Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

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Phoenix Rising
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Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Phoenix Rising » Sun Aug 21, 2011 9:39 pm

Hello,

Having not long entered the reenactment scene my interest lies on two fronts, as these are the areas that I portray due to my interest in longbow archery (I shoot a 45 lb self bow). These two areas are:

1) Archers of Wars of Roses / Hundred Years War
2) Border Reivers - Zenith of reiving (tudor / Elizabethan)

Having joined a sword school and now learning long sword, it got me thinking about the skills of such men and how they were applied.

English archers were renowned not just for their archery but also for their sword / buckler skill. Given that the oldest surviving manual for this is the I.33 manuscript in the Royal Armouries, would the archers (Retained and Levied) have been trained using a manual such as this, or would it have been more basic training than that handed down from men at arms etc?

Border Reivers - What sort of sword training would they have received, given the family groups and the very nature of their 'activities' ? Was a sword carried more for the menace value of the blade's presence or were they skilled in their use?

All replies appreciated :)



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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Phil the Grips » Mon Aug 22, 2011 1:41 am

Phoenix Rising wrote:Border Reivers - What sort of sword training would they have received, given the family groups and the very nature of their 'activities' ? Was a sword carried more for the menace value of the blade's presence or were they skilled in their use?


Likely as much, or as little as anyone else of the era. Much as most of us have a basic grasp of football today, through cutlural exposure, so most people back then had at least some cultural exposure to fencing, with the usual varying levels of professional need and personal ability/interest in the pursuit of attaining any skill to augment natural abilities.

Reivers came from all strata of society so the highest would likely have been educated to a comparable level to anyone else of wealth (likely even overseas), and a wealthy lad's education included swordplay. Professional, even State-endorsed, schools are known in France and Holland, for certain. Belgium had a strong fencing culture at the time too.

I can't think of explicit evidence for schools in the major cities of the Borders but they existed elsewhere at the time so no reason for them not to be there too. Hiring a tutor or veteran was not unknown either, so another feasible route for the middle classes to learn, either for themself or their sons.

For the lower orders military service at home and overseas, would have given practical opportunities to crack skulls, especially in Ireland, and a culture of prizeplaying, local fairs and wappenshaws would no doubt have provided opportunities for testing one's ability, much as anywhere else in Europe at the time.


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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Phoenix Rising » Mon Aug 22, 2011 7:32 pm

Cheers Phil, some very interesting stuff. :) So Reiver 'society' so to speak would have consisted of men with varying different abilities as far as swordplay would have been concerned, from those at the top end with knowledge gained from schooling etc to those who had only some rudimentary training from old soldiers or those who'd been in service in more recent times? Can see how that works.

However, during my admittedly short time doing re-enactment, I have seen a number of groups / individuals using a form of sword technique they call the 'basic sevens' (cutting and parrying to either upper and lower torso / legs and to the head). Does this technique have a basis in real sword play from those eras, or has it simply developed as a form of show (from theatre or film etc)? Just wondering as I'm wanting to keep myself right!

All best,

Andy



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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Phil the Grips » Mon Aug 22, 2011 8:21 pm

"Sevens" is derived from modern sabre play and classical stageplay.

It works well enough for the job and, by coincidence, correlates pretty much with any "teach a lot of people the basics quickly" system I can think of historically (but only as far back as the late when C18th onwards when such things were needed).

Without any evidence to back this up my gut reaction is this what most "taught by my grandad/outside the tavern " fencers of old would probably have looked like too since it is fairly instinctive stuff that comes naturally to most people.


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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Dave B » Tue Sep 06, 2011 5:56 pm

I was talking about this to a guy called Scott Brown, who was teaching I.33 at 'Fightcamp' just a couple of weeks ago. He was of the opinion that I.33 was all 'clever stuff', that it was written for people who were already skilled in the basic techniques of buckler fencing, and the manuscript was written to cover the advanced stuff. He suggested that you couldn't get basic buckler fencing from I.33, but you could work it out 'reading between the lines'.

Personally I think buckler fencing is fiendishly complicated to do at all well because you have to think about three moves ahead to decide which side of the buckler your sword is going to pass without withdrawing it, I'd love to learn a bit more myself.


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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Dave B » Tue Sep 06, 2011 5:56 pm

What sword school have you joined by the way?


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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby guthrie » Tue Sep 06, 2011 10:48 pm

Dave B wrote:I was talking about this to a guy called Scott Brown, who was teaching I.33 at 'Fightcamp' just a couple of weeks ago. He was of the opinion that I.33 was all 'clever stuff', that it was written for people who were already skilled in the basic techniques of buckler fencing, and the manuscript was written to cover the advanced stuff. He suggested that you couldn't get basic buckler fencing from I.33, but you could work it out 'reading between the lines'.

Personally I think buckler fencing is fiendishly complicated to do at all well because you have to think about three moves ahead to decide which side of the buckler your sword is going to pass without withdrawing it, I'd love to learn a bit more myself.

That's funny - an ex-DDS friend has an LJ post which comes across to me as suggesting that I33 is a specific buckler fighting system which stands apart from your standard "basic buckler techniques". It's as if you took two people and taught one of them re-enactment 7's type longsword fencing, and taught the other person late medieval German. Its pretty obvious to me which one would be the deadlier fighter, but its quite hard to draw any comparisons between them and you have to remove a good part of the 'basics' knowledge from someone to get them to do the German properly.
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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby StuartP » Wed Sep 07, 2011 12:10 am

Er...Hi!

Guthrie mentioned to me about this thread - the LJ post is mine.

I do think that I.33 represents the 'Advanced Course' in sword and buckler and you do need to read between the lines to work out the basics but it does stand alone. Basically the treatise is in two parts. In the first part (about two thirds of the manuscript) the Priest tells us that 'ordinary' fencers use these six basic guards and here's how to defeat each of them with attacks called counters. In the second part he gives his recommendation of what to do instead, his two special wards Priest's Special Longpoint and Walpurgis' ward. What you must find out 'between the lines' is the foot work and the overall idiom - and those are crucial to understanding and making it work.

Once you understand the basic principles and have worked out how to do the counters correctly it starts to fall into place. It isn't fiendishly difficult but it is very clever! :)

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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Phoenix Rising » Wed Sep 14, 2011 2:25 pm

Hi Folks,

Apologies for not replying to anyone, but the nature of my employment means that I'm frequently away for a couple of weeks at a time and where i work (North Sea) I don't get the net! So just back and now trying to catch up.

Anyhow, I rather like the 'grandad teaching outside of the pub' comment, seems to make sense! Would have been interesting to have been around the alehouse at kicking out time then! :lol:

Seriously though, the 'sevens' does seem to be more an instinctive way to wield a sword for folks who are just ordinary foot-sloggers or archers. Would it perhaps be the case for the archers of the hundred years war etc that those who taught them sword work had simply learned to fight on the battlefield, and as they'd survived obviously they knew something of worth? From looking at I.33 myself I think that Guthrie and Stewart are right, it seems pretty advanced, although there are some basic moves. Problem is I don't read german!!! Another thought that comes to mind is that such moves might be fine when its a case of one to one etc, but if these moves were put into the context of the medieval battlefield how much room would a person have to move about, likewise with the likes of Talhoffer's longsword plays? Battles with many folks in a crush or at close-quarters surely wouldn't have given much room for fancy stuff? Wouldn't it more be a case of 'hack and slash' and 'blood and thunder'? Don't get me wrong, I'm not decrying the techniques, just trying to see where they would be more used on a practical basis.

So, with regard to the I.33 manuscript are we perhaps looking at a manual that acts very much like a set of lecture notes, with the instructor using whatever section he would need to suit the skill level of the class he is teaching? Basics for basics, advanced for those who have mastered the basics and have the money to pay for more? (I mean like any business these schools would be running on a profit basis surely, as would the individual tutor who would be well paid for his services)

Can see how the knowledge would be passed on though,as there wer plenty of conflicts and evcen in peacetimes you had the fairs etc were as Phil said, you could test your skill.

As for the sword school Dave, its the Hotspur School (Lance and Pennon Chapter in Newcastle) - Bob Brooks is the Marshall.

All best,

Andy



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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Alan E » Wed Sep 14, 2011 3:38 pm

One thing to note about the I33 is that it says the basic sstances are how "ordinary" fencers fight. Some practitioners believe this is saying 'don't fight like this: untutored people will do though so here's how to defeat them. Tutored people fight like this (priest's special longpoint and Walpurga's stance) so use these to defeat them'.

Note I don't 'do' I33, just that the above is how some who do 'do', think it works. So basic stances from I33 might be what most people used (seems to chime with a lot of period illustrations of swordfighting too).


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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby StuartP » Wed Sep 14, 2011 4:50 pm

Phoenix Rising wrote:From looking at I.33 myself I think that Guthrie and Stewart are right, it seems pretty advanced, although there are some basic moves. Problem is I don't read german!!!

Not to worry, Jeffrey Forgeng's book has a very good translation. Alternatively there's an online translation here http://freywild.ch/i33/i33en.html

Phoenix Rising wrote:Another thought that comes to mind is that such moves might be fine when its a case of one to one etc, but if these moves were put into the context of the medieval battlefield how much room would a person have to move about, likewise with the likes of Talhoffer's longsword plays? Battles with many folks in a crush or at close-quarters surely wouldn't have given much room for fancy stuff? Wouldn't it more be a case of 'hack and slash' and 'blood and thunder'? Don't get me wrong, I'm not decrying the techniques, just trying to see where they would be more used on a practical basis.

The system of fencing in I.33 does require room to move - it's an important part of the system. However, even with limited room you'd be able to use many of the tactics (closing off your opponent's lines, etc).

Phoenix Rising wrote:So, with regard to the I.33 manuscript are we perhaps looking at a manual that acts very much like a set of lecture notes, with the instructor using whatever section he would need to suit the skill level of the class he is teaching? Basics for basics, advanced for those who have mastered the basics and have the money to pay for more? (I mean like any business these schools would be running on a profit basis surely, as would the individual tutor who would be well paid for his services)

I.33 seems to me to stand alone as purely the advanced material with only enough of the basics shown so that one can learn to beat them. We don't really know how it was taught, whether it was paid classes as a 'fencing school' or special tuition for a select few - could even be something along the lines of the village vicar running the boxing club! Perhaps the most likely suggestion to date is that the 'Priest' is a cleric at a university. The students could be students of the university. Perhaps the tuition is intended as self-defence classes for those going on pilgrimage who fear attacks by bandits. There are many possibilities but we simply don't know for sure.



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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Phoenix Rising » Fri Sep 16, 2011 4:09 pm

Cheers for that Stuart - had a look at the website you gave me the link for and i.33 makes a bit more sense in English!!! Can see now what you mean, that a good number of the moves (at least the basic ones) could be used in close-quarter situations, closing off your opponents etc.

Interesting thought to muse upon how the manuscript would have been used and who by - one of those tantalising pieces of knowledge lost through the passgage of time, like so many other things...



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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Colin Middleton » Tue May 01, 2012 12:51 pm

Remember that this manual is hand written on expensive paper (all paper was expensive then) with beautiful illustrations which are at least hand coloured wood-block prints, if not fully illustrated by hand. You don't just pop down to waterstones and pick up a copy. This is a vaulable document and a serious status symbol.

Perhaps the master owned the only copy and used it as a teaching aid to explain to his students a system that he had created and knen by heart.

Perhaps there were a handful of (hand made) copies made which he could sell to his very wealthy clients as a reminder of what he had taught them.

I certainly don't think that it is intended as 'you buy the book and learn to fight from it'.

As to the 'un tutotred' techniques, I suspect that they wouldn't be much like sevens (or fives, nines, FAST or any similar system) as they rely very much on absorbing the force into the blade, which is very bad for the sword. Does that style of fighting not feel natural to us because we grew up watching movies where people fight like that? I suspect that even untrained fighters would tend to use deflection, rather than blocking as that is the type of fighting that they're seeing every day.

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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Langley » Tue May 01, 2012 2:30 pm

In the days when I was fit enough to use a sword I picked up one particular tip and Colin's post reminded me of it. Yes, absorbing the shock with your blade is not good and disturbs the rhythm of your own attacks. The tip was "answer a high guard with a low guard and vice versa". If you do that it becomes much more natural to block the side of the opponent's sword rather than the edge meaning you can "put the blade aside" and follow through with your riposte. Anyone else got a view on that as a useful "basic" grandad outside the pub tip? (Come to think of it, I think I did pick it up outside a pub - well, beer tent anyway).



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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Dave B » Wed May 16, 2012 8:22 am

Colin Middleton wrote:Perhaps there were a handful of (hand made) copies made which he could sell to his very wealthy clients as a reminder of what he had taught them.


Of course I33 sort of stands alone as earliest surviving manuscript by nearly 100 years, but there are several from around 1400, and those certainly seem to be written for that purpose. Fiore makes that pretty clear in his introduction. I think its a reasonable assumption.

Colin Middleton wrote:Does that style of fighting not feel natural to us because we grew up watching movies where people fight like that? I suspect that even untrained fighters would tend to use deflection, rather than blocking as that is the type of fighting that they're seeing every day.



I think you are quite right. I think lots of people will have had the experience of learning re-encactment type combat for years, then taking some 'Historica European Martial Arts' classes and finding that the techniques just feel better - smoother, faster, more deadly. Body mechanics have not changed much, and I think they would have felt better and more instinctive then too.

However IMHO Re-encactment sword techniques are better for re-encactment simply because to many of the 'real' techniques just result in someone getting the point of a sword straight through their face almost straight away - but that's possibly a different debate.


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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Hobbitstomper » Wed May 16, 2012 4:45 pm

Get “Highland Swordsmanship: Techniques of the Scottish Swordmasters” for McBane’s account of how he learned to fight. There is some stuff about waving swords about in there to.



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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Phil the Grips » Wed May 16, 2012 4:57 pm

If you allow for the facts that McBane was a Highlander, trained through a formalised military system (even given the fact that he took private tuition for swordplay it was still through a master attached to his regiments as was the custom), a full century later than the golden age of reiving, and using different weapons...so not really relevant to the original question.


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Re: Archers and Border Reivers - Sword Fighting Skills

Postby Dave B » Wed May 16, 2012 5:04 pm

Hobbitstomper wrote:Get “Highland Swordsmanship: Techniques of the Scottish Swordmasters” for McBane’s account of how he learned to fight. There is some stuff about waving swords about in there to.


Isn't McBane (writing in 1728 IIRC) 100 years or more too late for the Hayday of the Rievers though.


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