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Home > Auctions > 25th February 2020 > Tudor Era Double-Handed Rapier

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LOT 0492

GBP (£) 800 - 1,000
EUR (€) 940 - 1,170
USD ($) 1,040 - 1,300

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£800 (EUR 939; USD 1,044) (+bp*)

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Tudor Era Double-Handed Rapier

Mid 16th-early 17th century AD

A rapier of possible Spanish or Italian manufacture; the open basket-hilt sword, fitted with the blade, has straight double-edges with a pointed blade(?), presenting a hilt with straight quillons; the side guards are still preserved, together with the arms of the hilt and the knuckle bows; with two additional rings on the lower part of the hilt, bowing towards the flat undecorated blade; the sides of the blades show strong signs of employment in battle. 1.6 kg, 94cm (37"). Fine condition. Rare.

From an important private family collection of arms and armour; acquired on the European art market in the 1980s, and thence by descent; accompanied by an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.

See Tarassuk L., Blair C., The complete Encyclopedia of arms and weapons, Verona, 1986.

A variety of swords were used by the Englishmen during the Tudor period, these included the cutting sword, the broadsword and the rapier. The cutting sword was useful in the medieval period but was less effective on the battlefield by the time the Tudor era began. It was consequently replaced by the rapier which was sleeker and was adopted from Spain. It was a slender sharply pointed sword, mostly used for thrusting attacks, as in fencing. It was very thin and sharp, making it look like a thin pole. The rapier was also used by English noblemen to test their skills at fencing which had become a popular sport during the Tudor period. It was common for the noblemen to wear their rapier along with the civilian dress, usually as a part of the clothing. Discussions about the origin of the use of the rapier in England frequently begin by focusing on the very late 16th century. The term rapier was borrowed in 16th century from the French rapière, which was recorded first in 1474AD in the expression épée rapière, which itself derived from the contemporary Spanish espada ropera, the dress sword carried daily by the Spanish noblemen and gentlemen (Tarassuk-Blair, 1986, pp.401 ff.). This weapon was lighter than the arming sword. With the development of the art of fencing in 16th and 17th century the rapier became narrower and lighter, and so suitable for thrusts only. The teaching of rapier was established in England before 1569, and well before that, the school of the famous Italian teacher Rocco Bonetti, who was already established and active in 1576. Accounts from the 1630s set the time when the rapier replaced the sword and buckler as the weapon of choice for civilian combat as being '20. yeare of Queene Elizabeth' or about 1578. But in order for a weapon to become popular there has to have been training beforehand, in which the Masters of Defence of London played the major' part.

This sword is an interesting piece belonging to the early period of diffusion of the rapier in England, with all probability from a battlefield, a castle or a military site. The weapon that embodied the duelling spirit was the rapier. The introduction of the rapier into England was one of the most significant single innovation, yet for those unwilling or unable to use such a 'sophisticated' weapon the 'cut and thrust' sword, arming sword or broadsword remained the primary edged weapon, that is after the omnipresent dagger. The new technique of swordplay, introduced in the mid XVI century, gave emphasis to the point of the blade as main instrument of attack. This brought the change of the structure of the sword's guard. In order to point the blade more effectively, some swordsmen used to put one or more fingers in front of the quillons, and these fingers needed to be protected by the arms of the hilt and side guards. Since ordinary gloves were usually worn during an encounter, the increase of all these elements of the guard became a necessity to cover the hand of the target nearest to the opponent.

The English at the end of the 16th century followed the continental fencers in taking on the use of the rapier. Just to give a glimpse we can remember as on September 22nd, 1598, two men wandered out into the damp fields of Hoxton, north of London. On that muddy ground, they drew swords – at least one of which was 'a certain sword of iron and steel called a rapier, of the price of three shillings” and fought. At the end of the affray, one man lay dead, suffering 'a mortal wound, to the depth of six inches and the breadth of one inch' to his right side. That man was Gabriel Spencer, a play-actor in the Lord Admiral’s Men and the man that killed him was Ben Jonson, the playwright, friend of William Shakespeare and one of the most famous dramatists of the age. In defence of a proper English technique, George Silver published a treatise called the Paradoxes of the defence, a treatise which was used to espouse the use of the English weapons and to downplay the use of the rapier. Silver hated the Italians and Spanish and made sure that his readers knew that these styles were more dangerous for the user than good English practices. He also wrote a treatise on his Paradoxes called Brief Instructions. The Italian Elizabethan Masters were instead Saviolo and Di Grassi. Saviolo' s works cover not only his view on fencing mechanics but also the concept of the honour. Di Grassi treatise in particular was one of the finer manuals translated to English in this time period. Although Di Grassi predates the Elizabethan period, his manual, which was originally published in 1570, was translated into English in the late Elizabethan period.

Not every sword maker could make a good rapier blade. The most part of the blades were made in specialised workshops: in Italy, Milan and Brescia; in Spain, Toledo and Valencia; in Germany, Solingen and Passau. From these cities the blades were exported throughout all Europe, and the hilts mounted in accordance with local fashion and decoration. For example, although Milano, Napoli, and Palermo were subjects of Spain, the decoration style was typically Italian. In Southern Italy the dominant features were the fuller running down the blade and the decorative work using the technique à jour.