This is part of an ongoing project to summarize and provide SCA focused commentary on The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence by Joseph Swetnam, published in 1617.

For links to the other sections of the Swetnam Project please go here.

I am using this facsimile: for the project.


This chapter is set out as a discussion between a master and student and covers the weapons which will be taught in the rest of the manual and what to what to do with your life once you’ve mastered the weapons.

For this chapter I will use the same setup as Swetnam does, going between Master and Scholar.

Chap. XI. Questions and Answers.

I like what you’ve said so far, now I would like to learn some skill.

What weapon do you want to use?

Whatever you think is best

Then you should learn the “perfect use of six kinds of weapons”. You won’t be armed with all six at all times, but if you know these six weapons then you will be prepared for combat regardless of what weapons you or your opponents have access to.

What six weapons should I learn?

First the Rapier and Dagger, and the Staff.  The Other four are Backsword, Single Rapier, Long Sword and dagger, and Short Sword and Dagger.  But if you only learn two make it Rapier and Dagger and Staff, for with those two you can fight against any other weapon.  The rapier and dagger versus any single handed weapon, and the staff against any two handed weapon.  But remember that you must be skillful at the weapon before you try to use it against various other weapons.

The reason you need to learn more than just those two is so that you will understand the strengths and weakness of the weapons you will be fighting against.  If Goliath had known how useful and strong a sling could be he would not have given David the opportunity to kill him.  Even so if you have skill at the weapon your opponent is using then you will know what he is able to do with it and what he is not.

Now tell me who you are, and your upbringing.

I am the son of a yeoman, but he has passed away and I have spent the money that he left to me.  So “I pray you direct me my course” and give me council for I have little to commend me but my hands, so please teach me anything you can that will help me live a good life.

It takes more than gold to be a good person, and since you’ve shown yourself willing to learn I will tell you what I would do if I was in your position.  I might be a bit long-winded but it will be helpful.  You must know not only how to fight, but also how to govern yourself at all times.  Kind and courteous behavior is the proper way to behave, but it is even better if you are also honorable and skillful in the use of weapons.

Some people say that skill with weapons is for gentlemen only, but I say that everyone needs to know the proper use of weapons; for it can increase the honor and credit of a lower class man, thus it is the greatest skill to have for both rich and poor.

Once you are properly trained in weapons I recommend one of three careers (exercises) for the rest of your life, rather than living at other men’s labors, for everyone will weary of even the best man if he does not support himself.

What careers would you recommend to me?

I recommend that you choose to either learn a trade or occupation, go into the wars, or become a serving man.  For once you’ve learned how to fight you will need to find a way to maintain yourself, as idle hands make a hungry belly.

Which career would you recommend to me?

I recommend them all, but if you’re looking for steady work I recommend the trades. You will be able to grow and develop through them and could become a craft master.  Even if you’re getting older you are never too old to learn.

What trade should I learn?

Find a trade that you like and apply yourself to it and focus on it and work on it and by your honest labour you may make yourself rich.  But there is no good trade for someone who will not follow it, or who drinks away his profits.  That man will just sit in an alehouse and complain about how hard the world is.  But a hard working man will always find work, even if times are hard.

Don’t go wandering from place to place looking for work, for strangers will fear you and will be less likely to want to support your craft even if you have good behaviour.  And if you come home again those at home will not want to give you credit for fear that you will go wandering again.

There are many men who spend their time traveling abroad and in the end they realize the vanity of the world and repent of the time they wasted.  They may get experience but experience makes no money, just as a great goldsmith is useless without his tools or gold to craft with.  People do not trust a stranger so there is no point in taking your trade away to a foreign country when you would be better served by staying in your own land.  Be honest and content with your life.

If a trade is too tedious to learn or to complicated for you then you should go to the Wars, either by sea or by land, as you prefer.  But remember that if you seek your fortune by war you may loose your life while you are young.  Making your fortune in war is not as easy as people say, and in my mind it is not the best way to make your living, but if you choose to do so I recommend that you prepare yourself with knowledge and discretion so that when you gain wealth you will not squander it.  Don’t be like other soldiers who think “lightly come lightly go”.  If you gain wealth through the wars do not waste it, spend it wisely.  I have known many men who gained enough money in the wars to live the rest of their lives on if they spend it wisely.  But if you squander it you will have to return again and again to the wars hoping that fortune will smile on you again.

“Goods gotten by the wars are like a live bird in the hand, which, the hand no sooner opened but she straight flies away”

Do not go against your conscience in order to gain wealth in the wars.  For if you do it will be displeasing to God.  And when you gain wealth save it up so that it may last you the rest of your life rather than coming to nothing.

The third, and in my opinion the worst, choice I have left till last, that is the serving mans life.  Some men find good service, but others spend seven years, or even their whole life  growing older but not wiser nor richer, and some never care for more than having enough to eat day by day and never plan for the future.  If you become a serving man you must work very hard and be very wise with your money or else you will have gained very little when your service ends.  If you are dutiful but not wise and do not provide for yourself then at the end of your service when you look for your leaving bonus there may be none, regardless of the promises you have been given, and so you must remember to save your wealth and do not squander it.

I will now conclude.  Now listen for instruction on the skill of weapons.

SCA Take

This chapter uses a very different perspective than the rest of the book with the conversation between the master and scholar.  It does, however, touch on an important point in that it gives us the weapons that will be covered in the rest of the manual.  As for the rest however although interesting from a sociological perspective It’s not really that important.

The weapons that will be taught in this manual are:

  • Rapier and Dagger
  • Staff
  • Backsword
  • Single Rapier
  • Long Sword and dagger
  • Short Sword and Dagger

Swetnam favours the first two as with proper training those tow weapons can be victorious over any other combination of weapons.  He teaches the other four because they are the most common weapons being used, and with some training in those weapons it will help you to understand their strengths and limitations for when you fight against them.

This brings up two interesting thoughts.  First that he prefers the teaching of the Rapier and Dagger together rather than first single rapier then adding the dagger.  And secondly that if you want to know the limitations of different weapons learn them.  So even if you don’t like bucklers learn how to use bucklers of various sizes, or cloaks, or batons, or different types of dagger.


1 Comment

Thoughts on Reading Swetnam | Tomas de Courcy · March 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm

[…] 11. This eleuenth Chapter is of questions and answers betwixt the master and the scholler […]

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