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.