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Dean Castle Arms and Armour

Small swords

Small swords

Alongside rapiers, the small swords in the 8th Lord Howard de Walden's collection demonstrate the superb skill and craftmanship required for integrating form and function. From their initial development at the start of the 16th century until their prime in the early 17th century, the rapier, a large, slender, sharply pointed cut-and-thrust sword, dominated as the sword of choice for civillian gentleman. However, during the course of the 17th century, the blades of the rapier became shorter, lighter and more elegant. These trimmer blades became known as the smallsword. The first prototypes of the smallsword emerged in Western Europe around 1630, with the style gradually supplanting the rapier in popularity, although the longer and heavier rapier was still favoured in Spain and the country's dependencies in Italy. While still deadly in the hands of a skilled swordsperson, the more portable smallsword, with its typical ornate and highly decorated hilts and blades, became status symbols and an integral part of a gentleman's wardrobe. The popularity of smallswords fell out of style at the end of the 18th century as pistols and other firearms replaced swords, which were frequently used in duels.