Rapier Swords

Used primarily as a civilian sword during the 17th and 18th century, the rapier was considered Europe's most iconic single-handed sword. Although the rapier was designed for civilian use, it became a common military sidearm due to its flexibility and length. 

Early Production

Initially named the espada ropera (translated to 'dress sword' in English), the sword was first forged in Spain around 1500 and had been designed to cut or thrust into opponents. True to its original name, the rapier was also used as a fashion statement by Europe's upper class. It was particularly popular in countries such as Italy, Spain, France, England and Germany. After its inception, many swordsmen would use the weapon to cut and slash opponents but slowly realised it was more effective when thrusting into a foe. This realisation started to become more widespread when an Italian master by the name of Rocco Bonetti, migrated to England in 1570. He began advocating for the sword to be used for thrusting because of its slender build and poor cutting ability despite having a double-edged blade.  

Rapier-Swords

Two variations of the rapier sword used across Europe.

Dimensions and Parts

On average, a rapier blade was 2.5cm wide, 104cm long and weighed 1kg. Each rapier also featured a hilt that was designed to protect the wielder's hand from oncoming attacks. Once it became a commonly used weapon across Europe, the rapier started to evolve and several countries began to create modified hilts. While the majority of the hilts were created as fashion statements, some were invented for additional protection.

Swept-Hilt

In Italy, the swept hilt was extremely popular due to its stylish weave and lightweight handle. 

 

Pappenheimer-Hilt

Unlike the Italians, the Germans primarily used the Pappenheimer hilt that was made famous by German field marshal, Count Pappenheim. Contrary to the swept hilt, the Pappenheimer included a metal guard that was created to shield the webbing between a swordsman's index finger and thumb. 

 

Cupped-Hilt

Guarded hilts were also incorporated by the Spanish. Similarly to the Pappenheimer hilt, Spanish swordsmiths crafted the cupped hilt which protected the entire hand of the wielder instead of only the webbing. 

 

Influence on Fencing

Throughout the 16th and 17th century, swordmasters from across Europe started using rapiers to teach their students the art of fencing. Rapiers were perfect for duelling due to their long and malleable blades. Most of the rapier fencing schools were situated in Italy since the Italian school of swordsmanship favoured the use of the blade. Although Italy had the vast majority, other countries including Germany, Spain and England all hosted rapier fencing schools too. 
Rapier fencing became so prestigious in Europe, that even the great Dutch fencing master, Girard Thibault, opened a swordsmanship school in Spain. Other prominent swordmasters such as Johannes Bruchius and Joseph Swetnam followed his lead and formed rapier fencing schools of their own. 

Featuring In Popular Culture

Rapiers had a huge impact on popular culture and began making it to the silver screen many years after the sword was phased out. A cult classic, The Three Musketeers, had several sword-fighting scenes that incorporated the use of the rapier since it was set in the Early modern period. Following its cinematic debut, the sword also emerged during box-office hits, The Princess Bride and Queen Margot.

After gracing the cinemas, the rapier began to emerge in TV series too. A Canadian action-adventure series called the Queen of Swords had characters from the 'mysterious circle' wielding the rapier throughout various combat scenes. In addition to the Canadian series, the rapier also featured in the popular science fiction series from the 90s, Highlander.

While the rapier appeared in many film series, it also featured in several novels and comic books. Famous Japanese manga series, Bleach, produced a scene where a character used a rapier handguard to modify his sword. 

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Overall, the rapier has had a profound influence on both popular culture and the middle ages. Although the sword became defunct and was succeeded by French smallswords, the rapier has inspired the modern generation of blades and a variation of the sword is still used in Olympic fencing. 




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