The word Fechtschule in German literally means “fencing school”. Indeed, images from the 18th century onward use the term as interchangeable with “Fechtboden” or fencing loft: A location, often in a university or upper school, in which a fencing master or Fechtmeister taught students.
(Our featured copperplate here calls it palaestra and sala d’esgrima, both referring to the location.)
But the most prevalent meaning of the term denotes an event rather than a locality: A Fechtschule is a public spectacle not unlike a modern boxing match or football game. It was an important element in the transfer of teaching privileges: New candidates for the coveted title of Fechtmeister had to prove their qualifications weapon in hand to be awarded the lucrative accreditation as a teaching master.
Other fencers competed for prizes — the Kränzlein (little wreath) and, of course, a purse of prize money.
Since only the fencing guilds of the Marxbrüder and, later, the Federfechter were privileged to teach the art of defence for money, these contests were conducted by the members of these brotherhoods.
The brotherhoods’ emblems, the Lion of St. Marcus and the Griffin of the Federfechter’s patron saint St. Vitus presided over each Fechtschule.
Membership in the guilds was closely intertwined with membership in the urban craftsmen’s guilds, but students from the local universities were permitted to compete.
Fighters competed in Dussack, single rapier (Degen), rapier and dagger, dagger, staff, halbert, and two-handed sword. Each bout was supervised by a director armed with a staff — ready to interfere when things went out of hand. Hans Talhoffer, the 15th-century grandmaster of German martial arts, once was incarcerated for fighting when a bout became personal.
Fechtschulen began to disappear in the 18th century, to be replaced by the Schützenfeste of the urban marksmen’s guilds.