Cavalcabo: Plays of the Estramaçon

Cavalcabo[1]the very influential translation by Villamont from Italian to French of Cavalcabo’s Treatise or Instruction on Fighting with Weapons (1597) and a similar essay by Patenostrier, available in English translation by Rob Runacres of the Renaissance Sword Club delays dealing with cutting strikes until after his advice on how to use the cloak as an off-hand device. Is this a measure of the importance he places on them?

The sections on strikes are about 500 words wedged between using the cloak and how to fight left-handers. That’s too much text to reproduce in full so here’s some key selections which illustrate his teaching.

For you to know how many estramaçons can be made, one can make a revers, a main droite and an estramaçon, cutting both from the right as from a revers.

The terminology should be familiar. A main droite, or right hand, is the Italian mandritto, a strike from the right side cutting downwards to the left. The revers is a reverso, a strike cutting downwards from left to right. The estramaçon is a new(-ish) term which requires a little unpacking. This is the French transliteration of the Italian stramazzone, a quick circular cut from the wrist.[2]It’s worth noting that stramazzone and Henry de Sainct-Didier’s desrober carry the same everyday language meaning of collapsing or falling. Cavalcabo used the word from his native language and thus a foreign term replaced or superseded the native one.

If someone strikes a main droite to the head, parry straight with your sword; if he strikes with a revers, parry with a revers; if he strikes a fendant (a vertical downwards strike, the Italian fendente), parry with the sword and the dagger if you have one or with the cape, for one or the other will greatly assist you to release your sword from that of the enemy’s, to more easily thrust them.

The defense against the main droite and the fendent are essentially the same and follow the same procedure we’ve seen previously: parry with the sword (a cross-parry in the case of a fendent), control the opponent’s weapon with the dagger and make a riposte. The action which differs from this general pattern is the response to a revers. In this case, Cavalcabo advises cutting into the attack with a revers of your own.

He addresses a range of specific cases but these tend to give options for how to best riposte from the defenses discussed above. There’s no need to go through them in detail as most of them appear accidental in that the specific riposte is dependent on the circumstances. For instance, if you parry a main droite low, a thrust is the best response but, if you parry it high, a revers to the opponent’s head is best.

Recollect this when you want to start your attack: you must carry a resolute point to the enemy’s face, so that he has subject [is forced?] to parry. If he does not parry, let go the botte to his face, and if he parries with his dagger, turn a main droite on the arm of his dagger or his head, you going in quarte guard to await his riposte, retiring somewhat beyond measure. And if the enemy parries with his sword, you shall make a revers on his arm or on his head by going in seconde or tierce guard waiting for his riposte.

Attacking with the cut follows the pattern we’ve seen before: make a thrust to draw your opponent out of guard so that you can attack with a second intention attack. In this case, thrust in third position (i.e.: the blade in the vertical plane). If you are parried to your outside, make a revers from the wrist. If you are parried to the inside, make a main droite from the wrist.

There’s a bunch of variant actions dicussed but they are almost all essentially the same as these. The only difference of note is that, either in attack or defense, to use your dagger to control the opponent’s blade to keep it high while you cut low, generally cutting at the opponent’s legs or perhaps making a thrust to the opponent’s belly.
That’s about it for cutting strikes. Cavalcabo obvious does not consider them overly important and it appears that, unlike in the earlier Bolognese tradition, all are downward strikes. Gone is the ridoppio, the falso manco and the falso dritto.

Notes   [ + ]

1. the very influential translation by Villamont from Italian to French of Cavalcabo’s Treatise or Instruction on Fighting with Weapons (1597) and a similar essay by Patenostrier, available in English translation by Rob Runacres of the Renaissance Sword Club
2. It’s worth noting that stramazzone and Henry de Sainct-Didier’s desrober carry the same everyday language meaning of collapsing or falling. Cavalcabo used the word from his native language and thus a foreign term replaced or superseded the native one.