Swetnam Chapter 8

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: http://tysonwright.com/sword/SwetnamSchooleOfDefence.pdf for the project.


This chapter is a brief overview of the types of weapons that are currently used and some philosophy on the use and knowledge of weapons.


Chap. VIII. How the use of weapons came, also the number of weapons used from time to time, with other good instructions.

Mankind was created without natural weapons.  We have hands to push away that which annoys, and feet to run from that which scares us.  But other creatures are naturally armed with teeth, claws, horns, beaks, venom, etc.

When man fought with tooth and nail, hand and foot, it was the strongest man who won.  Even with the advent of basic weapons it was still the strongest who survived. (Swetnam references Sampson here)

Chapter 8Over time weapons improved from clubs, staves, sings and darts, and other weapons were invented, and armour created.  From iron chariots to armed elephants and horses, to swords spears, bills, halberds, javelins, partisans, crossbows, longbows etc.  By Swetnam’s time, he says, most of these had been left behind and instead the weapons of the time are musket, arquebus, crossbow, calieuer (small cannon?), pike, sword, and rapier, all of which he says are “weapons of great danger” – not only to an opponent, but to the wielder as well.  (He seems to imply here

Swetnam goes on to say that because we have all sorts of dangerous weapons we should train everyone how to use them so that they know how to defend themselves without being hurt by their own weapon. He points out though that the best weapons to train people in are the ones that are the “most safe to defend, and yet most dangerous and hurtfull to thy enemy”.

Those who make good quality weapons are admired, but more admired are those who are skillful at the use of the weapons.  Those who are skillful and famous are given titles – like Knight. Similarly it is now expected that all men should not only be able to carry and use a weapon, and also be able to “speak and to discourse” about weapons with anyone.

Fencing was created by the Romans, who created entire armies of sword fighters.

Those who are skillful are sad that so many men die in duels which had no good reason beyond aspiring to praise.  The dead men did not understand that praise and admiration is given for skill, and not for the duel itself. (Swetnam seems to be implying that if more people devoted themselves to learning skill rather than testing skill in duels they would attain the praise they want).

The wise man prepares for Winter during the Summer, and for war during peace time.  War always follows peace, and similarly there is no one alive who will not be so wronged that he must fight.  Thus the wise man is armed with both weapons and skill beforehand so that if an occasion comes where he must fight he will be prepared.


SCA Take:

As this section is mostly philosophy it’s not as applicable, but there are two SCA related things to mention:

It is expected that you not only know how to use a weapon without hitting yourself in the foot, but how to talk about weapons.

It is one thing to be able to win in a tournament, but it is a better thing to focus on your skill first – winning in tournaments will come after that.

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