Public festivals, martial display and knowledge transfer in towns of the German Empire, especially in the Swiss lands

Subproject 1 will investigate the evolution and use of urban public festivals encompassing shooting competitions and other public displays of skills useful to the citizen-soldier. These festivals were stages for representation and promotion of urban honour and military prowess, and functioned as hubs of communication concerning martial knowledge. A comprehensive investigation of these events in the late middle ages, and of the people promoting, organising, participating in, and profiting from them, will shed light on the each of these elements and how they interrelated, and will enable a tracking of the ways individual expressions of martial urban cultures merged to form regional patterns.

As Schaufelberger showed, martial competition played a central role in the military training of citizens in the 16th century. Further evidence suggests that such competitions took place as early as the beginning of the 15th century, across a broad network of towns. In a first step, a list of such events will be established and as much information as possible gathered on the people involved in organising as well as participating in these events.

The events thus isolated will undergo sequential analysis, i.e. each procedural step from planning to execution and postprocessing will be connected to the groups of people involved in order to establish a basis for comparative analysis between towns. As a third step, this information about the practical, political, martial, and communicative aspects of these events will be analyzed with norms and forms of representation by integrating technical manuals, material culture, and of the material gathered and its comparison with secondary sources: technical literature, material culture, and iconography.

Martial associations (guilds and brotherhoods) were, from the late 14th century onwards, composed of citizens and inhabitants. Both groups were responsible for urban internal security on the basis of their rights of citizenship or of habitation, and weapon ownership was regulated according to legal status. Studies of early modern French, Swiss, and Dutch towns point to ‘games’ played within these associations and connect them to military training. Swiss historiography, however, still tends to assume that citizen soldiers did not need any training because the simple weapons they used allowed them to ‘learn on the spot’. Material evidence, and information on the organization of the urban armies of the period, however, suggest that there was at least occasional active training of town-dwelling soldiers even for the period before the Burgundian wars.

The planned sub-project intends to determine the role played by the town within these networks of martial experts, martial associations of inhabitants or citizen, and urban competitions. Based on the earlier research of Schaufelberger (1972), and the more recent research of Jaquet (fencing) and Delle Luche (shooting), we plan extensive research on the martial activities in the late 14th to the early 16th centuries within a representative group of cities (selected based on earlier research, state of archive and pre-project archival sweep). The first research phase will focus on archival investigation (Ratsprotokolle, accounting, and documents produced in and around these martial activities), identification of networks of actors, and categorisation of martial events (competition, festival, training). In the second phase the procedural and ritual development of martial activities will be ascertained and sketched, along with the related role played by the town. This will also allow us to (a) draw parallels and distinctions between the Swiss lands compared to later periods and other areas better investigated (low countries), and (b) investigate connections between urban martial activities and warfare, and (c) lastly, to connect this document-based research to analyses on material culture (weapons, banners, clothing) and to technical literature on how to shoot or to fence (as demonstrated in a prior case study of Solothurn).