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.



Unto all Professors of the Noble and worthie Art of Defence I send greeting

Is how Joseph Swetnam begins his second preface.  This one is only eight pages long, rather than 14.

He begins with a call to his peers.  He extolls them for being men of good self government and the pinnacle of the community.  He calls on them to remember that their lives are not their own but their country’s.  He extolls them to be the best they can be because you never know when you may die.cover page

He explains that his peers must set a good example.  He gives an anecdote of a gentleman who was exceedingly good at putting out eyes with his rapier, and that although he was a very good fencer it encouraged others to attempt it, which was bad because it first encouraged men to take foolish risks while fencing, and second that one should not enter the duel with a murderous mind.  The point of the duel should be to end the duel, not to kill your opponent, as you may be hung for that.

He admonishes young men that their idle time should be spent in reading or discoursing rather than in drinking.  And he spends a while extolling the goodness of a moral life.  Young men need to remember that when they think they have become wise in the Art of Defence they are really only scratching the surface.  This is an old truism.  Someone who has just started working with weapons quickly learns so much that they think they’re almost to mastery, then they begin to learn just how much they don’t know yet.

He continues that you shouldn’t be content with just a few tricks.  Learn as many methods of using as many weapons as you can.  Then will you be safe.

He talks of some of the better fencers of his time, but does not mention himself.  I find this to be quite the show of humility after his previous prologue.  I had expected him to be quite boisterous about his own exploits.  But I suppose he assumes that if you’re buying his book you already know how great he is.  He reminds us that when a famous person dies you shouldn’t say that “we will never see his like” because we will.  There is always someone better.

the greatest honour that ever came to man, was through skill in weapons, and the greatest downe-fall that ever came to man, was through pride of his manhood, and in neglecting his duty towards god

He says this to remind us that even if you are named Master of Defence you must never stop studying until you die.  If you can not defend yourself with any and all weapons you are not worthy of the title.

the difference betwixt a Master of Defence and a Fencer, is as much as between a Musician and a Fidler

All Masters of Defence must be Fencers, but not all Fencers can be called Masters of Defence.  Swetnam says that in order to be a Master of Defence you must be a master of all weapons.  That includes the rapier, but it also includes the bow and quarterstaff and backsword.

And finally he admonishes scholars of combat to be attentive to their masters and tutors even after you surpass them, for they are the ones which bring you from “nothing to something”.  And he reminds everyone that they were once students as well.

Swetnam closes by saying that he wishes that all who practice the Art of Defence would follow his instruction, though he will not compel them.


This Swetnam seems very different from the previous one.  It seems as if he is courteous and humble with his peers, but he knows exactly where his place is and will not tolerate anything less.  That would explain the difference in tone between the preface to the newbie and the preface to the masters.

Most of his instructions seem to come just shy of a coherent code of honour.  He seems to believe that the Art of Defence is a life long persuit.  One is never too young or old to begin, but once begun one should never stop.  Also the use of your knowledge and ability should be guided by your King and your God rather than by rash actions.

Next time I’ll go into the first chapter which discusses which weapons are the most important to learn.


Thoughts on Reading Swetnam » Tomas de Courcy · June 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

[…] Preface to Peers […]

Thoughts on Reading Swetnam | Tomas de Courcy · June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am

[…] Preface to Peers […]

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