Scionofgrace: re: Fists in a swordfight. Fencing was illegal anyway. It wasn’t the “gentleman’s sport” yet at this time, and certainly not in England. This was streetfighting, similar to street kids attacking eachother with switchblades would be nowadays. “Swashbucklers” was a negative euphamism for drunken louts causing trouble, not the romantic debonnaire heroes we think of now. Modern fencing comes from 1700s France when the duellists would take their squabbles into the dark alleys. They were forced to carry smaller, lighter weapons that could be concealed (like the modern foils and epees) and hold lanterns above and behind their heads so they could see their opponents in the dark (which is why the modern fencers move back and forth in a narrow runway about the width of a Parisian alleyway and have their offhands held up and behind them.)
England was never known for their fabulous swordfighters. The master swordsmen were Spanish or French or Italian. England was always better at blowing the crap out of everyone from the cannons on their ships.
Hi. My name is Rich and I’m a fencer. I did 7 years as a modern style foil/epee fencer (I dabbled in sabre, but I found it behaved too much like a whip) and then 7 years in the SCA doing more historic style fencing with a schlagger. I also enjoyed sword and cloak, sword and dagger and case of rapiers.
December 6, 2009 at 11:50 am
Sarah: When I was being taught olympic style modern fencing (back in the ’80’s, mind you) I tried that with foil and epee fencing. I had my stance corrected. Putting your offhand on your hip is correct for sabre only, I was told, for foil and epee, keep the hand raised and back out of the way. They liked to think it was some kind of balance thing and that a lunge is assisted by the arm being thrust back. I think it’s more of an etiquette thing, the original purpose of which has largely been forgotten by modern fencers. I can’t prove that the lantern thing is true, but it sure makes more sense to me than ballast
December 6, 2009 at 1:13 pm
Rich: You are right! As a someone who has been a fencer for the past 25 years or so, (and who is currently fencing epee) your offhand is in the air is supposed to be up in the air to help your balance. But when you lunge you are supposed to extend it behind you as a conterbalance and to keep you from leaning too far forward.
I am not only amazed at your knowledge of fencing, but your attention to historical detail and your encyclopedic knowlege of all things Who! You really have a knack for capturing the look and personalities of each of the Doctors! Thanks again for all the hard work you put into these stories (10 Doctors, Forever Jannette and this one!). It is really appreciated!
December 6, 2009 at 10:44 pm
As an SCA fencer, I have been taught that they usually had a dagger, a parrying device or used the off hand to block back in Elizabeth’s day. We also do not just move forward and back, but move around and even circle trying to find an opening. We do not, however, attack from behind as that is dangerous and unchivarous.
December 7, 2009 at 1:46 am
I’ve done a small amount of sword & dagger; also some melee, and find it much easier to have my right hand behind my back rather than aloft. When dealing with actual weaponry (as opposed to sport) though it’s trickier to balance and have force behind the blade if you stick to one position – by your side is better and allows for greater mobility.
December 7, 2009 at 3:55 am
Using your offhand to parry without a weapon is dangerous if you don’t have some kind of protection. I think we can assume that spontaneous street fighters weren’t constantly clad in chainmail gloves. Doesn’t mean that barehand parrying wasn’t done, just if you slap the sharp part of the blade instead of the flat…. Just sayin’.
Also, attacking from behind might be unchivalrous, but unless you’re answering a proper challenge to duel (illegal at best) you’re fighting to kill and survive. Remember that the rules of SCA fighting are in place to maximize both players safety (and make it possible to practice it as a sport so that the SCA insurance will cover any accidents -unless you’re Canadian, but we’ll ignore that for now-). Historic fighting tactics were less concerned with pissing off or hurting your opponent who you presumably want dead in the first place.
Rudi: Having your offhand behind your back in melee is preferred mainly because you’ve got a buddy to either side of you. You wouldn’t want to weild your dagger behind your back if you’re using both weapons in combat.
Having your offhand “aloft” as Robert Dudley puts it above, is used only in Olympic sport fencing which, I have been told (though I have no historic proof) comes from 1700’s France when people would fight in narrow alleys with lanterns held behind their heads for visibility.
yeah, I know, a lot of quotes. But I know pretty much nothing about fencing and got really curious about where the idea of the lanterns being held with the oft hand came from. My first thought was that extremely chivalrous of the dueler to expose himself to his opponent that way - but then I hear it is just really street fighters trying to gut their enemy, not about being chivalrous, and I immediately had doubts.
Typically one might read in an old western about someone foolish enough to raise a lantern to look around at enemy activity when they hear a noise at night - and having made themselves a wonderfully well lit target with a lantern hung above them, they promptly get shot at by enemies lurking in the dark.
I would think the same principle applies in fencing in a narrow alley, you are exposing yourself, well lit from behind, with your shadow blocking your own light on an enemy . Sure you hold it to the side to get the most of it, but you’re revealing your entire stance, body targets and where your sword is. Your enemy might be kind enough to light himself up as well, but surely the first person to dump his own lantern wins.
The dagger idea then naturally made more sense, esp if you are in an alley and hoping your enemy doesn’t have his allies sneaking up behind you, but I see some form of swords play already believes that, only in certain situations.
The other idea that I got today, from looking at the action in the Stalker of Norfolk comic, that they might be holding up their cloaks (esp in bad weather) to keep themselves from entangling it in the trash filled alleys and possibly hoping to use it to entangle someone else’s weapon, should they be lunged at or attacked from behind.
The idea of using it as balance in lunge works, or in ship fighting where you might be on a swaying ground in a narrow galley and grip a rope or railing - or warding off a beam from a sail ..
But since you, and Hilary, (and a lot of the readers) have all surely covered these questions in years of conversations with fencers and history folk, I was curious why the lantern theory won out, as you mentioned there is some historical reasoning behind it, tho no proof.