George Silver

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This article is about the English swordsman. For the Scottish agricultural innovator, see George Silver (agriculturalist).

George Silver (ca. 1560s–1620s) was a gentleman of England during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, who is known for his writings on swordplay. He is thought to have been the eldest of four brothers (one of whom, Toby, was also a swordsman who accompanied his brother in at least one challenge), and eleventh in descent from Sir Bartholomew Silver, who was knighted by Edward II. He married a woman named Mary Haydon in London, in 1580, and was still alive in 1622.


Although not a professional fencing teacher (a role mostly played by the middle-class London-based Corporation of Maisters of the Noble Science of Defence), he was familiar with the fencing schools of the time, and the systems of defence that they taught, and claimed to have achieved a perfect understanding of the use of all weapons. Silver championed the native English martial arts while objecting on ethical and technical grounds to the fashionable continental rapier systems being taught at the time. He particularly disliked the immigrant Italian fencing masters Rocco Bonetti and Vincentio Saviolo, going so far as to challenge the latter (without result) to a public fencing match with various weapons atop a scaffold.

His major objections to the rapier itself and to its pedagogy were expressed in his 1599 work, Paradoxes of Defence. Silver saw the rapier as an incredibly dangerous weapon, which did not offer the user sufficient protection during a fight. Silver also bemoans other weapons that do not offer sufficient protection to the user (such as daggers); the rapier, however bears the brunt of his attention, as it was seemingly quite common in the day.

He later (probably around 1605) wrote his Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence in which he explained some of his method for using his preferred weapons (he recommends the shorter backsword as being more versatile and offering better defence than the rapier). This, however, remained an unpublished manuscript until its publication in 1898 by fencing historian Captain Cyril G. R. Matthey as a training manual to aid soldiers fighting in the Boer War.

Silver recommends a highly dynamic system which he deemed suitable for duelling, street defence and the battlefield, rather than the purely duelling orientation of the rapier.

A major difference between Silver's system and Italian rapier fencing lies in his not advocating the use of the lunge but rather the use of a shuffle step or a full step to come into range to strike the opponent, followed by instantly "flying out" again. He does not mention specific instructions for the placing of the feet relative to each other or regarding what angle from each other they are placed at. All that is clear is that the leg on the same side as the arm most forward on the weapon is normally placed in front of the other leg. One image in his "Paradoxes of Defence" shows a man measuring the length of his sword standing with his back foot out at a 90-degree angle from his imagined opponent.

One point of similarity with Italian rapier fencing is that Silver advocates the use of the thrust together with the cut; he claims that in the English tradition only the cut was allowed. He deems this prohibition of thrusting an "evil tradition" in his "Paradoxes of Defence" and believes that both cut and thrust should be used.

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Schools that teach Silver's swordsmanship[edit]