Today we associate swashbuckling with the exploits of Elizabethan sea heroes, like Francis Drake, and pirates of the Spanish Main, all as portrayed in Hollywood films by the likes of Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp. But exactly what is a swashbuckler?

The word dates to at least 1560, so Drake may have been called a swashbuckler by his contemporaries, but the word is not particularly nautical in flavor. The association with piracy and sea is largely a modern invention from the Hollywood usage. Originally, a swashbuckler was any boastful ruffian, a Hector. The word first appears in Bishop James Pilkington’s 1560 Aggeus the Prophete:

Too be a dronkarde,...a gamner, a swashe-buckeler, he hath not alowed thee one mite.

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