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Markus Fischer




Location: Germany
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PostPosted: Mon 12 Apr, 2021 4:44 am    Post subject: Use of medival shields         Reply with quote

Hi

For some reason I have never heard of a Historical European Martial Arts that covers the use of medival-style shields in combat.....I of course know about Sword & Buckler and Viking-Roundshield fencing, but for some reason I have never seen someone fence with a medival-style shield.
What is the reason for that? Are there no surviving manuscripts that cover its use? Or was it used on horseback exclusively and therefore is not practised by many modern day people?

The theorie of it being used on horseback seems logical to me because the medival-style shield is strapped to your forearms (as far as I know) and therefore cannot be gripped in many different positions which results in a lack of versatility and puts you at a disadvantage in a duel.
On horseback on the other hand, you dont need to be able to use many techniques, but rather make sure that you dont loose your shield which is assured by the shield being straped to your arm.

This is just my personal theorie, and I would very much like to know what the actual reason is, as I have been asking myself this question for quite a while.

Thank you


Last edited by Markus Fischer on Mon 12 Apr, 2021 4:51 am; edited 1 time in total
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T. Kew




Location: London, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

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PostPosted: Mon 12 Apr, 2021 5:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are no treatises.

People play with it occasionally, based on various hypotheses: probably the most common approaches with any sort of basis are to adapt Bolognese rotella treatises (a medium shield wielded with an arm strap); to adapt buckler treatises; or to work primarily from manuscript illuminations.

(As an aside, there are also no treatises for Viking shield, which is even less well supported)

HEMA fencer and coach, New Cross Historical Fencing
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Dashiell Harrison




Location: California
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Posts: 62

PostPosted: Mon 12 Apr, 2021 7:39 am    Post subject: Re: Use of medival shields         Reply with quote

Hi Markus

Unfortunately, as Tea said, there aren't any surviving manuscripts documenting the use of the heater shield. The closest thing would probably be a few plays from Achille Marozzo's Opera Nova Describing the use of the "Imbracatura" although I don't think anyone quite knows what's going on with that section of the book, since it's rather short and not very detailed.

There are a few different groups who've tried to reconstruct how the heater shield was used, but it's tricky because they were generally carried by people who were also wearing mail armor and helmets, which adds more variables. One advantage of trying to reconstruct Viking Age stuff is that armor was much more limited, so if you can figure out a technique that gets you past the shield you've got a decent data point in favor of it being something that might have been used in the period. If you're looking at High Medieval combat, then getting past a shield isn't enough, you also have to figure out how to inflict wounds through the armor. We don't really know how they went about it, so it adds layers to the amount of speculation inherent in the project.

Markus Fischer wrote:
Hi
The theorie of it being used on horseback seems logical to me because the medival-style shield is strapped to your forearms (as far as I know) and therefore cannot be gripped in many different positions which results in a lack of versatility and puts you at a disadvantage in a duel.
On horseback on the other hand, you dont need to be able to use many techniques, but rather make sure that you dont loose your shield which is assured by the shield being straped to your arm.


I think the idea of them being a horseman's shield is probably a myth. We have plenty of depictions of them being used on foot and accounts of knights dismounting to fight on foot during the period when they were pretty exclusively using them.

They're also more versatile than you might think. Take a look at these different strapping configurations:


Depending on how they had their enarmes set up, a person using a heater shield would have variety of methods of holding it available to them. Both heaters and center boss round shields are quite effective and very difficult to get around, but I wouldn't say the large round necessarily has an advantage, If anything, I'd give the edge to the heater, based on my personal sparring experience and that of a few other people who've played with them.

Hope this helps!
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Kai Lawson





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PostPosted: Mon 12 Apr, 2021 9:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You can always check out Roland/Dimicator's videos on how earlier buckler work translates to heater shields. He's spoken about it before, and has some videos on it as well.
"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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T. Kew




Location: London, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

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PostPosted: Mon 12 Apr, 2021 9:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kai Lawson wrote:
You can always check out Roland/Dimicator's videos on how earlier buckler work translates to heater shields. He's spoken about it before, and has some videos on it as well.


Roland's approach is type 2 in my list - generalise from his opinions about buckler fencing. How much you think he's on the money there will depend both on how valid you think that is as an approach, and how much you agree with his views on buckler fencing in the first place.

HEMA fencer and coach, New Cross Historical Fencing
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Markus Fischer




Location: Germany
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PostPosted: Mon 12 Apr, 2021 1:58 pm    Post subject: Re: Use of medival shields         Reply with quote

Well, even if there are different variations of strapping on different shields of that type, it still forces you to hold that particular shield this particular way....without any other option. To be fair it seems like the 3rd drawing shows a method were it is possible to switch between different positions, but even then it would take quite a while to change those grips....most certainly too long to change the grip inbetween an exchange with your opponent.

And even if you could change your grip faster, you still had the problem that you have a very compromised range of motion, as you are basically only able to maneuver the shield with your arm, and not in addition of your hand (as you would with a round-shield) which makes more complex covering-actions impossible.

I have no experience in sparring with shields....I have just started training Longsword since about a year (probably around 4 months actual training due to the pandemic).
But I see the viking roundshield being the better option (if you are well trained in its use) as it gives you more options....

I would guess that the medival shield is easier to learn and more intuitively to use, but in return doesn't offer more advanced techniques, and the viking roundshield is probably a little bit more abstract and harder to learn, but therefore rewards skill more....

That's just my opinion which is based on pure thoughts, and maybe I would think about it differently If I had sparred with both....
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
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PostPosted: Mon 12 Apr, 2021 2:04 pm    Post subject: Re: Use of medival shields         Reply with quote

Markus Fischer wrote:
Well, even if there are different variations of strapping on different shields of that type, it still forces you to hold that particular shield this particular way....without any other option. To be fair it seems like the 3rd drawing shows a method were it is possible to switch between different positions, but even then it would take quite a while to change those grips....most certainly too long to change the grip inbetween an exchange with your opponent.

If you check some of Roland's posts (and it is hard to find them on Patreon), you can see that many heater shields could be gripped in multiple ways and held at the end of the arm. But reconstructing martial arts before the first surviving treatise in the early 14th century is experimental or experiential archaeology, not history and not traditional learning from an authority. So the methods are different and the results less certain, just like researching European martial arts before 1600 is more difficult and less certain than researching European martial arts after.

Hugh Knight also has an essay on shield fighting. Paul Wagner and Stephen Hand wrote some early essays 15 years ago.

www.bookandsword.com
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Dashiell Harrison




Location: California
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PostPosted: Tue 13 Apr, 2021 10:02 am    Post subject: Re: Use of medival shields         Reply with quote

Markus Fischer wrote:
Well, even if there are different variations of strapping on different shields of that type, it still forces you to hold that particular shield this particular way....without any other option. To be fair it seems like the 3rd drawing shows a method were it is possible to switch between different positions, but even then it would take quite a while to change those grips....most certainly too long to change the grip inbetween an exchange with your opponent.

And even if you could change your grip faster, you still had the problem that you have a very compromised range of motion, as you are basically only able to maneuver the shield with your arm, and not in addition of your hand (as you would with a round-shield) which makes more complex covering-actions impossible.

I have no experience in sparring with shields....I have just started training Longsword since about a year (probably around 4 months actual training due to the pandemic).
But I see the viking roundshield being the better option (if you are well trained in its use) as it gives you more options....

I would guess that the medival shield is easier to learn and more intuitively to use, but in return doesn't offer more advanced techniques, and the viking roundshield is probably a little bit more abstract and harder to learn, but therefore rewards skill more....

That's just my opinion which is based on pure thoughts, and maybe I would think about it differently If I had sparred with both....


I don't think people were changing grips on heater shields mid combat, no, but that doesn't mean that they were less advantageous pieces of equipment. Viking shields might offer more options for fancy techniques, but a lot of those fancy techniques just kind of fall flat against a heater. You can't really do the whole "shield knock" thing because the heater is too stable, the "revolving door" technique where you try to strike around the shield from the left opens you up to getting your sword and shield mashed together by the heater (I've done this to somebody when I had a heater and he had a Viking shield), the heater is much less tiring to use, especially since you can hang it on your shoulder using a guige strap, it offers better protection for the legs, etc... That's not to say that large round shields don't work or are bad pieces of equipment either, they obviously filled their intended purpose or they wouldn't have lasted as long as they did, but they eventually got replaced by heaters, even among infantry, and I think there was probably a reason. (One thing to keep in mind is that Viking shields are cheaper to make because you don't have to build them with a curved surface, and they're probably a bit easier to transport if you're going out on raids, so that might have been part of it.)

As far as Roland's sword and shield stuff goes... I think it's important to keep in mind that heaters and kites would mainly have been used by people wearing some degree of armor, and even textiles can be very difficult to cut through. I'm somewhat skeptical of his sword-and-buckler work, but I'll grant that the cuts and thrusts he demonstrates would probably be effective against somebody in civilian clothing from the period. I'm extremely dubious that his techniques would have much ability to wound a person wearing the type of armor that would probably have accompanied a heater shield in battles or skirmishes, though.
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Markus Fischer




Location: Germany
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PostPosted: Wed 14 Apr, 2021 9:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

https://youtu.be/tsK8hYajPKQ

Here is a link to a video from Matt Easton which he uploaded 2 days ago.
He addresses this topic quite intensively...not really which shield is the better one, which is a pointless discussion anyway because both have their intended purpose, but rather how the roundshield developed into the heatershield.

And he says the reason is, that the Europeans started to use heavy cavalry shock-charges in warfare, which required a more specialised shield.

But I suggest you watch it yourself...it is a very good and informative video, and I think it adds a lot of valueable points to this discussion.
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Jonathan Dean




Location: Australia
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PostPosted: Thu 15 Apr, 2021 2:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Markus Fischer wrote:
https://youtu.be/tsK8hYajPKQ

Here is a link to a video from Matt Easton which he uploaded 2 days ago.
He addresses this topic quite intensively...not really which shield is the better one, which is a pointless discussion anyway because both have their intended purpose, but rather how the roundshield developed into the heatershield.

And he says the reason is, that the Europeans started to use heavy cavalry shock-charges in warfare, which required a more specialised shield.

But I suggest you watch it yourself...it is a very good and informative video, and I think it adds a lot of valueable points to this discussion.


Probably the biggest flaw in Matt's video is that the kite shield most likely started as an infantry shield in the Byzantine Empire, since it's mentioned as such in the 10th century Sylloge Tacticorum, along with smaller variants for cavalry. It's hard to say whether the oval Ottonian shields that show up at the end of the 10th century - two 11th century examples of which have been found at Trondheim in Norway - are related to Byzantine developments or are an example of convergent evolution, as they appear to be strapped as well.

The Normans probably adopted the shield because it was excellent for use on horse as well as on foot, but I'm not so sure we should be giving them any special credit or pointing to the kite shield as a specifically cavalry design.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Thu 15 Apr, 2021 7:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We know that viking round sheds thinned out towards the edges of the shield.

Do we know whether this was true on kite shields?
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Dashiell Harrison




Location: California
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PostPosted: Sun 18 Apr, 2021 11:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Markus Fischer wrote:
https://youtu.be/tsK8hYajPKQ

Here is a link to a video from Matt Easton which he uploaded 2 days ago.
He addresses this topic quite intensively...not really which shield is the better one, which is a pointless discussion anyway because both have their intended purpose, but rather how the roundshield developed into the heatershield.

And he says the reason is, that the Europeans started to use heavy cavalry shock-charges in warfare, which required a more specialised shield.

But I suggest you watch it yourself...it is a very good and informative video, and I think it adds a lot of valueable points to this discussion.


Funny thing about that is that I'm pretty sure Matt was one of the main proponents of the theory that kite shields started as infantry shields and has said he thinks they are more advantageous than round shields. I guess his views have evolved, which is healthy, although it's curious that he didn't mention that.
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Sun 18 Apr, 2021 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Experimental use of late medieval shield types, especially the "heater" clearly demonstrates its ability to close two or more lines of attack unlike the buckler. I made numerous shields for practice at AEMMA in Toronto, which we determined to suit our interpretation of RA MS I.33 fairly well. There are a lot of actions available depending on how the shield is strapped and whether or not it has a guige.

We have no treatise documentation between RA MS I.33 and early Renaissance MS instructions on the rotella. Those brief passages demonstrate the same swordplay as without the shield but the specific advantages of adding the shield in appropriate circumstance. A concordance of techniques between the early MS and Renaissance ones would be a useful place to start if you are curious. That's what we have done for some fifteen years at AEMMA.


Stephan Hand and the Stoccata crew did an awful lot of this experimentation as well. As much as I like Roland Warscheca and his interpretation of sword and buckler, I am not enamored of his Viking round shield experiments. I've been at this type of fighting for over forty years, the last twenty with AEMMA. I am more than comfortable with a range of shield types and sizes with various hand weapons but I would absolutely state we simply don't know anything for certain about war shield use on foot from the High Medieval period until the early Renaissance.
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