Throughout the 1500’s, civilians start wearing swords resulting in increased duels. Lacking military shields or armor, duelists use bucklers and daggers (poignards) to parry attacks. From circa 1525 to circa 1625, the rapier is accompanied by a poignard, sometimes made and as a matched set.
Throughout the 1500’s
- Distinct schools of fencing emerge throughout Italy, France, Spain, and Germany.
- Italians bring rapier to England.
- Instruction in the art and science of fencing becomes an essential part of a nobleman’s education.
- Blades lengthen on the premise that length confers thrust advantage, and it demonstrates social status.
- Frequent duels cause social disruptions.
1511 Henry VIII establishes the Royal Almain Armoury in Greenwich, near London; German swordsmiths from Solingen and Passau are employed in the Armoury due to a lack of skilled English craftsmen.
1517 Martin Luther nails his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the door of the Wittenberg church, leading to the Protestant Reformation.
1525-1550 Spanish nobles start wearing the espada ropera (sword of the robe), or rapier, for protection and status. These were long bladed cut and thrust weapons.
1540 Henry VIII grants a charter to the Company of Masters of Defense of London to solely teach gentlemen the arts of weaponry.
1556 Queen Mary I of England limits sword and “rapier” blade lengths to apx. 40″ or 100 cm.
1550-1600 Italian and Spanish schools of fence emerge.
ca. 1570 – 1630 Swept hilt emerges and spreads.
1599 George Silver publishes The Paradoxes of Defence criticizing the lack of defense inherent in the rapier systems.
Late Century: the Solingen Sword Makers Guild dominates the industry with trade secrets for producing the finest blades in Europe, earning the German city the moniker, “City of Blades.”
1573 Henry de Sainct Didier writes Traicte Contenant les Secrets du Premier Livre sur l’Espée Seule, or Secrets of the Premier Book on the Single Sword. It is the oldest French manual, and reflects Sainct Didier’s experience in the Piedmont wars.
1600 Blade lengths reach as much as 48″ or 122 cm.
1604 (after) George Silver publishes his Bref Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence (n.d.). Silver advocates use of more versatile and relatively shorter backsword, and advocates attacking with a gathering step followed immediately by “flying out” again, in addition to using both the thrust and cut. Silver’s latter publication will not be discovered in the modern age until 1898 when Captain Cyril G. R. Matthey found a copy in the British Museum.
1610 Ridolfo Capo Ferro publishes the lunge in Gran simulacro dell’arte edell’uso della scherma di Ridolfo Capo Ferro da Cagli.
ca. 1610 – 1640 The Pappenheimer hilt is developed and spreads.
1620 A Spanish rapier blade is made with a length of 50″ weighing 50 ounces; a Solingen rapier is made with a blade length of 47 1/4″ weighing 16 1/4 ounces.
1620 Escaping religious persecution, Protestant German metalworkers immigrate to England and establish a sword factory at Hounslow, near London.
ca. 1620 Capo Ferro’s lunge supersedes the pass as method of attack
ca. 1620 -1640 Cavalier hilt becomes popular among English & Dutch where the thrust is favored.
1630 Europeans begin to shorten blades.
1630’s Parisian Salon culture begins to take hold and spread (Descartes, Pascal, Bayle)
ca. 1640 – 1650 The Cavalier hilt is modified and evolves to incorporate two dished shells into the guard, recognizable as the clam-shell guard, or “coquille” meaning shell in French.
1650 The transitional rapier emerges, providing a bridge between the rapier and smallsword. A shorter, lighter blade confers advantage with faster blade work. These personal sidearms spread throughout Europe among the upper class demonstrating social rank and personal wealth.
1650’s Enlightenment spreads throughout Western Europe
ca. 1650-1670 Spanish and Italian cup hilt emerges
1660 Charles II returns to England after exile on the Mainland, including time in France. Upon his return, he brings with him the smallsword.
1660’s French culture begins to dominate Europe, and the French embrace the newly developed smallsword, which continued to reduce blade length, overall weight, and simplified hilt style.
1661 King Louis XIV assumes direct rule of France.
1670 Philibert de La Touche publishes Les Vrayes Principles de l’Espe’e Seule published in Paris. He is the first to illustrate the use of the foiled practice weapon, and the last to include use of the estramaçon, a drawing cut with the edge, derived from rapier practice.
1680-1720 Hollow-ground colichemarde blades featuring triangular cross-section and a wide forte, develop and spread, possible originating in France by Count Königsmark, though some evidence contradicts this. Colichemarde Blades are light, stiff, are very fast, lack sharp edges, with lengths ranging from 29″- 33″ (75-85 cm). The focus on point and diminished emphasis of edge leads to extinction of the cut in smallsword.
1680’s Solingen swordsmakers develop a secret means to roll hollow blades (as opposed to laborious hammering and grinding), dramatically decreasing manufacturing time and expense, leading to a German-English arms race.
1686 Liancour, Perelle, & Langlois, write Le maistre d’armes, ou l’Exercice de l’épée seule, dans sa perfection. Liancour prescribes a blade length of 30 pied du Roi inches (12.8 per English foot) equaling 32 English inches, and a maximum of 36 pied du Roi inches, equaling 38.4 English inches; he excludes instruction for use of the edge and focuses on use of the point. He includes use of the off-hand and the volte.
English tariffs on imported blades from Germany.
1688 England grants a patent for hollow-ground blades but production is stifled due to political unrest.
Nov, 1688 Protestant William III successfully invades England in the “Glorious Revolution”, forcing King James to flee and take shelter with Louis XIV in France.
1690 Labat (L’Abbat) advocates use of foils (fleurets) for practice and established rules for competition.
1691 Protestant German craftsmen from the Solingen Swordmakers guild take their trade-secrets to Shotley Bridge, England at the urging of Charles II. They create the Hollow Sword Blade Company and use a running horse hallmark consistent with the running wolf hallmark of Solingen/Passau. They apparently lack knowledge of rolling hollows, and create few hollow blades of a quality inferior to their Solingen competitors using the prior laborious methods.
1696 Labat (L’Abbat) writes The art of fencing: Or, the use of the small sword. [Translated by Andrew Mahon, 1734, Dublin.]
1700 a German dress sword is manufactured with a blade length of 39.76″ and weighing 33.46″; an English sword is manufactured with a blade length of 29.92″ and weighing 15.87 ounces.
1702 Henry Blackwell advises a blade length of no more than 36″ in his text, The English fencing-master.
1707 Great Britain is established unifying the kingdoms England and Scotland via the Treaty of the Union, with rule under Queen Anne.
1707 Hope Publishes A new, short, and easy method of fencing: Or, the art of the broad and small-sword rectified and compendized.
( see also the Linacre School of Defense.)
ca. 1710 the rapier is largely replaced by the smallsword in much of England, though its use persists through the century, especially in Spain.
1712 Newcomen develops the first industrial steam engine which is largely used to dewater mines.
1730’s Rococo style reaches its zenith in France.
1740 P.J.F. Girard prints is Traité des armes...
1751-1772 Denis Diderot & Jean le Rond d’Alembert publish Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Encyclopaedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts).
1760’s to 1830’s The Industrial Revolution originates in England and quickly diffuses throughout much of Europe and to North America.
1763-75 James Watt significantly improves the efficiency of the steam engine.
1760’s The wearing of a smallsword begins to fall out of fashion in England;
1763 King Louis XV cedes New France to England in the Seven Years War (French and Indian War).
1763 Domenico Angelo publishes L’Ecole des Armes in London, entirely in French, featuring clear wording and beautifully detailed with 47 plates, bound in full leather (48 cm by 32 cm), and funded by 236 English nobles.
1765 Domenico Angelo publishes the second edition of
L’Ecole des Armes featuring the same plates and French text of the first edition, accompanied by an English translation in a second column.
1765 Diderot & d’Alembert select and publish Domenico Angelo’s L’Ecole des Armes as the authoritative text on fencing, published as Escrime in the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.
1765 Daniel Ô Sullivan publishes L’Escrime pratique ou principes de la science des armes.
1770 Sieur Batier publishes La Théorie pratique de l’escrime…
1771 Olivier publishes Fencing familiarized: Or, A new treatise on the art of sword play in London.
1775 King Louis XVI ascends the throne of France; he soon attempts to incorporate Enlightenment reforms which are blocked by the French nobility.
1776 American Colonies declare independence from England and mount a revolution.
ca. 1780 Nicolas B. Texier La Boëssière invents the wire mesh fencing mask.
1783 The United States achieved independence via the Treaty of Paris.
1783 Domenico Angelo publishes Angelo’s Attitudes of Fencing, essentially a third edition of L’Ecole des Armes, featuring 43 plates numbered 1-47 (both this work and The School of Fencing contain paired plate numbers 2/3, 11/12, and 13/14, each being assigned as one plate). These plates were also later issued in The School of Fencing with a General Explanation of the Principal Attitudes and Positions Peculiar to the Art printed in 1787. Size 5.5″ by 10″, published by S. Hooper: London.
1787 Henry Angelo edits and reprints his father’s work in London as the The school of fencing: With a general explanation of the principal attitudes and positions peculiar to the art.
1792 The First French Republic is established.
1793 Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are executed.
1799 Napoleon Bonaparte overthrows the French Directory by a coup d’état.
Late Century: wearing of smallsword falls completely out of fashion throughout Europe but persists in formal and ceremonial settings as the court sword.
Late Century: Nicolas B. Texier La Boëssière invented the first wire-mesh fencing mask.
ca. 1800 Romanticism supplants Enlightenment, emphasizing emotion rather than reason.
1818 Antoine Texier La Boëssière publishes Treatise on the Art of Weapons.
1845 Possellier [Gomard] published his La théorie de l’escrime: Enseignée par une méthode simple basée sur l’observation de la nature in French. He standardizes the previously contradictory terminology for use of lines in fencing and lays the groundwork for modern foil.
1848 London Fencing Club revives fencing
1860’s Fencing established as a sport
1880’s Hutton, Castle, and Matthey revive interest in traditional sword practice, including rapier.
1896 Fencing with foil and sabre are included in the modern Summer Olympics for the first time in Athens with men’s bouts to three touches. The rules clearly reflect the sport nature of fencing at that time, with priority determining double touches. The Épée event was cancelled for unknown reasons.
1898 Captain Cyril G. R. Matthey discovers a copy of George Silver’s second publication, Bref Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence (n.d., after 1604). Matthey publishes a compilation of Silver’s two manuscripts.
1914-1918 World War I results in seventeen million lives lost, decimating the corps of classically trained fencers.
2009 the Martinez Academy publishes L’École Française, a DVD illustrating the French approach to the smallsword.
Anglin, Jay P. “The Schools of Defense in Elizabethan London.” Renaissance Quarterly, Volume XXXVII, Number 3, Autumn 1984, ppg. 393-410.
Leoni, Tom. “Understanding Smallsword.” salvatorfabris.org. Order of the Seven Hearts, 28 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Mar. 2015. http://www.salvatorfabris.org/UnderstandingSmallsword.shtml
Mowbray, E. Andrew. “Smallswords – Overlooked Collectibles.” Man at Arms Jan. 1977: 25-36. Print.
Saunders, Anthony. “A Briefe Historie of the Rapier and Small Sword.” The Booktrap, 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 8 Mar. 2015. http://thebooktrap.weebly.com/anthonys-blog/a-briefe-historie-of-the-rapier-and-the-small-sword
Withers, Harvey. “The History of British Sword Manufacture.” Harvey JS Withers. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2015. http://www.antiqueswordsonline.com/the-history-of-the-manufacture-of-british-swords/
Wrightson, Robert Hugh. “A Dissertation on the History of the European Smallsword.” Sussex Sword Academy. Sussex Sword Academy, 2011. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.