A buckler (French bouclier 'shield', from old French bocle, boucle 'boss') is a small shield, 15 to 45 cm in diameter, gripped in the fist; it was generally used as a companion weapon in hand-to-hand combat during the Middle Ages, as its size made it poor protection against missile weapons (e.g., arrows) but useful in deflecting the blow of an opponent's sword or mace. There are two major forms of medievally documented bucklers. The first is a simple round shield with the fist positioned directly behind the boss with a variety of shapes of face and depths of rim. These could also have projections from the top and bottom as in Hans Talhoffer's Fechtbücher or serrated rings around the boss as in one example in the Wallace Collection. The second major form is a corrugated rectangle as suggested by Achille Marozzo in his Opera Nova.
MS I.33 (around 1300) contains an early description of a system of combat with buckler and sword.
The buckler was more widely used than is commonly known. It was a simple yet effective weapon, often combined with a short sword, falchion, or rapier. It was popular circa 1100 to 1600. The buckler had a variety of roles when it came to swordplay, but four principal means come to the fore. Each use recognizes the shield's small size and maneuverability when dealing with light blades.
- Hand protection: The primary use of the buckler in I.33 is to protect the sword hand.
- Deflector: The buckler's lightness and curved center made it excellent for deflecting attacking blades. Such a deflection would leave the attacker open for a rapid counter-attack.
- Blinder: The light blades used in conjunction with the buckler depended on rapid movements, which meant that a single second was an important advantage. The wielder of the buckler could use the buckler to shield his sword-hand's position from view, keeping his opponent from guessing his next strike as depicted in I.33.
- "Metal fist": A buckler can be used to directly attack an opponent by punching with either its flat face or its rim. In MS I.33 the buckler is used to strike the opponent's sword hand and weapon.
- Binder: The buckler can be used to bind an opponent's sword hand and weapon as well as their buckler against their body. The buckler is also very useful in grappling where it allows an opponent's arms to be easily wrapped up and controlled.
In classical antiquity
, bucklers on medals
were either used to signify public vows rendered to the gods for the safety of a prince, or that he was esteemed the defender and protector of his people: these were called votive bucklers
, and were hung at altars, etc.