The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe
by Sydney Anglo
Yale University Press, New Haven and London
Reviewed by Liam Keeley

This book is an impressive achievement and something of an eye-opener. Similar to Arthur Wise's The Art and History of Personal Combat, it is far more detailed and lavishly illustrated. Sydney Anglo is a historian and a professor at the University of Wales, who specializes in the Renaissance period. He writes clearly and well, and his depth of knowledge and research is apparent. He is aware of the immense problems involved in writing a book such as this, and in his Introduction says he thinks of it as an experimental essay.

The book is illustrated with an amazing array of extant fechtbuch. While I was aware of some of the fechtbuch he mentions, I hadn't realized how many more had survived. Professor Anglo cites 17 collections of manuscripts from all over Europe which he has drawn on in the course of his research with special reference to the collections in Glasgow, Leuven, and Vienna. He particularly singles out a hitherto little known collection of books and manuscripts on European Combatives which had been put together by the shipping magnate Robert Lyons Scott, and bequeathed to the City of Glasgow, together with his collection of arms and armor.

Anglo draws on a vast number of original sources covering most West European Languages (English, German, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian). For example, Anglo cites over 30 of the so-called fechtbuchen in a preliminary list of abbreviations of regularly referred to texts. Among other things, I was fascinated to learn that the great artist Albrecht Durer had also issued a fechtbuch, and delighted to see some examples of his illustrations. (See illustrations 132-135 on page 185).

Anglo puts to rest for good the oversimplifications of those fencing historians who see the history of Western swordsmanship as a linear progression of increasing sophistication culminating in the triumph of the point over the edge in the form of modern fencing. He shows clearly that there have always been a wide variety of swords in all shapes and sizes, and that even the earliest texts exhibit sophisticated technique.

Anglo's book will be welcomed by those with any interest in the subject. It is both a landmark and a starting point for future research into specific areas of interest. In recent years there has been something of an upsurge in interest in the history of European combatives, and a number of societies, such as the HACA, have been formed to research, recreate, and practice medieval and renaissance fighting arts. Moreover, several translations of specific texts have become available recently. Talhoffer's book has been translated and edited by Mark Rector and is available under the title of Medieval Combat.

Those interested in wrestling/close quarter combat will welcome Eli Steenput's two translations, both available for downloading on the Internet. Petter's famous Clear Instructions to the Excellent Art of Wrestling which has Romeyn de Hooge's outstanding illustrations, is available at, and a translation of Passchen's Ring-Buch of 11659 at

Anglo, Sydney. 2000. The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe. New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press.
Talhoffer, Hans. 2000. Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth-Century Illustrated Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat. Rector, Mark, translator and editor. London: Greenhill Books.
Wise, Arthur. 1971. The Art and History of Personal Combat. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society Ltd.
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