Understanding I.33 #1: A Teacher and His Students

The probably oldest book on martial arts known to us, it is exclusively about fencing with small shields and sword. The book, which is dated by scientists to the first half of the 14th century, was created in a workshop of at least three scribes and five illustrators. The story of the book tells us that it was looted from a Frankonian monastery in the 16th century. It is known to us as I.33 from the library cataloque.

The well known book displays a priest (sacerdos) named Ludgerus as a fencing master, a young man as a fencing student (scolaris), and a young women named Walpurgis as another (very capable) fencing student. The three persons show several exercises, commented and explained by the authors, endorsed with some badly written poetry. The book is a singularity in many regards. But it is not an object out of time. This article series tries to reconstruct the history and the context of this book, to support a better understanding of it.

The article series will start with looking at the social and educational context and compare the findings to the claims implicitly and explicitly found in the book. It would not be possible without the help of many friends world wide. I am very thankful for everyone in the recent years sharing thoughts and knowledge with me. Most helpful among many others had been Matt Galas, Tea Kew, Matt Easton (without even knowing it), Herbert Schmidt, Cornelius Berthold, Jean Channdler, and Mattias Isaksson. I am very sure there will be many names to add before the last article had been written.

Lazy Reader’s Summary

The capability to defend, the right to bear arms, defined the social and legal status of a person. It could even provide the chance for social advancement. Craftsmen skills, administrative tasks, or weapon and writing service had been paths for social mobility. The capability to defend, was a social need. In the 13th century, latest at the beginning of the 14th century the profession of fencing masters had been well established. Like in other trades, the cities holding universities or larger interregional active merchants had been the lighthouses in this development.

A learned man of the church “sacerdos” teaching a disciple or student “scolaris” was a common educational relationship in cloisters, grammar and secondary schools, and universities in the 13th and 14th century. But where did that teaching took place, how fits a priest into the role of a fencing master. A German monastic school in the early 14th century, which has the teaching of sword and buckler on a regular base is highly unlikely. A fencing master holding lessons on behalf the university in the early 14th century is extremely unlikely as well. Students have been educated and trained in the usage of weapons, and carried arms already in the 13th century, but they did not learn or exercise those at the university at that time.

This leaves two options: the priest was hired to teach private tuitions (eventually linked with a church organized education) for children of wealthy people (most likely in an urban environment), or the teaching relation is fictional at minimum (he might be fiction as well).

The students in the book are between 13 and 21 years old. They are capable of reading and writing Latin (eventually their own language as well). Technically, they could have participated in making the book.

The Social Need for a Martial Education

In the social structure of the 13th and 14th century the capability to defend (or getting defended) by weapons is still a more important criterion for social superiority than legal freedom (see alsoe Althoff, Gerd, “Nunc fiant Christi milites, qui dudum extiterunt raptores” in Saeculum 32/4 1981, p, 317–333). The social dividing line between the defencive and the defenceless, the “milites” and “pauperes”, had more weight than the twisty dividing lines between the levels of the so called “feudal society”. Fragmented jurisdiction and local legislation (despite overarching codes of the Landfrieden), and the huge mobility of the people did not go hand in hand. There was no guarantee for justice and safety for people travelling, when travelling means just to walk some miles down the road. The idea and concept of the Landfrieden was to reduce the application of personal violence to enforce the own rights and to sanction personally. It was created to have a common law, protecting those, who moved between the dominions of jurisdiction and were not capable of fighting (like priests, merchants etc.). Any law ultimately depends on the strong and visible presence of law enforcing capabilities. The duty to prosecute peace breakers was bound by oath, and by the words of the law a duty for every free man.

Preterea statuimus, si predones aliqua dampna fecerint ineendiis vel rapinis alicui vel aliquibus et lesus vel lesi predones illos ceperint agitare, quod universaliter homines ad paeem pertinentes statim ipsos predones insequantur cum clamore ad arma, qui wapenscrey nuncupatur;

Erzbischof Heinrich von Köln beurkundet Landfriedensbündniss für das ganze Gebiet zwischen Rhein und Weser, 1307 Okt. 21, Hansisches Urkundenbuch, bearb. von K. Höhlbaum, 1879

The Bavarian Landfriede of 1244 as well as the Edwardian Statutum Wynton of 1285 defined the armour and the weapons every free man and landowner should have available if the “wapenscrey” is yelled, and the people capable of defending the law are called to their weapons to prosecute the peace breakers. The increase in homicide appeals at the King’s Court during the 1280s was the result of massive judicial reforms undertaken by Edward I, king of England from 1272-1307 (see J. Savannah Shipman, “Agents of Justice: Female Plaintiffs in the King’s Court in Thirteenth and Fourteenth-Century England”, 2016). Similar regulations are documented in most of the Landfrieden definitions as well as in city statutes. The capability to defend and enforce the law by the individual, was a precondition to see the law at work and keep the peace.

A person incapable of defending was not able to see the law enforced personally, and was strongly depending on someone to do so, and was (fully or to a certain limit) “unfree” because freedom means to have free access to the personal rights. In an environment were institutions took the responsibility to enforce the law, the need to be capable to defend, had less impact on the social status of a person. But “safe environments” had still been islands in the beginning of the 14th century.

The capability to defend, the right to bear arms, defined the social and legal status of a person. It could even provide the chance for social advancement. If it was a <feudal revolution>, a <feudal mutation>, or <transformation>, or a <commercialisation> that formed the process, is up to the discussion of more learned people, who agree in the outcome of the process; meaning that, craftsmen skills, administrative tasks, or weapon and writing services had been paths for social mobility at least since the 10th century. Martial expertise had been a valid path to overcome social limitations. Martial expertise was a profession.

The capability to defend, was a social need. Even people never involved in quarrels or military conflicts needed to learn a martial art using deadly weapons to establish their social state.

Martial Art as a Profession

Wether professional teachers of martial arts had been available prior to the 13th century is open to debate. The traditional way of learning to fight for nobles was to train with experienced fighters. In the first book of the Gesta Danorum by the Saxo Grammaticus
“[5] Quicquid ad firmandas acuendasque vires attinuit, acerrima ingenii exercitatione tractabat. [6] A gladiatoribus vitandi inferendique ictus consuetudinem studioso exercitii genere contrahebat. ” (Dan 1.4.1 p. 12,14 )

Det Kgl. Bibliotek, NKS 869 g 4°: Saxo, Gesta Danorum, fragmentum Andegavense, 1200-1210

The legendary Danish King Gram learned to defend and attack from the gladiatoribus, fencers or fighters. In the Konungs Skuggja (Speculum Regale, The Kings Mirror) composed around 1250 it is said, that the young man should train on a daily base with experienced fellow fighters, be it foreigners or countrymen.

Speculum regale. Konungs-skuggsjá, AM 243 II (b), 76a, right top Oscar Brenner, 1881, right bottom Rudolph Keyser, 1848

In the younger Hilldebrandslied (derived from oder versions in the 13th century) the young Adibrand (Hadubrand in the old saga, Alibrandr in the Þiðreks saga af Bern) learned to fence from knights, squires in his father’s land; from free man and counts at his father’s court, with sword, dagger and spear.

Hildebrandlied, Mscr.Dresd.M.201 around 1472

Early Professional Fencers

The terms “Schirmer” (German), “Skirmisher, escrimesseor, escrimisseur, esquermisseur, eskermisor” (English), “escrimesseor, escrimisseur, esquermisseur, eskermisor” (French), “Schermitore” (North-Italian) used as a surename may indicate that the person was working as either fencer, a fighter, or fencing master, or herited the name of someone who did. Like Walter le Eskermissur the Duellor who was most likely earning his money as a stage gladiator. He could have worked as a fencing master as well, but was not carrying the title of an Magister. The following list of possible fencers on the British Islands will give an impression of existing martial professionalism.

1150 Alexander Esschirmessur (Skirmissarius) [11]
1154 Richer (Richard, Ricardo) le Schirmissur [1]
1180 Wilhelminus Lescermissur [5]
1190 Ernaldo (Arnold) Schirmissurr [3]
1197 Radulfus the Schermisur [8]
1201 Gaufridus le Skermesur [8]
1202 Walter le Eskermissur the duellor [12]
1202 Reginald Eskermissur (Reginalduns Eskermissur)[4][10]
1242 Symon Leskirmisur (Symone le esker messur, Symone le Skermissur)[7]
1222 Gilbert le Skermissur [1]
1269 Randolph le Eskermissur[9]
1270 Alexandro le skirmissur [13]
1288 Philip le Eskermisor [2]

[1] A Dictionary of English Surnames, P. H. Reaney, ‎R. M. Wilson, 1991, p.2762
[2] Calendar of documents relating to Ireland: 1285 – 1292, 1879
[3] Report on the Manuscripts of Lord Middleton, Great Britain. Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, 1911, p.34
[4] Pedes Finium Ebor, Regnante Johanne. A.D. MCXCIX – A.D. MCCXIV. The Yorkshire Feet of Fines for the Reign of King John, Charter Document-05420197
[5] The Publications of the Pipe Roll Society, Vol.29, Pipe Roll Society, 1908, p.179
[6] Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, Vol.7, Essex Archaeological Society, Society at the Museum in the Castle., 1900
[7] Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Johannis Baptiste de Colecestria: Colchester (England). Abbey of St. John the Baptist, ‎Stuart Archibald Moore, ‎Roxburghe Club, 1897, pp.603
[8] Acta Periodica Duellatorum, Vol.3, ed. Daniel Jaquet, Matyas Miskolczi, 2018
[9] Calendar of inquisitions miscellaneous, Chancery, by LondonH.M. Stationery Off, 1916 (365)
[10] Publications of the Surtees Society, Vol.91, 1894
[11] Feodarium Prioratus Dunelmensis, 18n, 124n
[12] Pleas Before the King Or His Justices, 1198-1202, Vol. 4, 1952 ‎
[13] A History of Northumberland, 1904

Fencing as a profession including the option to teach as an experienced fencer in the traditional way was well established centuries before the I.33 manuscript was written. But it seems that a process of certification, licensing a fencer as a master by a privelege by any means did not exist before the 13th century.

Martial Arts Teaching as a Profession

The persons who enabled the defender to defend, had been the Masters of Defence (as they had been called in England since the early 14th century). The German term “Schirmmeister” common for fencing master up to the second half of the 15th century translates to “Master of Protection”. The change to the term “Fechtmeister” as “Master of Fighting” may reflect a change in the social meaning of martial arts. The earliest known mentioning of a fencing master in German sagas is in the Kudrun saga around 1240, followed by the Biterolf and Dietleib saga around 1260. The teaching of sword (or stick) and buckler (Eskirmye de Bokyler) was forbidden in the city of London according to the Statuta Civitates London given around 1285 by Edward I. The first fencing master named in London was Magister Roger le Skirmisour, who did not obey this law in 1311 and was set into prison.

Magister Rog’us le Shyrmysour.
Master Roger le Skirmisour attached because indicted for holding a school for fencing and drawing young men together, sons of respectable parents, to the wasting of their property and injury of their own characters [quod tenet scholam de skirmeria de diversis hominibus et ad colligendos filios proborum hominum et bona patrum el matrum in malo usu et devastanda ob quod ipsi mali homines devenerunt].
Pleads not guilty and puts himself on the country. Found guilty and committed to prison.

Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London: D, 1309-1314, Folio cxxxiii.

The first fencing master named in the Netherlands was “Jan Schirmer, who thaught the landlords of the scribe to defend in 1382/3.

Item meyster Jan schirmer, die minen here leerden schirmen

Rijksarchief in Gelderland, Hertogelijk Archief, Arnhem, HA 211 f. 106v in “In the Shadow of Burgundy…” Gerard Nijsten, ‎2004

In the combination with the title “master” the possibility that the name indicates a fencing master rises to an acceptable level, while there is still no proof.

  • 1259 Master Goffredo schermitore, Cividale del Friuli (Il Fior di Battaglia, Fransesco Novati, 1902)
  • 1288 Philip le Eskermisor, Tipperary (Calendar of documents relating to Ireland: 1285 – 1292, Vol.3, 1879)
  • 1292, 1296, 1297 Master Thomas l’escrimisseur, Paris (The Roots of Fencing, Acta Periodica Dueallatorum, Oliverier Dupuis, 2015)
  • 1300, 1307 Master Arnold scharmitor, Cividale del Friuli (Il Fior di Battaglia, Fransesco Novati, 1902)
  • 1309 Master Roger le Skirmisour, London (source see above)
  • 1319, 1321 Magister Werrico l’Eskermisseur, Magister Werricus l’Eskermissieres, Liège (The Roots of Fencing, Acta Periodica Dueallatorum, Oliverier Dupuis, 2015)
  • 1382 Jan schirmer, Netherlands (source see above)
  • 1385 Meister Johanne dem Schirmer, Aachen (Aachener Stadtrechnungen aus dem 14. Jht, Kaatzer, 1866)

Marco Rubboli and Luca Cesari name Italian masters, that were present in Paris in 1292: Master Tommaso (probably the same Master Thomas as above mentioned), Master Nicolò and Master Filippo, in 1338 Master Rosolino, in 1354 Master Francesco, in 1385 Master Nerio in their work “L’arte cavalleresca del combattimento” (2001). But I cannot validate the sources for these records.

In the 13th century, latest at the beginning of the 14th century the profession of fencing masters had been well established. Like in other trades, the cities holding universities or larger interregional active merchants had been the lighthouses in this development.

Monastic Schools and Martial Arts

The 9th century comments of Hildemar Monachus on the Regula S. Benedicti recommends to support the augmentatio vitae of the childs some sportif play-time every week or at least once a month. But this was not a kind of sport education. Running, throwing stones, and wrestling are reported as favourite play-time sports in the rare occasions of free time in the cloister education since the 10th century as told by the monk Ekkehard IV. of St. Gallen. With the Instructio Noviciorum (coming with the Decreta of Lanfranc von Canterbury) of the 11th century this freedom seems to have vanished: no sports. The Didascalicon of Hugo of Saint Victor was a revolution of education in the 12th century bringing the artes mechanica into the secondary schools again including armatura (weapon production) and theatrica (theater and games).

Medieval education in Europe: Schools & Universities

Since the 8th centuries The upcoming municipal schools in the urban environments, answered the need to have a more practical education with some more “free time”, in comparison to the monastic and cathedral schools. While the cloisters seemed to be a place of work and prayers without the time for games or sports, the less clerical education in the cities included games of motions, which in the following centuries trickled into the monastic schools and cloisters.

A German monastic school in the early 14th century, which has the teaching of sword and buckler on a regular base is extremely unlikely, unless a very special occasion.

University and Martial Arts

To understand the usage and existance of martial conflicts (the application of martial arts) by students we need to look at the special positions in jurisdiction of the universities. Universities did not grow on the green field, they developed from existing colleges of law and theology like those in Bologna and Paris. To protect the Bolognese scholars, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa issued a law (Authentica) in 1155/58. He assured the foreign teachers and scholars of safe conduct and protection from acts of violence, and allowed the scholars to bypass the municipal courts and submit to the jurisdiction of the local bishop or their teacher.

Codex Justiniani I-IX cum glosa Franciscus Accursius, Guido de Suzaria, Guillelmus de Ferreriis, Petrus de Ferreriis, Petrus de Cerveriis

The privilege, originally tailored purely to the law schools of Bologna, was included in the Codex Justinianus at the Emperor’s instigation. In this codification, the passages specifically relating to Bologna were deleted and the law was “generalised”, which meant that it could be applied to other schools as well.

No other judge shall judge them except the rector of the said high school

Shortened translation from the founding letter of the Vienna University, 1365

In contrast to the locals, the teachers and students were not integrated into a family and friends association, which could support them in case of dispute. Furthermore, it seemed appropriate to subject the members of these schools to a uniform jurisdiction, since the legal responsibilities in the city were highly fragmented. The right to bear arms owned by the students, magisters and offices of the universities put them on the same level of privileges as the burgers of the cities.

The Law of the University

The University of Oxford forbid the art of fighting with sword and buckler since 1252. In 1313 it was forbidden for the students to have the weapons with them in the night, or to practice it at the university.

Nullus ludat infra domum ad pilam vel ad crossiam vel ad alios ludos insultuosos, sub pena sex denariorum

College de Narbone, ed. F+libien, S. 670, Nr. 44

In the statutes of the college of students from Narbonne who studied in Paris, around 1379, there is a rule that one was not allowed to play ball or roundball in the house. In 1387 the university of Heidelberg did not allow the students to participate in the Fechtschule and repeated this.

None of you are allowed to participate in the art of fencing schools, nor perform fencing school exercise, and whoever want to lead others into said art and do the same exercise, is to be fined two florints, and as big a punishment as the university sees fit to carry out

Regulations of Heidleberg University 1415, translated by Per Magnus Haaland, from Urkunden der Universität Heidelberg, Eduard Winkelmann, 1886,

In the “Statuta primaria Generalis Studii seu Universitatis Pragensis” of ca 1368 the university of Prague forbid to exercise fencing and to visit the Fechtschule. In the 1386 the Heidelberg university, in 14551 the Vienna University, the Erfurt Statut of 1447, in 1570 the edict of Wittenberg forbid fencing and/or duelling, or limited the bearing of arms for the students.

Fencing masters had been reported since 1550 (Marbug, Jena, etc.) at German universities. Before the early 16th century, fencing fell under the ban of “spectacula” at any institution under the hand of the church in the German region. Nevertheless, it was not totally uncommon that martial sports took place on the premesis of some universities in the 15th century, even though, it was not part of any curriculum. But at the beginning of the 14th century there was no university having the premesis for a sport that was forbidden by the statutes. A fencing master holding lessons on behalf the university in the early 14th century is extremely unlikely.

Fencing in the Bursa

Within the university, students joined together to form “nationes”, protective guilds based on their origins, which in turn were united in corporations. At the facultas artium in Bologna the “Corporation of this side” of the Alps (citramontanorum) included the three Italian nations and the “Corporation of the other ” side of the Alps (oltramontanorum) included the 14 nations of the French, English, Germans and all the others (the University for law in Bologna had a separate German Nation, the Annales are still available). Padua had four Corporations: 1. the French and the English, 2. the Italians, 3. the Provençals, Catalans and Spaniards and finally 4. the Germans.

Medieval engraving showing studying law | Ancient Art & Architecture  CollectionAncient Art & Architecture Collection
“The Mirror of Human Life ” by Pierre Farget . 1482

In the early days following their foundings the universities had no own rooms. The university rented houses and flats for masters and scholars in the cities calles “hospicia”, where the lectures were also held. Larger events usually took place in church rooms. The “hospicia” developed over time into the “bursa” (German “bursen”). In these living, dining and learning communities lives 10-15 scholars “bursales ” in cloister-like seclusion under the guidance of a master “rector bursa”. It consisted of a larger heated teaching and dining room, around which the bedrooms were located. The running costs for food and heating were covered from a common cash box, the “bursa”.

According to the “Burschenschaften”, but to my knowledge without any historical evidence, the claim exists, that the tradition of fencing and learning how to fence stems from these “bursa”. It may not be a completely false claim if we look at the history of the Bursa in Paris and the number of existing fencing masters in the city. Luckily we need not to care about this, because the appearance of such groups in Germany belongs to the early 15th century (e.g. Bursa Pauperum at the Campus in the Furthmühlgasse and the Georgen-Bursa at the Lehmanbrücke in Erfurt). A fencing master organised and payed by an university in Germany in any way is unlikely to have happened in the first quarter of the 14th century.

The Capability to Fight of Students

Weapon usage are reported to have happened not only in duels but as well in conflicts between citizens and students (town and gown) already in the 14th century (in Oxford 1297 and 1322, as well as the St Scholastica Day riot in February 1355, or in Vienna in the same year with the students rioting in the city because of wine being not given to them, as well as two years later the tough conflict with the shoemaker apprentices.

Students of Erfurt university fighting craftsmen, illustration to the poem by Eobanus Hessus 1506

Students have been educated and trained in the usage of weapons, and carried arms surely already in the 13th century, but they did not learn or exercise those at the university.

Literate Fencing Masters

Fencing masters according to late 19th century research like Alfred Schaer, had been low class. They had been part of the traveling people, like jugglers, actors and other entertainers. They displayed their art on places outside the city walls, and in few dedicated entertainment halls. The fencing school event was a place for heavy drinking and betting.

While the letter assumption was probably not fully off track, the whole theory on the fencing masters being outside of the society was based on a transcription and translation error. Nevertheless, it took decades to prove this wrong.

Today we know much more about the general good education of late medieval people, and about the organisations and the deep embedding of the fencing brotherhoods into the society of craftsmen and burgers of the city. We know that they not rarely had captain status in the military. We know that they had been high valued consultants and teachers for the rich and mighty. But we know little about their education.

In fact we find evidence that at least some fencing masters had been well educated at universities and worked not only as masters of the martial art, but as well as teachers on other subjects.

Filippo (or Lippo) di Bartolomeo Dardi was an astrologist and mathematician from Bologna, where he lived and held a sala d’armi starting from 1413 to his death, in 1463. The sala d’armi was located on Pietralata Road where Dardi resided. From the archives of the University of Bologna we know also that he was Reader in Arithmetic and Geometry from 1443 to 1463. In 1444 he was also Reader in Astronomy.

Income and working time of a Fencing Master in Bologna in the 15th and early 16th century, Alessandro Battistini and Niki Corradetti translated by Luca Dazi, DOI 10.1515/apd-2016-0005

Filippo di Bartolomeo Dardi was not the only fencing master knowing his geometry. Nearly a century later the fencing master Wolf Torentz of Ulm taught not only martial arts in Kassel, Hessia, Germany, but also writing and mathematics.

Alhie gibts mir ursach einer andern geschicht zu gedencken. Nach dem ich anno 1547 von einem meister, Wolff Torentz von Ulm, einem guten redlichen mann, der auch ein guter teutscher schreiber und rechenmeister war, die freye ritterliche kunst des fechtens in allen wehren, ohne im rappier (war der zeit nicht gebreuchlich) gelernet, und er mich eins mals ein besonder guts stücklein vorm mann zu gebrauchen underrichtet, begert er an mich sehen zu laßen, wie ich mich darzu schicken wolte,

Wendunmuth, Vol II, Hans Wilhelm Kirchhof, Frankfurt am Main 1563

Fencing and geometry surely found its highest representation in Girard Thibault’s Académie de l’Espée (1628). But already centuries before, the fight books displayed the education of the authors, when the unknown author of the GMN3227a does not only notes, interprets, and enhanced the art of fencing by Johannes Liechtenauer, but quotes Aristotle to give further authorisation to the book at the end of the 14th century. If Liechtenauer himself had been educated well or just rudimentary is unknown, but his teaching was deeply embedded into Aristotle inspired thinking of categories and opposites. This indicates a higher education then primary schools, but not necessarily an access to knowledge only available at university level.

Because some fencing masters had been well educated and even teachers at universities or schools, it does not mean that others had not been part of the traveling community of actors, jugglers etc. The stage gladiators prominent on the British Islands had their equivalents in the continental societies as well. In Roman-German influenced realms the concept of brotherhoods and organized burgers in the need of martial education in the cities requested other types of fencing masters. These kind of fencing masters needed to be educated to a minimum level. Some masters excelled in their education, to be better suited for their high born or rich customers.


The names of two saints who were active in 8th century Germany appear in the original text of I.33: Luidger (742 – 809) and Walburga (710-780). It is hard to believe, that the both saints are named in the book because they had contemporary counterparts living at the time of the production and working with the author. Early interpretions of the book in the historical martial arts scene had their speculations about a priest teaching how to fight with weapons. While the idea of a retired knight or fencing master living the rest of his life as a monk and teaching martial arts in a monastery might be tempting, it belongs more or less to modern fantasy. But priest and church clerks using sword and buckler in the 14th century is historical truth. The Auchinleck Manuscript (NLS Adv MS 19.2.1) of the National Library of Scotland was produced in London in the 1330s. In “The Simonie” the poet mentions priests running around at night with sword and bucklers, like men that would fight.

But eueri man may wel iwite, bi þe swete rode,
Þer beþ so manye prestes, hij ne muwe noht alle be gode.
And naþeles þise gode men fallen oft in fame
For þise wantoune prestes þat pleien here nice game
Bi nihte.
Hij gon wid swerd and bokeler as men þat wolde fihte.

Auchinleck Manuscript, NLS Adv MS 19.2.1, f.329v, 109-114
Auchinleck Manuscript (NLS Adv MS 19.2.1, f.329v)

Geoffrey Chaucer illustrated the arming of clerks with sword and buckler in the last quarter of the 14th century in his tales.

Forth goth Aleyn the clerk, and also John,
With good swerd and with bokeler by hir syde.
John knew the wey, – hem nedede no gyde, –

Geoffrey Saucer, The Canterbury Tales:The Reeve’s Tale; line 4018

Priests and clerks lived in England, especially in London and the cities with known universities, in a martial environment, in which the sword and buckler played a larger role in martial sports as well as in civil conflicts. While it was morally condemned, it was not unlikely. However, a systematic education in martial arts for priests and monks is not known outside any military order of knights, and there is nothing pointing in the direction of any military order from the book itself or the history of the book. The book explicitly displays a sacerdos teaching a scolaris. A common educational relationship in cloisters, grammar and secondary schools, and universities in the 13th and 14th century.

The sacerdos in the book is either fictive, a teacher for private tutitions at a house of a wealthy person (in the countryside or in an urban environment that supports the teaching of martial arts), or a contractor conducting a very special order.


The context of the I.33 is not understood without a fundamental understanding of the relationship existing here. Even when Walpurgis replaces the Scolaris in the last chapter, she fits into the role continuing the exercises.

UB Leipzig, Rep. II 9b (CCXLIII), fol. 200v

On the Countryside

The age of the scolaris in the manuscript could be estimated following the 15th century copy “Commendations of a Clerk” in the Vatic.Palat.lat.1252 translated by Lynn Thorndike originated by Konrad von Megenberg in the Yconomica in 1358. The septennia recommend to start the education of a child at the springtime after his 7th birthday. In the first seven years he learns to read and write Latin, with some music and arithmetic on the side. The next septennium would be occupied with logic, rhetiric and an introduction into astronomy. With the age of 21 the last septennium would start at university learning natural science, methaphysics, Euclid, and depending on specicalisation law or theology.

Pilis ludere, trocos volvere simul decenter luctare deputatis diebus et horis congruis valde laudabile affirmo, aliis vero diebus et horis divinas discere oraciones

Konrad von Megenberg, Ökonomik III, ed. Krüger (MGH Staatsschriften III.5.3), 2, 15 S. 91

Konrad von Megenberg recommended around 1353 for the older children (7-14 yeares), to play with the ball at the appointed time, to drive the hoop and to wrestle in a civilised manner, but at other times to study the holy scriptures, according to Sophie Caflisch in “Spielend lernen” (2016, Zürich). This would be the age, in which the young man would start to learn fencing according to Shulamith Shahar in her book “Childhood in the Middle Ages” (German translation, 1993, page 241). From the Hidlebrands Lied, a 9th century poem translated and interpreted into the “modern language” of the 15th century in the Mscr.Dresd.M.201 around 1472 we learn that traditonally fencing educations in the three main weapons sword, dagger, and lance had been provided by experienced fighters at the court of a noble. The evidence of fencing masters at the courts and houses of nobles speak, that this had been professionlized latest at the second half of the 14th century. But the age of the young men did probably not change. While there had been priests workiung in the education of the nobles children, there is not one case known that these priests participated in martial education.

Item rustici cum filiis suis capillos ad auriculas usque precidant. Thoraces vel ysenhut vel colliria vel juppas de pukramo vel cultrum latinum aut aliquid catenatum vel hostile — nisi gladium suum hospites et non alii — ante suam deferant ecclesiam, privatis diebus non aliud quam stimulum vel reutil deferant. Hec autem omnia pro communi necessitate provinciae et iudicii exequendi et patriam ab incursu hostium defendendi, si velint, in eorum domibus reservent. 

Bayrischer Landfriede 1244

There is little but none research on the education, that enabled the free men of the countryside to be quite capable of fencing. There had been a common teaching of fencing available to them, of which we get warned in the fencing books starting with the 14th century, Since the 13th century the owner of the house was allowed use armour and to bear a sword, the other inhabitants knifes. While the education in writing, reading and Latin had been provided by the clerus, there is no case known of any priest teaching any martial arts to the children of farmers or vilage folk. It was assumed by the 19th century researchers that travelling fencing masters educated everyone for some money, but this had been found as being wrong in the recent research. At the current state of research it is unknown. My personal assumption is, that a martial education had been done partly in the local community, but largely in the service for a noble on demand.

Urban Environment

The merging of “illiterate” (elementary and grammar schools) and “literate” (secundary education like university) forms of education has been taking place since the 12th century in the most diverse environments, but especially in urban areas. social sector, for example in the writing of collections of texts and regulations of guilds. Elementary and secondary ducation was more or less in the hand of the clerus. And it wasn’t a gentle hand. Up to 1252 the teaching of the natural philosophy of Aristotle and it’s commentator Averroes had been forbidden at the Paris university, if they would touch any matter of faith. The struggle of reformation and its counterpart, between scientific theories and faith moved two steps forward and one back, but more and more towards the science and in 1255 all the students of the Liberal Arts in Paris had to master all works of Aristotle.

There is little historical source material available on urban school foundations. One of the few sources is in 1252, when the bishop of Lübeck was ordered by the papal legate Hugo von Santa Sabina to instruct the city council to allow the construction of a new school at the market church. To most of the founded schools of the 13th century, there is merely an entry of their existance: Freibung (Breisgau) in 1250, Straubing (Bavaria) in 1252, Helmstadt (Bavaria) in 1253 and 1267, Leobschütz (Powiat głubczycki) in 1270, Schweidnitz (Świdnica) in 1280, Brieg (Brzeg) in 1292.

The almost exclusive right of clergy to educational was broken in the 13th century. Larger cities like Troyes (France, Aube) organized the schools under a single administration in 1327 as the competitive situation stressed. Opening a private school was often licenced and charges for tutitions had been regulated. 65 years after the establishment of the first elementary school, Lübeck had four schools.

Nevertheless, the large majority of education in elementary schools for girls and boys in the first half of the 14th century was in the hand of the clerus. Lübeck had still to ask the cardinal legat for a licence to open a school. Most urban schools had been under the reign of the church, the rector scholarum, rector puerorum was often a cleric. This changed slowly in urban environment, like early in Freiburg in 1317, where the city councel was entitled the patronage for the next 300 years until the Jesuits took over.

 Die statt Präßlen hat siben pfarren, iegliche ein bsundre schůl; dorfft kein schůler in des andren pfar gan singen, oder sy schruwen: „Ad idem! ad idem!“; so liffen den die schützen zamen und schlůgen einander gar übell. Es sind uff ein mall in der stat, wie man sagt, ettlich tusend bacchanten und schützen gsin, die sich all des almůsens ernarten; man sagt ouch, das ettlich 20, 30 jar und mer do werin gsin, die ire schützen hatten, die inen praesentierten

Thomas Platter (1499-1582) on his journey as a young scholar arriving in Wrocław (German: Breslau, here Präßlen)

Next to the disciples and students of wealthy families or those dedicated to a religious life there had been a huge amount of travelling kids and young men. Those had been either a “Schütze” (latin “scuto” – young ones to be protected), or a “Brachant” (latin “bachans” – young man travelling without a destination), or a “Bursche” ( latin “bursa” a student). The existance of those young people on their educational journey (already described by Samuel Karoch von Lichtenberg in the last quarter of the 14th century), living a life as beggars is known already from earlier times than 1440. But the amount of those kind of students at schools and universities in the 14th century is hard to estimate.

Scolaris, Discipulus, Clientulus, Juvenis

The students are called by “Scolaris” 81 times, “Disciplus” 5 times, “Clientulus” 3 times, and “Juvenis” only one time. The term “Scolaris” is typically to define a teacher-student relationship and has no further meaning to it. “Discipulus” was rarely used for students at university, and may indicate a that the fencing students are not in the age of a university student. This is limited on the other side by “sacerdotis & suorum iuuenium” which tells us, that the students are not seen as children but juveniles. The term “clientulus” is the very interesting, Its occurrence is on 4r “sacerdos vel sui clientuli i. discipuli“. Common pairs in education are “disciplus – magister” and “clientulus – dominus”. The latter is used also in business or judicial/legal relations (client – advocate), but as well in education, if the teacher is of a certain authority (or just to emphasis this authority). It describes that on one hand the teacher was empowered by the client or by someone having power over the client. Simply speaking, there was a contract existing.

The priest in the book is displayed as someone, who has an obligation (most probably by a contract) to teach the juvenile students.

The Age of a Fencing Student

Adi 13. Martzo 1561 lernet ich mit Jörg Ulstat, Connratt Mair, Victor Vöhlin. Christoff Stamler, Davit Sultzer und andern mer vom Kirschkhin-Esser von Cöln, ein angelobter meister döß langen schwertz, ain bantzermacher und burger alhier in Augspurg, im schwert fechten auf döß Hanns Behams, wirts, tantzsoller vor unser Frauen thor. Guengen all tag 2 stund zue ime.

Veitt Connratt Schwartz von Augspurg
Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, Das Schwarzsche Trachtenbuch I + II.

From the book of “Veitt Connratt Schwartz von Augspurg” (born October 1541) we read, that learned fencing two hours a day from the age of 19 with a known fencing teacher, who became a certified fencing master of the Marxbrüder in September 1566. Which would indicate that the in the 15th century fencing was tought at the age of students at universities. His father Mattheus Schwartz (born 20th Februarry 1497) had learned fencing when he was at the age of 21.

While there is common understanding that a young squire on the countryside would have been well educated in fencing in the age of 21 aready to start their journey to become a knight, in the urban environment the teaching of fencing would start at the age, a young man would chose to go to university.

Depending on the environment, the scolaris in the book would either be
a) at “secondary school”. As he does not look smaller or much younger than the Sacerdos, it suggests that the young man is at least 13 or 14. He is already capable of reading and writing in Latin.
b) at “university” or at a similar education for his craft or trade at the age of 19 to 21. He is very well capable of reading and writing in Latin and eventually in his own language.

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