Wiktenauer logo.png

George Silver

From Wiktenauer
Jump to navigation Jump to search
George Silver
Born ca. 1550s-early 60s
Died date of death unknown
Spouse(s) Mary Haydon
Nationality English
Genres Fencing manual
Language English
Notable work(s) Paradoxes of Defence (1599)
First printed
english edition
Matthey, 1898
Concordance by Michael Chidester, Stephen Hand
Translations Český Překlad

George Silver (ca.1550s- early 1560s - 1620s) was a 16th - 17th century English nobleman and fencing enthusiast. He was likely born in the 1550s or early 1560s, the eldest of four brothers; apparently at least one of them, Toby, was also an accomplished swordsman. Silver is described as a gentleman in his treatise, and the fencing historian Aylward claims that he was eleventh in descent from Sir Bartholomew Silver, who was knighted by Edward II [1]. On March 24th 1580 (1579 in the old calendar then in use in England), he was married to Mary Haydon in London, England. [2]

Silver's martial lineage is unknown, but as a member of the gentry he was not affiliated with the lower class London Masters of Defence and would not have been a fencing master himself as the latter were classed as vagrants under the relevant act of 1529 [3]. In spite of this, he was possessed of strong opinions about the proper method of fencing and was strongly opposed to the contemporary Continental fencing traditions. He was particularly critical of the Italian masters who had set up schools in London, including Rocco Bonetti and Vincentio Saviolo. He and Toby went so far as to challenge Saviolo to a public fencing match to demonstrate the superiority of English arts, but even though they placarded London, Southwark, and Westminster with the challenge, and had it carried to Saviolo personally on the appointed day, Silver states that no formal match occurred.[4] Silver challenged Saviolo to fence him at ten weapons, beginning with the single rapier and rapier and dagger, which suggests that Silver had at least a passing familiarity with those weapons.[5]

In 1599, Silver published a treatise entitled Paradoxes of Defence and dedicated it to Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex and also Saviolo's patron. Silver uses "paradox" in the sense of heresy and in this work he speaks against the wildly popular rapier, detailing what he sees as its inherent flaws as well as those of the foreign fencing styles that emphasize it. A second volume, entitled Brief Instructions upon My Paradoxes of Defence and explaining his own English fencing style, was written at a later date. The manuscript is undated but refers to Great Britain and so must have been written after James I's introduction of that term in late 1604. Bref Instructions remained unpublished for unknown reasons.

Silver's activities after the publication of his book are unclear. Aylward claims that he was alive in 1622, when he was visited (a kind of audit of people claiming noble or gentlemanly status) by Cooke, Clarenceux King-of-Arms. [6] However, Robert Cooke died in 1593. The Clarenceux King-of Arms in 1622 was William Camden, but as he became paralyzed in 1622 and died in 1623 it is doubtful whether he visited Silver either.[7]


Additional Resources


  1. J.D. Aylward, The English Master at Arms from the Twelfth to the Twentieth Century. London 1956, p. 62
  2. Ibid, p. 63
  3. Ibid. p. 19
  4. George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence, London 1599, pp. 66-67
  5. Ibid, p. 66
  6. J.D. Aylward, The English Master at Arms from the Twelfth to the Twentieth Century, London 1956, p. 62
  7. S. Hand, Swordplay in the Age of Shakespeare, In Press