Stray Rounds: The buckler

US Park Ranger Jeffrey Edel, Supervisor of Historic Weapons at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, provides weekly segments from the park’s educational program for the entertainment and enlightenment of Historic City News readers in St. Augustine and St. Johns County.

A buckler is a small shield about 6 to 18 inches in diameter. It is gripped in the fist and generally used as a “companion weapon” in hand-to-hand combat during the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

Its size made it poor protection against missile weapons like arrows but useful in deflecting the blow of an opponent’s sword or knife.

The buckler was more widely used than is commonly known. It was a simple yet effective weapon, often combined with a short sword or rapier.

It was popular circa 1100 to 1600 and was seen in some areas until the 18th century.

The buckler had a variety of roles when it came to swordplay, as hand protection, as a deflector (the buckler’s lightness and curved center made it excellent for deflecting attacking blades) as a blinder (The wielder of the buckler could use the buckler to shield his sword-hand’s position from view, keeping his opponent from guessing his next strike) as a striker (It could be used to directly attack an opponent by punching with either its flat face or its rim) and as a binder (The buckler could be used to bind an opponent’s sword hand and weapon as well as their buckler against their body)

The buckler was typically carried hanging from the sword belt. “Swasher” is a term that emerged in the 16th century for rough, noisy and boastful swordsman.

A possible explanation for this term is that it derives from a fighting style using a side sword with a buckler in the off hand, which was applied with much “swashing and making a noise on the buckler” i.e. banging it like a symbol to distract or intimidate one’s opponent.

Later the name “swashbuckler” (like gunslinger) became common for the archetype character that we know today.

Jeffrey Edel
U. S. Park Ranger
Historic Weapons Supervisor
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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