SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London recreation combat training offences curfew
Subject: Prohibition of fencing
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Liber Custumarum, f.217
Transcription in: Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Munimenta Gildhallae Londoniensis: Liber Custumarum, Rolls Series, no.12, vol.2 (1860), 282-283.
Original language: French
Location: London
Date: late 13th or early 14th century


Concerning those who delight in mischief, proceed to learn in the city how to fence with the buckler, by night and by day, and consequently are emboldened to do wrong: it is decided that no-one within the city is to hold a school nor take lessons in fencing with the buckler, by night or by day. Anyone so doing is to be imprisoned for 40 days. He [i.e. an instructor] is not to take an apprentice by day, unless he is a man of good reputation and known [character]; if he is convicted of doing so, he is to receive the same punishment.


The intent of this ordinance was to suppress the conditions that encouraged brawling and duelling, and in that sense is a concern with keeping of the peace, but might also be considered part of the "recreational activities" of a certain set within London society – largely adolescents who roamed around, often in gangs, to challenge each other. The king and aristocracy were offended by what they saw as the degradation of their values based on honorable combat, as well as the risk of death or injury from this sort of behaviour (even though swords and bucklers were often made of wood). In 1310, one Roger, surnamed "the Skirmisher", was brought before the courts for teaching fencing skills to the sons of respectable citizens.

The context of this passage is a set of ordinances prescribing curfew and, particularly, ordering taverns and alehouses to close by curfew. The connection presumably being that, under the influence of drink, the men of London were more inclined to brawling, and training in swordplay only made this situation worse. It is not certain whether the last part of the passage is connected with the first.

FitzStephen had described, ca.1180, as one of several recreational activities of a martial bent that took place on holidays, how the youth of London would duel with sword and buckler. Some 300 years after his time an Italian visitor to London, Dominic Mancini, also remarked on the martial games of the city youth on holidays: arming themselves with shields and blunted swords or staves, for duelling. Evidently it was a popular activity that contributed to the defensability of the city, but could also contribute to disorder.



This was, in the 13th century, a small shield – not used as a bodily protection so much as for parrying blows, and thus particularly in duels to serve with sword or dagger. There is a small possibility that the French eskirmir de bokeler could alternatively be translated "to fight with a staff (bacellus)". In either case, the issue here is that the authorities were concerned that the giving of combat lessons would only encourage duelling.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: April 6, 2015 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2015