An article on Thomas Page and my views

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An article on Thomas Page and my views

Postby admin » 07 May 2014 17:15

Bethan Jenkins of the Linacre School of Defence wrote this back in 2007:
http://www.sirwilliamhope.org/Library/A ... lising.php

It's a good well-written article, but there are several points in it that I disagree with. Primarily the assumption that Highland broadsword should look different to Lowland and English backsword.

In fact, except for the use of the targe and sometimes dirk, I do not see why Highland broadsword should have been different to English backsword by 1745. The Penicuick Sketches are artistic, but not at all a technical source to be used in comparison to fencing treatises. If you look at 19thC English romantic art of Victorian swordsmen fighting 'savages' you see the same exagerated positions, but this does not mean that Victorian swordsmen actually fought like that (though some may have abandoned their training under pressure!).

As far as I know, there is no evidence to suggest that the Highland method of swordplay was notably different to English backsword, other than the use of the targe (which Page addresses, uniquely). The Scottish authors we know of - Hope, McBane, Mathewson etc, show systems which are broadly comparable with English backsword and to some extent also early British military sabre and sporting singlestick - they are not the same as each other and suggest differences between fencing masters, rather than a pan-Scottish system, let alone a Highland one.

Several referrences are made in the article to Silver, but there is little to connect Silver in c.1600 to Highland swordsmanship in c.1745. Would we not expect Highland swordsmanship in 1745 to more closely resemble other British sources of the 18th century, rather than an Elizabethan system? And how does Silver really differ: Really just in the greater use of passing footwork, grips and the remnants of one medieval-ish guard position (Open Ward) - his other guard positions are more similar to post-renaissance fencing and already it seems that the majority of his plays are conducted with a right-foot lead (as Swetnam). If we are looking broadly at British sources from c.1600-c.1800 what strikes us is the degree of continuity - the preference in Britain for the point-down hanging guard in various forms with a more or less bent elbow, the same set of guards/parries, the leg-slip and the predominant right-foot-lead.

However, the particular point I wish to address is this - Bethan states:
This mainly involves fencing with the point of the sword forward - this is all well and good for fighting with a smallsword, which is an edgeless thrusting weapon, but of little use with Broadswords, as it does not provide a secure true cross in the parry, and wide-spaces the defender. Of course, if both use the same guard, then both have the same disadvantage. The weight of the weapon, and its purpose, militate against such a guard also - the same guard is seen in nineteenth Century classical sabre fencing of the Hutton school, but works only because the sabre is a lighter, faster weapon, designed for slashing, rather than chopping. McBane uses similar systems; but this is certainly the usage of an officer, or a lowlander, rather than the Highland Gaels.


This I think is just wrong. Point-forward guard positions have been used in cut-and-thrust fencing systems for as long as we are aware - they are in i.33, the earliest fencing treatise, through the longsword and messer treatises and by the rise of the Bolognese school in the 16th century were very important. Becoming even more accentuated after Agrippa with the rise of the rapier. The fact is that military sabres weigh the same as English and Scottish basket-hilted swords. So do sideswords as used in the Bolognese school. Rapiers are often heavier than basket-hilted swords and they are also used to give cuts. So we have a wide range of cutting swords, weighing just as much or more than a Highland broadsword, used with point-forward guards for as long as we know. Hutton's Tierce or Waite's High Seconde see parallels in Marozzo in 1536. This is not a matter of sword weight or not using cutting swords. Cut-and-thrust systems which favour point-foward guards tend to make greater use of the point and tend to give cuts via a moulinette, rather than in a direct line (though they can do the latter as well). However they are perfectly capable of giving very quick and powerful cuts.
For whatever reason, some nationalities were somewhat 'backward' in the use of the point. Britain was famously so. As was the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East.

Moving away from that point I would just finish off by saying once again that it is a nice article, even if I disagree with it. I also think it is unfair to undermine Page's technical writing based on his profession. Most fencing authors have had other sources of income throughout modern history, and if Page's was selling swords, well I don't think that exactly unqualifies him for the job at hand!
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Re: An article on Thomas Page and my views

Postby Bethan J » 07 May 2014 19:49

Thanks for reading and posting the link. Somewhat surprised to see this rear its head after so many years!!

As far as I know, there is no evidence to suggest that the Highland method of swordplay was notably different to English backsword, other than the use of the targe (which Page addresses, uniquely).


Was rather the point of most of the article... The likelihood is that they weren't different, but Page alleged they were so as what one might term a 'unique selling point'...
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Re: An article on Thomas Page and my views

Postby admin » 07 May 2014 22:40

Well the whole 'Highland' factor is one I have been pondering now for about a year and gradually getting my head around the sources more. In short, I currently think that by and large the 'Highland' label was a marketing one, because the various sources that claim a Highland connection don't show anything very different to earlier English backsword and there is variation between them (which undermines the claim to share a common specific root, such as 'Highland').
However, and I think this is Paul Wagner's point, there *may* be some little details that they share which may have been seen as Highland and not very English. Perhaps the slipping of the leg with every parry? Perhaps the weird footwork described in Page? I don't know.
Regardless, whether Page actually had any insight into Highland swordsmanship or not, he was writing in 1746 and includes a section on the sword and targe - that makes him more 'Highland' than pretty much anything else we have. :)

(I've heard that the Highlands of Norfolk are a damp and windy place)
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Re: An article on Thomas Page and my views

Postby Thearos » 08 May 2014 00:18

It's a nice piece, full of lots of primary research. Most surprising is how Th. Page is a sort of huckster, and his "highland swordsmanship" possibly a piece of snake-oil salesmanship.
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Re: An article on Thomas Page and my views

Postby knirirr » 08 May 2014 09:41

admin wrote:Regardless, whether Page actually had any insight into Highland swordsmanship or not, he was writing in 1746 and includes a section on the sword and targe - that makes him more 'Highland' than pretty much anything else we have. :)



I recall commenting some years ago that even if all he'd done was write up a few notes he'd taken based on a chat down the pub with a veteran of the '45 then the information he provides is still our only contemporary information on highland swordplay and is therefore invaluable. Whatever the situation, having more background information on Page is definitely useful.
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Re: An article on Thomas Page and my views

Postby Bethan J » 08 May 2014 10:59

Sorry, had to go away and do dinner/life things. Haven't a huge amount of time to reply, as have deadlines looming, but I did want to address this

I also think it is unfair to undermine Page's technical writing based on his profession. Most fencing authors have had other sources of income throughout modern history, and if Page's was selling swords, well I don't think that exactly unqualifies him for the job at hand!


Was not my intention (and I don't think I did so). The point I was trying to make - perhaps badly, as I keep having to remake it - was that it is at best misleading, at worst wrong, to run straight to the 'interesting bits' (i.e. the fun swordy bits) and ignore the paratextual matter. Certain People at time I originally wrote this were throwing on the kilts and declaring Page a True Heelan' Warrior; yet, there was plenty of clear evidence that Mr. Page was living and working (and selling his swords) in Norwich, if people had looked at it. The paratext also throws in a clue as to why he chose to write that book at that time - selling his wares to the local Artillery Company. A few years later, he writes a book about "Shooting Flying" at a time when he has guns to sell. None of this suggests that he doesn't know what he's talking about - merely that he is a canny marketer.

Another thing I was trying to wrestle with, again with limited success, was the prevalence of I seem to remember being called the 'Hand's Law' school of thought in HEMA. If you look for any length of time, for instance, at eighteenth century linguistic theory, it becomes painfully obvious that writing a book does not at all mean that you are an expert on your subject. You only have to look at the bonkers theories of Rowland Jones http://yba.llgc.org.uk/en/s-JONE-ROW-1722.html towards the end of his career to know that if you could pay for it, you could print it. Yes, Page probably did know something about swords, and this indeed is the closest book we have got to the events of the '45, but it doesn't mean he is right about all of it.

We will certainly have to agree to disagree about the relative merits of the medium guard point forward. Perhaps it should be taken up with the Head of my School... :wink:
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Re: An article on Thomas Page and my views

Postby admin » 08 May 2014 12:59

Oh I greatly dislike the Medium Guard that Hutton adopted from 1889 onwards. But I am a strong exponent of the High Seconde and Tierce with the point presented forwards - the former being very close to the guard now being used by the head of your school. :D

Anyway, once again, thanks for writing the article - post-1600 sources get little enough attention amongst the swathes of medieval bla.
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