The problem with the broadsword and targe sources

Penicuik drawing 14. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Penicuik drawing 14. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

One of the weapon combinations that is used within the AHA is the Scottish broadsword and targe. This combination is of course quite iconic of the Scottish highlander, and so generates a lot of interest. There are few sword and targe sources however; so while we do not have to theorise an entire system from no evidence, we still run into all the problems identified by Keith in his “Interpretive” HEMA Systems article.

 

The three sources we have are the anonymous Penicuik sketches, Thomas Page’s The Use of the Broadsword, and Donald McBane’s The Expert Sword-man’s Companion. None of these sources are particularly detailed, and there isn’t as close a relationship in what they show as we might like.

 

Penicuik drawing 3. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Penicuik drawing 3. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

If we look at the Penicuik sketches, one of the notable features we can see is that the targe side is almost always held forward. The two exceptions are a depiction of a right leg forward fencer in a low, invitational guard, and a drawing of two Highlanders fencing, one of whom has his right leg forward. All other images show the Highlanders with the targe side forward (i.e. normally left leg forward, unless they are right handed, in which case they are right leg forward). This means that if we were basing a system off the Penicuik sketches, we would need to start in predominantly targe side forward guards. We could pass forward during a fight and be in a sword side forward position while we are actively fencing, but when in starting guard, we should rarely be sword side forward.

 

Penicuik Drawing 23 (4). 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Penicuik Drawing 23 (4). 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Page tells us the sword and targe is used mostly in an outside guard, which he describes as held with an entirely square body, with neither foot forward. He also talks about using the inside guard, which has to be held with the right leg forward (i.e. sword side forwards). So if we were trying to base a sword and targe system off of Pages’ teachings, we would mostly have neither leg forward, and occasionally be right leg forward.

 

McBane meanwhile doesn’t include any written information about which leg should be forward, but both his images of sword and targe are clearly right leg forward. Both images depict a broadsword and targe carrying out a technique, rather than standing in guard though, and McBane does mention left foot forward guards in the context of broadsword and coat (with the coat wrapped around the left arm)[1], so left foot forward guards are clearly not outside his system. Without firm advice, it is hard to say which foot should be forward in a McBane inspired system.

 

We have three sources, but we cannot get any consistent advice on which leg should be forward. The same problem exists when we look at what guards we should use.

 

Penicuik drawing 2. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Penicuik drawing 2. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

The Penicuik sketches do show a hanging guard, which should be familiar to any broadsword practitioner, although most of the guards shown have more in common with the Vom Tag of German longsword, being held either at the shoulder or over the head. There is nothing in the Penicuik sketches that could be reasonably equated to any medium, inside or outside guard. Notably, other than the depiction of a hanging guard, none of the sword and targe guards are performed with the point directed towards the opponent.

 

Penicuik drawing 1. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Penicuik drawing 1. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

As mentioned earlier, Page tells us the sword and targe is normally used in an outside guard which he describes as being done “when you stand with your Body square, astride the Line of Defence with the Right and Left Foot at right Angles with it, holding the Point of your Sword over against your Adversary’s Right Temple, and sinking the Hilt in a Line with his Left Hip, by which the external Part of the Right Side of the Head, Neck, Arm, Body, Thigh and Leg, and secured from being Cut[2]. This is obviously described as being a very different position from those shown in the Penicuik sketches.

 

The other guard he tells us is used is the inside guard, which he describes as “when you stand with each Foot on the Line of Defence and hold the Point of your Sword over against your Adversary’s Left Temple, and the Hilt in a Line with his Right Hip, and the Middle of your Sword cutting the Line of Defence at acute Angles, by which the internal Parts of the Limbs on the Right Side, and the fore Part of the Face and Body, with the whole Left Side, will be defended from being Cut[3].

 

Therefore, according to Page, when doing sword and targe, you should always hold your hilt low, with the point directed at the opponent’s face.

 

McBane sadly does not describe at all what positions should be used with sword and targe.

 

One of the interesting points about McBane is that he stresses the importance of not blinding yourself with your targe, something that can be seen in the following technique about what to do against a sword and targe.

 

…then make a very quick Thrust to his Left-Eye above his Targe, he will Recover his Targe to save his Left Eye, which will blind his Sight, then you have a great Opportunity to Run him through the Body or Cut his Legs, a Man that does not understand the Targe is better without it than with it, for it blinds his own Eyes…[4]

 

Based on this we could theorise that lifting your targe high to cover your head, as seen in the Penicuik sketches, is not advisable when following McBane’s system. It is worth noting though that both sword and targe images McBane shows depict the targe being held high to cover the head.

 

Neither the Penicuik sketches nor McBane give us any guidance on what techniques should be used with the sword and targe, so we cannot compare the sources in terms of techniques used. In the areas where we can compare these sources, being footwork and guard positions, we can see that they do not agree and cannot really be reconciled. What stance and guards you use will affect how you fight, especially when there isn’t much other information to go on. Starting with the assumption that you are going to fight primarily from a right foot forward medium guard will produce a very different style of fight than starting with the assumption that you are going to start from a left foot forward Vom Tag-esque position. Each position will require different footwork, and a different method of attacking. Whether you primarily hold your sword and targe together, or hold them separated from each other will also affect how you can attack, and what sort of techniques you can use to defend yourself and counter an opponent.

 

Creating a sword and targe system based on these sources can be somewhat problematic, and one could easily theorise very different sword and targe sources based on which source you chose to rely on more. Creating a theoretical sword and targe system can be done, although it needs to be done on the understanding that the end result could vary hugely, and that many elements shown in the sources from which you are trying to base a system cannot easily be reconciled.

 

 

[1] Donald McBane. “The Expert Sword-Man’s Companion: Of the True Art of Self-Defence with an Account of the Author’s Life, and his Transactions during the Wars with France. To which is Annexed, The Art of Gunnerie” 1728. In: Ben Kerr. The Expert Sword-Man’s Companion. Glasgow: Fallen Rook Publishing, 2015. Page 60.

[2] Thomas Page. The Use of the Broad Sword. Norwich: 1746.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Donald McBane. “The Expert Sword-Man’s Companion: Of the True Art of Self-Defence with an Account of the Author’s Life, and his Transactions during the Wars with France. To which is Annexed, The Art of Gunnerie” 1728. In: Ben Kerr. The Expert Sword-Man’s Companion. Glasgow: Fallen Rook Publishing, 2015. Page 60.

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