So how do you hold a longsword then?
Simple really: any damn way you like. Fiore shows us six distinct grips, and there’s no suggestion that these are the only possible grips- not least as, whichever interpretation you follow, the guard bicorno is generally agreed to be yet another way of holding the sword (I’ll examine bicorno in detail when we get on to the guards).
It begins with these two on f22r, right underneath the footwork exposition we had last week:
Noy semo sey guardie e una non e simile de l’altra. E io son la primera che digo mia rasone. De lanzar mia spada questa e mia condicione. Le altre guardie che d’mi sono dredo dirano le lor virtude come io credo.
We are six guards and one is not like the other. And I am the first, and state my reason. For throwing my sword, this is my way of being. The other guards that are after me will tell of their virtues, I believe.
That’s a good start: there are six guards, not like each other. This is the first, and it’s for throwing the sword. And the other guards will explain themselves too.
The guard itself is pretty straightforward: you hold the sword by the part of the blade near the hilt, and by the middle of the blade, ready to chuck it like a javelin. This works very well, BTW. I could tell you stories…
Next we have our old friend, the master of the sword in one hand.
Io son bona guardia in arme e senza, e contra l’aza e spada zitada fora di mano. Che io le so rebattere e schivarle. Per o me tegno certo che non me pon far male.
I am a good guard, in armour and without, and against the axe and the sword thrown out of the hand. I beat them [away] and avoid them. I am certain that they cannot do me harm.
You can see here for the eleven plays of the sword in one hand, which don’t include actual illustrations of defending against thrown swords or axes, but you’ll get the drift.
Turning the page to f22v, we see the remaining four guards, starting with these two:
E son guardia de trar una longa punta tanto che lo mio mantener di spada de longeza monta. E son bona d’andare contra uno che sia luy e mi armato. Per che io habia curta punta denanzi io non faro inganato.
And I am a guard for striking a long thrust, because of my grip on the sword extends [it] a lot. And I am good to go against one who is, them and me, in armour. Because I have a short point in front I will not be deceived.
Clear enough: hold the sword like this (with the right hand on the pommel) and you can make extra-long thrusts. This is quite a common trick; I first came across it about twenty years ago in DiGrassi. My friend Martin Page thought it would be a good idea, but I said it was unlikely to work and would leave you out of control of your sword. A short while later, when we were fencing, he hit me with it. And twenty years on he hasn't let me forget it. That's mates for you.
So, it works. But I maintain that it is a trick shot; if it works, great. If it doesn’t, there’s a horrible moment when your opponent’s parry is disproportionately effective.
Io son bona guardia contra spada, azza, e daga siando armado. Per che io tegno la spada cum la man mancha al mezo. Ello fazo per fare contra la daga che me po fare de le altre arme pezo.
I am a good guard against the sword, axe, and dagger, being in armour. Because I hold the sword with my left hand at the middle. I do that to act against the dagger, which can do worse to me than the other weapons.
This is a confirmation of the ‘when in armour, use half-sword’ lesson of the 11th play of the sword in one hand. It’s interesting to note that the dagger is more to be feared than the axe or sword when in armour- which makes sense, when you think about it. It’s hard to see, hard to stop, and optimised for getting through the visor, voiders (maille gussets covering the armpits), and other areas of weakness. I think you’d use the sword much like the sixth master of the dagger uses his dagger (on f16r):
Sesto magistro che son digo che questa coverta e fina in arme e senzarme. E cum tal coverta posso covrire in ogni parte, E intrare in tutte ligadure e far prese e ferire segondo che gli scolari miei vignirano a ferire finire. E questa coverta fazza zaschuno mio scolaro, E poy faza li zoghi dredo che si po fare.
I am the sixth master [and] I say that this cover is good in armour and without. And with this cover I can cover on every side, and enter in all the locks, and make grips and strike, in the way that my scholars come to strike finish. And all of my scholars make this cover, and can do the plays that follow, that they can do.
It’s nice to have confirmation that the sixth master works in armour; we can leave his scholars to another day, and press on with the sword material (press-presa-grip, geddit?).
Guardia e posta di donna son chiamata per che cum queste altre prese de spada e son divisada che una non e tal presa che l’altra, ben che questa che me contra mi pare la mia guardia. Se non fosse forma d’azza che la spada si intrada.
Guard and guard of the woman I am called by these other grips of the sword, and I am distinct, in that one grip is not like the other, especially that which is against me that looks like my guard, if it weren’t for the sword having changed into the shape of an axe.
As I use ‘guard’ for ‘posta’ (because there is no better word for it), the way Fiore uses these terms both interchangeably, and separately, we end up with ‘guard and guard…’. If this was a commercially published translation, I’d probably want to fix that. It's worth checking out posta and guardia in Tommaseo if you're interested in their connotations.
I think of this version of posta di donna as the normal grip on the sword. Interesting that this way of holding the sword, by far the most common in the treatise (and every other sword treatise), is languishing in fifth place… I wonder why?
Questa spada sie spada e azza. E gli grandi pesi gli licieri forte impaza. Questa anchora posta de donna la soprana, che cum le soi malicie le altre guardie spesso ingana, per che tu crederai che traga de colpo io traro di punta. Io non ho altro a fare che levar gli brazzi sopra la testa. E posso buttar una punta che io lo presta.
This sword is a sword and an axe. And great weights hinder light strengths. This also [is] the high guard of the woman, that with it’s malice often tricks the other guards, because you think [I’ll] strike a blow [but] I strike a thrust. I only have to lift my arms over my head, and I can throw a thrust, at which I’m quick.
This is fascinating. It’s clear from the additional crossguard near the point that this is a boar sword (read here for more about boar swords). It gives the impression that you will strike what the Germans would call a murder-stroke.
But Fiore is more subtle- from here you can thrust instead. I don’t have a video of this, but it’s quite straightforward. Cross-referencing with the guards of the sword in armour will show you how it’s done. Yes, I plan to expand on them too…
These six grips are, in order:
Throw, one hand, long thrust, armour, normal, axe. I use them as the basis of a sword handling drill you might enjoy:
Next week, we’ll go through the blows of the sword. All seven of them. Or is that eleven??
The video is extracted from my Medieval Longsword Complete Course, which you can get here at a healthy discount.
See you there!
This project is being published in stages. You can get part one, The Sword in One Hand, as a free PDF by subscribing to my mailing list below, or buy it in ebook format from Amazon or Gumroad. You can get Part two, Longsword Mechanics, from Amazon or Gumroad too!