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Hans Talhoffer

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Hans Talhoffer
Born ca. 1410-15
Died after 1482
Movement Marxbrüder (?)
Language Early New High German
Concordance by Michael Chidester
Signature Hans Talhoffer Sig.jpg
Talhoffer's crest, including the Lion of St. Mark

Hans Talhoffer (Dalhover, Talhouer, Thalhoffer, Talhofer) was a 15th century German fencing master. His martial lineage is unknown, but his writings make it clear that he had some connection to the tradition of Johannes Liechtenauer, the grand master of the German school of fencing. Talhoffer was a well educated man, who took interest in astrology, mathematics, onomastics, and the auctoritas and the ratio. He authored at least five fencing manuals during the course of his career, and appears to have made his living teaching, including training people for trial by combat.

The first historical reference to Talhoffer is in 1433, when he represented Johann II von Reisberg, archbishop of Salzburg, before the Vehmic court. Shortly thereafter in 1434, Talhoffer was arrested and questioned by order of Wilhelm von Villach (a footman to Albrecht III von Wittelsbach, duke of Bavaria) in connection to the trial of a Nuremberg aristocrat named Jacob Auer, accused of murdering of his brother Hans. Talhoffer subsequently confessed to being hired to abduct Hans von Villach, and offered testimony that others hired by Auer performed the murder.[1] Auer's trial was quite controversial and proved a major source of contention and regional strife for the subsequent two years. Talhoffer himself remained in the service of the archbishop for at least a few more years, and in 1437 is mentioned as serving as a bursary officer (Kastner) in Hohenburg.[2]

The 1440s saw the launch of Talhoffer's career as a professional fencing master. His first manuscript, the MS Chart.A.558, was a personal reference book created in ca. 1443. The fencing manual portion is largely text-less and it may have been designed as a visual aid for use in teaching; in addition to these illustrations, it also contains an astrological treatise and a copy of Konrad Kyeser's famous war book Bellifortis. Most notable among the noble clients that Talhoffer served in this period was the Königsegg family of southern Germany, and some time between 1446 and 1459[3] he produced the MS XIX.17-3 for this family. This work depicts a judicial duel being fought by Luithold von Königsegg and the training that Talhoffer gave him in preparation, but it seems that this duel never actually took place.[4]

Talhoffer's name appears again in the records of the city of Zürich in 1454, where he was chartered to teach fencing in some capacity and to adjudicate judicial duels. The account notes that a fight broke out among his students and had to be settled in front of the city council, resulting in various fines.[5] He seems to have passed through Emerkingen later in the 1450s, where he was contracted to train the brothers David and Buppellin vom Stain; he also produced the MS 78.A.15 for them, a significantly expanded version of the Königsegg manuscript.[6]

In 1459,[7] Talhoffer commissioned the MS Thott.290.2º, a new personal fencing manual along the same lines as his 1443 work but expanded with additional content and captioned throughout. He appears to have continued instructing throughout the 1460s, and in 1467 he produced his final manuscript, Codex Icon 394a, for another of his noble clients, Eberhardt I von Württemberg.[8] This would be his most extensive work, and the graf paid 10 Guilder as well as quantities of rye and oats for the finished work.[9]

While only a few facts are known about Talhoffer's life, this has not stopped authors from conjecture. The presence of the Lion of St. Mark in Talhoffer's 1459 coat of arms (right) has given rise to speculation that he may have been an early member or even a founder of the Frankfurt-am-Main-based Marxbrüder fencing guild, though there is no record of their existence prior to 1474.[citation needed] Additionally, much has been made of the fact that Talhoffer's name doesn't appear in Paulus Kal's list of members of the Fellowship of Liechtenauer.[10] While some have speculated that this indicates rivalry or ill-will between the two contemporaries, it is more likely that Talhoffer simply didn't participate in whatever venture the fellowship was organized for.


Talhoffer's writings exist in well over a dozen manuscripts created in the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries; they have also been published a number of times beginning in 1893, including translations into English and French. His writings cover a wide assortment of weapons, including the arming sword, buckler, crossbow, dagger, flail, longknife, longshield, longsword, mace, poleaxe, spear, and unarmed grappling, often both armored and unarmored, on horse and on foot, and in scenarios including tournaments, formal duels, and unequal encounters implying urban self-defense.

Despite the obvious care and detail that went into the artwork, the manuscripts generally have only a few words captioning each page (and in many cases none at all); his personal manuscripts were likely teaching aids and would need no detailed explanation, while the treatises for Königsegg, Stain, and Württemberg were probably intended as memory aids to review his teachings after he left.

Additional Resources


  1. Jens P. Kleinau. "1434 March 20th – Talhoffer’s confession in Salzburg". Hans Talhoffer ~ A Historical Martial Arts blog by Jens P. Kleinau, 18 May 2016. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  2. Hans Talhoffer. "Hans Talhoffer’s life". Hans Talhoffer ~ The fencing and life of Hans Talhoffer. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
  3. Hans-Peter Hils. Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des langen Schwertes. Peter Lang, 1985. p73.
  4. Hans Talhoffer. "Who was Luithold of Königsegg?". Hans Talhoffer ~ The fencing and life of Hans Talhoffer. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
  5. Hans-Peter Hils. Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des langen Schwertes. Peter Lang, 1985. p176.
  6. Hans-Peter Hils. Meister Johann Liechtenauers Kunst des langen Schwertes. Peter Lang, 1985. p42.
  7. Internally dated on folio 103v.
  8. Internally dated and dedicated on folio 16v.
  9. Hans Talhoffer. "1467 The price of a fencing master". Hans Talhoffer ~ The fencing and life of Hans Talhoffer. Retrieved 17 March 2012.
  10. The Fellowship of Liechtenauer is recorded in three versions of Paulus Kal's treatise: MS 1825 (1460s), Cgm 1570 (ca. 1470), and MS KK5126 (1480s).