The Officer and the Sword
Being the last & final word on safe & proper swordplay
for officers & their portrayal in the English Civil Wars
and a continuation of 'The Mark of a Soldier'

By Robert Giglio
As I stated previously in part one of this article, 'The Mark of a Soldier', soldiers of the Civil Wars were not trained in swordplay to any extent as gentleman officers who usually studied swordplay with a 'Master of Fence' as part of their worldly training in becoming a man in the 17th century. While not every officer would have had such training, generally those affluent enough or those that were part of the "swordsmen" (professional military, such as those which followed Prince Rupert) would have. Besides, knowing how to defend one's honor with rapier and dagger in a duel was a skill and pastime that all gentlemen were expected to pursue.

I also stated that contrary to what a few unlearned 'arm-chair' individuals wrongly believe in our hobby of re-enacting, that swords were issued to, and used by, soldiers in the Civil Wars. In addition, officers also used swords, but they were usually of a more elaborate design, offering more protection to the hand, by using pierced plated and an extra ring or two on the guards, as compared to those used by soldiers. These officer grade of swords were often of the rapier type.

The rapiers of the period, which could be very elaborate, were more frequently of a simpler style then some of the more ornate examples we often see on display in museums or books. These ranged from the 'swept-hilt' styles with their simple to complex series of rings which surrounded the hand, to the latter 'shell' or 'Pappenheimer-style' rapiers that had a partial or fully pierced shelled design, and sometimes with a series of rings built up on the guard as well. Even the 'small sword' was used at this time, as the French were recently introducing it. Although its style and use were nothing like which it became in the 18th century, where it was known as "...the little jewel..." and often improperly called a "court sword" by many. In the 17th century the 'transition rapier' was the early for of small sword, and still had a cutting edge, unlike the proper small swords of the next century. The small sword was considered to be the last and most superior style of sword and technique that existed by many fencing masters, then and now, and is from which the modern sport of foil fencing was derived.

The 'cup-hilt' style of rapiers, such as the well known Spanish types, and so frequently seen in Hollywood movies, belongs just there, as they did not see widespread use until about 1650, and then initially in Spain and eventually France. The use of cup-hilts should not be seen at English Civil War events at all - as its flat out wrong! With the vast styles of late 16th and early to mid-17th century rapiers and swords available and used by officers, these should offer any officer his own personal choice for his style and background for living history re-enacting.

I personally use the Pappenheimer Type II style of rapier, as it fits into my background and portrayal of a 'swordsman' (professional) officer in the King's Lifeguard of Foot (which had the highest number of experienced officers of any regiment on either side during the first Civil War), having gained my training and experience on the Continent through involvement with various 'Masters of Fence' and wars that were found there (Thirty Year's War). Although, most find that my style of guard is way too heavy for their use. My advice to those who must rely on the total protection of the lightly made cup-hilt style of rapier, is to learn to parry instead of relying on your Farby guard to protect you - as the days in which Knights relied on their armor to protect them has past!

Daggers were generally out of fashion by the mid-17th century, but were still advocated by some fencing masters for parrying, even well into the 18th century. Soldiers were not issued with daggers in the Civil Wars (except for Scots soldiers where frequently the 'Dirk' was used in lieu of a sword), although some personal supply could have happened, but this is only speculation. The ECWSA, while initially allowing the use of daggers by soldiers, has been slowly phasing out their use over the past few years for this reason. As for other secondary weapons, such as the buckler (or 'targe' as it was called by Highlanders), cloak, lantern, scabbard, second sword/rapier, etc., these should only be used in special one-on-one or 'round-robin- style competitions and never on the field by soldiers - the exceptions to this being the buckler and scabbard.

The buckler ('targe') was issued to some personal bodyguards and troops in earlier periods, but its use in the Civil Wars was only seen by some Highlanders, and not by Lowlanders (who made up the bulk of the Scots armies). Therefore the ECWSA restricts their use in swordplay to Highland troops only, and then only if carried at times of non-tactical or non-skirmish activities (i.e. during drills, etc.). It should also be noted that the same is true of armor used by pikemen; if you do not wish to drill in it, then you will not be allowed to fight with it.

The scabbard could be used by anyone as a "desperate defense", so some limited use by a couple soldiers is probable. Whereas the second sword/rapier, or 'case of rapiers', should be rarely if ever seen, especially during Civil War field actions. The use of such was historically by highly skilled and professional assassins, or by someone who had the proper training in their form by a Spanish 'Master of Fence', and the style of fighting used with them should only be in the Spanish style, which was much akin to rigid dance steps.

Each time that Ensign Roy Cox or I have witnessed others using the case of rapiers at some musters, or in 1:1 competitions (such as at the Grand Muster), we are very entertained by their totally improper use. Being instead used as nothing more than another long attacking weapon and/or have a bigger parrying weapon, with no style being used at all. This was not how they were used historically. While in 1:1 competitions their use is acceptable, it is not acceptable on the field, and if so then only in the exceptional case of a true case of rapiers which fit into the same scabbard as one, and/or only in the hand of a properly trained gentleman (officer), never a soldier! Even Ensign Cox and I, who know and use the proper Spanish style, forgo their use on the field. Although Ensign Cox does have the proper case (from the same scabbard). I highly recommend that those who now rely on the case of rapiers to keep them from harm (all of which are non-ECWSA) should instead practice their parries with a single rapier or rapier and dagger combination, which will relies on their ability rather than excess steel to best an opponent.

With regards to training, there is one answer to staying alive longer in an action. All officers should practice regularly to keep their 'edge' in close combat above soldiers. While soldiers could also train regularly, even if they do not (which will keep them looking as untrained as soldiers really were in the Civil War period), the most overlooked aspect is one of learning to fight as a unit or in supporting others on one's own side. This above all else will allow for more success on the field where it is not an individual competition. The Society's Royalist units do this quite well, led and supported by their officers. I personally am quite proud when someone (usually the public) makes a statement about the Society's style of close combat such as, ".... It looks so violent, and real....", but above all else it IS safe, yet a lot of fun!

In conclusion, I hope that many who have been debating various discussions on what is right/wrong, why we (ECWSA) only allow certain thing, etc., with regards to swordplay, now understand our position, both from a safety and an historical background. I also hope those various 'arm-chair' discussions will now cease, and other will simply join in to have fun with us (as they surely will). If anyone is really concerned with their skill at period swordplay, and wish to be taught by a professional Fight Director, then they should contract me for some personal training lessons, as I am local to most in the hobby, especially if you are a Royalist!

Background: While most only know Captain Fox (Robert Giglio) as Field Commander, Commander of the King's Lifeguard of Foot of the ECWSA, and as "...that Royalist officer who's too damn good with a rapier!", his actual background is one of professional expertise in historical and stage combat. Robert has served as Fight Director, teacher, actor and/or guest artist for many theaters and universities around the country, ranging from local to regional Equity/LORT (union) and even The Kennedy Center, for over 10 years. In addition, he has worked for independent for commercials/TV in both Fight Director and Stunt Man capacity. During his professional career not one individual involved in his combat scenes or classes, ranging from young adults to professional actors/actresses, has been injured as a result of his staging or techniques, which most others in the business can not boast. His training involves various theatre arts at college and conservatory level. He received his final training in fight directing from Roy Cox, who he recognizes as his master. As Roy Cox's training was with William Hobbs (Europe's foremost Fight Director), his techniques are apparent in the style which he has built upon, and encompasses most forms of weaponry from unarmed, ancient, medieval, renaissance, restoration and modern, but his most favorite is naturally the Renaissance - Restoration period. This is one of the chief reasons he was the major force in starting and promoting proper English Civil War living history re-enacting in America.


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