Swords - Age of Chivalry
|The 'Knightly' sword was studied extensively
by Oakeshott and presented in his work 'The Sword in the Age
of Chivalry'. This type of sword is derived, via the swords
of the Viking and Migration periods, from the long iron swords
of the pre-historic Celts. These early weapons found in various
parts of Europe, have broad flat blades with two cutting edges
running nearly parallel to each other and ending in spatulate
or rounded points. Continental swords had an average blade
length of 30 inches while the Celtic swords of the British
Isles were much smaller. Most had a broad shallow fuller running
the blade's length. The Celtic sword was used by Celtic and
Teutonic barbarians throughout the Roman period until about
700 A.D. The Vikings used their swords against anyone unfortunate
enough to be in their way.
A simplified version of Behmer's classification of swords
of the Migration Period (c.250 -700) together with Wheeler's
modification of Peterson's typology of Viking sword types
were based mainly upon styles of hilt, but for the swords
in the Age of Chivalry the form of their blades gives the
essential key to any classification. Blades of the early
Middle Ages were flat, simple two-edged blades which varied
considerably in size and weight, but not much in shape.
The Norse peoples used the term svaerd to describe the broad
slashing blade with its almost parallel sides and spatulate
point and maekir for the more slender acutely pointed blades.
Fullers varied from shallow to deep, wide to narrow. Towards
the end of the Migration Period broader and heavier blades
predominated and, at about 900 A.D., a new type of blade
came into use, better balanced and more graceful. Although
the blade proportions were similar to the old Celtic ones
they tapered more sharply and their point of balance was
nearer to the hilt, hence they could be wielded with greater
agility and speed. From this last blade type sprang the
sword of the later Middle Ages, the sword of the Age of
Chivalry. Davidson's comprehensive work melds the elements
of archaeology, literature and art of the first millennium
to reveal the mystique of the Nordic/Celtic swords.
|It is a popular belief
that the Medieval sword was a crude chopping instrument, heavy
and clumsy, yet a symbol of romanticism. Oakeshott presents
this weapon in its true colours as a most noble weapon which
had high significance in the minds of men and fulfilled a
vital and personal service in their hands. Far from being
crude, ponderous and inefficient, these relatively plain weapons
of average weight, 2lbs to 3lbs, were well balanced and made
with care and skill.
He classified them into two main groups
divided by a radical change of form brought about by an
equally drastic change in the defensive armour to which
they were opposed. This change took place roughly between
1275 and 1350. Blades of Group I, the cut and slash flat
blade were made to oppose armour of chain-mail and should
date between 1050 and 1350. Group II blades, dated c. 1300-1550,
were of a stiffer cross-section, effective for thrusting
and often designed with reinforced and very acute points
in order to oppose plate armour.
Among the mass of
military hardware only a few items have survived which
date from before the Renaissance. Medieval swords tend
to be black, corroded relics behind glass in museums.
Only a handful has remained in pristine condition. Furthermore,
swords during the Age of Chivalry were very portable items.
A sword may have been used for several generations or
ended its days in a region far from its place of origin.
Consequently any precise dating or place of origin becomes
impossible to determine. However, art, literature and
sculpture provide additional evidence for dating. The
artists of the day drew or sculpted what they saw, neither
more nor less, so that it is possible to arrive at reasonable
datings in half or quarter centuries.
Oakeshott was correct when he remarked
that swords in the Age of Chivalry "are beautiful,
with an austere perfection of line and proportion - comparable
with splendid and majestic pottery."
This beauty has been transformed
from cold metal to the softer, warmer material that is
wood, with my Ohau Swords. The different woods used display
a rich variety of colour, grain and markings which enhance
each sword when on display.