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24.04.02 Delle Luche, Des amitiés ciblées

24.04.02 Delle Luche, Des amitiés ciblées

In this doctoral dissertation turned monograph, Jean-Dominique Delle Luche offers a comprehensive analysis of a richly documented yet little studied phenomenon: urban shooting contests in the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Holy Roman Empire. As he sets out in his introduction, these contests were significant civic events that impressed local inhabitants and visitors alike. Competitive shooting was a distinctive feature of late medieval and early modern urban culture in Germanophone Europe, which is still celebrated by heritage organizations in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland today. Despite this grassroots popularity, the topic has rarely been subjected to detailed and comparative scholarly analysis, especially compared with the overwhelming quantity of research into military ranged weaponry (whether bows, crossbows, or guns). Case studies abound, but Delle Luche’s book is the first systematic assessment of the topic in any language.

The book impresses in its scope and ambition. In order to be able to offer a convincing synthesis, the author consulted over fifty archives, mostly from the central and southern Holy Roman Empire, where shooting contests were clustered. His analysis includes small towns as well as large cities, and urban centers subject to princely rule as well as the better-known free and imperial cities. Furthermore, this book is not just about the “sport” itself (a term Delle Luche considers appropriate to describe pre-modern competitive shooting), but its wider implications, studied from several perspectives: the instantiation of civic identity, festival culture, diplomatic relations, and social inclusion and exclusion. Indeed, the pun in the book’s title (“targeted friendships”) indicates the additional key theme emphasized by Delle Luche throughout: the nature of relations between the cities that participated in shooting contests. Furthermore, he crosses the traditional late medieval/early modern boundaries to encompass the roughly 150-year period when shooting contests were at their zenith: an era that began in the 1430s, with the popularization of the arquebus in this context, and ended in the 1580s, when the switch to the musket altered the nature of the sport. This period coincided with a new, more intense phase of urban institutionalization, correspondence, and record-keeping in the German lands, enabling detailed conclusions to be drawn, including a convincing demonstration of how shooting contests also changed over time.

Delle Luche aims to distill key insights about this entire period, while noting exceptions to general patterns and evolutions over the decades. To accomplish this tricky balancing act, he groups his material and analysis under five sections, each defined by a verb: “organizing,” “inviting,” “hosting,” “competing,” and “immortalizing.” The first of these, covered in chapter 1, considers the quantitative and qualitative information about the organization of shooting contests that can be gleaned from the surviving evidence. Several thousand were held between 1430 and 1580, but we only know about most of them through brief and oblique references in fragmentary source material. The hosts and attendance levels of competitions varied enormously, influenced by cities’ geographic location, status, and wealth. Planned events might be cancelled because of epidemics, famines, wars, and feuds. Delle Luche demonstrates a striking link between the end of regional or Empire-wide upheavals and an uptick in the number of surviving invitations to shooting contests. Urban budgets played a major role, too. On the one hand, hosting was an expensive proposition, which explains why the richest cities were overrepresented among organizers. On the other hand, urban councils were cognizant of the potential economic benefits of bringing large numbers of guests to their cities, and sought to multiply these benefits by having competitions coincide with market days and holidays. Contests might also overlap with imperial diets or princely gatherings. A notable series of these latter occasions, during cordial intra-Wittelsbach relations in the 1520s, gave rise to a spate of simultaneous competitions. All this, and the rhythms of the liturgical calendar (with Ordinary Time falling between Pentecost and Advent), favored late summer and early autumn as the peak season for shooting contests. In the timeframe covered by this monograph, virtually all competitions included both crossbow and arquebus matches, though guns increasingly eclipsed non-gunpowder weapons as the central focus of shooting contests.

The second chapter examines the initial implementation stage: the process of inviting other towns to send delegations of shooters to a planned contest. Through a diplomatic analysis of a variety of hand-written and--from the 1470s--printed invitations, Delle Luche demonstrates that the genre of the shooting contest invitation evolved over time, often including pictorial elements that informed would-be participants of the distance competitors would stand from the target, as well as other ludic aspects of the event, such as the value of planned lotteries. Some were clearly intended to be posted as public placards. Lists of invitees generally prioritized regional networks, with culturally and geographically distant cities rarely expected--or willing--to send competitors. Indeed, lists of anticipated attendees mapped clearly onto the strongest diplomatic ties of the organizing city. That said, by the later sixteenth century other groups--including even individuals identified as peasants or low-ranking villagers--can be found participating in central and southern German contests. The time lag between sending invitations and hosting an event depended naturally on the number and proximity of the invitees. Such invitations could also backfire, where fraught inter-urban relations might provoke a boycott in response. Nuremberg sometimes found itself on the receiving end of such boycotts in this period, as many of its Franconian neighbors were aligned with its long-standing princely enemies, the margraves of Brandenburg-Ansbach.

The logistical challenges and opportunities of hosting a shooting contest are the focus of chapter 3. Given the complex jurisdictional landscape of the Empire, fragmented among many lordships but also, increasingly in this period, subject to wide-ranging public peace ordinances and associations (Landfrieden), the security and freedom of movement of attendees was an important consideration. Cities made use of the legal instrument of safe conduct (Geleit) to facilitate travel to the competition, while seeking to exclude publicly known outlaws, enemies of the city, and participants in active feuds. They reinforced internal security through extra municipal guards and mandates about fire prevention. Perceived failures in this domain could be explosive: years of bad blood and litigation resulted from some Swabians making zoophilic insults against Swiss contestants at a shooting tournament in Constance in 1458, which the latter treated as a violation of safe conduct. Once competitors reached the host city, they might be honored in various ways: ceremonial entries (complete with celebratory cannon salutes), choreographed speeches, festive dances, free accommodation, and lavish banquets. At one such banquet in Augsburg in 1509, guests were treated to a menu of 2000 varieties of cheese and an “open bar” in the municipal cellar. Delle Luche argues that such conspicuous consumption and attentive ritual constituted a “theater of friendship” (139): carefully staged performances intended to broadcast the host municipality’s honor and reputation, and reinforce ties to the communities that sent competitors.

Chapters 4 and 5 focus on the substance of shooting contests: the actual sporting events, and the accompanying forms of entertainment that sprang up around them. These all took place in an area adjacent to the host town, on a field with temporary structures, which Delle Luche compares to modern Olympic Villages. This enhanced the scrupulous appearance of neutrality that hosts sought to maintain, to minimize tensions in what could become emotionally charged events. A panel of referees, drawn from the participating cities, determined the victors at the shooting stands and oversaw disputes (a kind of collectively organized adjudication common to other, higher-stakes spheres of activity in the Holy Roman Empire). A shooter’s honor was at stake as well as his participation fee. Excuses for missing the target became a literary genre in their own right. Not for nothing did Sebastian Brant include a “bad shooter” in his famous Ship of Fools (Narrenschiff, 1494). Meanwhile, figures calledPritschenmeister administered parodic justice in the form of public humiliation for the worst shots. The dishonored shooters might be given bad food, compelled to dress as jesters, or even spanked on a bench. While losers received a booby prize (such as a sow), winners obtained objects associated with prestige and virility such as bulls and silver crockery, and a payout from a collectively funded money pot, which was often distributed among many tiers of competitors to ensure a large number of recipients. Other forms of popular entertainment that unfolded on the periphery of the shooting contest included gambling and drinking, as frequently highlighted by moralizing critics and satirists, and other athletic events, including races and jumping contests. These public “secondary activities” could have a very dark side indeed when they came at the expense of marginalized figures in the urban population. For instance, one contest involved the feigned use of a bound Jewish man as a shooting target, while several others staged the “game of the blind men and the pig,” in which visually impaired beggars were ordered to club an animal to death. Delle Luche interprets this ensemble of competitive events as a “laboratory of masculinity” (215): spaces with entertainment aimed at performing virility, with humiliations and punishments understood in explicitly gendered terms.

Finally, chapter 6 surveys the ways in which various parties recorded and memorialized shooting contests. City councils maintained (often patchy) records, to consult when planning future tournaments and help settle potential claims and counterclaims about competition results after delegations had returned home. The distribution of commemorative medals enabled councils to place civic identity at the heart of the official memorialization of contests. Urban chroniclers and printers of early news broadsheets might report on recent competitions, especially if this provided an opportunity for sensationalist stories, or criticism of a rival town or (from the 1520s) confession. The Pritschenmeister loomed large among the unofficial commemorators of competitions. These gifted if sometimes coarse poets, usually prominent burghers who treated their compositions as a second job, appear in the records starting in the 1490s, reaching a crescendo of activity in the later sixteenth century. Their work in the shooting arena often overlapped with commissions to memorialize princely tournaments and weddings.

Overall, this book offers a rich, multi-dimensional picture of a range of political, social, and cultural themes in the history of the Holy Roman Empire, rooted in imaginative analysis of an impressive volume of archival materials. In crossing the medieval/early modern divide, Delle Luche is able to identify important continuities (the persistence of German and Swiss civic self-fashioning as glorious communities of honor--honor that was to be performed, but also riskily staked, in a range of settings, including pre-modern sport and its accompanying festivities) as well as patterns of change (such as the eclipsing of some imperial cities by princely capitals, favored by the Pritschenmeister of the later sixteenth century, and a concomitant northward drift of shooting competition locations). The work is supported by exceptional appendices, including transcribed primary sources, tabular lists of competitors and Pritschenmeister, and thirty-eight detailed figures (eight in full color) of relevant manuscript and printed sources and artistic representations of shooting contests.