A History of Rapier Combat in the SCA
By Tivar Moondragon
A caveat: this is from my perspective, based on my memory and material in the Society Rapier Marshallate files. As such, I’m sure there are things (especially in the early days) that I’ve either forgotten, or was never aware of in the first place.
The Birthplace of Rapier Combat
That depends on how you define it. There were bouts fought at the First Tournament, using foils and modern fencing rules. Rapier combat in some form persisted on the fringes of the SCA as the organization grew. At my first tournament, in November of AS X (1975), there was a "swashbuckling list"; it was one of the things that attracted me to the SCA. Arguably, I was the one who pushed hardest for rapier combat in Ansteorra, but there were also groups in the East, the Outlands and Atenveldt (possibly other places, but those I know for sure) in that same timeframe.
In September of AS XIV (1979), the Board formally recognized rapier fighting as an ancillary activity of the SCA, so that date could also be used.
Several kingdoms never officially recognized rapier combat, it just grew. I guess you could define "official recognition" as when their first set of rules was approved, but I know there was fighting in Atenveldt (when Ansteorra and the Outlands were still principalities) for years before there were any "official" rules. The same is true for the East.
Also, some groups had rules and organized tournaments well before the BoD approval in 1979. Another factor is that in some areas (like Atlantia and Trimaris) rapier combat started, died out, and started again.
May 1966 First SCA tournament. Some bouts were fought using modern fencing rules and equipment.
May AS IV (1969) Poul Anderson (Sir Bela of Eastmarch) mentions "some people are experimenting with rapier and dagger" in a fanzine article about the SCA. ("Richard the Lionhearted is Alive and Well in California" published in the May 1969 issue of “Amra.”)
For the first ten years or so, "rapier fighting" (really just modern-rules fencing or minor variations on it) existed, if at all, on the fringes of the SCA. It had no formal rules, few or no organized tournaments, and no official recognition.
November AS X (1975) My first event, in Bjornsborg (San Antonio TX.) I fought in a "swashbuckling list"--modern fencing rules, no armor requirements beyond a fencing mask, about 7 fighters. In the car on the way home, I said to myself "This could be fun, if it was done right." I started researching period sources and fighting styles.
November AS XI (1976) Tournament of the Queen’s Grace in Bjornsborg. Things were still in their infancy. Due to the cold weather, the rapier list was canceled, but we fought a couple of demo bouts for the King and Queen of Atenveldt.
January 1977 An article titled Some Medicolegal Aspects of Stab Wounds by Dr, Bernard Knight is published in Legal Medical Annual. (This article is later used by Dons Iolo and Dupre, when building the first Machine to demonstrate how little force is neeed to put a sharp blade through human skin.)
March AS XI (1977) The Society Marshal, Andrew of Seldom Rest issues a ban on all "fencing, karate, archery at human targets or kendo" within the SCA. I start a letter-writing campaign to get the ban on fencing/rapier combat lifted.
June AS XII (1977) Duke Andrew issues the first (as far as I know) set of SCA rapier fighting rules. They are about ¾ of a page long, and extremely primitive.
September AS XII (1977) I become deputy marshal for rapier combat for the Barony of the Stargate (Houston TX). At this point, there are maybe one or two dozen rapier fighters in the Texas area; there’s also a group in Colorado and one in Phoenix.
November AS XII (1977) Ansteorra becomes a Principality; I am named Principality Rapier Marshal.
December AS XIII (1978) Investiture of Simonn and Tessa as Prince and Princess of Ansteorra. They ask me to put together a proposal for an award to recognize rapier fighters.
March AS XIII (1979) First White Scarf given by Simonn and Tessa, last Prince and Princess of Ansteorra.
May AS XIV (1979) First Ansteorran Crown Tourney. During a rapier list on Sunday, a fighter’s epee breaks. It looks like his opponent was hit in the armpit, but closer examination shows it’s just a bruise, the skin was not broken. Nevertheless, I am asked by the Earl Marshal to develop better armor standards--something that will stop a broken blade. (With Ansteorra’s elevation to kingdom, I’m now the Kingdom Rapier Marshal.)
June AS XIV (1979) Experimentation shows that 4-oz leather will stop broken blades. I rewrite the rules accordingly.
August AS XIV (1979) As a result of wild rumors about the broken blade and "serious injury" in May, Atenveldt bans rapier combat. Another letter-writing campaign ensues and the Society Marshal, Earl Kevin Perigrynne, decides to bring the matter up before the SCA Board of Directors.
September AS XIV (1979) I attend the Board meeting, and persuade them that rapier combat can be done safely in the SCA. The Board makes a Governing and Policy Decision to allow rapier fighting as an ancillary activity of the SCA, but it may not be used for Crown or Coronet tournaments. You may read the relevant section of the minutes of that Board meeting here.
October AS XIV (1979) Earl Kevin publishes a set of SCA-wide rapier rules, based on the existing Ansteorran rules. These rules are the basis for all subsequent SCA rules. Although the wording has changed several times, the basic elements are almost the same to this day.
March AS XIV (1980) First Ansteorran Queen’s Champion Tournament, beginning of a tradition. Thirty or forty fighters compete.
August AS XV (1980) I attend my first Pennsic (#9). I met about a dozen rapier fighters from the East, their fighting style was quite different from what we were doing in Ansteorra: sort of saber-fencing using epee blades.
February AS XVI (1982) Alaric Greythorne introduces the first Trigger-cloth armor.
July 1982 Vladimir Smirnov, a top-level Russian fencer is killed at the World Fencing Championships. His opponent's foil broke and the forte punched through Smirnov's mask and into his head. As a result of this incident, the FIE upgraded their mask specifications to be able to withstand a 12-kilo spring punch test device. (The SCA follows suit in their next rules rewrite.) This is the first of several such equipment upgrades due to injuries or deaths in the modern fencing world.
January AS XVII (1983) First Academy of the Rapier held in Ansteorra.
January AS XVII (1983) An Tir publishes their first set of rapier rules. Due to concerns about broken blades, they are using fiberglass buggy whips instead of steel fencing blades.
January AS XX (1986) First Trimarian rapier rules. Don Robin and Baroness Adelicia of Ansteorra had moved to Trimaris sometime in 1985. They organized a rapier group there, but it died out after they moved back to Ansteorra.
April-May AS XX-XXI (1986) SCA Twentieth Year Celebration. A Rapier Academy is held as part of the event.
March AS XXI (1987) Dons Iolo and Dupre demonstrate The Machine at Ansteorra’s third Academy of the Rapier.
May AS XXII (1987) Recognizing the growing popularity of rapier combat in the SCA, the Society Marshal and Board of Directors appoint me Deputy Society Marshal for Rapier Combat.
August AS XXII (1987) Pennsic 16, The East Kingdom gives out the first of their Gold Cords.
Also, Earliest set of Eastern rules in the files.
September AS XXII (1987) Oldest set or Outlands rapier rules in the files. I know they were doing rapier fighting for quite a while before this, as they helped in the letter-writing campaign to Duke Andrew.
October AS XXII (1987) Ansteorra and the Outlands sign The White Scarf Treaty, the first of its kind.
January AS XXII (1988) At around this time, flexi-dagger blades were first introduced to the SCA. These were the first commercially manufactured blades produced specifically for re-creationist combat, instead of for Olympic-style sport fencing.
July-August AS XXIII (1988) Beginning of rapier fighting in the East Kingdom’s Principality of Drachenwald.
December AS XXIII (1988) Rapier group becoming organized in Atlantia.
January AS XXIII (1989) Oldest set of Atenveldt rules in the files. As with the Outlands, and the East, there were rapier fighters in Atenveldt well before this date.
June AS XXIV (1989) I attend the first Atlantian Academy of the Rapier. I believe this movement wilted, and re-started a couple of years later.
November AS XXIV (1989) First mention in the files of schlager blades being used in Atenveldt.
January AS XXIV (1990) The East Kingdom’s Principality of Drachenwald inducts the first two rapier fighters into the Silver Guard, their Principality combat order.
August AS XXV (1990) Pennsic 19, Crown Prince Dag of the Midrealm wanders past the rapier fighting area. He is asked what it would take to get rapier fighting accepted in the Middle Kingdom. He said "Maybe a petition with 200 signatures?"
October AS XXV (1990) Trimaris re-starts rapier combat.
January AS XXV (1991) John Inchingham and Maire ingen Danith, having recently moved to the Middle from Ansteorra, start a petition for rapier combat in the Middle Kingdom. With the help of Baron Ælfred and others, in a few months they have their 200 signatures and more.
March AS XXV (1991) SCA Twenty-fifth Year Celebration. The rapier area sees lots of action, with fighters from throughout the Known World participating in classes, informal discussion groups, and kingdom-sponsored tournaments.
July AS XXVI (1991) Don Robin of Gilwell from Ansteorra travels to the Midrealm to demonstrate rapier fighting. This is the beginning of the Middle’s highly successful "rent-a-Don" program, where various experts are brought in from other kingdoms to help teach rapier fighting.
August AS XXVI (1991) Oldest set of Caidian rules in the files. Strongly based on the Atenveldt rules, using epee and schlager.
November AS XXVI (1991) Calontir begins discussing rapier combat.
June AS XXVII (1992) Trimaris signs on to the White Scarf Treaty, at the first Gulf War.
August AS XXVII (1992) East Kingdom makes the first 14 Companions of the Golden Rapier, an Award of High Merit recognizing rapier fighters.
March AS XXVII (1993) Rapier rules approved for the West Kingdom’s Principality of Lochac, using fiberglass blades.
May AS XXVIII (1993) Midrealm gives out the first Cavendish Knots, an AoA award for rapier combat.
August AS XXVIII (1993) Meridies writes a set of experimental schlager-based rapier rules. Unfortunately, the following Crown cancels the experiment before it really gets off the ground.
December AS XXVIII (1993) Calontir holds a kingdom-wide meeting about rapier combat. The proposed weapons are fiberglass blades, and the technique includes slashing. The Crown’s decision, published in March of 1994, is that they will not allow rapier combat.
April AS XXVIII (1994) Middle Kingdom hosts the first Known World Academy of the Rapier, in Chicago.
Also, Middle fully allows rapier combat.
June AS XXIX (1994) Atenveldt and An Tir join the White Scarf Treaty.
April AS XXIX (1995) Second Known World Academy of the Rapier, in Phoenix.
June AS XXX (1995) Rapier rules approved for the West Kingdom’s Principality of Oertha, using steel blades.
January AS XXX (1996) Meridies begins a year-long "rapier experiment." It is abruptly canceled in November, after an injury in Trimaris.
Also in January, Atlantia joins the White Scarf Treaty.
August AS XXXI (1996) West Kingdom bans all rapier combat by Royal Proclamation.
October AS XXXI (1996) Third Known World Academy of the Rapier, in Dallas.
November AS XXXI (1996) Caid joins the White Scarf Treaty.
May AS XXXII (1997) West Kingdom signs the "unified rules"; they are promptly suspended for further study by the following Crown.
Also, Meridies begins their third rapier experiment, again using schlager only and the East Kingdom hosts the Fourth Known World Academy of the Rapier, in western Massachusetts.
June AS XXXII (1997) West Kingdom allows rapier fighting using only fiberglass blades.
August AS XXXII (1997) First Rapier Champions Tournament at Pennsic War.
October AS XXXII (1997) The new kingdom of Æthelmearc joins the White Scarf Treaty, and makes their first members.
January AS XXXII (1998) The new kingdom of Artemisia joins the White Scarf Treaty and makes their first members.
Also, Drachenwald creates the Order of the Dragon’s Steel, a grant-level award for rapier combat.
February AS XXXII (1998) Introduction of the Del Tin "practice rapier" blades. This is the first of many rapier-style blades made specifically for the SCA and other historical recreation or Western Martial Arts groups.
May AS XXXIII (1998) West Kingdom allows steel blades in addition to fiberglass.
July AS XXXIII (1998) I step down as Deputy Society Marshal for Rapier Combat. Don Giovanni di Fiamma from Trimaris is my replacement.
Oct AS XXXIII (1998) The West Kingdom creates the Guildmasters of Fence, a Grant-level award for rapier fighting. In AS XL it is modified to "Royal Company of Courtiers" and holders of the award may use either "Guildmaster" or "Courtier" as a title.
November AS XXXIII (1998) An Tir hosts the fifth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Portland OR.
Also, Ealdormere creates the order of Thorbjorn’s Hammer, a Grant-level award for all combat styles.
March 10, AS XXXIII (1999) Twentieth anniversary of the Order of the White Scarf.
April AS XXXIII (1999) Midrealm Creates the Order of the Bronze Ring, a grant-level award for rapier combat.
July AS XXXIV (1999) Ansteorra begins a Youth Rapier Program, allowing kids of 12 and older to compete against other kids.
November AS XXXIV (1999) Atlantia hosts the sixth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Charleston SC.
September, AS XXXV (2000) Artemesia hosts the seventh Known World Academy of the Rapier in Salt Lake City.
April, AS XXXV (2001) A proposal to experiment with “sidesword” or early cut-and-thrust rapier is made by some folks in Atenveldt. Baron Gwylym is appointed the Deputy Society Marshal for Sidesword.
October, AS XXXVI (2001) The Middle Kingdom hosts the eighth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Chicago.
July, AS XXXVII (2002) The new kingdom of Lochac joins the White Scarf Treaty and makes their first members.
October, AS XXXVII (2002) Atenveldt hosts the ninth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Phoenix.
October, AS XXXVIII (2003) The Outlands hosts the tenth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Denver, in conjunction with the Known World Costuming Symposium.
October, AS XXXIX (2004) The new kingdom of Northshield joins the White Scarf Treaty and makes their first members.
Ansteorra hosts the eleventh Known World Academy of the Rapier in Austin.
January, AS XXXIX (2005) The Society Marshal abruptly halts the Sidesword experiment, claiming there are “discrepancies” in how Sidesword was being done in various kingdoms.
March AS XXXIX (2005) Meridies begins the Meridien Order of the Blade, an Award of High Merit for rapier fighters.
July AS XXXX (2005) The Board approves “Historic Combat Studies” as an element of the Arts & Sciences office. This allows study of techniques in various period manuals that wouldn’t be allowed (due to safety concerns) on the SCA combat field.
November AS XXXX (2005) Atlantia hosts the twelfth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Baltimore.
Also, the new kingdom of Gleann Abhann opens their Order of the Queen’s Blades.
January AS XXXX (2006) “Cut and Thrust Rapier” (formerly known as Sidesword) is included as a third form of rapier fighting within the SCA.
September AS XLI (2006) Caid hosts the thirteenth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Los Angeles.
May AS XLII (2007) In the West Kingdom, the Guildmaster and Courtier awards are closed. They are replaced by the order of the Western White Scarf. While essentially the same as the White Scarf in other kingdoms, internal political considerations prevented the West from signing the White Scarf Treaty. Instead, they received separate “permission to conflict” letters from the other White Scarf kingdoms.
November/December AS XLII (2007) Northshield hosts the fourteenth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Minneapolis.
November AX XLIII (2008) The Middle Kingdom hosts the fifteenth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Cincinnati.
March 10, AS XLIII (2009) Thirtieth anniversary of the White Scarf.
November AS XLIV (2009) The East Kingdom hosts the sixteenth Known World Academy of the Rapier in Philadelphia.
April AS XLV (2010) Calontir begins an experiment with "Steel Combat", a slightly modified version of Cut and Thrust.
February AS XLVI (2012) The Society Rapier Marshal issues new, much simpler rules for heavy blades. Instead of the previous List of Approved Blades, any blade that passes a simple flexibility test (Appendix 1.B. here) is now acceptable for SCA heavy rapier combat.
November AS XLVII (2012)The Middle Kingdom hosts the 17th Known World Academy of the Rapier in Chicago.
July AS XLVIII (2013) Calontir's "Steel Combat" program is changed from experimental to fully approved.
January/February AS XLIX (2015) At its January meeting, the SCA Board of Directors decided to remove the "ancillary" term in its description of rapier combat. It also had a split vote on creating a peerage for rapier fighting: three were in favor of a separate peerage for rapier, two were in favor of an "umbrella" peerage for rapier, equestrian and projectile weapons and two were in favor of including rapier in the Chivalry.
Reports of comments by a couple of the Board members during and after this meeting, saying that they thought rapier should be part of the Chivalry, were taken to mean that that was the direction the Board planned to go. Lots of discussion and hooraw on social media ensued and many letters were written to the Board. At the Board's conference call meeting in early February, they voted again, and decided on a 6-1 vote to create a separate peerage, the Order of Defense, for rapier, starting on May 1 of AS L (2015.)
June AS L (2015) The new kingdom of Avacal joins the White Scarf Treaty and makes their first members.
October AS L (2015) The East Kingdom announces that all their Awards of High Merit (including the Order of the Golden Rapier) will be retroactively changed to Grants of Arms.
November AS L (2015) The Middle Kingdom hosts the 18th Known World Academy of the Rapier in Chicago.
January AS L (2016) Avacal closes their Order of the White Scarf.
September AS LIII (2018) Northshield hosts the 19th Academy of the Rapier near Madison WI.
With the creation of the Order of Defense peerage, some kingdoms have decided to close their Order of the White Scarf. Artemisia closed theirs on March 7th, AS 49 (2015), An Tir, Northshield, the West Kingdom, Caid, Lochac and Avacal have closed theirs as well.
Ansteorra also has the Award of the Queen’s Rapier, which is a non-armigerous award for skill in rapier combat, and the Sable Talon, which is an AoA-level award for any combat skill.
Caid has the Order of the Duelist, also an AoA award.
Drachenwald has the Grant-level Order of the Dragon’s Steel.
Ealdormere has the Grant-level Order of Thorbjorn’s Hammer, which is given for excellence in any martial art, including rapier combat.
The East has the Order of the Golden Rapier, (Originally an Order of High Merit, changed to Grant-level in October of AS L (2015) with the Grant retroactive for all existing holders) which was allied with the White Scarves in April of AS XXX (1996), but the following Crown abrogated the treaty in October of AS XXXI (1996.)
Gleann Abhann has the Order of the Combatant Ram (AoA for any martial skill) and the Order of the Queen’s Blades (Grant level specifically for rapier.)
Lochac also has the Order of the Red Wyvern for any martial activity. This is a Grant-level award, but it ranks below their White Scarf.
Meridies has the Companions of the Argent Rapier (non-armigerous) and Meridien Order of the Blade (Order of High Merit.)
The Middle Kingdom has the Order of the Cavendish Knot (AoA) and the Company of the Bronze Ring (Grant.)
The West Kingdom had the Guildmasters of Fence which was changed to the Royal Company of Courtiers. This Order was closed in AS XLII and replaced with the Western White Scarf. All of these carry a Grant of Arms.
I think that’s everybody.