian Renaissance. Further images are brought to mind if people have watched popular TV series such as “The Borgias”. They have created an impression of a very strong lady, whose story was only partially told, but as will be noted did come into contact with the Borgia Pope.
“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)
Of Caterina’s birth, it is known that she was born a bastard, the illegitimate daughter of her father and her father’s mistress. This was not going to stop this lady from succeeding in life.
“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)
More to the point it was not going to be made a burden for Caterina by her father either as according to some reports she was actually legitimised, claimed by her father as a legitimate child, thus treated no differently to any of her siblings. To be an illegitimate daughter or son in this period was to have no rights at all, to be claimed meant that she had access to education, and an education is what she got.
“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)
Education is a subject which comes up again and again with regard to women, and as can be seen here, Caterina was not lacking for any education whatsoever. In fact it could be said that she got the same education as the male children as well, which she did. She learnt how to rule and administer like any of the male children were taught, but she also learnt about the great deeds of men and women, which interested her greatly and would inspire her also.
“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)
Girolamo was to be her first husband, and certainly not her last. She was to have at least two more husbands after him. What is known is that, as is usual of noble marriages, this marriage was one for political gain. What is also known is that Caterina was certainly the stronger character in the marriage, and it was she who would set out on military campaign to defend her husband’s territory, more than once.
“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)
Being the sort of conflict and Renaissance battle being what it was, no doubt Caterina was in the thick of it, taking command, using all of her knowledge that she had gained through her education. Of course her martial endeavours were not over so quickly. Pope Sixtus IV died in 1484 and she sped off to defend the fortress of Sant’Angelo.
“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)
The act itself would seem no particular big deal considering that the fortress itself was quite large and extremely well-built. There is a twist on the story which needs to be emphasised and makes note of the importance which she placed upon this effort.
“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)
So not only did she ride at the gallop from her home to the fortress and defend it for almost a fortnight, she did this while 7 months pregnant. This stands as a testament to the fortitude of this woman and also the strength of her character, especially in such a stressful situation. What needs to be noted here is that it is posited that Caterina was the stronger of the two in the relationship.
“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)
Eventually a new Pope was elected and things settled down somewhat. In the years that followed it was Caterina who was really in control, “In Forli it was Caterina who issued justice, especially after the revolt (1487) in which her husband failed to do anything.” (d'Outremer, 1998). This revolt could be seen to demonstrate the failure of Girolamo and demonstrated his weakness which led to an even larger threat, which did succeed.
“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)
Eventually Caterina did recover control of the castle with the assistance of the forces that she gathered. This was to demonstrate the sort of cunning and negotiation skills that she was to use against all of the opponents who would come against her in the future. First of all, she had to firmly establish her position.
“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)
She was an independent female ruler and not one to be trifled with. “She went on to successfully defend her holdings against the Venetians, earning her the title of La Tigre.” (Morin, 2015). Eventually, there was an opponent who would rise to power against her who she could not stop, but against them she would still stand and that was the Borgia. After making an attempt on the life of Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope she was attacked. “Caterina was besieged in the fortress of Ravaldino (1499) for 24 days.” (d'Outremer, 1998). That she held out for such an extended period of time demonstrates her knowledge of siege warfare, her tenacity and her leadership. “On 12 December [1499] she said that she would ‘show the Borgia that a woman too can handle artillery’.” (Fraser, 1989:201). Unfortunately, the Borgia would eventually succeed in their assault and capture her, she would never rise to power again.

The life of Caterina Sforza demonstrates how a woman in the Italian Renaissance as a noblewoman could be educated to lead not only in politics but also on the field of battle. She had her experiences both on battlefields and in sieges as has been demonstrated. Her reputation as one of the strongest ladies and one of the most respected of the Renaissance lives on.

Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli

Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli
Her painting is striking to look at, she is an attractive lady with an eye-patch over her right eye and it is this eye-patch which attracts a lot of attention. Her full name is Ana de Mendoza de la Cerda y de Silva Cifuentes, Princess of Eboli, Duchess of Pastrana. She was born 29 June 1540 and died 2 February 1592. Being a Spanish noblewoman she was trained in the use of the sword as a part of her normal education, and the common theory is that she damaged her right eye during a fencing accident when she was 14. This puts this young, attractive, noble lady with a sword in her hand being taught how to use the weapon and in a serious situation. This information was found on her Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ana_de_Mendoza,_Princess_of_Eboli). There is a lot more here and elsewhere as well.

Vincentio Saviolo

Vincentio Saviolo’s (1595) His Practise in Two Bookes, is a recognised primary source of the Elizabethan period. What makes it of special note is that it was one of the first treatises which was written in English, more to the point it was not translated but written in English. Saviolo’s second “book” which deals with honour and duelling became the manual with regard to duelling in the Elizabethan period, and makes some striking remarks in its section called “The Nobility of Women”.
“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)
Just going by this statement Saviolo holds women to a very high standard and as something to be looked up to. In this we see the classic Renaissance view of the lady as the epitome of what the gentleman should strive to attempt to be worthy of. What is radical is that Saviolo proposes a sense of equality that the woman can do all that a man can do; a sort of sixteenth-century feminist, but really humanist.
“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)
So rather than seeing the woman as only someone to revere and to look up to as a passive model of reverence, he also states that ladies also have the ability to learn all that a man can learn. This places the woman on a more active stage in his eyes. He then clearly states just how active he means, "manye Queenes and noble Ladies haue gotten great renown and become glorious for armes and warlike exploites:" (Saviolo, 1595). This claim is followed by examples. The example of Joan of Arc was presented previously, but she was not the only one, two more, from the same source are presented.
"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)
Kirby (2013) is a modernisation of Saviolo (1595) which makes the text a little easier to read. The same example can be found in the original text also. What both of these examples present are ladies who pick up arms and go and fight against aggressors of some kind. This placed both of these in the thick of battle and clearly they both caused some hurt to their opponents. That these examples come as contemporaries of a period source gives them some credence, and that they are found in a text which is relatively widely known with regard to the use of the sword makes it a prime example of women in combat situations. Of course, if the text is read, further examples of the exploits of women are given. With examples coming from recognised historical fencing treatises, it makes the argument against female combat training in the medieval and Renaissance period difficult to hold.

Catalina de Erauso

Not 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.

“Catalina de Erauso, also known as the ‘Nun Lieutenant’, was a legendary Basque soldier and duellist in the 17th century.” (Rae, 2015) Like many legendary figures there is a lot of her life which is blurry and shrouded by the legend and difficult to see the truth. Luckily, there is a lot of her life which we can see and know to see this woman’s extraordinary life.
“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)
Catalina looked at the life of her father and decided that it was what she wanted. Of course, the social norms of her time and social situation did not allow this in any way. She was a not unattractive girl, but instead her parents had her sent to a convent for her education with the intent that she would become a nun, “at the age of 15 she finally managed to escape from the convent. She cut her hair and altered her clothing to appear masculine, and headed out on the road.” (Conliffe, 2016). This is the first time we really see the male persona of Catalina emerge, of course, it was to become the permanent persona. To have a girl wandering around by herself just was not going to work, “masculine disguise seems to have started as a way to escape pursuit from the convent, but circumstances soon taught Catalina that it was a wise precaution in general.” (Conliffe, 2016).

She spent some years roaming Spain, but decided that her life was to take her abroad. “At the age of 18, like so many Spanish people, Catalina headed off to the Americas to seek his fortune.” (Conliffe, 2016). This was no doubt to reduce the chances of her being caught, not only as a fugitive, but as a woman dressed as a man, which was highly frowned upon in Spain. She traveled to Peru where she found work; unfortunately her temper was to get the better of her.
“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)
It will be noted that some sources refer to Catalina with the male pronoun when she is using a male persona and the female pronoun when she is using a female persona. This is actually taken from her own autobiography. After such encounters such as this, Catalina decided that her best course was to follow her father’s foot-steps and join the army. The Spanish army in the Americas was always looking for people to enlist to fight for them in their wars. It is here that Catalina’s story becomes a lot more documentable thanks to military records from the time.
“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)
So, this places Catalina, though obviously under a different name in the army. It could be accused that she could have avoided battle and stayed off the front lines. This was not her way. She, on the other hand found her way and made her mark within the military structure, making a name for herself with her skills and her bravery in the face of her opponents.
“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)
Of course, as can be seen, not everything went her way. Her temper was to get in her way and she was to be made unwelcome in some of the places where she went. That her brother did not recognise her is either a mark in the change in her, or a lack of recognition on his part. Of course, for Catalina, this was a small piece of good news, the bad news was not over yet, in fact it was only beginning.
“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)
Catalina deserts the army and travels all over the place using her wits to survive. Often she ended up on the wrong side of the law; in fact she very much stayed on the wrong side of the law for an extended period of time. It is this part of her autobiography which is most likely to have parts in it which are unreliable, however her story does not end there.
“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)
Catalina eventually changed her name, and then went on to live a quiet life and died living a humble life. Her autobiography is still widely read today. There have been questions about her sexuality, but they do not matter, she was a most remarkable woman. So, she fought duels and served in the army, a history which places her where combat training would have been a necessity, Catalina's ability and training in combat is difficult to refute.

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)
In the English Civil War there are many demonstrations of the bravery of women when faced with combative situations. The two above are just an example of those which are available, and do not give very much detail about the occurrences. To give a little more detail, about such occurrences where a lady was placed in the front line we will examine the example of the Countess of Derby, where in a remark made by Parliamentary supporters to deride her husband it was stated,  “she [Countess of Derby] had proved herself the better soldier,” (Fraser, 1993:185). This remarkable lady will be discussed below.
“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)
Before the Countess is discussed, it will be most useful to examine the woman in the military situation, or as the case was having to go into the military situation. It is indicated above that some would enter the military and disguise themselves in male attire to follow their men, to keep close to them and earn a living at the same time. This was some times due to a financial consideration as the wives of soldiers were often left with no means of support when their men left. This aside it does place these women in the front lines. Clearly they would have had to live and fight the same way the men did. Arguments for the handling of weapons need to be put aside as with training anyone could be taught how to use the weapons of the day (Fraser, 1993:223).

The next argument would be that they would be hidden, kept at the back with reserve troops and not placed in danger. This is also denied on the basis of historical documentation. “Jane Ingleby, who is said to have fought at Marston Moor in the cavalry, and being wounded, escaped on horseback to her home,” (Fraser, 1993:221). To have qualified to join the cavalry in the first place Ingleby would have had to have known how to ride, and also ride while using weapons, not an easy feat. This means that she was trained in such, and well enough to place her on a field of battle where she could be wounded.

“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 [1639], 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)
Lady Ann Cunningham is a Scottish lady, obviously with strong feelings with regard to her faith and how she is going to defend it. She rides at the head of her own troop of horse meaning that she is their commander on the battlefield. This is a position not to be taken lightly, especially on a seventeenth-century battlefield. It is her job to command and decide where her troop is to be sent against the enemy on the battlefield, and more to the point, to lead them. She is clearly trained in the use of weapons and this training, she has also insisted her attendant women also be trained also. While the Countess of Derby may not have had this level of training, it is evident that she had the courage to stand her ground.

Charlotte de la Trémoille, Countess of Derby

The Countess of Derby had remained at Latham House while the Earl of Derby was away on the Isle of Man. The Parliamentary General, Sir Thomas Fairfax’s intent was to secure house without bloodshed (Fraser, 1993:185). So to achieve his simple success, Fairfax sends a message to the Countess requesting her to surrender Latham House to the Parliamentary forces.

The Countess had no intention of either surrendering the house to the Parliamentary forces, or letting them simply walk in. Knowing that it would take time for a relief force to arrive to counter Fairfax's forces, the Countess responded. The Countess played for time in response to call for surrender, playing on her social status (Fraser, 1993:187). She was superior in social status to Fairfax so refused to meet with him and delayed the proceedings stating that she was of superior status so he must wait for her.

The messages went back and forth between the Countess and Fairfax. Eventually she replied that “she was ready to receive their utmost violence, trusting to God both for her protection and deliverance’.” (Fraser, 1993:188). The Countess had a garrison of soldiers under the command of Captain Farmer, but were out-gunned by the Parliamentary forces. The House was attacked with artillery, offers of surrender were made and are refused, the Countess stood strong under fire, never wavering in her conviction (Fraser, 1993:188). 

Conditions in a siege are never good for either the besiegers or the besieged. The besieged have to hold out and hope that they are relieved or that conditions get so bad for the besiegers that they have to move away. Luckily, the House was well-supplied and Farmer was a good commander. After some successes of their own, including capturing artillery pieces, are relieved (Fraser, 1993:189). What was supposed to be a simple operation for Fairfax turned out to be a failure and victory for the 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

"One of the first duels in which women are known to have engaged took place near Bordeaux in 1650, and was fought between two sisters." (Baldick, 1965:169). To be more specific this is one of the first duels known where two female combatants were known to have engaged in combat. The previous ones had been a male and a female combatant fighting one another. There is not a lot known about this duel, but what is known is the following.

"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-Belmont

A 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)
Thompson (2012) gives us this quite rough-and-ready introduction to this legendary character of French duelling history, but little else could be expected when your whole series is called “Badass of the Week”. Needless to say all the material coming from this source will be of the same “flavour”. She is a character of some repute and also some mystery. “Even her name varies. In her lifetime and after her debut she went by her professional name, Mademoiselle Maupin, and the crowds called her La Maupin” (Gardiner, 2014)

For convenience and to save on confusing the issue because she was referred to as “La Maupin” as her professional name and this is mostly referring to her more professional exploits, this is the name that will be used. So, unlike her predecessor, Joan of Arc, La Maupin was born into a life of wealth, privilege. “Born around 1673, Julie was the daughter of a secretary to King Louis XIV’s Master of Horse, Count d’Armagnac, one of France’s great nobles.” (Gardiner, 2014)

This placed her in a position of advantage, to learn all that she needed to survive as a lady. To be educated in the fineries of etiquette and how to survive in high society, of course her father had some ideas about her education of his own. Her father was responsible for training King Louis XIV’s pages and maintaining the Royal Stables, needless to say, he was not going to allow his daughter to grown up without the skills to deal out responses to insults at the pointy end of a sword, or with a pistol or even with her fists, should she require.
“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)
The result of all of this training was that La Maupin was well-trained in skills which enabled her to defend herself against any would-be aggressor, or would-be suitor for that matter. Of course, she also had the temperament that if she saw something that she wanted, she simply went after it. Using her skills, feminine or otherwise, to attain it.
“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)
The marriage to the obviously-dull de Maupin was an attempt to cool some of her tendencies and attempt to bring her back into reign. Of course Sieur de Maupin was dispatched, La Maupin was left with her lover d’Armangnac. Of course she was high-spirited and d’Armangnac was of more advanced years so this did not last very long at all. La Maupin moved to Marseille and this is where things started to get really interesting for her.
“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)
To supplement the fencing demonstrations La Maupin was also singing songs along with the demonstrations. Some of those songs could be rather pointed toward the audience and some of them challenged her to a duel. It was after one such duel that a drunk patron challenged the fact whether or not she was a lady or not, leading to the demonstration above. Her singing attracted the attention of the Marseille Opera.
“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)
Needless to say this made them both fugitives, and in La Maupin’s case she was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in absentia. Of course, life on the run can be hard for people and a lot less glamourous than it seemed. Her lover eventually did not like this idea.
“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)
It is an interesting situation where you can accidentally bump into someone, get into a duel, stab them, nurse them back to health and end up in a romance with them, but life is funny. Comte d’Albret would feature as a lifelong friend to La Maupin and feature in her life for the rest of it. “She was pardoned for her crimes by the King.” (Gardiner, 2014), the reason for this, well that is interesting.
“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)
So while she had been touring around Marseille, and other places, singing and duelling, mostly on the street, somewhere in there she had been noticed. Her voice had caught the attention of the world-renowned Paris Opera, to which she was given employment on the stage as an actress, becoming known as “La Maupin”. It would be thought that things would go smoothly from here, but it was simply not the case.
“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)
We see celebrities in the news these days having slept with one another. It was not much different back in the 17th-century. Now add in the part where one celebrity is getting into sword duels with another and all of a sudden the celebrity news becomes somewhat different. There is a prime example of this involving a Royal Ball.
“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)
So she turns up in male attire, rather than female as would be expected. Goes and kisses a lady on the dance floor. Three gentlemen object to this because they seem to either not like the extra attention she is getting or because it offends their sensibilities, so she takes them all outside and deals with them all, one after the other, then comes back inside and finishes the ball. She then goes to Brussels and so forth. Of course she was left by the Elector for much the same reason as the others because she was too much to handle. So she returned to France.
“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)
Needless to say La Maupin had a very exciting and extensively long history of duels and other combats. She is an extreme example of a lady who took up the sword and for the most part lived by her heart and her sword. Eventually she dies, how exactly is unknown but it is relatively quietly, for this investigation it does not matter. She was trained with the sword on multiple occasions and proved that a woman sure can handle a sword. Baldick (1965) summarises her life elequently,
"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)
Catherine the Great is known as one of the greatest rulers of Russian history. That she was involved in a duel with sharp swords when she was so young must have had a great impact on her life. What this also points to is that she was trained with a sword from a very young age as many nobles of this period were. Most commonly-known it is the boys that were trained in the art of fence, but clearly the girls also had the same opportunities. The result of the encounter was a marked attitude with regard to duelling as compared to her husband.
"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)
What needs especial note with regard to the overall project which is being discussed is that women's duels are mentioned. This means that they were common enough to be mentioned at all, and indicates that the training of women with the sword, at least for the nobility was more of a common thing than previously thought. 

One of the commonly mentioned duels from this period between women is that between Pauline Metternich And Anastasia Kielmannsegg. Most often this is mentioned because of the fact that this duel was conducted with the women topless to prevent infection. This duel attracts a lot of attention because of the idea of topless fencing which was in vogue at the time due to the idea of the prevention of infection and nothing more, males were also duelling shirtless. That they fought and with sharp swords should be sufficient mention regardless of how they were dressed.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko

While the following will primarily shine the light on a single person, it will also shine the light on a group of people who have often been overlooked in history, or as will be seen later on deliberately forgotten. When the Eastern Front was opened at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Soviet Union was caught mostly unprepared. This is evident by just how far the Germans were able to push. The Soviets were able to recover, and this was only due to the assistance of people like Lyudmila Pavlichenko and other men and women.
“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)
What needs to be noted here is that it was both boys and girls who were taught how to handle weapons, not just boys. This is an important point. The Communist Party knew that war was coming and they knew that they were going to need every man and woman to participate in the defence of their homeland in some form. What is most interesting is that the sniper school for women did not open until a year after the Germans had invaded.
“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)
The role of the sniper on the battlefield is to take out specific high-level targets, ones which will cause the enemy problems. Usually this is designed to attack their command and control structures, thus officers are their prime targets. They also serve as scouts, having telescopic lenses on their rifles. What was found was that women were suited to this role.
“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)
Much will be made of the role of the sniper and sniping in the following discussion due to the efforts of Pavlichenko, but what also needs to be remembered is that women did not only fulfil roles as snipers. They served in all other parts of the services as well fighting alongside men. The snipers are just a special test case because of the special situation they were found in.
“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)
In most cases these were ordinary people who answered their nation’s call when it was made and served the best that they could when the call came. We select extraordinary people to hold up and admire, as examples, but we must also remember that they began just the same as us.

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)
The number of kills that Pavlichenko accrued is significant on its own. That she was able to accrue such a number of kills in only a year’s time makes this record even more significant. Such a record earns a person a nickname which reporters would use and it was the same here, “Nicknamed “Lady Death” by foreign war reporters, she is the subject of songs and movies.” (Timofeychev, 2017). Of course, her origins are humble enough.

Growing up, “She was described as an independent, opinionated tomboy” (Lockie, 2015), obviously this means her interests would not be in they expected “feminine pursuits”. This is exactly the case, because her hobbies during her formative years were to assist her to become a better sniper, “A rifle club sharpshooter before the war, she had worked as a grinder at the Kiev Arsenal.” (Markowitz, 2018).

Clearly she had an interest in firearms before she joined the military and the skills that she had learnt at the rifle club would serve her well while training to become a sniper. As expected, being a good member of the Soviet state she also participated in the mandatory training which was required, and mentioned early in this discussion.
“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)
With this sort of background, there is little surprise that she would be interested in joining the military forces and also becoming a sniper. It could almost be assumed that due to the inclusive nature of the training that her entry into the military would be assured. This was not to be the case. “[When Germany invaded in 1941] Pavlichenko rushed to join the Soviet army and defend her homeland, but she was initially denied entry into the army due to gender.” (Lockie, 2015)

She was an attractive girl and she turned up in a dress and it was assumed that she was not really interested in joining up at all, just to do her citizen’s duty and attempt to. When she was finally allowed to join up, she was quickly shuffled off toward working as a nurse, even after presenting evidence that this was not what she was here for, “Even after Pavlichenko presented her marksman certificate and a sharpshooter badge from OSOAVIAKhIM, officials still urged her to work as a nurse.” (Lockie, 2015). She had to fight to gain entrance into what she wanted, to become a sniper, eventually the army relented and decided to give her an audition, obviously designed to turn her off, which it did not.
“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)
Needless to say, after her demonstration of her skills, and her willingness to kill enemies of the State, she was accepted. These skills were put to good use in her first assignment.
“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)
Due to the nature of sniping and the work required, siting back behind the lines was not going to happen. The sniper fought between the enemy lines, thus actually had the potential to be struck both by enemy and friendly fire. The greatest danger for a sniper is enemy snipers because they are looking for exactly the same sorts of movements and have the same precision equipment.
“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)
The battle of Sevastopol was to be the longest engagement for her. She fought hard and caused the Germans a lot of problems with movement due to her efficiency. She was so efficient that they had to use the sort of ordnance that is usually used on a larger position, or stronger force just to attempt to kill her.
“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)
After her wounding in Sevastopol she was removed from combat and sent on a propaganda tour. This is often done with individuals who make a special name for themselves. Several members of the U.S. military who received the Medal of Honor went on similar tours during World War II.
“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)
For Pavlichenko the tour was not all a good time. She wore her uniform to all of her official engagements, indeed all of the time, as would be expected. She was very proud to do so. “Pavlichenko became angry at the US media for the blatantly sexist way they questioned her about the war. Her look and dress was criticized.” (Lockie, 2015). She criticised female members of the U.S. military that they would not have time to do their make-up during battle. Obviously she was a military woman through and through.
“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)
The number of kills which she scored in such a little time is significant. It should be noted that sniper-on-sniper kills are often low because they are both using the same methods of concealment and movement. Sending specialists out to hunt other snipers was a method which has been used time and again throughout conflicts so it is no surprise here. What should be noted about her kill count is that it is most likely actually higher.“Her score of 309 kills likely places her within the top five snipers of all time, but her kills are likely much more numerous, as a confirmed kill has to be witnessed by a third party.” (Lockie, 2015)

The Central Women’s School of Sniper Training trained almost 2,000 snipers by the end of World War II of this number only about a quarter of them survived. Stories such as that of Lyudmila Pavlichenko should be remembered for the remarkable stories that they are but so should the stories of those who did not make it back.
“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)
Polivanova and Kovshova sacrificed their lives to take out more of the enemy. Rather than run away or surrender to the opposing troops they took as many of them out with them with what they had. This self-sacrifice should not be forgotten, neither should stories of others who also served.
“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)
These are women who served their nation on the front lines. With weapons in hand they defended their countries against an aggressor and in a lot of cases lost their lives doing it. There are also stories of Soviet women who served in the infantry; those who served in the armoured, operating tanks, also there are those who flew as pilots. What puts a bitter taste on the discussion is that after the war, the Communist Party attempted to write some of these stories out of Soviet history.
“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)
Such history should not be hidden but brought to light. They are great stories and demonstrate that regardless of gender the same thoughts of self-sacrifice, heroism and courage are present. These are the stories that need to be told. They are the stories which show women who have been trained for combat and served also.

Israeli Military

“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)
While the subject of Israel may not be popular at this point in time, in modern times the highlight for women in combat is the Israeli army. Being such a small state, they have a policy of conscription for national service. This is not unusual for small states as will be noticed if any sort of research is done on this subject. In the case of Israel, "One of the unique aspects of Israeli society is the fact that most women serve in the military. Israel is the only country in the world with a mandatory military service requirement for women." (Katz, 2018). The national service requirement allows women to also serve their country in other services but a large proportion of them choose to serve in the military. The argument against this will be that they are not in combat, to answer this we must look at their not-too-distant past.

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 discussion which has been presented is designed to present evidence of female combat training and also females participating in combat, i.e. fighting. This has proceeded on an historical basis from approximately the second century AD through, at various points with some celebrities of various periods and examples of various combats, to the contemporary period. The investigation itself has been presented as further evidence to support my previous post on this blog about female combat training in which some manuscript evidence was presented.

Gladiatrices were female gladiators who fought against animals, other female gladiators and also occasionally male gladiators. They participated in the same training as the male gladiators. There is evidence of them in various primary sources and forms a foundation for known evidence of females both being trained for combat and also participating in combats to the death.

The examination proceeded on to Boudicea who rebelled against the Romans in Britain. Her exploits are well-documented in at least two recognised sources. It is also known that the Britons of whom she was a tribe trained both males and females how to fight and had both of them in their armies. Thus this is another example of females being trained for combat and participating in it.

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.

We must re-evaluate how we see women and we must see that the concept of female combat training and females in combat is a simple historical fact. It did happen. We must also examine how we can include more female participants in fencing and all forms of HEMA as their participation can only be of benefit to what we do.


Baldick, R. (1965) The Duel: A History of Duelling, Clapham & Hall, London

Canby, C. (1965) A History of Weaponry, 3rd British Edition, Leisure Arts Limited Publishers, London

Conliffe, C. (2016) “Catalina De Erauso, The Lieutenant Nun”, Head Stuff, https://www.headstuff.org/culture/history/catalina-de-erauso-lieutenant-nun/

Cummins, J. (2008) The War Chronicles: From Chariots to Flintlocks: New Perspectives on the Two Thousand Years of Bloodshed that Shaped the Modern World, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest

d'Outremer, M. (1998) “Caterina Sforza”, Women of History, http://womenofhistory.blogspot.com/2007/10/caterina-sforza.html

Drusus, L. (2016) 7 Duels Between Women, Mental Floss, http://mentalfloss.com/article/75944/7-duels-between-women

Foreng, J. (2003) The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship: A Facsimile & Translation of Europe's Oldest Personal Combat Treatise Royal Armouries MS I.33, Chivalry Bookshelf, Union City

Fraser, A. (1989) The Warrior Queens: Boadicea’s Chariot, Mandarin Paperbacks, London

Fraser, A. (1993) The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in seventeenth-century England, Mandarin Paperbacks, London

Gardiner, K. (2104) “The real life of Julie d’Aubigny”, Kelly Gardiner, https://kellygardiner.com/fiction/books/goddess/the-real-life-of-julie-daubigny/

Hayton-Keeva, S. (1987) Valiant Women: In War and Exile, City Lights Books, San Francisco

Katz, M. (2018) "Women in the IDF", Israeli Krav International, http://www.your-krav-maga-expert.com/women-in-idf.html

Kirby, J. (ed) (2013) A Gentleman’s Guide to Duelling: Vincentio Saviolo’s Of Honour & Honourable Quarrels, Frontline Books, London

Lockie, A. (2015) “Meet the world's deadliest female sniper who terrorized Hitler's Nazi army”, Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/lyudmila-pavlichenko-female-sniper/?r=AU&IR=T

Markowitz, M. (2018) “Women With Guns: The Red Army Female Snipers of World War II”, Defense Media Network, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/women-guns-red-army-female-snipers-world-war-ii/

Morin, D. (2015) “Caterina Sforza Joins the Medici Family”, GoodReads, https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7693300-caterina-sforza-joins-the-medici-family

Pruitt, S. (2016) “Who was Boudica?”, History Stories, https://www.history.com/news/who-was-boudica

Rae, C. (2015) “Catalina de Erauso”, The Female Soldier http://thefemalesoldier.com/blog/catalina-de-erauso

Rea, R. (2018) "The feminine side of the arena: gladiatrices" in Ryan, M. (ed) (2018) Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum, Queensland Museum, Brisbane,

Saviolo, V. (1595) His Practise in Two Bookes...

Talhoffer, H. (2000) Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth-Century Illustrated Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat, Greenhill Books, London, UK (Translated and Edited by Mark Rector)

Thompson, B. (2012) “Julie D’Aubigny”, Badass of the Week, Badass of the Week, http://www.badassoftheweek.com/index.cgi?id=672138630154

Timofeychev, A. (2017) “Lady Death and the Invisible Horror: The female face of war”, Russia Beyond, https://www.rbth.com/arts/history/2017/06/20/lady-death-and-the-invisible-horror-the-female-face-of-war_786422