Facts about Rapiers: Rapiers Were Heavy & Slow
(Since so many of you reblogged the Rapiers, well, here some facts about these weapons)
Contrary to popular belief, from a modern perspective, these pretty weapons, the rapiers, were rather long, heavy and slow swords; in fact, rapiers were as heavy as most single handed swords of the day, and heavier than modern cavalry sabres. In contrast, later small-swords had a weight about one third of that of a rapier.
That the opposite perception prevails is attributable mostly to the 19 century novelists who projected onto the renaissance the vastly faster sword play of their own age. This trend was further accentuated by the motion picture industry which has and continues to present rapiers as capable of all the adroit blade to blade actions of the modern sport fencing weapons.
The reason behind the rapier’s heft were numerous, but probably the main one was that it was initially opposed by heavy weapons and thus blades had to be sufficiently robust to withstand their onslaught. In any event, it was this weight, plus the long blade, that imparted to the rapier a slowness of point that restricted it to fencing in single time.
Whilst the rapier may have been an acceptable dueling weapon, George Silver’s objections notwithstanding, its long blade must have placed it at a disadvantage in self defense situations; It was slow to draw and difficult to maneuver in crowded or tight settings. Nevertheless it offered sufficient advantages, over the alternatives, to make it the weapon of choice for over a century and a half.
Source & Copyright: Chris Evans on Sword Forum
I feel as though I should provide some further commentary.
While rapiers are significantly heavier than most people think they are — on average, heavier than a longsword, for instance — they’re not actually “slow” as such. Fighting in single time is less a restriction in historical forms of fencing and more like a default, so lengthy, “heavy” weapons made sense. Consider also that the rapier, while able to cut, isn’t designed for the deep hewing gouges of arming swords, longswords or broadswords, the cut instead being more subtle and powered by the wrist.
In fact, a rapier cut is more like an intermediate between two thrusts. Most forms of European fencing have their practitioners move from guard to guard with offensive and defensive techniques — one is always acting or in a position of readiness. Since all rapier guards have the sword pointed towards one’s adversary, and all techniques move from guard to guard, a cut can serve to reposition for another thrust while threatening an adversary.
Another way the rapier makes up for its weight is via its emphasis on the thrust. While it’s debated to this day between fencers whether a cut or thrust is the more effective and efficient means of attack, it’s well-known that thrusts are faster, courtesy of travelling in a direct path towards their target. Furthermore, a thrust can contain a parry within itself if it closes the opening an adversary is attacking, just like a cut.
The rapier’s major weakness is its obsession with the thrust. A guard with the sword pointed at one’s adversary is easily taken offline by a strike from a more cut-efficient weapon to the correct location on the blade, and thrusts are easier to avoid and parry than cuts. A rapier is a finely-tuned, deadly weapon, but it’s not the de facto ultimate duellist’s blade — it’s one out of many strong duelling swords that saw popularity in the mid-late Renaissance and served its function until needs and fashion changed once more.
Thanks chivalrykeep for adding that… makes the above statement much clearer on the meaning that while rapiers are not slow heavy weapons, they do not produce the whippy sport fencing moves we commonly see in Hollywood.
Now a question for you: rapiers are heavier than longswords? That’s surprising. How heavy are they? (I have no experience with rapier)