This is a subject which has been written on request from some of my readers. It is a subject which is often overlooked with regard to weapons, but is one which needs some attention paid to it. Some would think that this is a subject which the knowledge is automatic, but there is a great deal more attention that needs to be paid to it.
“The man dancing the Balletti gravi will wear the cloak, and the sword in the manner which is demonstrated in the design of the Balletto of the Bellezze d' Olimpia: and dancing Cascarde, or Gagliarda, they will carry that as is demonstrated in the design of the Cascarda Alta Regina: keeping it as most it will please him either under the right arm or under the left; which one does not matter much: neither dance without this ever, because it makes a most brutish sight. Dancing gagliarda, and finding the sword, he shall hold that with the left hand, such that he would not let it go wandering: and finding it again in the Ballo to have little field, keeping it with the hand, it will return some with the point towards the forward part, such that it not offend the bystanders.”Caroso in the above statement gives some very specific instructions for wearing the sword and cloak when dancing. Some of the information presented above will be re-presented below as it is applicable to the situation. Caroso's instruction is primarily discussing the wearing of the sword and cloak while dancing whereas this investigation will cover a much broader consideration of wearing the sword.
Fabritio Caroso da Sermoneta (1581) Il Ballarino
The object of this particular topic is to cover a rather broad and general appraisal of wearing the sword. Some of the information presented will be specific to the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), but for the most part it will address the concept of wearing a sword from a much more general approach. The discussion will be presented in terms of some general areas of discussion which will be covered in order to cover as much of the subject as possible.
There are times when it is appropriate to wear a sword and there are also times when it is most definitely not appropriate. It is important to be able to discuss and divide these so that the sword can be worn at the appropriate time and not at others. In this particular instance there are times in medieval and Renaissance instances, as they are being recreated, and times in the modern world when it is and is not appropriate to wear a sword, and the level of censure can be severe for some of these.
Most of the appropriateness of wearing a sword comes from the percieved social norms of the situation. It is not normal for a person to be seen walking down the street in the modern world with a sword, this would obviously be a breach of a social norm. More to the point in this particular situation a person could also be pulled up by the local constabulary and could be charged with "going armed in public with intent to cause fear", which while it is a misdemeanour is still a serious situation to put yourself in. However, should the same person be found wearing medieval or Renaissance dress and the appropriate weapon at a medieval or Renaissance fair, then the situation would be different and the person would blend in.
Weapons and alcohol simply do not mix. There are many stories of people being injured and/or killed when weapons and alcohol are mixed. The two should be kept from one another regardless of the social situation, thus it is advised that the weapon be put in a safe place before going anywhere near a bar or tavern. Wearing a sword into such a situation has too high a potential for causing issues.
Surprisingly enough, even when associating with a particular medieval or Renaissance recreation group the consideration of appropriateness still applies and needs to be considered. The first question that needs to be asked is whether the wearing of a sword is appropriate for the attire which is being worn in the first place. The common wearing of swords in a civilian situation did not really come about until the Renaissance period, and even in that it was not really until the later period that it became common.
With regard to the suitability of the attire for wearing a sword with it there is also the question of rank, or to be more general, social status. Rank is a question which will be discussed further along. Wearing a sword with a peasant outfit would look almost as out of place as being heavily jewelled. Thus we must consider whether the attire which is being worn is appropriate to be accompanied by such a weapon.
In the question of rank there are some obvious ranks which would carry swords as part of their outfits, these would be knights and the higher nobility. However there is also a lower rank that of the Award of Arms which it is also suitable to carry a sword, hence the title of the rank. The lower status of this rank is more of an SCAism as in actual fact a noble with such an award would be ranked quite a bit higher. However, to add to this we must consider the image which is being presented in this instance and whether such a weapon is suitable for it. Clearly a person should consider whether they will wear a sword in the presence of royalty as this can cause some issues as well. Obviously only people of the appropriate rank should even consider doing so.
Now that the appropriate situations have been considered it is possible to look at the mounting of the weapon, how it is worn. This would seem to be an automatic sort of thing, but actually there are things which need to be considered. The appropriate mounting for the weapon must be considered in order to be able to control the weapon.
In the case of all swords, this must start with a scabbard. This protects the blade of the weapon and prevents a piece of steel being exposed to damaging passers-by. The next part is what sort of hanger is appropriate, or even if one should be used. For most medieval swords, the scabbard was mounted directly on to the belt as they had a belt designed for the purpose. In the case of the rapier and later weapons a hanger was attached to the scabbard and this was mounted on to the belt. The owner of the weapon should research for the appropriate mounting rig for the weapon.
Once the mounting rig has been chosen then its necessary to consider the position of the weapon. In the case of the rapier the hanger and belt made it possible to shift the position of the weapon to suit the user and also the situation. The first thing that must be considered is to ensure that the wearer has easy control and access to the weapon. In this the handle of the weapon should be placed so it is easily accessible to the drawing hand. This position should also put it in a place where the pommel can be accessed for control of the weapon while wearing it by the off hand. This will enable the wearer to control and move the weapon out of the way should it be placed in a position where it may strike another.
The position of the weapon in its mounting will often result in the weapon trailing behind the wearer, or this may be caused by the placing of the hand upon the pommel. Either way, the presence of the weapon increases the area of effect of the wearer. It is actually due to this area of effect that swords were shortened in the mid-seventeenth century to allow for less problems with people being struck by the scabbards of the weapons. While wearing the weapon the wearer needs to be aware of their increased area of effect, this is especially so when moving through crowds.It is at these times that control must be maintained over the weapon to ensure that it does not strike anyone. The wearer of the weapon should always be aware of the position of the weapon and its increased area of effect.
In moving, the wearer of the sword needs to be aware of his surroundings. Special consideration should be made with regard to any movement which may cause the weapon to swing out and strike someone. In all considerations of movement care should be taken, indeed it is a skill like any other and needs to be practiced.
In walking the off-hand should be placed gently on the pommel of the weapon so that it can be controlled. This prevents the weapon contacting and possibly tripping the wearer but also allows the wearer to move the weapon out of the way should an obstruction be present. In most cases it is best to lift the pommel forward this reducing the area of effect of the weapon when moving through a crowd of people. The scabbard of the weapon should also be directed closer to the wearer, but not so much that it will obstruct him.
In standing the weapon should be placed so that its area is reduced so that someone passing to the rear of the wearer will not trip over the scabbard. A useful technique in this regard is to move the weapon forward and tuck it around the leg closest to the weapon, even if it is just the point hooked over the foot or ankle. If the wearer is standing out in the open then there needs to be less stringent control of the weapon, but awareness of those around should still be taken in.
Sitting is where there can be some consternation about what to do with the weapon. In all instances the weapon should be pushed forward so as not to trip anyone passing behind the wearer. It is even an advantage to take the weapon out of the mounting rig then sit and place the weapon either immediately to the side or between the wearer's legs. Care should be taken that no one can knock the weapon if it is placed to the side of the wearer. A deal of practice should be made by the wearer in sitting and then standing again as it is here that problems can really occur.
Bowing is an action which takes practice to perform with or without a weapon being worn. In the case of wearing a weapon, special consideration needs to be made about the movement of the weapon so that it does not detract from the action of the bow nor becomes a problem for others who may be near. In bowing with a weapon the handle should not be gripped so that the weapon sticks out when the bow is performed. The hand or forearm instead should be used to gently move the weapon in a small arc behind the wearer, thus keeping control of the weapon and reducing any chance of it striking another.
What has been presented is some basic ideas about wearing a sword. Each particular point is designed to highlight an important part of the process from the consideration of whether a weapon should actually be worn in the first place to the movement of the weapon as the wearer moves. What has been presented are some general guidelines about how the weapon should be worn and the considerations that need to be made with regard to this. In all instances the wearer of the weapon should be aware of his surroundings and other people near him so as not to strike them inadvertently with the weapon. With regard to this utmost care should be taken. Practice is required to be able to wear the sword properly and be able to control it effectively. It is advised that the wearer make time to practice these things before actually entering the situation where the weapon is worn.