Reply To: Lectures by Jean Chandler

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Hans Hellinger

I had time to listen to the first half of the IGX Higgins Armoury Lecture 2013 ”The Sword in Daily Life.” Lots of interesting details, I never got around to reading “The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany.”

The thing I always wished I understood was how we got from the situation in the 14th century, where people rarely carry much more than a dagger or a ballstaff except when they are hunting and town laws are focused on limiting the bearing of arms in town, to the situation in the 16th century that people like William Harrison describe where anyone with any standing wearing at least a dagger and often a sword and buckler, sword and rotella, or a rapier when they are in public. I don’t see much sign of it arising in the 15th c., but it must come from somewhere.

Well… maybe listen to the rest of that lecture ;). Tlusty doesn’t get into that because her interest decidedly starts in the Early Modern period and she is “NOT a medievalist!” as if the latter was some kinda weird bug.

I think the problem lies in assuming what is true in one region is not true in another. Anyone of citizen rank (including partial citizens such as journeyman artisans) in all of the communes in Central Europe and I believe all above a certain size in Italy, and in Flanders and in a lot of Northern Europe (Scandinavia, the Baltic region) were not only allowed to carry arms they were required by the town charter to own and under certain circumstances carry a sidearm, usually specifically a sword, and also to have a primary militia weapon such as a crossbow or (by the 15th Century) a firearm. In Italy it might be a pavise or a spear too.

I think things were a bit different in France where there was a lot of emphasis on at least attempting the keep the peasants and serfs disarmed, and the towns had far fewer rights. My understanding is that in England and most of the Iberian Kingdoms burghers still had the right to carry arms until around the 1390s, though this was not fully completed until late in the 15th century. In Spain this ended decisively with the revolt of the Brotherhoods and the Revolt of the Communeros

Charles V tried to orchestrate something similar in Germany but was only partially successful at best. German citizens in the major towns and all of the Free Cities continued to walk around armed until the 17th or 18th Centuries, a few well into the 19th Century and a couple right up to WW2. Some of them did limit what artisans could carry after power struggles put the patricians on top, but that was by no means all of them.