English Rapier Timeline

I was revisiting my article I wrote for Tournaments Illuminated on the London Masters of Defence, and I got to thinking that a timeline setting the developments in rapier in Europe alongside the developments in rapier in England might be a good idea, it would give people an idea of what types of fencing manuals would be available to an English fencer at different times. For this I was aided by the lists of fencing manuals kept by both ARMA and Jared Kirby. I ignored the manuals that didn’t involve fencing, so that would be any manuals that focused purely on wrestling or horsemanship.

What I learned is that the early use of Rapier in England (such as the exhibition matches before Edward VI) would likely have been more like longsword combat utilizing a rapier (or rather what we’d call a sidesword) or would be similar to Manciolino or Marozzo; while the formal teaching of the rapier under the London Masters of Defence (1568 and later) would have been closer to Agrippa and later DiGrassi and Dall’Agocchie. It would be interesting to compare Agrippa and DiGrassi as it would likely show the difference between the teaching of the Rapier for the yeoman class and the gentleman class. The yeoman class would likely still be using modified longsword techniques as well as Agrippa and Marozzo while the gentry, being taught by Bonetti and other Italian fencing masters, would have been using the newer techniques from DiGrassi and Dall’Agocchie earlier. By the time Silver is complaining about the use of the rapier in England the manuals of choice were likely from the later manuals such as DiGrassi, Meyer, de Sainct Didier, Dall’Agocchie, Viggiani, Ghisliero, Lovino, and perhaps even Carranza, in addition of course to Saviolo. Swetnam’s teaching however would likely have been closer to Fabris’ manual than even Saviolo’s work.


Thoughts on Reading Swetnam

Well I’m kinda back.  I’m only allowed to pick up my sword for 15 minutes at a time, but I have my strength coming back to most of my body and I’m on a lot fewer drugs, so my head is much clearer.  This means that I can get back into some of my studying.  After my work with Saviolo I very much wanted to move on to Joseph Swetnam.  So it’s time for that now.  With Saviolo I found that I didn’t like his writing style as much as I did Di Grassi (though I liked the content more), so it’s interesting to me to see Joseph Swetnam’s style which seems very different from the earlier masters.  I’ll be writing this as I go through his Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence which was published in 1617.Cover

Similar to Di Grassi and Saviolo I’m reading Swetnam in the original.  This is the big reason why I’m starting with the English masters and not the Italianate ones.  I would like to get a grounding in the thought of the time rather than read it through the eyes of a translator.

First Di Grassi published his work in 1570 (translated into English in 1594) and Saviolo published in 1595.  I still think that Saviolo’s work is derivative of Di Grassi’s, and subscribe to the thought that Di Grassi’s manual was taught in Saviolo’s school before his own manual came out.  I did find a number of parallels between Saviolo’s work and dall’Agocchie’s work which came out a few years prior.

Joseph Swetnam published in 1617 – 22 years later.  Saviolo should thus be a completely new generation of fencing.  His work is more likely to be derivative of Fabris, Giganti, and Capoferro but from an English perspective.


Saviolo Test

Well I tested out some of  Saviolo’s style last night.  I worked on the following aspects:

  • Wards
    • High: Prima& Unicorn
    • Low: Right and Left
  • Voiding
  • Hand parries
  • Compass steps
  • Thrusts
    • Imbroccata
    • Stoccata
    • Punta Riversa
  • Cuts
    • Mandritta
    • Riverso
    • Fendente Stramazone

I am not a Saviolo scholar, I just worked on it a bit and am attempting to put what I read into practice.  Some of this may be wrong or I may have been preforming them wrong, but that’s just part of learning.


Academic Rapier

I currently have a lack of both time and money, which makes it difficult for me to attend more than my local practice for fencing.  What I do have is a lot of time for reading while on the train.  So, similarly to what I did when I decided to learn more about bread making I picked up some books.

The first one had very little to do with rapier: Warrior to Soldier, 449-1660.  It’s a history of warfare in England from the Saxons right through to the New Model Army.  It’s a great overview for anyone in the SCA with an English persona.  It helped me to understand the rapiers position in England, as that of a day to day sidearm.  I knew that it wasn’t a military weapon, but to see the evolution of the military sword and armour was very enlightening.  Though the rapier came to prominence in England, the decrease in armour was actually because of the firearm.  I always figured that firearms in general brought about the change in armour, but it wasn’t actually until the advent of the musket (which at the time was so heavy it needed a prop) that armour became useless.  The first muskets allowed a half trained man to kill someone in the heaviest armour who had been trained from childhood.  Although new armour was designed that could withstand a musket shot, it was so heavy that it required a man to be on horseback, and slow.  It was useless on the ground, and couldn’t be used to protect the horse as it was too heavy.  So if the cavalry had the bulletproof breast plates on their horses were still vulnerable, and the musketeers just aimed for the horses instead.  The armour was so heavy that people refused to wear it.  They would rather wear little armour and be fast.