George Silver. Paradoxes of Defence. London. 1599

Dedication To the Right Honorable Robert, Earle of Essex...

To the Right Honorable my singular good lord, Robert, Earle of Essex and Ewe, Viscount Hereford, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, Bourghchier and Louain, Master of the Queenes Majseties horse, Knight of the most noble order of the Garter, and one of her Highnesse most honorable Privie Councell.

Fencing (Right honorable) in this new fangled age, is like our fashions, every day a change, resembling the chameleon, who alters himself into all colors save white. So fencing changes into all wards save the right. That it is so, experience teaches us, why it is so, I doubt not but your wisdom does conceive. There is nothing permanent that is not true, what can be true that is uncertain? How can that be certain, that stands upon uncertain grounds? The mind of man a greedy hunter after truth, finding the seeming truth but changing, not always one, but always diverse, forsakes the supposed, to find out the assured certainty, and searching everywhere save where it should, meets with all save what it would. Who seeks & finds not, seeks in vain. Who seeks in vain, must if he will find seek again, yet all in vain. Who seeks not what he would, as he should, and where he should, as in other things (Right Honorable), so in fencing: the mind desirous of truth, hunts after it, and hating falsehood, flies from it, and therefore having missed it once, it assays the second time. If then he thrives not, he tries another way. When he has failed, he adventures on the third & if all these fail him, yet he never fails to change his weapon, his fight, his ward, if by any means he may compass what he most affects, for because men desire to find out a true defence for themselves in their fight, therefore they seek it diligently, nature having taught us to defend ourselves, and Art teaching us how, and because we miss it in one way, we change to another. But though we often chop and change, turn and return, from ward to ward, from fight to fight, in this constant search, yet we never rest in any, and that because we never find the truth, and therefore we never find it, because we never seek it in that weapon where it may be found. For, to seek for a true defence in an untrue weapon, is to angle on the earth for fish, and to hunt in the sea for hares. Truth is ancient though it seems an upstart. Our forefathers were wise, though our age accounts them foolish, valiant though we repute them cowards. They found out the true defences for their bodies in short weapons by their wisdom, they defended themselves and subdued their enemies, and those weapons with their valor(1). And (Right Honorable) if we have this true defence, we must seek it where is is, in short swords, short staves, the half pike, partisans, glaives, or such like weapons of perfect lengths, not in long swords, long rapiers, nor frog pricking poniards: for if there is no certain grounds for defence, why do they teach it? If there be, why have they not found it? Not because it is not so. To say so, were to gainsay the truth. But because it is not certain in those weapons which they teach.

To prove this, I have set forth these my Paradoxes, different I confess from the main current of our outlandish teachers, but agreeing I am well assured to the truth, and tending as I hope to the honor of our English nation. The reason which moved me to adventure so great a task, is the desire I have to bring the truth to light, which has a long time lain hidden in the cave of contempt, while we like degenerate sons, have forsaken our forefathers virtues with their weapons, and have lusted like men sick of a strange ague, after the strange vices and devices of Italian, French, and Spanish fencers, little remembering, that these apish toys could not free Rome from Brennius's sack, not France from the King Henry the Fifth his conquest. To this desire to find out truth the daughter of time, begotten of Bellona, I was also moved, that by it I might remove the great loss of our English gallants, which we daily suffer by these imperfect fights, wherein none undertake the combat, be his cause never so good, his cunning never so much, his strength and agility never so great, but his virtue was tied to fortune Happy man, happy dolt, kill or be killed is the dreadful issue of the devilish imperfect fight. If the man were now alive, which beat the masters for the scholars fault, because he had no better instructed him, these Italian fencers could not escape his censure, who teach us offense, not defence, and to fight, as Diogenes' scholars were taught to dance, to bring their lives to an end by Art. Was Ajax a coward because he fought with a seven folded buckler, or are we mad to go naked into the field to try our fortunes, not our virtues. Was Achilles a runaway, who wore that well tempered armor, or are we desperate, who care for nothing but to fight, and learn like the the pygmies, with bodkins, or weapons of like defence? Is it valorous for a man to go naked against his enemy? Why then did the Lacedemonians punish him as desperate, whom they rewarded for his valor with a laurel crown? But that which is most shameful, they teach men to butcher one another here at home in peace, wherewith they cannot hurt their enemies abroad in war(2). For, you honor well knows, that when the battle is joined, there is no room for them to draw their bird-spits, and when they have them, what can they do with them? Can they pierce his corslet with the point? Can they unlace his helmet, unbuckle his armor, hew asunder their pikes with a Stocata, a Reversa, a Dritta, a Stramason or other such tempestuous terms? No, these toys are fit for children, not for men, for straggling boys of the camp, to murder poultry, not for men of honor to try the battle with their foes.

Thus I have (Right Honorable) for the trial of the truth, between the short sword and the long rapier, for the saving of the lives of our English gallants, who are sent to certain death by their uncertain fights, & for abandoning of that mischievous and imperfect weapon, which serves to kill our friends in peace, but cannot much hurt our foes in war, have I at this time given forth these Paradoxes to the view of the world. And because I know such strange opinions had need of stout defence, I humbly crave your Honorable protection, as one in whom the true nobility of our victorious ancestors has taken up residence. It will suit to the rest of your Honors most noble complements, to maintain the defence of their weapons whose virtues you profess. It agrees with your Honorable disposition, to receive with favor what is presented with love. It sorts well with your Lordship's high authority, to weigh with reason, what is fit for marshal men. It is an unusual point of your Honor, which wins your Lordship love in your country, to defend the truth in whomsoever, and it adds a supply to that which your Lordship have of late begun to your unspeakable honor and inestimable benefit, to reduce the wearing of swords with hilts over the hands(3), to the Roman discipline, no longer then they might draw them under their arms, or over their shoulders. In all or any of these respects, I rest assured that your Lordship will vouchsafe to receive with favor and maintain with honor these Paradoxes of mine, which if they be shrouded under so safe a shield, I will not doubt but to maintain with reason among the wise, and prove it by practice upon the ignorant, that there is no certain defence in the rapier, and that there is great advantage in the short sword against the long rapier, or all manner of rapiers in general, of what length soever. And that the short staff has the advantage against the long staff of twelve, fourteen, sixteen or eighteen feet long, or of what length soever. And against two men with their swords and daggers, or two rapiers, poniards & gauntlets, or each of them a case of rapiers, which whether I can perform or not, I submit for trial to your Honors martial censure, being at all times ready to make it good, in what manner, and against what man soever it shall stand upon your Lordship's good liking to appoint.

And so I humbly commend this book to your Lordship's wisdom to peruse, and your Honor to the Highest to protect in all health and happiness now and ever Your Honors in all duty,

George Silver    

Last modified: November 09, 2008