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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Solingen: City of Blades

Solingen has been the City of Blades since the late 15th Century.  This video gives a glimpse into modern production in Solingen. To learn about their involvement in a smallsword arms race, explore our timeline.

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Martinez Academy Hosting 2017 Small-Sword Academy

MArtinez Academy of ArmsThe Martinez Academy of Arms is hosting a Small-Sword Academy this summer  July 14 – July 16, 2017.
“This workshop will serve as an introduction to the art for those with no previous martial arts training. Experienced small-sword fencers will receive instruction that is designed to cover more technical refinements and advanced application of the art and science.”

For more information, visit the 2017 Small-Sword Academy social media page or visit Martinez Academy of Arms.



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Smallsword Fencing in Vienna

David Pascal fencing at the 2017 Dreynevent in Vienna. Original video footage courtesy of Predrag Agatonovic and posted to YouTube by Marcos Ariño.

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William H. Harrison’s Smallsword


Rembrandt Peale’s portrait of William H. Harrison originally showed him in civilian clothes as the congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory in 1800, but the uniform was added after he became famous in the War of 1812.

William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, served only 31 days before dying of pneumonia in 1841.  Harrison’s portrait, painted by Rembrandt Peale, originally depicted Harrison in civilian clothes (painted after 1800).  However, after Harrison’s success in the War of 1812 (the Seven Years War), Peale update the portrait by adding Harrison’s uniform, and presumably, his smallsword (ca. 1814) .

Detail of smallsword in Rembrandt Peale's portrait of William H. Harrison, ca.1814.

Detail of smallsword in Rembrandt Peale’s portrait of William H. Harrison, ca.1814.

An examination of the painting shows the hilt of smallsword with a boat-tail coquille, sturdy quillions and knucklebow, embellished pommel, and a grip with turkshead knots. Typically, officers purchased their own smallswords as a symbol of status and for defense.

A Very Brief Summary of Harrison’s Service
In what was then Indiana Territory, two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, were forming an inter-tribal Native American confederation in opposition to American settlements.  Increasing tensions involving the confederation and their British support led to American military action, and subsequently contributed to the development of the War of 1812, known as the Seven Years War in Great Britain.

In 1811, then Governor William H. Harrison led forces against Tecumseh’s Confederation at the battle of Tippecanoe.  Later, during the War of 1812, Brigadier General Harrison successfully recaptured Fort Detroit from the confederation and their British allies (after numerous prior failed attempts by others), and subsequently invaded present-day Ontario, Canada.  In the Fall of 1813, Harrison most famously defeated British forces at the Battle of the Thames, where Tecumseh was killed. This battle solidified Harrison’s reputation as a war hero and served as a basis for his support for the Presidency decades later.









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The Duke of Wellington on the Supremacy of the Smallsword


Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, is regarded as one of the great military leaders of the 19th Century.  Having served in Belgium and India, he rose to the rank of Major-General and was then appointed Field Marshal in the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars.  Sealing his status as Britain’s top military hero, he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and was subsequently awarded a dukedom.


Henry Angelo by Mather Brown, Oil on Canvas, ca. 1790. Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, NPG 5310.

Two years following his momentous victory, he was reflecting on the nature of swordsmanship among British soldiers.  At the time, Henry Angelo, son of the famed and inimitable Domenico Angelo, had developed and codified the British military’s use of the Scottish back sword in 1798 in his Hungarian and Highland Broad Sword at the behest of his patron, Colonel Herries.  The Colonel had found the lack of sword training and overall fitness of his Light Horse Volunteers of London to be troubling.  What Angelo the Younger created was a somewhat derivative and amalgamated approach to broadsword integrating elements of continental sabre, Scottish basket-hilt, and single stick forms.  The following year Angelo released The Manual and the Ten Divisions of the Highland Broad Sword  — a broadside of his broad sword method illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson.  “Angelo’s easy-to-understand Lessons… became the standard sword drill for generations of English recruits for years to come” (Gordon, 2014).

Detail from broadsheet by Henry Angelo & illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson,"The Manual and the Ten Divisions of the Highland Broad Sword" (1799).

Detail from broadside by Henry Angelo & illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson,”The Manual and the Ten Divisions of the Highland Broad Sword” (1799). These historic images were edited by Nick Thomas, Instructor at the Academy of Historical Fencing, UK.

The Duke of Wellington was reflecting upon this state of swordsmanship, and the military’s broadsword training by Henry Angelo, when he noted the supremacy of the smallsword.  In particular, he drew a stark contrast between the efficacy of the smallsword over the broadsword in single-combat.  At that time, the study and use of the smallsword had been greatly diminished as its popularity waned with the Georgian era.  Within decades, smallswords evolved more into officers’ dress swords or court-swords, remaining largely as vestigial symbols of status and fashion, and less as weapons for single defense in which gentlemen trained. From Murray (1865: 141-142) we find the Duke’s remarks:

Cambrai, 25th Nov., 1817.

To Major-Gen. Sir Henry Torrens

My Dear Torrens,

I had intended to write you respecting the broadsword exercise taught by Major Angelo of the 21st, when I received a letter from the Adjutant-General, dated the 20th, desiring that I should report whether I consider it for the benefit of the service that Major Angelo should continue with the army in France.

I conceive that nothing can be more desirable than to teach officers and soldiers the use of the sword. The want of the knowledge of the use of the sword has, to my certain knowledge, more than once made our officers appear to disadvantage in the broils which are not unfrequent [sic] with the French and other officers on the Continent. They are obliged to defer the settlement of the dispute till a pistol can be got; and the acknowledgement of the ignorance of the use of the weapon which every officer carries, besides being in itself degrading, is generally considered and taken as proof that our officer wishes to avoid the contest by him who is probably himself the most desirous of avoiding it. I therefore think the knowledge of the use of the sword, or the science of fencing, is essentially necessary to every officer who is to wear one; but I confess that it is not that description of knowledge taught by Major Angelo which I mean. The knowledge gives suppleness and address to the body and limbs, and applies to the use of the broadsword; but everybody who knows what a sword is, is aware that a man with a broadsword has no chance with one who has a small sword. The very act of lifting up his arm to use the former, would give the opportunity to him who should know the use of the latter to run him through the body.

If, therefore, His Royal Highness would allow me to keep Major Angelo here to teach fencing with the small sword, I should think his presence with the army most desirable. His school, however, for the broadsword, I cannot consider in any other light than as another and very good drill to give ease and address to the body and limbs of the officers and soldiers; and that it is not necessary to detain him longer for that purpose.

Believe me, &c.,


As evidenced by one of the great military leaders of his century, the advantages of the smallsword, especially in single-combat, are numerous.  Owing to its size, geometry, lightness, and speed of attack, only the foolhardy would underestimate its efficacy — a trend that seems to be popular presently.

To learn more about Henry Angelo’s lessons on the broadsword and to view restored images of Rowlandson’s illustrations, visit Columbia Classical Fencing here.



Works Cited

Angelo, Henry & Son. (1798),  Hungarian and Highland Broad Sword. Thomas Rowlandson, Illustrator. Peter Valentine, Transcriptionist, 1999. Retrieved from TheARMA.org. Mirrored by Columbia Classical Fencing here.

Angelo, Henry & Rowlandson, Thomas. (1799),  The Manual and the Ten Divisions of the Highland Broad Sword: As Practiced by the Dismounted Troops of the Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster. London: Henry Angelo, 1799.

Angelo, Henry & Rowlandson, Thomas. (2016),  The Manual and the Ten Divisions of the Highland Broad Sword &C. Nick Thomas (Ed.) Academy of Historical Fencing, UK.

“Angelo Restored 2.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://postimg.org/image/tn6conlcb/

Brown, Mather (ca. 1790). Henry Charles William Angelo. Oil on Canvas. National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved from http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw07027/Henry-Charles-William-Angelo

Gordon, Jonathan. (2014) Henry Angelo’s Ten Lessons of Highland Broadsword (Part 1). The HEMAists. World Wide Web: Retrieved from https://thehemaists.com/2014/08/09/henry-angelos-ten-lessons-of-highland- broadsword-part-1/

Murray, J. (1865). Supplementary Despatches, Correspondence, and Memoranda of Field Marshal, Arthur Duke of Wellington, K.G., Edited by His Son, The Duke of Wellington, K.G., Vol. 12. London: John Murray. Retrieved from https://books.google.com here.








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Hope’s Fundamentals and Rules

hope_vade_mecum_plate1Sir William Hope (1660-1724) was trained in the French school of the smallsword but came to conclude it lacking. Sir William went on to devise an approach to the smallsword that incorporated the techniques established in the English backsword tradition (Linacre). This endeavor first bore the The Sword-Man’s Vade Mecum (1691), or more specifically, The Sword-Man’s Vade Mecum: A Preservative against the Surprize, of a Sudden Attaque with Sharps, &c. Being a Reduction of the most Essential, Necessary, and Practical part of Fencing; into a few Special Rules, With their Reasons: Which all Sword-Men should have in their Memories when they are to Engadge; but more especially if it be with Sharps. With some other Remarques and Observations, not unfit to be known.  By 1707, Hope’s method had developed into what is colloquially know as his New Method.

The Vade Mecum “contains a discussion of the fundamental techniques and tactics that someone trained in that system should employ if defending their life with the small-sword” (ibid).  Sir William begins by firmly establishing fundamentals which are the foundation his eight rules are built upon.  Despite the long expanse of time since he codified them, his fundamentals and eight rules are as applicable to the classical or historical fencer on the piste today as ever they were to the gentleman who had to defend his honor with sharps on the mean streets of 1690’s Edinburgh.


Before I begin, I shall give you a Fundamental, which in respect of his Excellency, and Universality, I may call the Golden Number, or Rule of Three, both because it is alwayes to be taken alongst with you, and to be made a part, (and that none to the least) of each Particular Rule I am to give you, and also because it consists of Three important Terms or Words which are.

Calmness, – Vigour, – and Judgement.

Now these three Words in general, being the only Foundation upon which all True Fencing is built, and each Word in particular being as it were a Column, or Pillar by which my Rules are to be supported, (for without them all would be but Uncertain and False) I shall begin my First Rule, which as well as all the rest, is to be supported by those three infallible, and never to be too exactly copied Pillars of the composite Order, because each of them in some measure partake of the Beauty and Excellency of the Other two, and to that end Earnestly and Seriously intreats and desires: That.

  • Rule I. Whatever you do, let it alwayes (if possible) be done Calmely, and without Passion, and Precipitation, but still with all Vigour, and Briskness imaginable, your Judgement not failing to Direct, Order, and Govern you as to both.
  • Rule II. With Calmness, Vigour, and Judgement, put your self into as Closs, Thinn and Convenient a Guard, as the Agility of your Body will permit your Heels being still kept as near other as possible.
  • Rule III. With Calmness, Vigour, and Judgement, make use (for your Defence) of the of the most Excellent, and not to be parrallelled Contre-caveating Parade, and that generally upon the outside of your Sword, your left hand alwayes asisting you if any wayes doubtful of the Parrade; and that you may with the more certainty defend your self, look alwayes to your Adversary’s Sword-Hand.
  • Rule IIII. With Calmness, Vigour, and Judgement, endeavour to Offend your Adversary, by binding or securing his Sword, and that for the most part also upon the outside, giving in a single plain Thrust upon the back of it, or if you please make a Feint upon the back of your Binding, your left Hand making alwayes a kind of Parrade, at the giving in of every Thrust, the better to save you from a Contre-temps; and by no means rest upon your Thrust, but instantly after the performing of it, whether you hitt or not, recover to your Defensive Posture again: This is the true Play for a Mans Life: but if you be so far Master of your Adversary, and so merciful to him that you design not his Life, but only to disable him: Then.
  • Rule V. With Calmness, Vigour, and Judgement, Thrust at his Sword-hand; Wrest, or Arm, or at his nearest advanced Thigh, the wounding any of which once, or twice, will seldome fail to disable him.
  • Rule VI. If your Adversary be Hasty, Passionate, and pursue Furiously, and Irregularly, then with Calmness, Vigour, and Judgement, Cross, Stop, and Oppose his Fury: but upon the contrary if Careless, Lash, Slow, or perhaps Timorous, then also Calmly, Vigorously, and with Judgement pursue him.
  • Rule VII. With Calmness, Vigour, and Judgement, prevent yor Receiving one Thrust for the giving another, called (after that dangerous World, and Artists Bug bear) a Contre-temps, and for that end the using your left Hand for a Defence upon your Pursute, as I have before told you, will not be found amiss.
  • Rule VIII. Now to put a Close to my Rules, let them all be done within distance as much as possible, and with little or no Elonge, or stretch of any part of the Body, save only that of the Wrest & Arm (called a Spring) and as I desired you to begin, so I expect you will continue and end all your Actions, with that most Excellent Fundamental, and Golden Rule of Three to wit.

Calmness, – Vigour, – and Judgement.

And then no doubt, you will procure by the foregoing Rules, advantage proportionable to the Art you have acquired to put them in practice.


If you would like to explore this topic further, consider Dr. Thurston’s publication on Sir William Hope and his methods, A Newer, Shorter and Easier Method of Fencing
(2013) which includes discussion on the Vade Mecum. It can be purchased from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Newer-Shorter-Easier-Method-Fencing/dp/0956487165/

Blogger’s Note

This post was derived from the extensive work by Dr. Milo Thurston and others at the Linacre School of Defense in Oxford. The plate and text transcription are published on the Linacre School of Defense site and used here in accord with the Creative Commons generic license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) with our appreciation.

Works Cited

Linacre School of Defense (2009). Selected Works by Sir William Hope. World Wide Web. Accessed October 15, 2016.

Hope, W. (1691).  The Sword-Man’s Vade-Mecum, or a preservative against the surprize of a sudden attaque with Sharps. &C. Edinburgh: John Reid. (In Captain Hutton’s Collection)


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The Linacre School of Defence

lsdlogoThe Linacre School of Defence
The Art and Science of Defence — 17th, 18th & 19th Century English Martial Arts. The Linacre School of Defence was founded in Oxford in 1999 and offers an integrated martial arts system, soundly based upon historical Western combat manuals. The instructors are certified and insured by the British Federation for Historical Swordplay (BFHS).

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