Anatomy of Interpretation: The Kron or Crown
Additional translation provided by Jack Gassman
We often tend to forget that HEMA is actually an oral tradition in many respects. Despite the hard work put into translating and understanding the manuals, the transmission of the physical interpretation goes person to person, sometimes from book to person to person, and what was speculation becomes hard fact. These “legacy interpretations” become part of the modern corpus, and the basis for the interpretation remains unquestioned until a problem arises with the interpretation.
The Kron, or Crown, is a minor guard in the Lichtenhauer longsword tradition, and is a prime example of this type of “legacy interpretation”. In “Secrets of the German Longsword”, published in 2001, Christian Tobler presented an interpretation of these two verses from Lichtenhauer, with their accompanying glosses from Ringeck:
1) “What comes from him, the Crown will catch”- Lichtenhauer
“When you strike a Schietelhau and he displaces with the hilt,
this displacement is called the Crown.
From there one can rush in”
– Ringeck’s Gloss
2. “Cut through the Crown, you will break it hard through. Press the strikes, with cuts cut them off.”
“If he breaks the Schietelhau or any other oberhau with the Crown and tries to rush in,
cut in in the arm under his hands and push upward, so that the Crown is broken.
Then turn your sword from the cut below into one from above and in this way free yourself.”
– Ringeck’s gloss
Besides presenting these translated verses, Tobler also presented an interpretation of the Crown, as what I call a “point up Crown”, as shown in Figure 1. This interpretation rapidly became THE interpretation for the Crown, and most people still use this version today, some 14 years later.
Or rather, nobody uses this version. I’ve never seen a student of mine, nor a fencer in any competition or event I’ve attended, actually use this guard. Generally, it simply takes too much space to bring the sword up to this guard, unless you are already in Longpoint or another extended guard. Some might argue that this is because it’s a poor guard (the Lichtenhauer verses tend to imply you shouldn’t use it much), but I’d argue that the interpretation is wrong, and we need to relook at the Crown.
I’m not exactly the first person to question this interpretation, as other researchers working with other sources in the Lichtenhauer corpus have shown there to be some radically different versions of the guard running around. For instance, in Peter Falkner’s manuscript, the following verses and image can be found:
Slice through the crown
Break it well from below and from above.
If he wishes to struggle upon it,
Guide the pommel or point to his face.
- KK5012 (Falkner); Translated by Christian Trosclair (Wiktenauer)
A similar version of the Crown can be seen in Paulus Hector Mair’s massive compendium, as shown in Figure 3. Paulus Hector provides four plays using the Crown, which are separated from his halfsword plays in the text.
Figure 4: Paulus Hector Mair’s Crown, on the left
Thus, it appears as if we have two different versions of the Crown. However, looking through a wide variety of sources (see the Appendix), it could be argued that the original interpretation of the Crown is incorrect. Consider the following verses from Meyer:
(1.21v) For example, if an opponent overruns you with cloddish blows, the go under his stroke with the Crown, or else a high parrying, or go under him with hanging, and catch his sword on the flat of your blade.
(1.35v) …. Then step back and deliver a straight Scalp Cut to his head; pull it quickly back up with horizontal quillions, that is, come with the Crown over your head.
(1.60v) Do not rely too much on the Crown, you will tend to get harm and shame from it. Note when you parry with horizontal quillions up over your head, that is called the Crown.
(1.62r) If an opponent goes to you with his haft or both hands thus up in the air as I have taught, then go also up in the air with the Crown, so that he cannot plant his point on you; with this, come even nearer to him, and release your right hand from your haft; reverse it and grip with it between his arms on his haft….
- Joachim Meyer, Art of Combat; Translation by Jeffrey Forgeng (Greenhill Books)
These verses are very much in line with the Ringeck glossa, but add an extra piece of information: the quillions are horizontal (1.60v). From this, we can posit three possible variations on the Crown:
- Point up, quillions horizontal to the ground but parallel to the body (Figure 1)
- Point left, quillions horizontal to the ground but perpendicular to the body (Figure 5)
- Half-sword Crown- point left, left hand on the blade (Figure 6)
Figure 5: Point left Crown (Photo by Anja Roberts)
Figure 6: Half-sword Crown (photo by Anja Roberts)
The point-left and halfsword versions both protect the head, and are a natural response to a descending blow (you’ll see students naturally block this way all the time). The point-left Crown is very similar to the St. George’s guard familiar to English backsword fighters, as can be seen in Figure 7, and it is easy to see the resemblance between the two forms. The point-up Crown covers very little area, and isn’t easy to move into during a fight.
Figure 7: The St. George’s Parry on the right
Looking through Wiktenauer, we find mentions of the Crown in Döbringer, Ringeck, Falkner, Wilhalm, Mair and Meyer, but no mention in Kal, Talhoffer, Medel or Sutor. Of these, Wilhalm is the most interesting, as the manuscript appears to show both point-left and halfsword Crown positions. Unfortunately, Wilhalm’s manuscript remains untranslated, so I asked Jack Gassman to provide me an interpretation of the relevant sections. Jack informs me that the German text is written in a form of iambic pentameter, with a lot of extra words added to maintain the meter- the horrendous mess presented here is as close to the original as possible.
Jorg Wilhalm’s writing’s on the Crown (translation of the Archetype by Jack Gassman, from a transcription by Dierk Hagedorn on Wiktenauer)
Ein leger oder die Eisinn portt
Item das ist von der kron [ ] und der der das schwertt ubersich hebt der statt in dem schaitelhaw und der ander in ein leger und wan der schlecht von dach ab so nimpt der ander die kron also schon gloss merckh
A Leger, or the Iron Gate
Item: This is from the Crown and he who holds the sword himself, he stands in the Scheitelhaw and the other in a Leger and when he he strikes down from the roof so he takes the crown as has been noted in the Gloss
[I read this to say that the man on the left prepare to strike down with a vertical cut (Scheitelhaw). The man on the right will defend with the Crown from a low guard]
Das ist der schilchr
Der schilchr dem antluz ist geuar mit seiner kar der brust vast v[uo]war was von im kumpt die kron das ab nimpt der schnidt durch die kron so brichstu Sÿ hartt und schon die straich druckh mit schnidtn Sÿ abzuckh in allen sachen lass un[s] frisch hÿch machen
This is the shielder
The shielder is a danger to the face with his turning he grasps the breast, take note, what comes from the crown he shall abnehmen,
Cut through the crown so you shall break it beautifully and hard, press the stroke with cuts pull it away,in all things let us do them freshly/smartly
[The man on the right stands in the point left Crown, which the man on the left has broken through]
[24v] Das ist die kurtz schneid
Das ist auch vom schaitelhaw es ist zewissen das ainer den schaitelhaw sol nemen mit drew dritten vnd einer mag in nemen mit eim dritt den von im kumptt die kron das abnimpt der schnidt durch die kron so brichstu sÿ hartt schon die straich truck mit schnidten sÿ abzuckh gloss merckh
[24v] This is the short edge
Schaitelhaw: This is also deals with the Schaitelhaw
It is to know, that one should take the Schaitelhaw with three steps, and one can manage it with a step, then from him comes the crown, that the cut through the crown takes down
So you shall break it hard and beautifully
[This is an enormous mess. I’m not sure what action is ascribed to whom, but it could be talking about defeating the Scheitelhau by running underneath. Or not]
[24r] Das ist der schaitelhaw
Das ist der schilcher
Das ist von dem schaitelhaw die ausrichtung das ist schilchr~ mit schaitler sÿ sind dem hawpt baid geferd der schaitler dem antlitz ist geuar mit seiner kar der brust vast gefar vnd was von im kompt die kron also schon gloss merckh
[24r] This is the the Schaitelhaw
This is the shielder
This is the execution of the Schaitelhaw
This is the shielder – with Schaitler they are both danger to the head
The schaitler the head takes note of and with the turning, the breast endangers and from him comes the crown surely, remember the gloss
[Again, unclear.This could refer to defeating the Schietelhau by turning your Crown guard to thrust instead]
[15r] Item das ist die kron der sein schwertt gewappent heltt in der hand schon vnd nim war schon mit der kron die ist gutt In alle weg zu allen weren vnd biss starckh dar In oder schwach wie du wiltt gloss merckh
[15r] Item: this is the crown
Who holds his sword armed already in the crown
it is good in all paths to all defences
and be thereby weak or strong as you wish
remember the gloss
[A clear use of the half-sword Crown, using it to run under the opponent’s blow. Plate is the same as Mair’s first halfsword play (109)]
[15v] Das ist der schnidtt durch die kron vnd den nim also Schon Als du es gmalt sichst in allen Sachen wilttu ein schnit machen gloss merckh schon auff den schnidt in der kroon
[15v] This is the cutting through the crown
And take as you see it painted in all things
If you wish to make a cut
Remember the gloss well
To the cut in the crown
[Defeating the halfsword Crown using an unterhau]
[41r] Item das ist der bruch auff die kron da merckh also schon als du es gmaltt sichst vnd der das schwertt vber Sich hebt der bricht die kron mit dem Reissen am schwertt mit dem kreutz da lug auff wen er Reist im die kron hinweg gloss merckh
Hie hatt der lanng zettel ein end vnd das helff vnss gott also behend vnd ist die kron das Aller letst vnd ist das aller best etc
Item: this is the breaking of the crown
Take note surely, And he who holds the sword above himself
He breaks the crown with the ripping on the sword
With the cross look up as he rips his crown away
Here the long Zettel has an end and let god aid us promptly and the crown is the best and last of all.
[Defeating the halfsword Crown using the quillions to pull the sword down]
Interpretation of the Wilhalm plates
Wilhalm bridges the gap between the half-sword Crown and the regular crown. In Plate 12, he sets up the Crown as a defence used when your blade is low and your opponent’s is high; in Plate 20, he shows the problems with the Crown, as the attacker blasts his way (“breaks through”) through a clear point-left Crown. Plates 24v and 24r appear to be counters to the Schietelhau, but are hard to interpret, but the last three plates clearly show a half-sword crown and two counters to this half-sword Crown. Interestingly, the images for the last three plates are reproduced by Paulus Hector Mair as the first three of the four Crown plays (109-112), though the text is very different.
Pulling from a variety of sources, I must argue that the “point-up” Crown is a misinterpretation. A point-left Crown shares many characteristics with the half-sword Crown, and matches all the sources at least as well as a point-up Crown. Furthermore, this version has the advantage of being a natural movement seen regularly in sparring. Jorg Wilhalm’s manuscript adds further evidence for the point-left interpretation, showing both the two-handed and half-sword variations.
Hopefully I’ve put this one to bed- there is no reason to use a point-up Crown. However, I’m sure there will be discussion on this issue, so I’m opening this particular article for comments.
Jorg Wilhalm alternative version (translated from the Munich I version by Jack Gassmann, from a transcription by Filip Lampard and Martin Fabian)
ein leger oder die Eisnin portt
Item das ist von der kron etc vnd der der das schwertt vbersich hebtt der statt in dem schaitelhaw vnd der ander in ein legr~ vnd wan der schlöchtt von dach ab so nimpt der ander die kron also schon gloss merckh
A guard or the iron door
Item: this is of the Kron etc.,
he who holds the sword above himself,
he stands in the Schaitelhaw and the other in a Leger
and when the other strikes from the roof
so the other takes crown as has been noted in the gloss
[16v] Der statt schlechtz in der ober versatzung
Das ist der schilcher
Der schilcher dem antlitz ist geuar mit seiner kar der brust vast virwar was von Im kumptt die kron das abnimptt der schnidt durch die kron so brichstu sÿ hartt vnd schon die straich trucke mit schnidten sÿ obzucke In allen sachen lass vns frischlich machen
This is the Shielder
The shielder the face takes note
with his turning he grasps the breast, note this
what comes from him the crown that takes off the cut through the crown
let us do all things smartly
[22v] Das ist die kurz schneid
Das ist auch vom schaitelhaw es ist zu wissen das ainer den schaitelhaw sol nemen mit drey (drew) dritten und einer mag in nemen mit ein drit der von im kumpt die kron das abnimpt der schnidt durch die kron so brichstu sÿ hartt und schon die straich druckh mit schnitten sÿ abzuckh gloss merckh
This is also of the Schaitelhaw,
it is to know that one should take the Schaitelhaw
with three steps/thirds and and one may take him
with a third/step from him comes the crown
so you break him hard and beautifully
the stroke push
with cuts pull away
note the gloss
[22r] Das ist der schaitelhaw
Das ist der schilchr
Das ist von dem schaittelhaw die ausrichtung das ist schilchr mit schaittler dem antliz ist geuar mit seiner kar der brust vast gefar und was von im kompt die kron also schon gloss merckh
This is the Schaitelhaw
This is the shielder
This is the execution of the schaittelhaw
here shielder with schaittler is to the face takes note
with his turning the breast endangers
and what from him comes, the crown surely
remember the gloss
[41r] Item das ist die kron der sein schwertt gewappent heltt in der hand schon und nim war schon mit der kron die ist gutt in alle was zu allen weren und bis starckh darin oder schwach wie du wiltt gloss merckh
Item: this is the crown
He stands with his sword armed
Already in the hand
And take good note
With the crown
It is good in all ways
And be strong thereby
As you wish
Remember the gloss
[41v] Das ist der schnid durch die kron und den nim also schon als du es gmalt sichst in allen sachen wilttu ein schnitt machen gloss merck schon auff den schnidt in der Kron
This is the cut through the crown
and take it surely
as you see it painted
in all things
if you wish to make a cut
remember the gloss well
in the cut in the crown
[42r] Item das ist der bruch auff die kron da merckh also shon als du es gmalt sichst und der das schwertt [und]ersich hebtt der bricht die kron mitt dem Vessen am schwertt mit dem kreuz da lug auff wen er Reist im die kron hinweg gloss merckh
Item:this is the breaking of the crown, take note anyway
as you see it painted
and he who holds the sword above himself
he breaks the crown with the ripping of the sword
with the cross
There look up as he
Rip his crown away
Appendix: Other mentions of the Crown
The Kron defends against the Scheitler
Cut through the Kron so it is already broken
- Codex MS 3227a (Dobringer); Translation by Thomas Stoeppler (Wiktenauer)
How the Crown counters the parter.
That which comes from him, the Crown takes away.
Glosa: When you cut in against him from above with the Scheitelhau, if he defends himself with the hilt over his head: this defence is called the Crown. And with that he can rush in close to you.
How the slice counters the Crown.
Slice through the Crown, so you break this guard quickly.
Press with the sword, with more slicing you draw backwards.
Glosa: When he defends against the Scheitelhau or some other cut with the Crown and tries to rush in against you, pull the slice under his hands in his arm and press hard upwards, to break the Crown. And turn your sword from the under slice to the over slice, and thus draw back.
- Ringeck (MS Dresden C.487); translation by Christian Trosclair & Keith Farrell (Wiktenauer)
(Plate 109) The First Technique in the Kron
It happens hence that you close against the Kron. Strike him with the long edge to the top of his head such that your right foot stands forward. If he displaces this with the Kron, then step in with your left leg, take your strike once again and wind your point to his chest. If he sets your point aside also with the Kron, follow outward with your right foot and grip with your left hand at the mid-point of your blade and thrust powerfully to his face. If he goes on to displace this, then step with your left foot on his right side and thrust to his groin.
If you come to perceive such a groin thrust and stand with your left foot forward in the Kron, then set it aside with the Kron, follow outward with your right foot, and thrust with your point to his face. If he displaces this, then strike him with your crossguard to his head.
- Paulus Hector Mair, Dresden; Translation by Keith P. Myers (Wiktenauer)