Mastering the art of the poleaxe: Medieval fight manuals and the techniques of combat
A poleaxe is a type of medieval weapon that consists of a long wooden shaft with a metal head that has a sharp, pointed end for piercing armour and a flat, heavy end for crushing and breaking through shields and armour.
The head of the poleaxe was typically mounted on the shaft at a right angle, and the weapon was used to deliver powerful, sweeping blows to an opponent. Poleaxes were popular among infantry soldiers and mounted knights in the Middle Ages. They were effective against both armour and unarmoured opponents. The poleaxe was also often used in judicial duels and other types of formal combat.
One example of a judicial duel involving the use of poleaxes was the showdown between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris in 1386. The two men fought a duel to settle a dispute over the alleged rape of de Carrouges’ wife by Le Gris.
A Powerful Blow From his Poleaxe
The duel was held in Paris and was overseen by the King of France, Charles VI. Both men were heavily armoured and brandishing poleaxes. The duel ended when de Carrouges was able to strike Le Gris with a powerful blow from his poleaxe, killing him instantly.
Another example was the fight between Gautier de Châtillon and Jean de Moncontour that took place in 1389. The two men fought a duel to settle a dispute over a land inheritance, which took place in Paris and was once more overseen by the King of France, Charles VI. Both men were again armed with poleaxes, and the duel ended when de Châtillon managed to hit de Moncontour with the blade of his poleaxe. Again this blow killed the man instantly.
It’s worth noting that judicial duels, or trials by combat, were a relatively common way to resolve legal disputes in the Middle Ages, especially in Europe. However, they were eventually outlawed in most countries due to their brutal nature and the high number of deaths that resulted from them.
Poleaxe fight manuals
There were several manuals written during the Burgundian period (14th and 15th centuries) that discussed the use of the poleaxe in combat. One of the most famous was the “Fechtbuch” (Fight Book) of Hans Talhoffer, which was written in the mid-15th century. Containing illustrations and descriptions of various techniques, it taught how to strike, parry, and counterattack with the poleaxe.
Another important manual from this period was the “Flos Duellatorum” (Flower of Battle) of Fiore dei Liberi, which was penned in the early 15th century. In addition to the poleaxe, this manual also contained guidance for using other weapons such as the sword, spear, and mace.
Other notable manuals that outline the use of the poleaxe include the “Gladiatoria” of Hans von Speyer, the “Fechtbuch” of Paulus Kal, and the “Fechtbuch” of Peter von Danzig. These manuals were often used as training guides for knights and other soldiers in the Burgundian army.
There are several poleaxe techniques that feature prominently in many manuals. Some of the most popular and well used include:
The “coup de poing” – a powerful overhead strike delivered with the pointed end of the poleaxe, aimed at piercing through an opponent’s armour.
The “coup de taille” – a slicing or chopping motion inflicted with the edge of the poleaxe head, aimed at cutting through an opponent’s armour or limbs.
The “coup de boule” – a sweeping strike carried out with the flat, heavy end of the poleaxe, aimed at knocking an opponent off balance or breaking their shield.
The “contre-coup” – a counterattack mounted in response to an opponent’s strike, using the momentum of their attack to deliver a powerful blow with the poleaxe.
The “parry” – a defensive technique in which the poleaxe is used to deflect or block an opponent’s attack, allowing the user to counterattack and gain an advantage in the fight.
Training with the poleaxe would have involved learning how to wield the weapon effectively in a variety of situations, including both offence and defence.
Poleaxe training would likely have involved practicing various techniques for using the different parts of the weapon. This might include performing strikes with the hammer or blunt end of the head, as well as using the axe and spike to cut and pierce an opponent’s armour.
Training would also have involved learning how to use the poleaxe to defend against an opponent’s attacks, as well as how to use it to deliver powerful blows in close combat.
In addition, poleaxe training would also have focused on developing strength and endurance. The poleaxe was a heavy weapon, and wielders would have needed to be physically fit to use it effectively on the battlefield. Training would also have included a variety of exercises designed to build up endurance and stamina.
The use on the Medieval Battlefield
A poleaxe was a common weapon employed on the medieval battlefield. The main body of the weapon was a long wooden pole, with a metal head attached to one end. The head of the poleaxe consisted of a hammer, an axe, and a spike, which allowed it to be used in a variety of deadly ways.
One move was to use it as a blunt weapon to bash and crush an opponent’s armour or shield. The hammer or blunt end of the head could be used to strike an opponent’s armour, causing damage, and possibly even knocking them unconscious. It could also be used to cut through an opponent’s armour or shield, allowing the wielder to deliver a deadly blow.
The spike on the poleaxe was also useful for piercing armour and shields and could target an opponent’s vulnerable areas, such as the joints in their armour or the gaps in their shield. It could also be used to hook and pull an opponent off balance, making them easier to strike with the other parts of the poleaxe.
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Historically, the poleaxe was used by both infantry and cavalry during the medieval period. It was a popular weapon for knights and other mounted warriors, as it gave them the reach and versatility they needed. It was also equipped by foot soldiers, who would use it to defend against mounted knights or to deliver powerful blows in close combat.
One famous example of the use of the poleaxe was at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, where English archers and men-at-arms used them to defend against the French knights. The poleaxes were able to hold off the charging cavalry and allowed the English to ultimately win the battle. Another example was the Swiss during the Burgundian Wars, where their highly trained pikemen and halberdiers used poleaxes to devastating effect against the French knights.
Some Notable Figures Believed to Have Been Killed With a Poleaxe Include:
John “the Fearless” Duke of Burgundy: John was killed in 1419 while attempting to cross a bridge during a battle against the Armagnacs. It is believed that he was killed by a blow to the head from a halberd, which is a type of poleaxe.
William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk: William was killed in 1450 during the Wars of the Roses. According to accounts of his death, he was killed by a blow to the head from a poleaxe.
Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick: Richard was killed in 1471 during the Battle of Barnet. It is believed that he was struck by a poleaxe or other long weapon, as he suffered several wounds to the head.
The poleaxe was a weapon that helped to level the playing field between infantry soldiers and knights on the medieval battlefield. Read More: Discovered the Remains of Medieval Soldier
One way that it helped to close the gap was by providing infantry soldiers with a weapon that could be used to defend against a knight’s charge. The poleaxe was able to hold off a charging knight because of its long reach, allowing infantry soldiers to stand their ground rather than being forced to retreat or flee.
The poleaxe was a versatile and effective weapon that was widely used in medieval combat. It was particularly favoured by infantry soldiers and mounted knights, as it could deliver powerful blows that could easily pierce through armour and shatter shields. The poleaxe also had a long reach, which allowed its user to attack their opponents from a distance and maintain a strategic advantage in combat.
In addition to its use in warfare, the poleaxe was also used in judicial duels and other forms of formal combat. Overall, the poleaxe was an important weapon in the Middle Ages that played a significant role in the way battles were fought and conflicts were resolved.