Last week, an anthology came out; Romantic Knights, by Safkhet Publishing. My short story “The Knight’s Last Stand” was featured in that anthology. My last couple blogs dealt with the release of the anthology and the authors involved, but now it is time to come back to medieval weapons.
We have discussed numerous weapons over the last few blogs. These weapons included staffs, halberds and maces and flails; all these weapons dealt with combat against a knight.
I thought we could revisit the sword. The sword is an ancient weapon, and in some cultures is more valued then the individual who welded it. It can be constructed cheaply in mass numbers, or created in an exact caring manner usually reserved for expensive pieces of art work.
When swords were first used in the medieval battle field, the armor was basic. Leather, chainmail and some simple metal body armor was worn. When armor evolved, so did the sword. Swords were developed to have a specific use and purpose.
In the early medieval periods, the broadsword was the weapon of choice by knights. The broadsword had a two-edged blade and the base tapered to a point.
The falchion sword, my personal favorite, was a single edge blade and usually was thick near the end. The thickness meant it delivered the majority swords force near the end of the blade.
The Longsword was a two-edged sword with a handle large enough to be welded by two hands. It was not classified by the length of the blade, but the length of the handle. It was similar to, but not as long as the greatsword.
Now there is some contention about the longsword and its handle length. If the handle length was long enough for the user to hold it with one hand and partially hold it with the other, was referred to as a hand-and-half or bastard sword. However, the term hand-and-a-half also refers to a sword fighting technique where the knight would grip the blade.
The longest of the swords was probably the greatsword. This sword was a monster on the battle field. The user gripped this sword (which could be up to 72 inches long) and swung it like a mighty axe. The disadvantage of this sword was it took a big man to swing it; furthermore, it was easy to dodge the blade since the knight had to bring it around his head to implement the blow. Some variations of the claymore can be categorized as a greatsword.
The cutting sword was used early in medieval times. It was favored by the Vikings. A slicing stroke was used by this sword that made it ineffective against body armor. Speaking of Viking swords, early on they used a technique called pattern welding. Although this technique is used with success around the world, it was not by the Vikings. There have been descriptions of battles between Vikings, where one had to call “time out” so he could bend his sword back into a straight position. Other times in battle, Vikings found their blades had become so dull they could no longer be used.
The most famous of the swords and the most popular, was the arming sword. This sword was similar to the cutting sword. It was a single handed sword and when used was typically accompanied by a shield or dagger. When swords got bigger, the arming sword would still be carried by a knight as a secondary weapon.
Remember in a previous blog I made a connection between a knight and a samurai. This similarity is also made when referring their swords.
A samurai put such a high regard for his sword, he believed it contained his soul. Both the sword of the samurai and the knight held symbolic importance. A knight’s sword had a designed crossguard to form a cross, which meant he had the right to defend the Christian religion. A sword was used in the accolade; or dubbing ceremony, this was where a squire bows before a sovereign and is tapped on his shoulders thus becoming a knight.
The importance of the knight’s sword is instilled in history and legend. It was the sword Excalibur that King Arthur drew from the stone to become the rightful king. It was the magical powers of Excalibur that allowed Arthur to unite Britain.
When armor was thin or nonexistence between knights, a sword was a useful tool of battle. Throughout the dark and middle ages, the armor became thicker and more affordable rendering the sword ineffective. With thicker armor, other weapons such as the mace became popular, so why keep the sword?
A mounted knight used his sword on those who were not on horseback, and not well armored. The sword is perfect for sitting on a horse and striking it down onto a person below him. Basically, the knight used it on less protected foot soldiers, archers and civilians. A sword with its weight more on the end, such as a scimitar or a fachion sword, are very efficient at this task.
Yes, you heard me say civilians. Knights during the middle ages kept down peasant revolts with a fierceness and veracity they used on the battle field. The most famous of these revolts occurred in 1381. This revolt was caused by many reasons, including the onslaught of the plague and a poll tax. The flames of revolt was fumed by a priest named John Ball had been imprisoned for statements that God made men equal, but man made the rich.
After the revolt was subdued, partially based on the promises made by King Edward II. The king reneged on his deal. He had 110 leaders of the revolt executed including John Ball.
It was not just revolts that civilians were killed in, but also during the war itself. After battles, the winning army often pillaged and looted cities, indiscriminate killings were typical. The army of knight looted all the food in the area, so even if a civilian was not killed during a battle, there was a good possibility of them starving to death.
It was not only the bloodlust of battle that caused the knight to kill civilians; it was also his arrogance. Knight believed themselves above the commoner and killing them was not considered to be “unknightly”.
Edward of Woodsttock, also known as the Black Prince, showed no mercy toward civilian populations. He massacred residents of the city Limoges and Caen. The success of the black prince was so great; his techniques became more and more as standard practice among rulers and knights. We shall discuss more about knights in my next blog.
When other weapons became more effective against knight armor, such as mace or flail, the sword became less important on the battlefield. Instead of fading away, the sword soon became a symbol of knighthood. Even today it is used in numerous ceremonies of different societies and also countries to bestow membership or honor to an individual and in some countries, it still bequeaths knighthood onto an individual.
Next time: The Knight, or Mobster? You Choose.