Medieval Mixed-Gender Fight Club: Behold Images from a 15th-Century Fighting Manual

Wel­come to Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club.

The first rule of Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club is: you do not talk about Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club.

The sec­ond rule of Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Medieval Mixed-Gen­der Fight Club!


The Pub­lic Domain Review’s man­ag­ing edi­tor, Hunter Dukes, wise­ly argues that it’s because we have so lit­tle to go on, beyond these star­tling images of “judi­cial duels” between men and women in Ger­man fenc­ing mas­ter Hans Tal­hof­fer’s illus­trat­ed 15th-cen­tu­ry “fight books.”

The male com­bat­ant, armed with a wood­en mace, starts out in a waist-deep hole.

The female, armed with a rock wrapped in a length of cloth, stands above, feet plant­ed to the ground.

Their match­ing uni­sex gar­ments wouldn’t look out of place at the Met Gala, and pro­vide for max­i­mum move­ment as evi­denced by the acro­bat­ic, and seri­ous­ly painful-look­ing paces Tal­hof­fer puts them through.

Dukes is not alone in won­der­ing what’s going on here, and he doesn’t mince words when call­ing bull­shit on those respon­si­ble for “hasti­ly researched arti­cles” eager­ly pro­nounc­ing them to be action shots of divorce-by-com­bat.

Such bru­tal meth­ods of for­mal uncou­pling had been ren­dered obso­lete cen­turies before Tal­hof­fer began work on his instruc­tion­al man­u­als. 

In a 1985 arti­cle in Source: Notes in the His­to­ry of Art, Alli­son Coud­ert,  a pro­fes­sor of Reli­gious Stud­ies at UC Davis, posits that Tal­hof­fer might have been draw­ing on the past in these pages:

I would sug­gest that no records of judi­cial duels between hus­bands and wives exists after 1200 because of both changes in the real­i­ty and the ide­al of what a woman could be and do. Before 1200, women may well have bat­tled their hus­bands. Women under­stood and defend­ed the impor­tance of their eco­nom­ic and admin­is­tra­tive roles in the house­hold. After the twelfth cen­tu­ry, how­ev­er, law, cus­tom and reli­gion made mar­i­tal duels all but unthink­able.

Why would Tal­hof­fer both­er includ­ing archa­ic mate­r­i­al if the focus of his Fecht­buchs was giv­ing less expe­ri­enced fight­ers con­crete infor­ma­tion for their bet­ter­ment?

We like the notion that he might have been seek­ing to inject his man­u­scripts with a bit of an erot­ic charge, but con­cede that schol­ars like Coud­ert, who have PhDs, research chops, and actu­al exper­tise in the sub­ject, are prob­a­bly warmer when reck­on­ing that he was just cov­er­ing his his­tor­i­cal bases.

For now, let us enjoy these images as art, and pos­si­ble sources of inspi­ra­tion for avant-garde cir­cus acts, Hal­loween cou­ples cos­tumes, and Valen­tines.


Explore more images from the 15th-cen­tu­ry Fecht­buchs of Hans Tal­hof­fer here and here.

via the Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What It’s Like to Actu­al­ly Fight in Medieval Armor

How to Get Dressed & Fight in 14th Cen­tu­ry Armor: A Reen­act­ment

Watch Accu­rate Recre­ations of Medieval Ital­ian Longsword Fight­ing Tech­niques, All Based on a Man­u­script from 1404

The Medieval Mas­ter­piece, the Book of Kells, Is Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.