McArthur’s 1780 Manuscript Transcribed

Jamson and Crawley have teamed up to transcribe and digitally present a legible edition to McArthur’s 1780 smallsword manual.  Crawley states, “McArthur is the most accessible smallsword treatise for starting out yet the least available” so he and Jamson have made it available via the Smallsword Symposium.  The mirrors it here with permission to help disseminate McArthur’s work.

McArthur, J. (1780). The Army and Navy Gentleman’s Companion or A New and Complete Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Fencing.  Displaying the Intricacies of Small-sword Play and  Illustrated by Mathematical Figures and Adorned with Elegant Engravings after Paintings from Life, Executed In the Most Masterly Manner Representing Every Material Attitude of the Art A New Addition Revised with a Glossary and Improvements.

Download and study McArthur’s text and dozens others published from 1580 to 1880 from our study page. View the antecedents and major developments of smallsword evolution on the timeline.

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Rococo smallsword with foliate and spiral motifs, ca. 1755

Rococo smallsword with foliate and spiral motifs, boat-tail coquille, and gold-inlaid blade. German or Dutch, ca. 1755. Gold, steel. Blade length 30 3/4″ (78.2 cm); weight 16.4 oz. (465 g.)

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Angelo’s Plates I-XV from Escrime in the Encyclopédie, 1765

Angelo, demonstrating the 5th position of the salute, Plate 14, 1763.

Domenico Angelo rocked the fencing world.  He was an Italian trained in France, appointed as Royal Fencing Instructor by George II where trained the future King, George III, in escrime.  In 1763, working with artist Gwyn Delin, he published L’Ecole des Armes in London, entirely in French. It featured clear wording and beautifully detailed plates which came to be the definitive fencing manual, much to the dismay of French fencing masters. Angelo went on to publish a bilingual edition of L’Ecole des Armes in both French and English in 1765.

Denis Diderot, 1767, by Louis-Michel van Loo

In that same year, Enlightenment thinkers Diderot & d’Alembert selected and published Domenico Angelo’s L’Ecole des Armes as the authoritative text on fencing, publishing it as Escrime in the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.   The original Delin plates were republished at composites with multiple images per page.

Henry Angelo by Mather Brown ca. 1790.

Domenico Angelo’s son, Henry Angelo (an accomplish fencing master himself) went on to republish his father’s landmark work in 1787 as The school of fencing: With a general explanation of the principal attitudes and positions peculiar to the art.

Below are images captured from document scans of Angelo’s 1765 Escrime in Diderot’s Encyclopédie.



Works Cited

Angelo, Domenico & Angelo, Henry. (1787). The school of fencing: With a general explanation of the principal attitudes and positions peculiar to the art. London.
(Digitally sourced here from Schola Gladiatori’s Schola Forum)

Diderot, D., & d’Alembert, J. L. R. (1780).  L’Encyclopédie. [26], Fabrique des armes, escrime : [recueil de planches sur les sciences, les arts libéraux et les arts méchaniques, avec leur explication]. [Facsimile]. Paris: Inter-Livres. [French]

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Hanns Osterle, Bladesmith, Nuremberg, 1569

Hanns Osterle, Bladesmith, Nuremberg, 1569. Tempera on parchment. Artist unknown. Courtesy Die Landauerschen Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftung.

Although rapiers ruled the day and transitional smallswords would emerge a century later, this image of Hanns Osterle, a Nuremberg bladesmith at work in 1569, offers a priceless glimpse into history. Osterle sits in front of his anvil and strikes his hammer on a red-hot blade which he holds with pliers. More blades are in the hearth in the background, on the ground, and on the table. Several blades have tangs and fullers formed.

Perhaps Hanns Osterle’s workshop sounded something like this:


Works Cited

Anonymous, 1569. Tempera on parchment, 298 x  207. Courtesy Die Landauerschen Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftung. Band 1. Nürnberg 1511-1706. Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg, 279.2° Folio 48 verso (Landauer I).

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Evolution of Straight Form Swords

The fast and agile smallsword, also known as  the court sword, is the culmination of a long and rich history. To view the smallsword’s development in context, explore our timeline.

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Crawley’s Five A’s of French Fencing

Phil Crawley, Provost with the Black Boar Swordsmanship School and administrator with the Smallsword Symposium, has gleaned these 5 themes of French fencing from a number of 18th and 19th Century texts.  They are presented here with his permission, and with our thanks.

Aplomb: grounding and thus balance; not only physical balance but also symmetry of posture leading to adroit.

Adresse: skill; ability to do the basics and combine them into sophisticated actions

Apropros: wherewithal; knowing when and where to apply addresse to maximum effect at an innate level.

Adroit: dexterity; being aesthetically pleasing by doing nothing (aplomb) and being graceful when doing something (adresse), as dictated by apropos.

Avoir Main: fencing only with the sensitivity and actions of the hand to determine the intent of one’s adversary and to define one’s own actions.

fleur de lis


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It’s no longer illegal to challenge someone to a duel in Canada

George Washington’s 1767 Silver-Hilted Smallsword (Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Gift of John Pierpont Morgan, Sr. 1909 Conservation courtesy of the Life Guard Society of Mount Vernon, W-84; Image: Stuart C. Mowbray)

“If you demand satisfaction and need to settle a score in the form of a good old-fashioned duel, a recent decision by the Canadian government may be of welcome news.”

You can read more from Eric Zimmer here.








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Opposing Smallsword with Saber

If opposed to the Small Sword, have recourse to the Cuts Three [ascending from inside low to outside high] and Four [ascending from outside low to inside high], directing them at the arm, by which means there is every probability of the Cuts taking effect, as it must always come within range of the edge, before the point can be sufficiently advanced to reach your body: [sic] if the above Cuts are quickly given and continued, they will always be found advantageous in advancing against the Small Sword, as they constitute an attack and form a defence at the same moment; but should the opponent be the most skilful and quickest in his movements, then it is best to retire whilst giving them, cautiously preserving the proper distance, so that each Cut may just reach the forepart of his arm.

-Henry Charles Angelo, Infantry Sword Exercises, 1845

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Study Smallsword Treatises

Use the “Study” or the “Explore the Timeline” links in the menu bar above to read historic treatises or to learn about smallsword developments.


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Diamond Rose Academie D’Armes

The Diamond Rose Academie D’Armes teaches swordsmanship rooted in the French tradition, using the transitional rapier and smallsword of the 17th and 18th centuries.  In Northern California, our academies can be found in the cities of Auburn, Marysville, and Nevada City, where they offer classes and demonstrations for schools, organizations and community events.
Links: Website, Social Media




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