A Brief introduction to MS 3227a (Pol Hausbuch)

Table of Contents

MS 3227a 13v

Here begins Master Liechtenauer’s Art of fencing with the sword on foot and mounted as well as with Armour and without.”

Basic information on the manuscript.

Its various names, context and history

Presumably the oldest written copy of “Zettel“, a keystone of the German Historical swordsmanship tradition, MS 3227a also known as Pol hausbuch serves a valuable and intriguing source material for Historical Martial Arts research in regards to its contents, arrangement and its provenance.

Currently preserved and displayed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum located in Nuremberg, Germany, the manuscript known as MS 3227a is also known by many other names; Hs 3227a, GMN Hs 3227a, Codex Döbringer, Codex Nuremberger and Pol Hausbuch are the ones most widely known.

Its contents written in Latin, Middle High German (“Mittelhochdeutsch“) and Early New High German (“Frühneuhochdeutsch“)  languages, this manuscript is a “hausbuch” consisting of 169 folia written on both sides with black and red ink, all bound in leather.

In the most general meaning, “hausbuch” means commonplace book; these books can be considered more like scrapbooks or notebooks, their contents not following any particular order and mostly scribbled with diverse subjects as deemed important by the owner of the household for domestic use for themselves or their families. They become more and more widespread as literacy rates going up among the common people during the 15th century onwards. Many scholars of renaissance era were known to keep their notes and researches in such commonplace books, the most famous of them being Leonardo da Vinci as he states “a collection without order, drawn from many papers, which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place according to the subjects of which they treat” on folio 1 of his own notebook. (Codex Arundel 263)

MS 3227a includes, among other things, magic spells for victory and control during battle, information on hardening steel, alchemical formula written in Latin and most importantly, penned in various chapters and interceded by the glosses of the unknown scribe, the “Zettel” on swordsmanship and martial arts attributed to the Grandmaster Johannes Liechtenauer.

History of the Manuscript.

Provenance

It is unknown to us so far who was the original scribe of the MS3227a. The first owner of the manuscript that we know about was Nikolaus Pol, since he signed the codex as follows “Nikolaus Pol, doctor, 1494“.

As far as it is known to us, Nikolaus Pol (B. 1467, D. 1532) was a renaissance-era physician. He came under Austrian Archduke Sigismund’s service in the city of Innsbruck and until his death at the age of 65, he served Archduke Sigismund and his Successors Maximilian I. and Charles V. as the court physician to Emperors of Holy Roman Empire. He had an extensive library of 1350 books, covering a wide array of subjects ranging from medicine, natural sciences, alchemy, astrology and divination. The size of his library was even more impressive considering the time period. He earned his doctorate on 1494 and subsequently signed all the books in his library with “Nikolaus Pol, doctor, 1494“. (Maggs, 1929)

It is not known how MS 3227a came to be in Nikolaus Pol’s library, however we know that the manuscript was taken to the Innichen Abbey in South Tyrol, following Pol’s death in 1532. The fate of the manuscript remains obscure during the 17th and 18th centuries, until it appears in the founder of Germanisches Museum, Hans Freiherr von und zu Aufsess’s library in 19.th century. Following it’s founding in 1852, the manuscript is transferred from Baron zu Aufsess’s library to Germanisches Museum.