English Shortsword (basket hilted sword) according to George Silver

George Silver was an English gentleman who lived in the second half of the 16th century and into the 17th century. He wrote two works. Paradoxes of Defence was published in 1599. It is a diatribe against rapier fencing and an exhortation to Englishmen to return to the use of the traditional English shortsword. This weapon was a basket hilted sword that was actually quite long for a single handed sword. The name shortsword was to distinguish it from the longsword used in two hands. Alternate names for the weapon are backsword (for single edged weapon – i.e. those with a back) and from later in the 17th century, broadsword.

Silver’s second work, Brief Instructions Upon my Paradoxes of Defence is a hand written manuscript that was not published in Silver’s lifetime. It is undated, but based on references in the text to contemporary events it cannot have been written earlier than late 1604. Brief Instructions is a manual on how to use various weapons, principally the shortsword.

Silver describes a system that is rooted in medieval principles of swordsmanship but which incorporates and relies on the presence of a basket hilt. He is perhaps the last author to recommend guard positions where the sword is not in front of the body (such as his Open Fight shown below) but is held in preparation for powerful cuts. Because Silver was writing in response to systems of swordsmanship that he saw as being flawed, he gives us an unprecedented amount of detail on the basic principles of swordsmanship. These are applicable to any system of swordsmanship and as such Silver’s system is an excellent first system to learn.

Silver uses a range of counterattacks and parries to respond to attacks and teaches how to counter these defences by the use of attacks in broken time, where the long arc of an attack from Open Fight is used to draw the opponent into a defence and then to deceive that defence with a redirection of the attack.

Silver’s system of single sword was taught at the inaugural lesson of Stoccata in 1998 and has been taught by one or more Stoccata branches continuously since then. It is probably the most heavily tested system taught by Stoccata.

For more information on Silver’s system, please consult Stoccata Provost Stephen Hand’s book English Swordsmanship (available from the author) or contact him directly. All of the photographs shown here are from English Swordsmanship.