Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

Ren-o-t-Sword-art - 5/24/01


"The Renaissance of the Sword" by Lord Simon fitz Tomas.


NOTE: See also the files: fencing-art, p-rapier-msg, Rapier-Armor-art, rapier-books-msg, swords-msg, swordcare-msg, swordsmiths-msg, Styles-Swrdpl-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



The Renaissance of the Sword

by Lord Simon fitz Tomas


        Numerous changes occurred in many aspects of European life starting in the 14th Century that transformed the "Dark Ages" into the "Renaissance". Some of the most profound changes of this era can be seen in that common medieval weapon: the sword. Swords changed not only in form, but also in ownership. The spreading of the sword through the non-noble classes was one of the key elements of Renaissance. The sword had been the exclusive property and right of the knightly class. It was used not just as a weapon, but often as a symbol of the power of feudalism. Knights were created by a ceremonial tap of the sword. Vassals swore fealty while touching their liege lord's blade. The armored knight with sword and shield still conjures images of the "Middle Ages". The renaissance of the sword reflects the changes of the time. Let us briefly examine the fundamental changes in the sword itself from the "Middle Ages" to the "Renaissance".


        The military use of guns led to the first fundamental changes in the sword. As guns were used in battle more frequently, armorers made heavier armor. As the armor became heavier, warriors began to thrust into the weak points, like joints, instead of slashing uselessly across the thicker plates. Thus the sword changed in shape from a wide and short cutting weapon into a narrow and long thrusting weapon. These changes began in the late fourteenth century. Do not get the idea that this happened overnight, however. The rapier, itself, did not exist until nearly the middle of the sixteenth century and did not complete its development until late in the seventeenth century. The change from broad sword to rapier was a long process. The changes in the swords themselves were minor compared to the changes in their owners caused in the by the social upheaval of the "Renaissance".


        The rise of towns and the merchant class together with the collapse of feudalism and the rise of mercenaries saw the sword spread to all but the poorest of men. By the early sixteenth century, sword-masters in Europe had begun teaching their students, both noble and merchant class "gentlemen", the fine art of cut and thrust swordplay. The existence of text books teaching swordplay, as well as laws concerning public dueling, would indicate that by 1550 the rapier was to be found on the hip of every man old enough to carry one. In fact, it is worth noting here that two of the members of William Shakespeare's Globe company were considered to be master swordsmen, Tarlton the comic and Christopher Sly. Their knowledge must have served them well upon the stage, as certainly there were members of their audiences who were schooled in swordplay as well. While changes in both the shape and owners of swords were pronounced, the most profound change was in its use.


        From the first century until the twelfth century, the primary weapon of warfare in Europe was the sword. Roman legionaires carried them as did their "barbarian" adversaries. Charlemagne and his knights carried them as did their enemies. William the Conquerer (also known as William the Bastard depending upon which side of the conflict you were on) and his armies defeated Harold and the Saxons with the sword. This is not to say that other weapons were not used during these times, just that they were not as common as the sword. The dominance of the sword as the weapon of war led to its status as the symbol of the ruling classes. Changes in the art of war during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries led to the decline of the sword as a battlefield weapon. By the sixteenth century, the primary weapon of warfare had become the gun. While two-handed swords and their ilk remained as weapons of war, the classic sword fell in status to an accessory of dress.  Indeed a proper sixteenth century gentleman without a sword was as under-dressed as a modern banker without a tie. When nearly everyone carried a weapon, fights were bound to happen.  We will look into some of these fights in a later article.



Copyright 2001 by Mark S. Cookman, 4703 Grove Point Drive, Tampa, FL  33624.

<simon at tampabay.rr.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org