Types of Renaissance/Early modern swords and Civilians

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Types of Renaissance/Early modern swords and Civilians

Postby the underground man » 10 Sep 2014 22:06

I apologize in advance if this is the wrong subforum for this/these question(s), and for such a lengthy first post, but I am unsure of where else I can ask a question like this, so here it goes.

During the 16th and 17th centuries how commonly were swords other than rapiers carried in civilian life as weapons of self-defense and fashion? I ask because it seemed that cut-fencing, for lack of a better term, continued to be taught well through the 17th century and even during the 18th century as something not just for those in the military.

I understand this is a rather simplistic take on what is part of a larger issue in social history concerning fashions, laws, burgeoning military/civilian spheres of life, etc..., but it has been one that has been bugging me for some time.

If anyone has some information, or perhaps some suggested reading, that would be great.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 11 Sep 2014 07:45

First of all, welcome to the forum!

It isn't completely clear about which region you ask this question. The whole Europe?
Or about a particular region: say Poland, Hungary, Italy etc.
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Re: Types of Renaissance/Early modern swords and Civilians

Postby admin » 11 Sep 2014 12:09

Hi and welcome to the forum.
The short answer is yes, swords other than rapiers continued to be carried throughout the period and beyond, including basket-hilted broadswords and backswords, sideswords, falchions, sabres, forms of large dagger such as the cinquedea and even occasionally longswords/bastard swords with complex hilts.
What’s important to point out though is that the term ‘rapier’ covers quite a wide variety of swords, many of which we would now call sideswords – a term which did not exist in the period. A sword was a sword to them and 90% of swords could both cut and thrust…. Just to varying degrees. A rapier can still cut and be used like a sidesword, and a sidesword can be used pretty much exactly like a rapier… the first rapiers were what we would call sideswords. The terminology can get in the way of discussion sometimes. Perhaps a more accurate way to think of civilian swordsmanship in this period is that there were various swords which could cut and thrust, but some schools of swordsmanship placed differing emphasis on the cut or thrust. Those schools who favoured using the point most of the time of course leaned towards using swords that were better suited to that. I think to a degree the rapier treatises probably got more financing, and therefore made it to print, because they were seen as more scientific and elite, whereas the ‘lower’ more militaristic weapons such as backsword and sabre probably suffered from being seen as less scientific or courtly/elite arts (therefore less demand for treatises).
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Re: Types of Renaissance/Early modern swords and Civilians

Postby the underground man » 11 Sep 2014 20:26

Ulrich von L...n wrote:First of all, welcome to the forum!

It isn't completely clear about which region you ask this question. The whole Europe?
Or about a particular region: say Poland, Hungary, Italy etc.


My apologies! I realize now that I was too broad for my own good! I meant continental Western Europe and England, though in retrospect I realize even that is an over-generalization as cultural/economic/etc... differences can be pretty distinct even in relatively close proximity. I must've typed my question out too quickly to realize this oversight.

Though I do wonder how far ranging the popularity of the rapier was and if it gained any footholds in places like Poland or Hungary.

admin wrote:Hi and welcome to the forum.
...The short answer is yes, swords other than rapiers continued to be carried throughout the period and The terminology can get in the way of discussion sometimes. Perhaps a more accurate way to think of civilian swordsmanship in this period is that there were various swords which could cut and thrust, but some schools of swordsmanship placed differing emphasis on the cut or thrust. Those schools who favoured using the point most of the time of course leaned towards using swords that were better suited to that. I think to a degree the rapier treatises probably got more financing, and therefore made it to print, because they were seen as more scientific and elite, whereas the ‘lower’ more militaristic weapons such as backsword and sabre probably suffered from being seen as less scientific or courtly/elite arts (therefore less demand for treatises).


Thank you for the thorough response! I agree on all points, particularly the nature of terminology like cut-and-thrust, which can be rather touchy since rapiers, as you noted, are indeed cut-and-thrust swords. I should have guessed that more militaristic swords continued to be worn, but I think that, embarrassingly, I may have been too caught up in modern terminology for my own good!

I would also agree that the popularity, and current visibility, of the rapier was very much due to its connection to the culture of the elites. It reminds me slightly of why there are a relatively large number of longsword treatises available compared to sword and buckler treatises.
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Re: Types of Renaissance/Early modern swords and Civilians

Postby Barbatus » 11 Sep 2014 22:00

Though I do wonder how far ranging the popularity of the rapier was and if it gained any footholds in places like Poland or Hungary.

After military reforms in the first half of 17th century, Polish army included a component of "foreign contingent troops". They were recruited mostly from among the western Europeans, armed, dressed and trained in the western manner. Most officers and soldiers carried rapiers - on and off duty, so definitely, the weapon was present in the country. Also mind, that Poland of that period was strongly influenced by the West - politically, militarily, culturally, etc. - there were always people who would eagerly follow western "modern" fashions, especially among the aristocracy.
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Re: Types of Renaissance/Early modern swords and Civilians

Postby the underground man » 11 Sep 2014 23:44

Barbatus wrote:After military reforms in the first half of 17th century, Polish army included a component of "foreign contingent troops". They were recruited mostly from among the western Europeans, armed, dressed and trained in the western manner. Most officers and soldiers carried rapiers - on and off duty, so definitely, the weapon was present in the country. Also mind, that Poland of that period was strongly influenced by the West - politically, militarily, culturally, etc. - there were always people who would eagerly follow western "modern" fashions, especially among the aristocracy.


Those are some very good points, especially about Poland. More generally though, the wide reaching tendrils of Western fashions, from places like Italy and France (often dependent on the time), are quite evident in things like civilian clothing, art, and others items-not just weapons and military organization in other Northern, Central, and Eastern European states. After all, These martial innovations and trends did not happen in a vacuum. Thank you for the input!
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Re: Types of Renaissance/Early modern swords and Civilians

Postby admin » 12 Sep 2014 10:09

the underground man wrote:It reminds me slightly of why there are a relatively large number of longsword treatises available compared to sword and buckler treatises.


Absolutely. Or indeed archery, or spear, or billhook, or any of the other weapons which were always more numerous and frankly more important than the longsword.
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