The Smallsword was a thrusting-only weapon developed in France in the second half of the 17th century. The hilt consisted of a small shell- or disc-shaped guard much smaller than the hilt of the Renaissance rapier, and blade was relatively short and light, usually triangular or diamond-section, although double-edged flat “smallsword” blades continued to be popular well into the 18th century.
While the Broadsword was the archetypal weapon of the Highland clansman, the Smallsword quickly became the personal weapon of Scotland’s gentry during the 17th and 18th centuries. The art of the Smallsword was probably introduced to Scotland by the sons of Scottish nobility during their education in France, but there quickly developed a distinctly Scottish – or perhaps more properly pan-British – method of Smallsword, heavily influenced by Broadsword methods.
The Scottish gentleman Sir William Hope was the most prolific writer of Smallsword manuals to ever live, and his methods became dramatically more broadsword-like as his own art matured. Hope recognised that “the grounds of the Art of the Broad Sword are almost the same, with the grounds of this Art,” argued that both Broadsword and Smallsword should be taught together, as the Broadsword taught the blow, and the Smallsword the thrust.
The most important manual for Scottish Smallsword is Donald McBane’s The Expert Sword-Man’s Companion of 1728. Unlike Hope, McBane was not nobility or a gentleman, but a low-born soldier, gambler, pimp, and general all-round rake who spend 30 years refining his style in duels, brawls and battles all over Europe. His method is simple, straight forward, and while clearly derived from the common French method, differs on some important points.
Both Hope and McBane are a relatively early “Smallsword” sources, learning thier Art in the 1690’s, during which period the Smallsword was still in transition from the Rapier, and considerably more substantial than later Smallswords, weighing 600-800g. Hope recommends “Rapiers with good edges which will both answer the design of the Small-sword as to thrusting, and of the Broad as to the blow or striking” and that they be fitted with “Barr’d Hilts…resembling somewhat the Close-Hilts of Back Swords, for the better Preservation and Defence of their Sword-hand and Fingers.” Rather than the epee-based trainers common among Smallsword practitoners, we use weapons made from cut-down rapiers, utilising Silver’s measurement of “Perfect Length”.