A Look At Jospeh Swetnam

I will be doing an analysis of Swetnam's book over the next number of months. Keep checking back every month or so for additions.

 Swetnam published his book "The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence" in 1617. Little is known of this fencing master. He was the instructor of Henry (brother to Charles I of England) and it is the author's opinion that he was a member of the Masters of Defense of London.

 Swetnam was teaching fencing and general swordplay at a time when the rapier was making a distinct change from a cut and thrust weapon to that of a primarily thrusting weapon. Arthur Wise in his book "The History and Art of Personal Combat" had this to say:

"Swetnam can hardly be said to have advanced the theory of personal combat in England. In fact, at this time it seems that the English still persisted in rapiers and daggers of disproportionate length which were certainly disappearing elsewhere. Swetnam thinks that a rapier with a blade-length of at least four feet is a reasonable length', and recommends a dagger two feet long. It seems surprising that such weapons should have been so superior in use to those that Silver advocated."
Wise, although correct in his quotes of Swetnam, failed to mention that although Swetnam taught the use of the rapier, he also advocated and taught the use of the staff, backsword, longsword and short sword. His teachings were written in such a fashion that a military man or a gentleman could take advantage of the teachings. He did ground his teachings in the use of the rapier and started his practicals with the learning of rapier and dagger which were still prevalently used in duels at the time.

 In order to be proficient, Swetnam indicated that the following forms must be learned: rapier and dagger, staffe, backsword, single rapier, longsword and dagger, and shortsword and dagger. These are the primary weapons that were used by the Masters of Defense of London during Elizabethan times (also included the the MoD was the two-handed sword). Swetnam's manual basically follows this order.

 Many of the masters of the 16th and early 17th Centuries basically taught similar theory behind fence. Swetnam is not much different. He taught seven Principal rules on which defense is grounded:

     1) A good gard                     5) to keep space
     2) true observing of distance      6) Patience
     3) to know the place               7) often practice
     4) to take time
Silver's four governors was similar: judgement, distance, time and place.

 The rapier and dagger guard of Swetnam is also similar to others of the time. He taught to keep the right foot forward with the rapier held in the low guard with the arm not bent. The point should be high and to the left. The dagger is held with the arm straight and just above parallel, the point towards the opponent. The tips of the dagger and the rapier should not have much space between them for fear of a cut delivered between the two. He then goes on to discuss differing attacks and how to defend using this guard.

 The point where Swetnam diverges from many other masters is in the use of feigns (feints). He stresses the use of feigns in opening up an opponent for an attack in another line similar to some techniques used in modern fencing. His techniques are fully useable with some modifications for the schlager bladed weapons, but they still will work.

 Even though Swetnam was published in the 17th C. He is still a good guide to how fence was done in the late 16th C. He would have been learning and possible became a master during the last decade of the 1500's and the first in the 17th Century. More study and practice using his techniques should be done to round out the questing duelist within today's courtiers and cavaliers. I for one will be studying his work over the coming years to gleen out those techniques that will give my students a better understanding of the Art and possibly even the botte segretta...