noble and courageous men should exercise and enable themselves with
occupations both virtuous and honourable. Above all, they should
exercise the noble feat of arms, which is to know axe play from which
originate and depend several of the weapons named above. Moreover, said
axe play is honourable and beneficial for the preservation of the human
body, both noble and common. For these reasons, I employed my small
understanding to put in writing the principles and teachings pertaining
to axe play in the manner that follows.
—La Jeu de la Hache
The pollaxe is a fearsome weapon, the chivalric weapon par excellence
of the late Middle Ages. It provided the knight with a powerful
armour-breaching weapon, delivering tremendous force with its blade or
hammerhead, while doubling as a short spear with its sharpened
ends. Wielded on foot in both friendly tournaments and lethal duels, it
was also used on the battlefield.
surprisingly, such an important weapon figures prominently in surviving
medieval martial arts manuscripts from Germany and Italy, and was
written about as late as the 1630s, well after the armoured knight’s
apogee. Written in the mid-15th century for the Burgundian
court — at the time the most extravagant in medieval Europe, but also
trapped between France and England in the bloody, final phase of the
Hundred Years War — the manuscript Le Jeu de la Hache (“Axe-Play”)
is both the most complete study of this deadly weapon, and the oldest
known martial arts text in the French language.
In this new translation and interpretive guide, Francophone and martial artist Jason Smith presents a complete translation of Le Jeu,
detailed, photographic reconstructions of its many techniques, and a
short primer on the basics of axe-combat, creating a complete curriculum
for actually training in this unique, medieval martial art. Combined
with an historical overview of the manuscript’s origins, authorship and
patron, and a detailed biography of Jacques de Lalain, a famed
Burgundian axe-fighter and contemporary member of the same knightly
order for whom the work was commissioned, Burgundian Poleaxe: The Noble Art of Chivalric Axe Combat is a modern training manual, but also a window into knightly culture at the waning of the Middle Ages.