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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Apr, 2015 9:56 am    Post subject: Medieval Blade Length Laws         Reply with quote

I just watched a video by Matt Easton talking about sword restrictions in Medieval cities. In most places, unless you were a dubbed knight, or the equivalent of a city policeman, you could not carry a sword inside a city. That made me wonder if people got around this restriction by wearing very long daggers like a Coustille. Were there also laws that controlled how long a dagger a typical city dweller could carry?
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Glen A Cleeton




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Apr, 2015 10:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I believe he is drawing his thoughts from the old London rolls
(see the British History Online site)
It is a great window to the past. Register and you can build a bookshelf.

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/

I don't know how other countries and urban ares dealt with it.

Cheers

GC
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 17 Apr, 2015 7:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I haven't seen that particular video but if Matt actually said that this was a universal rule in Medieval cities in general, as opposed to London or some other English cities after a certain date, then he would be wrong. Even in London I think the claim is dubious before the 15th Century though I'm not sure.

In most of Europe in fact in larger towns citizens were actually obligated to own swords and most above the rank of apprentice carried them all the time. Non citizens could have more restrictions though that varied from place to place.

There is a great deal of information on that subject in this book, (including records of people being arrested for NOT owning swords)

http://www.amazon.com/Martial-Ethic-Early-Mod...0230576567

i also did a lecture on this subject at a HEMA event a couple of years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwsUVaa9lKo

Every significant town had their own charter and laws, but East of the Rhine only a few towns had laws banning swords, most allowed people to carry them and most families had small arsenals of weapons and armor in their homes, as did the guilds. There were some restrictions though on certain 'dishonorable' weapons including what you might call 'proto-rapiers', dueling or stabbing swords, as stabbing was frowned upon in fights.

Jean

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Glen A Cleeton




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PostPosted: Fri 17 Apr, 2015 9:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Even in London I think the claim is dubious before the 15th Century though I'm not sure.


There were indeed arms restrictions in London and the source I mentioned contains such. That there were also requirements for any man at arms be responsible for obtaining certain arms themselves, the city law a separate issue. Matt is pretty good at backing up his sources and will perhaps respond but he is not hard to find for clarification.

From what I have seen of Matt's videos, he often offers generalizations that come across as universal absolutes. I would also add that he often ends his videos with. "As always, feel free to disagree".

Some find such videos useful as some kind of basic guide and reading texts can be tedious but I find more and more will stop learning beyond what they see and not search beyond that. Some others tend tor read into videos what they want to see or dispute but in the end, should not be the last word.

Cheers

GC
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Sat 18 Apr, 2015 9:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I know Matt very well, we have been friends for years. I think his youtube videos are great and 99% of the time do a really good job of correcting common misconceptions rather than the opposite. That said, medieval Europe is a very complex place and as you noted, generalizations can be dangerous. Sometimes you have to make abbreviations which can be a little misleading, simply to get the narrative forward, but this can trip you up. I've run into the same problem.

I know a little bit about the records for York, and I know that they had a German / Hanseatic style militia into the late 14th Century (1396 if I remember correctly, when the King cracked down on town rights), and continued to have some kind of armed citizen militia for at least a century after that. Armed militia meant that citizens were walking around armed at least some of the time.

London also literally had a (literally) German militia in at least part of the town because the Hanseatic traders from Cologne, Hamburg, and Danzig (among other towns) controlled one of the cities quarters where they had their large Kontor, the steelyard, and manned, built and maintained one of the main gates of the city: the Bishopsgate. This continued until the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steelyard

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishopsgate#History

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Hanseatic_War

Several other English towns had significant Hansa Kontor's. I think Boston was one (Enlgish Boston) and Lynn

I have a buddy who has access to the York town records and I could figure out what the precise weapons laws were there with a little effort.


I'm definitely no expert on England but I know a few facts which point to possible widespread carrying or at least ownership of weapons in at least some English towns some of the time in the high to late medieval period. I know that London and some other towns had problems with 'swash and buckle' men and kept trying to crack down on them for centuries. There were also the famous London Masters of Defense, who were certified by the city and taught fencing in the 15th and 16th Centuries (and I think a bit later). Brawls involving swords were also routine in the University towns Cambridge and Oxford, and the London Coroner's Rolls (several of which Matt has aggregated on his website) are full of incidents of sword fights in the 16th and 17th Centuries, so the restrictions, whatever they were, must have had some loopholes in practice.

However I also know that England, like France was much stricter about duels and brawls than in most of the rest of Europe. The only way to get out of being executed for (formally or informally) dueling was to get a pardon based on extenuating circumstances. That is why so many of the fights in the English coroners rolls read like "I was minding my own business when so and so attacked me, I fled and drew my sword only for defense, when he chased me into a corner and fell on the tip of my sword and died." In France similarly you have dozens of letters of remittance which were written mostly by lawyers, telling similarly unlikely accounts of numerous violent incidents.

If you had sufficient money and connections you could get probably away with it but on the paper the laws were draconian. In the towns under German Town law, (including Slavic, Baltic, and Scandinavian towns) the rules were different, fighting for honor was ok, or at least not likely to get you executed, so long as certain unwritten rules were followed (basically fighting a 'fair fight'). Often duels were punished with a fine or exile at the worst.

I think one of the points of confusion on this is that there are two types of restrictions that you do see commonly, one is a restriction on banned weapons, in towns under German town law this would extend to extra pointy dueling weapons such as - proto rapiers and stilettos, and restrictions for weapons on non-citizens. The only Central European town I know of which had significant weapon restrictions on citizens for swords was Nuremberg. Every other town I've looked at closely including Frankfurt, Augsburg, Basel, Bern, Zurich, Hamburg, Lubeck, Cologne, Strasbourg, Prague, Breslau / Wroclw, Danzig / Gdansk, Riga, Tallinn, Stockholm, Krakow and Pilzen allowed citizens down to the rank of journeymen to go armed. I know in Italy at one point the Duke of Milan outlawed the carrying of swords (not entirely successfully) but I think that was more the exception rather than the rule, based on the number of incidents of armed duels and fights.

Jean

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 5:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am pretty familiar with York, London, Norwich, Southampton and their laws (in fact for some I have read every medieval source I know of) and I'd be pretty careful with taking this idea and running with it. To be honest the laws largely seem to be employed after a fight or something has broken out. Almost what we call a secondary law in the US. So you cannot be stopped for it alone but it can be used to mount a heavier case on you one you break others.

That said all bets are off for foreigners. In Most English towns I have studied you seem people visiting being allowed arms in town but they have to be left with their host. So you cannot carry them around.

The problem is there are laws that indicate limitations but people fail to look at if they are enforced and how. We have books of Fees for many of these towns and cities and these are a great place to see if the laws are carried out. Having read many of them I am of the opinion that it is unlikely. There are a few times in London when they employ arms limits but unequally and because there are threats of mob violence.

Knights were certainly not the only armed men with swords in town. There are people of the town who certainly were armed in this fashion on a normal basis. There is a law in Southampton that clearly states the Aldermen (town council) and other good men can be armed.

There is a difference between being required to own arms and being able to walk around with them but I just do not see much in the way of heavy or even moderate enforcement of these arms laws when they exist.

Jean,

What do you mean by Germanic style militia? Basically every male soul in England for sure was required to fight at need and was required by wealth to own weapons. Is that about what we are saying?

RPM
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Mark Griffin




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 6:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget that often these laws were deliberately flouted as a way of showing contempt for the governing bodies or how fat your purse was. Sumptuary and Recusancy laws were punishable by fines so 'you can't take that sword into town, there is a fine of 2 shillings' - 'well here is my 2 shillings my good man, now go away you oik' might be a possibility. Certainly clothing abuses were handled like that on many occasions.

Then there is the oft touted fact that our main debating chamber in parliament, the house of commons, has its opposing sides set far apart enough so that people drawing a sword won't be able to stab his opposite number so fast. I'd like to see proof of that though. So if it was designed like that then they must have been wearing swords....

There is a rule about drawing swords within a mile of the royal court but how that is defined is not known. Especially as the Royal court is based at Westminster where Parliament sits, see above.. But its drawing, not wearing. Possibly the centre of the court is where the monarch is but a mile is a heck of a distance and pretty ungovernable in England pre-gps technology I'd have thought.

Certainly on the occasions I've been near the monarch or heir whilst wearing a sword I've tied mine in good and tight to avoid any court functionaries having an issue. They do exist.... Anyway, as its been pointed out when discussing this with the protection squad, the nice man with the sniper rifle on a rooftop somewhere would have sorted the issue out long before it became one.

As Randall points out, I think there are many times that you can wear a sword, its often due to your status and nationality. Its illegal to sell arms into Wales or arm a Welshman in some parts but that's due to times when the welsh are being bothersome.

Says he overlooking a lovely welsh valley :-)

Sadly, although I used to be able to swan about in the Tower Liberties (an area that's outside the walls and public, not inside the walls of HM Palace and Fortress the Tower of London) swashing my buckle as a costumed worker there, this has now been tightened up and a few more ancient 'rights' erroded. See my point re firearms police above, definitely swords off when you are nipping out for lunch now... :-(

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 6:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We also should not forget that in many towns and the countryside EDC (Everyday carry) consisted of a foot-long dagger with a bollock shaped hilt, which is quite a statement. Quarreling people would be able to kill each other quite efficiently should they chose to do so.
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 11:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
We also should not forget that in many towns and the countryside EDC (Everyday carry) consisted of a foot-long dagger with a bollock shaped hilt, which is quite a statement. Quarreling people would be able to kill each other quite efficiently should they chose to do so.


That brings us back to my original question. Assuming it was illegal for some people inside a city to carry swords, perhaps they got around this by wearing very long daggers that could function as a short sword. If so, were there restrictions on how long a dagger one could carry? I remember reading somewhere of laws saying that lower class people's knives and daggers were limited to a blade length of 2 or 3 inches, but I don't remember where or when this was.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 11:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roger Hooper wrote:
Pieter B. wrote:
We also should not forget that in many towns and the countryside EDC (Everyday carry) consisted of a foot-long dagger with a bollock shaped hilt, which is quite a statement. Quarreling people would be able to kill each other quite efficiently should they chose to do so.


That brings us back to my original question. Assuming it was illegal for some people inside a city to carry swords, perhaps they got around this by wearing very long daggers that could function as a short sword. If so, were there restrictions on how long a dagger one could carry? I remember reading somewhere of laws saying that lower class people's knives and daggers were limited to a blade length of 2 or 3 inches, but I don't remember where or when this was.


Why would they need to have it functioning as a short sword? I dagger through the heart isn't that much less lethal than a sword.

Anyways while Pieter Bruegel the elder is not strictly medieval his paintings were made near the time period. I do not know if there was a relaxation in weapon laws around the 1500-1550s compared to medieval times, but his paintings show half the male population armed with foot-long daggers and langes messers, even the peasants.
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Mark Griffin




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 11:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Assuming it was illegal for some people inside a city to carry swords,


But its just that, an assumption.

Quote:
perhaps they got around this by wearing very long daggers that could function as a short sword. If so, were there restrictions on how long a dagger one could carry? I remember reading somewhere of laws saying that lower class people's knives and daggers were limited to a blade length of 2 or 3 inches, but I don't remember where or when this was.


If you can find anything to back that up then great but if there was such a rule its probably only in rare instances and a just a few locations. I have also heard about rapier lengths being proscribed and points snapped off of miscreants as they enter towns but never seen that proved or at least again, not in more than a couple of places across Europe so in no way a broadly used concept.

In the UK now the law stipulates no blades in public over 3" without an extremely good reason and you are presumed guilty until you provide that proof, maybe that's been mentioned on here and its crept in somehow?

Currently working on projects ranging from Elizabethan pageants to a WW1 Tank, Victorian fairgrounds 1066 events and more. Oh and we joust loads!.. We run over 250 events for English Heritage each year plus many others for Historic Royal Palaces, Historic Scotland, the National Trust and more. If you live in the UK and are interested in working for us just drop us a line with a cv.
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Mark Griffin




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 11:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As Pieter says, the overwhelming evidence points to people wearing something sharp and pointy in most instances.

Virtually impossible to control unless you have walls with points of control and the people to do the controlling and the will of the governing body to impose such rules. There were certainly ad hoc ways of doing this BUT it does also pre-suppose somewhere to store many hundreds of sharp things over a certain length and all kinds of other issues.

And what happens in the sprawling suburbs?

And what about the fact that many countries, in England for sure, you are required by law to hold arms for civil defence? I realise that you only really need to wear them on the way to a muster for training or whatever but its all sounding a bit convoluted to me.

Currently working on projects ranging from Elizabethan pageants to a WW1 Tank, Victorian fairgrounds 1066 events and more. Oh and we joust loads!.. We run over 250 events for English Heritage each year plus many others for Historic Royal Palaces, Historic Scotland, the National Trust and more. If you live in the UK and are interested in working for us just drop us a line with a cv.
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 2:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is a myArmoury thread from 2011 that covers many of these questions in depth - http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...w=previous

One of the posts, from Christopher Treichel says - Many cities probably including ones in Burgundy had weapons restrictions for person entering the city and would hang a fake knife off a chain in a conspicuous place so everyone would know how large a knife a commoner was allowed to carry inside the gates. I have seen several of these in museums..

In the Dutch city of Deventer that length was 40cm, which makes for a pretty long knife blade.

There is a lot of original evidence in that thread that backs up Matt Easton's statements.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sun 19 Apr, 2015 3:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wow that thread is mightily interested for me; Sources/books I can read in my native language.

The list of arms owned by civilians listed in the Dutch city of Deventer reveals some striking things. Every single person except one own a metal helmet (The one not having one is listed as having a mail hauberk) and about 70-80% own a metal breastplate with around half owning a mail shirt too. That's some heavy gear.

The other sources tells the model was hung at the town/city hall and that everyone wearing a longer dagger was to be fined five pounds. From the book it isn't clear whether the blade should be no longer than 41 centimeters or the entire dagger with hilt and all.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Apr, 2015 5:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roger,

Sure there are laws but the issue is they do not seem to have been enforced. So having laws on the books does not mean that they had any cultural or societal impact.

To me these are the same as Sumptuary laws. You see them but their effect seems largely nonexistent.

RPM
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Apr, 2015 7:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
Roger,

Sure there are laws but the issue is they do not seem to have been enforced. So having laws on the books does not mean that they had any cultural or societal impact.

To me these are the same as Sumptuary laws. You see them but their effect seems largely nonexistent.

RPM


Having laws that are not enforced, or selectively enforced does have some cultural impact. I wonder if this was because nobody really cared, or did the authorities not have the means and manpower to enforce them? As you said earlier in this thread, these laws could be used as an additional charge against someone who was already in trouble.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Apr, 2015 9:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Later tonight I can quote a bunch of Ann Tlusty's statistics from various German towns on weapon ownership and carrying, though these are mostly quoted (with page attribution on the slides) in the lecture I linked above. The towns did routine inspections of households to make sure they were adequately armed, normally 95% or more of the households had at least a sword, in medieval times most had substantial arsenals including armor, guns or crossbows, polearms, etc. though that gradually decreased in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Town citizens, including people with partial citizenship status, were allowed to be armed, but in practice that wasn't all the people in the town. Maybe 40-60% of the males in a typical town. Women did not normally go armed, as they were under protection of the town Freedom, (Stadfrieden, though I probably misspelled that) which made it a greater crime to attack them. They could carry arms including swords if they wanted to (and some did) but that put them outside the Freedom. Same for monks and priests. Apprentices normally weren't allowed to carry swords on a daily basis until they graduated to journeymen status, but they apparently were used in the militia and did drill and target practice and so forth. Jan Dlugosz once complained that his house almost burned down in a fire in Krakow because all the apprentices were outside the town walls 'shooting the popinjay' (archery practice with crossbows) so nobody was there to put the fire out. Servants could be armed by their boss, but usually were not armed.

There were different rules on Jews. Some towns banned Jews from carrying or even owning arms, other towns, for example Frankfurt, required the Jews to be armed and to defend their quarter and their gate from attack.


As for foreigners in English cities, please read the link I provided upthread to the steelyard.


There were several very restrictive laws, which do seem to be applied fairly regularly, against using swords. Drawing a sword, scraping swords on the stones, putting a sword on a table, pulling aside your coat to expose your sword hilt, and putting your hand on the hilt were all punishable by a 3 guilder fine in Augsburg. Putting 3 guilders on the table (to show you could pay the fine) was also considered a threat and could be the cause of a fine. Fights could also be quickly broken up, once a fellow citizen called for 'peace', you had to stop fighting or else you would be in violation of the town freedom (a much more severe penalty)


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons...roject.jpg

Out in the countryside, pretty much everyone went armed. Bandits were a big problem through the entire middle ages, not just in 'failed state' zones like the HRE, but also in England and France. Peasants were routinely depicted carrying arms in period artwork by the 15th C.

http://www.prydein.com/pipes/beham/holiday.jpg

There is a reference in Frankfurt am Main of restrictions put on blades over a certain length for journeymen cutlers, if I remember correctly, and university students, after some riots in which people were killed. They posed the sizes at the Römer (the Rathaus or town hall of Frankfurt). From reading the entry though it sounded like a temporary law.

Outsiders visiting a town would be under more severe restrictions depending on their specific status. Journeymen craftsmen could carry their swords in most cases. Merchants similarly, especially if they had links to local Merchant guilds, could go armed, as could nobles. But there are many laws requiring travelers to leave their arms at inns.


By a "German style" militia i mean one which also did the town watch and were expected to wear arms in their civilian life and to intervene in any crime or incident on behalf of the city.


One other interesting fact from Tlusty, in spite of the ubiquity of guns and crossbows, almost nobody seems to have used them in violent incidents in Augsburg or Nordlingen. Doing so was very frowned upon. All of the deaths reported from firearms were accidents.

J

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Apr, 2015 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roger,

The laws when enforced seem to be used A) against a rival group B) against foreigners. That said even rivals it is iffy. A Mayor in Southampton is attacked by a sword wielding man in town even so they clearly did not try to enforce it. There are occasional disarmaments so they could but I suspect they mostly did not see it as needed.

RPM
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Mon 27 Apr, 2015 9:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Anyways while Pieter Bruegel the elder is not strictly medieval his paintings were made near the time period. I do not know if there was a relaxation in weapon laws around the 1500-1550s compared to medieval times, but his paintings show half the male population armed with foot-long daggers and langes messers, even the peasants.


Both Brueghels have to be taken with a pinch of salt since they painted about half a century later than the subject matter of their peasant-themed paintings, and with a rather romantic eye towards bucolic peasant countryside life at that. Don't be so glum about it -- they fooled me too.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Tue 05 May, 2015 7:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Pieter B. wrote:
Anyways while Pieter Bruegel the elder is not strictly medieval his paintings were made near the time period. I do not know if there was a relaxation in weapon laws around the 1500-1550s compared to medieval times, but his paintings show half the male population armed with foot-long daggers and langes messers, even the peasants.


Both Brueghels have to be taken with a pinch of salt since they painted about half a century later than the subject matter of their peasant-themed paintings, and with a rather romantic eye towards bucolic peasant countryside life at that. Don't be so glum about it -- they fooled me too.


I don't know of any evidence that Brueghels painted their peasants in anything than a realistic manner, and when it comes to arms they don't differ much from depictions by Durer, Sebald Beham etc. etc. from the 15th Century.



Durers peasants carry the same messers (you can see the hilt on this bauer quite clearly)

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons....3466).jpg

The only thing unusual about the Brueghels is that they painted more common people than was typical in Flanders, they just created a new subject for paintings, before them there wasn't as much of a market for them. Painters in that period were much more about selling paintings than making statements.

J

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