The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe

Sydney Anglo

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Mounted encounters by armored knights locked in desperate hand-to-hand combat, stabbing and wrestling in tavern brawls, deceits and brutalities in street affrays, balletic homicide on the dueling field—these were the martial arts of Renaissance Europe. In this extensively illustrated book Sydney Anglo, a leading historian of the Renaissance and its symbolism, provides the first complete study of the martial arts from the late fifteenth to the late seventeenth century. He explains the significance of martial arts in Renaissance education and everyday life and offers a full account of the social implications of one-to-one combat training.

Like the martial arts of Eastern societies, ritualized combat in the West was linked to contemporary social and scientific concerns, Anglo shows. During the Renaissance, physical exercise was regarded as central to the education of knights and gentlemen. Soldiers wielded a variety of weapons on the battlefield, and it was normal for civilians to carry swords and know how to use them. In schools across the continent, professional masters-of-arms taught the skills necessary to survive in a society where violence was endemic and life cheap. Anglo draws on a wealth of evidence—from detailed treatises and sketches by jobbing artists to magnificent images by Dürer and Cranach and descriptions of real combat, weapons and armor—to reconstruct and illustrate the arts taught by these ancient masters-at-arms.

Sydney Anglo is research professor of history at the University of Wales.

A selection of the History Book Club and Readers' Subsciption

“[The] first complete study of the martial arts from the early 15th to the late 17th centuries. . . . A remarkable, readable and scholarly work.”—Antiques Trade Gazette

“Beautifully illustrated with plates from obscure artists as well as Dürer and Cranach. This is the essential and original full-length study of martial arts in Europe from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, masterfully handled. Wrestling, fencing, jousting, fighting gracefully and fighting dirty, here are Renaissance men at sport and training for war.”—Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance

“This is destined to be on the most influential European martial arts books of the century!”—J. Christoph Amberger, Fencers Quarterly Magazine

“Centuries before the WWF, masters of arms trained kings and commoners in wrestling techniques that could maim or kill opponents. . . . This fascinating book is not for the squeamish.”—Globe and Mail












“A handsome volume on the martial arts in the Renaissance. . . . In this meticulously and researched and lavishly illustrated oversized volume, Anglo has made an original contribution to both the military and social history of the early modern era. This fascinating study should find a home in academic libraries.”—David J. Kovarovic, History

“Anglo’s handling of his subject is masterful. . . . This is the book on fencing, swordplay, wrestling, jousting, and a host of other forms of personal combat from the late Middle Ages until the death of personal swordplay as a gentleman’s birthright sometime in the mid-eighteenth century. . . . We should welcome Sydney Anglo’s latest contribution.”—Bert Hall, Isis

“Remarkable. . . . As an explication of what Renaissance fighting was like, [Anglo’s] book is an impressive achievement.”—Renaissance Quarterly

“Anglo has written an important book on a very neglected subject. It includes a wealth of illustrations from the manuscripts and printed sources to help clarify his points. It is also exceedingly well written, laced with quirky humor, and genuinely enjoyable to read.”—Glenn S. Sunshine, Sixteenth Century Journal
ISBN: 9780300083521
Publication Date: August 11, 2000
396 pages, x
180 b/w + 32 color illus.