Symposium Abstract

I am submitting my thesis for my university’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. This is my abstract:

Fencing in Seventeenth-Century England:

A Visual Study of Joseph Swetnam’s Treatise

In early modern England, there existed a simultaneous eagerness to embrace Italian humanism and a reluctance to abandon England’s own established culture.

A microcosm of this cultural tension can be found in English fencing treatises of the turn of the 17th century, particularly Joseph Swetnam’s “Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence,” published in 1617.

My thesis is that Swetnam imitated Italian forms, but applied the imported practices to his English context, resulting in a fundamentally English martial system.

My approach is to provide Swetnam’s manual the additional illustrations he desired, that were so typical of Italian codices of the time. Visually representing Swetnam’s fencing positions allows us to see the Italian flavor more clearly. We can see that visually and statically, Swetnam’s system greatly resembles the Italian methods, although in motion and principle it more greatly resembles the English martial tradition.

Twelve different positions are illustrated to match Swetnam’s descriptions, and they include offensive, defensive, and guard positions.

“Paradoxes of Defence” and “Brief Instructions upon my Paradoxes of Defence” by George Silver (1599) are used as examples of English fencing tradition, and “Lo Schermo, overo Scienza D’Arme” by Salvator Fabris (1606) is used as a benchmark of contemporary Italian tradition.

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Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I hope you publish or post this once it’s complete. It sounds quite interesting. Good luck!

  2. Definitely. I’m a little unclear on how the University publishing works, but if there’s no good way to get copies out to those interested, I’ll be shopping an expanded version to publishers. The advantage will be that, to my knowledge, there is no published work on Swetnam’s fencing. The disadvantage is that Swetnam is a small name, and not one of the keystone works of any martial tradition (except perhaps for English rapier).


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