Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The barrel helm, reprised

I got so hung up on the funeral stuff (some of which I got around to putting up on this site) that a lot of the usual armour had to take a back seat. Its all priorities of course. But this armour was sitting there, mocking me for almost two months, nearly finished. An evening today has remounted the grill face. It is now "legal", and in fact, does not look too bad all in all.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

George Silver

Neat guy, Mr. George Silver. His most famous book was "Paradoxes on Defence" written in 1599. He was the Englishman who did not like Italian fight masters...figureing they were all too much after the fast buck. People have read his book and don't get much technique out of it...understandable since his 1599 book was really only about the business of fight instruction, and the value of different "schools of fencing". He used the word "defence" in an antique way, the word has come down to us as the "art of fencing."

(Those who are really looking for techniques should pick up his companion volume, written at about the same time, but presumed lost for several hundred years...until after the age where fighting with swords was routine, 1898! Oh, what a great loss to the world that was!

It has been re typed by Steve Hick, and pubished by that great researcher, Mr. Greg Lindahl on his web site http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/brief.html )

But, to stay on topic....the original book "Pardoxes of Defence" was one of the great seminal books of the seventeenth century. This was the age of great armies, European wars, and the idea of science being of more importance than gallantry in warfare. Silver was not the only one, but he WAS very important. The primary virtue of his "Pardoxes" was that he had nothing against rapier fighting, but that because rapiers were coming into their own, that a lot of so called "maestos" didn't really know how to use these new tools...and that often a good man with a broadsword would defeat a poorly trained man with a rapier. Apparently this happened often enough for him to get the wind up, and he gets quite specific about how training should be effected. So, its not so much his techniques which are so important to us nowadays, but rather, the manner in which we teach them.

I have included a short selection from George Sylver first work, and will refrain from commentary. However, if you read it clearly, you can see that he is not disrecting the rapier, but rather, the way it is being taught. In fact, he clearly states that "He that fighteth upon the blow especially with the short sword, wilbe sore hurt or slaine."

One can almost see this fellow standing out in front of a dozen ranks of bored students (like I have) saying things like.... And if you want to compare weapons and fighting styles, don't get all hung up on the footwork and measure and all those things your momma taught you when you were two years old, and you will quickly see that there are only three ways to engage with swords, and they are "Variable", "Open", and "guardant".

Of course, Sylver was more flowery, he came from a flowery age, and this is how he said the above statement..... "And leet anie man of judgement being seene in the exercise of weapons, not being more addicted unto movelties of fight, then unto truth it selfe, put in measure and practice these three fights, variable, open, and guardant."

If you have some commentary, please don't feel shy and mention it in the comments section.

George Sylver...Gentleman...

Page 16
Part 10
Illusions for the maintenance of imperfect weapons and false fights,
to feare or discourate the unskilfull in their weapons,
from taking a true course of use for attaining to the perfect knowledge of true fight.

First, for the Rapier (faith the Italian or false teacher) I hold it to be a perfect good weapon, because the crosse hindreth not to hold the handle in the hand, to thrust both far and straight and to use all manner of advantages in the wards
page 17
or sodainly to dast the fame at the adversarie, but with the Sword you are driven with all the strength of the hand to hold fast the handle. And in the warres I would with no friend of mine to weare Swords with hilts, because when they are sodainlly set upon, for haste they set their hands upon their hilts instead of their handles : in which time it hapeneth manie times before they can draw their swords, they are slaine by their enemies. And for Sword and Buckler fight, it is imperfect, because the buckler blindeth the fight, neither would I have anie man lie aloft with his hand above his heat, to strike found blowes. Strong blowes are naught, especially being set above the head, because therein all the face and bodie is discovered. Yet I confesse, in old times, when blowes were only used with short Swords And Bucklers and back Sword, these kind of fights were good and most manley, but now in these dais fight is altered. Rapiers are longer for advantage then swords were wont to be: when blowes were used, men were so simple in their fight, that they thought him to be a coward, that wold make a thrust or strike a blow beneath the girdle. Againe, if their weapons ere short, as in times past they were, yet fight is better looked into in these days, than when it was. Who is it in these daies seeth not that the blow conpasseth round like a wheele, whereby it hath a longer way to go, but the thrust passeth in a sraight ling, and therefore commeth a nearer way, and done in a shorer time then is the blow and is more deadly than the blow? Therefore there no wife man that will st4rike unless he be wearie of his life. It is certaine, that the point for advantage everie way in fight is to used, the blow is utterly naught and not to be used. He that fighteth upon the (page 18) blow especially with the short sword, wilbe sore hurt or slaine. The devill can say no more for the maintenance of errors.

These counterfeit blows are enough to cary the wisest that know not the true fight from the false, out of the right way.

And if their weapons were short as in times past they were, yet they could not thrust safe at body or face because in gardant fight they fall over, or under the perfect crosse of the sword & to strike beneath the waste or at the legges, is a great disadvantage, because the course of the blow to the legs is too far, & thereby the head, face & body is discovered: and that was the cause in old thimes that they did not thrust nor strike at the legs & not for lacke of skill, as in the dies we imagine. Again, if a man in those daies should have fought with a long sword, they would prsently have put im into Gobbes Trauers.

page 18
( A confutation of their errours)
The blow, by reason that it compasseth round like a wheele, whereby it hath a longer way to come, as the Italian Fenser saith, & that the thrust passin in a straight line, commeth a nearer way and therefore is sooner done then a blow, is not true: these be the proofes.
Let two lie in their perfect strengths and readinesse, wherein the blades of their Rapiers by the motion of the body, may not be crossed of either side, the one to strike, the other to thrust. Then measure the distance or course wherin the hand and hilt passeth to finish the blow of the one and the thrust of the other, and you shall find them both by measure, in distance all one. And leet anie man of judgement being seene in the exercise of weapons, not being more addicted unto movelties of fight, then unto truth it selfe, put in measure and practice these three fights, variable, open, and guardant, and he shall see, that shensoever anie man lyeth at the thrust upon the vieable fight, (where of necessitie most commonly he lyeth, or otherwise not possiblie to keepe his Rapier from crossing at the blow & thrust, upon the open or gardant fight,) that the blowes & thrustes from these two fighes, come a nearer way, and a more (page 19) stronger and swifter course then doth the thrust, out of the variable fight. And thus for a generall rule, wheresoever the Thruster lyeth, or out of what fight soever he fighteth, with his Rapier, or Rapier and Dagger, the blow in his course commeth as neare, and nearer, and more swift and stronger then doth the thrust.

Page 19
Perfect fight standeth upon both blow and thrust, therefore the thrust is not only to be used.
(margin note...This is truth cannot be denied)

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Sunday, March 22, 2009


These illustrations were of a display in the Museum of London. They are, of course, all that remains of the equipment of a very well equipped soldier of about 200 AD. Maybe even a bit later since of course, the "provinces" were the last to get the new stuff.

After Roman London was burned, the mighty Speedwell River was sort of accidently filled in by toppling buildings, and it flowed pretty much at random throughout the west end streets. During the re-build, they established a new Western Gateway, called in the usual practical Roman fashion "New Gate", and of course, the street which was carved in a straight line though the rubble is still called "New Gate". The River was eventually vaulted over, but the rubble is still there. And it is still full of bodies, bricks, and all preserving mud.

This fellow was still on duty, refusing to leave his post even though the wild British tribesmen were setting fires all around him. He remained at his post until the early 1960's when a basement had to be extended, and a rescue dig finally relieved him from his duty.

This is what I use for research.

Cool Eh!

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Measured drawings

It seems a century ago, but judging by the white in my beard, maybe not so long ago. A couple of years. This of course, is me, at the Palace Armoury in Malta, actually taking measurements off of a real honest to goodness piece of armour. A smelly job since the armour is covered in grease which has pretty much saponified into a sticky hard shell. The dark rusty look is the grease. Except on the inside, when it is grease and rust mixed.
You NEVER see the backs of armour, and NEVER see the inside. I tried as much as possible to see the inside of armours because, well, that is how you see what goes into their make up.

And when making armours as much as possible, it is important to be as accurate as possible. It is true that many medieval armours are clumsy and maybe don't perform or look quite right...it is even more possible that they knew something I don't.

The curator, Mr. Michael Stroud, has a tremendous love for the armour, and the idea of being able to look after this armour as a job tickles him inordinately. Here he is pointing out a couple of details I never thought about...for instance the surprising height of the rolled edges. Until you actually touch these armours, you can forget details like that. I had lost these particular pictures up until now, and I wish I had had them when I made the replica below. I was just going by the measured drawings, and have no idea why I put so few grooves into the roped edges. Sometimes the drawings are not quite enough!

The armour turned out not too badly. I cleaned it up on the wheel instead of on the planishing anvil.

I think the fancy "filed" bits ended up looking pretty good. I used to wonder how the sliding side pieces would open up again after a cross body swing of the arm, but I discovered that if you make this armour exactly like the original, the metal will actually spring back into position on its own volition. Score another one for historical accuracy. I think I am the first person to ever notice or comment on this rather cool thing. And here I thought it has something to do with the straps dragging it back into place! Shows how you can get into an idee fixe for no good reason.
The rest of the pictures below are just more of the same. Some nice closeups of a piece of work which is not my best, and not my worst either, but it IS something I am quite proud of. An actual measured drawing, made into a replica of the original. I hope to be able to produce more of the same as time goes by.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Expert Swordsmen..


Extracts from an autobiography published in Glasgow in 1728;"The Expert Swordsman's Companion" or "The True Art of Self Defence"

The author, Donald McBane, (also known as McBain) kept an ale-house and a School of Arms in London.

Donald McBane's book portrays with gritty realism the life of a soldier of The Royal Scots in Europe under Marlborough. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) was the first major "world" war of modern times. At first he tramped for seven weeks along the Rhine and the Main, over the Pass of Geislingen into the valley of the Danube, down that river to the Schellenburg, over that river into the heart of Bavaria, and back again to Blenheim village in the year 1704. Twenty years later at the age of 63 he sat down to remember and write.
The full title of this now most rare book is: The Expert Sword-man's Companion; or the True Art of Self-Defence. With an Account of the Author's Life and his Transactions during the Wars with France. To which is annexed, The Arts of Gunnerie. Illustrated with 22 etched copper plates. By Donald McBane. Published Glasgow, 1728.


Early life in the Highlands

Donald McBane hailed from Inverness, and in 1687 ran away from his apprenticeship as a tobacco spinner to enlist in one of the Independent Companies within the Army, Captain Mackenzie's Company. He indulged in some fighting between the clans of Macdonald and Macintosh, who used sword and target, and Lochaber axes, and wooden-handled bayonets in the muzzle of the guns. When his company was disbanded he took service in Colonel Grant's Regiment in the pay of King William, who had to oppose the Highland clans fighting for King James at the Pass of Killiecrankie. Again his unit was disbanded, and he joined Colonel Forbes's Regiment, where an old soldier was ordered to take care of Donald and "manage his pay" for him, with the result that Donald saw little of it. When he complained to an officer he was told to fight out the dispute, as was the custom at that time.

Fencing lessons

Donald thereupon paid a sergeant for private instruction in swordsmanship, borrowed a sword,and then fought his "govenor", who beat him, took his sword and pawned it. Undeterred, Donald took more lessons in small sword versus broad sword, and another bout ended in Donald's victory - and his sword was returned. "I then became master of my own pay - and his likeways"

By 1692 Donald owned his own sword and practised at the fencing schools, publicly beating the other fencing scholars. Then, on a mission to escort a draft of soldiers bound for Flanders he got carried off from Leith (at Edinburgh) to Haversluys by mischance. From there he marched to Maestricht and thence to Brussels, where the British Army was camped. Here he attached himself to Lord Orkney's Royal Regiment and in 1695 as a Royal Scot he stormed Namur with the other British regiments and recovered from his wounds at Brussels. Next year, at Rotterdam, he was discovered by his former Captain, who exchanged Donald for two other men and took him back to Fort William.

A Duel

In 1697 at the Peace of Ryswick his company was disbanded again so he went home to Inverness. he did not want to carry on with his apprenticeship , and so with his mother's blessing, twenty shillings and a new suit of clothes, he set out to seek his fortune. He got no further than Perth before he enlisted in the Earl of Angus's Regiment to serve as a pikeman. Shortly afterwards his corporal accused him of absence off guard, and punished him with a beating. Donald's honour as a soldier was at stake and he challenged the corporal to a duel. During the fight he gave the corporal a mortal wound, and because duelling was illegal had to flee for his life. But such was the code of honour at the time that his captain, and the dying corporal himself, aided his escape with money for a journey to Glasgow.
On the way he was caught by a recruiting party at Stirling who tried to "impress" him. But they had underestimated Donald and had to beg his pardon before hurrying off to get their wounds dressed. At Glasgow he enlisted in the Royal Regiment of Scots, then stationed at Dublin. He marched from Carrickfergus, and, finding his pay very small, put on civilian clothes to court a young woman he met on the way. Soon he got into trouble with not only her "husband" but the landlord and constable too, and had to get away. Then when he reappeared with his comrades dressed in Army red livery, the "husband" finding he had to deal with a soldier, and fearing bloodshed, abandoned the unfortunate woman. Donald became an assiduous student at a French school (in Dublin) where sword and foil often clashed until blood was drawn, and then a drink or two re-sealed friendship. The Royal Scots went from Dublin to Limerick and Donald was billeted at a farm. The farmer had a daughter who had twenty shillings to her name. Donald and his friends arranged for a priest and tricked her into believing she had married him. Her twenty shillings was spent on a wedding dinner and the rest spent on a few weeks good living until marching orders came. At his next school Donald fell out with his master about his sister, and the usual duel ensued. So proficient a swordsman had our Royal Scot become that he set up his own school at Limerick. Then the regiment marched to Cork in order to embark for Holland. On the way it seems that Donald was seen as something of a liability by his captain who detailed a sergeant and four men to guard him in case he deserted. Actually the captain had misjudged; the escort deserted Donald.

(And his story goes on and on and on from here. What a guy! He makes Tom Jones and Richard Sharpe seem like boring old biddies! The rest of Donald McBain's story makes rattlin' good reading, and can be found on the official Royal Scot's site here.

After many tremendous and varied adventures, he finally retires, after fighting a duel in Edinburgh. At the age of 63.

Please visit it, and I hope you get as big a chuckle out of it as I did. Let me know what you think of him! Unlike Horatio Hornblower and Richard Sharpe though, Donald McBaine was a real person.)

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Susanna's armour, all finished.

Here it is, the two piece sixteen gauge front, the three piece sixteen gauge back, and the four piece sixteen gauge faulds with custom tassetts. The finish is not high gloss by any means, in fact, it is sanded with coarse grit, then coated with high gloss lacquer. The coarse grit will allow photographs, and it is the cheapest...any further sanding would end up being much more expensive. And why should she pay me for doing a job that she is perfectly capable of doing herself, and probably will have to after a summer in Whisby.

What do you think Susanna? Is it what you had in mind?
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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Susanna's Armour reprised

click on these images to enlarge. Above is a rather dark picture of the four lame faulds. Because Susanna has a very high waist, I made four lames in this fauld, which required a 12 foot ball on the English wheel instead of the usual 10 foot ball. I think it looks good. If its STILL not long enough, I am sure she will tell me, and get me to add more lames!
Here is the faulds from the front. I think the green leather 3/4 inch buckles look really nice. The whole assembly is rucked up a bit, when they are held up, the tassets form a nice arch. I like the way the flutes look, and I especially like the look of the top of the faulds...that long sweep to a tiny centre notch is visually stunning. I got the design from one of the armours which participated in the battle of Wakefield. (research pics of that are in the archives here.) Its easy to do, and the result looks great. What I didn't do was any sort of roll or flare at the bottom. And they are not really all that short....they are wider than usual...in fact, they are wide enough to go right to the end of the faulds.

You remember (if you have been following along) that Susanna is working in a second language, and her measurements were a little off. She had given me too long a measurement in front, and too short a measurement in back. Not her fault, and when I questioned her on it, she re-did them. Unfortunately, the plaquart was about three fingers width too short. This plaquart was made originally her armour, but we had put it aside when we discovered it was too short, and had made the longer one. Which in turn turned out to be too short. So rather than fight to make a whole new armour, I just added that middle piece in, and went with the original shorter placquart. The problem was getting the fluting to all line up.

The other thing was the exposed picadills. Having the picadills exposed like this is new, but perfectly period. I really like them. And if Susanna decides she really does not like them, well, they can be easily cut off with a single edge razor blade.

Above is the breastplate....assembled and awaiting the installation of the front straps. All picadilled but not sanded. It needs a nice sanding, make it look better and less "wheeled". Now all I have to do is to find the buckles...I had put them down somewhere and now I can't find them. Oh well, they are around someplace!

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