The Ledall Manuscript


The British Library Additional Manuscript 39,564 can be dated approximately to between 1485 and 1515, placing it in the early Tudor era and making it the latest of the "Pre-Silver" English swordsmanship texts. It shows remarkable similarity to the Harleian Manuscript in its content and method of organization. It is composed of 2 "Flourishes" (solo exercises), 13 "chates" (attack sequences), and 23 counter-attack sequences. At the time of this writing, it is not certain how all the attacks and counter-attacks mesh together, although it seems very likely that some do.

Recorded on a single roll of vellum, the text is referred to as the "Ledall Manuscript" in reference to an apparent signature at the bottom of the roll reading "J. Ledall." Whether this is the name of the scribe or the name of the man whose teachings fill the page, we unfortunately do not know.

The importance of the Ledall Manuscript is manifold; to begin with, it serves as yet another valuable data point for research and interpretation of late medieval and early Renaissance English swordsmanship. In addition, it clearly uses terms found in both the earlier Harleian Manuscript, the Cotton Titus Manuscript, and the later Renaissance works of gentleman George Silver. This argues well for a close relationship between these sources, and for the supposition of an overall "style" of English swordsmanship, much as there can be some recognition of distinctly Germanic and Italianate styles. From the similarities in organization between the three texts, a common method of study and practice can also be posited for late medieval and Renaissance English swordsmen who studied these styles, as well.

Hand and foot movements are described more explicitly throughout this work than in its predecessors, and terminology becomes slightly less obscure (although there are still some poetic beauties such as "Dragon's Tayle" with which interpreters must contend).

It is differentiated from Harleian Longsword style in a few ways. Firstly, its footwork seems less circular and more triangular in nature. This is hardly surprising, given the popularity of Bolognese styles of swordsmanship in mainland Europe at the time of the manuscript's writing. Secondly, the motions made seem to be smaller and more controlled, which suggest a slightly smaller sword than the one used in Harley--and foreshadowing George Silver's predeliction for the so-called ancient "short" sword, and his advocation of maintaining "narrow space." Whereas the Harleian Manuscript should probably be practiced with a longsword, Ledall's exercises seem best suited for a "bastard" sword. Thirdly, the role of the thrust (foin) seems to have grown dramatically as compared to its appearance in both Harley and Cotton Titus.

Thus viewed, the Ledall Manuscript can be seen as an important bridge between the unarguably medieval style exemplified by the Harleian Manuscript, and the Renaissance teachings of George Silver. However, it also stands on its own as an independent source of information, and an interesting look at the continuing development of English swordsmanship.

The Flourishes

All information contained within this website is copyright, 2006, the Black Falcon School of Arms and the Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild. Background image used with permission from Bronwen Hodgkinson.