The Final Series of Plays of I.33

The final plays of I.33 have represented a conundrum to me for a while now. While superficially simple, we are shown the various things that happen when Priest’s Special Langort besieged 4th Ward. But then we see the extremely strange anomaly of 4th Ward using an Obsessio (Halfshield) against another Obsessio (PSL). Throughout the rest of the manual, the constant format of the plays is we see one fencer in a Ward, the opponent uses an Obsessio, and then we see either one fencer get struck, or a bind occurs. We don’t ever see this case of Obsessios being used to counter each other elsewhere in the manual. Often, this example is used to support the idea of moving from Ward to Ward in a fight.

I don’t agree with that position, but we’ll move on. After these plays, we then see what seems to be a disconnected play. We see Walpurgis Ward for the first time, and we see a pretty simple play involving a Schutzen, a bind, and a Schiltslac. We’re left wondering what the point was of this last play.

If you notice, the Schutzen used in the final play against Walpurgis Ward (Folio 32r) is the same as the Schutzen that Priest’s Special Langort is advised to do against 4th Ward (Folio 30v). We also know that PSL has some similarities to 1st Ward in the plays that come from it. In light of this, I think it makes sense to see these last plays as part of one final collection of decisions and actions related to PSL, 4th Ward, Walpurgis, and 1st Ward. So let’s break this down:


MS I.33 Folio 30r

The beginning of this series, we see Priest’s Special Langort besieging 4th Ward. We’re told that the besieger must be careful that 4th Ward doesn’t strike him. This makes perfect sense. With PSL being a position similar to Wechsel, the sword arm, shoulder, and the head are very exposed, and if you are entering distance with this position, obviously if you delay at all, he can strike you in those open areas. It then proceeds to tell us that because it’s dangerous to delay, we should immediately do a Schutzen, but we’re not shown this illustrated just yet. It takes a break from this play, and then gives some advice for the one caught in 4th Ward. It tells us that if he sees the opponent entering with PSL, he needs to immediately use Halfshield. Why? This will become clear later.

The play then continues from this break on the next page, Folio 30v.


MS I.33 Folio 30v

We finally see the above-mentioned Schutzen. It’s an odd one for sure, with the elbow bent in a strange way. It’s clearly not the same as the Schutzen against 3rd Ward, or the Krucke Obsessio, as the bent elbow seems to be a significant difference in the artwork as if it’s trying to emphasize a difference. More time will need to be spent on this Schutzen another time, and it will need to include pictures and videos, so let’s continue. We see PSL do his Schutzen, and we see that immediately, 4th Ward has bound against it in what looks to be a right overbind. We then see the one in the Schutzen do a Schiltslac (which is different from the usual case where the one in the overbind does the Schiltslac). On the next page, 31r we then see a way that the one who is the overbind can deflect this Schiltslac because he was in the overbind (Folio 31r).


MS I.33 Folio 31v

On Folio 31v we see the “default” way this play works out. PSL does the Schutzen against 4th Ward, and if 4th Ward does nothing, the one who did Schutzen should do the same old thrust from the left we’ve seen many times in the manual. Pretty simple.

So let’s summarize what we have before we hit the Walpurgis Ward play. We’ll make it into a decision tree of sorts, from the perspective of the one doing Priest’s Special Langort. Blue is the one who did PSL, red is the one who was in 4th Ward, and boxes denote the “best” decision whenever there’s a split

PSL-4th Ward Decision Tree 1.png

So we’ve started to form a complete decision tree involving the entire set of branches and decisions we’re given from the plays involving 4th Ward being besieged by PSL. But as you can see from the two branches ending in question marks, there are still gaps. For example, what do we do if we do the Schutzen, and the one in 4th Ward proceeds with his obvious strike directed at your head? And what happens if 4th Ward does Halfshield? Where does that lead? What does the play from Walpurgis add?

First off, the Walpurgis play simply shows 1st Ward, which is analagous to PSL, using the Schutzen against Walpurgis Ward, to which Walpurgis overbinds and does a Schiltslac. The interesting difference is that it seems to be showing that if the one in Walpurgis (or 4th Ward) sees the Schutzen, he can go directly into the overbind and do a Schiltslac, whereas in the previous example, the one who does the Schutzen catches their sword and THEY do the Schiltslac, not the one in the overbind. At very least, it’s telling us that either party can Schiltslac from this position.

Second, the decision where 4th Ward does Halfshield, I believe this is a case where if you are beginning with a strike from above your head and you see your opponent enter with PSL, you should modify your action to end in Halfshield instead of ending in a strike, sort of like pulling your blow. By seeing them go into PSL and knowing they will Schutzen, you pull your strike into Halfshield and it allows you to more easily get the overbind when he goes into Schutzen. Ideally, it will happen simultaneously, as he raises up into the Schutzen your sword will cut down onto his into an overbind. And if they don’t raise up into the Schutzen, you are still positioned to immediately stab them in the face or strike. This option also leads to the same old plays of 1st Ward vs Halfshield, as it talks about in a previous play involving PSL vs Halfshield. So what about the last gap? What happens if you do Schutzen against 4th Ward and they proceed to do their obvious strike to your head? Well, this is answered by the simple purpose of all the Schutzen: they cover an opening and are prepared to catch a strike and put you in a vastly superior position to stab or strike them if they make that strike against your Schutzen. In practicing this series of techniques at the club the other weekend, it was seen that if you do the Schutzen and they carry out that strike, you end up catching their sword near your crossguard and buckler, with their sword on your outside to your right. You end up with your point directed at them or hitting them, completely dominating the bind and completely protected from their strike. BUT, if they know you’re doing the Schutzen, and they do Halfshield or overbind your Schutzen rather than strike directly, you end up in a slightly different position. You end up with their sword on your inside to the left, which is suddenly not a strong position for you. It’s a subtle difference, but the slight shift in which side of the centerline the bind occurs makes the difference.

So anyways, let’s fill in that decision tree now:

PSL-4th Ward Decision Tree 2.png

We see that the merging all these plays together gives a complex tree of decisions that come from this series of plays. We see ways that both fencers can win based on who reacts properly, and who doesn’t delay. As the manual reminds us multiple times, this situation is very sensitive to either of the fencers delaying or tarrying. We also see that these last few plays can all be merged together into one cohesive decision tree, where we see both the inherent deceptiveness and baiting nature of PSL, as well as the ways that the one being besieged can counter it. We also see the potential benefit of using Walpurgis instead of other Wards. We see Walpurgis binding against the Schutzen, and winning that bind by doing the Schiltslac, rather than previously the one in the Schutzen winning it. In the previous play, the one doing Schutzen was first in the bind, and as we’re told earlier in I.33, the one who is there first can act first, so it makes sense that they can do the Schiltslac first. But then we see Walpurgis acting first and doing the Schiltslac despite the one doing Schutzen being at the bind first. This part deserves more examination, but for now, I am satisfied with a set of effective techniques and tactics to use from Priest’s Special Langort, as well as finally figuring out what the wonky-elbow Schutzen is (but that’s for another article).


About joeynitti

I study Historical European Martial Arts. I am a member of Ottawa Swordplay. I've been studying HEMA for around 5 years.
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