|The Arte of Defence was studied and taught by masters in the late 15th and 16th Centuries. |
The most famous of the teachers typically came from Italy. Until the advent of the smallsword
and the French schools of fence, the Italians and to a lesser degree
the Spanish, enjoyed the role of the most sought after teachers of the Arte of Defence.
This is not to say that earlier fencing schools did not exist.
The Germans had fine schools and some of the oldest existant fencing manuals come from
The English at the end of the 16th Century followed the continental fencers in taking on
the use of the rapier. In defense of English technique, George Silver published a treatise
called the Paradoxes of Defence.
This treatise 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. Two Italian Elizabethan Masters of note
(Vincentio Saviolo (d. 1598/9), though Italian born and raised, authored the first book on
fencing in the English language.
He arrived in London from Padua in 1590. John Florio described Saviolo's fencing school being, in 1591,
"in the little street where the well is...at the sign of the red Lyon." It was described by George Silver as being
"within a bow shot" of what was later the Bell Savage or la Belle Sauvage, at this time "Savage's inn,
the Bell on the Hoop" ( Inns and Taverns of Old London by Henry C. Shelley, 1909), on Ludgate Hill.
His particular nemesis among the Masters of Defence of the English school was this George Silver,
who wrote his own book to attack Saviolo's systems.
Vincentio Saviolo, his practise, in two bookes, the first intreating of the use of the Rapier and Dagger,
the second of Honor and honorable quarrels. London, printed by John Wolfe, 1595,
undertakes to instruct in the rapier fencing techniques of his day.
The careful reader will notice the absence of the lunge.As was ordinary in that day, it was structured like a conversation between Saviolo and an imaginary student. Those of today, used to FAQs, find this easier to follow than readers twenty years ago did. The original version has the idiosyncratic spelling common to the age. The terminology is strange to those used to modern fencing, but the illustrated versions make it possible to reconstruct. He was, after all, writing for people unable to get to a fencing master like himself). and Di Grassi.
Saviolo' s works cover not only his view on fencing mechanics but also honor.
Di Grassi in the author's opinion is one of the finer manuals translated to English
in this time period.
Although Di Grassi predates the Elizabethan period proper, his manual
which was orginally published in 1570 was translated into English in the
late Elizabethan period.