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Liber de Arte Dimicatoria

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Liber de Arte Dimicatoria
"Book on the Art of Fencing"

MS I.33 31v.jpg
MS I.33 32r.jpg
ff 31v-32r, including St. Walpurga in her ward
Also Known as
  • Walpurgis Fechtbuch
  • "The Tower Fechtbuch"
Author(s) Unknown
Ascribed to Clericus Lutegerus
Illustrated by Unknown (up to 17 artists)
Date early 14th century
Genre Fencing manual
Language Medieval Latin
State of Existence One substantial but incomplete manuscript
exists, along with several fragments which
may be related
MS Ⅰ.33 (1320s)
First Printed
English Edition
Forgeng, 2003
Concordance by Michael Chidester

Liber de Arte Dimicatoria is a German fencing manual from the early 14th century; it is generally considered to be anonymous, though the name Ludger ("Lutegerus") appears prominently on the first folio and may be the name of the author or scribe. The illustrations and monastic origin of the principal manuscript, MS Ⅰ.33 (or FECHT 1), suggest that it was created by a member of the clergy (perhaps a priest or monk).

The treatise is fully illustrated, and the text includes both short mnemonic verses and longer explanations in a Medieval Latin with strong vernacular influences. (The format of verse and gloss may indicate that the author was recording a yet older tradition.) It treats unarmored fencing with sword and buckler; the intriguing fact that the fencers depicted are a priest and a student (and on the last two pages, a priest and a woman), seems to suggest that this was a middle class or priestly art rather than one of the knightly class. Repeatedly, the text makes mention of the pupils (scolaris or discipulus) of the priest, as well as youths (iuvenis) and clients (clientulum).

The apparent identification of the priest as Ludger and the woman as Walpurga may suggest an allegorical aspect to the artwork, as both names belong to Medieval saints who were popular in Germany.

The principal manuscript in its present form consists of five quires, of which all but the first are incomplete; at least eight leaves are believed to be missing (assuming it started with complete quires of four bifolia each).[1] The precise contents of these missing leaves are unknown, but it is possible that they were a source for the thirty uncaptioned sword and buckler plays which appear in the Libr.Pict.A.83, the Cod. Ⅰ.6.2º.4, and the Cgm 3712 (see below); alternatively, these may originate from another manuscript within the same tradition. The anonymous plays seem in turn to have been the main source for Paulus Hector Mair's treatment of rapier and buckler, which he captioned with his own interpretations; since Mayr's connection to this tradition seems limited to being a late commentator, his text is not included below.


Scans of MS Ⅰ.33 are licensed under the terms of the Royal Armouries Non-Commercial Licence.

Folia 1r-3v have been conceptually restored by artist Mariana López Rodríguez; unmodified versions can be viewed on the Royal Armouries website.

Additional Resources


  1. Hester (2012).
  2. The introductory verse is added on the top margin of the page in a 15th-century hand. The distichon was apparently added in the 15th century, when the manuscript was still kept in a monastery library. It seems to express a disparaging view of “armed clerics” and clearly also refers to the depiction of a female fencer on the last folium. This verse is attested in print in the 16th century, and there attributed to Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius II, 1405–64), as follows:
    • Andreas Gärtner, Proverbialia dicteria (1574): “Non audet Stygius Pluto tentare, quod audet Eff renis monachus plenaque fraudis anus” (cited after Wilhelm Binder, Novus Thesaurus Adagiorum Latinorum, 1861 who off ers the German paraphrase “Wo der Teufel nicht selbst hin will, schickt er entweder einen Pfaff en, oder ein altes Weib.”)
    • Holinshed's Chronicles (1577): “Æneas Sylvius (and before him many more driving upon the like argument) dooth saie in this distichon: Non audet Stygius Pluto tentare, quod audent / Eff rænis monachus, plenaque fraudis illa. Meaning Mulier, a woman.”
    A longer variant is given by Richard Gough, Human Nature Displayed in the History of Myddle (1824): “I remember what Eneas Sylvius said: Non audet Stygius Pluto tentare, quod audet / Eff renis monachus, plenaque fraudis anus. / Vix adfert Stygius Pluto tot damna quot audet / Credo bibax ebrius, plenaque fraudis anus. Not Stygian Pluto ever durst pursue, What a rogue monk, and treacherous hag can do. The Stygian fi end can scarce such mischief do man, as This drunken cobler and dissembling woman has.” I have not been able to locate the verse in Aeneas Sylvius' works directly; in any case, the presence of the verse (with dolis for fraudis) in a 15th-century hand in our manuscript (more or less conteporary with Aeneas Sylvius, and certainly predating any printed edition of his works) would seem to suggest that he is not its original author.
  3. Gunterrodt: Tres quae praecedunt, reliquae tantum fugientes.
  4. It is suggestive that the author (if we accept the instructor in the verses and in the manual as the same person) is called cler[ic]us “the cleric” (or “the clerk”) three times in these verses, but never in the text; conversely, the text consistently calls him sacerdos, and never clericus (Middle Latin use of clerus for clericus is noted in Du Cange's Glossarium). It is almost as if he had composed the verses as a mnenomic orally at an earlier time, before envisaging the project of creating this manual, when he was younger and not yet ordained as a priest. Latin clericus renders MHG pfaffe, which may could to either a priest, a deacon or a member of the minor orders. Note that it is not unusual to find the designation pfaffe associated with fencing masters of the late medieval tradition, so Hanko Döbringer (still in the 14th century) and Hans Lecküchner (in the later 15th century).

    The interpretation of the name Lutegerus in the verse on fol. 1v depends on the interpretation of the verse of which it forms a part. This verse is very difficult to interpret in a number of ways. In fact, nothing about it is entirely clear to me.

  5. Are we to understand that the seven guards are the same as the “seven parts”, and of these three “precede” (or “go forward” as antonym to fugiunt?) and the remaining (i.e. four) “flee” or “go backward” in some way? CS translate Il y en a trois qui avancent, tandis que les autres replient. But “reply” isn't really what a custodia does, the system has the separate term obsessio just for that, and there is nothing in the subsequent material that would somehow suggest that some of the guards have a function of replying or reacting to the others. It is also anyone's guess how the guards are to be grouped. One reasonable assumption would be the the first four, shown on 1r, as opposed to the final three, shown on 1v. There is, in fact, a conceptual difference between the groups, guards 1-4 as described in the manual initiate a strike, while 5 and 6 initiate a thrust, and 7 is a special case, inviting a bind instead of posing a direct threat.

    Now, the verse goes on to say “these seven (parts, guards) are done by the common fencers”, followed by “the cleric holds the opposite, and Luitger holds the middle”. This may be interpreted in a number of ways. It is important to note that neither medium nor oppositum is used in any technical sense anywhere in the manual outside of this verse.

    CS have Le clerc est a l'opposé et Luitger à mi-chemin “the cleric is opposite, and Luitger is at halfway”, i.e. they here treat “the cleric” as a different person from Luitger. In the reading of Ukert, Lutegerus is a reference by name to a notable “common fencer”, so that the cleric holding “the opposite” would presumably be preferable to the “common fencer” Luitger who holds merely “the middle”.

    It does seem more probable to me, however, that the entire line refers to a single person, clerus Lutegerus, who holds “both the opposite and the middle” and that this statement, as a whole, contrasts with the “common fencers” mentioned in the preceding line. Note that this would mean that the author here employs hyperbaton (the separation of the two associated nominatives), in apparent aspiration to a “poetic” mode of speech entirely absent from the rest of the “verses”.

    I am unsure whether the terms oppositum and medium should be interpreted in a figurative way, as it were “he is in possession of the counter and the means”, or in a strictly spatial sense, as it were “he holds against (his opponent)” and at the same time “he holds or occupies the center” between the fencers. This latter interpretation strikes me as a useful description of the “conflict of binder and bound” referenced throughout the manual, but it must be admitted that a discussion in the terms used in the verse is not repeated anywhere in the following text. It nevertheless remains my preferred reading, against both CS and Ukert, that “clerus Lutegerus” here refers to a single person, and most likely the manual's author himself (compare the discussion of de Alkersleiben below).

  6. Gunterrodt (1579) read this name as Albenslaiben recognising it as the name of the “ancient stem and most famous family” (vetustissima prosapia et clarissima familia) of Alvensleben. Ukert, on the other hand, reads Alkersleiben. Both Gunterrodt and Ukert recognised the word as a personal name (while a reading albersleiben is due to Forgeng, who identified the word as a fencing term, a “proto-Liechtenauerian” version of Alber). Alkersleiben is clearly more consistent with the manuscript, and Gunterrodt's reading should perhaps be considered an emendation, inserting the more familiar name of Alvensleben, a prominent noble family of Brandenburg in Gunterrodt's time (which also had held extensive possessions already in the 1300s). For Gunterrodt, it was obvious that the author of the manuscript must have been a nobleman who had retired to a monastery in his old age, and he took his reading as a confirmation of the association with nobility without positively identifying the name as referencing the manual's author.

    However, reading de Alkersleiben (with Ukert) we have a reference to the Thuringian village of Alkersleben (recorded in the 13th century as Alkesleibin), at the time of merely local importance as the site of a manor and a deanery. Alkersleben is some 200 km to the north of the parts of Franconia affected by the Second Margravian War, the presumed area of production of our manuscript. Ukert interprets both Lutegerus and de Alkersleiben as the names of “common fencers” (generales dimicatores, “gemeine Fechtmeister”). This depends entirely on the context we give to the occurrence of the names, in the case of de Alkersleiben: Non ducat aliquam plagam quod probat de Alkersleiben “He should not deliver any strike, as recommended by de Alkersleiben” – are we to understand that this is a counsel against the recommendation to “deliver a strike” attributed to a notable “common fencer” known as de Alkersleiben, or are we much rather to understand that the counsel not to deliver a strike is attributed to the highly profi cient fencer known by this name, which would amount to nothing less than yet another reference by the author to himself in the third person? If we are ready to interpret Lutegerus in this way, I see no obstacle to adopt the same position here, which would give us an author Clericus Lutegerus de Alkersleiben, or, in German, Pfaffe Luitger von Alkersleben. Incidentially, the term nucken happens to be more consistent with a Thuringian rather than a Franconian origin of whoever is responsible for coining it.

  7. CS praise this image as “one of the most beautiful aesthetic successes” of the codex. The postures are drawn very carefully, including an indication that each fencer has the right foot forward, a detail that will not be evident in later figures. The final (and let's face it, rather awkward) paragraph is in hand B and alludes to changed dynamics that arise if first guard is answered with first guard.
  8. This is written vertically on the right margin. The image is damaged, but it is the first of dozen identical images illustrating “overbind” (see §11). This image is also the first instance of a “change of perspective” (i.e. the position of fencers is inverted; this is done on purpose in order to show the hand position of the fencer).
  9. i.e. Showing the schiltslac.
  10. The verse is written between the two images on the left side (the side of the fencer performing the technique).
  11. The first three images of the second play are equivalent to the first play. This is made explicit in the text, the sword-change in the following image being shown as a counter to the overbind. But note the explicit depiction of step with the left foot forward for the overbind (based on the position of the rear foot), a detail absent from the equivalent situation as shown in 2v.
  12. The two paragraphs are arranged on the left and on the right, referring to the scholar and the priest, respectively. The image shows the situation after the sword-change (mutatio gladii); the scholar is instructed to counter this with a stich, but this isn't pursued further. This is presumably the action depicted in 10r, where it is, however, referred to as stichslac. The play here instead continues with the action of nucken performed by the priest immediately after the sword-change. The last part of the second paragraph is already in reference to the following image on the next page, i.e. the one depicting the priest's nucken. The word is written nucken in prose, but then nukcen in the verse: is this a simple error, or is the creation of an apparent rhyme with schutzen significant?
  13. The paragraph is centered on the page above the image, perhaps added as an afterthought as the scribe realised that the description intended for this image has already been given on the previous page. This image is unique in the book, and CS point out correctly a mistake on the part of the illustrator, who has given the priest two left hands.
  14. The second paragraph is written on the right margin. The krucke is introduced as an alternative reaction to first guard (other than halbschilt), and advertised as a speciality of the priest's system. This position at the same time covers the right side (threatened by first guard) and threatens a thrust to the opponent's sword side. CS interpret the image as reflecting the fencers maintaining eye contact under the shield. I do not think this is the case: Krucke should be performed with a step to the right, and eye-contact is maintained in a line passing left of the shield.
  15. The first occurrence of the ligans-ligati verse, written on the left margin; note that the verse is grammatically dubious, you would expect ligans ligatusque or something similar. The text is distracted from the play at hand to give general advice on the bind, but 5v below can be seen as immediately following the establishment of the bind here.
  16. prossus for prorsus or prosus “straight ahead, directly, truly”; even though the literal meaning of the adverb is “straight ahead”, the intended meaning is not necessarily spatial but rather temporal, i.e. the priest enters “straight away” as the scholar omits the bind, but not necessarily in a straight line.
  17. The short gloss is written without the initial usually used for new sections, and squeezed between the feet of the fencers in the above image.
  18. The text has a stray lu, the beginning of the word ludem, amended to actum on the fly (because ludus “game” is used for a sequence of techniques, while actus refers to a single tempo, in this case the assumption of krucke). The addition of scholaris as the subject of obmittit is in the later hand B.
  19. The technique described is an example of Fühlen in the bind, the priest may thrust to the belly in the (strong) bind, but the scholar has the opportunity to release the bind and strike to the head, scoring an easy double-hit. As soon as the attacker feels he is losing the bind, he has to interrupt the attack and perform the counter shown in the next image.
  20. The top image is without text (and without lineation). It shows a counter against the double-hit discussed under the previous image. The counter is worth closer scrutiny, as it does not recur (but compare the counter on 19v as conceptually related).
  21. This page once again shows the overbind-schiltslac sequence; there is a change of perspective from the previous. The lower image has lineation but no text. On the bottom of the page, Johann Herbart (Herwart) of Würzburg, who acquired the manuscript in the 1550s, has left his name.
  22. i.e. langort
  23. The text has been re-traced in darker ink, according to CS by hand C (but closely following the original ductus of hand A).
  24. This is a rare instance of an actively established underbind (followed immediately by a sword-change), the only other example of this being 19r.
  25. The text is written between the two images, on the right side (the side of the fencer performing the technique). There is no other text (or lineation) on the page. The prior image (the underbind) is closely reproduced in the top image, the only difference in posture being the scholar's having moved his shield to his left hand side. It thus shows the same situation as the top of 7r (with the role of the two fencers reversed), i.e. the overbind, but in this case, the Vor is held not by the fencer in the overbind, but by the fencer in the underbind, who next performs sword-change, so that the sequence on 8r becomes a repetition of 3v.
  26. This “play” on the final page of the first quire has no new material, but it is important as the only instance of the frequently used action of “falling under” being shown from the reverse perspective, showing the hands of the fencer in halpschilt. The variant possessio for obsessio here occurs for the last time (otherwise only as possessor on 4r, and in the late addition on 2r).
  27. The verse is written between the two images, on the right side (the side of the fencer performing the technique).
  28. recipere plagam: to execute (not to receive) a blow. Probably intended as 'receive the opportunity to strike'.
  29. durchtritt: a step to the side seems intended; for the (preferable) action depicted, we would expect 'to the left', so dexteram may be taking the opponent's view.
  30. 30.0 30.1 dampnum for damnum
  31. vidilpoge = "fiddle-bow".
  32. fingitur for figitur; fuit vicium pictoris: Here is evidence that the author is not identical with the draftsman.
  33. Concerning the name of the woman fencer: The name walprgis as written directly above the word sac'dos (below which are five dots forming a line). It is not entirely clear, whether Walpurgis is meant to replace sacerdos or if it is an addition (in which case it would be genitive of Walpurga). But since in the picture, the woman is executing the schiltslac, and because the woman is said to have been ready first (parata), she must be called (in the nominative) Walpurgis.