In Search of Lady Combatants

Full disclosure: the writer is married to and friends with people who are making this game.
Audatia1

Prototype card art from the Audatia game. The images correspond to the real-life moves. Art by Jussi Alarauhio.

You might have heard of Guy Windsor before – the guy (pun intended) who always gives lectures about medieval European swordsmanship in Ropecon. He came to Finland in 2001 and established The School of European Swordsmanship here in Helsinki. I attended his first swordsmanship demonstration held at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium and attended his classes for some time. The school has since grown and now has many new schools all over Finland and the world.

Today, however, we are not talking about the school, but rather about his latest project: Audatia.

In short Audatia is a card game, which is based on real Italian 14th century swordsmanship techniques written down by Fiore dei Liberi. The game was developed partly to help Guy’s students to remember the terminology used as it’s all in medieval Italian, which is not the easiest language for us Finns or anyone else either non-Italian or living in modern times. ;) Also almost all the moves can be blocked with one or more specific moves, but you have to remember those moves and what do you know, the game teaches you those counter moves, too, when you play the game.

I have tried the game a couple of times and with my little training in European swordsmanship I was able to see the movements in my mind when playing. You see, when you strike with the sword, you move your “sword” card just like you would a sword and when blocking you move the opponent’s sword back accordingly. With the images you really get to see what you are doing. I especially like the fact that the real European swordsmanship was not some fancy pansy fencing, but the sole purpose was to keep you alive i.e. kill your opponents as fast and efficiently as possible. Especially since if you got in a swordfight back then it was most likely because someone wanted you dead. Basically this means kicking your opponent in the family jewels and striking them down with a pommel if need be (or the opportunity presents itself). Efficient.

But why I am really writing this article is…

1) If you are interested in the game you’d better buy it now. The project is seeking funding at IndieGoGo.com and has in fact already received all the money it needs, so now it’s only about buying the game if you want it.

2) And most importantly because there will be a real historical female swordsman in the game, and the customers get to vote who she will be!

Let’s ask Guy to explain it to us. :)

Mia: Hi Guy! How are you doing?

Guy: Very well, thanks!

Joanna of FalndersBy Judi Heit (http://highseaheroines.blogspot.com/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Joanna of Flanders.
By Judi Heit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mia: Congratulations for getting Audatia funded and I heard the Lady Combatant expansion to the original game is also going to get made, as planned.

First of all, if I understood correctly the main game will have two male combatants, both being real historical figures: Jean le Maingre aka Boucicault and Galeazzo da Mantoa. Why’d you end up choosing those two fellows?

Guy: Because Fiore says that Galeazzo was his student, and refers to a duel that we know took place between him and Marshal Boucicault in 1395. Boucicault is one of the most famous knights of all time. They were the natural choice!

Mia: And in the game you play the game as your chosen character? Does the character you choose have different moves compared to the other combatants?

Guy: Yes, each deck is a specific character, and each deck is slightly different. Enough to make the best strategies different, depending on who you are, and who you are fighting.

Mia: If you order the game you get to take part in voting who the Lady Combatant of the game will be and I saw you have narrowed down the options to Joanna of Flanders, Isabella Duchess of Lorraine, Lady Agnes Randolph, and Agnes Hotot. Why did you choose them?

Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine By Ambito francese (Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine
By Ambito Francese (Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Guy: There are not many documented female combatants from this period (the late fourteenth century), so our options are fairly limited. These ladies were famous for good reason:

  • Joanna of Flanders, “Jeanne la Flamme”, who in the siege of Henneport in 1342 “took up arms and, dressed in armour, conducted the defence of the town”.
  • Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine, who led an army to rescue her husband in 1436.
  • Lady Agnes Randolph, “Black Agnes”, who defended her castle at Dunbar against a siege for 5 months.
  • Agnes Hotot, of the House Dudley, who fought a duel in her father’s stead and (legend has it) following it stripped her breastplate to prove to the offender he’d been bested by a woman. This last is obviously impossible, as anyone who has ever worn armour knows!

We are also inviting suggestions, and may end up with an even better candidate!

Mia: I read about Joanna of Flanders. She is supposed to have encouraged other women to “cut their skirts and take their safety in their own hands”, which sounds quite modern. Reminds me of the feminists in the 1960s who burned their bras. Except in this case it’s, of course, because a long skirt would get in your way in a combat.

Guy: Yes. We have a very limited idea about the role of women in this period: society then was not nearly so rigid as we tend to think. And it changed greatly from time to time and place to place.

Lady Agnes Randolph By J R Skelton (Scanned from H E Marshall, Scotland's Story, 1906) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lady Agnes Randolph
By J R Skelton (Scanned from H E Marshall, Scotland’s Story, 1906) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mia: I also really liked the legend of the Black Agnes or Lady Agnes Randolph, because she really has attitude! It’s said she taunted the English soldiers (she was Scottish) who sieged her castle and once, after the English had been bombing her castle, she took her maids outside in their Sunday best and then they dusted the castle walls clean as if it was really nothing to them. Such arrogance. :D

Guy: I’d say defiance, bravado and panache, rather than arrogance. And they won!

Mia: Of course it was quite normal that when their husbands were away the women were left in charge of defending the castles, but to my knowledge there have always been women who have crossed the “normal” and gone to war to fight aside men and sailed the seas as pirates, etc. I think it’s wonderful you guys have decided to include real women in the game, but it must have been quite hard since most of the women warriors have passed without any records except few mentions of groups of women fighting here and there, but seldomly they give any names or any other specifics about them.

Guy: Yes, finding the right candidate is not a trivial exercise. But I believe very strongly that women make just as good swordsmen as men, and that people should have the possibility to identify with a role model of either sex.

Alexandre Debelle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Just like Agnes Hotot (no images available under CC licence), the pirate Mary Read reveals her breast to prove he had just lost to a woman.
Alexandre Debelle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mia: I’m also aware of the fact that some of the stories about these women might be only legends that have started to live their own lives. It has been 700 years since these women lived and written testimonials are scarce since printing had not been invented, and mouth to mouth stories tend to change quite a bit. For example in the case of Agnes Hotot she is said to have revealed her chest after besting her opponent. I’ve read that same story about so many historical female “warriors” (e.g. the pirate Mary Read) that I’m quite sure it must be later invention. Not to say that it could not have happened, but I wonder if a woman would have really revealed herself in front of the audience like that?

Guy: She may well have taken off her helm to show her face and hair; but you just can’t strip a breastplate off. And if you did, the arming jacket underneath takes ages to get off! I speak from experience :-)

Mia: But at least we can be certain they are all historical figures AND had something to do with battles AND were spectacular enough so that their stories still survive.

And even more fascinating is that the women combatants are far from gone, because out of Guy’s students a third are female and I just read about this wonderfully handsome female western martial artist Samantha Swords (it’s a nom de guerre) who won the Longsword Tournament at Harcourt Park this year.

5 Comments

  1. This is rather off topic, but as far as I know, the “feminists of the 60s burning their bras” is more legend than reality. Or perhaps not so much legend as a symbolic way to say that some feminists of the 60s protested against the cone shaped bras of the era and choose to go without.

    I know that Wikipedia is not the most trustworthy source, but it’s the best I was able to find right now:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_America_protest

    Reply
    • I have seen photos with women burning their bras (or something similar, they were already burning) so it has (if those were bras) happened, but I also remember hearing from somewhere it was not a widespread movement. Nevertheless it has grown into a symbol for the 60s feminist movement. But hey, what a better way to prove my point that stuff becomes legends quite fast and starts to live its own life. Also I’m happy those women burned their bras for practical reasons just like Joanna of Flanders. ;)

      Reply
  2. Would like to orders a set of cards. Joanna of Flanders wold be my choice

    Reply

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