The Rise and Fall of André des Bordes

desbordes_portraitAndré des Bordes (1582? – 1625) should be recognised by posterity as the fencing master to two dukes of Lorraine, Charles III and Henri II, and the author of a rapier treatise. However, he has gone down in history as the victim of dynastic in-fighting in the province and remains the only fencing teacher known to have been executed as a witch.

This piece provides a brief biography of the man and an account of his rise and downfall under successive dukes, including his trial on charges of witchcraft. While there is not much in it about his fencing practice, the piece makes an interesting aside allowing us a glimpse into life and political struggles in early modern France. What it shows above all is that picking a side in politics can be dangerous and sometimes fatal. Des Bordes, for all his acknowledged brilliance, is nothing more than a pawn in the hands of the mighty.

Other versions and analysis of this sad incident may be found in the following works. Lepage’s text appears to be (one of?) the first.

  • Monter, W. A Bewitched Duchy: Lorraine and its Dukes (1477-1736), Librairie Droz, Geneva, 2007
  • Briggs, R. The Witches of Lorraine, Oxford University Press, New York, 2007
  • Briggs, R. “Witchcraft and the Local Communities: The Rhine-Moselle Region” in Levack, B. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, Oxford University Press, New York, 2013
  • Dupuis, O. “The French Fighting Traditions from the 14th Century to 1630 in Fight Books” in Jaquet D., Verelst K. and Dawson T. (eds) Late Medieval and Early Modern Fight Books: Transmission and Tradition of Martial Arts in Europe (14th-17th Centuries), Brill, Leiden, 2016