Schirrmeister, Schermeister, Schirmmeister

Sometimes just one character can make a great difference. In the case of the three words: Schirrmeister, Schirmmeister, and Schermeister the spelling varies like it is with nearly every word in the handwritten books and letters in medieval and renaissance times. In this article I present briefly the three occupations behind these words.


Schirmeister, Schirmaister,  Geschirrmeister
The Schirrmeister is a title, a military or civil rank. In civilian live he is the highest servant in the country houses, responsible for the horses, the horse-gear, wagons, and everything that is drawn or pushed by animals. In the army he is in authority of all or a defined amount of wagons, wheel canons, and  and everything that is drawn or pushed by animals, and everything that is needed to load or unload the wagons. He was an experienced soldier, who had much knowledge about logistics and supply.


The Schermeister was a barber, a hair-cutter and someone educated in anatomy, surgery, and caring of teeth and wounds. He was called to inspect wounds in trials.


Schirmmaister, Schirmaister
The Schirmmeister was a master. A master has a legal status usually given by a guild or group. The old understanding of the Schirmmeister as transported by Alfred Schaer, Die Altdeutschen Fechter und Spielleut, 1900,  was a traveling showman, like jongleurs, acrobats, or storytellers. He was a teacher in his art, and sold his knowledge. In some cases the Schirmmeister was part of the courtly education system, teaching his lessons to the young noblemen and free men, the “Schirmknaben”. The public view on the Schirmmeister up to the 14th century was ambivalent: on one hand he was like the travelling people without any rights, lower than the lowest social class, and as someone who sold his life and sword in juridical duels not much better than the executioner; on the other hand he was teaching the noble his art, and if successful and famous, he was honored and payed very well. The problem was solved by giving the Schirmmeister not only money but a title, making him responsible for a small village or piece of land, so he would be someone with rights. The title “Fechtmeister” or “Turniermeister” removed the stain of the low social class and replaced the old the wording of Schirmmeister in the 15th century.

Today we know of no person, who had the title of a Schirmmeister and was “rechtlos” without any rights. It is to question if the interpretation of the Schwabenspiegel “kemphen und iriu kint, und alle, die unêlichen geboren sint, oder die diupheit oder den rehten strâʒroup vergolten hânt und des mit gerihte betwungen sint, oder hût und hâr gelediget hânt vor gerihte: die sint alle rehtlôs.” and other quotes were correctly put into context. It is to ask if the “Kemphe” the “campion” was really understood by Alfred Schaer. He wanted to put the Schirmmeister into the context of the travelling people and to add the odor of the henchmen. Therefore he was searching for quotes bringing the word “campio” or “kemphe” into the context of the “Spielleut”. The problem that the word was not exclusively reserved for the fighter in a judicial duel. If we look at the poems of Hartmann von Aue, Reinfried von Braunschweig, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Der Junge Meißner etc. we will see that the word may have many meanings. Essentially it means that somebody who fights for money. If we add the context of the poems to the context of the legal books, it would be far more plausible if we see the kemphen” in those books as people fighting in tournaments for the joy of people and not in judicial duels.

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