The Story of I.33
The story of Royal Armouries manuscript 1.33 is remarkable.
The earliest reference to the manuscript is in a pamphlet by one von Gunterrodt entitled De veris principiis artis dimicatoridae [On the True Foundations of the Art of Combat] published in 1579. He recognised the text as an uniquely ancient source and gave some insight into its history.
"I came upon this book through Johannes Herbart of Wurzburg... he said he had found it in a Franconian monastery under the Margrave Albert."
The Margrave Albert is the Hohenzollern Margrave Albrecht Alcibiades who spent the mid sixteenth century on a campaign of violence in Franconia. Herbart most likely acquired the book while sacking a monastery.
The manuscript passed through several hands and then to the Dukes of Saxe-Gotha. It appears in descriptions of the Ducal holdings in the 18th,19th and 20th centuries before disappearing during the Second World War. it resurfaced at auction in 1950 when it was purchased by the Royal Armouries.
The Contents of the manuscript
The manuscript comprises 32 parchment leaves of approximately 30 x 23 cm each richly illustrated, depicting a priest instructing a scholar and describing with text and verse a system of combat with the sword and buckler [a small round shield].
Beginning with a few remarks on the art and illustrations of the seven basic guards it then proceeds to depict some thirty eight combat sequences.
The text is in Latin with some technical terms in German. The commentaries describe the action, discuss alternative options and offer general pointers to the budding swordsman. In fact there are more than thirty eight sequences as the alternative moves in the text expand the range of many of the set pieces.
The illustrations are undoubtedly the most attractive feature of the manuscript. Offering a step by step account of the unfolding of each encounter. Clearly great care has gone into producing them and they strive and often succeed in illustrating the actual motion of the body in combat.
There are at least four hands at work in the manuscript and Dr Forgeng's research identifies and separates them. It has also had notes and annotations added over the years, by Herbart and by his fencing pupil Frederick William the Administrator.
At some point a coal from the fire has been allowed to burn a hole in the early pages and the damaged has been repaired. Later on some of the figures have had their outlines redrawn in a heavier ink and at some point in its history a child has attempted to colour in some of the shields and even add moustaches to some figures.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Illuminated Fightbook":
- Illuminated Fightbook - The Royal Armouries Edition facsimile edition published by Extraordinary Editions, 2013
- Illuminated Fightbook - The Exemplary Edition facsimile edition published by Extraordinary Editions, 2013