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Fiore de'i Liberi

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Fiore Furlano de’i Liberi

This man appears sporadically throughout both the Getty and Pisani Dossi MSS, and may be a representation of Fiore himself.
Born Cividale del Friuli
Relative(s) Benedetto de’i Liberi (father)
Nationality Friulian
  • Gian Galeazzo Visconti (?)
  • Niccolò Ⅲ d’Este (?)
Influenced Philippo di Vadi
Notable work(s) The Flower of Battle
Concordance by Michael Chidester

Fiore Furlano de’i Liberi de Cividale d’Austria (Fiore delli Liberi, Fiore Furlano, Fiore de Cividale d’Austria; fl. 1381 - 1409) was a late 14th century knight, diplomat, and fencing master. He was born in Cividale del Friuli, a town in the Patriarchal State of Aquileia (in the Friuli region of modern-day Italy), the son of Benedetto and scion of a Liberi house of Premariacco.[1][2][3] The term Liberi, while potentially merely a surname, more probably indicates that his family had Imperial immediacy (Reichsunmittelbarkeit), either as part of the nobili liberi (Edelfrei, "free nobles"), the Germanic unindentured knightly class which formed the lower tier of nobility in the Middle Ages, or possibly of the rising class of Imperial Free Knights.[4][5][6] It has been suggested by various historians that Fiore and Benedetto were descended from Cristallo dei Liberi of Premariacco, who was granted immediacy in 1110 by Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich V,[7][8][9] but this has yet to be proven.[10]

Fiore wrote that he had a natural inclination to the martial arts and began training at a young age, ultimately studying with “countless” masters from both Italic and Germanic lands.[1][2][3] He had ample opportunity to interact with both, traveling widely in the Italian states that formed the border of the Holy Roman Empire. Unfortunately, not all of these encounters were friendly: Fiore wrote of meeting many “false” or unworthy masters in his travels, most of whom lacked even the limited skill he'd expect in a good student.[3] He further mentions that on five separate occasions he was forced to fight duels for his honor against certain of these masters who he described as envious because he refused to teach them his art; the duels were all fought with sharp swords, unarmored except for gambesons and chamois gloves, and he won each without injury.[1][2][11]

Writing very little on his own career as condottiero, Fiore laid out his credentials for his readers in other ways. He stated that foremost among the masters who trained him was one Johane dicto Suueno, who he notes was a disciple of Nicholai de Toblem;[3] unfortunately, both names are given in Latin so there is little we can conclude about them other than that they were probably among the Italians and Germans he alludes to, and that one or both were well known in Fiore's time. He further offered an extensive list of the famous condottieri that he trained, including Piero Paolo del Verde (Peter von Grünen),[12] Niccolo Unricilino (Nikolo von Urslingen),[13] Galeazzo Cattaneo dei Grumelli (Galeazzo Gonzaga da Mantova),[14] Lancillotto Beccaria di Pavia,[15] Giovannino da Baggio di Milano,[16] and Azzone di Castelbarco,[17] and also highlights some of their martial exploits.[1][2]

The only known historical mentions of Fiore appear in connection with the Aquileian War of Succession, which erupted in 1381 as a coalition of secular nobles from Udine and surrounding cities sought to remove the newly appointed Patriarch (prince-bishop of Aquileia), Philippe Ⅱ Cardinal d'Alençon. Fiore seems to have supported the secular nobility against the Cardinal; he traveled to Udine in 1383 and was granted residency in the city on 3 August.[18] On 30 September, the high council tasked him with inspection and maintenance of city's weapons, including the artillery pieces defending Udine (large crossbows and catapults).[5][19][20] In February of 1384, he was assigned the task of recruiting a mercenary company to augment Udine's forces and leading them back to the city.[21] This task seems to have been accomplished in three months or less, as on 23 May he appeared before the high council again and was sworn in as a sort of magistrate charged with keeping the peace in one of the city's districts. After May 1384, the historical record is silent on Fiore's activities; the war continued until a new Patriarch was appointed in 1389 and a peace settlement was reached, but it's unclear if Fiore remained involved for the duration. Given that he appears in council records four times in 1383-4, it would be quite odd for him to be completely unmentioned over the subsequent five years if he remained,[5][22] and since his absence from records coincides with a proclamation in July of that year demanding that Udine cease hostilities or face harsh repercussions, it seems more likely that he moved on.

Based on his autobiographical account, Fiore traveled a good deal in northern Italy, teaching fencing and training men for duels. He seems to have been in Perugia in 1381 in this capacity, when his student Peter von Grünen likely fought a duel with Peter Kornwald.[23]

In 1395, he can be placed in Padua training the mercenary captain Galeazzo Gonzaga of Mantua for a duel with the French marshal Jean Ⅱ le Maingre (who went by the war name “Boucicaut”). Galeazzo made the challenge when Boucicaut called into question the valor of Italians at the royal court of France, and the duel was ultimately set for Padua on 15 August. It was jointly hosted by Francesco Novello da Carrara, Lord of Padua, and Francesco Gonzaga, Lord of Mantua. The duel was to begin with spears on horseback, but Boucicaut became impatient and dismounted, attacking Galeazzo before he could mount his own horse. Galeazzo landed a solid blow on the Frenchman’s helmet, but was subsequently disarmed. At this point, Boucicaut called for his poleaxe but the lords intervened to end the duel.[24][20][14]

Fiore surfaces again in Pavia in 1399, this time training Giovannino da Baggio for a duel with a German squire named Sirano. It was fought on 24 June and hosted by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan. The duel was to consist of three bouts of mounted lance followed by three bouts each of dismounted poleaxe, estoc, and dagger. They ultimately rode two additional passes and on the fifth, Baggio impaled Sirano’s horse through the chest, slaying the horse but losing his lance in the process. They fought the other nine bouts as scheduled, and due to the strength of their armor (and the fact that all of the weapons were blunted), both combatants reportedly emerged from these exchanges unharmed.[16][25]

Fiore was likely involved in at least one other duel that year, that of his final student Azzone di Castelbarco against Giovanni degli Ordelaffi, as the latter is known to have died in 1399.[26] After Castelbarco’s duel, Fiore’s activities are unclear. Based on the allegiances of the nobles that he trained in the 1390s, he seems to have been associated with the ducal court of Milan in the latter part of his career.[20] Some time in the first years of the 1400s, Fiore composed a fencing treatise in Italian and Latin called "The Flower of Battle" (rendered variously as Fior di Battaglia, Florius de Arte Luctandi, and Flos Duellatorum). The briefest version of the text is dated to 1409 and indicates that it was a labor of six months and great personal effort;[3] since evidence suggests that at least two longer versions were composed some time before this,[27] we may assume that he devoted a considerable amount of time to writing during this decade.

Beyond this, nothing certain is known of Fiore's activities in the 15th century. Francesco Novati and Luigi Zanutto both assume that some time before 1409 he accepted an appointment as court fencing master to Niccolò Ⅲ d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, Modena, and Parma; presumably he would have made this change when Milan fell into disarray in 1402, though Zanutto went so far as to speculate that he trained Niccolò for his 1399 passage at arms.[28] However, while the records of the d’Este library indicate the presence of two versions of "the Flower of Battle", it seems more likely that the manuscripts were written as a diplomatic gift to Ferrara from Milan when they made peace in 1404.[25][20] C. A. Blengini di Torricella stated that late in life he made his way to Paris, France, where he could be placed teaching fencing in 1418 and creating a copy of a fencing manual located there in 1420. Though he attributes these facts to Novati, no publication verifying them has yet been located and this anecdote may be entirely spurious.[29]

The time and place of Fiore's death remain unknown.

Despite the extent and complexity of his writings, Fiore de’i Liberi does not seem to have been a very significant master in the evolution of fencing in Central Europe. That field was instead dominated by the traditions of two masters of the subsequent generation: Johannes Liechtenauer in Bavaria and Filippo di Bartolomeo Dardi in Bologna. Even so, there are a few later treatises which bear strong resemblance to his work, including the writings of Philippo di Vadi and Ludwig VI von Eyb. This may be due to the direct influence of Fiore or his writings, or it may instead indicate that the older tradition of Johane and Nicholai survived and spread outside of Fiore's direct line.


The d’Este family owned at least three manuscripts by Fiore during the 15th century,[30] and a total of four copies survive to the present. Of these, the MS Ludwig ⅩⅤ 13 (Getty) and the Pisani Dossi MS (Novati) are both dedicated to Niccolò Ⅲ d’Este and state that they were written at his request and according to his design. The MS M.383 (Morgan), on the other hand, lacks a dedication and claims to have been laid out according to his own intelligence, while the MS Latin 11269 (Paris) lost any dedication it might have had along with its prologue. Each of the extant copies of the Flower of Battle follows a unique specific sequence of plays, though the Getty and Novati contain strong similarities to each other in order of presentation, as do the Morgan and Paris.

In addition, Philippo di Vadi’s manuscript from the 1480s, whose second half is essentially a redaction of the Flower of Battle, provides a valuable fifth point of reference when considering Fiore’s teachings. (These is also a 17th century copy of the Morgan’s preface, transcribed by Apostolo Zeno, but it contributes little to our understanding of the text.)

The major sections of the work include: abrazare or grappling; daga, including both unarmed defenses against the dagger and plays of dagger against dagger; spada a un mano, the use of the sword in one hand (also called "the sword without the buckler"); spada a dui mani, the use of the sword in two hands; spada en arme, the use of the sword in armor (primarily techniques from the shortened sword); azza, plays of the poleaxe in armor; lancia, spear and staff plays; and mounted combat (including the spear, the sword, and mounted grappling). Brief bridging sections serve to connect each of these, covering such topics as bastoncello, or plays of a small stick or baton against unarmed and dagger-wielding opponents; plays of sword vs. dagger; plays of staff and dagger and of two clubs and a dagger; and the use of the chiavarina against a man on horseback.

The format of instruction is largely consistent across all copies of the treatise. Each section begins with a group of Masters (or Teachers), figures in golden crowns who each demonstrate a particular guard for use with their weapon. These are followed by a master called Remedio ("Remedy") who demonstrates a defensive technique against some basic attack (usually how to use one of the listed guards to defend), and then by his various Scholars (or Students), figures wearing golden garters on their legs who demonstrate iterations and variations of this remedy. After the scholars there is typically a master called Contrario ("Counter" or "Contrary"), wearing both crown and garter, who demonstrates how to counter the master’s remedy (and those of his scholars), who is likewise sometimes followed by his own scholars in garters. In rare cases, a fourth type of master appears called Contra-Contrario ("Counter-counter"), who likewise wears the crown and garter and demonstrates how to defeat the master’s counter. Some sections feature multiple master remedies or master counters, while some have only one. While the crowns and garters are used across all extant versions of the treatise, the specific implementation of the system varies; all versions include at least a few apparently errors in assignation of crowns and garters, and there are many cases in which an illustration in one manuscript will only feature a scholar’s garter where the corresponding illustration in another also includes a master’s crown (depending on the instance, this may either be intentional or merely an error in the art). Alone of the four versions, the Morgan seeks to further expand the system by coloring the metallic portions of the master or scholar’s weapon silver, while that of the player is left uncolored; this is also imperfectly-executed, but seems to have been intended as a visual indicator of which weapon belongs to which figure.

The concordance below includes Zeno’s transcription of the Morgan preface for reference, and then drops the (thereafter empty) column in favor of a second illustration column for the main body of the treatise. (The Zeno transcript is in the first transcription column even though it’s the youngest source so that the others can remain in the same position throughout.) Generally only the right-side column will contain illustrations—the left-side column will only contain additional content when when the text describes an illustration that spans the width of the page in the manuscripts, or when there are significant discrepancies between the available illustrations (in such cases, they sometimes display two stages of the same technique and will be placed in "chronological" order if possible). The illustrations from the Getty, Morgan, and Paris are taken from high-resolution scans supplied by those institutions, whereas the illustrations of the Pisani Dossi are taken from Novati’s 1902 facsimile (scanned by Wiktenauer). There are likewise two translation columns, with the the two manuscripts dedicated to Niccolò on the left and the two undedicated manuscripts on the right; in both columns, the short text of the PD and Paris will come first, followed by the longer paragraphs of the Getty and Morgan.