Angelo on Mounting and Choosing a Blade

Domenico Angelo’s L’Ecole des Armes

D. Angelo - First Position

Domenico Angelo posed for some of the plates included in his magnum opus, L’Ecole des Armes. Here he is demonstrating the first position of the salute [image cropped to figure].

Several historic texts on small sword and classical fencing have withstood the test of time.  Few have resonated as well as Domenico Angelo’s L’Ecole des Armes, originally written in French and published in London in 1763. Though several small sword schools of thought exist, each with modern devotees, many regard Angelo’s treatise as the definitive text.  So respected was Angelo’s work that Diderot and d’Alembert selected it for inclusion in their landmark 28 volume Encyclopédie.  It was quite an accomplishment for the French scholars of the day to recognize that the definitive text on fencing was written by an Italian living England (Morgan). In addition to a clarity of verbal description, the text is beautifully and lavishly illustrated with remarkable engravings, also included in the Encyclopédie.

L’Ecole des Armes would go on to be reprinted several times within the decade.  Domenico’s son, Henry Angelo, edited and reprinted L’Ecole des Armes in an entirely English version, presented as The School of Fencing, in 1787.  It is from J. Kirby’s 2005 reprinting of this version that Angelo’s commentary on choosing and mounting a blade is excerpted.  Note: although I have replaced the medial “long-s” with the “standard s” for ease of reading, the remainder of the text conforms to Henry’s presentation of his father’s work in 1787, including the order in which the sections are printed.

The Method of Mounting a Sword.
You must observe not to file or diminish the tongue of the blade, for on that depends the stability and strength of your sword.

If the tongue is too big for the mounting, you should open the mounting; such as the gripe, shell and pummel, and tighten the tongue, by putting in splinters of wood, so as to render it firm. The pummel and button must be of two pieces; the button should be fastened with a hollow screw, four or five times on the tongue of the blade which is to be run through the pummel, and riveted according to the shape of the button, round or flat.

This is the best method of mounting a sword, and which I recommend to all swordsman. You will find this method very useful also for broad-swords, or half spadoons, commonly called cut and thrusts.

You must observe that the gripe of the sword be put on quite centrical to the heel of the fort of the blade, which should have a little bend above the fingers, when in hand, and let the whole mounting be turned a little inward, which will incline your point in carte. This way of mounting your sword will facilitate your disengagements, and give you an easy manner of executing your thrusts.

Fourbisseur

When one purchased a sword in the 18th Century, blade and hilt components were selected and assembled by a fourbisseur (furbisher). This plate, excerpted from Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie article, Old Weapons, Plates vol. 4 (1765).

When purchasing a small sword in the 18th Century, one faced a multitude of options.  Important considerations beyond preference for handling included style of hilt and blade, the fashion of the day, and one’s social status.  The latter played an important factor as a sumptuary good and reflected one’s social class.  One selected components for a customized weapon from a fourbisseur, or furbisher, who then assembled the weapon.  Diderot and d’Alembert included a plate in their Encyclopédie illustrating exactly this cultural practice in the mid 18th Century.  Angelo goes on to advise how to examine and select a blade.

How to Chuse a Blade, and its Proper Length.
I thought it necessary before I set down any rules for the use of the sword, two premise a few words not only how to mount a sword, but likewise upon the choice of the blade; for, with a bad sword in hand, bad consequences may ensue, be the person ever so courageous, and active. Some are for flat, others for hollow blades; whatever pains were taken with the former, I seldom ever found them light at the point; it is therefore difficult to render them light in hand; I would, never the less, recommend the use of them in battle, either horse or foot; but in a single combat, the hollow blade is preferable, because of its lightness, and ease in the handling.

A person should proportion his sword to his height and strength, and the longest sword ought not to exceed thirty-eight inches from pummel to point.

It is an error to think that the long sword hath the advantage; for if a determined adversary artfully gets the feeble of your blade, and closes it well, by advancing, it would be a difficult matter for him who has the long sword to disengage his point, without drawing in the arm, which motion, if well-timed, would give the other with the short sword an opportunity of taking advantage there of.

You should not fail observing, when you choose your blade, that there be no flaws in it; These flaws appear like black hollow spots, some long ways, others cross the blade; the first of these are frequently the cause of the blades breaking.

The temper of the blade is to be tried by bending it against anything, and it is a bad sign when the bending begins at the point; the good blade will generally form a half circle, to within a foot of the shell, and spring straight again; if it should remain in any degree bent, it is a sign the temper of the blade is too soft: but though it is a fault, these blades seldom break. Those which are stubborn in the bending or badly tempered, often break, and very easily.

fleur de lis

Works Cited

Angelo, D. (1763). L’école Des Armes, Avec L’explication Générale Des Principales Attitudes Et Positions Concernant L’escrime. [with 47 Plates.]. R. & J. Dodsley: London.

Angelo, D.,  Angelo, H. (ed). (1787). The school of fencing: With a general explanation of the principal attitudes and positions peculiar to the art. By Mr. Angelo. London.

Angelo, D., & Kirby, J. (ed.) (2005). The school of fencing: With a general explanation of the principal attitudes and positions peculiar to the art. Greenhill Books: London.

“Fourbisseur,” Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 4 (plates). Paris, 1765.

Morgan, P. (2014). Personal Communication.

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