MS 3542: The Harleian Manuscript Analysis Project - Part I
Interpretation of a 15th century English text on the Two-hand or Great-sword

ARMA presents a new on-going effort to produce a modern-English translation / interpretation of the rare Harliean manuscript (British Museum, MS. 3542, ff 82-85). Sometimes referred to now as "The Man Who Wol", this is an obscure 15th century English text on the use of two-handed or great-swords. This version was obtained from Alfred Hutton's 1901, The Sword and the Centuries (Barnes & Noble reprint 1997), transcribed by Steve Hick & Will McLean, as well as combined with a hand written copy of the original by Terry Brown. This short text presents a glimpse of one of the few historical examples of an English method of using a long Medieval blade. Written in the 1400’s, the work very likely reflects a method of fighting going back a century earlier somewhat adopted to using larger blades and changing armors. Other even brief examples of 15th century English great-sword fighting texts have recently come to light and help provide some small insight into this work. Unfortunately, like these others, the Harliean’s words are nearly indecipherable and open to considerable interpretation. Many of the words and phrases are quite difficult to grasp despite being in English. The use of verse as well as metaphor combined with the abstract nature of describing fighting concepts gives the material a cryptic quality. Comparing and contrasting with better known German and Italian manuals reveals several similarities in terminology and concepts. Insights into the text can be gained from this as well as modern experimentation and practice.

The text itself consists of three short sections, "The Use of the Two-hand Sworde", "To Incounter wih the Two Hand Sworde", and "The Play with the Two Hand Sword in Verse". These include ten brief "lessons", advice on seven "encounters", and then a short instructional poem (a common means of remembering information at the time). There are also numerous spelling changes throughout the document, which is not unusual. The work is provided here first in a transcribed version of each paragraph or section, followed then by a still underway modern interpreted version. As more material and additional insight into this interpretation becomes available ARMA will update this section. Of particular interest in this project are suggestions for possible definitions for the more obscure words and meanings for unfamiliar terms. Alfred Hutton provides some of these in his notes on the original source manuscript and others have been obtained from the Oxford English Dictionary. Care should be taken in keeping our analysis broad. The temptation is for us now to force a literal or "technical" mindset onto something that at the time may have been seen much more holistically or metaphorically.

Interesting words or phrases have been bolded. Worth taking mote of are the inclusion of ones such as: hauke, half hauke, broken hauke, broken half hauke, contrary hauke, double hauke, double quarter, rownde, half rownde, double rownde, running rownde, rolling strokes, grete steppe, kocstep, backstep, bokelers, and contrary hand. There are very many interesting phrases used such as: "ye ferst gonde", implying various "grounds" or foundations of the art; "rakys doubille born into a step" (moving forward with a slicing cut); plus "a long dovbil rake"; "rakes upward"; and "spryng up thy swerd to thy rygt shulder". Note also the use of the terms smyte, spring, and foyn.

NOTE: This translation is only as reliable as is so far known
and ARMA makes no claim as to its accuracy.  

The Original Text:

The Use of the Two-hand Sworde

The ferste pleyng & beg’nyng of the substansce of ye too honde swerde / ye ferst gronde be gynyth w an hauke beryng inwt ye foote wt a double rownde wt. iij . fete howtewarde & as meny homward makyng ende of ye play wt a quarter cros smetyn wt an hauke snach settyng down by ye foote.

The . ij . lesson ys . ij . haukys wt ij . halfe haukys cleu’g ye elbowys wyth ye same . ij . doublylrowndys forsayde wt. iij . foote owtward . & as meny hamward.

The . iij . lesson ys a sprynge vpward . wt an hauke quarter . downe by ye cheke . wt iij . doubylrowndys stond’g borne on ye hed . wt a dowbylrownde born in wt ye foote . w . iij . outwards.

The . iiij . lesson . ys wt a dowbil hauke wyth . ij . doubil rowndis ber’g inwt a step vp on bothe feete.

The . 5 . lesson ys wt an hauke menyd our ye hede . but bere ht vp wt a step . breke of ye erthe wt rėnyng rowndis on ye hede wt. ij . halfe havkis born wt. ij . koc stappis of ye foete.

The . 6 . lesson bere ovte ye erthe wt. iij . koc stapps & so come home ovte of danger a gayne.

The . 7 . lesson ys . Smyte an hauke cros . cros our ye elbovys wt a bak stop & so smyte ht on ye fet.

The . 8 . lesson ys wt. an hauke cros smyt’ wt a bakstep born wt bothe fete & a contrary hauke hamward born wt. ij . steppis.

These ben stroke & revle of ye . ij . hondswerd to make hys hond & ys foete a corde. The pley of ye . ij . hondswerd by twene . ij . bokelers ys . fyrst take a sygne Of ye gonde ther ye pley by twene . ij . bokelers . make ferst a sygne to hė wt a large hauke down to ye grownde . w . iij . rollyng strokis . wt an hauke to ye oder side.

The . ij . lesson ys a chase . or an hauke wyt a quartr born in wt a kocstep & an hauke born in wt a chase foyn . y made vp wt a lygte spr’g

The . 3 . lesson ys . a chase . vt . ij . havkys cleuyng ye elbovis.

The . 4 . lesson . ys a chase smet’ wt . ij . half rowndis . wt . ij . kocstoppis . a qrter wt a steppe an hauke wt a chase foyn . wt ye stroke a venture smet’ on . iij . fete . & made vp wt a rake down . ~ bore vp wt a dovbil hauke . & so serue ye stroke aüetur vp on bothe fete.

The . 5 . lesson . ys a chase wt an hauke & wt a bakstep stond’g on ye foote . & playng on yt othr syde a qrter & ye same chase . & an hauk wt a step . & an hauke wt a chase foyn contry smyten . & so smyte in wt bothe feete i made vp wt . ij . halfe hauke . wt. ij . bakstoppis . & wt ye rėnyng.

The . 6 . lesson ys . ij . hauke qrters rovnys wt a brokyn halfe hauke a leyng dovn to ye foete wt a contrary honde ys is ye fyrst leyng a dovne.

The . 7 . lesson & ye fyrst takyng vp ys . iij . rakys vpward & . iij . dovneward . & gan inwt a grete steppe . wt doubyl qrter wel smyt’ . ber’g ovte wt ye foete a brokyn halfe hauke sett’g downe ye swerde by ye foete.

The . 8 . lesson & ye secnde le’g a dovne of thy swerde . ij . haukys wt a qrter & iii wt ye foete wt a brokyn hauke . a le’g dovne to ye foete wt a cötrary honde.

The . 9 . lesson & ye secnde tak’g vp of thy swerde ys . iij . haukys on euych syde stondyng on ye erthe stil wt a stop bor menyd on ye erthe. wt an hauke quartr born wt a step . and wt a doubyl qrter honde & foete born our ye hede . an hauke menyd settyng thy swerd by thy foete.

The . 10 . lesson & ye . iij . Ieyng dovne of thy swerd ys a qrter & in wt ye foete & an hauke brok’g at ye cheke & then a doubil hauke a bovte ye hed brokyn . & then in wt a spr’ge of ye foete . wt a stroke auėture . wt a qrter & wt a snache . leyng to ye erthe wt a cötrary hond.

The . II . lesson & ye iij . tak’g vp ys wt a sprynge wt yt on hond rigte vp on to ye visage wt an halfe rounde broky in to a step wt a reuence to ye cros of thy hilte wt a long cartar stroke smety flat dovne by ye bak . wt a doubil brok’ spryng bak ye foete a drawyng . & in wt a long rake dobil . in wyth ye foete walkyng & on eche foete . ij . rakys . & at ye alurys ende smyte in . iiij . rakys doubille born into a step . & so ye other rakys in to ye alure ende . & dovbil yt on in to a step . a gayn turn’g in wt a long dovbil rake wt a step . & wt yt othr hond spryng vp thy swerd to thy rygt shulder & smyte thy stroke auėtur wt an hauke sett’g dovne thy swerd by thy foete.


Interpreted Version (incomplete)

The Use of the Two-hand Sworde

The first playing and beginning of the substance of the two hand sword.

The first ground beginneth with a hauke bearing inward the foot with a double round with three feet outward and as many homeward, making end of the play with a quarter cross smiting with a hauke snach setting down by the foot.

The second lesson is two haukys with two halfe haukys cleaving the elbows with the same two double rounds aforesaid, with three feet outward, and as many homeward.

The third lesson is a spring upward, with a hauke quarter down by the cheke with two double rounds standing born on the head, with a doubleround born in with the foot, with three outwards.

The fourth lesson, is with a double cut with two double rounds bearing inward a step up on both feet.

The fifth lesson is with a cut managed menyd over the head, but bear it up with a step. Break of the erthe with renyng rounds on the head with two half cuts born with two koc stappis of the feet.

The sixth lesson bear out the stance erthe with three koc stapps and so come home out of danger again.

The seventh lesson is, smite a cut cross, cross over the elbows with a back step and so smite it on the feet.

The eighth lesson is with, a cut cross smiting with a backstep born with both feet and a contrary cut homeward born with two steps.

These being stroke and revle of the two hand sword to make his hand and his feet accord.

The play of the two hand sword between two bokelers is, first take sygne of the gonde there you play between two bokelers, make first a a feint sygne to he with a large cut down to the ground, with three rollyng strokis with a cut to the other side.

The second lesson is a chase or a cut with a quarter born in with a kocstep and a cut born in with a rushing chase foyn made up with a light spring.

The third lesson is, charge with two cuts cleaving the elbows.

The fourth lesson, is a chase smety with two half rounds, with two cock steps, a quarter with a step and cut with a chase foyn with the stroke a venture stroke a smiting on three feet, and made up with a rake down, and bear up with a double cut, and so serve the stroke aventur up on both feet.

The fifth lesson, is a chase with a cut and with a back step standing on the foot, and playing on its other side a quarter and the same chase, and a cut with a step, and a cut with a chase foyn contry smyten, and so smite in with both feet made up with two half cuts, with two back steps, and with the renyng.

The sixth lesson is two quarter cuts round with a broken brokyn half cut laying down to the feet with a contrary hand is the first laying down.

The seventh lesson and the first taking up is three rakes rakys upwards and three downward, and go inward a large step, grete steppe with a double quarter well smitten, bearing out with the foot a broken half cut setting down the sword by the foot.

The eighth lesson and the second laying down of thy sword, two cuts with a quarter and three with the foot with a broken cut, laying down to the foot with a contrary hand.

The ninth lesson and the second taking up of thy sword is three cuts on each side standing on the guard erthe still with a stop bor menyd of the erthe with a quarter cut born with a step, and with a double quarter hand and foot born over the head, a cut menyd setting thy sword by thy foot.

The tenth lesson and the third laying down of thy sword is a quarter and in with the foot and a cut broken brokyng at the cheek and then a double cut about the head broken, and then in with a spring of the feet, with a stroke aventure, with a quarter and with a snatch, laying to the guard erthe with a contrary hand.

The eleventh lesson and the third taking up is with a spring with it on hand right up on to the visage with a half round broken in to a step with a reverence revence to the cross of thy hilt with a long cartar stroke smiting flat down by the back, with a double broken spring back the feet a drawing, and in with a long double rake, in with the feet walking and on each foot two rakes, and at the alurys end smite in four rakes double born in to a step, and so the other rakes in to the alure end, and double it on in to a step, again turning in with a long double rake with a step, and with it other hand spring up thy sword to thy right shoulder and smite thy stroke aventure with a cut setting down thy sword by thy foot.


To Incounter wth the Two Hand Sworde

And as for ye first contenance of ye . ij . höd swerd . thou shalt walk in wt. iij . foete to thy adursary wt a bold spyrte & a mery herte wt a sengyl qrter . & a sengil quartr wastyd wt a cartr stroke and thus smyte thy conter bothe of & on & lete thy hond & thy foet a corde to geder in goede afense.

And as for the first contenance of ye two-hand sword, thou shalt walk in within three feet to thy adversary, with a bold spirit and a merry heart with a single quarter, and a single quarter wastyd with a cartr [qrter?] stroke, and thus smyte thy conter both off and on and let thy hand and thy foot accord together in good afense.

[T] he . ij . conter ys wt a doubil quartr wt thy foete goyng . & a dobyl quartr wastid in to a step & in wt thy foete & smyte a large hauke vp in to ye skye . wt a doubil snache.

The second conter is with a double quarter with thy feet going, and a double quarter wastid in to a step and in with thy feet and smyte a large hauke up in to ye sky, with a doubil snache.

[T]he . 3 . lesson of ye countr ys . a rake on eche foete goyng till thou come to thy adusary .wt a doubil quartr wt hole defence born wt an othr dobil qrter wt hole defence breke in & a sygne a toche wt a large sprynge & smyte wt fers stroke menyd wt hole defence & so smyte ys cowntr bothe of & on . & bovrel thy strokis of eche of thy cowntris.

The third lesson of the counter is, a rake on each foot until thou come to thy adversary, with a doubil quarter with whole defence born with another dobil quarter with whole defence break in and a sygne [feint?] a toche with a large sprynge and smyte with first stroke menyd with whole defence and so smyte his countr both off and on, and bovrel [?] thy strokes of each of thy cowntris.

[T]he. 4 . cowntr ys . ij . halfe roundys. Wyth a tnye foyne . beryng in ye foyne wt a qrter . & an hauke at ye skye wt a snache wt thy hole defence born a for the . & ths cowntr most be smete wt tnsposyng of thy erthe of bothe fete for surenesse of defence.

The fourth counter is two half roundys. With a tnye [turning, time, or tiny?] foyne bearing in ye foyne with a quarter, and a hauke at ye sky with a snache with thy whole defence born afore thee, and this counter must be smote with transposing of thy earth of both feet for sureness of defence.

[T]he . 5 . cowntr is an halfe rownde of ye secnde foete . & than smyte . ij . dobil haukys & bothe sides hole . & brokė enter h’ wt ye ferst foete . wt a dobil qrter . & so smyte a cartr stroke but tne hym wt a stroke auėture wt hole defence . & thvs smyte ths cownter bothe of & on . & lete thy eye . thy foete . & thy honde a corde in thy defence ye cause of stroke auėture is callyd . for a ma tnyth hys bak to hys enmy.

The fifth counter is a halfe rownde of ye second foot, and then smye two dobil haukys and both sides whole, and broken enter high with the first foot, with a dobil qrter, and so smye a cartr stroke but tne [time or turn?] him with a stroke aventure with whole defence, and thus smyte this cownter both off and on, and let thy eye, they foot and thy hand a corde in thy defence ye cause of stroke aventure is called, for a man tnyth [turns] his back to his enemy.

[T] he . 6 . cowntr ys beryng in wt. iij . foynys on bothe fete . & loke thou tØne hond & foete & smyte a large qrter . & ber in a stop wt thy bak nakyd born . & smyte a large hauke wt fers hert & draw hym sor vp to ye skye.

The sixth encounter is bearing in with three foynys on both feet, and look you to the hand and foot and smye a large quarter, and bear in a step with your back naked born, and smye a large hauke with fierce heart and draw him sore up to ye sky.

[T]he. 7. cowntr ys menyd . iij . menyd foyns & träspose hä bothe goyng & comyng. & smyte thy foynys wt in thy sengyl quartr . & at ye last quartr smyte a large sprynge wt a lusty stop a fore & then a chace foyne.

The seventh encounter is menyd with three menyd foyns and transpose both going and coming, and smye thy foynys with thy single quarter, and at your last quarter smyte a large spring with a lusty step afore and then a chance foyn.


The Play with the Two Hand Sword in Verse

Man yt wol to ye to hond swerd lern bothe close

& clere /

He most haue a goode eye both fer & nere

& an in stop . & an owte stop . & an hauke

qrter. A cantel . a doblet . an half for hys


Too rowndys . & an halfe wt a goede cher .

This ys ye ferst cownter of ye too hond

swerd sere

Bynde hė to gedere & sey god spede . Two

qrters & a rownde a stop thou h’ bede

A rake wt a spryng yer thou h’ a byde . ffalle

in v an hauke & stride nogte to wyde

Smyte a rėn’g qrter owte for hys syde

ffal a pö hys harneys yf he wole a byde

Come in wt a rake in euy a syde

An hole rownde & an halfe . Wath so ht be


. iiij. qrters & a rownd . & aueture stroke wyth

Bere vp hys harnes & gete thou ye gryth

Dobyl vp lygtly & do as y seye

ffal in wt an hauke & ber a goede eye

A spryn~ & a rownde & stap in wyth

Spar nogth ä hauke yf he lye in thy kyth

Smyte a rėn’g qrter for owte of thy honde

A byde a pon a pėdent & lese not thy londe

Smyte in ye lyfte foete & cleue rygt dovne

Geder ovte of thy rygte hond & smyte a hauke


ffresly smyte thy strokis by dene

And hold wel thy lond thath hyt may be sene

Thy rakys . thy rowndis . thy qrters a bowte

Thy stoppis . thy foynys . lete he fast rowte

Thy sprynys . thy quarters . thy rabetis also

Bere a goede eye & lete thy hond go

ffy on a false hert yt dar not a byde

en he seyth rovndys & rakys rėnyng by hs side

ffle not hastly for a lytil pryde

ffor lytil wote thy adusary wath h’ shal be tide

lete strokys fast folowe aftr hys honde

And hauk rovnde wt a stop & stil yt thou stond

Greue not gretly thov yu be tochyd a 1yte

ffor a aftr stroke ys betr yf thou dar h’ smyte

A gode rovnde wt an hauke & smyte rygt dovne

Gedyr vp a doblet & spar not hys crovne

Wt a rownde & a rake a byde at a bay

Wt a rėn’g qrter sette h’ oute of hys way

Thys beeth ye lettr yt stond’ in hys sygte

To teche . or to play . or ellys for to fygte

These beeth ye strokys of thy hole grovnde

ffor hurte . or for dynte or ell~s for dethys



Ongoing Glossary:

Alure - passage, walk, going, gait

Bede - bid or command

Beeth - to make good, amend, mend, heal, correct, reform ?

Bokeler - defense, protection, or to buckle as in to join closely, close quarters, engage, grapple ?

Cantel - crafty device, cunning, cautious, or a corner piece / section cut out of something?

Cartar / Cartr - alternative spelling of Quarter ?

Chase / Chace - charge, attack made to drive back the enemy

Cock step - (kocstep) short or nimble steps, like a rooster, or perhaps like the balestra in ;later fencing (later an Elizabethan dance step that lifts the lead leg up to "claw" forward)

Cross - used several times may mean "across" in some cases, or striking parries as in George Silver, or simply the cross-guard of the hilt in other cases

Double Rowndes - two "Rownds", possibly horizontal cuts (see Rownds)

Doblet - double? (but not a "doublet" as in clothing)

Erthe - "Earth" as in "ground", meaning perhaps feet position or stance

Fere - company, companionship, able, health ?

Foin - a thrust (also "foyn")

Geder / Gedyr - Gather?

Gryth - possibly proper range, reach, or distance

Ha - ?

Hauke - (i.e., a "hawk") vertical downward (fendente) or diagonal downward (squalembratto) blows from a high guard overhead, such as the Italian posta de falcone (there is a single instance of a haukys rising up to the sky, perhaps similar to the Rota of Fillipo Vadi)

Hauke snatch - possibly a cut where the sword is quickly pulled back ?

Menyd - possibly meaning intent, purpose, or disposition, although the Oxford English Dictionary suggests "Menys" means "to menace"

Nogte / Nogth - naught (not) ?

Pedent - ?

Qrter / Quarter - a vertical cut or a blow to a limb, as in "quarter haukes" being strikes to the extremities

Rabetis - (i.e., "rabbits"), "rabet" is a term used for parries by the 15th century knight and chronicler/poet Olivier de la Marche (thus, "hawks" and "rabbits" may refer to blows and parries)

Rake - Hutton suggests a blow given at the fullest reach, possibly also a "scraping draw" cut, but more likely a drawing slice with the tip as in the German Schnitt

Rolling Stroke - Hutton suggests a molinello

Rownd - A swinging stroke or circular cut (i.e., a molinello), perhaps a follow through from one line of attack to another as opposed to a "return in line"

Renyng - Hutton suggests "furious" but may be simply "raining" as in falling blows, or "running" as in moving quickly or classic "passing steps"

Sygne - single ?

Stroke Auentur - Hutton suggests a strike made at a chance opening (stroke a venture)

Wath - What

Wastyd - perhaps a feint or strike thrown purposely short (Hutton suggests "well laid on")

Wote - as in "to wit" (or "such that") ?


See Part II -an Analysis of the MS 3542 Verse Section here.



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