The Buckler

Where the term "Swashbuckler" comes from

The term buckler derives it name from the french word "bouclier", meaning "shield", which in turn comes from the old French word "bocle" or "boucle". Bucklers are small shields ranging in size from 8 to 15 inches in diameter, and are gripped in the fist and generally used as a companion weapon in hand-to-hand sword combat.

Many people commonly mistake the Buckler for some sort of simple shield, but in reality a Buckler was far too small to be used effectively as protection against arrows or other such weapons. It's small size, light weight, versatility and instinctive ease of use made it an extremely effective weapon capable of making a variety of offensive and defensive moves.

There are several different varieties of bucklers that have been documented. The first is a simple round shield with the fist positioned directly behind the boss with a variety of shapes of face and depths of rim (such as the image shown on the left). These could also have projections from the top and bottom as in Hans Talhoffer's Fechtbücher or serrated rings around the boss as in one example in the Wallace Collection.  The second major form of Buckler is a corrugated rectangle as suggested by Achille Marozzo in his Opera Nova.

Although the existence of buckler is not very well known, it was very widely used in it's day. It was a simple yet effective weapon that, when combined with a sword, made a swordsman much more dangerous an opponent. The buckler had many uses, but traditional fighting styles generally focus on the following four principal uses:
  1. As a deflector: The buckler's lightness and curved center made it excellent for deflecting attacking blades. Such a deflection would leave the attacker open for a rapid counter-attack.

  2. As a blinder: The light blades used in conjunction with the buckler depended on rapid movements, which meant that a single second was an important advantage. The wielder of the buckler could use the metal disc to shield his sword-hand's position from view, keeping his opponent from guessing his next strike.

  3. As a "metal fist": A buckler can be used to directly attack an opponent by punching with either its flat face or its rim.

  4. As a binder: The buckler can be used to bind an opponent's sword hand and weapon against their body. The buckler is also very useful in grappling where it allows an opponent's arms to be easily wrapped up and controlled.

The Buckler was predominantly used in the Middle Ages but it had a surprising resurgence of popularity again during the Renaissance. The Buckler's effective in swordplay made it very popular among the young men who later became known as Swashbucklers, as well as among Pirates and Sailors for whom the buckler was an ideal weapon for the extremely violent and close quartered fighting of shipboard combat.


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