Swashbucklers and Musketeers: A Beginner's Guide to

Renaissance Persona Development


Lord Aubrey de Baudricourt

Cadet to Don Jeremy James Scurlock


The continuing development of rapier combat in the Kingdom of Ansteorra has contributed strongly to an increased interest in the Renaissance and Renaissance personas. Rapier combat in not a phenomenon restricted completely to the High Renaissance or, within the SCA, to the High Renaissance persona. Rapiers were actually developed and used as early as 1450 in Italy (see 'The Art of Swordplay in the Renaissance'). But most of the conventions, fashion, customs and style with which rapier combat in Ansteorra has become associated is from the world of the High Renaissance. And this is only right since it was during those years from roughly 1560 to 1600 that formalized duello came into its own. Thus, though it is not a necessity by any means, a Renaissance persona is most appropriate for those wishing to participate in light lists.

It is not necessary to be a practitioner of rapier combat to have a Renaissance persona. Those who love the Renaissance for its music, history, culture, and/or clothing can often have a more apt appreciation of the spirit of the Renaissance than the rapier combatants. One can enjoy and appreciate these without ever walking out onto a list field.

Many Lords and Ladies within the SCA are very familiar with the history and pageantry of the Middle Ages. Early in its history this was the era that the SCA stressed. Now, as rapier combat becomes increasingly popular, an interest in the forms and conventions of the Renaissance is rising. But knowledge of the Renaissance by members of the SCA, especially beginners, is considerably less than that of the Middle Ages. Who has not heard of Richard the Lionhearted? But who knows about Don Juan of Austria?

This short article is designed to help the novice in creating a Renaissance persona. It cannot be more than a general guide which, when used with common sense, some historical research, cloth and needle and, above all, perseverance, can be of help in beginning the process of Renaissance persona development.

Selecting a Nationality and Name

This state of limited knowledge makes it difficult for the beginner to "create' a Renaissance persona. But the process is similar to that of selecting a medieval persona. The first step is to select a nationality and a name that reflects that nationality. This will require some research so that you-have a "feel" for Renaissance Europe and discover which country best fits the characteristics that you wish for your persona t6 have. In many ways this is the most fun part of the process. Be sure to include your local herald as a source during your search for a nationality and name. Most heralds live for the opportunity to help newcomers develop their personas and have long lists of names from various nationalities and knowledge and experience in developing personas. A not often tapped source of help are those Lords and Ladies who already have Renaissance personas. They have already walked the road upon which you are about to embark. They can save you many long hours down dead end paths and help you avoid many pitfalls. Talk to them. You will find that they are more than willing to help.

As your research progresses you will find that Renaissance Europe was a lively place. Spain and France struggled for dominance of Europe while merrie England tried to serve as a balancer of power between the two. Italy provided the battlefield for Spanish and French armies while the Reformation raged across the German states. Turkish armies devoured the Balkans and laid siege to Vienna. Poland served as the gateway to the north and Russia began to emerge from her own Dark Age. Towards the end of the Renaissance France fell apart and tried to devour itself in a series of bloody Religious Wars while Spain's power began a slow decline of its own. It was also an age of discovery, adventure and conquest. Spain discovered, conquered and plundered the New World. Portugal opened the trade routes to India around Africa. Portugal and Spain (and later Holland) explored the Far East as well. The richness of material available from which to draw a persona is amazing. More historical information is provided in the series of historical articles that follow this one. These are meant to serve as starting points for further research.

Role Models and Persons of Interest

Many role models exist upon which to build a biography for your persona once a nationality and name are selected. Studying the lives of people of the Renaissance will provide material that can be used to broaden your persona and will also enrich your understanding the time period in which you have elected to "live". Five fine examples are:

Don Juan of Austria (1547-1578): wag the illegitimate son of Charles V and half brother of Philip II of Spain. He was raised in the court of his half brother and served Philip faithfully throughout his short life. He was instrumental in the suppression of the Morisco revolt in Spain and struggled with the insurrection in the United Provinces. But his most famous exploit was his victory over the Turkish navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 at the age of 24. He wag handsome, dashing and energetic but felt that he was poorly rewarded by his half brother for his services. Many historians agree.

Blaise de Monluc (1500-1590): was a poor Gascon nobleman, forced by his poverty to seek his fortune with the sword in the service of the King of France. Blaise de Monluc participated in most of the great battles in Italy between the Valois and Hapsburgs and also faithfully served the French kings during the Religious Wars within France itself. He was knighted by a king of France and made a Marshal of France by another and fought well into his eighties. His career served as a model for later Gascons of literature: d'Artagnan and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Miklos Zrinyi (d. 1566): was an obscure Hungarian count who held a castle and town at a key crossing of the Danube. Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, planned to lay siege to Vienna and allocated 300,000 men to accomplish the task. Count Zrinyi raided the Turkish camp and quickly found his castle besieged by the Turks. Refusing to surrender, even after being offered the governorship of Croatia and a sizeable monetary grant, Zrinyi fought to the bitter end and, before dying, knew that he had delayed the Turks for too long for them to complete their campaign. He did not know that the campaign would not be resurrected the next year because Suleiman had preceded him to the grave by three days.

Bess of Harwick (c. 1525-1608): was a member of the gentry who rose, through the course of four marriages to become the Countess of Shrewsbury. She was known as a dynast (three Dukedoms count her as an ancestress) and a builder (Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth are among the loveliest of Elizabethan homes). Bess was a strong, determined and wise woman who saw that her many children were well provided for and that she herself was taken care of as well. With the exception of Queens Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart (both of whom she knew well), Bess of Hardwick was the most remarkable Englishwoman of her time.

Isabella d'Este (1474-1539): was a daughter of Ercole Este, Duke of Ferrara and recipient of a classical education in Italy's most distinguished court. Married to Gianfrancesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, one of the greatest military men of his generation, Isabella was fully his equal intellectually and socially and was gifted with a talent for diplomacy. Isabella was a patron of the arts and sciences and influential enough to have her portrait painted by both Titian and da Vinci. Although pious by nature, Isabella opposed the growing might of the Papal States even after the death of her husband in 1519. She served as advisor to her oldest son and was successful in securing a cardinalate for another.

Other-historical figures whose stories might be helpful in developing your persona are: Miguel de Cervantes, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Philip Sydney, Francis I, Cesare Borgia, Michel de Montaigne, Henry Carey (Lord Hunsdon), Lorenzo de Medici, Hernan Cortez, Gonzale de Cordoba, Ludovico Gonzaga, and John Dowland. This is, of course, by no means and exhaustive list. Fighters, philosophers, matriarchs and courtiers flourished during the Renaissance.

Developing Your Persona's Biography

Once you have settled on a when, who and where for your persona and have done research about the nation and time of your persona you may want to develop a life story for him or her. Back to the books again! Find the historical events that took place in your time in which you may have participated and the people (famous, infamous and unknown) who interacted in your life and begin to develop your biography. The scope of the Renaissance offers a tremendous stage upon which your persona might have lived, loved, traveled, fought and explored. You are limited only by your imagination and knowledge. Here is an example of how to use historical figures and events to enliven your persona's biography:

Diego Gonzalo de Zuniga, the son of a penniless hidalgo, was born in the year 1550 in northwestern Spain and educated at the University of Salamanca. Introduced at the Court of Philip II to Don Juan of Austria, the King's illegitimate half-brother, he accompanies Don Juan to Venice and from Venice to the battle of Lepanto in 1571. After victory over the Turks, Don Juan is transferred to deal with the troublesome province of Holland and Diego accompanies him. After the death of Don Juan, Diego serves his successor, the Duke of Parma for a few months.

Financial problems and an unfortunate encounter with the lovely daughter of a rich Dutch merchant force Diego to seek his fortune in the New World and, in 1579 at the age of 29, he sails for New Granada and is excepted into the service of the governor of Cartagena. After five years of service, Diego is selected as a captain of one of the galleons of His Most Catholic Majesty's treasure fleet that transfers gold and silver yearly from the New World to Spain. Encountering English privateers near Nombre de Dios, two galleons are lost but Diego's ship is successful in capturing one of the enemy's barques.

His fortune is made upon the treasure fleet's arrival in Spain. The King is informed of Diego's valiant service and as a reward Philip awards him a substantial annuity, a position at court and rank within the Spanish navy. As 1587 dawns Diego is faced with the decision of either remaining comfortably on his estates enjoying the fruits of his labors or joining the Armada that sails to conquer the heretical English.

Clothes and Manners

Next, it is necessary to acquire adequate clothing and these can oftentimes lean towards the extravagant. Good Renaissance garb is often more difficult and expensive than standard Medieval garb. But, once it is complete it more than rewards the work and expense. Several costuming books exist on the market which detail the clothing of early Tudor England, Hapsburg Spain, the Italian Renaissance and, most commonly, Elizabethan England. "Elizabethan Costuming" , 'Patterns of Fashion c. 1560-1620", and, as heretical as this may seem, 'Patterns for Theatrical Costumes: Garments, Trims and Accessories from Ancient Egypt to 1915" (pp 152-205) offer a point from which to start. Selecting the proper clothing that best suites your persona is as important a step as any in the process. The colors and style must fit the personality of your persona but the choices in these are varied. If you are lucky enough to have a skilled seamstress or tailor (my thanks to the Honorable Lady Katrina of Iron Mountain and Lady Rolanda Rossner), so much the better.

If your persona is military in nature it is important to understand that he or she will need to be elaborately fitted out. Elizabethan officers during the summer often wore a doublet of Milan fustian faced with taffeta; a pair of broadcloth venetians, trimmed with silk and lined with cotton and linen; and a pair of worsted stockings. In the winter he added a broadcloth cassock faced with taffeta to his wardrobe. The higher the rank, the more fancy the clothes should be. But keep in mind that even a lowly Captaine could cut quite a figure.

Finally, you might want to perfect the courtly graces and conventions of the times. The best starting point is Castiglione's 'The Courtier". It describes the author's concept of the perfect courtier and gentleman. Castiglione's perfect courtier should be a nobleman who achieves all with an effortless elegance. He should be personally brave, courteous, well read, loyal, and skilled in the use of weapons and in the use of the pen. The courtier owes his prince his loyalty and devotion but, above all, he owes his Prince true and honest council.

Machiavelli's "The Prince" provides a more realistic view of the courtier and his prince, but be warned that while this book illustrates the reality of the Renaissance, the behavior that it details was in no way openly sanctioned in the Renaissance. Della Casa's "Galateo" will help in regards to basic Renaissance manners and Saviolo's 'His Practice" (an Elizabethan fencing manual) has several sections that deal with the subject of honor and honorable quarrels. For an overall appreciation of Renaissance culture, literature and philosophy Penguin Book's "The Portable Renaissance Reader" is probably the smallest single work available.


You will find that the local library, local herald and other knowledgeable persons in the SCA will be indispensable in developing your persona to the fullest. Let history be your guide and try to remain as faithful to it as possible without becoming its slave. Remember that you are not " stuck* with the typical fighter persona. Courtiers, great ladies, courtesans, pirates, fighting merchant-princes, as well as musketeers and other swashbucklers flourished during this time.

As long and drawn out a process as this has seemed, this has only been the beginning. Where you take your persona from here and how you develop him further is up to you. Remember to allow your persona to grow and develop as any normal person does. In the end, that will be the most fun part of all.

[My thanks to Lord Etienne de Montague, Cadet to Don Iolo, whose article "Period Role-Models" found in "Lectures from Academy of the Rapier VI" served as the point of origin for this article.]