Old Sword-Play

Captain Alfred Hutton

Editor's Note

The following work was part of a flowering of interest in European martial arts that occured a more than a century ago. I won't speculate as to why it happened at that time, except to note that Hutton was a contemporary of Sir Walter Scott.

Hutton was part of a triad of great Victorian scholars of the sword, the other two being Sir Richard Burton and Egerton Castle. Burton's Book of the Sword is still in print and is worth getting. Castle's Schools and Masters of Fence is no longer in print, but copies of a 30-year-old reprint can still be found in used book circles. A Xerox of Schools and Masters can be had from Patri Pugliese. Hutton's other book, The Sword and the Centuries, is currently in reprint and available from Barnes and Noble. Scholars of swordsmanship ought to look into getting copies of all the above books, not only for whatever information they may give on swordsmanship, but also as a solid summary of Victorian attitudes regarding that subject.

As a Victorian, Hutton partakes of all the limitations of his school. He completely discounts all swordsmanship before the 16th century. He takes a progressive view of swordsmanship, which presumes evolution towards greater and greater "perfection", although he does not show this nearly as heavily as do Burton or Castle. He also is very prone to extending the techniques of his own time and school into the past, whether or not it was appropriate. However, taking these limitations into account, the following work is an adequate introduction to the techniques of swordplay of the 16th through 18th centuries--provided the student goes on beyond Hutton.

This HTML edition is to bring this very rare work to a much broader audience. I have annoted where I felt that Hutton's terminology may be confusing to a casual reader or he has gone very far across the line into Victorianism. If you have any comments, please contact me at bjm10@cornell.edu. you can also visit the Brotherhood of St. Gregory to locate groups that partake of old swordplay. In addition, a Webzine, the Academy of Arms Online Quarterly, features research articles on all aspects of Western swordsmanship. Finally, I wish to acknowledge the invaluable teaching of Maitre d'Armes d'Escrime Adam A. Crown. My knowledge of the sword is but what a mediocre student has been able to remember from his lessons and pales beside his.

I now leave you to the estimable Captain:


THE ensuing lessons on "Old Sword-Play" have been compiled from the works of various authors of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries; and it has been my intention so to arrange them as to make the antique methods accessible to the student without the labour of searching the pages of books in various languages, many of which are very difficult to procure [Copies of several original manuscripts can currently be had from Patri Pugliese. Translations of some of these manuals into English can now be had from William Wilson.], and much more so to understand. There are those who affect to ridicule the study of obsolete weapons, alleging that it is of no practical use [Plus ca change...]; everything, however, is useful to the Art of Fence which tends to create an interest in it, and certain is it that such contests as "Rapier and Dagger," Two-hand Sword," or "Broadsword and Handbuckler," are a very great embellishment to the somewhat monotonous proceedings of the ordinary "assault of arms."

The "Combinations" will be found extremely useful as forms of "set play" for combats on the the dramatic stage. [Practitioners of Asian martial arts and very traditional schools of Classical fencing will recognize Hutton's combinations as "kata" or "etudes".]

I presuppose that, before turning his attention to the swordsmanship of bygone centuries, our student will have made himself reasonably proficient in the use of the modern arms--the foil and the sabre--under the tuition of some competent master. [The epee was not yet acceptable in the salle at the time Hutton wrote.]


Table of Contents
The Two-Hand Sword
Rapier and Dagger
Broadsword and Buckler
Rapier and Cloak
Dagger and Cloak
The Case of Rapiers
The Transition Period (Under Construction)
The Eighteenth Century (Currently needs pictures scanned)