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Posts Tagged ‘condottieri’

Alphabet - Happy New Year!

Now that the holidays have passed, we thought that we’d bring you a Twelfth Night present to keep your mind occupied as you recover from a month of heavy food, family gatherings and office parties: three new, free articles.

In Ancient Swordplay, Tony Wolf not only brought readers to the “Elizabethan Swordsmanship” revival of fin de siecle London, he also introduced them to the little remembered – or in Anglophone circl es, unknown – work oftheir “spiritual heir”, George Dubois (1865 – 1934). Dubois wrote and published extensively, and we celebrated his pioneering work last year with a blog post on the man, and making his Cemment du Defendre, Le Point d’ Honneur et le Duel, and Essai sur l’Escrime: Dague et Rapiere freely available on the Freelance website as downloadable PDFs.

Of these varied works, Essai sur l’Escrime: Dague et Rapiere (1925) is perhaps most interesting to students of Historical European Martial Arts. In this short work, Dubois and his associate Albert Lacaze presented an innovative system of competitive fencing with rapier and dagger, marrying historical technique to French classical fencing. Although Dubois became the better known of the two men, it was through Salle Lacaze that this tradition continued and survived to this day.

This combination of historical swordplay and living tradition is the sort of thing that medievalist, Francophile and Prévôt d’Escrime could not resist. Ken has spent time researching and studying this system of “modern French rapier”, and in the article Lacaze Sword and Dagger he supplies a short training curriculum to jump into a fast and furious style of sword and dagger fencing. Modern/classical fencers will find the method a logical adjunct and new twist to their training, while students of historical swordsmanship will get an interesting glimpse into how the ancient traditions were studied and adapted a century ago.

Ken is also working on a full translation of the original Essai sur l’Escrime, coming to a certain publisher near you…

Whether you are historian, martial artist or enthusiast, privately ask yourself how many of you firs found a love for times past through fiction? Be it Ivanhoe or the Hobbit, many of first felt wonder of another era portrayed through the words of favorite author. Of course, no matter how vivid that author’s portrayal might be, it doesn’t mean that portrayal is accurate – particularly when the world is not even our own.

Over the holidays, Ken decided to tackle this very topic. Hanging up his provost’s epee for his historian’s pen, he turns to Westeros, the mythical world of George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. Martin’s works are blockbuster bestsellers, the basis for an ongoing television series, and has been an entree for a number of folks to find out “just how do swords work”? In Down and Out in Westeros, or:Economy and Society in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Ken decides to reverse that question and ask, “Does Westeros really work as a medieval society?” You might be surprised!

Finally, our titles on armizare, the medieval Italian martial art recorded by Fiore dei Liberi, were among our most popular titles in 2012. Dei Liberi himself is a bit of a shadowy figure – a man whose existence is provable, but who is better known through whom he taught than the scant details of his own biography. Gregory Mele, Freelance’s co-founder, publisher and sometimes author takes a look at the life of Galeazzo da Montova, perhaps the most famous of these students.

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A 15th-century illustration of Malatesta IV Malatesta.

he Malatesta of Rimini were an old noble family who rose to wealth and power as condottieri – mercenary soldiers – during the on-going clash of Pope and Emperor, Florence, Milan, Venice and their allies that characterized Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries. Ambitious, ruthless, with 100-year old patriarchs, hunchbacks and patrons who commissioned churches built in the form of pagan temples, they often appear the consummate, mustache-twirling villains – and with a name like “Evil Head”, how could they not? Perhaps the family’s most famous scion was Sigismondo, whose long feud with Federigo da Montefeltro is the subject of Hugh Bicheno’s excellent Vendetta: High Art and Low Cunning in the Renaissance.

But one of the most fascinating traits of Italy’s despots was their odd mix of brutality and humanistic love of the arts. As an example, here is a charming little sonnet, written by one of Sigismondo’s ancestors, Malatesta dei Sonneti Malatesta (1370 – 1429) upon the death of his wife, Elizabetta de Varano in 1405.

Born in Pesaro, he was the only son of Pandolfo II Malatesta and his second wife Paola Orsini.  He became lord of Pesaro in 1385. He spent the next seven years fighting as a condottiero for both the pope and Venice, against the growing power of the Visconti of Milan. In 1392 he was excommunicated by the pope for having conquered the papal possession of Todi, while in Venetian employ, but this did not stop him from becoming the Captain General of Bologna in 1394 for the anti-pope, Benedict XIII.

This philosophy of “a new day, a new pope, a new contract” would serve Malatesta well for the next two decades.

After conquering Narni and Orte for himself, he made peace with Pope Boniface. By 1404 he was back in Venetian employ, leading 20,000 troops against Padua. However, the Venetian armywas defeated and returned to Pesaro in late 1404, after which Malatesta made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was during this trip that his wife and mother of his seven children, Elizabetta, grew ill.

By 1409, Malatesta had again switched to serve the anti-pope, but ever the pragmatist, by 1412 he had again made peace with the pope, and thenceforth warred against antipope John XXIII. For the next decade he remained in papal service, although often fighting for Florence against Milan.

Yet through all the wars, he also remained a great patron of the arts, sponsoring figures such as Francesco Casini and the painter Mariotto di Nardo, and was in correspondence with humanists Coluccio Salutati and his daughter-in-law, Battista Malatesta. Given the nickname “dei sonetti” (“of the Sonnets”) due to his love for literature, he  was also the author of poems influenced by the style of Petrarch, one such being the lament for his lost Elizabetta:

(translation by Tom Leoni)

XXVI
Dead is the sacred bride, she who maintained
My spirit whole, at peace and satisfied;
In heaven she, and I in grief abide,
Another man than who I was, I waned.
No man, but beast, I should have thought it best
To follow her fine form, now cold with death
Nor e’er depart her side at her last breath,
But burn in fire, there where her heart did rest.
To follow her my soul should have agreed
To heaven’s triumph, where she now resides
Until the end of time, as God decreed.
And even though my strength hardly suffices
For me to join her there, would that at least
My body would be laid by her blest ashes.
(and for those who prefer and can read the original Italian… )
XXVI
Morta è la sancta donna che tenea
mio spirto unito, tacito e contento;
anzi vive nel cielo, e io in tormento
remaso sono, altr’uom ch’io non solea:
non huom, ma bruto, sì che ben dovea
sequire il corpo suo di vita spento,
né mai partir da lato al monimento,
ma incenerarmi ove ’l suo cor giacea,

ché forse l’alma lei sequita arebbe
nel triumpho celeste, ove si vive
eternalmente per divina possa.

Se pur di seguir lei fusser stà privez
le forze mie, almen stato serebbe
sepulto il corpo presso a le sacr’ossa.

Malatesta dei Sonneti Malatesta retired at Gradara, where he died in 1429. The Malatesta family would continue to be a power through the 15th century, but their fortune and land would slowly fall to other ambitious familes: the Sforza and Borgias.

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