Book Review: The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler by Herbert Schmidt with Rolf Fabricius Warming on Scandinavian Bucklers (Including a Comparison to the Book of the Buckler by Herbert Schmidt)
Today we will be reviewing Herbert Schmidt’s latest book titled The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler. The book covers topics on the buckler including typologies, history, carrying, construction, and many others. This book also includes a chapter by Rolf Fabricius Warming that covers some topics on Scandinavian bucklers.
In this blog, I will discuss both The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler and the previously published the Book of the Buckler. Given the same author and subject matter, I feel that it is necessary to compare the two works in order to give an accurate assessment of the newer The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler.
Schmidt begins the book by defining what a buckler is. He then transitions to exploring the history of the buckler. Next, Schmidt defines the typology of bucklers to further classify the different shapes and designs of bucklers through history. The book also includes sections on the usage of the buckler, construction of the buckler, carrying of the buckler, and a large catalogue of historical bucklers found in museums.
One of the newest features of The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler is the inclusion of history and analysis of Scandinavian bucklers and Khevsureti bucklers. The inclusion of this topic allows for the book to expand to more targeted cultural studies of buckler use that was not seen in the earlier published the Book of the Buckler.
This is not a book for learning about how to use a buckler and this is clearly stated in the forward by the author. The book touches on the usage of the buckler but from a 50,000 ft view. It touches on a range of different sources including fencing manuscripts and art depicting skirmishes and war in the middle ages.
Thoughts on the Book
As an amateur researcher of sword and buckler, I find Herbert Schmidt’s research invaluable for understanding the historical context of the buckler. One of his best contributions to me has been his typology of bucklers which helps contextualize how the shapes of bucklers can impact combat. Thankfully, his work on buckler typology can be found in both books.
What cannot be found in his previous book is the research on Scandinavian and Khevsureti bucklers. While these two sections are brief, about 20 pages, they provide fascinating points of view on the relevancy of the buckler. In future works, I would love to see this section expanded to other cultures, including Mamluk’s use of the buckler, to help contextualize variables in bucklers by culture. I find that often the history of the buckler is somewhat oversimplified with sweeping research on European bucklers. The inclusion of culturally-specific buckler use is a fantastic step in the right direction to really exploring the variety of bucklers and how they were used.
As of writing this blog, the book is listed on Amazon for $76.91 hardback. Unfortunately, a paperback version is not available but the catalogue of the bucklers can be purchased for $47.76. The book is about 446 pages with about a fifth of the book dedicated to research and the remainder consisting of the catalogue of bucklers.
In contrast, the 262 page the Book of the Buckler can be purchased in paperback from Wyvern media for about $35.91 plus shipping. To my knowledge, a hardback version is not available.
Comparing the Value of Both Books
The increase in value of this book is most noticeable with the expansion of the buckler catalogue which is now 300 pages, compared to the catalogue in the Book of the Buckler, which was around 150 pages. This catalogue includes more pictures and better measurement data that is beneficial in studying bucklers. It even managed to impress my dog "Crouton".
While short, the Scandinavian and Khevsureti buckler is a nice addition to the book that adds both scholarly content, and pictures that are enjoyable to the reader. This inclusion feels like frosting on the cake of Herbert Schmidt’s research.
However, it is worth noting that the two books vary little in the content not included in the catalogue or Scandinavian and Khevsureti sections. In addition, Verbiage has been updated and there is a feeling of an overall facelift. Ultimately, if you own the Book of the Buckler then about a fifth of the research in The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler and about half of the catalogue will already be in your library. However, the updated catalogue can be purchased separately.
Overall, I view The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler as the second edition of a buckler textbook.
More information has been added, the catalogue has grown, and the prior information has been revised to sharpen its clarity. This is evident in the exclusion of the Google nGram analysis of sword and buckler references in literature. I contacted the author regarding the change and his response was “I removed it because I learned that Google's nGram is a bit unreliable.” This shows the evolution of Schmidt’s research and further establishes in my mind that this new book is a Second Edition of his research.
Who I Recommend the Book to
Is The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler worth the nearly $40 price increase over the Book of the Buckler? In my opinion, yes but only for the audience I believe this book is targeted towards.
This book is not for people that do not care about the history, construction, or usability of bucklers and only care about the fencing systems that use bucklers. This book is comparable to a history textbook, which may not be worth it for everyone given the price.
However, this book is a great addition to any library for those that are curious about historical bucklers and what we know about them based on art, literature, and surviving artifacts. I have found Herbert Schmidt’s buckler research comparable to Ewart Oakeshott’s research on swords. I have cited Herbert Schmidt’s work numerous times in my own work and hope that his typologies will become standard practice in referencing types of bucklers like we do with Oakeshott’s categorization of swords.
However, if you want more examples and images of bucklers but already own the Book of the Buckler and are not interested in the cultural studies on bucklers included in this new book, I recommend skipping this book and picking up the catalogue of bucklers by Herbert Schmidt. I have not picked up the catalogue book personally but if it is one-to-one with the catalogue in The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler then it will be worth the money.
Suppose you own the Book of the Buckler, which satisfies your curiosity about the buckler and are not interested in the new additions to the catalogue. In that case, you may consider skipping this new book. As mentioned earlier, the bulk of the research has been refined but has not changed from the Book of the Buckler in many ways. Just be aware that you are using a research book's first edition, which may become obsolete as time goes on.
To me, The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler is best summarized as the second edition of the Book of the Buckler. I wonder if the inability to call it a second edition is due to the change in publisher. I would love to see Herbert Schmidt and others continue to come back to this research and continue refining them like textbooks. I think versioning of this book would go a long way in clearly telling potential buyers that this is a revision, not completely brand new content.
That being said, I am VERY satisfied with the latest book. I love the addition of cultural studies on bucklers and the growth in the buckler catalogue is incredibly beneficial to me for understanding what examples of bucklers exist in museums.
I plan to give my copy of the Book of the Buckler to one of my students. The first edition of Herbert Schmidt’s research is still valid and while some of the evidence to support the buckler research may have changed, the spirit and content of the historical study has not deviated from the original book. That being said, The Medieval and Renaissance Buckler is an expansion on the original research found in the previous book and I view it as the new gold standard on the topic of historical bucklers.
This is the first iteration of the historical buckler project. The objective of this buckler is to make a historically accurate buckler with a raw-hide wrap that can meet all the requirements documented in the main post of this project.
Disclaimer: This is not a “how-to” post for buckler creation. I am not a professional craftsman and I will be learning along the way with these buckler iterations. I thought it would be worth documenting my progress to help motivate others to try this experiment out for themselves.
I started with a simple design. I wanted to make a planked buckler, given how common wooden ones are in the Book of the Buckler. This would create the main design challenge to overcome for this process because multiple planks will be less structurally sound than 1 large board. I also wanted to try using a rawhide wrap for this project. I have done linen wraps for shields in the past and thought rawhide would be a neat challenge that was historically accurate.
This buckler was loosely-inspired by the images in I.33 as well as the c954 buckler found in The Book of the Buckler.
This design features the first mistake I made when creating the buckler. 4”x1” planks are actually 3.75”x0.75” in dimension which resulted in me cutting two of the blanks down to meet the 12” diameter buckler design.
The buckler was made using the following items:
After the planks were cut, I marked the boss on the center of the boards to get an idea of where I will need to cut the planks next. This is where I realized the boards were not 4” and were shorter. I cut the two inside boards to create the 12” diameter I wanted for the buckler.
I quickly realized that I did not want the outside diameter of the boss. Instead, I wanted the inside area where my hand would go. This was when I decided to cut a square instead of a circle (a decision I would later regret when testing the buckler).
The cuts I made ended up being sloppy since I was using a jigsaw and saw horses. The planks were cut in a jagged shape, resulting in the buckler having areas where the planks were convex instead of flat. Ultimately, I do not believe this compromised the structural integrity of the buckler.
Finally, it was time to cut the buckler into a round-shape. This was easier than expected but resulted in a more oval shape due to the misunderstanding in plank sizing. This ultimately did not matter once the rawhide liner was applied.
After sanding, gluing the planks together, and staining the wood, it was time to add the rawhide. I soaked a rawhide bone for about an hour to soften it up and unravel it. Then I used a box cutter to cut a strip for the buckler. I also applied two patches of rawhide over the handle to add more structure. In hindsight, I think scissors may have been better to create a more uniform cut.
Rawhide did not adhere to the buckler the way I expected. In my mind, the rawhide would apply similarly to Paper Mache, holding its shape. This was not the case. I ended up using zip ties and a rope to hold the rawhide in place while it dried.
After letting the rawhide dry a few days, it was time to untie it and see the results. I was pleasantly surprised with how well it held its shape without applying adhesive. Next, I drilled holes to prepare for the rivets.
The end result was a fairly well-balanced buckler that felt nice in the hand. It was now time to battle-test the buckler.
The planked rawhide buckler ended up being one of the heaviest 12” bucklers in my collection. However, because most of the weight was from the boss, the buckler felt easy to maneuver in the hand.
Ultimately, the buckler failed in the 4th round of sparring. It was hit directly near the rivets with the crossguard of the sword resulting in the wood splitting near the rivets. This was likely because I used rivets that did not completely go through the wood and also because the rivets were placed near the edge of the planks (a design flaw created by the square cut out for the boss).
A full discussion from the team, including the buckler-breaking shot, and the post sparring inspections of the buckler can be found in the following video:
Ultimately, this iteration of the buckler was a failure. If I were a cleric studying from I.33 in the 14th century, I would not want a buckler that could not survive 4 sparring sessions. I suspect bucklers were designed to last far more my buckler did.
While not a catastrophic failure, the handle did become loose after the 4 sparring sessions. If the face of the buckler had not failed, then the handle was likely the next failure point. There were also complaints about the feel of the square handle.
However, the advantages the rawhide and wood material created in sparring were noticeable. The material sponged blows and resulted in the buckler binding against the opponent’s sword. It helped me set up some shield-strikes as well. Overall, I prefer this type of buckler over a steel buckler when it comes to executing I.33 techniques. While this is circumstantial evidence, it does highlight that bucklers are not just round discs held in the hand. They are tools that can add their own flavor to the fight.
Notes for the Next Version
To avoid the design decisions that resulted in this buckler’s failure, I will need to do the following:
Another feature I will need to consider is the handle. I plan to round of the handle and possibly wrap it with a twine rope to add comfort for the user. The rawhide used to secure the buckler ultimately did nothing. I will need to explore better ways to keep the handle from becoming loose.
I also plan to use wood glue to secure the rawhide to the buckler. This will be done to add more structure to the buckler overall.
Studying treatises is not the only way competitors prepare for HEMA tournaments. Some competitors prefer to focus on being more athletic than their opponents while others may enjoy discovering how to use a sword on their own. These competitors do not necessarily use the conventional techniques found in treatises. These type of competitors in tournaments highlight the drawbacks and limitations that can occur when studying treatises to learn swordsmanship.
Today we will be exploring the disadvantages of studying treatises to prepare for HEMA tournaments.
The Treatises (Or the Interpretation) Could Be Wrong
Sometimes studying treatises (and especially when studying modern interpretations of them), can teach a fencer bad techniques.
When studying history, it is a common practice to not discredit or disagree with statements made by a primary source. However, when interpreting the validity of a historical martial art, it can be useful to question the techniques presented in these sources. Not all treatises are created equal and some may exist without the author truly having a martial background.
For more on the discussion of errors in sources, see the following discussion by Matt Easton:
It is also important to remember that the treatises studied in HEMA were written by people, translated by other people, and interpreted by a different set of people. Techniques could be lost in translation that unfortunately can lead the general HEMA community to the wrong conclusions when attempting to recreate these systems.
For some sources, such as the Lichtenauer lineage of treatises, it is easier to cross-reference the source with other sources interpreting the same technique. This allows for a higher degree of confidence for the interpretation of the techniques. However, this is not a luxury for other popular treatises such as I.33. For sources like I.33, a number of secondary interpretations are used to cross-reference and discover the true intent of I.33. This can lead to a higher risk of misinterpretation based on false-assumptions.
The Treatises Can Be Limiting
The mindset of only doing the techniques a manuscript includes can lead to disadvantages in HEMA tournaments.
Sometimes students feel that if a technique is not included in the treatise they study, they cannot do it. One example of this is sabre fencers who do not use hanging guard because it is not taught in their system. However, there is a difference between not doing a technique because the fencer is not familiar with it and not doing a technique because it is not in the sources they study.
It is important to remember that no one can include everything in their writing, even the authors of fencing systems. For example, I.33 does not include a technique on striking someone in the face with a buckler nor does it include a technique on how to prevent this. However, Paulus Kal’s treatise on sword and buckler does include this technique. If a fencer rigidly applies I.33 against other sword and buckler fencers, they will be vulnerable to buckler strikes while also limiting themselves to not delivering buckler strikes to the opponent’s face.
Our Implementation of the Treatises Could be Wrong
A number of variables can dramatically impact the validity of certain techniques taught in treatises.
The sources studied in HEMA come with their own historical context for implementation. If a competitor in a HEMA tournament attempts to use the unarmored combat techniques of longsword when fighting in armor, they will not succeed. Without recognizing the potential variability in a fight, a fencer may improperly use a technique and end up on the losing side of a tournament.
In HEMA tournaments, fencers are required to wear a certain amount of safety equipment. This equipment such as heavy protective gloves and HEMA fencing jackets can change how effective a technique in a treatise can be by limiting the mobility the fencer. Another variable that can impact technique is different heights between fencers. Differentials in heights create new angles of attacks a fencer must deal with and also can change what technique is required to defend against a certain action.
The goal in HEMA tournaments is to hit your opponent without getting hit. This creates a fair amount of flexibility in what techniques will be used.
One of the best attributes a competitor in a HEMA tournament can have is adaptability. It is important to remember that there are many different types of fencers who will use the techniques they feel are best suited for themselves. Sometimes, those techniques are less effective than your own. Other times, your opponent will have the advantage and you will need to adapt to defeat them.
Studying fencing treatises does not necessarily encourage adaptability. Fencers may assume that the treatises are infallible, or that all scenarios are covered in the treatise, or that the techniques are not impacted by gear. These are just some of the ways treatises can limit fencers.
It is important to remember that the manuscripts are meant to be guides for the use of the weapons they teach. If left to just theory, these treatises can fall short in practice. It is the responsibility of the fencers to adapt the treatises to what suits them and to hit their opponent without getting hit themselves.