There are objective limits to any review of an
instruction manual for the martial arts. It is only possible
to fairly evaluate the diligence of the author's scholarship, the clarity
of the prose, and the readability of instructions and diagrams. Beyond
that, the value of the martial interpretation is highly subjective, dependant
on the particular tastes and experience of the practitioner, current controversies
over style, and individual schools of re-creation. That
being said, one must nevertheless attempt an evaluation and accept that
some conclusions must be left to the discretion of the reader and his or
her own individual judgements. In this particular case, Wagner and Hand's Medieval
Sword and Shield is a text that is readable
and academically strong, and also gives the reader confidence
in their interpretation.
Most books in the genre of the how-to manuals of medieval martial arts
are written for the practitioner, as opposed to the general reader or the
scholar of martial history. Wagner and Hand have gone further to satisfy
academic demands than one might expect. The book was intended as a companion
to Jeffrey Forgeng's facsimile and translation of the Royal Armouries MS
I.33 [] and knowing that
the two works were likely to share the same readers, Wagner and Hand have
tried to maintain a suitable level of academic rigour. Wagner and Hand
naturally focus entirely on their own system of combat instruction, but
they also include notes and bibliography for the interested reader. For
this reason, the book has a broader appeal to the general reader than other
The book begins with a short historical description of their source
material, the early fourteenth-century illustrated Fechtbuch (Royal
Armouries, Leeds MS I.33). This is the earliest surviving illustrated manual
on personal arms and focuses exclusively on techniques for the sword and
buckler (a small centre-grip shield). German-speaking scribes produced
the manuscript in a monastic setting, sometime around 1320 [].
The authors are dependant on Forgeng's translation from the Latin for their
interpretation. Like most medieval fight-texts, MS I.33 lacks basic instructions
on footwork, defensive and offensive principles, time and measure, and
the other basics of personal combat. For this reason, the authors provide
two short introductory chapters that cover some of the basics for footwork
and simple movement, which they have based on later medieval German and
Italian manuals. Because the authors are writing for the broadest audience,
they are careful not to assume that these martial principles are common
knowledge. Their descriptions of steps and basic principles are clear and
easy to follow without abandoning period terminology or concepts. Advanced
practitioners may quibble with some of the details, but for the general
reader these instructions suffice.
Once the basics are established, the book builds up an interpretation
of MS I.33 through nine chapters, each focusing on one of the principal
guards or wards. These guards are ordered by their significance and frequency
within the source text, and each ward is shown in opposition or in defence
against various counter-wards. Because the original manuscript avoids a
strictly linear structure, it also avoids duplication and repetition. Wagner
and Hand are therefore entitled to take their own pace through the instruction,
arranging the wards and counter-wards in their own way. The system that
appears through these instructions is a dynamic combination of grapples,
shield strikes, dynamic movements of the feet, sword, and shield. The authors
do their best to show as much variety as they can while maintaining a coherent
sequence of instructions and plays that are within the ability of the non-specialist
Illustrations consist of black-and-white photos of the authors in practice.
Images are arranged in sequence, and lettered for the reader to keep actions
in order, or to allow re-ordering with some of the text. This is not an
ideal system of instruction. Some of the images are dimly lit, and period
garments or camera angles conceal some of the subtlety of footwork or body
position, but the basic principles are easily followed. Any book such as
this struggles to keep a balance between detail and pace of instruction:
too much detail and you run out of space to cover an entire system; too
little and you risk confusing the reader or leaving gaps for criticism
of the conclusions. For the general reader interested in the rudiments
of the system or a taste of medieval martial arts re-creation, Wagner and
Hand have reached an acceptable balance.
Medieval Sword and Shield first appeared in 2003 and now shares
a place in an increasingly crowded market of medieval martial arts instruction.
There are now several other interpretations of MS I.33 available, although
most of them are in DVD or online formats []. Forgeng's own edition of the manuscript has been joined by
Frank Cinato and Andre Surprenant's 2007 edition []. What is interesting, and certainly a credit to the authors,
are Hand's amendments to the book, which he wrote in 2005 []. Most of Hand's changes are subtle,
although his interpretation of "half shield" and "the rare
and special cover" are significantly different from the 2003 version.
These changes demonstrate both how subjective this exercise
is and Wagner and Hand's acknowledgement of that subjectivity. Any interpretation
is dependent on the diligence of the practitioners and even then the results
will often differ based on personal taste. For example,
Hand writes that the original version of the rare and special counter,
as it appears in Medieval
Sword and Shield, was inexplicable and wrong. However, on the basis
of my limited experience in martial re-enactment I found that the original
ward, however spurious, when used during sparring at speed, was surprisingly
effective when employed in defence, and allowed highly effective counter-punch
attacks. This experience is par for the course with this type of text,
but this does not diminish Wagner and Hand's contribution of this readable
and confident treatment of a complex and fraught exercise.
As a final note, this text is now essentially out of print and due
to complications with the publisher it is unlikely to appear in re-issue
or in an updated edition. One remains hopeful that Wagner and Hand are
able to incorporate their later adjustments to the system in a new edition
in a text that holds a far greater appeal for the general and scholarly
reader than most other texts in this field.
 See Valerie Eads' review for De Re Militari here.
 Wagner and Hand provide a summary of the debate
over date in the notes (p.17). A composition date of 1320 is suggested
by Rainer Leng, ed., Katalogue der Deutschsprachigen Illustrierten
Handschriften des Mittelalters: Band 4/2, Lieferung
1/2, 38. Fecht- und Ringbücher (Munich: Kommission für Deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters
der Bayerischen Akadime der Wissenschaften, München, 2008).
 Online interpretations abound, but the DVD by Roland
Warzecha and Tobias Wenzel, Sword and Shield: Basic Principles and Techniques
of Sword and Buckler Combat (Dembach Mediaworks, 2011), is worth noting.
 Franck Cinato and Andre Surprenant, Le Livre
de L’art du Combat: Liber de Arte Dimicatoria (Paris: Éditions
 Stephen Hand, “Re-interpreting Aspects of
the Sword & Buckler System in Royal Armouries MS. I.33,” ed.
Stephen Hand, Gregory Mele, and Steven Hick, Spada: Anthology
of Swordsmanship 2 (2005): 91-110.