Period Sources

A key tenet of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) is that by reading and interpreting historical texts, we in the modern day world can reasonably hope to revive some aspects of the physical skills that composed martial arts as practiced by soldiers, knights, and sportsmen of centuries past. Because the use of medieval and Renaissance weaponry was abandoned as it was replaced by gunpowder-based weaponry, almost no unbroken lineage of traditional European martial artists exist.

Central to the mission of the BFSA is the revival and reconstruction of historical English martial arts, so the ancient manuscripts from which our curriculum is derived are English in origin. They can be divided roughly into three historical periods: medieval, Renaissance, and Early Modern. Preferred transcriptions of these texts are either linked for purchase, or are available to students of the school.


The medieval manuscripts studied by the BFSA are the Harleian Manuscript 3542, and Cotton Titus XXVa. Dating to the early half of the 15th century, both of these texts are presented in an apparently standardized Platonic format of fixed plays of the Two Hand Sword. Advanced students and Schollers of the BFSA study these manuscripts as part of the armored longsword units. Transcriptions and translation are available upon request.


The bulk of the BFSA's source material comes from the reigns of Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. The earliest of these is the "Ledall" Additional Manuscript 39,564, which details the use of the Tudor bastard sword in a Socratic format of fixed plays. Transcription and translation are available upon request.

By far the most informative and well-organized source of English martial arts are the two books of fencing theory by Elizabethan gentleman George Silver, who wrote Paradoxes of Defence and Brief Instructions Upon my Paradoxes of Defenseas a direct response to the popularity of the Italian rapier in Renaissance England. While his attempt at preservation of his beloved "ancient" traditional fighting style failed in its time, it ultimately provided the impetus for many modern researchers to seriously study historical fighting arts. The BFSA uses Silver's works to teach novices and students basic technique and decision-making skills. It also serves as the source of quarterstaff and shortsword.

Early Modern

By the early 1700's, many of the lessons of the earlier English martial artists had been forgotten. But Zachary Wylde wrote his English Master of Defence to compile his knowledge of rapier, broadsword, wrestling, and quarterstaff to preserve some of his inherited knowledge. His book forms the basis of the BFSA's wrestling curriculum, and adds some interesting short staff techniques to the Renaissance repertoire as well.