George Silver. Paradoxes of Defence. London. 1599

(10) A Brief Note on Three Italian Teachers of Offense (30)

There were three Italian teachers of offense in my time. The first was Signior Rocco, the second was Jeronimo, that was Senior Rocco his boy, that taught gentlemen in the Black Friars, as usher for his master in stead of a man. The third was Vincentio. This Senior Rocco came into England about some thirty years past. He taught the noblemen & gentlemen of the court. He caused some of them to wear leaden soles in their shoes, the better to bring to nimbleness of the feet in their fight. He disbursed a great sum of money for the lease of a fair house in Warwick lane, which he called his college, for he thought it great disgrace for him to keep a fence school, he being then thought to be the only famous master of the art of arms in the whole world. He caused to be fairly drawn and set round about his school all the noblemen's and gentlemen's arms that were his scholars, amd hanging right under their arms their rapiers, daggers, gloves of mail and gauntlets. Also, he has benches and stools, the room being very large, for gentlemen to sit round about his school to behold his teaching. He taught none commonly under twenty, forty, fifty, or a hundred pounds. And because all things should be very necessary for the noblemen & gentlemen, he had in his school a large square table, with a green carpet, done round with a very broad rich fringe of gold, always standing upon it a very fair Standish covered with crimson velvet, with ink, pens, pen-dust, and sealing wax, and quivers of very excellent fine paper gilded, ready for the noblemen & gentlemen (upon occasion) to write their letters, being then desirous to follow their fight, to send their men to dispatch their business. And to know how the time passed, he had in one corner of his school a clock, with very fair large dial. He had within his school, a room the which was called the privy school, with many weapons therein, where he did teach his scholars his secret fight, after he had perfectly taught them their rules. He was very much beloved in the court.

There was one Austin Bagger, a very tall gentleman of his hands, not standing much upon his skill, but carrying the valiant heart of an Englishman, upon a time being merry among his friends, said he would go fight with Signior Rocco, presently went to Signior Rocco his house in the Blackfriers, and called to him in this manner: Signior Rocco, you are thought to be the only cunning man in the world with your weapon, you that takes upon yourself to hit any Englishman with a thrust upon any button, you that takes upon yourself to come over the sea, to teach the valiant noblemen and gentlemen of England to fight, you cowardly fellow, come out of your house if you dare for your life, I am come to fight with thee. Signior Rocco, looking out at a window, perceiving him in the street to stand ready with his sword and buckler, with his two hand sword drawn, with all speed ran into the street, and manfully let fly at Austin Bagger, who most bravely defended himself, and presently closed with him, and struck up his heels, and cut him over the breech, and trod upon him, and most grievously hurt him under his feet. Yet in the end Austin of his good nature gave him his life, and there left him. This was the first and last fight that ever Signior Rocco made, save once at Queen Hith he drew his rapier upon a waterman, where he was thoroughly beaten with oars and stretchers, but the odds of their weapons were as great against his rapier, as was his two hand sword against Austin Bagger's sword and buckler, therefore for that fray he was to be excused.

Then came Vincentio and Jeronimo, they taught rapier fight at the court, at London, and in the country, by the space of seven or eight years or thereabouts. These two Italian fencers, especially Vincentio, said Englishmen were strong men, but had no cunning, and they would go back too much in their fight, which was great disgrace unto them. Upon these words of disgrace against Englishmen, my brother Toby Silver and myself, made challenge against them both, to play with them at the single rapier, rapier and dagger, the single dagger, the single sword, the sword and target, the sword and buckler, & two hand sword, the staff, battle axe, and Morris pike, to be played at the Bell Savage upon the scaffold, where he that went in his fight faster back than he ought, of Englishmen or Italian, should be in danger to break his neck off the scaffold. We caused to that effect, five or six score bills of challenge to be printed, and set up from Southwarke to the Tower, and from thence throughout London unto Westminster, we were at the place with all these weapons at the time appointed, within a bow shot of their fence school. Many gentlemen of good account, carried many of the bills of challenge unto them, telling them that now the Silvers were at the place appointed, with all their weapons, looking for them, and a multitude of people there to behold the fight, saying unto them, now come and go with us (you shall take no wrong) or else you are shamed for ever. Do the gentlemen what they could, these gallants would not come to the place of trial. I verily think their cowardly fear to answer this challenge, had utterly shamed them indeed, had not the masters of Defence of London, within two or three days after, been drinking of bottled ale hard by Vincentio's school, in a hall where the Italians must of necessity pass through to go to their school, and as they were coming by, the masters of Defence did pray them to drink with them. But the Italians being very cowardly, were afraid, and presently drew their rapiers. There was a pretty wench standing by, that loved the Italians. She ran with outcry into the street: "Help! Help! The Italians are like to be slain." The people with all speed came running into the house, and with their capes and such things as they could, parted the fray, for the English masters of Defence, meant nothing less than to soil their hands upon these two faint hearted fellows. The next morning after, all the court was filled, that the Italian teachers of fence had beaten all the masters of defence in London, who set upon them in a house together. This won the Italian fencers their credit again, and thereby got much, still continuing their false teaching to the end of their lives.

The Vincentio proved himself a stout man not long before he died, that it might be seen in his lifetime he had been a gallant, and therefore no marvel he took upon him so highly to teach Englishmen to fight, and to set forth books of the feats of arms. Upon a time at Wels in Somersetshire, as he was in great bravery among the many gentlemen of good account, with great boldness he gave out speeches, that he had been thus many years in England, and since the time of his first coming, there was not yet one Englishman, that could touch him at the single rapier, or the rapier and dagger. A valiant gentleman being there among the rest, his English heart did rise to hear this proud boaster, secretly sent a messenger to one Bartholomew Bramble, a friend of his, a very tall man of both his hands and person, who kept a school of defence in the town. The messenger by the way made the master of defence acquainted with the mind of the gentleman that sent for him, and of all what Vincentio had said. This master of defence presently came, and among all the gentlemen with his cap off, prayed master Vincentio, that he would be pleased to take a quart of wine with him.Vincentio very scornfully looking upon him, said unto him: "Wherefore should you give me a quart of wine?" "Merry sir" said he, "because I hear you are a famous man at your weapon." Then presently said the gentleman that sent for the master of defence: "He is a man of your profession." "My profession?" said Vincentio, "What is my profession?" Then said the the gentleman, "He is a master of the noble science of defence." "Why," said Vincentio "God made him a good man." But the master of defence would not thus leave him, but prayed him again he would be pleased to take a quart of wine of him. Then said Vincentio: "I have no need of your wine." Then said the master of defence: "Sir I have a school of defence in the town, will it please you to go thither?" "Your school?" said master Vincentio, "What shall I do at your school?" "Play with me (said the master) at the rapier and dagger, if it please you." "Play with you?" said master Vincentio,"If I play with you, I will hit you 1, 2, 3, 4 thrusts in the eye together." Then said the master of defence: "If you can do so, it is the better for you, and the worse for me, but surely I can hardly believe that you can hit me. But yet once again I heartily pray you good sir, that you will go to my school and play with me." "Play with you?" said master Vincentio (very scornfully), "by God let me scorn to play with you." With the word scorn, the master of defence was very much moved, and up with his great English fist, and struck master Vincentio such a box on the ear that he fell over and over, his legs just against a buttery hatch, whereon stood a great black jack. The master of defence fearing the worst, against Vincentio his rising, caught the black jack into his hand, being more than half full of beer. Vincentio lustily started up, laying his hand upon his dagger, & with the other hand pointed with his finger, saying, very well: "I will cause to lie in the Gaile for this geare(?), 1, 2, 3, 4 years." And well said the master of defence: "Since you will drink no wine, will you pledge me in beer? I drink to all cowardly knaves in England, and I think you to be the very most coward of them all." With that he cast all the beer upon him, notwithstanding Vincentio having nothing but his gilt rapier, and dagger about him, and the other for his defence the black jack, would not at that time fight it out: but the next day met with the master of defence in the street, and said unto him: "you remember how misused a me yesterday, you were to blame, me being an excellent man, me teach you to thrust two feet further than any Englishman, but first come you with me." Then he brought him to a mercers shop, and said to the mercer: "Let me see your best silken points." The mercer then did presently show him some of seven groats a dozen. Then he paid fourteen groats for two dozen, and said to the master of defence: "There is one dozen for you, and one dozen for me." This was one of the valiant fencers that came from beyond the seas, to teach Englishmen how to fight, and this was one of the many frays, that I have heard of, that ever he made in England, wherein he showed himself a far better man in his life, than in his profession he was. For he professed arms, but in his life a better Christian. He set forth in print a book for the use of the rapier and dagger, the which he called his practice, I have read it over, and because I find therein neither true rule for the perfect teaching of the true fight, nor true ground of the true fight, neither sense nor reason for due proof thereof. I have thought it frivolous to recite any part therein contained: yet that the truth thereof may appear, let two men being well experienced in the rapier and dagger fight, chose any of the best branches in the same book, & make trial with force and agility, without which the truth between the true & false fight cannot be known, & they shall find great imperfections therein. And again, for proof that there is no truth, neither in his rules, grounds or rapier fight, let trial be made in this manner(31). Set two unskillful men together at the rapier and dagger, being valiant, and you shall see, that once in two bouts there shall either one or both of them be hurt. Then set two skillful men together, being valiant at the rapier and dagger, and they shall do the like. Then set a skillful rapier and dagger man, the best that can be had, and valiant man having no skill together at rapier & dagger, and once in two bouts upon my credit in all the experience I have in fight, the unskillful man, do the other what he can for his life for the contrary, shall hurt him, and most commonly if it were in continuance of fight, you shall see the unskillful man to have the advantage. And if I should choose a valiant man for service of the prince, or to take part with me or any friend of mine in a good quarrel, I would chose the unskillful man, because unencumbered with false fights, because such a man stands free in his valor with strength and agility of body, freely takes the benefit of nature, fights most brave, by loosing no opportunity, either soundly to hurt his enemy, or defend himself. But the other standing for his defence, upon cunning Italian wards, Punta reversa, the Imbrocata, Stocata, and being fast tied unto these false fights, stands troubled in his wits, and nature thereby racked through the largeness or false lyings or spaces, whereby he is in his fight as a man half maimed, loosing the opportunity of times and benefit of nature, & whereas before being ignorant of these false rapier fights, standing in the free liberty of nature given to him by God, he was able in the field with his weapons to answer the most valiant man in the world, but now being tied unto that false, fickle uncertain fight, thereby has lost in nature his freedom, is now become scarce half a man, and every boy in that fight is become as good a man as himself.

Jeronimo: this gallant was valiant, and would fight indeed, and did, as you shall hear. He being in a coach with a wench that he loved well, there was one Cheese, a very tall man, in his fight natural English, for he fought with his sword and dagger, and in rapier fight had no skill at all. This Cheese having a quarrel to Jeronimo, overtook him upon the way, himself being on horseback, did call to Jeronimo, and bade him come forth of the coach or he would fetch him, for he was come to fight with him. Jeronimo presently went forth of the coach and drew his rapier and dagger, put himself into his best ward or Stocata, which ward was taught by himself and Vincentio, and by them best allowed of, to be the best ward to stand upon in fight for life, either to assault the enemy, or stand and watch his coming, which ward it should seem he ventured his life upon, but howsoever with all the fine Italianated skill Jeronimo had, Cheese with his sword within two thrusts ran him into the body and slew him. Yet the Italian teachers will say, that an Englishman cannot thrust straight with a sword, because the hilt will not suffer him to put the forefinger upon the blade, nor to hold the pommel in the hand, whereby we are of necessity to hold fast the handle in the hand. By reason whereof we are driven to thrust both compass and short, whereas with the rapier they can thrust both straight and much further than we can with the sword, because of the hilt. And these are the reasons they make against the sword.


Released: November 09, 1998 / Last modified: December 12, 2008