THE TOURNEY:Armoured combat with sword, axe, and dagger

Whether judicial trial by combat, a chivalric duel, or a deed of arms, the pollaxe was the primary weapon of choice between armoured men. By the fifteen century, the sword and dagger were considered secondary weapons, only capable of causing harm to an opponent by exploiting the small gaps in his plate armour. The pollaxe was essentially an axe, hammer, and spear affixed atop a sturdy shaft about the height of its wielder.

Prologue to "The Play of the Axe"

Near the middle of the fifteenth century, an anonymous Milanese fencing master in service to Philip II "the Bold", Duke of Burgundy, wrote the earliest surviving treatise on fighting with the pollaxe. The following is an excerpt of its prologue as translated from Middle French by Jason Smith (et. al.)1:

Consider that all human beings, both noble and common, naturally flee death and desire to live long both in this world and in the Realm of Paradise. To achieve and obtain the natural, aforementioned desires, it seems to me that all reason- able people must maintain good health and be armed firstly with good spiritual armour, knowing the good virtues and resisting against all vices and diabolical temptations while preserving the soul from eternal death. This done, one must arm oneself with good physical armour and with suitable weapons such as the axe, the half-lance, the dagger and swords both large and small to defend against one’s deadly enemies. And to this end, all noble and courageous men should exercise and enable themselves with occupations both virtuous and honourable. Above all, they should exercise the noble feat of arms, which is to know axe play, from which originate and depend several of the above named weapons. Moreover, said axe play is honourable and beneficial for the preservation of the human body, both noble and common. For these reasons, I employed my small understanding to put in writing the doctrines and teachings pertaining to axe play in the manner that follows.

Firstly, you who are one of two champions called to the field of battle, either à outrance or otherwise, as appellant or defendant, above all you should feel in your conscience that your quarrel is both good and just.

In leaving your pavilion, you should be well armoured and armed with your pollaxe and other weapons in your possession. Entrusting yourself to God, you should make the sign of the Cross and walk upright, with a good and valorous countenance while looking to the other end of the field to see your adversary. And in looking at him, you should take within yourself a moderately proud courage to fight valiantly, as is fitting, remembering the principal points contained in the paragraphs that follow hereafter.

Le Jeu de la Hache (MS Français 1996)


According to German ordinances, a man may challenge another to a duel before a tribunal, which shall grant each man six weeks and four days hence to train in peace. Thereafter, the judge shall summon the two combatants to the ring for the verdict. Han Talhoffer wrote in his personal manuscript dated 1459:

Thus when you come within the barriers and will begin, then let any foe say and do what he will; and cower not within yourself; and have the earnest in mind; and whatever he says unto you, do not react to it; and fight earnestly for yourself thusly; and let him have no rest and become no threat; and follow the art, thus fear not his strikes; and would he draw you into meetings of the blades, then counterstrike merrily.

Hans Talhoffer, MS Thott.290.º


1. Smith, Jason. Burgundian Pollaxe: the noble art of chivalric axe combat. Free Academy Press, Inc.

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