Fencing schools can be found in European historical records dating back to the 12th century. In later times fencing teachers were paid by rich patrons to produce books about their fighting systems, called treatises. Fencing schools were forbidden in some European cities during the medieval period, though court records show that such schools operated illegally.
The earliest surviving treatise on fencing stored at the Royal Armories Museum in Leeds, England, dates from around 1300 AD and is from Germany. It is known as I.33 and written in Medieval Latin and Middle High German and deals with an advanced system of using the sword and buckler together.
From 1400 onwards an increasing number of fencing treatises survived from across Europe, with the majority from the 15th century coming from Germany and Italy. In this period these arts were largely reserved for the knighthood and the nobility hence most treatises deal with knightly weapons, such as the roundel dagger, longs word, spear, poll axe and armored fighting mounted and on foot. Some treatises cover weapons available to the common classes, such as grebes Messer and sword and buckler. Wrestling, both with and without weapons, armored and unarmored, was also featured heavily in the early fencing treatises.
By the 16th century, with the widespread adoption of the printing press, the increase in the urban population and other social changes, the number of treatises increased dramatically. After around 1500 carrying swords became more acceptable in most parts of Europe. The growing middle classes meant that more men could afford to carry swords, learn fencing and be seen as gentlemen. By the middle of the 16th century many European cities contained great numbers of fencing schools, often clustered together, such as in London at "Hanging Sword Lane". Italian fencing masters were particularly popular and set up schools in many foreign cities. The Italians brought concepts of science to the art, appealing to the Renaissance mindset.
In 16th century Germany compendia of older Fechtbucher techniques were produced, some of them printed, notably by Paulus Hector Mair and by Joachim Meyer, based on 14th century teachings of the Liechtenauer tradition. In this period German fencing developed sportive tendencies.
The rapier's popularity peaked in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Dardi school of the 1530s, as exemplified by Achille Marozzo, still taught the two handed spadone, but preferred the single handed sword. The success of Italian masters such as Marozzo and Fabris outside of Italy shaped a new European mainstream of fencing.
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