DURING the first half of the seventeenth century the dagger, by degrees, became unfashionable as an article of costume, and in Western Europe, certainly, the rapier also underwent a change-it was sensibly curtailed in the matter of its length. Although the short sword (epee courte) was not generally adopted until about the year 1660, during the reign of Louis XIV., this revolution in the form of the weapon necessitated the invention, on the part of the French masters, of a new school of fence to suit the new arm. Of all the works on seventeenth-century fencing, that of Wernesson de Liancour, published in 1686, is the most typical. The fundamental rules of his art were very similar to our own modern -ones, although something of the old rapierplay was retained, especially the recourse to the left hand for defence; while the swords were, many of them, so long and out of balance, that the masters actually taught their pupils to relieve the sword hand occasionally by taking hold of the forte of the blade with the left, and thus manipulating the weapon with both hands. (Plate 37.)
The Guard was something like that of the present day, but the weight of the body was thrown entirely on the left leg, with the right leg almost straight, the idea being to keep as much out of reach as possible, while the left arm was raised, as is ours; but it was much more curved, and the hand was held near the face, and so directed towards the front as to be in readiness for parrying if required. (Plate 38.)
The Parries were but four in number-quarte and tierce for the high lines, with septime and seconde (under other names) for the low ones. The counterparries had not yet been invented.
The Attacks were also of a very simple kind, and consisted of disengaging, beating on the blade, and such compound attacks as "one, two," "over and under," and "under and over."
The Lunge, in the early stages of small sword fencing, possessed the defect of throwing the body very much forward, in the hope of gaining a little more reach; and this was exaggerated to such a degree as to cause the left foot to roll over completely, the sole of the foot losing its contact with the ground (Plate 42.)
The Pass in the seventeenth century was of two kinds. The ordinary pass, which was effected by stepping forward with the rearward foot and bringing it a full pace in front of the other, was used for the purpose of approaching the enemy, in order to seize either his person or his sword, or occasionally to make a thrust. (Plate 40.) The other, which we must term the fullpass, was effected by stepping forward so far with the rearward foot as to bring it, when the movement
was completed, into the position of a kind of lunge. It was extremely dangerous, and by the end of the centuryit had disappeared from the French School altogether. (Plate 41 .)
The passes were met by certain counter-movements of the feet, consisting of a similar pass to the front or a pass to the rear, known as counterpasses, or a species of pass to one side, known as the demivolte and the volte. These latter were sometimes employed against a true lunge, but in that case it was usual to "oppose" the left hand to the enemy's blade during the execution of the movement. The Demivolte was effected by straightening the legs and passing the left foot a quarter of a circle backwards towards the right, and turning on the toes of the right foot, by which means the trunk was carried out of the line, the head was turned towards the enemy, and the sword arm was straightened so as to receive him on the point. (Plate 42.) The Volte was a more complete turn of the body, and was effected like the demivolte; but the left foot described very nearly a half-circle, so that the back was half turned to the enemy, and the trunk was removed so entirely off the line that the opposition of the left hand was unnecessary. (Plate 41.)
Was this article helpful?