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«THE HISTORY OF THE RAPIER The Culture and Construction of the Renaissance Weapon An Interactive Qualifying Project Report Submitted to the Faculty of ...»

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The Culture and Construction of the Renaissance Weapon

An Interactive Qualifying Project Report

Submitted to the Faculty

of the


in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the

Degree of Bachelor of Science


Robert Correa

Andrew Daudelin

Mark Fitzgibbon

Eric Ostrom

15 October 2013

Submitted to:

Professor Diana A. Lados Mr. Tom H. Thomsen Abstract At the end of the Middle Ages, weapons began to be used not only on the battlefield, but for civilian use as well. The rapier became the essential self-defense weapon of the “Renaissance man.” This project explores the evolution and manufacture of the rapier through history. This cut-and-thrust sword was manufactured by artisans who had to develop new methods of crafting metal in order to make the thin, light blade both durable and ductile. To study this process, a rapier was constructed using classical methods. Upon the completion of the replica, its material properties were studied using a surface microscope. The project also included contributing to the WPI Arms and Armor website.

ii Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank Professor Diana Lados and Mr. Tom Thomsen for creating the Evolution of Arms and Armor Interactive Qualifying Project. Their guidance and assistance were invaluable throughout the project experience.

A huge thanks also to Josh Swalec and Ferromorphics Blacksmithing. The expertise of Mr. Swalec and others at Ferromorphics was key to learning smithing techniques and using them to construct a replica of a rapier in the Renaissance style. Mr. Swalec opened the doors of his shop to us and was welcoming every step of the way.

Thanks to Professor Jeffrey Forgeng and to the Higgins Armory Museum for granting access to their grand stock of historical texts. The museum library was an incredible resource for the research that went into this paper.

Finally, thanks to Dr. Boquan Li for his comprehensive instruction on mounting and preparing metal samples for study. Plenty of things can go wrong in a lab setting, but Dr. Li's counsel ensured that everything went well.

Once again, thank you to everyone for your help and guidance.

iii Table of Contents Abstract

ii Acknowledgements

iii Table of Contents

iv List of Figures

vi List of Tables


ix Authorship 1.



2 2.

History of the Rapier 2.1.

Defining the Rapier

2 2.2.

The Origins of Renaissance

2 3.

Schools of Combat

4 3.1.


4 3.2.

England: The London Masters


–  –  –


A New Kind of Sword


11 5.

Culture of the Rapier 5.1.

The Mentality of the Duelists

11 5.2.

The Tradition of the Duel

13 6.

Combat with the Rapier

14 6.1.


17 6.2.

Rapier and Dagger

17 6.3.

Rapier and Cloak

18 6.4.

Rapier and Buckler


20 7.

Dimensions of a Rapier

–  –  –




23 8.2.

Forging the Blade 8.3.

Treating the Blade

24 8.4.

The Hilt


25 9.

Recreating the Rapier 9.1.

Materials Used

27 9.2.

Metallurgical Analysis of the Steel Samples

30 9.3.


43 10.


48 Works Cited

50 Figure References

52 Figure 3:

Late 16th Century engraving of the fencing school at the University of Leyden, in the Netherlands (Anglo).


–  –  –

Figure 5:

Rapiers were not cutting weapons (website:

Clements “Questions”).

16 Figure 6:

A rapier and dagger duel (website:

Clements “Questions”).

18 Figure 7:

Rapier and cloak (website:

Clements “Questions”).

19 Figure 8:

Rapier and buckler (Castle, p.20).

20 Figure 9:

Various examples of sword cross sections (website:


21 Figure 10:

The cross section of an beam (website:


21 Figure 11:

The parts of the hilt (website:

“What is the Rapier?”).

22 Figure 12:

A forge and bellows (website:

“16th Century”).

23 Figure 14:

Solidworks assembly of the rapier replica.

26 Figure 15:

Solidworks drawings of the rapier replica with estimated dimensions (in inches).


26 Figure 16:

Plywood facing for hilt.

28 Figure 17:

Suede lace for hilt decoration.

29 Figure 18:

Tennis grip for hilt grip.

29 Figure 19:

Athletic tape for hilt assembly.

29 Figure 20:

The steel samples with quarter for scale.


Unforged steel.


Heated and shaped steel.

30 Figure 21:

Blacksmith's work area with the blade heating in propane furnace.

31 Figure 22:

Furnace heated steel on the anvil.

31 Figure 23:

Peening the blade.


–  –  –

Figure 25:

The tip of the sword.

33 Figure 26:

The forged blade.

34 Figure 27:

The finished hilt mount.

The copped was heated and bent around the pipes.

34 Figure 28:

The hilt coiling process.

35 Figure 29:

Using the acetylene torch while the copper is bent around the form.

35 Figure 30:

The coiled copper.

36 Figure 31:

The crossguard after being coiled.

36 Figure 32:

Annealing of the crossguard.

37 Figure 33:

The finished crossguard.

37 Figure 34:

Sketch of the knuckle guards on sheet steel.

38 Figure 35:

Back plate in the cutting process.

38 Figure 36:

Rough cutouts of the head guard and back piece.

38 Figure 37:

Removing rough edges from the guard pieces.

39 Figure 38:

Finalized knuckle guard cutouts.

39 Figure 39:

The finished knuckle guard.

40 Figure 40:

Preparing the pommel for forging.

40 Figure 41:

The polished pommel.

41 Figure 42:

Beginning of the hilt construction.

41 Figure 43:

Carbon Phase Diagram (ASM).

46 Figure 44:

Microstructure of forged 4140 steel blade.

47 Figure 45:

CCT diagram (website:



–  –  –

Table 2: Steel Chemistry (website: “Simply Tool”)

27 Table 3: Final Replica Budget Breakdown


–  –  –

Robert Correa Defining the Rapier Dimensions Manufacturing Recreating the Rapier Andrew Daudelin History and Culture Schools of Combat Mark Fitzgibbon History and Culture Schools of Combat Duels Eric Ostrom Combat with a Rapier

–  –  –

As part of the Interactive Qualifying Project series “History of Materials in Arms and Armors,” this project is focused on the study of Renaissance-era rapiers. The creation of a replica rapier, using modern materials and technology to imitate historical methods, will aid in the study of the rapier’s material properties. In addition to studying the materials and methods used in their creation, the culture and history surrounding rapiers is investigated. The goal of this project is to attain a more complete understanding of the rapier in its historical context.

Personal swords were introduced into Western European culture at the beginning of the 16th century. Originally used by common folk and guards for self-defense in cities, the rapier would evolve into a status symbol of the gentleman, and the object of study for swordmasters and smiths.

The evolution of the rapier is closely linked with the evolution of the fighting styles that accompanied it. Practical use of the weapon demonstrated that thrusting was a more effective style than the slashing found on a battlefield, and this transition led to a different style of sword.

This in turn resulted in the further development of fighting techniques, as illustrated by the many treatises written on swordplay during the era of the rapier.

This report consists of a record of the history of the Renaissance; a look at the culture of Renaissance nobility who might study swordplay, as well as the masters who taught it; and a summary of the historical construction of rapiers, specifically the methods and materials used.

Finally, a record of the construction of a replica rapier is presented, including an analysis of the material properties of the blade.

–  –  –

A rapier is a long, one-handed, thrusting sword commonly used throughout Western Europe during the 16th century. There are many styles of rapier created in different countries at different times. In general, the weapon consisted of a long, thin blade and an ornate hilt that provided protection for the wielder’s hand. The rapier is associated with a specific historical period, but its form evolved from earlier bladed weapons.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, much of Europe entered a period of destabilization due to invading “barbarian” cultures. The turbulent forces of these Middle Ages caused most people to turn away from the classical Greek and Roman cultures. Feudal systems developed, and knights and other contemporary warriors fought for their lords, while serfs worked in return for protection from invaders. This decentralization of power led to instability in much of Europe for centuries.

In the 13th century, levels of trade began to rise in Europe. The Crusades had created trade routes between European nations, especially Italy, and weakened the Byzantine Empire as an economic rival. Commerce led to improved economic conditions for peasants and feudal lords alike through the 14th and 15th centuries. Lords could rent their land to tenant farmers, who could work toward independence rather than relying on the lord. Participation in trade allowed serfs to pay money as a substitute for their feudal obligations and become tenant farmers themselves. The lords, in turn, could use this money to hire mercenary forces rather than depend on vassals, further weakening the feudal system (Cazel).

–  –  –

was re-centralized. When they could no longer rely on the lords for protection, towns began to create schools of fighting in order to train common folk how to defend themselves and their town. These lower-class schools did not have the wealth to teach the combat characterized by heavy armor and cavalry. Indeed, the creation of the longbow and the polearm and reintroduction of infantry tactics had made mounted combat less effective. As a result, these early schools focused more on teaching technical skill with a variety of weapons. Anyone with the desire and means to learn martial skills could now do so. Such schools became the roots of the middle-class fighting guilds that would spread across Europe and develop fighting techniques through the generations (Castle, p.14).

In the cities that developed in prosperous areas of Europe, more attention could be paid to the arts and sciences. Wealthy families sought to increase their prestige by commissioning sculptures and paintings. As the wealth spread, others could turn their thoughts toward the mysteries of the world. Great thinkers such as Petrarch, Da Vinci, and Galileo emerged. As stability returned, so too did humanity's desire to look inward upon itself and expand its capabilities.

The key thought of the Renaissance was that man could better himself, be it by study or hard work. Swordsmen were not immune to this ideal, and fighting styles continued to develop as knowledge spread across Europe. Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier listed competence in swordplay as an essential aspect of the gentleman. Courtier was one of the most read and influential treatises written in Renaissance Europe. Its wide popularity led some of the same minds who studied arts and science to turn their attention to combat, and sword fighting in particular. For the first time, fighting was studied as a science and respected as an art form.

–  –  –

development meant that the sword was no longer a weapon for use only by knights and nobility.

In the fighting schools that were developed and maintained across the Western world, the common man was welcome to enter and better himself.

–  –  –

To many, Italy characterizes the rebirth and growth of culture that came about during the Renaissance. Despite this, the independent city-states of the Italian peninsula were constantly at odds with each other and outright warfare was common. The fighting schools of the cities reflected this competition, each teaching its own style and fashion. With so little collaboration, Italian swordplay progressed slowly until the 16th century, when the great Italian masters began publishing fencing treatises.

Achille Marozzo was among the first masters to emphasize the use of thrusts in sword combat rather than cuts. Marozzo’s 1536 treatise Opera Nova, which was reprinted a number of times, was the first to describe a variety of grips, stances, and attacks. It should be noted that masters of this time considered a good offense to be the best defense: few parries were described, with special attention being paid to counterattacking ripostes (Castle, pp.35-36).

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