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Hans Talhoffer

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Hans Talhoffer
Movement Marxbrüder (?)
Language Early New High German
Concordance by Michael Chidester
Signature Hans Talhoffer Sig.jpg
Talhoffer's heraldry, including the Lion of St. Mark

Hans Talhoffer (Dalhover, Talhofer, Talhouer, Thalhoffer; fl. 1433-67) 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 martial dueling and 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The first historical reference to Talhoffer is in 1433, when he represented Johann Ⅱ von Reisberg, archbishop of Salzburg, before the Vehmic court.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 Villenbach (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 Villenbach, 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. He purchased (and perhaps contributed to) the MS Chart.A.558, an anthology created in ca. 1448. The fencing portion is largely text-less and it may have been designed as a visual aid for use in teaching; in addition to these illustrations, the manuscript also contains a treatise on name magic and a warbook that might be related to Konrad Kyeser's Bellifortis. While Talhoffer's owner's mark appears in this manuscript,[3] his level of involvement with its creation is unclear. It contains many works by other authors, in addition to plays that are somewhat similar to his later works, and shows evidence of multiple scribes and multiple artists. It is possible that he purchased the manuscript after it was completed (or partially completed), and used it as a basis for his later teachings.[4]

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[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

In 1459,[8] Talhoffer commissioned the MS Thott.290.2º, a new personal fencing manual along the same lines as the 1448 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, Cod.icon 394a, for another of his noble clients, Eberhardt Ⅴ von Württemberg, count of Württemberg-Urach (who later became Eberhardt Ⅰ when the reunified Württemberg was elevated to a duchy in 1495).[9] This would be his most extensive work, and the count paid 10 Guilder as well as quantities of rye and oats for the finished work.[10]

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 or even founding member 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.[11] 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.

Various otherwise-unidentified fencing masters named Hans have also been associated by some authors with Talhoffer. The 1454 records of the city of Zürich note that a master (presumed by some authors to be Hans Talhoffer) was chartered to teach fencing in some capacity and to adjudicate judicial duels; the account further notes that a fight broke out among his students and had to be settled in front of the city council, resulting in various fines.[12] In 1455, a master named Hans was retained by Mahiot Coquel to train him for his duel with Jacotin Plouvier in Valencienne; if this were Talhoffer, his training did little good as Coquel lost the duel and died in brutal fashion.[citation needed]


Not only did Talhoffer produce at least three distinct treatises in his lifetime, but his writings have been reproduced in every century up to the present. They exist in well over a dozen manuscripts created in the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries; they have also been published a number of times in facsimiles beginning in 1887, including translations into English and French.

Talhoffer's writings cover a wide assortment of weapons, including the buckler, crossbow, dagger, flail, Messer, longshield, mace, poleaxe, spear, sword, 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); some 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.

Though there is considerable overlap in the specific plays Talhoffer teaches, the organization and exact contents differ in each of the main treatises. For this reason, they are listed separately below (along with their derivative copies) rather than being combined into one giant mixed concordance that fails to capture the organization of any of them. Though his authorship of his first manuscript, the Gotha, cannot be proven, it is included below because it is a useful reference to compare to his authenticated works.