Knightly Dueling – the Fighting Arts of German Chivalry

Knightly Dueling – the Fighting Arts of German Chivalry

 by Jeffrey Hull, with Monika Maziarz and Grzegorz Zabinski
Paladin Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-58160-674-4

Knightly Dueling is a complete overview of the fighting arts of German chivalric dueling, on horse and on foot, during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Through the words and pictures of original source texts of the great German fight masters of the 14th through 16th centuries – extraordinary works that poetically preserved medieval methods of armed combat – it reveals knightly dueling for what it truly was: mortal combat over some grave matter with battlefield weaponry and armour.

Until now, no single book has encompassed and clarified the scattered existing historical information on German dueling with swords, lances, daggers, pollaxes and other weapons. Knightly Dueling shows the ruthless reality of man-to-man combat of the German Kunst des Fechtens (art of fighting), providing a thorough understanding of Johannes Liechtenauer’s Roszfechten (horse fighting) and Kampffechten (duel fighting). It gives Middle High German transcriptions, as well as the first and only modern English translations, of works from various fight books by Liechtenauer’s renowned masterly interpreters, including Hanko Döbringer, Peter von Danzig, Hans Talhoffer and Andre Lignitzer. The book also presents an illustrated blow-by-blow account of a deadly duel from a German Fechtbuch (fight book); primary source information regarding specific training of noblemen for duels and the training of noble youth in the combat arts; and a unique glossary of historical German chivalric terms for arms and armour.

Lavishly illustrated with many pieces of period artwork, Knightly Dueling restores the concept of German chivalry to its rightful martial role and is a must for any serious scholar of the dynamic field of European martial arts.

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Preface to Knightly Dueling

Let me tell you about this book called Knightly Dueling.  I wrote it because nobody either could or would tell me what I really wanted to know about chivalry – the actual martial arts of the knightly duel, how knights actually fought.  I wrote it because I wanted to know about their fighting.

This book offers you – the reader, the martial artist, the scholar, the medievalist, whomever – the words and deeds, the ideas and pictures, the actual methods for fighting of Medieval and Renaissance German knights.  Thus this book offers you the German chivalric art of fighting.

Indeed, chivalry deserves rescue from romantic academic notions that have distorted what it really meant to the knights of yore.  This book means to restore chivalry to its rightful martial place.  In order to recover true chivalry, this books revives the knightly combatives of Medieval and Renaissance Europe’s most warlike entity – thus it revives the Kampf (duel) of Germany.

I did my best to bring this about by translating the teachings on Kampffechten (duel-fighting) of 14th to 16th Century Fechtmeister (fight-masters / fencing masters); who wrote and edited Fechtbücher (fight-books / fencing manuals) for Ritter (knights) and Knechte (troopers); based largely upon the tradition of Johann Liechtenauer (1350-1420), the early Hochmeister (high master) of the German Kunst des Fechtens (art of fighting / martial arts).

Master Liechtenauer was and is acknowledged for setting his combative Lehre (lore) into Merkverse (mark-verses / memory verses) which later masters recorded into fight-books, often providing their own Glossa (commentary), all for methodically teaching that lore to later generations of fighting men.  Those fight-books were written by masters like Hanko “the Priest” Döbringer (1389), Hans Talhoffer (1443-1467), Peter von Danzig (1452), Andre Lignitzer (1452) and Martein Hundtfeltz (1452) – all of whom are found in this present book.

Their lore for dueling dealt mainly with techniques and tactics of Harnischfechten (harness-fencing / armoured fighting) between two mortally intent knights wielding the three main dueling weapons of Glev / Spiesz, Langes Schwert, and Degen (lance / spear, longsword, and dagger); using Kampfringen (duel-wrestling / combat-wrestling) as needed; while in earnest fight both upon foot and upon horse.  When ahorse, the nature of that armoured duel-fighting could actually include any and all of those aforesaid elements, and was termed Roszfechten (horse-fighting).  And naturally their lore also dealt with unarmoured longsword fighting, which was termed Bloszfechten (bare-fencing / unarmoured fighting).

This book is meant to be an omnibus of such fighting Kraft (prowess), showing in some good measure many of the kaleidoscopic aspects of Ritterschaft / Rittertum (chivalry) – mainly the martial, yet also the legal, artifactual, social and literary.  It gives you Middle High German transcriptions, as well as the first and only Modern English translations, of various works from various fight-books.  To briefly describe each chapter:
Chivalry makes a definitive statement about just what is meant by that word in this book relevant to Chivalric European martial arts.

Causes for Dueling tells of the moral and legal grounds for dueling according to Talhoffer – the why, when, where, and how of challenge to duel between two nobles or knights.

Mark-Verses offers the earliest poetic verses of German fighting lore by Master Liechtenauer via Döbringer, and later via von Danzig.

Horse-Fighting via von Danzig provides the martial art of combat ahorse, where the knights strove to win by basically hunting each other from horseback with lance and sword.

Duel-Fighting via von Danzig provides the crux of this book, the martial art of armoured combat afoot, where the knights strove to win by a specialised fight with lance / spear, longsword, and dagger, as well as wrestling.

Half-Swording via Lignitzer provides expanded coverage of armoured combat afoot with the longsword, distinctive and unique for its gripping, targeting and striking.

Dagger-Fighting via Lignitzer provides specific coverage of armoured fencing with daggers, sometimes used in surprising manner, part of the brutal endgame of the armoured duel.

Holding Down and Staying Upon via Hundtfeltz provides some down-and-dirty pinning and ground-fighting, another part of the brutal endgame of armoured duel.

Training the Youth gives an expository essay on the often-ignored subject of athletically and martially developing the untrained noble youth into a fighting nobleman.

Getting Ready according to Talhoffer provides helpful, even unexpected, advice and regimen for the nobleman needing to train for a mortal duel.

Leutold versus Unknown according to Talhoffer provides via text and pictures the blow-by-blow progression of a legendary duel fought by the German lord Leutold von Königsegg versus an unknown foe in the middle 15th Century.

Unarmoured Fighting provides the Twenty Directives of Liechtenauer via Talhoffer, thus the basic principles, of vigorous longsword fencing in little or no armour.

Variety offers the diversity of additional and alternative armaments for knightly dueling, like pollaxe, halberd, and tuck.  Also addressed are dueling as opposed to tourney, combat-imagery from various literary sources, and miscellaneous interesting graphics.

Artifacts offers a concise yet nice photographic survey of some actual artifactal arms and armour from the dueling days of Germany.

Lexicons offers words related to dueling from an out-of-print Middle High German dictionary; plus an original, first-of-its-kind glossary of Middle High German armamentary terms.

Endnotes offers further and detailed explanation of certain pointed and interesting subjects.

Bibliography offers a listing of over 170 primary and secondary works of medieval and modern literature related either directly or indirectly to martial arts of chivalric Germany.

Ultimately this book is meant to help the resurrection of almost lost and virtually forgotten European combatives.  It is meant to help those who, if nothing else, realise that fighting men of the past knew what they were doing in regards to their combatives, even if we, their humble modern inheritors, struggle to comprehend the full story.

So, I welcome you to read about and learn about the old-time combatives of the great and manly knights of Germany, which I have been honoured, hopefully, to understand in some good way, and, in turn, to convey unto you. 

Jeffrey Hull

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