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The weapon

French Smallsword, c. 1750

The Hilt of an Original French Smallsword from the Mid-1700s.

The smallsword is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood among historical weapons. Traditionally associated with effeminate 18th-Century fops, it has been often maligned as being little more than male jewelry. Also, the 18th Century lies on the chronological edge of many students of history, thus making the weapon used in that time a passing curiosity at best.

As a weapon, the smallsword was developed in the second half of the 17th Century, and that saw its apogee in the next. It has a simple hilt very often consisting of a small bi-valve plate, a knucklebow, a short quillon and two small arms.

The blade of a typical 18th-Century smallsword measures around 31 or 32 inches in length, and is almost essentially designed for the thrust. For this reason, many smallswords had a triangular-section blade with an extremely sharp point. Others had a rather wide forte and a sudden narrowing around the first third, again ending with a very sharp point (this is known as “Colichemarde” or “Frantopino”). Others yet had a flattened diamond-section blade and retained a very basic cutting ability; a slightly broader version of this sword is known as “Spadroon,” and throughout the 18th Century it could be seen at the side of military officers.

Weight of a smallsword is often around 1lb, making it extremely maneuverable and very little fatiguing to the arm compared to a rapier.

Suggestions for further reading and discussion:

Our smallsword work

This is the only weapon we study through non-Italian sources, the treatises from which we derive our material all belonging to the French school: Liancour (1686), Girard (1740) and Olivier (1771).

The attack of Carte-Over-Arm

The Typical French Smallsword Attack: the Carte Over the Arm.

French smallsword-play features a striking outward elegance, combined with speed, exactness of motion and pinpoint accuracy. Furthermore, it is one of the most complete and effective systems of which we have evidence. While it retains many Italianate elements from the 17th Century, French smallsword evolves around a standardized National curriculum to become one of the best-known fencing traditions in Europe. It also has its own peculiar terminology and some of the most idiosyncratic actions in the history of fencing.

As with our other weapons, our French smallsword studies are strictly from the analysis of historical texts.

Last Updated: 28-Oct-11