LeJeu.JPG (45690 bytes)

ARMA Exclusive

Le Jeu de la Hache
A 15th century Treatise on the
Technique of Chivalric Axe Combat

By Sydney Anglo
B.A., Ph.D., F.R.Hist.S., F.S.A

Go Back to Introduction

Some General Remarks & English Translation

The resemblance between chivalric axe combat and quarter-staff play is important. Long-handled swinging strokes with the axe head - such as the mighty overhead smashes of Spencer's Gerioneo, or the cleaver blows of Prince Author - were easily countered, and were not greatly admired by experts such as the unknown author of Le Jeu de la Hache.23

This manuscript, though obviously planned as a presentation copy, could scarcely be more anonymous. It is a slight volume, measuring 240mm by 160mm; and it consists of ten vellum leaves (of which fol. 1r-v and fol. 10v are blank) preceded and followed by three blank leaves of paper. The binding is not original, but appears to be of the late eighteenth century in a style common to the Bibliothèque du Roi: with pink boards, and a red morocco spine decorated with a tiny gold-tooled motif of crowned laurel wreaths. It is entitled on the spine LE JEU DE LA HACHE D'ARMES. The Prologue (fols. 2r-v) is lightly ruled in read at thirty-four lines to the page and is underlined in red; while the rest of the text is lightly ruled in red at thirty-seven lines to the page. The text is in a fair hand and was designed to have decorated initials at the head of each paragraph: though with the exception of only two [2,3], these have not been completed. The vellum leaves have been numbered in the top right recto corner of the margin in arabic numerals by a later hand; and in my transcription of the text I have indicated this foliation italicized within square brackets; supplied all the missing letters 'I' for 'Item'; and numbered the paragraphs within square brackets for easy reference.

The earliest allusion to this manuscript is in the inventory of Francis I's library at Blois, when the books were transferred to Fontainebleau in 1544. There it is listed as, 'Le jeu de la hache; covert de veloux noir'. Subsequently it appears in Nicolas Rigault's catalogue of the Bibliothèque du Roi in 1622, as 'Le jeu de la hache d'armes'; and then as Le jeu de la hache d'armes pour soi habilitier en armes', in the Dupuy catalogue of 1645.24 The manuscript, unfortunately, not only lacks the author's name, but is also devoid of dedicatee, date or internal reference either to people or places. Nevertheless, its tone, quality and precision suggest that it is the work of some professional master of arms, well versed in the practical instruction of knightly pupils.

In a brief prologue, the author expounds the value of skill in arms, and argues that the handling of weapons in general derives from facility with the axe. He then launches into the main section of his work [4-51], dealing with combat between two right-handed knights; and this is followed by a shorter section [52-73], on how a right-hander should cope with a left-handed adversary, which stops suddenly on a note which is stylistically, though not materially, inconclusive. Throughout, there is a determined attempt to group together, in a logical sequence, different modes of attack - whether swings or openings with croix, queue or dague - and to accompany these with various possible parries, counter-attacks and what fencers might term counter-ripostes; and there are also clear descriptions of feints and distracting moves [20, 22, 25, 44, 60, 61, 73].

The author employs a consistent terminology both for the parts of the axe and for his categorization of movements and positions. He repeatedly reminds his tutee to be en garde, and he uses the term throughout to indicate not simply the first stage of an attack - as is common in Renaissance fencing books - but rather in the modern sense of being in a position from which one may equally initiate an attack or defend oneself.25 The garde is often qualified by the part of the axe with which the knight leads, whether queue, dague or occasionally croix.26 Of the first two, the author specifically recommends the queue as the more advantageous [65]; and the most striking feature of the text is the heavy reliance on the queue both for attack and defense; indeed it is referred to more than three times as often as the dague; while the mail and bec de faucon (which we might consider to be the business-end of the weapon) are rarely used.27

vadipolaxes.JPG (207833 bytes)

Polaxe techniques from Fillipo Vadi's manual c. 1480's.

LeJeu4.JPG (63430 bytes)

a. British Library, cotton, MS Nero D.IX, fol. 103. See note 7.

The author of Le Jeu sometimes describes a counter or parry as a couverte, but often uses the verb deffaire and the noun deffaite to indicate the successful parrying of an attack. These terms are, on the whole, undifferentiated; and certainly they do not correspond to the modern distinction between parry and riposte. He also uses tourner and destourner more precisely for the turning aside of the opponent's axe;28 while modes of attack are denoted by entree and prinse which, again, are not sharply differentiated, though I have taken them to mean an 'opening' and a 'move' respectively.29

However, with regard to specific strokes, Le Jeu is much more exact and decisive. It distinguishes sharply between the estocq which is a trust or jab; the tour de bras, which is a big swinging 'round arm' blow; and the coup which usually indicates blows delivered sideways - that is, what would be a cut with an edged weapon. Sometimes coup is the generic term for a particular kind of stroke such as the coup de genoul [23];30 or,when suitably qualified, it shows the mode of delivery as, for example, the back-hander, coup darriere main [19]. Frequently, too, the axe fighter has to boutter or deliver a boutte; and in the great majority of cases this action is associated with the demy hache position, and indicates a sharp push against a part of the opponent's weapon or body with which one's axe is already in contact [14, 35, 37, 38, 40, 41, 44, 45, 50, 58, 64, 67, 68]. Less usual is the instruction pousser as, for example, when heaving hard against the opponent's armpit [11]; or to deliver a bonne secousse [9, 11] which denotes a sudden push or jolt. The opposite movement, that is a tug or pull - as, for example, when one has hooked the bec de faucon behind the opponent's neck - is indicated, naturally, by the verb tirer [32, 39, 44, 46, 56, 68]: though, again, the word is also used in its other less specific sense of delivering a blow of any sort [46, 48, 60, 61, 66, 67].

lejeu3.jpg (522886 bytes)

lejeu3.jpg (522886 bytes)

Given the lack of any generally accepted conventions or terminology, the language of Le Jeu is remarkably unambiguous, and is far superior to the efforts even of so expert a chronicler as Oliver de la Marche. The author tries hard to give exact details of sequences of movement both of hand, foot and weapon; and he very seldom lapses into banalities. Even such statements of the obvious as suggesting that the answer to one particular attack is to parry 'with your axe on his' [42], or that the way to deal with a left-hander's swing is simply to 'step back one pace and he will find nothing' [54], would have seemed less silly within the context of a school of arms where bald statements such as these would have been accompanied by practical demonstration. In fact, the value of Le Jue is precisely that of the fencing books which were to multiply in the sixteenth century. Like them it would have been no substitute for personal instruction and practice. A knight could no more learn the feel of a real axe from Le Jue than a courtier could gain the feel of a rapier from some Renaissance manual. Rather it is a record of the kind of tuition knights would have received from a master of arms. And, from the appearance of this text, the training would have been rigorous, systematic and comprehensive.

TalhofferPolaxe2.JPG (65649 bytes)TalhofferPolaxe1.JPG (66454 bytes)Lejeu1.JPG (107484 bytes)
Polaxe combat from the 1467 edition of Talhoffer.


An English Translation

Here follows the prologue of Axe-play to make oneself dexterous and to exert oneself in arms.

[1] Considering and seeing by experience that all human beings, noble and non noble, naturally fly from death and desire to live long in this mortal world; and afterwards to live forever in the Kingdom of Paradise. To achieve and obtain the natural desires above-said, it seems to me that every human and rational creature must keep himself in a good estate, and arm himself first with good spiritual armor, that is to say with the beautiful virtues to defend himself and to resist all vices and diabolic temptations; preserving and guarding the soul from eternal death. And for this to be done, one must arm the body with good corporeal and material armour, and provide oneself with suitable weapons, like the axe, light lance, dagger, great sword and small sword, to defend oneself and resist one's corporeal and mortal enemies. And for this, let every man, noble of body and courage, naturally desire to exercise and make himself dexterous in virtuous and honourable occupation, and principally in the noble feat of arms, that is to say in Axe-play, from which proceed and depend several weapons above-named. Moreover, the said Axe-play is honorable and profitable for the preservation of a body noble or non noble. For the above-said reasons, I have employed my slight understanding to set forth in writing some doctrines and instructions touching the said Axe-play in the manner which follows.

[2] And first, you who as one of the two champions are called on the field of battle, whether to the death or otherwise, whether you may be appellant or defendant, above all you must feel in your conscience that you have good and just quarrel.

[3] On leaving your pavilion, you must be well armed and furnished with your axe and other relevant weapons.31 Recommending yourself to God, you must make the sign of the cross and march upright, with a good and valorous countenance, gazing at the other end of the field to seek out your adversary. And gazing upon him you must take in a measured manner a proud courage in youself to fight valiantly as is becoming.32 And have in remembrance the principal points contained in the chapters which hereafter follow.

Here begins the science and practice of the noble Axe-play and the manner of fighting.

[4] When one would give you a swinging blow, right-hander to right-hander. If you have the croix in front, you can step forward with your left foot, receiving his blow, picking it up with the queue of your axe33 and - in a single movement - bear downward to make his axe fall to the ground. And from there, following up one foot after the other, you can give him a jab with the said queue, running it through the left hand, at the face: either there or wherever seems good to you. Or swing at his head.

[5] If you have the queue forward, you can do it the same way without moving.

[6] Again, if you have the croix in front, as above. You can receive the said blow with your queue by stepping backward. From all three couvertes, you can give the said swinging blows and the jab with the queue.

[7] Another couverte for the swing, if you have the queue forward, without your moving or stepping back. Thrust the croix of your axe in front of his axe, to engage it crossways, so that he can only hold up the stroke which does not fall on you. And immediately the crossing has been effected, disengage your axe, jabbing at him with the queue from low to high,34 sweeping between his hand and his croix to make it drop from his hand. And if you should fail, you may quickly return on your guard. And if you have made it jump out of his hand, you can do whatever seems good to you with a swing or something else.

[8] If you give the first swinging blow, and he covers himself in the fashion above-said. You can do the same with the queue like his swing above-said.

[9] If again he comes at you with a swing, and you have the queue forward. You must move to receive the blow to the right side of your opponent, and from there receive his blow demy hache. And at the same time, as close as you can, you must advance your left foot and place it behind his heel really firmly, as you raise his axe which is above yours. And place your queue under his chin, and thus give him a jolt backwards to knock him to the ground.

[10] If you fail. You must return on guard. And this should be down quickly.

[11] If he were to use this above-said opening on you. You must quickly place the dague of your axe under his armpit to push him away from you; or pass the cross-bar of your axe under his arm to push him under the armpit with the demy hache, following it up to thrust him out of the lists.35 Or give him a hard blow with all your strength, simply to see whether you can hurl him on the ground.

[12] Another couverte for swinging blows when you are on guard with the queue. Without moving, you can take it on your demy hache as high as your arms can be extended.36 And the moment the blow has been received, you can pick up his queue with yours in such a way that he would wish to raise it. And all in one movement push it suddenly forward. And if it does not fly out of his hand, at least you make him stagger so much that you will have time to give him a blow or thrust.

[13] If he comes with the croix forward to thrust at you. You must turn his queue with your queue as often as you can. And if you can turn it aside sufficiently to see a gap open up between him and his axe, you can give him a hard jab in the face with the queue. And this blow is good and sure to pursue, because it cannot do you any harm. And you must approach him with your left arm to his right. And if you see that it would be good for you, and that you have the leisure, you can let the queue of your axe run up under his chin, while you have your foot behind his heel. And from there try to turn him over.37

[14] He could counter this opening by turning the cross-bar of his axe under the queue of yours, and with the said cross-bar push your queue away from him. And while carrying out this counter, he could follow you, one foot after the other, to get between you and your queue in order to jab you in the face.

[15] If he carries out the said follow-up.38 You have only to retreat one pace, and also pull your axe back toward you, running it through the left hand. And doing this you find yourself free, and furthermore you will be on guard with your queue.

[16] If your axes are joined one croix against the other, and he pushes you to make you recoil.39 You can merely take half a pace back with your front foot, to draw your axe back to you. And immediately place the dague of your axe between his bec de faucon and his hand, as close as you can to the croix from the side toward his right arm, forcing his axe from the other side while following up; you can advance your left foot toward his back, pushing with your demy hache against his shoulders, and knock him to the ground.40

[17] Moreover, if he comes at you with the dague of his axe forward to give you a thrust; and you have your axe in the same manner as his. When you see him come at you, you can step behind him as far as you can, so that he finds nothing in front of him. As you take this step back, you must press hard with the flat of your queue onto his neck to make him trip forward.41 And if you fail, return immediately on guard.

[18] If he should wish to give you a glancing blow with the dague of his axe at your face. You must rigorously divert the blow to see if you can make his axe fall.

[19] If he is an expert axe-fighter, and he advances with the queue of his axe forward.42 You must try whether, with a back-handed blow of your dague, you can make him lose the grip of one hand on his axe. And if you can do this you can unleash on him whatever blows seem good to you.

[20] If you fail. You must try to give a jab with the queue in his face to make him raise the queue of his axe. And if you can get it crossed against yours, you can draw back your queue, hitting against the side of his with your mail, or stepping behind him and hitting at his head.

[21] If he would do it to you. You must lower the queue of your axe while stepping back with your left foot, covering yourself with the demy hache or mail. And then return to the guard of whichever end seems good to you.

LeJeu5.JPG (61776 bytes)

talhfpolaxe1.JPG (114531 bytes)

a. Talhoffer (1467). Cf. Le Jeu [43]

[22] Whichever guard you are on, you can try to hit him on the head. Not so that, if you should miss, your axe passes beyond him: because that would be dangerous. And immediately this blow has been accomplished, you must make a feint of having another go at his head, so that he covers himself high. Whereupon you can give him one on the knee with the bec de faucon. And if your bec de faucon passes behind the plate of his knee,43 you must pull him toward you, to drag him to the ground. And if he steps back, so that you find nothing, take care that your axe does not pass in front of your man. And similarly with all your swinging blows. And quickly return on your guard.

[23] If one tries the knee stroke. You must step forward to the right side toward your man, placing the queue of your axe between his axe and your knee. And with your said queue you must try to tear it from his hands, giving him a good back-hander against the cross-bar of his axe. And if you cannot: from there approach him, following up one foot after the other. And give him a jab in the face with your dague.

[24] If he holds his axe with the queue forward. Give him a hard back-handed blow with the queue of your axe against his, to make it jump out of his hand. And if you cannot do it with the blow, stepping forward between him and his axe, you can hit him with a jab of the dague to the face.

[25] If he were to do it to you. You must lower the queue of your axe close to your feet and step backwards, and with the demy hache turn his (dague) aside from in front of your face, and remain on the guard of the dague. And then you can step and turn on whichever guard seems good to you. And you must deliver these jabs frequently, sometimes at the foot and sometimes at the hand or face; so that he does not find your axe at all still, and you can, wholly at your own initiative, make any opening.44

[26] If he comes at you with the queue forward, and he is holding it high. Stepping to his left side, you can place your; queue under his arm, so that the queue passes under his axe between his two hands, and pull toward his hand with a good sudden jolt, to make him lose his grip with one hand. And from there you can push with demy hache in his side, to hurl him to the ground. At least you will be able to move forward and have sufficient leisure to swing at him.

[27] If he does the same thing to you. You have only to release the grip of your lower hand, and immediately take hold of your axe again higher up, while stepping back, and return on your guard.

[28] If he has nullified this move which you will have practiced on him in this manner above-said, and he has put himself on the guard of the dague. You can similarly place your queue under his demy hache, stepping face to face, and pass your said queue over his right arm, and give him a good hard jolt to make him lose the butt of his axe. And from there you will have leisure to give him a blow or a thrust.

[29] And if you cross your axes in the middle to push one another.45 Do it so that, in crossing, you have the croix of your axe higher than the queue; and, as you push, turn your bec de faucon toward his axe to draw it toward you, while stepping back, with all your strength of your arm. Merely hook the said bec de faucon to the middle of his axe and it will make him lose his axe.

[30] If he does not drop or lose his axe, at least he will come one pace after you. At which march forward, giving him a jab in the face; and then return on your guard.

[31] If he does the same move to you. Release your lower hand and he will do nothing.

[32] You can otherwise counter it by following up his tugging, stepping forward as he pulls. And from there, stepping with your left foot to his right side, hit him violently with the queue of your axe on his neck, knocking him over, as it is said in the aforesaid parry of the demy hache.

[33] If he does it to you. You already know the counter to it in the said parry of the demy hache.

[34] If he gives you a jab to the foot with his queue. You must lift your foot, while presenting your queue against his, to turn him aside and make it jump out of his hand, if you can. And whether this has been accomplished or not, without moving you can hit him quickly with the mail of your axe on his head or on his hands, to your advantage.

[35] If your axes are crossed at the two queues. Make him, if you can, raise the queue of his axe very high, and from there you can lower the end of your queue while drawing it back a little, running it through the hand until you can pass it again under his without stretching more than the least possible. And from there to strike back-handed against his axe to try to make it escape from his hand; or at least to misdirect it in such a way that you might be able to get between him and his axe while stepping to his left side. And from there you can push with your demy hache against his side to knock him to the ground.

[36] To protect yourself against his doing this to you. Ensure that he does not find your axe crosswise - at least that your axe should not be behind his. And certainly do not hold it in one position.

[37] If by chance he were to do it to you. You could counter it by holding your axe close to you, and passing your queue low down, between you and him, and from there raise it up to meet his stomach and push him from you.

[38] Another counter, if he does it to you. You must hold your axe out straight, well away from you; and from there heave it up to meet his stomach as you straighten up against him, and push him from you.

[39] If you can do this well suddenly. As you turn you can hook the bec de faucon around his neck and pull him toward you to see whether you can overthrow him.46

[40] If he does it to you. You must step forward with your right foot, while pushing his axe away from you with the demy hache, and you can remain on your guard.

[41] Again, if the queues of the said axes are crossed. You must push his axe with yours, placing it below yours until you have caused it to be lowered so much that you should have made the said queues pass on your left side, so that you have the leisure to step with your right foot behind him. And from there you can give him a great blow with the demy hache against his shoulders. Or if he has turned his back on you sufficiently so that you can get at the flat of his shoulders, you can push him with the demy hache, following him very quickly, first on one side and then on the other, according to which side you perceive that he wishes to turn against you. Then strike against this shoulder; and if he wishes to turn to the other side push him there without moving your demy hache from his back. And in doing this you could put him out of the lists.47

[42] If he were to use this opening against you. Immediately that you perceive it, parry with your axe on his, and he will find nothing.

[43] If he comes at you with his face forward. You can jab at his face with the queue of your axe, or at his foot which has no protection;48 or you can give several other strokes.

talhfpolaxe2.JPG (124024 bytes)

b. Talhoffer (1467). Cf. Le Jeu [58], and see note 55.

[44] If he comes as above-said, with his face forward. You can give him a jab with the queue in the face so that he raises his axe. And if he holds it away from him, you can place the queue of your axe under his demy hache right against his neck, and strike it. And if you do not find it to your advantage to strike, pass the said queue over his head to take him from the other side of his neck to pull him backwards. And if you fail so that you cannot strike him: from there pull as you move backwards and you will encounter no hinderance.49

[45] And if he makes the said move against you. You can push with your demy hache against his neck or his shoulders, and thus drive him back from you.

[46] If he counters you in this manner. You must remember to draw back, and as you do so you must cross the said queue of your axe over his right arm, giving him a great jolt to make him lose the butt.

[47] Another counter. The moment that his queue is on your neck, release your left hand, and take up your axe again higher up, above his, as you step backwards: which is a good and sure counter.

[48] If he holds the queue high. You must hold it high like him: but one end as high as the other, so as to show the palm of your hand as little as you can. And from there you can guard against his thrust if he strikes at your face.

[49] If he holds the queue of his axe higher than the croix, he shows the palm of his hand, whereupon you can give him a jab with your said queue at the palm of his hand.50

[50] If he comes at you as before, his face toward you, to strike you demy hache or otherwise. If you can get near him, you can put the queue of your axe between his thighs as far forward as you can, and then lift up the butt which you are holding in your hand, with all your strength, to raise him high and make him lose contact with the ground.

[51] If you do it thus, he will of necessity fall backwards. And if he wishes to do it to you, you have only to put your demy hache quickly against his neck or his shoulder, and this will prevent his being able to lift so great a weight.

Here begins the Play of the left-hander against the right-hander.52 And first.

[52] If the left-hander comes at you swinging. You must step forward on your left foot, hitting hard with the queue of your axe to intercept his stroke so that the blow does not fall on you. And the counter having been made, you must quickly withdraw your queue, bringing down the mail of your said axe against the back of his axe to help him go with the swing with which he thought to strike you.53 Or to make the butt escape from his hand.

[53] If he has withdrawn his axe so suddenly that it causes you to miss. You must immediately withdraw to the guard of your queue.

[54] If the said left-hander comes at you swinging. In whatever guard you may be, step back one pace and he will find nothing.54

[55] If you hit out at your left-hander with a swing, and it is met with his queue in the above-said fashion. Immediately his stroke has been delivered, give him a great blow with your queue against the back of his, to try to make him lose his grip with one hand. But whether or not he loses his grip, you can, with the said blow, immediately advance your left foot behind his heel, putting your queue under his chin to knock him backwards, if you can. And if you can do nothing, return quickly on your guard. As you retire following your steps thus remain on the guard of your queue.

LeJeu2.JPG (76963 bytes)

Axe fighting from Maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco’s Flos duellatorum, 1410.

[56] If he applies this said opening on you. You have only to thrust your said queue under his and raise it up: doing to him the same as he has done to you, and doing this you counter his move.

[57] He can counter the move when you have done it again in the manner above-said, in as much that - as you have your axe under his chin - you have the arm high. And from there, he can place his demy hache under your armpit, and he can push you very vigorously. And equally you can do it to him if he uses the same opening on you. And whether this works or fails, do not tarry at all.

[58] And to counter this said push under the armpit. As soon as you feel it, you can suddenly release your left hand and place your arm between his demy hache - which he is holding well away from himself in order to push you - and his body; and all in one movement get your hand under his crotch and heave him up in order to overthrow him.55

[59] If he were to do it to you. You must immediately release the grip of your left hand from the queue of your axe and, with this left hand, take up the croix of your axe, running the right hand downward and thus push against his neck, and he will not have the power to lift you.

[60] If the said left-hander comes at you with the dague of his axe forward, to jab you in the face or another place above the belt. You can keep circling with your queue in front of his face to put him off his intended stroke; and from there you can give him a blow with the mail on the head from high to low in such a way that, were you to miss, your axe does not carry you so that you are obliged to turn your back: which would be a great danger.56

[61] If he covers himself with the cross-bar of his axe. For the first stroke, make as if to shape up for another blow so that he covers himself high as before, to guard his head. Then give a great blow at the knee and well forward, so that if he takes a step the axe between his legs finds the other knee. And if he does not move you must give a great sudden pull toward you, so that your bec de faucon hooks itself behind his knee to pull him to the ground. And if you are able, do not give this stroke below the armour plate:57 but on the plate or above, so that if you fail to overthrow him you may be able to disarm him of some piece of his cuisse.

[62] If he does it to you. You have only to take a step with your left foot which is behind, and advance it before the other, in order to push with your knee against the middle of his axe in order to free yourself.

[63] From there, you can jab at his face with the queue of your axe, which is a good reply. And for this, when you make the said stroke, do it quickly. And if you miss, return immediately on your guard.

[64] If the said left-hander comes at you with his dague forward. You must immediately thrust aside the croix of his axe with your queue, now here, now there. And while doing this, you can place your said queue against his croix on the haft towards his body, and you must let the said queue run through your left hand toward his croix, so that you have the power to push it away backhanded. And as you do this sliding movement, immediately step with your right foot to his rear, close to him, and all in one movement you must push your butt demy hache to try to beat him to the ground. Or at least if he draws back, you can deliver a blow.

[65] If he were to do it to you. As soon as you feel yourself thrust at, you must lower the butt of your axe, turning the axe under his queue, without getting out of distance, and so that your axe comes behind his queue. And from there you can move so that you have the leisure to step back to return on the guard of the queue because it is more advantageous than that of the dague.

[66] If your queues are crossed together. You can hold them fast together, so that he holds his tight. And then you must step back with your left foot; and as you step back, smoothly give him a blow with the mail on his hands. And this is a good stroke, but only when your queue is behind his. And to protect youreself from this blow, make sure that he never has his queue behind yours: because, if he has it in front, he cannot do it to you on account of your queue which prevents it.

[67] When you have your queue behind his, thrusting it forward a little, you can always give him a jab in the face.

[68] If the said left-hander comes at you with the dague forward, and he is holding his axe long. You can put your queue crossways between his hand and the croix, and from there give him a back-hander downwards, in order to make his axe pass behind you as, stepping forward with your right foot, you can push him demy hache against his shoulders to knock him down.58

[69] Take care that he can never get to press crossways with his queue59 against the front of yours. Or, if by chance he does, then as soon as he has pressed, turn yours over his, and he will not be able to do it.

[70] If your man comes at you guarding with the queue, and he is holding it low. You can give a forehanded blow against his queue with yours, in order to move it away from in front of him. And if you can do it, as you follow up one foot after the other, you can place yourself between his axe and him;60 and from there you must place your said queue between his thighs, half-way along, and you must lift up your man on the said queue as high as you can. And you can carry out this move from various other openings, neither more nor less than are set out before in the play of the right-hander against the right-hander.

[71] If he does it to you. You must stick your axe into the middle of his chest, and he will not be able to do it.61

[72] If your man comes at you with his face forward, whether right-hander or left-hander. If you can place the queue of your axe above his, and from there get the end under his right armpit, you can push him from the side of the said queue, always following him up, without his having the slightest good remedy to free himself. And by this you can put him out of the lists.

[73] You must frequently attack him with jabs at the face and at the feet to make him loose his composure.



I should like to thank Claude Blair and A. V. B. Norman who both listened patiently while I expounded my theories of axe play, and who both made several pertinent criticisms and observations from which I have tried to profit. I should also like to thank Sarah Bevan and her colleagues, not only for supplying me with photographs, but also for enabling me to handle some of the poleaxes in the Tower Armouries - an invaluable and invigorating experience.


  1. Of course, there is also the difference which would result from whether or not the axes had cutting edges. When they did, as in the combat between Rumaindres and Du Bars in 1415, then swings and long blows were more likely. See above (note 3) for a reference in Saint Remy.
  2. See Henri Omont, Anciens inventaires et catalogues de la Biliothèque Nationale (Paris, 1908-10), I258; II 386; III, 68. The old catalogue numbers appear on fol. 2r of Le Jeu.
  3. See Egerton Castle's comments concerning being 'on guard' in his Schools and Masters of Fence from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century (London, 1885, repr. 1969), 9-
  4. Le Jeu never refers to the garde of either the mail or bec de faucon - though these were probably subsurned under the garde de la croix. Cf. Olivier de la Marche, op. cit. (note 9), 383b - 4a, where the Spanish knight, Vasques, holds his axe, 'le mailler devant son visage, un grand tour loing de la main, par maniere de garde'.
  5. The illustrations in Talhoffer lay less stress on the use of the queue, though it is still more dominant than the head of the axe. In the narratives of Olivier de la Marche, various strokes are recorded: though it is noteworthy that the expert Jacques de Lalain, fighting against an English knight in 1448, held his axe 'à contre poix' so that he could use either end as he saw fit. He began with an estoc with the queue; then with the teste; and then with the bout d'embas. See above (note 9). Pietro Monte, op. cit. (note 2), Lib. II cap. x as might be expected of a master of armes, recommends the use of the calx (which is his term for the lower end of the haft) because it is swifter of delivery: 'tune generalis regula est ocius cum calce punctam iacere'.
  6. cf. Olivier de la Marche, op. cit. (note 9), 420b, where the knight Meriadet 'detourna le coup de la queue de sa hache'. However, Olivier also frequently uses the verb rabatir and the noun rabar to indicate parries - but they do not occur in Le Jeu.
  7. Olivier de la Marche also uses the word entree, as, for example, in the combat between Lalain and Boniface in 1449 when the former - seeing that his axe blows were having no effect - 'il entre dedants sa hache, par une entree de la queue, de revers', op. cit. (note9), 433b.
  8. This anticipates the notorious coup de jarret with which de Jarnac disabled La Chátaigneraie in 1547. See Scipion Dupleix, Les Lois militaires touchant le duel (Paris, 1611), 494-542.
  9. These would normally have been a casting spear and a dagger.
  10. The psychological advantages of a bold appearance were still being stressed by Pistofilo, op. cit. (note 17), 256, where he recommends receiving the axe from one's attendant with a great flourish and signs of defiance: 'calando di poi il martello innanzi … e facendolo passar da man destra con moto circulare, per dimostrar un certo dominio, et franchezza nel maneggio di tal arme'.
  11. cf. Talhoffer (1467), pl. 88.
  12. cf. Talhoffer (1467), pl. 81. Pietro Monte, op. cit. (note 2), Lib. II, cap. xi, writes: 'Bonum est minari cum calce: et cum ascendente redire ex inferioro parte ad superiorem: quemadmodum de ense duarum manuum fieri solet'.
  13. cf. Talhoffer (1443), pl. 79.
  14. cf. Talhoffer (1443), pl. 76 (see above pl. XXXVIa).
  15. cf. Talhoffer (1467), pl. 84.
  16. 'Ladiete poursuite'.
  17. cf. Talhoffer (1467), pl. 79.
  18. cf. Talhoffer (1467), pl. 95.
  19. cf. Saint Remy, op. cit. (note 3), I, 210. The knight Rumaindres, 'en combattant de sa hache, du bout de sa dague, en poussant contre la Roche de toute sa puissance et tant qu'il faisoit démarchier la Rocque, quant la Rocque sentit que ledit Rumaindres mettoit toute sa puissance pour le faire reculer, il desmarcha ung pas; par laquelle desmarche Rumaindres chut d'un genoul à terre. Lora, la Rocque féry dessus et de tout le corps le mist à terre'.
  20. This is a clear statement of preference for the queue which is the part of the axe that the expert 'joueur de la hache' most uses.
  21. 'Passe lescreuisse de son genoul'. I take this to mean the poleyn. See also the similar move against the left-hander below [61]. These two paragraphs include the only references to armour worn by the contestants in Le Jeu. On the knee stroke, cf. Talhoffer (1443), pl. 78; and Talhoffer (1467), pl. 83 (see above pl. XXXVIIa).
  22. This sentence is syntactically one of the most obscure in Le Jeu, but I believe that the meaning itself is clear.
  23. cf. Talhoffer (1443), pl. 79.
  24. cf. Talhoffer (1443), pl. 80; Talhoffer (1467) pls. 91, 92. In the last of these plates, the tugging is done with the mail (see above pls. XXXVIIb, XXXVIIIa).
  25. cf. Talhoffer (1467), pl. 95; and see also pls. 82, 89.
  26. That is in the sense of being left unguarded: 'au pie quil na point de couverte'. cf. Talhoffer (1467), pls. 90, 97 (see above pls. XXXVIIIb, XXXIXa).
  27. cf. Talhoffer (1467), pl. 84.
  28. This exposure of the palm of the hand is clearly illustrated in Talhoffer (1467), pl. 81.
  29. cf. Talhoffer (1443), pl. 81, where the movement is carried out by thrusting the head of the axe between the opponent's thighs - a much more difficult thing to achieve, and certainly more painful for the victim (see pl. XXXVIb). See also Olivier de la Marche, op. cit. (note 9), 438a-b.
  30. Pietro Monte, op. cit. (note 2), does not deal with the problem of facing a left-hander in axe combat: but he does devote a chapter to the requisite technique in relation to fencing (Lib. II, cap. lxv); and he notes that, since there are few left-handed swordsmen and many right-handed, the former get far more practice in learning how to cope with the difficulties.
  31. That is, you use your opponent's momentum.
  32. cf. Saint Remy, op. cit. (note 3), I 210; Olivier de la Marche, op. cit. (note 9), 411
  33. This is the only hand to hand (or rather hand to genitals) wrestling mentioned in Le Jeu. Wrestling in axe play occurs in Talhoffer (1467), pls. 85, 86, 87, 94, 96 (and see above pl. XXXIXb).

Special Thanks to Professor Anglo for persmission to add his work to the ARMA website.

Back to Introduction

Back to Manuals


Note: The word "ARMA" and its associated arms emblem is a federally registered trademark under U.S. Reg. No. 3831037. In addition, the content on this website is federally registered with the United States Copyright Office, © 2001-2022. All rights are reserved. No use of the ARMA name and emblem, or website content, is permitted without authorization. Reproduction of material from this site without written permission of The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts and its respective authors is strictly prohibited. Additional material may also appear from "HACA" The Historical Armed Combat Association copyright © 1999-2001 by John Clements. All rights are reserved to that material as well.