14th Century Fightbook is reproduced for the first time - Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A finely-preserved, 14th century manual depicting the finely-honed skills of medieval swordmanship has been reproduced for the first time as a beautifully bound, full-sized facsimile.

Britain’s oldest public museum, the Royal Armouries has teamed up with specialist publishers, Extraordinary Editions, to produce a limited edition of the illuminated “fightbook” – the oldest known manual of swordsmanship in the western canon* and one of the earliest examples in the world.

The print run includes just 750 copies, complete with a companion volume, transcribing and translating the original manuscript from the original Latin and German.

To achieve this, Royal Armouries and the publishers worked with Dr Jeffrey L. Forgeng, a curator at the Higgins Armory Museum in Massachusetts, who shared his research and wrote a new introduction to the text.

The remarkable manuscript I.33 dates to 1310 and then survived many centuries, before being bought by Royal Armouries at auction in the 1950s. It is now so famous, it is known purely by its shelf number, I.33.

The manuscript comprises 32 parchment leaves of approximately 30 × 23 cm each and is richly illustrated, depicting a priest instructing a scholar and describing with text and verse a system of combat with the sword and buckler [a small round shield].

The commentaries describe the action, discuss alternative options and offer general pointers to the budding swordsman. They include beautiful illustrations, depicting 38 combat sequences – including pictures of a swordswoman, which is rare.

The original manuscript was in fine condition, given its age and longevity. At some point, a smouldering coal had been allowed to burn a hole in the early pages and the damaged was then repaired. Later on, some of the figures have had their outlines redrawn in a heavier ink – and a child even attempted to colour in some of the shields, and added moustaches to some figures.

Royal Armouries director Peter Armstrong said, “This is a stunning and historic reproduction of one of the most exciting exhibits in the national collection and we’re delighted to have worked with experts in their fields, to produce the limited edition.

“The project started in 2012, a year of Olympic swordsmanship and we loaned the manuscript to the Wallace Collection in London for exhibition. In preparation for its display, we had it conserved and rebound, presenting us with an ideal opportunity to photograph it and then commission a top quality, facsimile volume, which is now on sale. Profits will be used to maintain and develop the Royal Armouries’ national collections.”

For more information about the fightbook and for prices, please visit http://illuminatedfightbook.co.uk/home

*Note: The Western Canon is a term used to denote a body of books, and more widely music and art, which has been the most influential in shaping Western culture. It asserts a compendium of the greatest works of artistic merit.

Media contact

Please call Joss Loader on 07838 379599 or email joss.loader@armouries.org.uk

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