Agrippa and the Furriers

History and Historical European Martial Arts in the Codex Martialis

Agrippa and the Furriers

Postby Galloglaich » Tue Nov 22, 2016 8:26 pm

I was reading, once again, Roger Norling's excellent article on Agrippa, which I think did such a nice job of capturing the spirit of the times as well as of this unique character. I noticed some musings he had left in the comments, but as usual I've forgotten my password etc. and didn't have time to sort that out right now, so I emailed him and thought I would post it here as well.




I think I can shed a little bit of light on the following comment he made:


"However, important here is also the fact that the Marxbrüder commonly came from the dirty, smelly professions and according to Widman Frausfthistorie of 1599, a nickname for them given by students was "Katzianer". What that is based on is currently unknown."

I don't know what Katzainer means but it may have something to do with 'skinners'. As Olivier Dupuis noted in his excellent survey of the fechtschuler held in Strasbourg, many people involved with fencing seem to have been associated with some kind of leather or animal skin related industries: furriers, skinners, leather workers, and butchers show up, along with cutlers and a few other crafts. The confusing thing is that these are of both high and low status crafts. Ever since I learned that furriers were associated with the Marxbruder I have kept an eye out for them when I'm doing my general historical research. For example I noticed that the Furriers journeymen established a confraternity (something like a 'seamans mission' for traveling journeymen) in Strasbourg in 1409, and the source says, interestingly, that they came from as far away as Prague. Cutlers also seem to be linked to the Marxbruder as you can see the image of a 15th Century cutler in the housebook of the 12 brothers of Nuremberg depicted making longswords with a lion of St. Mark holding two longswords in the background.

I have followed Furriers, cutlers and skinners as a result, and tried to determine what their status was in medieval society. I think you probably know already about the main gate of Krakow, the Furriers gate (also known as St. Florians gate) which was apparently instrumental in fending off the Mongols in 1287, was built and maintained by the Furriers craft of that town.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Florian%27s_Gate

I've been trying to determine their status in other towns and regions, and in different times. This was stubbornly difficult to determine because they seem to be grouped with the 'elite' crafts in some towns, and with the kind of 'pariah' casts in another. I have come to realize this is true for almost all of the crafts. It's one of the strange rules of the medieval world. The towns have so many commonalities between them, you are tempted to want to impose patterns. But in all things medieval, the exceptions are also the rule, and this is particularly true of social institutions.

So in almost every town there is one group of crafts which create luxury products - the typical examples include goldsmiths, jewelers, silk embroiderers etc. Those groups get more privileges than the other crafts and are more often admitted into the elite circles of jurisprudence and town administration (and by extension, the militia). In Gdansk, this elite consisted of amber carvers, pearl jewelers, and furriers. But furriers also dealt with skinning, and skinning deals with blood and guts, was sometimes grouped with industries that smelled bad like dyers (who relied on urine to set the die), paper makers, slaughterhouses, and so forth. Because of the fear of disease, which they thought was caused by bad smells, these industries were usually relegated to the outskirts of town, often outside of the main municipality and beyond the town walls. In medieval urban society there was a hierarchy from exalted to pariah almost like you see in India, with Brahmin and untouchable. A student like Agrippa was a Brahmin, an executioner (someone associated with administering corporeal punishment) was an untouchable in almost any German city. As in literally, you could be tainted just for sharing a beer with him.

But here is the rub: While the extremes were fairly constant, the ranks in between changed dramatically from town to town. As I said, I have found several towns where furriers are grouped with the elite crafts, and several where they are grouped with the pariah crafts. I can make a map of this at some point. This is also true for cutlers, butchers, who are often elite but sometimes grouped with slaughterers, and even silver and gold workers. This, I have come to believe, is both a function of local politics, but also the finer points of economic organization. Depending on the rules of the local crafts, which varied enormously from town to town, in some cases there were complex and sophisticated arrangements of contracting and subcontracting. You may remember this from Peter Johnsson's talks on how cutlers subcontracted out blade forging, sharpening, polishing, hilt assembly, scabbard making and so on. So in a nutshell, in a town where fur coats, say, or velvet (which used beaver fur as a primary component) were a major and lucrative export industry, then the furriers may have been organized in such a way that another side craft did most of the nasty and smelly work of cutting the skins off of martens, foxes and beavers and disposing of their corpses, and delivered neatly trimmed pelts to the furriers themselves who concentrated on the finer points of putting together fur capes and hats. Meanwhile in another nearby town, either because the industry was smaller or because of the convoluted rules worked out in the craft over several centuries, the furriers may have had to do their own skinning or slaughtering and therefore got grouped with the semi-pariah guilds.
Galloglaich
 
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Re: Agrippa and the Furriers

Postby Arkon » Mon Feb 20, 2017 7:23 am

I guess people who cut animals also like to cut people.
...
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Re: Agrippa and the Furriers

Postby Galloglaich » Mon Feb 20, 2017 9:29 pm

Well yeah, not just furriers but the butchers seem to be one of the toughest guilds in many places, and were usually prominent in the militias... you gotta figure a guy who knows how to dismantle a cow can dismantle a person with a blade pretty efficiently too
Galloglaich
 
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