“Spadroon is a militarised smallsword” – This is a statement I hear a lot, and one I would like to see an end to. Not because the smallsword is a bad weapon, but because that statement undermines what the spadroon is and how it developed. The implication is that gentlemen in the late 18th century started adopting a slightly beefy smallsword to utilize their existing smallsword/foil skills. But this ignores the fact that spadroons were not new, they were not all for gentlemen, and that the development of smallswords and spadroons was a parallel one.
The spadroon was not based on the smallsword, they were both creations of a trend towards double shell simpler hilted swords that emphasized the point and were easy to wear/carry. This development really began in the early 17th century, and in some cases a little earlier in the late 16th. The smallsword is often said to have evolved out of the rapier, and so did the spadroon from military swords of the period. The mortuary, walloon and other munitions grade military swords of the 17th century spreading approx. 1630-1680. These were not even exclusively ”gentlemans” swords, but general use military swords.
Additionally, the “Spadroon is a militarised smallsword” statement dismisses it’s cutting ability as a throw away feature. Assuming it is merely beefed up smallsword for war that still can’t really cut. Yet that is far from true. The spadroon is a cut and thrust sword just as most 19th century sabres were intended to be. Are there bad examples? Sure, but don’t judge an entire category of swords by those bad examples. Don’t even judge the infamous 1796 spadroon by the bad examples, as there is incredible variety to be found. Blades found on the 1796 can be anything from as light as a smallsword to as beefy as some 17th century backswords. All the while still being a spadroon. I am not including the really beefy broadsword bladed 1796s. Even the double shell guards of the 1796 get criticized because they are a copy of the smallsword and not suited to cut and thrust, and yet this ignores the fact that double shell guatds were really popular on military cut and thrust swords for approximately 200 years, for hangers, cutlass, spadroons and broadswords.
The spadroon often looks similar to a smallsword at a casual glance, but that is because of simultaneous development. The spadroon was not a short-lived fad or experiment. Its service was as long as the smallsword, and in some cases longer still. Time to separate these weapons and appreciate them both for what they were and their long and colourful histories.
–Nick Thomas, Academy of Historical Fencing
I agree with Nick, and would also add that many spadroon hilts do not bear any resemblance to smallsword hilts. “Spadroon” really describes a blade type (straight cut and thrust blade) more than an overall sword type (blade and hilt). Spadroons can have just about any hilt type that was to be found in the 17th-19th Centuries. A while back Nick made a nice graphic showing various spadroon hilts over time. Click here for a larger version.