One of the most celebrated sword masters of Old Europe, Fabris was born in or around Padua, Italy, in 1544. His superior skills in the art of the rapier earned him fame, fortune, knighthood and ensured that his name would be forever associated with his weapon.

The illustrious names of Fabrisí pupils is convincing evidence of his superior reputation as a master of the sword. In the 1590ís, Fabris was employed by Johan Frederik (Duke) of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp, also Archbishop of Bremen. In 1601, he was hired by King Christian IV of Denmark as the royal swordsmanship instructor. It was during the years at the Kingís services that he published the outstanding rapier treatise Lo Schermo, overo Scienza díArme (1606). The King himself sponsored the project financially and put his court painter, Jan Halbeeck, at Fabrisí disposal.

Salvator Fabris, Supreme Knight of the Order of the Seven Hearts and Teacher of the King of Denmark, may be Considered the Quintessential Italian Rapier Master.

The book was so well received by Masters and students alike that it was re-published continually until 1713 and translated into several languages - a truly unique occurrence for a fencing treatise. Indeed, the Scienza is perhaps the most complete, thorough and methodical of all rapier treatises, which gives us a sense of Fabrisí stature as an extraordinary teacher of the sword. In Book I, Fabris explained in great detail the tactical, technical and mechanical foundation of his art; in Book II, he gifted posterity with an astounding set of advanced techniques.

During employment at the Kingís court, Fabris was made Supreme Knight of the Order of the Seven Hearts (in honor of which we named our school).

After a rewarding life as a great master of the sword, Fabris died in his native town of Padua in 1618. Hailed by other masters as "a man of the greatest name in our profession," he was accorded a princely funeral and a monument was erected in his honor. Even after death, the cult of this master continued, especially in Northern Europe, until the age of the rapier came to a close in the course of the eighteenth century.

Tom Leoniís critical translation of Fabrisí Scienza díArme is available from Amazon.com.

A few facts and anecdotes on Maestro Fabris

In his book Fencing Through the Ages Classical Italian fencing Master Luigi Barbasetti states that Fabris choreographed the sword assault (Act IV) for the premiere of Shakespeareís Hamlet. If this is true, it would have happened around 1599, when the Shakespeare version of Hamlet was premiering at the Globe Theater, and Fabris was at the service of Duke Johan Frederik, cousin of his soon-to-be royal employer King Christian.

What we know is that King Christianís family did indeed have several ties to the English throne and court. Christian was the brother of King James Iís wife, he often visited his sisters in England and he employed noted English lutenist John Dowland. So, given these factors and Fabrisí enormous popularity in Northern Europe, the anecdote may be true.

Italian rapier Master Nicoletto Giganti was accused of plagiarizing the whole of Fabrisí Book II in 1622. This serious accusation is made by Johann Joachim Hynitzsch, translator and editor of the 1677 Leipzig bilingual edition of Fabris (Italian-German). Apparently, the Venetian author of the renown La Scherma overo il teatro (1606) decided later in life to profit from Fabrisí fame and, in 1622, published a word-by-word knock-off of Book II of the Scienza díArme in French and German parallel text. Hynitzsch is so incensed at this that he equates the incident to the "kidnapping of a child," and demands the bookís immediate recall.

Mr. Herman, to whom the dying Fabris bequeathed his salle in 1618, was later murdered by a jealous colleague. This fact is lamented by the aforementioned Hynitzsch, who names Heinrich, another of the late Fabrisí pupils, as a possible suspect. Heinrich, who was actually related to Fabris on his motherís side, was never caught, and according to Hynitzsch spent his life roaming around the country teaching his Masterís system to scrap up a living.

Salvator Fabris' was undoubtedly a legendary figure among the Northern European nobility. However, even his fame does not explain why Karl IX of Sweden alleged that his nephew Sigismund of Poland had used someone by the name of "Salvator Fabriz" [sic] as a hired assassin against him in 1594. This tale is made even more fantastic by the fact that this "Fabriz" is identified not as a fencing master, but as an accomplished playwright and actor, who was supposed to jump right off the stage and kill Karl in the middle of a well-attended play!!! No recorded evidence besides Karl's words exists of this fact, or of Salvator Fabris the fencing master even being in Sweden. (The only other plausible explanation is coincidence: both Salvator and Fabris are popular names in Italy, and we have evidence that Sigismund had a number of Italian thespians in his retinue.) In any case, Karl later used this and other anecdotes as a public excuse to dethrone his nephew, so attributing his story to ulterior motives may not be far fetched. A posthumous Swedish edition of Fabris' treatise was dedicated to Karl's son (1619), further suggesting that the Scandinavian throne had no reason to resent the master. And as for Hynitzsch's mentioning that Fabris was known in Poland, we have ample evidence that numerous Polish students traveled to Padua to receive fencing instruction throughout the 17th Century.

Fencing historian Jacopo Gelli states that a monument of Fabris was erected in Padua in 1677. This fact and date is confirmed by Hynitzsch, who writes that the monument was in preparation in 1676.

Several Italian and foreign 17th-Century fencing Masters heap uncommon praise on Fabris and his teachings:

  • Francesco Alfieri (1640) calls him "Salvator the Grand Master" and "a man of the greatest name in our profession."
  • Marcelli (1686) makes a very similar statement as Alfieri.
  • Pallavicini (1670) states that Fabris is the only Master who explains the guards in a satisfactory manner.
  • The Flemish Master Thibault (1622), in spite of his dislike for the Italian arts, praises Fabris as a man far ahead of his times, and dedicates several pages to instructing his readers on how to face Fabris' style and formidable students.
  • Hynitzsch (1677) calls Fabris a hero known as far as Denmark, France, Germany and Poland. He states that his style was devotedly spread throughout Europe by such famous fencing masters as Zum Velde, Wulff, Mulssheim and the Kreuselers, a fencing dynasty who taught at the university of Jena.

Fabris died of malignant fever on November 11, 1618 at the age of 74. The entry in the archives of the City of Padua reads: Salvador Fabris, fencing master of circa 70 years of age, had been ill with malignant fever for ten days. Visited by the Most Excellent Sirs Giulio Sala and Prevatio in the priory of St. Martin.

Note: We express our kindest thanks to Mr. C. Amberger and Mr. H. Andersson for their invaluable help and scholarly contribution.

Last Updated: 28-Oct-11