This is the very first post in my new series, “Reviewing History Products”. I am really grateful to Pen and Swords Publishing who kindly sent me a set of books to review and it is because of their generous donation that I have decided to make this into a series. As of yet, I’ve been in touch with a couple more companies, so expect to see more!
I will, of course, give an honest and reasonable review; if there is a problem with the books, be it physical quality, grammatical mistakes, printing problems or other, I will mention it.
This book naturally caught my eye as I have been on the lookout for good medieval combat manuscripts for some time now. Medieval Armoured Combat is modern English and German translation of the Gladiatora.
The introduction to the book provides some really interesting context to a book that is practically equal text to pictures.
For a publication that could potentially be used for practical HEMA demonstrations or to be owned by the average reader, I am personally really fond of this style.
The talk about the introduction of plate armour in Italy during the 1300s is thought-provoking, and it’s interesting how the Romans used some of the first kind of this body protection and their legacy lived into the Middle Ages across the Italian peninsula. I must admit I had not realised this before!
It also more or less shed some light on my understanding of armour over the ages. I particularly liked the fact that the weight of medieval armour was distributed fairly evenly over the body – and in comparison, modern armour of the same weight would seem to be heavier as the weight is resting entirely on your shoulders.
The paper feels high quality and the words are boldly printed, just how you love your book to be.
“The armour for field and tournament…weighs only 19.9kg, and would remain below 30kg even with clothing, mail parts, sword and dagger”
Whilst reading the initial pages, I came across this:
“In this present manuscript there are only two places in which fighters wear gauntlets”
I just thought I’d mention my surprise at this, because I had not noticed this on my inspection of the pictures!
-Have you ever seen a medieval movie where the lancer rides with his shield on one side and the lance on the other, or over the top of his shield?
If you read this book, you’ll discover that many shields – or ecranches – have indentations specifically for keeping your point steady when on horseback.
What astonished me was the pommel throwing technique, in which you remove the pommel from your sword and “cast” it at the enemy.
Personally, I love sources to be cited and listed in clear and obvious places on the page, as well as “Extra Reading” so you can explore the topics you are interested in. In Medieval Armoured Combat, the locations of the points of interest are noted at the bottom of the page so you can search them up in the book yourself. This how non-fiction should be presenter, and I appreciate it.
The introduction of this book is crucial. It provides an excellent and well presented insight into medieval weapons – shape, size, materials and current surviving models – shields, armour and tactics. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first 30 pages, which are fairly information-dense and a very interesting read. It would almost be worth buying the book purely for the introduction!
The pictures from the Gladiatoria manuscript are clearly displayed throughout the rest of the book. Credit must go to the our old medieval friends who painted these with bright colours and fantastic outlines. Each illustration is full of hidden details which you cannot see until you look closer.
“Note the beginning of six pieces with the dagger from which all wrestling techniques of the limbs, all pieces with the dagger, and the breaks that belong to them are derived. Note whether he has raised his dagger high towards the left side of his shoulder, with his left foot forwards”
The descriptions are later out in a really simple format alongside the pictures, so you can switch easily between image, English instructions and German instructions. Moreover, you can match up the directions in the text – body, sword and gripping positions – to the illustrations on the opposite page, so you know exactly what is going on.
At the end of the book, you’ll find a section dedicated to describing the discovery of the book, its composition of auburn leather, and the many different versions which have moved from place to place over time. There are several pages of tables of the different folios of the Gladitoria manuscript, which you’ll have to take a look at yourself!
This is complemented by several more prints of medieval artwork, a beautiful diagram of a Knight in his suit of armour and a glossary, for if you don’t understand all those complicated words 🙂
Medieval Armoured Combat will be going to my shelf of favourite history books, and I’m certain that I’ll use it frequently over the next few weeks as reference guide.
I love it. Thanks Pen and Sword!