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Old 11th January 2022, 06:38 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Fencing, Dueling and Rapiers in Spanish Colonial California

In the colonies of New Spain from the 17th century until Mexico won its independence in 1821, the sword had its presence in numerous variations throughout, and seems to maintained its place in honorary sense long after.

The reputation of the Spaniard and his skill with the sword, particularly the rapier and the mysterious fencing system known as destreza, has long been well known. It seems there is a degree of evidence that these existed in Spains colonies, but it would seem in the more metropolitan and well settled regions.

For those out there familiar with the rapier and fencing as well as dueling of course, my question is, in the relatively remote region of Alta California, were these practices extant, and in late 18th to early 19th c. ?

The sword pictured is elementally a rapier, however too small to be regarded as a weapon, more likely either a dress or perhaps practice weapon.
These type hilts are known to have been on swords used during the Mexican revolution period of c. 1810, and in frontier areas, but with more substantial blades.

With this being the case, the suggestion is that some sort of practice or sword drill perhaps was carried out with swords of this type, but far more substantial evidence or accounts are needed. Clearly if this were a practice weapon it would have a button or rebated blade.
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Old 13th January 2022, 02:16 PM   #2
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Jim, I love where your mind is going. The problem is there are very few Californians from California. Even less of "Spanish" descent. The early territorial government made sure of that. The Californios' literature was scant from what I can tell. The only book I run across referenced regularly is Encarnacion Pinedo's cookbook. A far cry from esgrima espanola. I wonder if the UC Davis, Northridge, or UCLA rare books collections would be of much help?

I know little of this system, so I started with this article. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verdadera_Destreza
I know a lot of people bag on Wikipedia but sometimes it is a good place to start especially if you need an overview and a bibliography to begin. It says that it was a system that included sword, sword and dagger, sword and buckler, and two-handed sword. The system seems to have been popularized by Jeronimo Sanchez de Carranza whose army latter occupied parts of Honduras and Guatemala. It was modernized by others with new texts published until 1882, but I would think a founder's style would have a legacy in a region. So, interestingly for the forum the system probably encompassed arming swords as well. My guess is that the system eventually became a new world system as the weapon choices evolved. The system may have been related to Camillo Agrippa whose Science was published about 30 years earlier. I always confuse Agrippa and Morozzo's systems. I don't have those reference books and notes with me currently, Jim I am sure you understand that problem. From what I saw it is a system of circles both foot work and I believe cuts as well, so once again not just for rapiers, not linear as later techniques that evolved into small sword. So, there may also be a neo-Platonic or neo-Aristotelian aspect to the systems overarching philosophy.

I would like to add a disclaimer that I am in no way an expert on this subject. I have responded with a general thought on the topic because I thought it was too fascinating a subject to let die without a proper discussion. I hope I can get people talking on Jim's narrower and more inciteful question.
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Old 13th January 2022, 06:36 PM   #3
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Thank you so much for this thoughtful and perfectly explained response and for the kind words.
In posting this I honestly was less than optimistic for responses. The fencing topic alone is profoundly esoteric here, and the field of Spanish colonial weapons even more so.

I very much appreciate the detailed notes and suggestions concerning the destreza and some of these early fencing systems, outstanding insights into these. As you note, Wiki seems an often maligned and far underrated resource, which is not intended to serve as primary research....but a preliminary overview with references and bibliography to be used to follow whatever course of research is at hand on the topic.

I have some familiarity with some of this, but your suggestions for further research are excellent and give me important ideas to follow.
I have a number of books on some of this , but as you well note, these are not often at hand (the bookmobile has limited space

Im glad you agree, this is an intriguing subject, the kinds of swordplay which may have been extant in these early days in California from c. 1770s into the mid 19th c. While the population was under Spanish control until 1821, there were few true Spaniards in the early years in the sparsely occupied regions, however the cultural influences that prevailed were notable. If fashion, custom, and other factors were present, then why not the use of the sword?
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Old 13th January 2022, 07:14 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Jim McDougall View Post
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and perfectly explained response and for the kind words.
In posting this I honestly was less than optimistic for responses. The fencing topic alone is profoundly esoteric here, and the field of Spanish colonial weapons even more so.

I very much appreciate the detailed notes and suggestions concerning the destreza and some of these early fencing systems, outstanding insights into these. As you note, Wiki seems an often maligned and far underrated resource, which is not intended to serve as primary research....but a preliminary overview with references and bibliography to be used to follow whatever course of research is at hand on the topic.

I have some familiarity with some of this, but your suggestions for further research are excellent and give me important ideas to follow.
I have a number of books on some of this , but as you well note, these are not often at hand (the bookmobile has limited space

Im glad you agree, this is an intriguing subject, the kinds of swordplay which may have been extant in these early days in California from c. 1770s into the mid 19th c. While the population was under Spanish control until 1821, there were few true Spaniards in the early years in the sparsely occupied regions, however the cultural influences that prevailed were notable. If fashion, custom, and other factors were present, then why not the use of the sword?
You have Leguina bibliography of Spanish fencing from 1904 and the much extended one by Manuel Valle from some 10 years ago. In the America's you had the so called destreza Indiana, especially developed in Lima. I remember when Manuel Valle went to Mexico in search of books. California of course was a dependency of Mexico.
Destreza in Spain lasted up to the middle of XIXth century, and then there was a revival at the start of XXth century, that did not survive the Spanish Civil War of 1936_1939.
In the 1980s a curious artistic fencer, Ricard Pous, started recovering it, publishing two books. Later reenactment groups brought it alive again in the 2000s. We used to make fun of the original Martinez videos...
For 15 years the esgrima antigua forum pushed the research and sooner or later all the resources were indexed in pdf.
Now they were quite esoteric for XVII century Spaniards, so much more for English language XXth century readers.
Best and more comprensible of all is second book by Rada.
Some years ago there was even a Mexican destreza group, nothing heard of them in 8 years at least.

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Old 14th January 2022, 03:40 PM   #5
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Thank you Midelburgo, wonderfully done synopsis of this very esoteric material, and important insights to the complex and mysterious practice of this type fencing system.
I have come across come of the things you mention, but your entry here greatly brings it into perspective.

From what I am finding so far, the use of the rapier (proper) was not present notably in the northern frontiers or Alta California, but there was presence of the small sword.

More research needed of course!!!
I thank you guys again for your valuable help and above all, support!
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Old 14th January 2022, 05:10 PM   #6
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Actually one of the last written books for Destreza.

Principios universales y reglas generales de la verdadera destreza del espadín : segun la doctrina mixta de... (1805) - by Manuel Antonio de Brea.

was so for smallsword.

https://bibliotecadigital.jcyl.es/es...tro.do?id=9776

Possibly this would be the closest to El Zorro fencing manual you could find...


Yesterday I got this 1meter long Colichemarde with functional pas d'ane. A not so small smallsword, probably Spanish.
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Old 14th January 2022, 06:21 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by midelburgo View Post
Actually one of the last written books for Destreza.

Principios universales y reglas generales de la verdadera destreza del espadín : segun la doctrina mixta de... (1805) - by Manuel Antonio de Brea.

was so for smallsword.

https://bibliotecadigital.jcyl.es/es...tro.do?id=9776

Possibly this would be the closest to El Zorro fencing manual you could find...


Yesterday I got this 1meter long Colichemarde with functional pas d'ane. A not so small smallsword, probably Spanish.
Thank you again!
In a 1927 paper I found that in the northwest colonial regions of Mexico and New Mexico small swords were present, and one of the forms was colichemarde. I have yet to find more, but I suspect that small sword blades were produced in Bilbao which was a port exporting to the colonies.
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Old 20th January 2022, 03:14 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by midelburgo View Post
...
Yesterday I got this 1meter long Colichemarde with functional pas d'ane. A not so small smallsword, probably Spanish.

I gather that Colichemardes were in general all around a metre, considereably longer than an average smallsword. George Washington is frequently painted with his favourite colichemarde.
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Old 21st January 2022, 04:48 PM   #9
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I gather that Colichemardes were in general all around a metre, considereably longer than an average smallsword. George Washington is frequently painted with his favourite colichemarde.
Thanks Wayne,
Actually I am not certain about lengths of these blades' generality, but the initial course of their development with the widened forte for parry, and the foible remaining narrow for speed seems to have been attuned to dueling. With that being the case with the attention to the requirement for a fast blade, it seems shorter was the preference.

In the case of the forementioned colichemarde suggesting its possibly being Spanish, I would say that might be supported by the 39" blade. Spaniards favored remarkably long blades, one rapier blade I have is 41" (of traditional narrow form c. 1700), but I have heard of up to 45".

Ive heard of Washington's colichemarde, and it is noted that while these were out of favor in the civilian sector they remained popular with military through the 18th c.
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Old 22nd January 2022, 11:18 AM   #10
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I was referring to the overall length. Mine is just over 38 in. long, 33 inch blade.


GW's Colichemarde: Mt. Vernon collection. (Not on Display)



a hair or two over a metre long.
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Old 23rd January 2022, 03:21 PM   #11
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The colichemarde in question arrived, and it had a couple of nice surprises (the original description was very poor). Indeed Spanish with two inscriptions:

M O N T E E N TOLEDO
D E P E D R O V I E L

Possibly Pedro Biel was the first owner. The blade originally was a rapier one, and only later transformed as a colichemarde. Hilt is filthy, but it could be silver. I will make pictures later.
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Old 23rd January 2022, 09:05 PM   #12
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Wayne thank you so much for adding that, Washington's colichemarde, very notable! Stuart Mowbray co authored a book on Washington;s swords. It is interesting to see just how important the 'culture of the sword' remained as a point of honor long after the advent of firearms had rendered it quite 'secondary' as a weapon.

Midelburgo, very exciting on the arrival of this sword and looking forward to pics. I think your assessment on the blade is right and am curious at how a rapier blade became colichemarde considering how narrow they are.
I know a lot of rapier blades were mounted in smallswords.

When rapiers ended up in California according to some accounts, the blades were shortened. The one blade (unmounted) I have I think is about 1700, has JESUS one side MARIA the other, a Toledo mark, and about 41" long.
Found in Panama off a shipwreck.

I dont have access presently, but need to get pics of markings.
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Old 16th February 2022, 12:37 PM   #13
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I had a photo session yesterday.

The sword is 1.03 m total length. The blade comes from a Rapier. There are known dated works from this swordsmith, Pedro del Monte, in 1610 and 1630.

I have seen Pedro del Monte described as somebody that made colichemardes, but probably his blades were apropiate to make colichemardes afterwards.

A new bevel has been created, recessed from the original blade, and this has a less acute angle.

Old repair on the hilt. Hilt is brass. Cleaning still proceeding.

Now I believe the inscription, changing sides reads:

D E P E D R O D E E L
M O N T E E N T O L E D O

(No Pedro Viel)
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Old 19th February 2022, 01:23 PM   #14
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Thank you so much for this follow up!
What is intriguing about this sword is that this very early rapier blade has clearly enjoyed a long working life as the form of the small sword hilt seems around 1770s. The early colichemarde blades were said to have been from honed down rapier blades in 1680s, but blade makers began making them in the broad forte but narrow rapier blade combination soon after.

These were essentially evolved out of transitional rapiers with the advent of the smallsword for a 'faster' weapon, and these were primarily a dueling sword.
The styling of the hilt on this with the diagonal lines resembles a French type I once handled which had provenance to New Orleans during the War of 1812.

As you have indicated, this appears a very early Toledo blade which has been repurposed into colichemarde profile, and the 'anchor' device at the end of the fuller seems 'added' perhaps at this time.

While I dont know the provenance of this particular sword obviously, it is tempting to consider the colonial possibilities. The amalgamation of French style hilt and early Toledo blade does not seem unusual. As the Spanish system of swordplay (destreza) began to give way to French and Italian forms, it is believed to have continued nominally in Spains colonies . While many Spaniards still held to their beloved cuphilts (Castle, 1885) there would seem of course a proclivity to move toward the newer, faster weapons .

I would add here that in styling, French and Spanish were paired closely through Bourbon rule.

Although admittedly speculation, I would simply suggest these possibilities as reasonably plausible, and that this is truly an intriguing example!
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