Talhoffer Longsword: Armoured and Unarmoured

 by Jeffrey Hull



Fechtmeister Hans Talhoffer is known to any genuine student of European swordsmanship for six originals and eight copies of his German fight-books, notably three editions from 1443, 1459 and 1467 AD. In that last edition of 1467, the Talhoffer presents a seemingly straightforward set of unarmoured longsword-fighting portrayals.  He also has portrays men who are obviously fighting in full plate-armour.  However, in studying the 1467, a striking question arises:


Had Meister Talhoffer meant the unarmoured longsword plates of his last fight-book to show the savvy learner both unarmoured fighting and armoured fighting?




It is possible that Talhoffer’s longsword plates (tafeln) are showing us both kinds of fighting.  Unfortunately he does not tell us one way or the other.  His unarmoured longsword fighters are ostensibly practicing unarmoured fighting – yet demonstrably, they are practicing both unarmoured fighting and armoured fighting.  This is realised if we consider how the portrayed moves relate to the variety of combat techniques as dependant upon whether a Medieval combatant fought either unarmoured or armoured.  If so, then we find the longsword plates dealt and grouped ordinally and equally into thirty-six for unarmoured and thirty-six for armoured.


It seems that there are seventy-two plates (#01-#67 & #74-#78) delineated for longsword (Langes Schwert) from the fight-book of 1467 AD by Hans Talhoffer which consist of half (#01-#36) meant for unarmoured fighting (bloßfechten) and half (#37-#67 & #74-#78) meant for armoured fighting (harnischfechten).  This sequence of longsword plates is interposed by six plates (#68-#73) dealing with a grudge-match between two knights in full plate-armour (rüstung) who also wield longswords.  Incidentally, all men portrayed in the range of plates from #01-#78 are fighting afoot.


Firstly, we should consider the weaponry shown in the plates delineated for longsword.  The fighters seem to wield Oakeshott-type XVa, XVIa or XVIIIa longswords.  Such were a basic selection of differing yet coeval types for middle to late 15th CentAD throughout Germany and Austria, or for that matter, much of the rest of coeval Europe.


Secondly, we should consider the garments shown in the plates delineated for longsword.  The fighters are outfitted in some sort of close-fitting fight-clothing, tailored for the whole body and paneled, gusseted or padded.  If these were undergarments for rüstung, then such would have served to absorb shock beneath the custom-fit tempered steel plating which covered a knight’s whole body – in other words, arming-clothes.  However it be, this clothing must have served as sweat-suits, for we can plainly see the fighters practicing thusly garbed.  Such male costume was common enough throughout much of Europe at that time and consists of doublet, shirt, trews, cod and shoes.  This fight-clothing could have been made of any variety of textile and/or tanned materials, such as linen, wool, hemp, silk or leather, with perhaps a certain part of metal.  Perhaps it has been too generally and readily assumed in modern times that fighters bedecked in this manner were always portraying primarily unarmoured fighting.


Thirdly, we should consider the relevant techniques portrayed and described by the master.  As shall be explained, some are fit for doing certain things better than others.  Hence, some tend to be used more for unarmoured and some more for armoured.  These techniques are as follows:


Hewing – this is cleaving with the edge.

Talhoffer calls various techniques done by this method:

schlachen; schlag; haw; how; hout; krump; gayszlen


Hewing – from plate #01.

Oberhow. – Vnderhow.

Overhew. – Underhew.



Thrusting – this is piercing with the point or ramming with the pommel.

Talhoffer calls various techniques done by this method:

ortt; stich; hefften; stos; stossen [different from hinweg stossen or shoving]


Thrusting – from plate #04.

Das lang Zorn ortt. – Darfür ist das geschrenckt ortt.

The long wrath-point. – Therefor is the set-point.



Slashing – this is raking with the edge.

Talhoffer calls various techniques done by this method:

schnit; fahen [!]


Slashing – from plate #21.

Der gryfft nach der vnderen blosz. – Der schnit von oben daryn.

He attacks at the lower openings. – He slashes from above therein.



Half-swording – This is when one hand grips the hilt and the other hand grips the blade.

Talhoffer calls various techniques done by this method:

brentshiren; gewauppet ort; kurtzen Schwert

Morte-striking – This is when both hands grip the blade to smite with the pommel or crossguard.

Talhoffer calls various techniques done by this method:

mortschlag; mordstreich; tunrschlag


Half-swording against Morte-striking – from plate #37 (2nd pair).

Vsz dem Tunrschlag Ain werffen. – Vsz dem Tunrschlag ain Ryszen.

Out of the thunder-strike throwing. – Out of the thunderstrike wrenching.



Lastly, we should consider the differences between unarmoured and armoured fighting of that time.  However, it is acknowledged that much similarity unavoidably exists as we are talking about the same weapon – the European longsword of 15th CentAD.  Yet the distinctions are clear and should be of general agreement among those who practice historically realistic European swordfighting which is based upon the German fight-books (fechtbücher) or upon the Italian manuals.  What follows is substantiated by perusing such fight-books as Liechtenauer (1389 via Doebringer and 1440 via Ringeck), Liberi (1410), Gladiatoria (1430-1444), Lignitzer (1452 via Danzig), Hundfeld (1452 via Danzig & 1491 via Speyer), Talhoffer (1467), Wallerstein (1470), Vadi (1482), Lew (1491 via Speyer), Goliath (1510), Czynner (1538) and Mair (1550):


* Hewing and slashing are most wieldy for unarmoured*

The blade of a longsword wielded by hew or slash is effective against the unarmoured foe, or by hew for breaching the leather or maille-armoured foe – yet neither does well against the plate-armoured foe.  Against such the hew may batter yet probably shall not breach.  And the slash is next to worthless.  Against plate-armour such strikes shall most likely simply bounce, glance or slide.  Hewing must have proven frighteningly destructive against the unarmoured foe, or for that matter, the maille-armoured foe – as everything from battlefield archaeology to modern test-cutting on deer carcass shows – yet it just was not the thing for hurting the plate-armoured foe.


* Half-swording and morte-striking are best for armoured*

An unarmoured fighter can do both as needed, either against an unarmoured foe or especially against a plate-armoured foe.  A longsword wielded by half-swording lets the fighter strongly set aside a foe’s strike and allows accuracy and power for thrusting, especially for seeking the gaps of plate-armour.  If wielded to morte-strike, it makes for a fearsome attack against a foe whether unarmoured or armoured.  With the pommel it allows battering of plate-armour; and with the crossguard, it allows piercing of its gaps or perhaps the armour itself, and hooking and wrenching of both his armour and the foe himself.  The equally plate-armoured fighter and foe would surely do both half-swording and morte-striking against each other.


* Thrusting is ubiquitous to both armoured and unarmoured*

The point of a longsword wielded this way has overall efficacy, utilised to smite the unarmoured foe almost anywhere and to smite the armoured foe by breaching the gaps of his plate-armour.  Thrusts can be driven with hands upon hilt or by half-swording.


* Arms crossed or apart works for unarmoured * yet * Arms apart works for armoured *

When warding or attacking with the longsword, a man in fight-clothing can work easily with techniques that either make his arms cross or keep them apart – however, the man in plate-armour really must tend to keep his arms apart when warding or attacking, for his steely shell hinders or prevents such with arms crossed (geschrenckt).  One may note that the knights in rüstung keep their arms apart in their fight.


Now, with all this in mind, a simple analysis of Talhoffer’s captions and pictures finds marked difference between what prove to be two distinct halves of Talhoffer’s longsword plates:











Arms crossed

Arms apart




















& 74-78







Arms crossed

Arms apart



















So the distinction seems rather clear.  The first half has lots of hewing and a bit of slashing, whereas the second half has neither thereof.  The first half has little of half-swording and morte-strikes, whereas the second half has lots of each comparatively.  Each half has decent if differing amounts of thrusting.  The first half portrays a noticeable amount of arms-crossed yet mostly arms-apart, whereas the second half only portrays arms-apart.  Hence Talhoffer’s fight-clothing-bedecked longswordsmen portray a definite unarmoured first half and a definite armoured second half for their totality of longsword fighting techniques.  None of this should be any surprise if we simply realise that it would be utilitarian, efficient, and couth for the students of a fight-school to practice differing sets of contextually dependant moves for a given weapon just as they would practice differing weaponry.


Furthermore, besides the foregoing technical and statistical evidence, it seems there is also numerological evidence.  Talhoffer’s #73 rüstung plate portrays the exact same struggle of weaponed-point (gewauppet ort) against morte-strike (Mordtschlag), as found in the second pair within his #37 langes schwert plate of weaponed-point (unnamed) against thunder-stroke (Tunrschlag) – but with differing outcomes.  In the rüstung, weaponed-point-man forsets (versetzen or versatzung) morte-man’s attack and finishes by shoving him away (hinweg stossen) – whereas in the langes schwert, thunder-man wrenches (Ryszen) weaponed-point-man’s attack and finishes with thrust of pommel (stos) to face.  Thus the rüstung plates end with similar struggle as the beginning of the harnisch half of the langes schwert plates.  If this was done wittingly by the arcanity of Medieval numerology, then perhaps it is indicated by how switching the digits of “37” makes “73” and vice-versa.  Such thinking may explain the odd placement of the six rüstung plates within the seventy-two langes schwert plates between #67 & #74 rather than between #36 & #37 – that is, between the end of the bloß and the beginning of the harnisch.  Indeed, the knights struggle within a battle-yard (schranken) which is fenced hexagonally, thus reinforcing the idea of the factor of “6”, which if squared arrives at “36” – a familiar number as already witnessed.


The same Half-swording versus Morte-striking – from plate #73.

Usz der versatzung hinweg stossen. – Der haut den straich volbracht.

Out of forsetting shoving away. – He has fully brought the strike.



Lastly, Talhoffer’s 1459 version contains a plate (87 recto) portraying a combatant in full plate-armour versus one in fight-clothing.  This plate is set in the fight-book such that it bridges its own sections of rüstung and langes schwert – that is, betwixt fighters portraying harnisch and bloß.  Indeed, these combatants are portrayed within a battle-yard doing half-swording versus morte-strike.  The similarity is interesting to consider vis-à-vis Talhoffer’s last edition.


Guess what happens here – from 87 recto of the 1459.

Das anlouffen nach dem schutz.

The ready-stance after the spear-hurling.



One final thought:  Since Talhoffer’s readership were likely the knights and soldiers of his lord, Herr Leutold von Königsegg, it makes sense that such men would have need to know the variance distinguishing bloß from harnisch – thus the emphasis of technique befitting different combat.


Conclusion:  The longsword plates found in Hans Talhoffer’s fight-book of 1467 AD are dealt into two equal halves which show the typical and marked differences between armoured fighting and unarmoured fighting of 15th CentAD European swordsmanship.





Primary Sources:


Cod.icon. 394a Handschrift; Hans Talhoffer (auth); Schwaben; 1467; Bayerische Staatsbibliothek; München


Fechtbuch aus dem Jahre 1467; Hans Talhoffer (auth); 1467; Michael Rasmusson (transcr & transl); 2004; Schielhau Web-Site; <http://www.schielhau.org/tal.html>


Medieval Combat; Mark Rector (transl & interp); Hans Talhoffer (auth); Bayern; 1467; Greenhill Books; London; 2000


Meister Hans Thalhofer: Alte Armatur und Ringkunst; Hans Talhoffer (auth); Thott 290 2º; Bayern; 1459; Det Kongelige Bibliotek; Copenhagen; 2003; <www.kb.dk/kb/dept/nbo/ha/index-en.htm>


Talhoffers Fechtbuch aus dem Jahre 1467; Hans Talhoffer (auth); Schwaben; 1467; Gustav Hergsell (transcr & transl); Prague; 1887; Forschungs und Landesbibliothek Gotha Buch 4° 113/2


Talhoffers Fechtbuch aus dem Jahre 1467; Hans Talhoffer (auth); 1467; Mark Rector (transcr & transl); 1999; ARMA Web-Site; <http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/talhoffer.htm>


Secondary Sources:


Altenn Fechter anfengliche Kunst; Christian Egenolph (auth); Alexander Kiermaier (transcr); Franckfurt am Meyn; 1529; Die Freifechter Webseite; 2001; <www.freifechter.org>


Armour from the Battle of Wisby; Bengt Thordeman (auth); Brian Price (intro); Chivalry Bookshelf; Highland Village; 2001


Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton AD 1461; Veronica Fiorato (edit), Anthea Boylston (edit), Christopher Knüsel (edit); Oxbow Books; Oxford & Oakville; 2000


Brief Introduction to Armoured Longsword Combat; Matt Anderson (auth); Shane Smith (auth); ARMA Web-Site; 2004; <www.thearma.org/essays/armoredlongsword.html>


Codex Wallerstein; Gregorz Zabinski (transcr & transl); Bartlomiej Walczak (transl & interp); Paladin Press; Boulder; 2002 (from 1470)


Flos Duellatorum; Fiore dei Liberi (auth); Hermes Michelini (transl); Italy; 1410; Knights of the Wild Rose; Calgary; 2001; <www.varmouries.com/wildrose/fiore/fiore.html>


Gotha Buch 4° 113/2 Handschrift; Hans Talhoffer (auth); 1467; Forschungs und Landesbibliothek Gotha


History of Art; HW Janson; Prentice-Hall & Abrams; New York; 1981 (2nd edit)


Kurzen Schwert; Martin Hundfeld (auth); from Codex Speyer (Handschrift M I 29 or Fechtbuch); Hans von Speyer (edit & comp); Beatrix Koll (transcr); (transcript thereof & formerly also facsimile); Almania; 1491; Universitätsbibliothek Salzburg; 2002; <www.ubs.sbg.ac.at/sosa/webseite/fechtbuch.htm>


Kurzes Schwert; Andre Lignitzer (auth); Kurzes Schwert; Martein Hundtfeltz (auth); both from Danzig Fechtbuch; Peter von Danzig (auth & edit); Monika Maziarz (transcr); Preuszen; 1452; ARMA-Poland Web-Site; 2004; <www.arma.lh.pl/index.html>


Liber Chronicarum; Schedel; Wolgemut; Pleyenwurff; Alt; Koberger; Füssel; Nürnberg; 1493; bound uncoluored Latin edition; Wilson Collection; Multnomah County Library


Liber de Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi ; Filipo Vadi (auth); Urbino; 1482; Luca Porzio (transl); ARMA Web-Site; 2002; <http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/Vadi.htm>


Medieval Meat Cutters; James Knowles (prod-direct); ARMA-Ogden Web-Site; Quicktime-video; Utah; 2004; <http://www.arma-ogden.org/content/view/11/2/>


Records of the Medieval Sword; Ewart Oakeshott (auth & illus); Boydell Press; Woodbridge; 2002 (rev-ed)


Ritterlich Kunst; Sigmund Ringeck (auth); Johannes Liechtenauer (auth); Stefan Dieke (transcr); Mscr. Drsd. C 487; Bayern; 1389 & 1440; Sächsische Landesbibliothek-Dresden; Die Freifechter Webseite; 2001; <www.freifechter.org>


Sigmund Ringeck’s Knightly Art of the Longsword; David Lindholm (transl & interp); Peter Svärd (illus); Johnsson & Strid (contr); Sigmund Ringeck (auth); Johannes Liechtenauer (auth); Paladin Press; Boulder; 2003 (from 1389 & 1440)


The Tailoring of the Grande Assiette; Tasha Kelly McGann (auth); La Cotte Simple Web-Site; 2004; <www.cottesimple.com/blois_and_sleeves/grande_assiette/grande_assiette_overview.htm>


The Wars of the Roses; Terrence Wise (auth); Gerry Embleton (illus); Osprey; Oxford; 2000




Acknowledgements:  My thanks to Matt Anderson, Casper Bradak, Donald Lepping, Randall Pleasant, Shane Smith, and Bartholomew Walczak.


About the Author: Jeffrey Hull holds a BA in Humanities and has been training with ARMA in European fighting arts for almost five years now. Previously he studied in Asian martial arts.


Copyright 2005 by Jeffrey Hull

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