buckler vs dagger

Was the decison of whether to use buckler or dagger
more of a personal preference, by region, school, or
particular army?

And, what were the comparitive advantages and
disadvantages of each?

I assume you are referring to left hand defense. Good question.TFS could give a more in depth answer, but let me at least scratch the surface. Both were used all over Europe. The left hand dagger (main gauche) in the off hand seems to be more of a product of the rapier craze (later 16th century). It is more of a weapon that was used with the rapier for civilian duelling or self defense. Sword and buckler can be seen as early as 1300 in the anonymous Fechtbucb I.33 and I believe had it's uses in warfare, although I believe the target (a bigger buckler) was more commonly used for that.Let's not forget that (believe it or not) fashion and style often had a lot to do with changing tastes of civilian weaponry. The dagger is much easier to carry around, and was often made by the swordsmith as a beautiful matching companion to the rapier, making it very popular amongst the upper classes. It has even been speculated that one of the factors that helped the thin, edgless smallsword became so popular was it's shortness and it's ease of carrying around. Easier to dance with, yet is could still have elaborate, rich hilts made for it, easier to learn how to use.As for Silver he says that the sword and buckler has the advantage over the sword and dagger."The sword and buckler has advantage against the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or rapier and poniard"Silver says that defense with the dagger is imperfect, because, for one thing, it is only efficient at blocking thrusts, but the buckler is good for blocking thrusts and strong cuts."But the buckler, by reason of his circumference and weight, being well carried, defends safely in all times and places, whether it be at the point, half sword, the head, body, and face, from all manner of blows and thrusts whatsoever,"Having played around against both, I can honestly say that trying to land a blow against a guy with a sword and buckler is a real pain in the ass. The same guy weilding a sword and dagger is usually easier to score a blow against (especially a strong cut). The buckler can be used for offense too, perhaps not as deadly as a dagger, but enough to stun or knock out an opponent. Some bucklers even had a little spike on them, or pointy edges to aid in their offensive use.

Daggers, bucklers, & targets...Before answering your question, jbapk, I think it would be a good idea to define the above terms.The "dagger" in question is the "left-hand" dagger, so named because it was used in the left hand, as a secondary to the sword (assuming a right-handed swordsman). This large type of dagger, originally with a simple cross hilt, and later with a ring on the side of the quillon block to protect the knuckles, was apparently used in many parts of Europe, but was especially popular in Northern Italy and Spain, from the late 15th century onwards. In Italy, it was known as the pugnale Bolognese, presumably because it was frequently employed in the many Bolognese fencing schools of the time. During the second half of the 16th century, one also begins to see left-hand daggers with what George Silver calls "closed" hilts (basket hilts)--Silver prefers these to daggers with less hand protection. Finally, we see more elaborate daggers with even longer blades, long quillons, and shell guards, made for use with the lighter, thinner, cup-hilt rapiers of the 17th century--these are the main gauche daggers.The classifications of various shields can sometimes be confusing, because not all masters used the same definitions. For starters, I'm going to use the modern definitions for buckler and target (which also happen to be consistent with George Silver's terms):A buckler is a small hand shield, held with a single handle, that ranges from roughly 12 to 18 inches in diameter. They are usually made of iron or steel, but sometimes of wood reinforced with iron. In Italy, the buckler was known as a brochiero or a rotellino. Bucklers were usually round, but square ones were also made (the square buckler was known in Italy as a targa or targhetta--now this is where the confusion begins, but see below).The target, on the other hand, is a larger shield, approximately 2 feet in diameter, that was most often round, but sometimes oval in shape. The target was worn on the arm with straps, like a conventional shield. Earlier ones were made of wood, or wood with metal reinforcements, but by the 16th century, all-steel examples that were even proof against some firearms were being made. The target was known by many different names: in English it could be referred to as a target, targe, rondache, rondash, or rondel. Targe was also of course the term used to describe the brass nail-studded, embossed leather-covered target of the Highland and Lowland Scots. In Italy, the target was known as a rotella or a brochiero largo. In Spain is was apparently called a rodela. Square targets were also known--in Italy such a shield was known as a targa (considering that the Italians also classified some bucklers as targi, this can be confusing--see above). The target was more of a military weapon, as it could provide some defense against missiles (arrows, crossbow bolts, bullets, rocks, etc), as well as parry blows, while the small hand buckler was only good for the latter, as well as for striking the enemy with the boss or the edge. It is because of the above reasons that George Silver said that the sword and target had the advantage over the sword and buckler on the battlefield, but that the sword and buckler had the advantage over the sword and target in individual civilian combats.The small hand buckler was used as a backup weapon by infantrymen during the Middle Ages and Renaissance--longbowmen and billmen especially favored it, as sword-and-buckler fighting was a traditional form of fencing amongst the English yeomen. It was also used as a training tool by knights and men-at-arms, since it developed precision in parrying (due to its comparatively small surface area, when compared to larger shields).[continued below]

[continued from above]The target, on the other hand, was more of a battlefield weapon, since it provided the already-mentioned protection against missiles, as well as being obviously used for parrying. In fact, when modern historians refer to "sword-and-buckler men" when describing, say, the soldiers of Gonsalvo de Cordoba, they are in fact referring to sword-and-target men. Also, such soldiers were generally not described as such by contemporary chroniclers--a "sword-and-target man", was actually known either simply as "swordsman" (spadaccino in Italian), or as a "shield bearer" ( targetier or rondelier in English, rotelaro or rotularo in Italian, & rodelero in Spanish). The conquistador Bernal Diaz, in his account of Cortez's destruction of the Aztec Empire (The Conquest of New Spain), always refers to the sword-and-target men in Cortez's force as either "swordsmen" or "shield bearers".Four Common Renaissance Methods of Sword UseTop left: Sword and Dagger (spada e pugnale)Top right: Sword and Buckler (spada e brochiero)Bottom left: Single Sword (spada sola)Bottom right: Sword and Target (spada e rotella)To be continued...

what about the cloak? was that a popular thing to use, or was it less common? i forgot which fencing manual/book had instructions, albeit brief, on the cloak. i believe also Ramon Martinez instructs on its use.

my fave scene from THE THREE MUSKETEERS was of Oliver Reed fighting with the cloak. don't know why, but it was way cool.

Stickgrappler,The cloak was definitely another popular secondary to the sword, but almost purely in a civilian context. The target, buckler, and dagger all had military applications, whereas the cloak was clearly more applicable to duels, street brawls, pub fights, etc. It was essentially an "improvised" weapon (since gentlemen often wore cloaks anyway), but many Renaissance masters taught its use in a systematic fashion.Some masters, like Marozzo (from whose manual all of these pictures come from) taught the use of the cloak not just with the sword, but with the dagger as well.Bottom left: Cloak and DaggerBottom right: Cloak and Sword

hre's 2 others i found:

http://www.kismeta.com/diGrasse/di_grasseCloak.htm = Giacomo Di Grasse

http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/bjm10/hutton/dagger.html = Alfred Hutton

Di Grassi's fighters square off with sword and cloak.The Hutton link shows Hutton's interpretation of Marozzo's cloak and dagger stuff.

sorry, 1 more online source - Traite D'Escrime - Antonio Lovino:

http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~wew/fencing/lovino3.html = sword and cloak

http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~wew/fencing/lovino11.html = Defence by two with Sword & Cloak (no pix)

This is one thing that the cloak was great for:[From Lovino's manual]

Here is another example of the cloak in action from Fabris' manual (1606):

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems the buckler would
have been the least used (not counting the cloak). It
seems most duels would done by people out on the town,
so they would use the dagger, for the convience. The
target was the battlefield one. So the buckler was
mostly for support troops, and perhaps duels where the
combatents had time to prepare?

Now, about those left-hand daggers...Daggers of the pugnale Bolognese variety were popular over much of Europe, particularly, of course, in Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain, and Portugal. These were the countries that were really famous for their "sword and dagger" method of fighting (espada y daga or spada e pugnale).However, the English, while possessing a strong love for the buckler (bucklers were commonly worn next to sword hilts by English ruffians at this time), apparently also had their own indigenous system of using the dagger in conjunction with their preferred cut-and-thrust sword. The Germans, on the other hand, appear to have imported the Italian style of spada e pugnale, which was taught by late 16th century German masters along with their more traditional weapons, like the zweihander and dussack.If period illustrations are to be believed, left-hand daggers were worn by very many people indeed; civilian gentlemen of course wore them as an adjunct to the rapier, and they also appear to have been a fairly typical side arm for soldiers during the second half of the 16th century (during the earlier part of the century, the pugnale Bolognese was not the only style of dagger used--rondel and ballock daggers were popular as well, especially amongst the landsknechts). Sword-and-target men (targetiers, rondeliers, rotulari, rodeleros, etc) were normally equipped with them, as were arquebusiers and pikemen. Knights used them as well. Overall, the target was more useful, and hence more popular to use, as a secondary to the sword, but illustrations exist that show English, Dutch, and Spanish forces fighting in the Netherlands in the late 1500's, and officers wielding sword and dagger can be seen fighting alongside, and against, officers armed with sword and target. The officers who preferred the dagger over the target were possibly considering the fact that many of the steel, bullet-proof targets were rather heavy (one officer said that they could barely be carried for one hour). Early pugnale Bolognese left-hand daggers (from the late 15th and early 16th centuries) looked like these--rather plain.The "classic" pugnale Bolognese left-hand dagger, from circa 1520-1600+, had a ring on one side of the quillon block, to protect the knuckles (the blade was typically held in the "quarter saber" grip).Finally, the so-called main gauche dagger appeared in the 17th century, where is was used alongside the lighter cup-hilted rapiers of that time. Note the shell guard.

From di Grassi's manual

jbapk,Yes, the dagger and the cloak were the most popular secondaries for the sword in the civilian context, followed by the buckler in some areas (like England). The target probably saw no street use whatsoever--it was purely for the battlefield, and, occasionally, for judicial combats (like the one between Jarnac and Chastaigneraie in 1547).TFS

The cloak and dagger fighting strikes me as something that could still be practical for modern times.

I wonder how much modification the old methods would require for use with, say, a tactical folder and a coat?


hence my interest in the cloak info ;-)

Hmm, good question, you would have to find a true cloak and dagger manual. I have mostly seen the cloak used with the rapier. The short length of the tactical folder changes the nature of the game. One can execute some pretty fast and deep cuts with a folder, a bit different than the rapiers of Di Grassi's and Fabris' time, which were mainly most efficient at thrusting. Wrapping a leather jacket or a heavy cloth around your off hand isn't a bad improvisational idea, just to protect you from cuts. Due to the difficulty of isolating and controlling your opponents short knife, I would be reluctant to try any of the "cloak over the head and attack" techniques you see above. I would like to see more period "cloak and dagger". I wonder how different the transition would be from a 15 inch blade to a 3 or 4 inch blade? Would be interesting to play around with.