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Gérard Thibault d'Anvers

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Gérard Thibault d'Anvers
Born 1574
Died 1629
Occupation Fencing master
Nationality Dutch
Movement La Verdadera Destreza
Genres Fencing manual
Language French
Notable work(s) Academie de l'Espée (1630)

Gérard Thibault d'Anvers (ca. 1574–1629)[1] was a 17th century Dutch fencing master and author of the 1628 rapier manual Academie de l'Espée, one of the most detailed and elaborate sources ever written on fencing. Details about Thibault's life are sparse and what we know is based on his book and his album amicorum.[2] The latter contains handwritten notes and celebratory poems from Thibault's friends, relatives, pupils, and colleagues, included among whom are several contemporary fencing masters.[3]

Thibault was born in or around 1574 in Antwerp, son of Hendrick Thibaut and Margaretha van Nispen.[4] Although his father used the surname "Thibaut," Gérard used the French form "Thibault."[4] Hendrick Thibaut came from a well-known family in Ypres, living in Ghent and Antwerp before going into exile in the northern Netherlands.[4] Henrick's eldest son, Christiaen, founded the noble family Thibaut van Aegtekerke.[5]

Thibault first studied swordsmanship in Antwerp under Lambert van Someron, who taught between the years of 1564 and 1584.[6] In 1605, Thibault was a wool merchant in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, south of Seville on the Guadalquivir river, and the hometown of Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza.[2] There, he took an interest in swordsmanship, studying the Spanish rapier system of Destreza.[2]

Thibault left Spain to return to the Netherlands, and was in Amsterdam as early as 1610.[2] In or around 1611, he presented his system to an assembly of Dutch masters at a competition in Rotterdam.[7] Thibault won first prize, earning an invitation to the court of Prince Maurice of Nassau, where the Prince observed Thibault's system in a multi-day demonstration.[6]

Although initially met with skepticism, Thibault convinced his fellow Dutch fencing masters, including Johannes Damius of Haarlem, Dirck van Stervergen of Leiden, Cornelis Cornelisz van Heusden of Amsterdam, and Thibault's former teacher Lambert von Someron.[6] In 1615, Thibault was invited to the court at Cleves and left Amsterdam, where he once again demonstrated his system successfully.[8] Over the next several years, Thibault traveled from Cleves, Amsterdam, to Spain, back to Amsterdam, and finally to Leiden in 1622.[9] There, Thibault studied mathematics at Leiden University.[10] It is unclear whether Thibault taught his system at the university.[10] It is during his time in Leiden that Thibault likely began working on Academie de l'Espée and employed a team of sixteen master engravers.[11]

Thibault died in 1629, a year before his masterpiece was finally published (despite the date on the title page of 1628, it was not published until 1630).[12]


The Academie de l'Espée (1630) is presented in two books. Book 1 consists of a short introduction, populated with plates showing the coats of arms of several nobles who were prominent in and around the court of the low countries at the time he wrote this book, and then introduces training in the use of his system of swordplay.

Thibault, although he does not explain until Plate 8, uses the term estocade to describe a thrust to the near, right side, and the term imbrocade to describe a thrust to the far, left side, from the Italian terms stoccata and imbroccata. English has a single term thrust to mean either, but did borrow the Italian term imbroccata to specifically refer to the latter type of thrust.

Plate I begins with a long philosophical discussion of his worldview. It is a good insight into the late Renaissance worldview relating mathematics and Christian religious beliefs to an idealized human figure. It then explains how to construct his Mysterious Circle. This includes a lengthy discussion of how the circle relates geometrically to the ideal body size, based on Vitruvius, and notes about how the lines and crossing points of the circle will be used. This is the basic reference diagram for the entire system. It also includes explanations of how to measure for the correct sword size for any given person, and some explanation of why this is so, and some introductory explanation of appropriate ranges for swordplay.

Plate II compares his ideal body measurements against a figure by Albrecht Durer. Part 2 discusses his ideal sword scabbard and how to construct and wear it.

Plates III & IV deal with how to properly draw a sword and how to approach an adversary.

Plate V introduces his fighting system. First, how to deal with feints (typical of the schools of the time) and defend against typical thrusts.

Plate VI introduces several basic concepts. The importance of maintaining contact between swords, not typical of schools of the time, and the basic steps to close with and thrust into an opponent. The first steps show the attack as if he were to make no defense. Then he assumes the opponent will try to disrupt the attack, and discusses how to deal with interruptions if they occur at various points during the movement.

Plate VII introduces an opponent using circular disengagements and counterthrusts to disrupt an attack, and how to counter them.

Plate VIII introduces the imbroccata attack against the left side and exercises to counter them when they occur at various stages of the attack.

Plates IX & X introduces the idea of blade control and various degrees of force which can be applied against the blade to parry an attack. He defines several increasing degrees of pressure and introduces exercises to learn to distinguish them, and how to counter parries by force.

Plate XI continues the exploration of how to deal with different degrees of force against the blade.

Plate XII shows how to create an angle between blades to move in against the opponent

Book 2 lacks an explanation of the complex frontspiece, and was incomplete at the time of his death, but what he does have shows how to use his style against other systems and weapons then in use, including shields, longsword, and firearms.

The plates uploaded to WikTenauer are sufficient to follow the text, but if anyone wishes to see very high definition images, they can be found on [www.geheugenvannederland.nl]. Search on Girard Thibault.