Guy Windsor: I’m here today with Dr. Mark Geldof, who specialises in all kinds of historical violence, which should suit my listeners down to the ground. He has a DPhil in history from the University of Oxford on Change and Continuity in English Elite Conceptions of Violence, 1450-1560 and an M.A. entitled The Heart, the Foot, the Eye to Accord: Procedural Writing and Three Middle English Manuscripts of Martial Instruction, which again is right on the money for us. As well as academic papers actually relevant to historical martial artists. So without further ado, Mark, welcome to the show.
Mark Geldof: Thank you for having me.
Guy Windsor: I just to orient everybody whereabouts in the world are you?
Mark Geldof: I’m based out of Regina, Saskatchewan, so it’s the bit of Canada right in the middle. You could draw it with a ruler. If you measure roughly equally from Vancouver on one side, Toronto on the other, and you meet the middle, that’s roughly where Saskatchewan is.
Guy Windsor: So about 3000 miles from anywhere.
Mark Geldof: Just about. Yeah. So it’s very, very continental weather here.
Guy Windsor: I can imagine. So how did you get into studying historical violence? And incidentally, do you actually practice any historical violence?
Mark Geldof: This is one of the questions I was expecting and that I haven’t had to answer in a long time. But my interest in history is quite long. It started when I was like ten or 12 reading up about military aircraft and stuff. My grandfather was a navigator with the RCAF during the war. So that was sort of my intro to history being a lot of history is about wars, so there’s sort of a natural path to follow. I got into the
medieval side of it later on and my introduction to “historical martial arts”, and I should say that in quotes, it’s actually through the Society of Creative Anachronism. I started with them when I was about 17, and I learned fairly quickly, of course, that what they do isn’t strictly and I don’t think for the most part they portray it as an attempt to reconstruct medieval combat, but it is extremely competitive. And so that sort of experience made me more interested in how the stuff would have actually worked in its historical context. But knowing of course that the two are not connected.
Guy Windsor: To be fair to the SCA, it is there in the name: Creative Anachronism. It’s not the Society for the Pedantically Precise Reconstruction of Historical Swordplay. As you could rename my school quite happily.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. And of course, I mean there’s great value in pedantry. So that’s sort of the start and interest in sort of the archaeology of violence, physicality of the performance of violence, that sort of thing. And I did that sort of parallel to going into an academic field. I kind of retired from the SCA about 2012 or so. I stopped sort of competing, but there was about eighteen years’ worth of worth of being in that. So I never really did practice historical martial arts and I don’t currently, but I’ve been an observer of it for a long time.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So primarily the medieval side of things. You’ve not been seduced to the Renaissance?
Mark Geldof: Well, I spent a lot of time in the transitional period between the, the late medieval and the early modern, which is where a lot of the really interesting changes and things happen. And also continuities. But it is also where most of the literature is, so most of the scholarship deals with that. The material I’ve worked on specifically is the earliest English material, which is roughly 15th century. And yes, but of course, I have to keep a close eye on what comes after it, because so much of what is done to understand the earlier material tends to be based on later developments.
Guy Windsor: Could you just unpack that a bit?
Mark Geldof: Yeah, I think the one of the issues with the earliest stages in the development of fight texts, so text or illustration based instruction is the choices that early creators made about how to start presenting that material. So developing it into that medium and the later 16th, 17th century material. There’s enough of a community, there’s enough variety in the texts, there’s enough practitioners that it becomes sort of self-sustaining. So you can compare texts with each other. You can compare different approaches in different languages, German, stuff like this. Very early on, though, you have material that has to start from somewhere and it’s not coming out fully formed. So looking for the analogues or the patterns that creators chose to follow in developing those texts is sort of where I’ve spent most of my time.
Guy Windsor: Okay. I have a question for you then. Fiore wrote his manuscripts 1400 to 1410, somewhere in that range. So they’re pretty early. The earliest German sources might be a decade or two earlier. And through the 15th century you have German manuscript sources which are, compared to Fiore, extremely crude in presentation. So with Fiore, what you have is a coherent picture of the entire art of wrestling on foot to wrestling on horseback and everything in between with all the knightly weapons, in armour, out of armour, etc.. presented in a consistent, coherent, organised way. A full century ahead of a similar document from anywhere else. Including Vadi. Compared to compared to Fiore, Vadi is relatively primitive in terms of presentation. So my question then, given what you’re saying about precursors and models and whatnot, how the hell is the earliest source, the most sophisticated? We’ve got 1.33, which is earlier and that’s actually relatively sophisticated too. It’s coherent. It’s organised. The whole text is organized according to basically here are the seven wards and then it organises all the plays around the wards that you started and it is beautifully done. It is a less complex subject than Fiore because it is just sword and buckler, it doesn’t have the wrestling, all the mounted combat or any of that stuff. So basically where the models that led to 1.33 and Fiore?
Mark Geldof: Well I know I’m treading in territory that isn’t quite my own when I talk about Fiore, but okay.
Guy Windsor: It’s definitely mine, so I’ll tell you if you step in a sink hole.
Mark Geldof: Of course. But I mean, I’ve seen your work, Bob Charrette’s Armizare, that the book he put together that breaks down, shows that logical tree of putting the things together. My theory with Fiore is that he was following a couple of precursors. The notion of illustration with short verse or kind of mnemonics is something already well established in things like Merkverse and the use of symbolic illustration along with text. So in a general sense, the text production and the artistic approach is already well established within the Italian to Latin language communities. As far as his putting together the sequences that could be an adaptation of a problem solving approach that might come out of rhetoric or law. But again, we’re taking a structure as opposed to a step by step approach, that when he put together this text, unlike a lot of the other people who did illustrated texts, he was trying to assemble it in a way that would make it possible for someone to follow it from the book.
Guy Windsor: Yes. As he said, “And all of these things will be easily understood.” From the text and the pictures, all of these things will be easily understood, he says it in the introduction. And he’s not wrong. It took us a couple of decades, but we got there.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. Well I guess the other big thing too, and this doesn’t quite answer the question as to where it came from, but it’s influencing the fact that it exists is that I don’t think Fiore produced any of those, except for possibly the very last the one that’s in the Biblioteque Nationale de France.
Guy Windsor: He was dead, it was posthumous.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. So these weren’t being produced as sort of self-promotion texts which is certainly something like I think it’s Paulus Kal, there’s a few of the Talhoffer-like texts that are clearly incomplete or there’s been a lot of editing going on to just keep highlights. And those, I think are more about promoting the instructor to patrons than anything else. Fiore, I think was working from a position of security and safety so he didn’t have to self-promote. He could sink more time and attention to constructing a method through text that could then be used. And this also corresponds roughly with a period where you have more interest in the production of instructional texts for themselves. So the Germans have the whole Kunstbuchlean approach, which also has the Merrick verse, the mnemonics there. And that’s certainly influencing a lot of the text based instruction in German language. So Ringeck, stuff like that, that’s very similar to those sorts of things. The Italian language stuff, producing more advanced artists’ books or books on engineering or military engineering. The first books on constructing fortifications and things like that, they’re coming out of that same community. So I think Fiore is representing one thread of that, but he ends up sort of being both ahead of his time and then a little too early. So nobody immediately follows off from him. There’s the gap.
Guy Windsor: It is extraordinary to me. It’s like that line in Highlander where, where they find this ancient scrap of an ancient sword in the cement wall. Because katanas cut into concrete walls without sustaining significant damage. They do in Highlander, anyway. And the love interest archaeologist says finding that sort of blade construction in something that old is like finding a jumbo jet in the stone age. And when I look at Fiore in comparison to the manuscripts around Fiore’s manuscripts, it feels like it’s a jumbo jet in the stone age. But then I am slightly biased as a convinced Fiorista.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, you are right. I guess I think it would be possible comparing across different disciplines. I think there might be if one wanted to look at some of the sort of abstract thinking that goes into the construction of Italian either say, medical or legal texts, you might find a closer some sort of an analogy there, but Fiore combining that with the illustration, that becomes kind of more unique.
Guy Windsor: It is groundbreaking. Okay, so let’s get onto slightly more comfortable territory for you. So you studied the three English manuscripts from the 15th century. We’ve had Paul Wagner on the show talking about them from a practical standpoint. I’m not asking you whether you’ve listened to that episode, but I am curious as to where you think they came from and how practical it is to extract an interpretation from them.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. That is the biggest question with those texts. So for context, and I will agree, I haven’t actually listened to the podcast you had with Wagner, although I have read his work. So I’m familiar in general terms, although if he’s had any big revelations in the recent years, I’m not aware of those. So a little dated. But the three English texts, they’re unillustrated, they’re predominantly in prose middle English. There’s a short bit of verse, simple rhyming stuff in one of the texts, and my study of them suggests that they come from one of two places either at the same time or sort of were created around the same time. The first is their following recipe literature very closely. So this is a procedural instruction, one step after the other. So with ingredients, you know, you take this and you combine it with this and then this and you have this result at the end. And that’s, in general terms, what all of the English texts do. They tell one figure to do this, then this, then this. There isn’t any “if this, then this” construction, which is a much more familiar approach to within German texts. So in the Merrick verse you have these sort of little rules that you could remember.
Guy Windsor: So if he’s in Ochs, break it with Krumpf or whatever.
Mark Geldof: There isn’t any of that in the English stuff, although I think there are some readers who have who think they found it in there. And I’ll accept that there is a possibility that that slips in from time to time as part of the instruction on sequence. But it’s orthopraxis. Do this the correct way, this way, one step after the other.
Guy Windsor: It’s just like tai chi.
Mark Geldof: Yes or katas, and James Hester suggested this actually what he was looking at the Harley text that he noticed this, that it’s just one person. There’s one or two passages which suggest, imply, there could be a partner involved. But it does really just seem to be one person. And in the rhyme, the verse section it maintains that that pattern. It’s still not really like Merrick verse or a mnemonic. I’d argue that the verse piece in Harley, the earliest one, is actually just the author having fun with the language and trying to make something sound a little bit more literary. So that’s my reading of it. That would suggest to me that you can’t construct a sort of back and forth the way you could with something like Fiore or Talhoffer or the other texts which are depicting pairs of combatants.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, you know what your opponent is doing and what you’re trying to do about it. And sometimes it’s explicitly stated when they thrust, do this.
Mark Geldof: Yes. And I think with Wagner, he approaches it from the perspective that you can construct that. There’s Braddock and Heslop, two guys who did a Paladin Press version of this back in 2011. They approached it with the same the same position that this was depicting two people fighting or that you could read it that way. It is absolutely not the case in the Ledall text, the long scroll and the very short piece, the Titus A xxv, those are definitely just for individuals.
Guy Windsor: But hang on, the individual is doing something. The reason that what the individual is doing is meaningful is because there is an implied opponent.
Mark Geldof: Yes. But
Guy Windsor: But you can’t state definitively what the opponent is doing.
Mark Geldof: Exactly. Yeah, right. I mean, you’re sort of reading shadow boxing instructions, that kind of thing. The other parallel with the recipe literature is dance choreography. And I think that’s probably deliberate for these early texts because I think they’re mostly being produced for the same audience. So this is sort of the middle gentry, people going into law, the sort of urban types. They’re the ones who are starting to produce these sort of secular texts. And it’s where the earliest dance choreographies come from. And those are, of course, giving instruction to people or more than to but it’s still just procedural. It’s your foot goes here and then here and then here and they share some of the same terms. So a rake, I believe there’s a quarter that’s referred to in the dance choreographies.
Guy Windsor: What is a “rake” in dance?
Mark Geldof: I think a diagonal step. So it’s a sidestep. I think. Because the people who look at the dance choreographies also sort of speculate on reconstructing it, but they don’t go so far as to actually do it, at least not most of the time. They have the added advantage, though, of having music to go with it. So with some of the dance choreography, it’s for a particular named dance and that goes with the particular named song. So you have a rhythm. There’s course no accompanying stuff for any of the fight texts, so it’s up to the imagination for what’s on the other side. I think the other thing too, though, is that with these texts, they could have been designed for instruction with an individual without an opponent. So you are just going through patterns to sort of impress them into muscle memory and to remember how these works. So in that way, much like a kendo kata, where the movements are modelled off of the antagonistic movements which you’re repeating over and over again to get the form correctly. And part of getting the form right is memorising the sequence of movements.
Guy Windsor: So basically, the 15th century English stuff is Eido.
Mark Geldof: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Okay.
Mark Geldof: I think that’s the best way to think of it.
Guy Windsor: There’s good reason why I’ve never really done much with those texts, because to my mind they are not sufficient to recreate a definitive interpretation that you can demonstrate from with a solid academic ground that you can demonstrate this is a probable correct answer. Or a probable correct execution.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. And there’s two other reasons too why I think it’s very difficult to do that, to go that far with this material. One is the dependence on later English material. So looking at Silver and Swetnam and things like that and taking their vocabulary and applying it backwards, which I don’t think you can safely do.
Guy Windsor: I would agree.
Mark Geldof: Because again, the earliest English texts don’t have any, there is no continuity. We also don’t know who influenced Silver’s choice in language, how well-established that already was by the time he started producing his print work. So when he talks about a quarter or something like that or starts using similar language, while it might feel appropriate to use that because it’s still English, he’s an English instructor, this sort of thing. Does it still mean the same thing in the 1580s environment in London, where you’ve got a generation worth of Italian and French and Spanish instructors there along with their English contemporaries, and applying that to language used to produce a short, very short fight text in 1430? And I think that’s one of the biggest problems with the attempts to interpret. The other one is that often they’re relying on insufficient editions. So some of Wagner’s earliest material, I don’t know, he’s probably upgraded to work with Hester, but his earliest stuff is based on Hutton. So Alfred Hutton’s 1911 edition of the Harley manuscript. And Hutton was very enthusiastic. He was very interested in stuff. He was not a paleographer. He regularly misread E’s as O’s. So, there’s a couple of pages in one of Wagner’s earlier papers where he tries to explain a certain type of foin, a thrust, it’s safe to read it that way. But the modifying term is misread by Hutton. So instead of it being ‘menyed’, which I believe is how Hutton does it. It’s actually ‘moved’ because it’s the O, he misread as an E. The N is actually a V. All sorts of things. And this was one of the issues with Hester’s first version of his Harley is he didn’t reproduce the line breaks. So there’s at least one passage in Harley where the copying scribe, and it’s copy rather than an original composition. The scribe had an eye skip and duplicated a word or broke up a line, which you don’t notice if you don’t retain the line breaks. And because you have so little to work with, every word has weight. And so if it’s been misread or it’s been misplaced.
Guy Windsor: So how can you tell it’s a copy?
Mark Geldof: Partly because of reasons like that. The sort of scribal errors that you really only get when you have someone copying from an existing text. So duplication or line skipping. So they start copying that one line and they realise they got it wrong and they go back and they continue it. So things like that. That one also there’s gaps left for replication. Or engrossing a title letter. So it is working from something that they already kind of know what the layout is. So they blocked their copy of it in a certain way. The Ledall text, the one that’s in the long scroll, that one, I’m sure it’s a copy for a couple of reasons. One, it has that J Ledall attribution in it, which shows up in the middle, but the amend quad formula typically shows up at the end of a text to indicate who the copyist was. And the lessons are out of order. If you break the lessons back up into order, you can reconstruct what its original format probably was, which was several loose bifolds. So someone copied from loose pages not knowing what the order was.
Guy Windsor: Have you published this anywhere?
Mark Geldof: That one has been submitted to the Acta Periodica Duellatorum. The Ledall thing, that’s not in my thesis, I figured that out later. I took quite a while.
Guy Windsor: I can imagine. I can hear, like, some of my listeners in the manuscript fetish end of the listenership is squeeing and I going like, “Oh, this is lovely. And I want to see the details.” Honestly, it’s much better to see it than it is to hear it. And when we’re done with this, could you send me relevant links? I’ll stick them in the show notes so that people who are mad keen on seeing how this scrolly thing becomes a bi fold if you rearrange it. That’ll be brilliant. Thank you.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, no worries. Yeah, that is the other, the final biggest issue with, with anybody who does any work with the English material is that there aren’t many reliable editions of it that are available. So there’s James Hester’s master’s thesis, which is a very good version of Harley. All three are in the thesis I did, which of course still isn’t published, but it is available online.
Guy Windsor: We’ll put a link in the show notes.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, I am working on doing a complete, actually, I tried to publish a paper. Tried. I submitted a paper, a longer paper on the Harley manuscript back in 2012 to is it? Journal. Just before I started my doctorate and I got to Oxford, got an email from the editor saying, this is too long for us to publish, because there’s something like 12,000 words.
Guy Windsor: That’s quite a lot.
Mark Geldof: Well, and it had an edition of it too, like the transcription. But the reviewer we sent your paper to would like to talk to you about it and it turned out they just sent it to Sydney Anglo.
Guy Windsor: Oh my God.
Mark Geldof: Because of course who else do you sent it to.
Guy Windsor: Yeah.
Mark Geldof: So he wanted to talk to me about it and I met him at the Werberg Institute, you know, some ridiculously snowy day in February, which is now ten years ago. And he said you could cut this thing down and publish it. But I don’t think you should. I think you should take the other two texts and all this other stuff and put them together into a book and do that. And I said, brilliant. And I still haven’t done it. So I’m working. I’ve got sort of a draft manuscript of it. There were some abortive attempts to talk to. The other problem, too, of course, is approaching editors at publishers who have tons of stuff to do. And so you send the stuff out and you wait six months and you never hear anything back. And then I was doing a doctorate, all this sort of stuff. So that got pushed back more and more and more. Now I’m kind of worried that I’m not going to get this thing out before Anglo dies. Man’s 88 now.
Guy Windsor: Right. Well then you owe it to him to get it. Slight segue. Forget academic publishers. They’re ridiculous. Most mainstream publishers won’t touch this because it’s too niche. The question really fundamentally is do you need this for your CV for applying for academic jobs or not? If you do, you have to go with an academic publisher. If you don’t, you can get it edited and published and out probably within three months without too much work if you do it yourself. It’s not hard.
Mark Geldof: No, I have wanted to have it published through an academic imprint. So originally it was going to be, well, I was going to approach Boydell, Boydell and Brewer, but that’s kind of slowed down. I’m looking at a couple of other places, possibly, because it’s also comparatively short. It’s about 50,000 words. But I do have another project that is unrelated that if that got published, then I might change my mind about insisting on this going to an academic one. But yeah, I am aware that the lack of reliable editions of this stuff is partly the fault of people who’ve produced reliable academic editions who haven’t made them available or at least available in a more safe and stable format because, I mean, the thesis is around, but it’s a thesis and dissertations are great and stuff, but they have an audience of three. There’s the supervisor and the examination committee and they also don’t have editors. So there are errors in this, I mean I’ve corrected some. One of the shortest texts, the tightest text is published. The most recent one was in the Electronic British Library Journal. So if you want an edition of that, it’s in there. But the other ones, yeah. So it’s an obstacle that is another one of the things that people who study this stuff, especially from outside of the academic field, one may not be aware of, of just how much scholarship there is that’s being produced that isn’t accessible yet because of just the sort of gatekeeping nature of publication, but also if you want to get this material, you sometimes have to go out of your way to find the academics who are producing it and have them share it with you.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, I’ve done that many times.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. You might not be able to wait for the traditional way of having the stuff accessible. It’s tricky.
Guy Windsor: Also the thing is, most people who do historical martial arts, they’re not trained academics. They don’t know where to find journals. They may not even have access to the journals, even if they can find them because usually you have to be registered with an academic institution and subscribed to that journal. It is a clusterfuck, frankly. So my approach is as soon as it’s ready enough, I publish it in book form with an ISBN and everything so people can find it when they search on Amazon. Or search on my website or search on anywhere. Anywhere where you are looking for text it will pop up because it’s widely distributed. That way it is much more likely to fall into the hands of the non-specialist academic who’s actually trying to figure out how swords work.
Mark Geldof: Yep.
Guy Windsor: So count this as a very strong vote and an offer of any required assistance in the self-publishing side of things.
Mark Geldof: Thank you.
Guy Windsor: And regular listeners will have heard me rant about self-publishing for a while, so I’m just going to head myself off and ask you another question. All right. So your DPhil, because Oxford has to be different. I was born in Cambridge, so Oxford, pah. Change and Continuity in English Elite Conceptions of Violence. Right, now I have a pretty strong, clear idea, and I think I know what that means because, I think I do, but I think the average listener probably has no clue what it is.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. The sort of elevator pitch is I looked at how certain groups of people in late medieval early modern England thought about being violent or performing violence. Most of that is through analysis of court records. So legal records involving acts of violence either by members of the social elite, so the Squirerarchy or the knights, the gentry, nobility, when they do manage to show up in courts.
Guy Windsor: Because why would they bother? They’re not normally subjects of the courts.
Mark Geldof: You’d be surprised. This was the other the other thing, too, was how the courts dealt with this community, which they knew had this relationship of violence, this belief that they had access to it by virtue of their status and their relationship to the enforcement of law, to the diffuse nature of royal authority.
Guy Windsor: Plenty of money for armour and swords.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. They’ve the means, they have sort of these social structures which enable it. They have retainers, all sort of stuff. But at the same time they’re also within a sort of a nascent state that has laws, that has jurisdictions and stuff. But we already know about how easy it is to blur the sort of individual interest with upholding of the law, because you have sheriffs, judges on sessions of the peace, things like this who are also local landowners. People who are important. And you’re populating the law enforcement community with locals. They have authority by virtue of their status. So it’s really easy for people to rationalise using that authority, even if it isn’t explicitly given to them, to use force to solve their own problems. And the court knows this, too. So the idea is that knowing these sorts of blurring boundaries, if you can track the continuity and change in that, so how the courts start handling people in 1450 with this sort of stuff, and if that changes by the 1560s or if it stays the same in certain ways, then you get a bit of an idea of how the community is changing its perception of violence, when it’s appropriate, what form it takes and how the courts are either influencing that or are influenced by it. So that’s in an abstract way, that’s what I looked at in a concrete.
Guy Windsor: That is the longest elevated pitch I’ve ever heard.
Mark Geldof: You did ask a question in it.
Guy Windsor: That’s true. My fault. We’re on the 17th floor by now.
Mark Geldof: Short ones are monologues.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Okay. So what was the difference? How did these things change?
Mark Geldof: Two main differences. The first one is that between the 1450s and 1560s, the same people, people part of the gentry and the social elites began by using violence in a very militarised way, in a very public way. So if you wanted to exercise force and you wanted to make it look legitimate, you did it in the open, you got your retainers together, you put on armour and you went and you acted like a miniature version of how the royalty would deal with their own issues. That started to lose its legitimacy or threatened central power by course, post Wars of the Roses, because getting your guys together in 1520 and getting all armed up and going down the road to deal with a local is interpreted differently, not just by the locals, but by the crown than it was before that. And so you have a hypersensitivity during the Tudor period to those sorts of demonstrations of power. And so the violence starts to lose its militarised dressing and it starts to become more private. So smaller groups of people or just individuals, and you get less violence between, not exactly strangers, but people without familial connections. And you get more violence within families or the violence shifts in its attention. So a kind of a privatisation of violence from what was previously much more overt and in public.
Guy Windsor: This is similar to what happened in duelling culture generally, where most duels were public, legal and to settle some kind of point. And then by the middle of the 16th century duels were being fought in private, illegally. And so it sort of tracks that same change and you think it comes from a difference in how the crown was perceiving the threat of basically armed nobles going around in small armies doing what they want.
Mark Geldof: That’s definitely the case in the Tudor period and later on in the 1500s. But it goes through a bit of a transitional period during the Wars of the Roses in which you still need locals to be comfortable with being armed and going out and doing this stuff because the crown still depends on it.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Armed service is still part of what they are expected to do.
Mark Geldof: And there’s somewhat less sensitivity over how much of a threat that is to the crown. But under Henry VIII there is a more active attempt to suppress that or to harness it more closely to the crown. So sort of an attempt to monopolise violence, which is sometimes how it’s phrased in that period. The crown’s monopolisation of violence.
Guy Windsor: But that I mean that dates back to Edward III, with the institution of the coroner.
Mark Geldof: I mean there is always a back and forth.
Guy Windsor: When murder became an offence against the Crown rather than offence against the person.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, well it had kind of always. I mean, killing a king’s subject is always a harm to the king. So that type of felony is always something that’s going to involve the crown. What also started to change, though, is that you had to resolve those problems through the courts, because even up into the middle 15th century, people accused of murder, could manage to solve that through arbitration. Now, it depended on who it was. It depended on what the situation was. It depended on whether or not the court was more interested in maintaining local stability and order than enforcing the law. But later on, it becomes more important to enforce the law because the Crown had a stronger hold on maintaining local order. So rather than sort of smoothing things over with the locals to prevent a snowballing effect of revenge and allowing them to resolve something through informal arbitration, they insisted on the court being part of that resolution. So you still have pardons and stuff. You still have a lot of people getting away with murder. But the court is less interested in letting people solve those problems on their own, so long as it keeps the peace. So that’s another thing that’s working on changing how people are understanding violent acts, but also how they’re performing them, if that makes sense.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. So you’re mostly looking at legal records then? Interesting. But you also you have an opinion about methodology and experimental archaeology in the study of violence.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, yeah.
Guy Windsor: There’s the chapter of a book you’re working on called Can These Bones Come to Life?
Mark Geldof: Right. So this was kind of a parallel again with how it started into this. So the SCA being this sort of sport version of swordsmanship, sort of a Buhurt-type combat. People fighting on foot with sticks. It’s extremely competitive. And especially where I started, where we travelled thousands of kilometres a year and spent every other weekend going to a tournament because you wanted to fight other people and learn. And one thing the SCA does do very well in recreating is the worship of prowess. You know, Richard Cooper’s idea about chivalry, really being about being good at fighting, being good at violence, and the SCA does that very well at least sort of inculcating that in certain groups. And I was part of one of those little communities where this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to be as good at it as we possibly could. And one of the things I learned in that is just how many ways you can get hit with a stick. Even with the rules we have in effect, where you can’t deliberately strike the hands or the knees and below, I still got hit in those places. I think the first time I ever got hit in the throat, I just sort of stopped and froze. Oh, yeah. No, I’m okay. But also of how many different ways you can hit other people, you know? Or how important it is to keep swinging, even if you lose your footing and you’re going down, if you see an opening and you can throw the shot, you may as well. Because we do battlefield sort of stuff. So in a field with 200 other people and I have no idea who’s nailed me in the head, some guy three people down on the shield wall. And then I read the Visby books. The swordmen’s two volume thing, the Visby archaeological stuff. And there was a section in there in the interpretation of wounds and they got a guy from I think it’s a Swedish officer’s school, he was a Sabre instructor, and he was looking at these the wounds. He said, oh yeah, you got two people there facing each other and this is how they fight. And I’m reading this and I’m just an 18 year old kid who’s just swung sticks around. And I’m like, no, there’s like a dozen different ways you could land this here and not be face to face with the guy you hit.
Guy Windsor: Yeah.
Mark Geldof: And so that became kind of a sticking point for me with a lot of the interpretations of things. So osteoarchaeology, we find the evidence of violent trauma on human bones, and there is this urge by researchers to interpret it, to construct a scenario in which this has happened. And no one is ever happy with just saying, well, that parietal bone was hit by a sharp instrument at roughly this angle.
Guy Windsor: Well, what happened was he’d been chopping logs. The axe was stuck in the stump that he chopped the logs on, and he tripped over and hit his head on the axe.
Mark Geldof: This is the thing. There is there are some people who study this stuff who are very careful about pointing out that, I mean, even sharp force trauma, which is indicative of some human agency involved, does not necessarily mean malignant human agency.
Guy Windsor: I’ve cut myself so many times.
Mark Geldof: Exactly. But you get someone who has three or four peri mortem cut wounds to the head. That’s probably deliberate human agency, but it doesn’t mean that this person was, say, an executed prisoner or things like, say, defensive wounds. So you have somebody who has a fatal head wound but also has cut marks on a forearm or something like this. And you say, oh, it’s a defensive wound, he went like this. But it changes the interpretation if the arm is empty or the hand is holding a sword or a shield. So you go from someone being just killed, a defenceless victim trying to protect themselves, to someone in combat actively trying to protect themselves or fight an opponent. We lack all of the rest of that context when all you’re looking at is a skeleton in the ground. Even when you have battlefield stuff so the battle of Totem, the mass graves there or at Visby and you know these people were killed in combat. Interpreting the wounds is still tricky because you don’t know the situation in which these wounds were delivered within combat or there are assumptions being made about what people think combat is like and what that’s going to look like at the skeleton and then drawing conclusions from that. So the multiple wounds to the head, people thinking, well, this is excessive. Thus we have people finishing off wounded people with multiple blows to the head or post-mortem mutilation of them or something like this. But I was in battle once and I got nailed five times in the head before I could even hit the ground because there were three people swinging at me. And they kind of swinging until I dropped.
Guy Windsor: And it is normal practice. If you can hit your opponent once you hit them many times until they stop trying to hit you back.
Mark Geldof: Exactly.
Guy Windsor: Fiore has this lovely situation where you’ve got the person wrapped up so both their arms are under your left arm and they have no access to their sword. And he says, I’ll give you a good dose of cuts and thrusts. I mean, that’s not just tap him on the head and say, yeah, you’re done. No, that’s whack them many times in the head, shove them a few times and the guts make sure they’re thoroughly dead and then drops them.
Mark Geldof: And it was that sort of thing that I decided they need to actually write something on this. So it started out as a conference paper at the medieval conference in Kalamazoo, the international medieval conference we have in North America. It’s much like the one at Leeds. In that paper, it’s actually called It’s Not Over Until It’s Overkill, which was a suggestion of my partner, because that was the point, was that this isn’t necessarily excessive violence, this is sufficient violence most of the time.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Or the normal level of violence expected in that context.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, exactly. You have to consider that, that that’s going to change depending on your situation. And then that got expanded into the paper that’s going to appear in that edited volume. And I kept working on that and did a much longer version that is in a collection of essays edited by Kelly DeVries and Tracey. I can’t remember her first name now, but that one’s in there. And it’s an attempt to demonstrate that these are the limits of interpretation from historical perspective of this osteoarchaeological material. And that even though it might be frustrating that you can’t produce these sort of satisfying scenarios that explain a sequence of injuries, knowing why that is, is the important part of studying it. So I mean, one of the major things I managed to determine is that you can tell the difference sometimes between sort of battlefield injury distributions and non-battlefield injury distributions, but it’s a really narrow category in which you can do that. There was one mass grave found that was on the grounds actually of St John’s College in Oxford. It’s probably from the early 1000s and contains probably massacre victims of some sort and their wound distribution is completely different from every other mass grave you get with wound distributions. But some of the other mass graves are also probably massacre sites, not necessarily combat victims. So these are things you have a hard time telling the difference between. There’s also, of course, lots of historical or even more modern evidence to suggest, again, that the sort of excess of violence interpretation is probably not appropriate because of just how resilient the human body is for short periods of time. So I did a lot of work with modern forensic studies and things about one paper that was a study of was it physical movement after fatal stabbing injuries or something like that, a bunch of case studies where they were looking at how long could you continue to function.
Guy Windsor: I went to a lecture by a pathologist on exactly that kind of thing, and he told a story about a chap who got stabbed in the heart in a pub and was thoroughly pissed off, went outside, saw a bottle, broke it against the curb, came back in, glassed the guy who stabbed him in the face and then fell down dead.
Mark Geldof: But did he leave the knife in?
Guy Windsor: No. I think the knife was pulled out.
Mark Geldof: Oh, okay, because that’s the first thing I would have thought.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, yeah, because it would plug the wound a bit. But apparently it has a lot to do with what stage of contraction the heart is in. If the heart is contracting and the thing goes through it, it will tend to seal it. It’s still going to kill you, but it’ll take a little while. If the heart is expanding at the moment that it gets punctured, then everything bursts and you get catastrophic blood pressure loss and down you go. You have a 50/50.
Mark Geldof: That’s a variable in this situation that you can’t account for when it’s just the skeleton, but also most historians aren’t aware of them, you know, I mean, how long can someone continue to be a threat even though they’re essentially dead? You know, this is non recoverable, it’s fatal. But if they can swing at you a couple more times, then it doesn’t matter.
Guy Windsor: Why wouldn’t they. Think of Mordred, I mean the classic Mordred. Arthur stabs him in the belly with a spear and he literally pulls the spear through his body to get to Arthur and then kills him at the other end. And he was writing for a knightly audience and they would have called bullshit. Well that sort of stuff does happen.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, yeah. Richard Cooper wrote about this a lot. So the really over the top depictions of violence in some of the romances and yeah, there’s certainly some exaggeration, but still this is exaggerating somewhat familiar experiences, people suffering tremendous injuries and still functioning. I mean, I always think of Villehardouin’s account of one of the Crusades. There’s the episode where he and a few of his knights are separated and they’re attacked by Saracens and one of his company asks if it would be appropriate for him to go and get help. Like, would they think he’s less of him if he left them to go and get help? And he asks him while his nose is hanging off his face. He’s like a hedgehog of arrows, has this hideous facial injury. And he’s saying, am I going to look bad if I go and try and get help so that we don’t all die? And he’s reassured. And so he does, he gets help and he dies. He doesn’t survive this. But that was his concern. And you think this is the thinking that’s going on in these people’s heads. This is the math they’re doing.
Guy Windsor: Just read some of the citations for Victoria Crosses. People are doing that kind of stuff all the time. Yeah.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. How often somebody said, you know, I was just mad. I was angry that I was in this situation.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. But the point of this is that if you are fighting someone who is trying to kill you and you tag them once in the head. If you stop, you’re probably going to die. So you’ve got to hit them many times. It’s not excessive, it is necessary in that context.
Mark Geldof: You have to fight on that thinking and in a very minor way that was one of the things I learned fighting in the SCA, was that you keep swinging until the guy you hit says he’s been hit. Because you don’t go whack. Did that plant bang? Oh, okay. No, I guess it didn’t. So you keep swinging and you protect yourself until the fight is over, as in the guy’s down.
Guy Windsor: Although that looks very unrealistic, it is actually probably the most realistic thing about the whole thing. Funnily enough. Okay. I do have to ask, but I was reading your review of Geoffrey Vorgeng’s translation of Pietro Monte.
Mark Geldof: Oh, yeah.
Guy Windsor: And in it, you use an expression “the sword beard set”. Now, I should point out, for listeners who can’t see, I do not have a beard. You do have a beard. I’m just saying this. So what is the sword beard? And what is the sword beard set?
Mark Geldof: I thought it was it actually had a little bit more currency, but it may have actually been a coining of someone I did my masters with. I was talking about this sort of stuff in a very nerdy way to someone whose exposure to this is more superficial. And I mentioned something about sword beards as a similar turn of phrase to like neck beards, sort of super nerd kind of basement dwelling type people who are obsessed with something to the exclusion of style.
Guy Windsor: Social interaction, hygiene.
Mark Geldof: It wasn’t meant as a pejorative. It was more of an acknowledgement of a certain level of obsession. I mean, it’s like tech bros or yeah, that kind of thing. So that’s kind of what I thought. But it does include people who have a very narrow interest within a historical topic, sometimes to the exclusion of important contextual history. So I often think of the people who debate about whether or not something is a guisarme or a halberd or a bill.
Guy Windsor: It is a big metal bladey thing on the end of a stick. Hit people with it. End of. I don’t nerd out about those sorts of distinctions. But I get very, very nerdy about other things.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. But it’s funny because, I mean the notion of typologies of weapons, that’s one of the earliest, I mean, Burton, who was a contemporary of.
Guy Windsor: Sir Richard Burton, The Book of the Sword.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. And it’s like a catalogue of sword types or that sort of thing. Ewart Oakeshott’s typology of grips and things. And of course this has a value with dating things, figuring out where things were produced or where they’re from. But the emphasis on that aspect of it can sometimes be distracting to somewhat more relevant things, such as the historical context in which these things are used, how they’re moving from point A to point B. So with the Collectania, this is the sort of stuff that people might be familiar with. With one part of it, but not understand how it fits into an organic whole. The one middle English verse version of the Vegetius’ Rei Militari often gets excerpted for the little short piece where he describes the use of the pell.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, absolutely. When you say Vegetius, I think pell.
Mark Geldof: It’s treated as it’s as a separate text, like the poem of the pell.
Guy Windsor: No, it’s not right.
Mark Geldof: So this is the sort of example of how stuff gets missed from its historical context. So that whole bit with this middle English verse description of how to use a pell and how to practice with sword is an adaptation of its Latin original, which is a fourth century late Roman thing, originally in Latin, and that it’s not a reflection of a contemporary, say, 15th century practice. It’s a 15th century adaptation of a literary work which happens to talk about this. And that’s why that whole context is important. So that reference to people who are interested in this, but in a
Guy Windsor: Narrowly exclusionary way.
Mark Geldof: Yes, exactly.
Guy Windsor: So what do you think of Pietro Monte?
Mark Geldof: Oh. That one, I had a hard time doing the review because there’s so much I want to talk about with it as he was so innovative. Yeah, but also it was unique in its in its presentation of a whole bunch of information. But it was extremely traditional in how it did it. So it was adapting all of these pre-existing techniques like a lot of the stuff I’d studied already, you know, it’s already part of a very well-established literary genre. But he’s got things in there where he’s talking about how to read people, what kind of fighter is this guy probably going to be? This is the sort of body language of someone who is experienced or this is someone who is likely sort of short tempered or might fall for feints or something like that or this one will be more conservative. You’ll have to be more patient, sort of telling the difference between, yeah, I’m reading this stuff thinking this is the stuff we would talk about watching tournaments. We’d watch everybody who fought so we could figure out what their tool kit was and say, okay, this guy’s a range fighter, this guy’s a gunslinger, this guy’s going to use his size and he’s going to jump on you. This guy lacks reach. This guy doesn’t fight like a big guy. He’s this great big guy, but he fights like a little guy or he fights very slowly or this guy’s very aggressive, you know, that kind of thing. And I’m reading this in Monte, like, I can’t think of anybody else who’s written like that with that degree of self-awareness. I mean, you can probably read as subtext in stuff in Lancelot stuff or the romances where you can kind of see there’s parts of this there. But he’s laying it out. He’s like, yeah, this is the stuff, you’re reading a 15th or 16th century equivalent of the guys sitting around the truck drinking beer in the parking lot and talking stick. And it was just the weirdest thing hitting those sections in particular in that book and having this really strong sort of recognising feeling. But yeah, no, it’s a fascinating work and I’m really glad that Boydell published that and made that more available.
Guy Windsor: And I should point out that I have Mike Prendergast on the show a while ago we discussed Monte in detail, so interested listeners can find a link to Mike’s thing and we go into a lot of detail there. So let me go onto my next thing because whenever I get a professional historian on the show, the historical martial arts community has the historical stuff and the martial arty stuff. And personally, I’m all about how to hit people with swords. I do the history to find out how to hit people with swords better. Generally, right. So I don’t really think of myself as a historian, usually. So as a professional historian, what advice would you give to the amateur historians in the martial arts community? What can we do to make our work more historically accurate?
Mark Geldof: I thought about this question a lot, and I think there’s really only two things. The first one is, if you’re going to do work with primary sources, make sure the source you’ve got, the edition, is as accurate as possible. So this is probably the place where you will come into contact with academics every so often.
Guy Windsor: But how do you do that?
Mark Geldof: Well, that is tricky because, of course, with editions, if you don’t know what you’re looking at first, then yeah, it can be an issue. So if you’re looking at the text, you go, oh hey, we got an edition of whoever, check the degree of documentation. How careful is this edition in telling you where it’s from, whether it’s a transcription of something, whether it’s a translation, if it has a section in it on a note on the ad on the edition or a note on the transcription or editorial guidelines for how this was done. If it tells you that this is how you’re going to know that you’re dealing with something that is probably safe to read. Some stuff won’t tell you where it’s from or tells you that it’s actually using Alfred Hutton’s 1911 version. And then you might be better off just going and looking at that one and comparing it to what they’re talking about. Because I have found in texts where they’ve copied from an online transcription of Alfred Hutton and then made their own changes to it when they put it into their own book. So we’re already three removes from the manuscript. Well, four removes from the manuscript, three removes from the first printed edition and the first printed edition is wrong. So that that’s the first step, which of course is not an easy one. The other thing I think is remembering how this stuff is or isn’t studied by traditional historians. For the most part, where this stuff comes up, I’ve got many examples of scholars who will mention stuff about combat or about fighting, duels and things like this who aren’t really studying the duels. That isn’t their focus, and it never was. But they do mention it because, of course, it’s a part of the broader history that they’re talking about and it may present a reading or an understanding of the period or of actions that someone who’s more interested in it and is studying it on their own, may find alienating because it may seem dismissive and it isn’t. At least that’s not the intention. Often when you have these gaps in these texts or there isn’t much attention paid to a certain topic, it’s not because of a lack of interest, it’s because of a lack of material to work with.
Guy Windsor: Or an editor who won’t let you go there.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. So the lack of scholarship on this isn’t necessarily because scholars don’t care. It’s because scholars don’t have much to work with. You know what I mean, this was kind of a running joke with my materials that I wrote a 112 page master’s thesis with a 22 page bibliography on 400 lines of text. And it wasn’t even a literary work. I didn’t have the excuse of being somebody studying the Bible or something like this. I mean, it’s like, no, these are technical works. This is like fight recipes. Well I mean even Sydney Anglo’s comments on the stuff where he said, yeah, there’s this English material, it makes no sense to me. And that’s as much as he can say about it. And it’s not because he didn’t think they were interesting. It’s because that was all you could say about them at the time.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, that’s pretty much where I landed. Yeah, they’re interesting, but they’re not particularly useful to me. I mean, when I’ve got Fiore in this hand and the English one in the other hand, if I want to know how to hit people with swords in the 15th century, there’s only one choice to make there.
Mark Geldof: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. But if you fall in love with these particular manuscripts you dig and you dive and you write 112 pages on 400 lines of text and whatever and you come to some understanding. But for me that’s just too much work for not enough hitting.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. And you’re absolutely right, it is often far too much work and especially for the economy of academics that you know, yes you can do a bunch of stuff about extremely obscure things, but there is some stuff that’s even too obscure for other academics.
Guy Windsor: You still have to become the academic. It is a perennial problem of producing authoritative editions. Because even people who should know what they’re doing sometimes produce not such good translations, interpretations or whatever else. Because they may be in a slightly unfamiliar area. So you can’t even go by the name of the author. You have to have some kind of idea of what a good edition looks like. Some advice I got, actually from Jeffrey Vorgeng himself, was on finding authoritative models. And actually, he wouldn’t say this, but I will happily say this. You can look at Vorgeng’s work for authoritative models as to what a translation, transcription and critical analysis of attack should look like.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. And he’s classically trained. He’s a graduate of the Toronto University, of the Toronto Pontifical Institute. He knows the field craft of editing and transcription and producing those editions. And even with him, he didn’t just sit on the first version he did for Brian Price.
Guy Windsor: No. I saw a photocopy of half of that in 1999. Four years before it came out.
Mark Geldof: I’ve got that one. I don’t have his new, that great big cased one.
Guy Windsor: Oh I do. It’s right over there. Oh it’s gorgeous.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, I’d love it because, I mean, they even tried to reproduce the foliation.
Guy Windsor: They didn’t reproduce the collation, but Michael Chidester of HEMA Bookshelf, his editions of Fiore and various others, that reproduces the collation.
Mark Geldof: He is good.
Guy Windsor: He has done it. I’ve got I think four of his and at least three of them the collation is correct. One of them, the collation was so weird in the original one they decided not to reproduce it because it’s basically not a good collation. It is not a stable physical structure.
Mark Geldof: 1.33 was originally, well for a while it was loose, it was a portfolio but yeah, that’s neat. Of course a lot of the German ones have been done in very good editions. And of course they have sort of a tradition of that. I mean there’s Gustav Herzl’s 1880s ones. But also of course, like you said, most of these facsimiles or the really good editions aren’t being published even by a more familiar academic press or with a shorter run or something. I mean, Chivalry Bookshelf’s all out of print, Freelance Academy Press took over some of their titles.
Guy Windsor: I took mine back and published them myself.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, actually. And I’ve got your first one.
Guy Windsor: Oh my God!
Mark Geldof: I remember. Yeah, I got this in ‘05. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: The year after it came out.
Mark Geldof: This is actually the only one of yours I’ve got. Which really I feel bad about.
Guy Windsor: Shocking. It is the most out of date of all of my books.
Mark Geldof: Oh, yeah, I expected that. But, I mean, it’s a really good example of that approach. It’s one of the kind of one of the reasons why I got it.
Guy Windsor: When we’re done I’ll send you a PDF of the book of mine I think you’ll like the best, which is my From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice. Where I take the longsword plays of Fiore and I do a transcription, well firstly there’s the picture so you can see what it looks like on the page. Then there’s a transcription, my translation, what I think the translation is telling us to do, and then a clip to a video of how I think that should be done. It means that if you disagree with my interpretation you can trace back what bit of my interpretation you actually disagree with. And it could be that I have mistranscribed some bit of theory and therefore mistranslated it, and therefore I’m using my left foot instead of my right. Yeah, right. Or it could be that actually you agree with everything up to the video. It just basically makes the whole process of this entirely transparent, which I think you might enjoy. Okay. I’ll get a PDF over to you.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, that would be that would be great. But it’s funny too because you bring that up that how much of this, and this is the case with all the fight texts is that they are supplements to practise. So to demonstrate how they work you have to kind of do it. You have to show it. And how many different steps in that process from your text to the performance can affect that. And so yeah, with Wagner, some of his earlier stuff, he’s not working with a reliable text but even when he is talking about it because he doesn’t have a good source, he can’t sort of cross-reference it so carefully. So he doesn’t have line numbers. So in Harley, he has this quote from the Harley text. But you have to hunt through the Harley version to find that and then to check whether or not there’s a line break in this or whether or not there’s been some editorial punctuation that’s broken up the instruction or whether or not there’s been one of Hutton’s misreadings of a word or duplicate word, stuff like this. And it’s an enormous amount of work. And you’d only be doing that if you have that concern to begin with that the person you’re reading may not be working from an accurate text. So as the sort of advice bit is make it as easy as possible for the people following your research to genuinely follow your research. And see where it’s coming from. Now that that is also an enormous amount of work for the person producing it, but to a large extent, that’s what all academics do is we have to show our work so that it can be kind of reproduced, basically. So if you had the same sources I have, you have this sort of stuff that you’re going to at least have the same material to start from. And then you can separate my interpretation from the source material and you’re not going to be confused by it.
Guy Windsor: Good advice. Okay. So you’ve obviously done lots of stuff, including far more degrees than any human being really needs. What is the best idea you haven’t acted on yet?
Mark Geldof: Right, I really want to do something on Artemesia Gentileschi.
Guy Windsor: Oh, my God. Yes. Oh, God, yes. I love Artemesia.
Mark Geldof: Specifically. So for readers, do you want to briefly explain who she is?
Guy Windsor: Fabulous painter.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, she’s one of those modern, famous Renaissance painters. She was daughter of another very successful painter. She did sort of more or less your usual commissioned work and stuff like this, paintings of saints and such. But she also did a series of biblical stuff and was specifically the one I’m interested is the Judith and Holofernes.
Guy Windsor: Where she’s hacking his head off.
Mark Geldof: I know. The one that most people do is with the actual beheading of Holofernes. Yeah. There are two versions of it, they’re really mostly identical. If you compare that one with her contemporary Caravaggio, they look completely different. I mean, Caravaggio, there’s Helen and there’s this little old lady’s maid with her and she, Judith looks like she’s concerned about getting blood on her. And the blood itself just looks like kind of yarn spinning out of his neck. And with Gentileschi, you know, Judith is down. She’s got an elbow up.
Guy Windsor: She’s sawing it off. She’s like, fuck you.
Mark Geldof: Shoving it through. And her maid is there pinning Holofernes down, she’d got her full weight on his body.
Guy Windsor: It’s a murder. It’s fantastic.
Mark Geldof: The stuff I wanted to do is the two other paintings that she did in that series, which are after the Holofernes has been finished off and they’re trying to make their way out of the camp.
Guy Windsor: Yeah.
Mark Geldof: And one painting, it’s mostly torso up. Judith is standing with sword over her shoulder and she’s looking off in one direction with her servant. And the first time I saw that painting and again, I can credit the SCA for developing the eye for this, is I looked at how she’s holding her hand and the sword isn’t resting on her shoulder. She is supporting it. But her hand’s a little loose. Her elbow is fairly up. And I’m looking at this and like this is she’s ready to throw a shot if she needs to. She can just take the hand up, pop her elbow up and launch it. It’s loaded. And I thought, if I am reading that from this image and I’m just some kid who swings sticks at people, Gentileschi’s audience is people who are born into that.
Guy Windsor: They carry swords every day.
Mark Geldof: Exactly. If I’m getting this feel of threat off of that painting, they’re probably going to see it, too.
Guy Windsor: Yeah.
Mark Geldof: And the other one she did is a similar one. It’s more full body and she’s got a sword down under her left arm near her hip and she’s got her hand up blocking light from a candle.
Guy Windsor: She’s in 1.33 first ward.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. Actually I found a direct analogy from a Messer manual.
Guy Windsor: Same thing.
Mark Geldof: And even the footwork looks probably like it’s right. I think it’s right leg lead on that one. And so people describe this painting and they say that she’s shading this candle to well, I can’t remember what they usually say, but I’m looking at this I’m noticing, one the hand the she has up to shade the candle means she has a shadow over her eye. So she’s blocking the light out so she can see into a darker space off out of frame. And then she has the sword down here, which again is this loaded position.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, I suspect that she’s making it so the candle light doesn’t shine off her sword.
Mark Geldof: That too.
Guy Windsor: So whoever’s in that room doesn’t see it.
Mark Geldof: So I’m looking at these and thinking of just how literate Gentileschi was in the physical aspect of it. So her choice of models or for poses suggests she knows what people should look like when they’re handling weapons. And that for her, it was important to convey that in the paintings.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Well, possibly to her patron. Whoever she was painting it for might have been quite specific about it.
Mark Geldof: I’m not sure. Some of the paintings were done sort of on spec and some were done for specific collectors. And so that could be another aspect.
Guy Windsor: So what are you going to do with these? You’re going to write a paper on them?
Mark Geldof: Yeah, I think that is mostly it. Put a paper together presenting this argument that Gentileschi’s choice of body language, of positioning and things like this is, one, indicating that she knows well, one, making the argument that this is why these positions are this way, that they were reflecting fencing. And that Gentileschi wanted to do that for whatever reason, either because she would connect with the audience or because of her own interest in verisimilitude.
Guy Windsor: I think it’s a period equivalent of TV shows where they hold the guns correctly or not. Yeah, right. It’s like how many TV shows have been completely ruined if somebody is pointing a loaded pistol at a person and to really emphasise how very much they’re definitely going to shoot them in just a minute, they rack the slide. Now I’m really going to shoot you. It’s like you just lost a round. That’s just stupid.
Mark Geldof: Yeah. I used to explain to my students, if you want to go into history, be prepared to ruin every historical movie you’re ever going to see. Saving Private Ryan drives me nuts, because the extras don’t hold their rifles properly. All of the Germans are Irish Defence Force or something, and they’ve all been trained with pistol grip type rifles. And they’re given these fibreglass Mauser bolt action rifles and they hold them by the grip. So when they run they’re holding them like that. Whereas if you watch any footage from the war of people.
Guy Windsor: You hold them by the point of balance ahead of the trigger guard.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, exactly. You grab the balance point and to carry them that way. Or even I remember seeing this back in like 2003, so early on with the Second Gulf War. And I think they were they were Iraqi insurgents. So there’s some news footage of Iraqis and they got balaclavas on stuff. So they’re trying to be anonymous and they’re walking around and they’re all holding their AKs by the pistol grip down at their side, except for one guy who has it up. Tucked up into the shoulder like the high ready or whatever. I don’t remember what the term is, but it’s like, okay.
Guy Windsor: That’s the guy you shoot.
Mark Geldof: Yeah, that guy was trained in the West. He knows what he’s doing because no one else. And I see it with in Ukraine, all the footage from Ukraine and stuff, seeing the different body language and realising that the people who are the most switched on are the ones who have the little safety scissors, the safety cutter scissors tucked into their into their plate carrier or something. If they don’t have the scissors, one, they’re usually Russian and two, they don’t know what they’re doing. So that seems to be the indicator for competence.
Guy Windsor: Why? What are the scissors for?
Mark Geldof: I don’t know yet. I think because they’re usually up there with a couple of felt tip markers. Yeah. And I’m pretty sure the two are put together, one, so you can cut somebody out of their gear if they’re injured and the pens are there so you can write on a tourniquet or something else when you did it so that the next people who deal with the casualty, they know when they need to undo it or you write down whether or not you gave them morphine or something like that. So I’m pretty sure that’s why it’s there. And it seems to just be something, because I haven’t seen that prior to the Ukraine thing.
Guy Windsor: So do you have military training?
Mark Geldof: No.
Guy Windsor: Okay. You just use observe these things.
Mark Geldof: I just study a lot of it.
Guy Windsor: Before I got onto that. Do send pictures of the Gentileschi pictures to put in the show notes because it will be instructive for people to have a look and see what we’re talking about, because I think I have these pictures pretty clear in my head. But not everyone does that. But a little birdie tells me that you have actually acted on the idea of having a podcast. Would you like to tell us about your podcast?
Mark Geldof: Like many academics, I am chronically underemployed, but I also enjoy teaching, for as much work as it is, and I haven’t been able to do any of that for quite a while. So I started up a little podcast. It’s on Patreon. It’s the Dr. Violence podcast.
Guy Windsor: Dr. Violence? Yes. So is it only Patreon or is it also available on regular podcast apps?
Mark Geldof: I will be looking into putting them on some of those. It just started in December, but yeah, it will probably be mirrored on other ones as well. Once I can sort that out and it’s mostly, for the time being anyway, I’m doing a podcast version of the course I used to teach on the history of violence. So from a historical perspective, how to how to go about understanding it and how one does it, mostly through a history of medieval and early modern English contexts and then other related topics. Actually the last one I did was about sorting out sources. So tracking a really weird bibliographic entry back to where it started. So some of the field craft of research stuff. There’s the Forensic Bibliography series. So stuff like that. Mostly the historical stuff, but sometimes some contemporary discussions of things. So it’s like modern issues of interpersonal violence for vulnerable groups or persons, that kind of thing.
Guy Windsor: Okay, so people would find that at patreon.com/drviolence?
Mark Geldof: Yes, I’m just going to double check. I’ll send you links.
Guy Windsor: Yes, send me links to put in the show notes, that’s probably best. Yeah, these are going to be great show notes aren’t they? So many pictures, so many sources.
Mark Geldof: I’m going to have to give you footnotes on it.
Guy Windsor: Excellent. All right. My last question, somebody gives you $1,000,000 to spend on improving historical martial arts or any related field worldwide. How would you spend it?
Mark Geldof: Yeah, that’s a tricky one too.
Guy Windsor: You don’t get to pay off your mortgage.
Mark Geldof: No, actually my partner’s already paid it off.
Guy Windsor: Oh, fantastic.
Mark Geldof: I don’t deal with the money for obvious reasons. I think probably the best thing would be if you could set up, say, a sort of like a research sort of workshop sort of thing to teach the basics of source locating and criticism. So those sort of skills that people in my position often take for granted but are always reminded with a new class of students that you have to learn this somewhere, sometime. So how to tell self-published material from stuff published by a legitimate publisher or the stuff that has gone through?
Guy Windsor: I’m about to pull you up on that. Okay. Legitimate.
Mark Geldof: Yes, you’re right.
Guy Windsor: Self-published is not illegitimate. I’ll give you a good example. Bertrand Russell’s philosophical treatise, one of the most important books of the 20th century, that he paid for that to be published because Cambridge University Press wouldn’t touch it.
Mark Geldof: I think I’m showing my prejudice against that from much earlier.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mark Geldof: But you’re right. You’re absolutely right. But still the being able to tell what it is you’re looking at and evaluate it without necessarily knowing much about the topic you’re dealing with I guess is the set of skills that will be the most useful for anybody working in any topic, but particularly this one. So yeah, basically a school on how to do the basics of research and documentation so that you don’t have to reproduce, like you don’t have to waste effort, that you know how to locate the work that other people have done and sort of benefit from it, that sort of stuff and some basics in how to read or handle primary sources, which are mostly going to be through editions. But understanding what goes into an edition and what doesn’t or tell the difference between the diplomatic editions from more working ones, that kind of thing.
Guy Windsor: Okay. I actually have an online course called Recreating Historical Swordsmanship from Historical sources, which is basically assuming you don’t have any training in history and you want to do historical martial arts and you want to do your own research, how did you go about it? What do you need? How do you extract usable methodology from the source, that kind of thing? Yeah, I would be very interested in your take on that. So I will send you log in details and whatnot. You can have a look at it and it is due for an update. It was the first course I ever produced so it’s six years old now and I haven’t really done anything to it in those six years. But I’ll be fascinated to see what you think I should do better in it.
Mark Geldof: I’d like to see that. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So you’d set up a kind of training resource so that non-historians could pick up the basics so they could study of martial arts more effectively?
Mark Geldof: Yeah, that would probably be just the basics of the field craft so that you can avoid those sort of pitfalls of the hyperfocus or the sort of the problems that come along with not understanding the context, how easy it is to think that the earliest English material is related sort of organically with anything that comes after it, those sorts of things. And if you’ve got those sorts of questions, where do you go to find answers for it? If you can’t necessarily work it out on your own, that sort of thing, I think that would be the most beneficial.
Guy Windsor: Excellent. If I had the money, I would certainly at least think about giving it to you. But sadly, I don’t have a spare million.
Mark Geldof: You could give me just part of it.
Guy Windsor: All right. Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for joining me today Mark, it’s been lovely to have you on the show.