Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1593 English swashbuckler
Subject: 'swashbuckler' swordsman
Culture: late Tudor English
Setting: duelling, Elizabethan England mid 16th-early 17thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Castle 1885 p19-20
"Notwithstanding the general restrictions, a great deal of obnoxious swaggering was common among the fencing gentry, who were as a rule looked upon with dislike and suspicion by the quieter portion of the community.  The contemptuous name of 'swashbuckler,' applied to obtrusive devotees of the art of fence, graphically described these shady braves, and the chattering noise they created in their brawls, or even when merely swaggering down a narrow street.
    "It would seem that 'swashbucklers' congregated mostly in West Smithfield, the London 'Pré au Clercs,' one of the few spots where their rioting could be tolerated.
    "'They got their name,' says Fuller, 'from swashing and making a noise on the buckler, and that of ruffian, which is the same as a swaggerer, because they tried to make the side swag or incline on which they were engaged.' ..."  

* Withers/Capwell 2010 p43
"Duelling quickly became a craze.  Hundreds and then thousands of men were killed each year during the second half of the 16th century, all in supposed 'affairs of honour'.  These disputes could be caused by a verbal slight, physical altercation or even an insulting glance.  Sir Walter Raleigh -- the famous Elizabethan explorer who established one of the earliest American colonies at Roanoke Island in what is today North Carolina -- wrote earnestly that 'to give the lie deserves no less than stabbin'.  It was this brutal subculture that led to a number of key innovations in the design and use of edged weapons."

* Cohen 2002 p34-35
"Fighting had become an everyday activity -- men skirmished in the streets, in theaters, in print.  'Soon anyone wanting to be a good swordsman had to join a school of fence.  Castle records, and aristocrats were happy to take lessons from plebian masters. [SIC]  In addition to straightforward sword-work, schools taught disarms, tripping, and wrestling moves -- less useful perhaps in a formal duel but vital when suddenly attacked in an alleyway or dark passage.  These schools, meanwhile, became havens for assassins and cutpurses, and Castle speculates that 'brutal revelry, as well as darker deeds,' likely took place in comparative safety behind their walls.  A contemporary is more direct; 'Dead men, with holes in their breasts, were often found by the watchmen, with their pale faces resting on doorsteps or merchants' houses, or propped up and still bleeding, hid away in church porches.'
    "Between 1490 and 1550 vast numbers of swords were produced throughout Europe, at increasingly affordable cost.  Sword deaths from personal quarrels rose accordingly.  As London doubled in size to 200,000 inhabitants between 1580 and 1600, it saw a vast influx of restless young men.  By 1586 the city had at least eight major fencing schools and many more smaller, less formal venues of instruction.  In many towns teh art of arms fell so low, taught be however considered himself capable of passing on advice, that the fencing master was also the dancing instructor -- or even the local dentist.  Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth passed vagrancy acts requiring fencers to have 'respectable occupations to satisfy the law' -- but to little avail.  The playwright Christopher Marlowe was at one point charged with manslaughter after a rapier and dagger duel involving one of his closets friends; in 1593 he was killed in peculiar circumstances in a tavern brawl.  Five years later, Ben Jonson was penning his play Every Man in His Humour (Boabdil: 'Yu shall kill him, beyond question: if you be so generously minded.'  Matthew: 'Indeed, it is a most excellent trick!') when he killed a fellow actor, Gabriel Spencer, in a rapier duel.  He was arraigned at the Old Bailey in October 1598, where he pleaded guilty, being released by 'benefit of clergy' (a one-time plea that any literate person could employ), forfeiting his 'goods and chattels' and being branded on his left thumb."


* Norris 1938 p696-697(describing "a young gentleman of the 1570's and 1580's who is an expert in the art of sword-and-buckler-play") 
"He looks very smart in his doublet of cloth garded with black or dark velvet, but it is more in the fashion of the previous reign than of this.  His hat with a high crown bulging at the top is more up to date, and his shoes are decorated with cuttes and loops.  He is armed with a good long hefty sword and a small buckler known as a 'rondel,' 'rondelle à poing,' or 'boce.'  This particular art of self-defence or aggression began to decline towards the end of the century owing to the increasing popularity of the rapier, which caused a certain amount of dissatisfaction.  One of the characters in The Two Angry Women of Abingdon, 1599, expresses public opinion in the following words:
    "'Sword and Buckler play begins to grow out of use ... if it be once gone, this poking fight of rapier and dagger will come up: then a good tall Sword and Buckler Man will be spitted like a cat or rabbit.'
    "The word 'tall' was often used to mean courageous."


* Held ed. 1973 p143-144 (John F Hayward, "English swords 1600-1650" p142-161)
​"The Elizabethan backsword has a hilt of simple construction, with straight, usually counter-curved quillons, knuckle-bow and ring-guard on one or on both sides of the cross.  This simple construction persisted for a long time and is still found on a backsword with a Hounslow blade in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow. A more evolved type ... has the heavy globular or octagonal pommel which is one of the characteristic features of late 16th or early 17th century swords made in England.  The quillons are counter-curved, and the hilt has fully developed arms, knuckle-bow and a loop guard reaching from halfway along the bow down to join the rear arm.  This particular construction was not confined to backswords but will be found on rapiers nad riding swords as well.
    [...] The typical broadsword had a basket hilt ....  The shell, which is divided into two halves, one on either side of the cross, is another feature that will frequently be noticed on English swords.  The English basket hilt, which is, of course, the ancestor of the Scottish basket-hilted sword of the 17th and 18th centuries, was, if the dates on portraits showing it can be believed, already in existence before the last quarter of the 16th century.  A portrait of Sir Edward Lyttleton at Hagley in Worchestershire dated 1568 shows him with one of these basket-hilted swords with long counter-curved quillions [SIC].  The earlier examples can be recognized by the presence of the long quillions [SIC], while the later ones have only a rear quillon and have developed the two loops at the base of the basket in front, characteristic of the later Scottish versions of this hilt. [....]
    "A second type of broadsword had a simple cross hilt; many samples of this particular type survive, a high proportion of them in Continental collections.  Thus there are examples in the Hermitage, Leningrad, in the Tøjhusmuseum, Copenhagen, the Swedish Royal Armoury, Stockholm and the Swiss Landesmuseum, Zurich.  There are two versions of these cross-hilts, differing in decoration rather than in form.  In the one type the ornament is of silver or gold and silver encrustation in the iron of the hilt, while in the other thin medallions of silver, embossed or stamped with figure subjects, are inset in the hilt and the surrounding areas are either damascened with gold or encrusted with silver."


* Fryer 1969 p78
​"Buckler  A shield for parrying blows, generally small and circular in shape. It had a handle on the reverse and was held in the left hand."

​* Boeheim 1890 p191
"Im englischen Heere wurden noch am Anfange des 17. Jahrhunderts kommt der Rundschild geführt, welche in ihrem Mittelpunkte eine Schießvorrichtung besaßen.  In diesem Falle war das Schloß im Inneren des Schildes angebracht und ein kleiner, kurzer Lauf ragte aus dem Schildnabel hervor.  Derlei Exemplare werden noch im Tower in London Bewahrt."