Sword Types and Uses

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Sword Types and Uses

Postby Colin Middleton » Wed Feb 25, 2009 2:06 pm

I started thinking this last weekend about the types of sword in use in the 15th C and who carried what and when.

My understanding to types of sword is that they can be broken down into a few categories. For England, I'd expect to find:

Arming Sword - Single handed, double edged straight blade. Commonly worn in civilian circumstances.

War Sword - One to two handed, double edged straight blade. Presumably considered the smallest sword that could be used in battle.

Long Sword - One or two handed, double edged straight blade. Presumably longer than a War Sword. Seems to be popular to dueling for the upper classes. Does this mean that it was worn 'socially', like the rapier was later?

Falchion - Wide, heavy and often curved single edged blade. Used one handed. Generally considered a sword for combat as it can smash armour and lacks good finess.

Hanger (Tuck, Messer, Long Knife, or possibly other names) - One handed, single edged blade, sometimes curved. Really a large fighting knife. Used as a self-defence weapon on and off the battle-field.

Have I missed any (I'm presuming that the bastard sword is a leter name for the war or long sword)? Have I got the right end of the stick (or blade) on those that I've listed?

My primary objective is to try and work out who wore what and when.

I know that gentlemen were allowed to wear swords when performing their duties (gentlemen in service, that is), presumably these were decorated arming swords. Knights tombs appear to show arming swords at their side, so I'm guessing that this was the cermonial sword. Would a knight wear a long sword at his side round town (like the dueling rapiers in the 16th & 17th C). What would he cary when out riding? What would a yeoman carry when he was out and about?

I'm not sure where to start looking on these points, so any guidance would be appreciated.

Many thanks


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Postby Phil the Grips » Wed Feb 25, 2009 2:21 pm

Wearing your sword around town (as opposed to travelling between towns) was pretty much proscribed until the C16th in England (and even then limited) unless one was of sufficient status, or acting on the specific business of someone of status-upon arriving in town one was required to stash any wepons at your residence upon arrival and not wnader about with them.

The knife was actually the everyday carry object and one only wore a sword for a specific purpose. In modern terms the equivalent of a soldier carrying a pistol as a matter of duty, even though his "job weapon" is the rifle- the big tools only brought out when expecting specific trouble.

A modern comparison is shotguns. There are many about, far more than many peopel think, you can have one under licence, it is kept in the house until it is needed or to be transported, has to be safety stored away when not in use and more likely to be seen in the country than in town and whiel associated with posh folk they were actually fairly widespread at a range of prices, statuses and quailities.

Actually seeing one used in anger woudl be a rarity if not professionally involved with them but rumour persists of them being increasingly used by bad people, but noone they can specifically name.

So while out riding one would wear whatever one was happiest to wear at any status and what message one wishedd to give out, just as with any other clothing.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Thu Feb 26, 2009 2:03 pm

I've seen references to gentry being able to wear a sword when going about their business in a Lord's Household. Presumably the gentry were also able to wear swords at their hip around town? If so, what kind of sword would it be? An arming sword seems the most sensible (being short enought to not smack people as you pass them), but the longsword appears to fill a similar role to the rapier (in later centuries).

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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Thu Feb 26, 2009 5:00 pm

Colin, the effigies on tombs also show men in full harness, they would not be wearing that all the time either.
I think that falchion is just a latinised way of saying big knife, that would make it no different than a messer or what became known in England later on a hanger.
The shape of italian falchions reflect the bans put in place on the carrying of swords, Bristol had a similar ban, I don't know if other cities in England did as well but I'm sure someone else will. The more "sword like" appearence of a 15th century falchion may reflect an attempt to get around the letter of the law by carrying a big knife (that can still be used as a sword) rather than a illegal sword.
Certainly the monster daggers that were also popular on the contienent were an attempt to get the best of both worlds, large enough to be as intimadating and butch as a sword while still technically being a dagger. perhpas the fact these did not catch on in England may indicate that it was more acceptable to carry a sword.
I still think that most men would be seen with a dagger or knife as these are more useful and don't suggest that the owner is about to go medieval on yo' ass.
Then again if you a member of the gentry or nobility perhaps you'd get away with it until you ran into someone higer up the food chain who could pull rank and tell you to take it off in his/her presence.
Perhaps with their tradition of being hard ass warrior yeomen and the expectation that they would be called to do their national duty and go kill poor helpless Scots or french meant that more swords were carried, but if they were the main weapon used in fights (according to court records) was the knife or blunt instrument.


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Postby Ghost » Fri Feb 27, 2009 1:32 pm

Marcus Woodhouse wrote:Colin, the effigies on tombs also show men in full harness, they would not be wearing that all the time either.


Unless your Allan Harley


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Re: Sword Types and Uses

Postby zauberdachs » Fri Feb 27, 2009 2:01 pm

My opinion:

Arming Sword - Single handed, double edged straight blade. Commonly used for medieval sports fencing and self defence. It can, in certain circumstances, be worn in civilian situations and coupled with a buckler makes it onto the battlefield as a primary weapon.

Long Sword or épée bastard - One to two handed, double edged thinner straight blade. Probably the largest acceptable civilian sword, popular for sport and probably used as a secondary weapon on the battlefield.

War Sword - One handed at a push more comfortably two handed, double edged heavy cutting straight blade. Probably the heaviest you can get and still use single handed, i.e. on horse back.

Hanger (Tuck, Messer, Long Knife, or possibly other names) - One handed, single edged blade, sometimes curved. Really a large fighting knife. Acceptable for civilian wear, sport, self-defence and as a secondary weapon on the battle-field.

Falchion/Kreig Messer - Longer, heavier and curved or straight single edged blade. Used one handed. Generally considered more of a military weapon.


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Re: Sword Types and Uses

Postby Ghost » Fri Feb 27, 2009 3:19 pm

zauberdachs wrote:My opinion:

Arming Sword - Commonly used for medieval sports fencing


......care to elaborate on what you mean by medieval sports fencing


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Re: Sword Types and Uses

Postby zauberdachs » Fri Feb 27, 2009 4:35 pm

Ghost wrote:
zauberdachs wrote:My opinion:

Arming Sword - Commonly used for medieval sports fencing


......care to elaborate on what you mean by medieval sports fencing


Fencing for sport as opposed to fencing for war :)


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Postby Sir Thomas Hylton » Tue May 26, 2009 2:21 pm

What about the hand & a half or Bastard sword. Where does this fall into the plot?



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Postby Phil the Grips » Tue May 26, 2009 2:51 pm

Firmly resides under Zauber's definition of-
Long Sword or épée bastard - One to two handed, double edged thinner straight blade. Probably the largest acceptable civilian sword, popular for sport and probably used as a secondary weapon on the battlefield.


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Postby Sir Thomas Hylton » Tue May 26, 2009 3:25 pm

Cheers Phil. I was under the impression Hand & a half & Bastard Swords were popular amoungst the Germanic & North European Mercenarys.

I can understand the idea of it being popular for sport as the balance of the hand & a half is devine & a pleasure to use.



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Postby Lady Cecily » Tue May 26, 2009 6:41 pm

Very interesting chaps. Would you care to elaborate on your references - I'd like to read some more on this.


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Postby gregory23b » Tue May 26, 2009 7:54 pm

"care to elaborate on what you mean by medieval sports fencing"

"Would you care to elaborate on your references - I'd like to read some more on this."

A look at the Wolffegg housebook shows some acrobats juggling and performing a range of entertainments, one includes sword fighting, no practitioner am I but the poses look right.

Also I recall Hartmutt back in the very early 1990s suggesting that students of Talhoffer et al might well have included entertainers/sports in the same way that fencing is not necessarily about killing people. Any more than that I can't recall.

Zauber might be including rebated versions of the same for tourneys, viz Renee of Anjou, may God preserve his soul.


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Postby Lady Cecily » Tue May 26, 2009 9:22 pm

I'd assumed Zauber meant tournaments but it's the whole theory of different sized swords for different uses that intregues me.

Coming mainly from a period where there is only one sized sword it never been a theory I have come across. Equally my research into the early 14th had not yet come across this and you would think it would have if it was something that existed when swords began to change in size.

So proper academic refs please - titles, authors and dates. :D


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Postby Phil the Grips » Tue May 26, 2009 9:24 pm

Amberger's "Secret History of the Sword" is somewhat dated now ( a ten year old collation of even older articles) but a good place to start when it comes to public displays of swordsmanship for entertainment and fun. SPADA 1 and SPADA II ( peer journal of the traditional fencing world) has references too that can be followed up on.

Lots of stuff around fencing guilds performing at fairs and doing complex sword dances and the like, then the grading prizeplays were done in public to raise funds and promote the school.

There's also "Kloppfechters" who seem to be the "Harlem Globetrotters" of the medieval world- highly skilled fellows clowning with their elaborate sword skills for fun and profit.

"Playing at sword and buckler" is often referred to in legislation- either practices getting out of hand and turning nasty or being banned as the hangout of ne'er do wells ( being frequently associated with pubs).

Generally also a good way to show-off wealth, free time, attract ladies or rise through the social ranks.

Basically going to a fencing school then had all the same connotations of going to the gym today.

Sadly the one thing that didn't happen until the mid-C16th was men putting on lots of armour and beating seven shades of snot out of each other (as is seen under th etag of "tourney" in the modern reenactment world) for fun- until then that was done entirely on horseback if in armour, or out of armour if on foot.


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Postby Phil the Grips » Tue May 26, 2009 9:45 pm

Lady Cecily wrote:So proper academic refs please - titles, authors and dates. :D
He did state it was his opinion- and one that stands for the c15th in the main (which is the dateline cited in the original question), mixed with a hint of a modern need to classify, where the appearance of swords seems to become far more prevalent at a range of social levels and settings than in previous eras.

It must be borne in mind that the most often cited treatise is Fiore dei Liberi- and he published at the start of the C15th , so was active and learning during the late C14th so the ideas were percolating through.

One source of the perception of different swords for different jobs can be seen in law- the carrying of a baselard or messer under a certain size was legal to openly carry as they were considered a tool, whereas the carrying of a sword could only be done by someone of a certain status, or their approved agent, as it was a weapon.

This is also apparent uses depicted in fencing treatises- different weapons to do different jobs, or depicted in differing contexts as to their optimum purpose, or sometimes how to manage with a weapon that is not in it's optimum setting ( such as improvising a pollaxe with a spear and longsword).

Strangely once you head to the C16th the sword becomes much more generic in form, use, context etc and weapons created for specialist niches only re-emerge once fencing becomes a sideline away from the battlefield and other contexts are more important.


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Wed May 27, 2009 8:02 am

Thats an interesting notion Phil. Maybe as the sword was more redundant as an actual battlefield weapon it had indeed become more a thing of show and braggio. I had imagined to most people a sword was a sword was a sword (as only a teeny weeny number of them would have any experience of swinging one around in anger or jest) but your post makes me wonder if the D&D geeks have been right all along.


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Postby Lady Cecily » Wed May 27, 2009 9:56 am

Phil the Grips wrote:
Lady Cecily wrote:So proper academic refs please - titles, authors and dates. :D
He did state it was his opinion- and one that stands for the c15th in the main (which is the dateline cited in the original question), mixed with a hint of a modern need to classify, where the appearance of swords seems to become far more prevalent at a range of social levels and settings than in previous eras.

.


Ah, so what you are saying is that it's a modern theory with little basis in fact? and I meant what date the book was published not what date in history.


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Postby Alan E » Wed May 27, 2009 10:27 am

Lady Cecily wrote:
Phil the Grips wrote:
Lady Cecily wrote:So proper academic refs please - titles, authors and dates. :D
He did state it was his opinion- and one that stands for the c15th in the main (which is the dateline cited in the original question), mixed with a hint of a modern need to classify, where the appearance of swords seems to become far more prevalent at a range of social levels and settings than in previous eras.

.


Ah, so what you are saying is that it's a modern theory with little basis in fact? and I meant what date the book was published not what date in history.

A modern theory yes, "little basis in fact" no. As Phil said, there are many references in legislation (of the period) and descriptions of the 'teams' who gave show-fights. The references are not often collected together (the interest in actual usage appears to have only recently resurfaced academically) but Phil does mention the journals where some have been published, as well as an older secondary text. The primary material is frequently available online, at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/ for example, and Matt (and others) frequently post interesting extracts here http://www.fioredeiliberi.org/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=4 for those who don't want to search the archives themselves.


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Postby Lady Cecily » Wed May 27, 2009 10:58 am

Ok - I'm trying to understand here. The different functions of different types of sword seem to based on some of the fencing manuals and various law codes on what is and isn't classed as a sword.

There is no definative work done, as yet. mmmmmmmmmm phD anyone? I'm not particulaly interested in the show fight element of this but there seems to be an implicit connection being made - is that right or are people conflating the two things unnecessarily?

I shall head off to the sources thanks.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Wed May 27, 2009 12:45 pm

Lady Cecily,

Books that I've referenced before comming to the conculsions above include:
Swords In The Age of Chivalry, Oakshot
The Great Household In Medieval England, Woolgar
Origins Of The English Gentleman, Keen
Arms And Armour of the Medieval Knight, Edge & Paddock

As to types of sword, AFAIK the Falchion and Warsword first appear in the mid 13th C as armour gets heavier.


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Postby zauberdachs » Wed May 27, 2009 1:03 pm

Hello,

These are some interesting sources from which I base a lot of my opinions:

R.E. Oakeshott "Archaeology of Weapons" ISBN 0486292886

The original and still very good source, mostly because it is based on lots and lots of primary source material.

Arming Sword

Clerics engaged in fun sword based activities:

Royal Armouries MS i.33 ISBN 1891448382

Long Sword

Detailed treatises showing Blossfechten i.e. "shirt fighting" or unarmoured combat for a civilian context:

Von Danzig Treatise (1452): http://www.schielhau.org/von.danzig.html

Sigmund Ringeck commentary (1440's) : http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/Ringeck.htm

and of course Talhoffer...

For armoured i.e. military combat:

Paulus Kal (1460's): http://mdz1.bib-bvb.de/~db/bsb00001840/ ... index.html

War Sword -

Oakeshott, I've not see a treatise that deals with these heavier swords but they would be b**ger all use on foot so I surmise they would have been of more use on horse back in a similar fashion to heavy cavalry sabres. My own opinion.

Hanger (Tuck, Messer, Long Knife, or possibly other names) -

I like "The Art of Combat" by J. Meyer (1570) ISBN 1853676438. It's much later but basically surmises a lot of the earlier traditions in more logical renaissance language.

Also (more in period) Codex Wallerstein (mid 15th) which again has distinctions between weapons and techniques of use.


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Postby zauberdachs » Wed May 27, 2009 1:11 pm

Lady Cecily wrote:Ok - I'm trying to understand here. The different functions of different types of sword seem to based on some of the fencing manuals and various law codes on what is and isn't classed as a sword.


So... yes. The above sources all share the common idea of dividing the different weapons into different chapters and assigning them different techniques for use. These are also divided into different techniques for different contexts i.e. armoured or unarmoured. Certain weapons generally appear in an armoured context, i.e. poleaxes, and others appear mainly in a civilian context, i.e. messers.

The law codes and references to fighting schools supply us with further social context for their use and hey presto an opinion is formed.


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Postby Sir Thomas Hylton » Fri May 29, 2009 2:42 pm

Here's a question, which sword sword types would be used with a buckler shield?
Last edited by Sir Thomas Hylton on Fri May 29, 2009 4:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Postby Phil the Grips » Fri May 29, 2009 3:25 pm

Longswords, messers/falchions and arming swords are all depicted in use with bucklers.

...and to add to the above Fillipo Vadi shows a highly spceiallised sword that is designed purely for cracking armour- sort of a hilted crowbar with spiked tip, pommel and hilt- purely for use in the lists.


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Postby Phil the Grips » Fri May 29, 2009 3:55 pm

Oh...another refernce that just occurred to me.

Howard Blackmore's "Hunting Weapons" goes into specific weapons developed for, used in and associated with the hunt, throughout the Medieval period to the modern day.

Notably boar spears, boar swords and hangers but also a few surprises.


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Fri May 29, 2009 11:09 pm

Like the flanged pea shooter, a weapon that has fallen sadly out of favour as it was soon discovered to be absoulutely shite at anything other than annoying latin grammer students in the beano.


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Postby wulfenganck » Sat May 30, 2009 5:31 pm

@Zauberdachs:
a nice list of fencing manuals, but I wouldn't divide between a "civilian" and "military" use concerning Peter von Danzig + Sigmund Ringeck versus Paulus Kal.
RIngeck as well as the von Danzig manuscript (i.e. master Andres Lignitzer's and master Martin Hundfelt's armoured combat section) contain LARGE sections about armoured combat and/or a knightly duel situation.

There seems to be a growing number of civilians training fencing in the 15th century, IIRC I read somehwere that master Paulus Kal was giving fencing lessons on the marketplace in Zurich. But then all the manuals officially adress to the KNIGHTLY art of fencing - as does Fiore dei Liberi in his manuscripts from around 1408 - 1410 who adresses his work to nobles; as does Filippo Vadi in his treatise from around 1487.
Anyway, all of them Kal, Talhoffer, RIngeck, von Danzig were at some time working as fenicng coaches for nobles.

But there are records of fencing guilds in a civilian context from the 1400s on - and from some of them it is known that they used prominent styles like the Liechtener'ian style, also promoted by von Danzig, Ringeck and Kal and others.

For the specialisation of weapons: there are specially designed armoured combat swords in the illustrations of the Codex Wallerstein, Vadi's Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi and others manuscripts - but I don't know of any originals ever being produced....which is kind of sad, because there are some really weird swords illustrated out there....



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Postby wulfenganck » Sat May 30, 2009 5:36 pm

A great list of fencing treatises available online is here: http://www.fioredeiliberi.org/phpBB2/

One should not forget that the two apparently most prominent late medieval styles of Johannes Liechtenauer and Firoe dei Liberi may have different weapons for different situations, but both clearly promote a complete martial arts system, rather than a simple collections of techniques, tricks etc. for different weapons.



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Postby zauberdachs » Mon Jun 01, 2009 10:06 am

wulfenganck wrote:@Zauberdachs:
a nice list of fencing manuals, but I wouldn't divide between a "civilian" and "military" use concerning Peter von Danzig + Sigmund Ringeck versus Paulus Kal.


Indeed. I should have been clearer, I meant "for a good example of..." I think you would agree that Kal has particularly fine examples of armoured combat.

wulfenganck wrote:But then all the manuals officially adress to the KNIGHTLY art of fencing


True but it's worth noting that many of the "masters" appear to be people of much lower status.

wulfenganck wrote:For the specialisation of weapons: there are specially designed armoured combat swords in the illustrations of the Codex Wallerstein, Vadi's Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi and others manuscripts - but I don't know of any originals ever being produced....which is kind of sad, because there are some really weird swords illustrated out there....


Go on, post some pictures it'd be fun to see from really weird examples :)


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