Culture: Tudor English
Setting: late Tudor / Elizabethan period, England mid-late 16thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Richardson 2015 p5
"... Mary (reigned 1553-58) and Elizabeth (reigned 1558-1603) ... presided over a thriving court in which the wearing of armour and arms not only reflected the fashionable tastes of the nobility, but also their military careers. Many of the politicians and courtiers were warriors too, and the age was one of almost continual conflict as the wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants were played out on the European stage."
* Capwell 2012 p97-98
"The idea that the Italians had somehow debased the honourable pursuit of swordsmanship by applying scientific theory to it, thus transforming it into a much deadlier, more murderous activity, resonated with English audiences, who were often suspicious of foreign culture. Such suspicions were not by any means limited to aspects of swordsmanship, but applied to all external, and at this time especially Italian, influences. Rapier and clothing fashions were attached, literally and metaphorically, at the hip; the xenophobic concern about foreign fencing methods being practiced in England was mirrored by a distrust of Continental costume. Shakespeare's fellow dramatist Robert Greene, in A Quip for an Upstart Courtier (first published in 1583), described foreign fashion as:
some monster ... a very passing costly paire of Velvet breeches, whole panes being made of the cheefest Neapolitane stuffe, was drawne out with the best Spanish satine, and marvellous curiously ouer wipt with gold twist, interleaved with knots of pearle, the Netherhocke was of teh purest Granade silck, no cost was spared to lett out these costly breeches, who had girt unto them a Rapyer and Dagger gilt, point pendante, as quaintly as if some curious Florentine had trickte them up to square it up and down the streetes.
.... as proudly as though they ahd there appointed to act some desperat combat.
... such a straunge headlesse Courtier lettinge up and downe like the Master of a Fence scoole about to plat his Prise.
... An Upstart, come out of Italy, begot of Pride, nursed by Self-love and brought into this countrey by his companion Newfanglenesse."
Rapier & Dagger
* Richardson 2015 p82
"The character of the swords carried by the nobility changed completely during the Tudor period. During Henry VIII's reign the basket-hilted broadsword evolved from the old, cross-guarded medieval sword. During Elizabeth's reign a completely new type of sword became popular, the rapier. This weapon with its complex guard and long, slender blade, was accompanied by a whole new style of swordsmanship, introduced by the new fencing masters of Italy and France, in which intricate play with the point replaced the cut and thrust of the broadsword. The new rapiers were often accompanied by matching daggers, and fencing with sword and dagger was a new skill expounded in the fencing manuals which became essential for the education of gentlemen. These new swords, like the armour and clothes with which they were worn, were often highly decorated, and became a status symbol for the wealthy as well as practical arms."
* Capwell 2012 p97
"The role of weapons in everyday life was a subject of passionate debate in the late 16th century, as it is in many parts of the world today. The rapier was an especially provocative topic, because its role in society was multi-faceted. Arguments ranged from the fundamental to the specific. Some questioned the basic morality of the rapier as an idea, arguing that it was not appropriate to wear the rapier in a civilian context. Others accepted the rapier as a fact of life, but disagreed about how it should be used and what it should look like. Everything about the rapier was contentious -- the motivations behind its creation, its size and proportions, the extent of its decoration, and the virtues or weaknesses of the various fencing styles that employed it.
"The controversy was most virulent in England. A domestic tradition of swordsmanship had existed in England since the Middle Ages. However, despite some evidence for an early English interest in the Italian fashion for rapier fencing, it seems that Continental fencing trends took much longer to catch on in England than elsewhere. As J. Starkie Gardner observed, perhaps it was because 'It is the nature of Islands to exhibit some peculiarities in their fauna and flora, and this insularity is no less pronounced in the manners and customs of the human beings inhabiting them'. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Italian fencing theory and practice took longer to reach England than elsewhere. An Italian work on fencing was not translated into English until 1594 and it seems to have ignited fierce debate. The essential points of English objection seem to have become common knowledge by 1597, when William Shakespeare's play An Excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet was first published. The work includes a number of illuminating references to Italian fencing method and English reactions to it. The fencing debate is presented by establishing the character of Mercutio as the critical English voice, while Tybalt is presented as the preening follower of the Italian fashion ....
"[....] Mercutio speaks in a disparaging way of 'fashionmongers', so obsessed with the 'new forme' of swordsmanship based on cold, scientific principles, the 'time, dystance and proportion'. Perhaps the most topical of all Mercutio's remarks is his dismissal of Tybalt as 'the very butcher of a silk button', apparently a direct reference to a celebrated boast of the Italian fencing master Rocco Bonetti that he could 'hit any English man with a thrust, just upon any button in his doublet'."
* Capwell 2012 p33
"In 1562 the government of Queen Elizabeth I issued a proclamation regulating the possession of rapiers which were [']sharpened in such sort, as may appear the usage of them can not tend to defence, which ought to be the very meaning of wearyng of weapons, in times of peace: but to murder, and evident death['].
"The opposition to long rapiers was buttressed, especially in England, by the strong argument that the rapier was utterly useless in war, giving ammunition to the feeling that it was somehow frivolous, irresponsible, even dishonourable. Sir John Smythe (c. 1537-1607), an Englishman with a long soldiering career behind him when he wrote his critical military treatise Certain discourses ... (1590), cited crucial faults in the rapier which ruled out its use on the battlefield. Their great length prevented them from being drawn in close ranks, but perhaps more importantly:
Swords being so long, do work in a manner no effect, neither with blowes nor thrusts where the press is so great, as in such actions it is; and the Rapier blades being so narrow, and of so small substance, and made of a very hard temper to fight in privat frays, in lighting with any blow upon armour, do presently break, and dso become unprofitable .... All which considered, their opinion of such long Swords, or Rapiers to be worn either by horsemen, or footmen armed, is very ignorant.
Yet these criticisms did not lessen the rampant, run-away popularity of the rapier among the fashionable elite, among whom 'private frays', as Smythe called them, were the height of fashion. The civilian sword designed for non-military combat, in duels, street-fights and street-wise self-defence, whose identity came to be defined by its very long, narrow, stabbing blade, became one of the quintessential icons of life during the High Renaissance."