Number 3 in the inspiring areas of history series of blogs. Usual caveat found here applies!
Plagues aside, the Renaissance period generally saw a substantial growth in the size of cities, Venice, Florence and Genoa begin good examples in Northern Italy. As people began to spend more time in cities and with the explosion in commerce that came around the same time, social mobility was high. In a society with strong social stratification, it became more difficult to tell who came from what rank and those who wished to stand out had to find new ways to do so. Simply looking well fed and clothed was no longer enough. For gentlemen, one method was to carry a sword.
While there are other factors at play in explaining the fashion for carrying swords, one was certainly that it was a statement of social rank. Carrying, and being able to use a sword was a statement that you could afford to own it, and you had the free time to learn how to use it, i.e. that you didn’t need a day job to earn a living!
In terms of the shape and style of swords, this period takes us from the plain cruciform shape that had dominated the medieval period to long bladed rapiers with complex hilt designs. As an accessory to a gentleman, they became something of a fashion statement and there are many particularly impressive examples to be found in museums around the world. In some respects they can be seen in the way flashy jewellery is today as their design was often as dictated to by style as practicality.
With lots of ‘honourable’ gentlemen wandering about with swords and too much free time, duelling among civilians over matters of honour became more common. This brings us to an area that I think is particularly suited to interesting fiction of both the historical and fantasy varieties and is the reason behind this blog post. With people being quite sensitive to any perceived slight on their character, there is a huge amount of potential for conflict development in stories. Instead of going home and being angry about an insult for a few days and then forgetting about it, it was quite likely that a gentleman in this era would draw, or at least attempt to draw blood over it!