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Benjamin H. Abbott




Location: New Mexico
Joined: 28 Feb 2004

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PostPosted: Fri 14 Sep, 2018 6:56 pm    Post subject: 16th-Cent-vs.-19th-Cent Size & Technique Differences         Reply with quote

Like I assume many of you, I watch Matt Easton's videos. Through them I've learned more about 19th-century swords and fencing styles. My own studies focus on the 15th & 16th centuries. I'm most familiar with English, French, Spanish, and Italian sources from roughly 1540s-1620s. Because of this, Matt's baseline what's long or heavy has surprised me.

In the 16th century, you had various military writers who insisting on limiting blade length to around 36 inches for single-handed swords, presumably because many soldiers favored longer. Official regulations mirror this. George Silver called a baskethilt with a 37-40-inch blade a "short sword" circa 1600. A number of Italian rapier masters recommended blades of in excess of 48 inches for folks around 6ft tall.

Between long cut-&-thrust single-handed swords like Silver liked, rapiers, and the longswords civilians as well as soldiers wore, in 16th-century European wearing a sidearm with a total length of 4 feet (or even more!) was pretty common. These weapons weighed anywhere from 2.5lbs to around 4lbs (for some longswords). And keep in mind that was with an average male height of 5' 8" or less.

By contrast, in the 19th century, a mere 35in blade is pretty serious cavalry sword, the French cavalry swords with blade lengths in Silver's perfect range (37-40 inches) are supposedly unwieldy on foot, and anything beyond maybe 2lbs is heavy.

Remaining biased toward the 16th century and my own limited sparring experience, I tend to think longer really is better (up to at least Silver's perfect length), and that 19th-century soldiers and fencers opted for somewhat shorter and lighter weapons for convenience of carry rather than pure martial effectiveness.

Of course I don't have nearly the breadth of Matt's practice, so I could easily be wrong! (Though Matt has asserted the rapier as the best sidearm for a duel, so perhaps he's almost on the same page. The next step is convincing him & others that Silver's baskhilted sword was nearly a rapier itself.)

Note that basically nobody spars Silver's style with blades quite as long as he specified and few people wield ones as long as Cappoferro and company desired either.

So, what do you think? Were 19th-century soldiers/fencers too lazy to carry a proper 4ft sidearm, or were 16th-century folks freakishly obsessed with size to their detriment?

If, say, the smallsword really does match or surpass the rapier, long cut-&-thrust baskethilt, and longsword in a duel, then 16th-century swashbucklers were being awfully foolish in retrospect, lugging all that unneeded encumbrance around!

It's worth remembering that I don't know of any other group, anywhere, anytime, who routinely carried as long sidearms as 15th/16th-century Europeans. The closest I know of would be the 16th-century Chinese & Japanese warriors who wielded two-handed swords, the smaller version of which was similar to European longswords (nearly 4ft total).

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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