We all share the same love for our personal and shared discoveries of a forgotten European martial arts tradition and studying it we all learn to know some important and commonly known names like Liechtenauer, Fiore, Ringeck, Talhoffer, Kal, Vadi, Marozzo, Fabris and Silver etc. Most of us study their texts and the numerous anonymous ones somewhat generically but as we continue on or journey many of us also end up choosing to go down a more narrow street, focusing on one master only.
As many know, for me, that street is the Joachim Meyer street, and while certainly studying other sources, I have spent the last five years or so dedicating myself to his life’s work with the three known treatises & researching the bits and pieces we can find concerning his life and the context he lived and worked in. With time, I have grown to be quite passionate about understanding and spreading the “gospel” of Meyer, as I learn and start to understand the genious of his work. I regularly travel around the world to teach his Art and just the last few years I have been lucky enough to teach it at more than a dozen international HEMA events.
Last week I was quite honoured and happy about having been invited by the legendary Gladiatores to teach at the very first Donnerschlag event. It took place in Karlsruhe, Germany, just at the border to France and Straßburg, the city where Meyer spent a decade or two of his life, and as I had planned a pilgrimage of sorts to cities and locations relating to Meyer, I asked and was kindly offered a day trip to the city, together with some very nice people. I had of course prepared a list of locations to visit beforehand and this little report will share those locations, with some pretty pictures, so others can visit the same. Similar reports will be posted in the future as I over the next few years take on the other legs of my Meyer pilgrimage to Basel, Schwerin, Rostock and Lund.
The city has its roots in a Roman outpost belonging to the Germania Superior Roman province and was at first called Argentotatum, in medieval Latin Argentina. It was first settled in 12 BC. After several fires and rebuilds it gained its properly Roman fortified form after 97AD and was thus the permanent station of Legio VIII Augusta, including cavalry, and later also temporary station for the Legio XIV Gemina and the Legio XXI Rapax.
The centre for the camp was located near today’s Rue Des Hallebardes/Spiessgass, close to the cathedral that would be built almost a milennia and a half later.
From 300AD and onwards, Straßburg was the seat of the Bishopric of Straßburg and excavations at the current Église Saint-Étienne has unearthed remnants of a church going back to late fourth or early fifth century, which is today considered to be the oldest known church in all of Alsace. The place is considered to be the first seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Straßburg.
The region was of course filled with conflicts between the native Germanic tribes and the Romans, and in 357 AD, the Battle of Argentotatum was fought. Later to be Emperor, Julian defeated the Alemanni and King Chonodomarius was taken as prisoner. Nine years later, the Alemanni again tried to invade the Roman Empire and early in the fifth century, the Alemanni appear to finally have been successful in crossing the Rhine, conquering and settling in today’s Alsance and also large parts of what is now called Switzerland.
In the ninth century, the city was commonly known as Strazburg, as documented in 842 AD, by the Oaths of Strasbourg. Already a major commercial centre, in 923 AD the town came under the control of the Holy Roman Empire. After a long period of conflicts between the citizens and the bishop, and after the Battle of Oberhausbergen in 1262, King Philip of Swabia granted the city the status of Free Imperial City, thus the city was no longer under bishopric rule.
After a revolt in 1332 where the government of the city was redefined with close participation of the burgher artisan guilds, Straßburg declared itself a free republic. The city rule with three councils and the Ammestre would however, not be properly defined until ca 1482 AD.
As was common at the time, the city was harsh on the Jewish in some ways, but also protected them as they lived under specific regulations including not having the right to carry arms, thus being defenseless and dishonourable to attack. Still, following political and organisatorical changes in the city, and after the bubonic plague of 1348, over a thousand Jews were publicly burnt to death on Feb 14, 1349, during a six day massacre. Similar events had already taken place in Basel, and Freiburg, and it was heavily linked to changes in the rule of they city, as power shifted from the very rich burgher patricians to the burgher guilds.
Interestingly, in 1545, we see a note of a burgher named Jakob Meyer on the list of the aforementioned Ammestre of Straßburg. This is quite intriguing since, Joachim Meyer’s fathers name was Jakob, although he was a cutler, a messerschmidt in Basel. The name was of course not unique, but at the time only some 15-20,000 burghers were living in Straßburg and the river Rhein connects Basel to Straßsburg1 so tightly that it was said that you could cook soup in Basel, put it on a boat and serve it hot in Straßburg. If correct, this could mean that Meyer arrived in Straßburg quite a lot earlier than previously assumed.
Straßburg was of course also known as a centre for humanist thinking and scholarship and not least for Johannes Gutenberg inventing the printing press, or rather moveable type printing in 1439 in this city, thus providing the revolutionary tools for the spread of the Reformation.
Gutenberg himself was originally a blacksmith & goldsmith and as most of the burghers, part of the Straßburg militia, as was the customary obligation of the households of the city, alongside of serving as town guard and fire watch. Something which certainly is part of the whole context for the fencing guilds and the fencing masters, both then and in the following centuries.
The Münster Cathedral
Construction of the very dominant Münster Cathedral began in the twelfth century and it wasn’t fully completed until about 300 years later, in 1439, the same year that Gutenberg invented his printing press. However, only one of the originally planned two towers was actually built, likely due to financial concerns.
At the time it was the world’s tallest building, surpassing even the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, and it was a very dominant feature of the landscape, easily seen for miles and miles, not to mention expressing an overpowering presence over the other low buildings surrounding it in the city.
In the 1520s, during the Protestant Reformation, the city officially embraced the teachings of Martin Luther, under the political guidance of Jacob Sturm von Sturmeck and the spiritual guidance of Martin Bucer. Resulting from this many existing Catholic churches were destroyed or vandalized, as the protestants sought to erase the extra-vagant and luxurious decorations of the Catholic Church, desiring a more minimalistic and simplistic expression of worship, closer to God, without distractions.
Bucer invited the theologian and pastor Jean Cauvin to Straßburg in 1536, the same year of his publishing of his first and greatly important Institutes of the Christian Religion and he there became the minister of a church of French refugees in September 1538. A few months later he applied for and was granted rights as a burgher of Straßburg. His office was successively in the Saint-Nicholas Church, the Saint Madeleine Church and the Temple Neuf, churches which all still stand although none of them in the shape they had in his time.
It is believed that Meyer was a follower of Cauvin’s teachings, in part based on the fact that the patrons he was associated with were known Calvinist princes and dukes, but also due to his close proximity to Calvinist communities and Calvin’s own churches.
Nearby town of Speyer held two of the Diets of Speyer in 1529 and 1570, which were hugely important in the shaping of the Protestant Reformation, and it has been suggested by Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng that Meyer attended the latter seeking and receiving patronage from Duke Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg. Meyer received a position as a fechtmeister, a fencing master, at the Duke’s court in Schwerin, shortly before his death, a death likely resulting from illness caused by the harsh wintertime travelling he did to take up his position at the court.
Krutenau – Meyer’s hood
We do not know for certain where Meyer lived, but judging from the time when he arrived to the city, somewhere between 1545-1560, and where he got married, it is most likely that he lived in Krutenau. The area is not believed to have been named after kraut (cabbage) but rather after Krutten, meaning obstacle and therefore by some thought to have been an area unsuitable for crops.
The whole district was built mainly from the 1400s, through the 1500s, with the North-west districts having been built in the preceding century. The map below likely dates to the very early 16th century as several parts of the district still remain fields and agricultural area. Several of the canals seen in the map have since then been transformed into roads.
This is also the area where the churches where Jean Cauvin worked and preached are located, and as previously mentioned, thus likely influencing Meyer in his views of the world.
The Church of Meyer – Saint Guillaume Church
On June 4, 1560 Meyer marries Appolonia Rulmennin in the Church of St Guillaume. Appolonia was then already a widow, likely previously married to a member of the cutlers’ guild. Offically he now becomes a proper burgher, as a messerschmidt, like his father.
The church records state
Joachim von Meÿger Basell hatt d [as] burgkrecht empfangen Vonn Appolonia Rulmennin Weylandt Jacob Wittich of Becken selig [in] within wittwen [ing] hausfrauwen vnnd wil dienen zun Schmiden.
Possibly this was a marriage of conveniance as the cutlers’ guild would be responsible for one of its former member’s widow, seeking to arrange with a new husband for her. However, it may well also be that Meyer just moved in the same social circles and had met and fallen in love with her. We just don’t know.
What we do know is that after Meyer’s death in 1571 she would marry again, in April 1572 already, to another cutler named Hans Kuele.
As noted before, the church is located in the strongly Calvinist district of Krutenau and it is located just a short walk from churches where Jean Cauvin preached. In fact, the street near the church is today called Rue Calvin, as can be seen in the picture below.
Of course, I had to make sure to consecrate my Meyer books even more by having them touch this sacred place, just as they have touched two original Meyer treatises before this. But, I digress…
Already in February 1561 Meyer seeks and receives permission to arrange a fechschule in Straßburg, alongside of Christoff von Elias. The Fechtschul lasts for eight days, ending on Feb 22nd.
Thiebolt Berger – The Printer on Alte Weinmärkt (Old Wine Market)
Thiebolt Berger, as most printers, mostly printed theological texts, not least protestant discourses, but was also hired to print Meyer’s 1570 treatise entitled Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens.
The book was largely based on his earlier manuscript given to the Duke Otto von Solms (likely in 1560 or 1568)2, but contains even more material, new weapons (the polearms) and expands on his earlier teachings. Having had his shop at Barfußerplatz since 1551, Thiebolt moved his shop to Alte Weinmärkt in 1566 or thereabouts, only some four years before Meyer had his book printed.
About this time, in June 1566, and in February 1567 Meyer applies again to arrange a fechtschule doing so with the title Freÿfechter, and is granted permission to do so. The next year, in June 1568 he is noted as a Fechtmeister in public records.
With that we leave Meyer and instead turn to a few other fencing related locations in Straßburg.
Rue Du Bouclier – Fechtschulen
According to renowned HEMA researcher and Straßburg citizen Olivier Dupuis, a certain courtyard at Rue des Dantelles no 11 appears to have been used for holding fechtschulen and coincidentally, the street just outside of it is called Rue du Bouclier or Schildtgass, Buckler street.
Nearby you also find a church which I am sure people like Roland Warzecha and David Rawlings would like to attend; the Church of the Buckler3, as well as the Hotel Le Bouclier d’Or (Golden Buckler).
Rossmarkt – The Horse Market
On this location, the horse market, there is today a very nice market of fish, cheese, nougat, fruit, vegetables and mushrooms etc.
However, back in the day, mainly horses were sold and fencing tournaments and even jousting were performed here, as it was the most open place of the city and thus the most suitable.
With that, I will conclude this report of my first trip on a longer pilgrimage. I hope you have enjoyed reading my somewhat rambling notes. If you wish to make a visit yourself then you might find this little map that I created useful, as it shows some of the various locations discussed in this report.
I will be adding some more photos to a photo album as I find more time and share it here, for those who are interested.