Medieval arms control

Fred Funcken, an artist most famous in nerd circles for illustrating a series of books on military uniforms through the ages (which his wife Liliane authored), passed away earlier this year.  I had always assumed he just focused on Napoleonic or Enlightenment era uniforms, but he also did books on medieval arms and armor, which falls within my areas of interest, so I decided to track him down through interlibrary loan (his books seem to be mostly out of print).   I was recently paging through one of Funcken’s books (The Age of Chivalry pt. 1) and noticed a comment in the caption near the plate on maces that there were repeated efforts by knights to have maces banned. (Maybe around p. 76? I should keep better notes)

I’d never heard that before and no source was cited.

I have of course heard about crossbows being banned by church decree.  Actually it was a ban on ‘the murderous art of crossbowmen and archers‘ being used against other Christians in the 1139 Second Lateran Council, which also bans tournaments and denies church burial to those killed in tournaments.  I seem to recall some historians arguing that the original Latin text of this decree implies that it is the use of poisoned arrows and bolts that is actually being banned, but I’m not sure if that has reached a consensus.  (For one thing, I’m not sure how powerful crossbows were in the 12th century — could they actually pierce armor better than bows at that time or were they just easier to learn to use?  My hunch is that the toll that archery took on horses rather than knights was the real issue.)

I also recall hearing that guisarmes (or some similar pole-arm) were banned or at least railed against by knights, but I don’t remember the source.  It would certainly make sense that a can opener on a stick, which could also dismount a man from his horse, would bother knights.

However a ban on maces seems very improbable, given that maces are such simple and ancient weapons.  I’d love to know his source for this tidbit.

The only other famous example of a medieval weapons ban I can think of would be the supposed disappearance of guns in early Edo era Japan.  Actually there was an effort to remove weapons generally from the populace by calling on everyone to donate their swords, muskets, etc. to help build a temple in 1588 or thereabouts.   I understand that strict control of weapons lead to the development of Asian unarmed martial arts and some of the unusual weapons that were actually farming implements (tonfa, nunchaku, and others).  But this is not a specific weapon ban, it is arms control.

There is also a long European tradition of limiting the carrying of weapons or wearing of armor into civilized places like towns throughout most of history.  This is something most fantasy role-playing games ignore.

Published in: on August 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Providing a citiation from Ecclesiatical law for the proprietor of Playing D&D with Porn Stars, that’s like work when you’re a librarian, but I’m a sucker…

No cleric may decree or pronounce a sentence involving the shedding of blood, or carry out a punishment involving the same, or be present when such punishment is carried out. If anyone, however, under cover of this statute, dares to inflict injury on churches or ecclesiastical persons, let him be restrained by ecclesiastical censure. A cleric may not write or dictate letters which require punishments involving the shedding of blood, in the courts of princes this responsibility should be entrusted to laymen and not to clerics. Moreover no cleric may be put in command of mercenaries or crossbowmen or suchlike men of blood; nor may a subdeacon, deacon or priest practise the art of surgery, which involves cauterizing and making incisions; nor may anyone confer a rite of blessing or consecration on a purgation by ordeal of boiling or cold water or of the red-hot iron, saving nevertheless the previously promulgated prohibitions regarding single combats and duels. — from the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215

Zak of “Playing D&D with Porn Stars,” thought that he might have seen something on my blog about why D&D clerics are prohibited from using edged weapons, and asked if I could recall it.  I don’t know if I’ve ever discussed this explicitly but he was pretty sure I had a really explicit quote about it.  That’s absolutely the sort thing I ought to have here!  OK, now I do.  Despite the many apocryphal explanations for this D&D trope (Archbishop Turpin in Charlemangian legends, Bishop Odo using a club on the Bayeux Tapestry, etc.) this must be the most specific reason the rule was introduced (apart from the possible game design purpose of denying clerics the use of magic swords!).

Probably this quote is also why the Inquisition always turned people over to the secular authorities for torture and execution.

I’m a librarian but I don’t work the reference desk, so this took me a while to figure out, and I kept sending him secondary sources instead of this primary source.    I wish I could say Google had no role in my finding this answer but I can’t. 😦

Published in: on May 11, 2013 at 7:51 pm  Comments (6)  
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