Our source text is L’Academie de l’Espée, published posthumously in 1630 by Gérard (Girard) Thibault d’Anvers. This manual contains a number of very high quality engraved plates, each one showing between 8 and 16 figures, and extensive text explaining the actions depicted in the figures. Together, the text and the illustrations outline a complete theory and practice of single-rapier fencing that departs radically from the swordplay taught by Thibault’s contemporaries. The manual itself is divided into two books. The first book contains Thibault’s overall fencing theory, instructions for preparing the training space, how to hold the sword, defenses and counters Italian-style attacks, then primarily focuses on how to fence with other students of Thibault’s school or those of the Spanish Destreza tradition from which it derives. The second book, incomplete at the time of his death, outlines Thibault’s defense against the longsword, rapier and dagger together, spear, flintlock (he notes that the fencer is at great disadvantage), and other such weapons that a student might encounter in Renaissance Europe.
The original manual is written in Renaissance French. This is relatively intelligible for a reader of modern French, but certainly requires effort and the internet to decipher in detail. Scans of the plates, a transcript of the French, and an acceptable English translation of the first book of the manual is available for free at Wiktenauer.
There is a very good commercial translation of the manual by John Greer. It can be purchased on Amazon either in hardcover or Kindle editions. This is the primary edition that we use at practice, since a physical copy makes it easy to quickly cross-reference the plates to the text.
The quality of the plates is quite decent on Wiktenauer and in the Greer translation. But both are lacking in resolution, and the printed version has a seam down the middle where it’s split across pages. The best source available is Geheugen van Nederland, which appears to be a collection of museum-quality photographs of historical artwork. There are scans of the plates in extremely high detail, although it can take a moment to load the better quality after you’ve zoomed in.