Written in Middle High German (“Mittelhochdeutsch“) and Early New High German (“Frühneuhochdeutsch“) and arranged in rhyming couplets, Zettel is a text on the use of sword fighting with short and long swords, on horse and on foot. A close reading will soon reveal that beneath the coded words and covered meanings, Zettel contains simple and basic techniques and advice on swordsmanship and martial arts.
In German, Zettel means note, message, missive, a piece of paper. It has its etymological roots in Latin, from the word cedula meaning papyrus.
In the prelude of the text it is stated that ” Because the art belongs to princes and lords, knights and squires, and they should know and learn this art, he has written of this art in hidden and secret words, so that not everyone will grasp and understand it” (Cod.44.A.8 folio 3r “|vnd dar umb dÿ kuñst fur~sten |vnd herren |Ritter vnd knechten zw gehört das sy dy wissen |vnd lernen sullen |So hat er die selbig kunst igleich besunder lassen schreiben mit verporgen |vnd verdackten wo°ten“). Zettel is not an instruction book or manual in a sense that we understand it today: it seems to be aimed towards people from a certain social strata, who are literate and have some basic knowledge of swordsmanship to be used in conjunction with a tutor or instructor who will point out the finer nuances of swordsmanship to them. With this context in mind, it would serve us well to approach this text with supportive knowledge of the period culture. This approach leaves quite a lot of room for interpretation, and many HEMA fighters and scholars studying the Liechtenauer tradition may come up with differing interpretations of the source material.
From the works of later masters of the German Swordsmanship tradition, Liechtenauer and his work, the Zettel would form the foundation for the works of these later masters: they would comment and gloss on the original text, and they would formulate their own teachings in parallel to Liechtenauer’s words. This German Swordsmanship tradition is called “Kunst des Fechtens”.
The sword masters who incorporated Zettel into their teachings and who referred to Liechtenauer as the Grand Master, despite residing in relatively distant regions from each other are sometimes called as the Society of Liechtenauer. Paulus Kal, a 15th century master lists the name of 17 masters in total in his fight book (fechtbuch):
- Johannes Liechtenauer
- Peter Wildigans von Glatz
- Peter von Danzig zum Ingolstadt
- Hans Spindler von Znaim
- Lamprecht von Prague
- Hans Seydenfaden von Erfurt
- Andre Lignitzer
- Jacob Lignitzer
- Sigmund ain Ringeck
- Hartman von Nuremberg
- Martin Huntsfeld
- Hans Pegnitzer
- Philipp Perger
- Virgil von Kraków
- Ott Jud
- Hans Stettner von Mörnsheim
Paulus Kal addresses Hans Stettner as a master who trained many others, including himself. These 17 masters who are listed together in Cgm 1507 and MS 1825 manuscripts are collectively called as the Society of Liechtenauer (Geselschaft Liechtenauers). The word Gesellschaften was often used to define a group of swordsman who traveled together and fought together, as a band of man-at-arms or brothers-in-arms around the beginning of the 15th century. However this meaning might not be the correct interpretation of the word, as we have no proof that these 17 individuals have traveled and fought together.
While at first glance, these masters may seem to have lived in a wide and dispersed geography, in countries as diverse as Czechia, Poland, Austria and Germany, it should be remembered that around 15th century, these regions were domains of the Holy Roman Empire and there were a great deal of cultural and material exchange.
- Tobler, Christian Henry (2010) In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Freelance Academy Press About the book
- Chidester, M., Rasmusson, M., Rawlings, D., Stoeppler, T., Tobler, C.H. Trosclair, C. Winslow, C. (2015) The Recital of the Chivalric Art of Fencing of the Grand Master Johannes Liechtenauer. Wikitenauer. About the book
- Kleinau, Jens P. 1418 Modus Dimicandi Magistri H. Beringois of the Ms. G.B.f.18.a)
- MS 3227a (Pol Hausbuch). Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Germany. Library inventory information
- MS Chart.A.558 (Talhoffer Fechtbuch, 1448) . Universitäts- und Forschungsbibliothek Erfurt/Gotha, Germany. Library inventory information
- Cod.44.A.8 (Codex Danzig, 1449). Biblioteca dell’Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana, Roma, Italy.
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