Devotion to a Friend, Inspired by 13th Century Legal Text

My friend Engracia de Madrigal was inducted yesterday into the East Kingdom’s Order of the Silver Crescent for all of the work she’s done through the years. I was honored to be able to write the text for her award scroll. I wanted to find something inspired by Spanish medieval texts…a casual search through inspiring Spanish writings, and I found some reference to  Alfonso X the Learned of Castile and his 13th-century legal writings, Las Siete Partidas (the Seven Divisions). In his First Division, he describes the foundation a lawmaker should have.

Part I, Title I, Law xi: What the Law-Maker Should Be

The law-maker should love God and keep Him before his eyes when he makes the laws, in order that they may be just and perfect. He should moreover love justice and the common benefit of all. He should be learned, in order to know how to distinguish right from wrong, and he should not be ashamed to change and amend his laws, whenever he thinks or a reason given him, that he should do so; for it is especially just that he who has to set others right and correct them should know how to do this in his own case, whenever he is wrong.

I modified the text to make it SCA-centric, and to exemplify some of the qualities that I admire in Engracia. I substituted “lawmaker” with “servant,” and kept the focus on the goodwill that comes as a result of faithful service.

The qualities of the Faithful Servant: The servant of the Kingdom should love the Kingdom and keep it before her eyes when she goes forward with her labour, so that her results are just and perfect. She should moreover love the common benefit of all. She should be wise, in order to distinguish what is helpful from what is a hinderance; for it is expecially wise that she who serves sets a right and just example to others.

As Engracia de Madrigal satisfies the aforementioned qualifications, we, Ivan, King, and Matilde, Queen, command she be admitted into the Order of the Silver Crescent on this day.

In medieval and renaissance texts, God may be implored or invoked the ultimate monarch, being absolute in His authority, judgment, wrath, or love. I’ve made references to Divine Providence in works before, but in this case, I decided to substitute God from the original text with Kingdom. My rationale being that this award is being given for work to the Kingdom and its people, so the focus will move away from the ephemeral divine authority to the terrestrial authority of the Kingdom and its people that has directly benefited from her work.

Probably one of the happiest moments I had yesterday, after Engracia received the scroll, was her coming over to me to thank me for writing the text. I told her I was happy to do it, which was really an understatement.

Congratulations, sis! It was an honor to be able to contribute to your great day!



I’d like to recite this to some friends

I dedicate this to the scholars, dreamers, and those who take it upon themselves to bring comfort to the wounded:

Most high and puissant prince and most excellent sovereign lord, I pray God to grant you a most honorable and long life, and preserve you in His most excellent keeping and give entire joy and gladness as much as your gentle and most noble heart would choose or desire.

The closing of a letter from Joanna, Countess of Westmorland, to King Henry IV (her brother). 1406. From French.

From The Voice of the Middle Ages. Catherine Moriarty, ed. Peter Bedrick Books. 1989.

Its Who You Know

So I’m glancing through the London Archives, trying to find information about the specific locations of fencing schools within the city limits, and I come across this interesting little blurb:

Letter from, Sir Walter Raleigh to Sir William More. He requests More to allow Rocco Bonetti, a fencing master who has erected a structure on the grounds of Blackfriars without his consent, time to adjust matters.

Rocco Bonetti was the first Italian fencing masters who took up business in London. His first school, opened in 1576, was on Warwicke Lane, near Saint Paul’s. In 1584, he took residence in Blackfriars (the same part of the city that housed both Blackfriars Theatre and the Globe Theatre), and poured over two-hundred pounds into renovating a building into a new school.

Bonetti would eventually run into money problems, and needed the aid of influential friends to keep his lease to the property extended. The list of friends included Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby (who, according to his memoirs, had a hand in some of the most influential incidents during the reign of Queen Elizabeth), Sir John North (a noted scholar), and Sir Walter Raleigh (explorer, courtier, spy, etc.). Over time, his friends convinced Sir William More to extend Bonetti’s lease on the property.

In case you’re interested, properties in Blackfriars today apparently go from c. 500-900,000 pounds.  I don’t have friends like Raleigh to help negotiate a lease there.


Martial Arts and Sciences in June

I’m the coordinator for Arts and Sciences Martial at Artisan’s Village this year (June 16 to June 18). I’m looking for people to join me in demonstrating historical arms and armor, and discussing and displaying the value of our studies.
Are you an armorer and have pieces you would like to display? Or have you crafted accessories and accouterments for weapons? Would you like to discuss your craft? Do you interpret historical fighting manuals? Would you like to display and discuss your findings?
Part of our day will involve test-cutting tatami mats, and instruction on safe means of test-cutting.
If you are interested in participating in the day’s displays, please feel free to contact me at mikewgoodman (at) gmail (dot) com.

The Weight of the Clothes

Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc., a retailer who specializes in 18th and 19th century reenactment gear, produces fantastic videos that cover 18th century cooking, to product videos, to lessons about how to enter the reenacting hobby. I’m a fan; I’ve subscribed to their “how to start reenacting” videos (even though I’ve been in the SCA for 25 years, its cool to see someone else’s perspective on how to get started in something new), and enjoy watching Jon Townsend ramble on about any subject relating to his products, or history, or the hobby.

They posted a new video today. Take a few minutes and watch.


Yesterday, I had a small conversation on Facebook about how much we, as reenactors, can acknowledge the impact of those people we’re portraying. More to the point, is it a disservice to not acknowledge the gravity of what we’re portraying?

To me, if I’m taking on the clothes of a period in history, and participating in a demonstration for the public, I’m taking the opportunity to bring that point of history into the public eye. Sometimes, its just to share my enthusiasm about things I find really cool (seriously…I fight with a sword…how freaking cool is that, right?!). Other times, I’m sharing the things I’ve learned about how things in history and today aren’t so different. England in the Elizabethan era was facing some of the same kinds of questions we face in modern America, like questions about immigration, and the right to publicly bear arms. I always go back to the culture of the period I’m portraying. Being in public in the clothes feels like a responsibility sometimes.

D.A. Saguto, the one-time master shoemaker of Colonial Williamsburg, said in an article for the CW Journal:

Reenactors live history as experiential, individualistic, sensory, and immersive moments—why just read about the past when you can dress, eat, sleep, and smell like it? Above all is the desire is to personally connect with an authentic past and roll around in it.

It took me years to find that as a source of happiness. There are some events that I’m just there for the aesthetic, for the chance to hang out with friends and ignore the modern world for a few hours. Other times, I’m connecting with history by using a sword, or enjoying a meal, or listening to a performance.

There are some things that people find problematic. Schola Gladiatoria shows some criticism about some historical reenactors claiming historical accuracy in their combat.In The Myth of the Eastern Front: the Nazi-Soviet War in Popular Culture, Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies II said of reenactors, “[they] rarely move beyond the detail of the war or the dress and weapons of individual soldiers.”

Back in 2011, Glenn W. LaFantasie (professor of Civil War History at Western Kentucky University) said of reenactors celebrating the onset of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War:

…the entire idea of commemorating the Civil War strikes me as perverse, including bloodless battle reenactments. Why would anyone want to replicate one of the worst episodes in American history? Why would anyone want to pretend to be fighting a battle that resulted in lost and smashed lives on the field and utter grief among the soldiers’ loved ones back home?

He recommends, to recognize the impact of the war, to recognize the solemnity of the war in a quiet, sober manner. Read books, honor the dead, research one’s own history if their family may have participated in the conflict. All valid things to do. And all things I’ve known reenactors to do.

Is it true that, for many reenactors, the details obfuscate the cultural impact of their portrayal? There are participants in every group who may be in it just for the costuming, or the socializing, or just to participate in activities they love. But there are those who can’t put on the clothes without changing their head-space, and try to look at the world through the eyes of the person they’re portraying. Maybe, for those military reenactors, they appreciate the weight of the pack, the coat, the armor, and understand something more about those who fought.

Interested in living history? Jas. Townsend and Son has some great tips for starting out. If you like the medieval/renaissance era, look at the SCA Newcomer’s Portal.




Classes at Barren Sands Winter Schola

Hi, all. I’m teaching a class on the fundamentals of historical arms practice and research at the Barren Sands Schola on Saturday. The class touches on how to use a fighting manual, the value of studying with a dedicated group, and how to avoid the most common mistakes of students of historical arms study (its an expansion of my KQAS paper and presentation).

I’m also doing a class on Fiore dei Liberi’s two-handed sword.

A&S studies class starts at 10:00AM, the Fiore class is at 2:00PM.

Come on by!

Useful Reason and Discipline: How to Approach the Historical Study of Arms

I’ve been compiling my notes for a small instruction book, geared to helping new students as they begin their studies in historical swordsmanship. The work below includes portions of other papers I’ve done. The eventual final work (hopefully completed at the end of this year, will be a full instruction manual.

The intent behind this publication is to give the modern student of historical arms the basic tools to help introduce them to the study.

The study of historical arms involves learning the social context in which they were used, the intentions and prejudices of the author, as well as the practical use of the weapons themselves. A fight book, to the modern interpreter, offers different resources about their period of history. The study of the fight goes hand in hand with the author’s personal philosophy, which is born from the author’s social experiences.

A Critical Approach to the Manuals

A complete analysis of a fighting manual can be done with a “New Historicism” style of analysis. The New Historicism is style of literary criticism, forwarded by Stephen Greenblatt, in which the critic looks at the historical context of a literary work. The literary value of the work has to be looked at through the lens of history. In this sam way, we can investigate the text of a fighting manual by looking at its historical and social context.

Look at the time period in which the manual was written. What particular aspect of culture had an impact on the wearing of arms? Who was allowed to use that particular type of weapon? At the time the manual was written, was there a war? What are the intentions and prejudices of the author? Was there an agenda in the publication?  All of these factors are going to have an impact with the author.

For example, consider the time period in which the rapier holds popularity. Was there anything about the laws, the people, or the culture that contributed to the weapon’s popularity? And when we talk about the popularity of the rapier, are we talking about the weapon itself, or are we talking about the popularity of violence, of dueling, of schools of defense, or even the popularity of the sword as fashion?

By Elizabeth’s era, the study of arms among civilians had become part of daily fashion and culture. When Rocco Bonetti opened his fencing school in London in the 1570′s, he decorated it “lavishly, clearly attempting to attract the fashion-conscious,” according to Stephen Hand’s background of George Silver’s works (published in Paul Wagner’s collection, Master of Defense. The Works of George Silver). According to Neil MacGregor’s, Shakespeare’s Restless World, ”To be fashionable in the sixteenth century you needed to carry a sword.”

If we know that swords were a part of fashion, then does that influence how the sword may have been used? What can we find in the text of fighting manuals that shows that the fashion of the rapier had an impact in the fight?

Can we surmise that, since masters such as DiGrassi, Capo Ferro, and Fabris showed how to defend oneself with a sword and cloak, that the defender wa expected to be a civilian in a social environment?

Does the fact that “prime,” the first position in Italian rapier, is so named because it is the first position the sword comes to upon being drawn from the scabbard (CapoFerro 42), or that the following plate from the same manual shows fighters, upon meeting, in clothes of an upper class?     


Read as well about what George Silver said of fencing in England, at the time of his authoring of Paradoxes of Defense: “…is like our fashions, everie day a change, resembling the Camelion, who altereth himself into all colours save white: so Fencing changeth into all wards save the right.” (202) Silver was criticizing how the styles of fighting in England were affected much like fashion was at the time.

So, by examining some of these pieces of evidence from those few manuals, we can find some evidence that there was some relation between fashion (or at least, some type of class identification) and the use of the weapon.

Antonio Manciolino’s intention can be interpreted in Book Five of his Opera Nova. He asserts that his instruction is for the purpose of defense, as opposed to plain philosophy or legality of dueling. “There is one regard in which fencing is similar to medicine; medicine starts where philosophy ends, just as fencing begins where jurisprudence ends” (131). He intends to produce a practical volume for the duelist, as a tool to defend oneself.  Talk of philosophy or law is left to those who are experts of those disciplines. “It is clear that the subject of our art is nothing more than the knowledge of fencing actions.” (132)

Compare this with Joachim Meyer’s treatise, in which he discusses “knightly art” of war, as opposed to the use of “the ignoble gun.” He writes about the value of arms and armor, and especially their practice. “For daily experience shows that for many a man his armor, weaponry, and arms are more detrimental than helpful in protecting his body and life, no matter how well equipped he is, if he does not know how to conduct himself in it, nor to defend himself judiciously with it” (37) He later goes on to describe the single combat as a microcosm of greater conflicts, “…single combat is a fine image in miniature of how a war leader should conduct himself against the enemy” (43).

Both authors write about the practical value of their art. Manciolino eschews philosophical discussion in favor of teaching about surviving a duel. Meyer takes a practical approach to the instruction as well, but keeps referencing the military. He does not reference the duel as Manciolino, but refers to combat. It is a “knightly art.” Meyer can be seen to elevate his study as something greater than the style of combat being put forward in his time. Manciolino offers his art plainly. “To hell with your laws; leave those to lawyers! If you know what fencing is, speak only of what pertains to our art…” (130)

A person looking for a plain, practical approach to civilian arms may be more interested in looking towards the Manciolino text. Someone looking for instruction in a technique that elevates military arms may choose to look into Meyer. Their initial decisions can be made by not yet investigating the technique, but by reviewing what each author says about their study.

A Practical Approach to the Study

The first thing to understand, and it may sound ironic…you cannot learn to fight by reading a book.

The book is a voice from the past. It is more than just the steps of a dance. The manual contains the philosophy of the author, reflects the values of both the time and the community of fighters it is meant to serve.

Understanding a manual’s text is a collaborative process.  The actions depicted in the plates involve at least two figures. The descriptions of the plays involve a give-and-take from the opponents; very often a series of “if/than” statements that can create long strings of actions and counter-actions. Armed combat cannot be learned in a static environment without an opponent. Studying plates involves an exchange of postures and actions.

Working directly from manuals was best done in teams of three: two actors and one director. The director, with manual in hand, describes the actions of each play, and each actor performs based on the provided description. The actors are the fighters represented in the plates. One is the active agent (the one who will win the exchange), and the other will be the receiving agent (the one who will lose). At the director’s instruction, each actor performs their part (as described in the text and plate). After several attempts, the group rotates (the director becomes the acting agent, the acting agent becomes the receiving agent, the receiving agent becomes the director). The same play is performed again. Then they rotate again. Each student should experience each role at least once. Now, each student has experienced the set of actions from each others’ perspectives.

The Practice of Arms

In Renaissance Swordsmanship, western martial artist John Clements wrote, “It is only through contact sparring and live-weapon test-cutting, not costumed theorizing and playing, that we can speculate on what appear to be practical defense and offense with a sword” (2).  The best way of learning how a weapon works is to use the weapon as it was intended. Clements’ comment was in relation to different weapon analogues used by practitioners at the time (boffer, rattan, foils and epees, for example). The practical value of a weapon is discovered in its proper use.

One assumes that a fighting manual, by its very nature, will show the weapon’s use in a practical, martial manner. This is another time in which the purpose of the manual should be examined. Joachim Meÿer’s manual’s purpose, for example, was to show an academic form of swordfighting that could be done in the academies. The techniques eschewed thrusts as too dangerous.

One truth that can be difficult to face is that much of the art being taught in these manuals is for the specific purpose of ending a fight with the death of the opponent. It is not uncommon for those in the reenactment communities that have a “sport” component may forget that fact as they try to interpret historical swordsmanship. Joel Thompson of the Virginia Medieval Arts Association talks about his early experiences with reenactment arms study, that emphasis on either safety or theatrics, encouraging grand flourishes with weapons or making grunting sounds on contact (for the crowds), or teaching techniques such as “pulling blows” or attempts to lessen contact (for safety). He takes away from these experiences that this is not the study of a martial art. “But all these re-enactments of fighting can be grouped together as “something other” than a martial art. The European martial art of fencing or Medieval and Renaissance swordsmanship is a completely different entity. The martial art may have had a mock combat or sparring component, but its purpose and method of practice was very different. The two methods can be mixed together for authenticity, but when done the practice of the martial art should come first.”

A martial sport’s objective is not the recreation of the historical fight, as outlined in the manuals. A martial sport contains rules to prevent injury. The rules include safeguards such as a limited choice of weapon analogue (blades that pass a specific flexibility requirement, or made of a specific material), and limitations on how to strike one’s opponent (delivering only light contact, or “positive pressure”). The Italian master Antonio Manciolino pointed out the differences between sport and self defense in his Opera Nova, “Just as striking the opponent’s hand is not counted as a hit in a friendly match (as the hand is just the foremost exposed limb), in a real encounter this type of strike would be most effective” (73).

Modern interpreters of historical swordsmanship are aware of some of the techniques that reenactment groups do to stay safe. In The Duelist’s Companion, Guy Windsor warns against those techniques when studying the rapier. “A common mistake is to allow the wrist to “break.” Or the hilt to lift. The point of the lunge is to drive the sword through the target.” The technique that is designed to keep an opponent from getting hurt (breaking the wrist or raising the hilt on a lunge, in order to mitigate the amount of force being transferred from the weapon into the opponent, and instead transfer that energy back into the attacker’s arm) encourages poor technique (70).

The practical value of the weapon and its proper instruction should be done outside of a sports setting, where victory by assignment of a point by a referee or by touch is the main objective. The objective of the student of historical arms in this context should be an understanding of the historical, practical use of the weapon, as exemplified by the author of the manual.

An Example of the Practice

A practical example: a study group attempted to interpret and recreate this plate from Salvator Fabris’ Art of Dueling:


We established our objective: use Fabris’ instruction to defeat the opponent..  One fighter served as the aggressor, the person doomed to die in our experiment. The defender would strike the killing blow with the appropriate technique (I initially had that honor).  One person was the director, a choreographer who, using clues from the plates and the texts, put us into our positions and guided our movements.  The three of us became a cooperative troupe, each discovering the validity (or lack thereof) of each action from our unique perspective.  We each communicated with each other, and shared what we learned through our own eyes of aggressor, defender, and director.

The first thing I did as defender was to go into position and sit there, like it was a passive guard.  The contortion felt ludicrous. It wasn’t stable.  There didn’t appear to be any more value in this guard as opposed to an upright guard. I didn’t feel particularly vulnerable, just uncomfortable. I couldn’t imagine that this was a position I’d want to maintain in a fight.

And that was just it…it wasn’t.  The plates are snapshots that serve a particular purpose.  In this case, the movement described on the plate is the position one would put oneself in shortly before one strikes.  The text helped with that discovery:

“Begin forming this guard as you are still upright.  As you see your opponent approaching, gradually lower your body and withdraw your sword; once your opponent is within the measures, he will find your body as low as possible and your sword as withdrawn as you can possibly keep it without taking it out of line.” (p. 38)

So we followed that advice.  I started upright, in a second guard (knuckles upward, sword straight out at almost shoulder-height).  As the aggressor slowly stepped forward, I slowly pulled my body down into a crouched position, elbow up, sword forward, until my opponent was close enough for me to strike. I made myself look as much like the figure in the plate as I could.

It still felt like something was lacking.  Would my opponent advance slowly?  Would I, slowly and deliberately, draw myself down and contort myself into position, and wait for a moment to strike?  According to the text, once my opponent was in range, I would, “quickly unleash an attack to the inside in fourth.”  It seemed possible, but seemed like a long way to go for the action.  It felt contrived…like a bad self-defense class that would teach, “Okay, if I grab you just like this, then you do this…”

“What if they don’t grab me just like this?”

“Well, I have another technique for that…”

It didn’t seem right, that a fencing manual that has survived this long, that has been interpreted, shared, and copied for the last four-hundred years would be reduced to plain, black-and-white instructions.  There should be movements that would be familiar to anyone who was learning to fight.  We should be able to identify the value in the guard and the actions, just from entering into the positions from the plates. Fabris was teaching students how to fight for their lives in a time when young men armed with both sword and ego travelled together in the same social circles.

So we did it again, and looked for more clues in the text or the art. The director wondered why, “cuts are more easily parried from this guard” (a line from near the end of the description of the guard).  The aggressor then changed her attack.  As I coiled down, she moved forward as if she were delivering a cut downward to my head.  We found that, if the timing was right, the attack was thwarted by my “withdrawn” blade and my head was out of the way of the attack.  From there, I could deliver a killing retaliatory blow (precisely in fourth, with my arm crossed across my body, palm up…just like the text said I should).

It all came together when we decided to move at greater speed, delivering our attacks with more sincere intent.  The aggressor rushed me, swinging her sword down to the top of my head.

I reacted appropriately, by yelling in fear and ducking.  It seemed like the most rational reaction.

Look back at the plate.  Imagine yourself in the position of the fighter presented in the artwork.  Imagine someone swinging a sword down on your head.  The subject there is ducking out of the way, voiding the body, parrying the downward-striking attack with the outstretched blade. From that position, it seems like the most natural action to stretch your arm forward, like a spring-driven trap, and thrust in fourth to kill your opponent.

It was like we’d just unlocked some arcane secret.  We switched roles, over and over, so each of us in our little study group could see the action from their own perspective.  Each of us agreed that, when done full speed, with intent, this technique seemed not just effective, but natural.  One could even say it seemed like the most rational thing to do.

We could not have deciphered the value of the plate without several key elements.  We each had to see the action from our own perspective.  We each had to know the basics of how to fight…our guards, footwork and bladework.  We had to trust the author and his material.  We had to believe in its value.

In Closing

Approaching the study of arms does not involve trying to impersonate plates or wood-cuts. The fight book is a tool that shows not only how one could fight, but also why they fought. Investigating the text is vital to knowing how to use the manual. The authors of these manuals wanted the readers to value everything that was published, both the practical instruction and their intent behind making their technique available to the public.

The modern practitioner should surround oneself with like-minded individuals. Interpreting the instructions that surround the plates involves multiple perspectives. A complete understanding is best accomplished by all of the practitioners sharing their perspectives. Understanding a weapon and its use involves having to use it as it was intended. This involves test cutting, and practicing with the weapon as it was intended.

Studying historical arms is a means of showing respect to the practitioners of arms that came before. The best purpose for their use may have been described by George Silver in his introduction to his Paradoxes of Defense:

…for as Divinitie preserveth the sould from hell and the divell, so doth this noble Science defend the bodie from wounds & slaughter. And moreover, the exercising of weapons putteth away aches, griefs, and diseases, it increaseth strength, and sharpneth the wits, it giveth a perfect judgement, it expelleth melancholy, cholericke and evill conceits, it keepeth a man in breath, perfect health, and long life. It is unto him that hath the perfection thereof, a most friendly and comfortable companion when he is alone, having but only his weapon about him, it putteth him out of feare, & in the warres and places of most danger it maketh him bold, hardie and valiant.

Works Cited

“Approved Rulers for the Study and Education of Historical Combat Techniques within the SCA”. A and S Martial

Capoferro, Ridolfo, and Jared Kirby. Italian Rapier Combat: Ridolfo Capo Ferro. London:                                   Greenhill, 2004. Print.

Fabris, Salvator, and Tommaso Leoni. Art of Dueling: Salvator Fabris’ Rapier Fencing Treatise of 1606. Highland Village, TX: Chivalry helf, 2005. Print.

“Introduction to Stephen Greenblatt, Module on History.” Introduction to Stephen Greenblatt, Module on History. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.

Leoni, Tommaso. Complete Renaissance Swordsman: Antonio Manciolinos Opera Nova 1531. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy, 2010. Print.

Meyer, Joachim, and Jeffrey L. Forgeng. The Art of Combat. London: Frontline, 2015. Print.

Thompson, Joel. “Historical Fencing and Re-Enacting.” Association for Renaissance Martial Arts. Association for Renaissance Martial Arts, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.

Wagner, Paul, and George Silver. Master of Defence: The Works of George Silver. Boulder, CO: Paladin, 2003. Print.

Windsor, Guy. The Duellists’s Companion: A Training Manual for 17th Century Italian Rapier. Highland Village, TX: Chivalry helf, 2006. Print.

The Will of Lorenzo Gorla

The Thélème at Penn was an opportunity to present some of the things I’ve been learning about living in Elizabethan London. As an exercise in examining the life of Lorenzo Gorla, I decided to write his will.

I examined many wills from the time period and area. The will has the advantage of being a commonly archived document that is fairly easily indexed and cataloged. In this Elizabethan era, the will was maintained by the church. The will would be executed by an appointed executor, and the church would come in to take inventory of the individual’s belongings.

The example here is the will and testament of Lorenzo Gorla, a fencing master living in London. He writes it while in fear of the impending Spanish invasion. A bon vivant such as Lorenzo was probably not much of a planner for the future. I imagined that he would probably write out his final wishes when he was fairly sure of his own death. In December of 1587, word had gotten to England about the Spanish start of the construction of their armada. Lorenzo would experience the same fear as many others throughout the country, and the fear prompts him to consider the repayments of debts, both monetary and social.

The Will

On the xxth day of January 1588 And in the xxxist yeare of the Reigne of the Sovereigne Lady Queen Elizabeth

IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN I Lorenzo Gorla beinge strong in both bodie and mynde thanks be to God in the shadowe of violense and dangre from Spanish agression do comit this will and testament.

First I comitt my soule into the hande of Almighty God by whyche I will avoide judgment and death by my faythful abiding of the commandments and the Sacraments of Christ Jesus and the True Church, and by intersession of Mary the Virgin. My bodie should it be hole and compleat shall be commended to the care of Thomas Belson who shall make all arrangements for its final interment.

Upon sale of my goodes and chattels and my debts payd from the remainder xxd shall be payed to Robert Edmonds a maister for the instruction of Joseph Mytchell in the sciense of defense, and Joseph Mytchell shall be entered into his instruction as a scholler to the maisters of the sciense of defense. I offer my schoole at fletstreet to Thomas Weaver Maister of the sciense of armes for iii years from whych all profits are his to dispose.  I make Alys Mackentosh my whole executrix. All under assumption that the citie of London still stands and Spanish invasion is thwarted.

Historical Context

By 1587, England had been at war with Spain for two years.  In December of that year, England received word that the Spanish were constructing an armada for an invasion.  As preparations were being made, no doubt many citizens of the city of London held some fear of their city becoming a battlefield within the next year.  It’s at this time when Lorenzo Gorla, a fencing instructor with a small school, fears for the worst and writes his will.

Format and Substance of the Document: The text of this will is based on examples of the time.

Particular examples included the will of Thomas Cowper (1587):

“The tenthe day of December Anno domini 1587 and in the xxxth yeare of the raigne of our soveraigne Ladye Elizabethe

In the name of god amen I Thomas Cowper of Shipton in the parishe of Winslo in the Countie of Buck yeoman beinge sick in bodye but wholl in sowle thancks be unto almightie god doe make this my Last will and testament in manner and forme followinge  First I bequeathe my sowle into the hands of almightie god my maker  And my bodye to be buried in the churche yarde of Winslo”

Robert Mytchell (1587):

“Therefore I now make my Testament and this my last will in maner and forme followinge. First I will and bequeathe my sowle into the hands of Almighty god by whome I looke most assuredly to be saved, and my body to be buryed in the Churchyarde of  Wynslo afroresaid Item I bequeathe to the Churche of Wynslo iij s iiij d Item I owe to Mr Thomas Fidge x li. I owe to one Cowlan v li. Item after my debts paid I geve all the rest of my goods unto Alyce Mychell my wyfe unto her for the bringinge up of my Children. Item I make Alyce Mychell my wyfe my full executrix to this my last will; And overseers Mr Rycharde Edmonds parson of Shenley and Mr Will(ia)m Pigott of Wynslo gent.”

Anthony Jackson of the Bell, Yeoman (1591/1592):

I geve and bequeathe unto my wyfe Mowlde Jackson (whom also I do make my full and sole Executor of this my last will and Testament a lease of a Close com(m)only called Ponde Close together w(i)th all the Com(m)odityes of my house called the Bell and of my landes whatsoev(er) lyeinge w(i)thin the p(ar)ishe of Wynslowe aforesaid To have and to holde the foresaid house and landes from the Feast of St Michaell tharchangell next and immediately ensueinge the date herof for the space of iij whole yeares next followinge. And after that terme so accomplished and ended further to enioye and have the com(m)odityes of the sayd house and landes for the space of one whole yeare next ensueinge the thre next.

I used the will of a yeoman as a template because I imagine Lorenzo’s social class to be higher than a laborer, but not high enough to be gentry (Raphael Holinshed’s, Chronicles defines the class as a free land owner, not able to bear arms. He describes one collection of people as “gentlemen and yeomen.”).

Some Particular Items of the Will

The Soul Bequest

Lorenzo specifically points out that he is faithful to both God’s commandments and to the Sacraments.  As a Catholic, he wants it pointed out that he has been faithful to his church, despite living under Elizabeth’s rule. Kate Cole, in her “Essex Voices Past” blog, points out that a Catholic would likely reference the Virgin Mary or the Company of Saints, while a Protestant Soul Bequest may reference the salvation of the soul through grace.

The Final Remains

The wills I have looked over show the decedent’s request for burial. Most often, this is the churchyard of the individual’s parish church. Money may even be specifically set aside for burial or other church costs.Lorenzo (a practicing Catholic), has no local parish church.  Therefore, he commends his body to a friend he’s made over the last year while in London: Thomas Belson, a layman and seminarian who returned to England to proselytize Catholicism. He was executed in 1589). It is  likely that Lorenzo would come across Catholic missionaries who had returned to England, and would likely support them when given the opportunity.

The Disposition of Funds

A key function of a will is the disposition of the estate.

The wills I’ve found belonging to slightly higher-classed people (landowners, yeomen) specify how their final debts should be paid.  In some cases, they state that items of the estate should be sold for the purpose of paying their debts.

Property is also dispersed to specific individuals or entities (such as the parish church) and, sometimes, for specific time frames.

Lorenzo is specifically dedicating certain funds for the education of a young man in the science of defence.  The money to be paid to Robert Edmonds (a Master of the Company of the Masters of the Science of Defense of the City of London) is enough to pay for Josef Mytchell’s  dues for his entrance as into the company as a scholar under Edmonds(per Sloane MS. 2530).

Thomas Weaver was a Master of the Company who fought his prize at Bull’s Inn, nearby Fleet Street (“fletstreat”). Lorenzo, as a member of the Company of the Masters of the Science of Defense, would be acquainted with Weaver. Lorenzo offering the use of his school after his death is likely some way of repaying a debt (possibly the dues of his own prize-fight).

(A note on the location of Lorenzo’s school: no doubt, Lorenzo would have liked his academy to be within a more fashionable or affluent part of town.  The fact that he has a school on the very busy and overcrowded Fleet Street may mean that he isn’t making the fortune he would have hoped or liked)

(Both Edmonds and Weaver taught the rapier, as well as the traditional English weapons of defense…probably why Lorenzo holds them in esteem.)

This will has not been “proofed” (notarized), nor has there been any inventory taken.  That would be done by the church, after Lorenzo’s death.

The Will as a Tool for Living History

In creating this will, I had to ask questions about Lorenzo’s professional and personal life.  Answering those questions caused me to think deeper about his motivations, fears, and professional and personal obligations.

When is he writing this?  Why is he writing this himself, instead of paying a professional to have it written? Choosing to have it written shortly after the discovery of the Spanish construction of their armada illustrates some of the panic that had set in among the citizens of London. This is Lorenzo’s good-bye, and shows his concern about an uncertain future.  He wants to pay recompense to business partners, as well as insure that his own remains will be cared for appropriately.

This will is also his last public declaration of faith. As a subject under Elizabeth at the time, he has little opportunity to worship publicly. How much contact would Lorenzo have had with the missionaries who returned to London (who would eventually be referred to as the  Martyrs of England)?  Has he placed Belson in danger by associating Belson with himself?

What was Lorenzo’s relationship with the Masters of the Science of Defence of the City of London?  Did he pay all of his dues? Did he build any professional relationships with other masters?

Questions for the Future

What would be in his household inventory?

Who would be his creditors? How much would his inventory have to be sold for to pay them off?

For this to be official and notarized, it would have to be witnessed.  Who would witness the document? If an “Alys Mackentosh” is his executrix, what is her relationship to his business?*

What kind of will would he write if he was not in pre-invasion panic? Would more money be set aside to other potential scholars? Servants?

How would this will look differently if Lorenzo’s dreams of becoming a courtier to Elizabeth’s court were realized?

*Rumor is that she’s a spy for Walshingham. That is probably how Belson was captured.

Works Referenced

Sloane Ms 2530 Papers of the Masters of Defense of London, Temp Henry VIII to 1590.

A Survey of London. Vol 1. Reprinted from the text of 1603. John Stow.

The Tudor Chronicles: 1453 – 1603. Susan Doran. Quercus Books. London.

Wells Wills: Arranged in Parishes and Annotated.Frederic William Weaver. K. Paul, Trench, Trübner Co. Ltd. London. 1890.

Kate Cole. The Soul Bequest:

Thomas Belson:

Wills and Inventories in the County of Winslow:


“A Provosts Letter” An Award Scroll for the Rapier Champion of the Barony of Bhakail

My friend, Baroness Ysmay de Lynn, asked me for a favor.

People should know that I tend to answer quickly and enthusiastically to whatever requests she and Master Mael Eoin mac Echuid make of me. The tasks can be fairly daunting, but usually end well.

The favor this time: write the text for the scroll to be given to the next Baronial Rapier Champion.

I jumped into this one pretty quickly. I’ve started to learn from the best, in regards to creating SCA documents from historical texts (hi Alys!).  Truth be told, I had an idea of what I wanted to use as the inspiration for the text.

The Company of the Maisters of the Science of Defense of the Citie of London was a guild of fencing instructors in London, England in the 16th century.  One manuscript collects the surviving documents from the guild, including rules for advancing in the guild and descriptions of necessary tests, rules of conduct, and lists of tests and test-takers. Among these documents is “A Prousts Letter,” a declaration of Willyam Mucklowe advancement to the rank of “Provost.”

I took the document, trimmed it down, and made it appropriate for an award scroll.  I was able to “personalize” it to the Barony by addressing the Baron and Baroness, and the officers of the Barony.

My friend and fellow member of the Tadcaster Militia,Eldrich Gaiman won the tournament. Although the scroll hasn’t yet been scribed (is that a word?  Well, it is now…), the text was read out to him.

And here it is, for your reading enjoyment (with his name included):

Be it knowne unto all mannor of officers under the Dominions of our Baron Mael Eoin mac Echuid and Baroness Ysmay de Lynn the Barony of Bhakail, the Bailiywyck of Ivyeinrust and the Canton of Black Icorndall as Seneshals, Chancellors, Heralds, Marshalls, Ministers and other of their lovinge subjects Certifieng you by this our lettre

That is pleaseth our saide moste dreade Baron and Baroness to admit with authoritie and by especiall commission under theire greate Seale to give licence to all schollers of the science of Defense playinge with all manner of Weapons usual to our practise, and to offer challenge for the honour of Baronial Champion of the aforementioned science. Thus we, Baron Mael Eoin mac Echuid and Baroness Ysmay de Lynn do admit Eldrich Gaiman as our champion of our saide science the xxi st day of August in the yeare of our Societie 51. And thereafter we Mael Eoin mac Echuid and Ysmay de Lynn do praye and desyr all this Barony’s officers and true subjects to ayde the said Eldrich Gaiman agaynst all strayngers and soch who stand to challenge this Barony.

Read it our loud.  It helps…trust me.

This was lots of fun, and it was a little bit of a rush to hear it read out loud by a really talented and skilled herald.

Any questions about what I did or why I did it or why the spelling is all funny? Feel free to leave a comment.

Oh, hey…updates…

I would have had this up for #MedievalMonday, but I’ve been a bit under the weather for the week. I still have pictures and stuff to say about the Theleme at Penn this past weekend! And stuff to say about the tournament on Sunday! And I got s new sword! And a dagger!

And I might even be able to get to write about some gaming stuff.  DO I DARE?!

Okay people…be good. Share the post. Leave comments. Tell your friends…

Renaissance: My Return to the Pennsic War

The Pennsic War celebrates its 45th year this August. Over 10,000 enthusiasts of all things medieval – from clothing to art to music to combat arts – gather in in western Pennsylvania to enjoy an atmosphere in which many take great labors to create an environment reminiscent of their impression of the renaissance or the medieval age. I haven’t attended in, I think, six years. It may be a little longer. Too many things stood in my way…school, family obligations, health, work. This year, family and career schedules fall into place so that I could take a week to attend the Pennsic War again.

This isn’t a travelogue. I can’t adequately chronicle my week. There are plenty of photographers, bloggers, and videographers who chronicle the day by day living at the war. Besides, my week was far from a spectacle. Thanks to injury and illness, I mostly stayed close to my camp in the Barony of Bhakail among members of my household, the Tadcaster Militia. Daily experience involved short walks, conversing with friends, and very light duties.

I’d rather tell you about the challenge of looking at a medieval-inspired war that still, for necessity’s sake, carries many modern trappings. Mobile phones, port-a-johns, electrical fans, golf carts, and electric lights are only a sample of the modern conveniences that keep the war running. Add to that the many obligations of members of the SCA that intrude on the “magic” of experiencing a medieval atmosphere, like serving an administrative role (which may involve operating a computer), or serving as a safety officer for martial activities (complete with two-way radio for communication with other safety officers), or teaching a class (which may, by necessity, involve breaking the fourth wall and discussing modern materials, techniques, or resources).

So this was my challenge: look at the Pennsic War through the eyes of Lorenzo Gorla, a Venetian ex-pat, living and working in 1590’s London.

Part of the trouble of participating in a war is that Lorenzo isn’t a soldier. He’s a civilian, trying to earn his fortune by building a reputation as a fencing master, and earning a position in the court of Queen Elizabeth. What would he be doing in a war?

This was the thought running through my mind while I lined up with the Bhakail before we marched together with the rest of the East Kingdom’s army into the war’s opening ceremonies. As the barony’s Champion of Arts and Sciences, I’m obligated to accompany the group when they participate in this sort of display. So what do I, as a humble fencing instructor, do with a whole company marching into war?

This wasn’t the place for me to answer that question. My obligation as a champion takes precedence over practicing the needs of the persona. However, I’m still able to display the sensibilities of my persona. I would walk proudly, as a gentleman, in support of my patrons. I was offered a drum and the opportunity to sing the baronial war-songs. I politely refused (as a gentleman in Elizabeth’s London, I’d likely view professional performers with some suspicion, and would prefer to not perform in public, for fear of being viewed as lower-classed or roguish). I enjoyed the march, I shouted and cried in support of my patrons and my royalty. I shared in the anticipation of a week of competition with cheers and shouts, all in support of my patrons and my crown. From my viewpoint, this was a great competition I was participating in, decorated with great banners and done among great pageantry.

That was my inspiration for the rest of the week. I took in the war as if I were enjoying a week of contests. I appreciated the company of every stranger in wild clothing, with their mad and curious habits. Looking at the war this way allowed me the opportunity to explore the persona of an Elizabethan gentleman while enjoying the camaraderie of the whole Knowne World.

I was afforded an opportunity to do more than play a persona, but to have a safe environment to explore the sensibilities and attitude of someone taken out of their comfort zone, taken away from their urban life, with its pressures and expectations, with its constant need for vertical mobility and desire for recognition for good work. These are familiar feelings.

Lorenzo wants to be a courtier and to enjoy the comforts of nobility. Mike wants security and safety for himself and family. They share a core motivation.

As I played tavern games on a rainy night, I was the tired bon vivant, and paid little attention to the money I lost as I lounged in a chair and sipped my drink. I told stories of my youth, tossed dice, and chatted with peers and landed nobility. I was being myself.

I recited poetry to a gallery of young women, and related stories from my days in university. I enjoyed their company and the pleasant morning. During that time, the only thing that mattered was the poetry and the listeners. I was being myself.

I shopped for clothes, swords, books, and accessories. I looked closely at the quality of each piece, chatted with the crafts people, and appreciated the value of every purchase. I was being myself.

I ate and drank alongside other participants of the war. I chatted with them about the weather, the war, and the goings-on of the day. When done, I bid them good-day and safe travels. I was being myself.

I laid on my back in the grass and looked up at a clear, star-filled sky while friends talked and laughed and drank. My head swam while I took it all in…the revel, the far-away drum beats, the smell of campfire smoke. I saw a shooting star. I was being myself.

An injury and poor health caused me to leave the war a couple of days early. When I put on a pair of shorts and an old Glassboro State College t-shirt, I felt defeated. I felt a little like I was leaving myself behind.

I came home to a newly painted and decorated living room (whenever I am away for more than a couple of days, my wife likes to take that as the opportunity to make some changes. I love it). On the wall, among my SCA award scrolls, are two photographs of me. One is from my second Pennsic. It was taken from inside of Syke’s Suttlery, during a class on early firearms. There I am, in a poofy white shirt and felt cavalier’s hat, in front of a rack of swords (hey Terry, if you’re reading this, remind me later to order a couple of shirts). I look eager and excited to learn while being among other like-minded people. Above that is a picture from Bhakail Yule last December. I’m in a black velvet gown with gold trim, wearing the cape of the local champion of arts and sciences over my shoulder. I’m lounging at the edge of court, alongside the baronial ladies rapier champion. I look happy, watching the ceremonies continue on stage. In both, I am being myself.


Okay, I still have to tell you some highlights from my war this year…

One morning I was sitting in a back corner of a coffee shop, writing about the paradox of the divine soul being housed in the frail, imperfect body (how’s that for living the persona, huh?). A young man came in, wearing jeans, t-shirt, a press badge, and carrying a clapboard slate. I asked if he was a production assistant. After he responded affirmatively (he was working for a geek-centric travel show), I said, “His coffee is on me.” I know how hard those guys work. I never saw anyone happier. We chatted for a little while about what makes Pennsic cool, and about my life at home and what I get out of Pennsic. I told him that it was like a “reset” button…and that every event i went to over every weekend just seemed to make life more bearable.

I marshaled the “By The Book” historical swordfighting tournament. It was a thrill to watch so many displays of great swordsmanship, and be surrounded by such passion (and I blame the oppressive heat and out-of-control blood sugar for my initial derp-ness running a simple round-robin list). Thanks very much to Master Orlando for giving me a way to participate when health and injury wouldn’t allow me to compete. And thanks, Ken, for your help judging the competition.

As I mentioned earlier, I recited poetry to a small group of people…love poetry, poetry about summer, about death, about divinity…and then talked about performing. I got to share some stories about Doctor Richard Mitchell (the professor I named my child after, the same one that told me that I would never be a teacher, and that my language was lousy for poetry. He also taught me that the most real things come in the still, small moments of the night) and Doctor Edward Wolfe (who made every effort to get me excited about literature…”GOOD STUFF!”). I may have channeled some of my 1990’s coffeehouse-poet self that day. It felt right. Thanks so much to Baroness Ysmay for creating that opportunity for me. I’ll carry it with me for a long time.

Friends make everything better. When I came out of the EMT station, after hearing from the doctor on duty that I should really not fence that day (due to the aforementioned injury), I ran into my friend Ibrahim who talked me into coming to a meet-and-greet for practitioners of La Verdadera Destreza. I know very little about Spanish fencing (except what I learn from “how to use Spanish to beat Italian fencing” videos and articles). I got to spend an hour with other historical swordfighting enthusiasts, talking about practice, interpretation, resources…it brought me out of my funk. Thanks to Ibrahim, Doroga, and Elena for spending some time talking and hanging out.

Listening to my friend, Master Davius St. Jacques, speaking at the Laurel elevation of my friend Brunni…evocative and sincere.

Being part of the East Kingdom Rapier Army’s march to the first war point, led by my friend Mistress Alys Mackyntoich. Absolute magic.

And, of course, the fellowship of 10,000 members of my extended family.

Hey, I’m going to be at a few SCA events around New Jersey and Philadelphia over the next couple of weeks. Saturday, August 20 is the Thélème at Penn. Sunday, August 21 is the The Extraordinary Bhakail Fencing and Fighting Championships and Commons. Saturday, August 27 is Brennan and Caoilfhionn’s Ducal Challenge. Come out and meet and talk.

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