Spotlight: Oakeshott Type XIV Swords
An article by Chad Arnow
"...short, broad and sharply-pointed blade, tapering strongly from the hilt, of flat section (the point end of the blade may, in some examples, have a slight though perceptible mid-rib, with a fuller running about half, or a little over, of its length. This may be single and quite broad or multiple and narrow. The grip is generally short (average 3.75") though some as long as 4.5"; the tang is thick and parallel-sided, often with the fuller extending half-way up it. The pommel is always of "wheel" form, sometimes very wide and flat. The cross is generally rather long and curved (very rarely straight)."Most of the types in Group I retain the blade form inherited from their Viking forbears: blades that taper little in width, creating a wide, flat, relatively thin tip for maximum cutting power. Type XII and Type XIV, differ from those types, however, and are the earliest types where a serviceable point is seen. They retain the broad blades needed for powerful cutting, but instead taper in width from the blade's base to the tip. These swords appear to be an early attempt to gain proficiency in the thrust without sacrificing cutting ability. Of all the types in Oakeshott's Group I (Types X-XIV), Type XIV swords have points most suitable for thrusting.
These swords enjoyed great popularity between 1270 and 1340, and though represented widely in period artwork and on effigial monuments, survivors of this type are relatively rare. By Oakeshott's estimate, some 80% of English knightly effigies from the period of 1290-1330 illustrate Type XIV swords. Their popularity can probably be attributed to the increasing defenses they faced.
The standard armour of the upper-crust warrior had been mail for many years. In the mid-thirteenth century, enhancements began to be made. Underneath the knightly surcoat, additional defenses were added, sometimes in the form of boiled leather garments, sometimes padded gambesons, or, occasionally, steel plates. Early forms of the coat of plates (a cloth or leather garment to which was sewn or riveted small metal plates) began to appear as well. Other vulnerable places began to see similar additions, typically in the form of dished steel or iron plates strapped or laced to the mail: couters for the elbows, poleyns for the knees, and schynbalds for the shins. The older-style cutting swords began to lose effectiveness against these defenses, making swords with enhanced thrusting abilities, like the Type XIV class, necessary.
Presented here are four authentic Type XIV swords:
Perhaps the best known example of a Type XIV sword is housed in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It is in excellent condition and is the first sword Oakeshott uses in Records of the Medieval Sword to illustrate the type. The inlay in the fuller of the broad blade is similar to other surviving swords (most notably the sword of Sancho IV of Castile), making the sword dateable to the second half of the 13th century. The tip portion of the blade has a pronounced diamond cross-section which is somewhat atypical of the type. The bronze pommel bears a latin inscription on silver band bands, Sunt hic etiam sua praecuna laudi, which translates as "Here also are the Heralds of His Praise." The guard, according to the museum, is of copper covered by silver wire; a technique seen commonly in the Viking era.
This sword, found in a peat-bog in Northern Italy, is in pristine condition. The broad blade and stout proportions give the impression that this is a heavy, unwieldy weapon, but it is actually light and agile. The fuller is rather long for this type. The blade is marked "TOTOTOTO", an inscription often found on 13th-14th century rings and indicating an affirmation of loyalty and fidelity.
This sword is in such perfectly preserved condition it might be confused for a fake. It was acquired by a well-known collector and connoisseur, Mr. E.A. Christensen, which validates its authenticity. This large sword has two double fullers running down its 33" long blade.
This sword was very special to Ewart Oakeshott and was a cherished part of his collection. It is frequently seen in his hand in photographs and frequently accompanied him on the lecture circuit. It is featured in Records of the Medieval Sword. Its hilt is made of iron plated with silver, and unlike many river-found swords, it retains its original grip of leather-covered lime wood. The red leather has darkened over the centuries to black. The broad blade has four fullers, extending nearly half the length of the blade. Oakeshott describes the blade as being "very thin in section from about half-way down stiff yet flexible and still very sharp."
As noted above, these swords can be seen on many military effigies of the period, most notably on the effigy of Count Robert d'Artois. Depictions can also be seen in the Maciejowksi Bible and in numerous manuscripts from the period. On the tomb of Edmund of Lancaster in Westminster Abbey is depicted several knights having Type XIV swords.
Oakeshott, himself, notes:
"An excellent portrayal of one is in the Augel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral (datable at c. 1280) and another which shows the hilt and the tip of the short scabbarded blade is in a marble panel over a door in the Cathedral at Lucca by Nicola Pisano (a Deposition from the Cross), 1258-78. This is particularly interesting since it is identical in form and proportion with a sword found in Switzerland, now in the Zweizerisches Landesmuseum at Zurich. Another well-defined example is on the effigy in the Abbey of St. Denis of Count Robert of Artois, who died in 1317. In fact, there are so many shown in monuments dating between c. 1310 and 1330 in Alsace and Rhinelandall the effigies of the Langraves of Hesse in the church of St. Elizabeth at Marburg have themthat it is pointless to try to list them. Nearly all English effigies of this period, too, have these swords, though in all these cases a certain amount of caution is needed; they are all in their scabbards, and so many be of Types XV or XVI which have similar silhouettes but different blade-section."A Sampling of Available Reproductions
The sword in The Metropolitan Museum of Art described above has inspired several reproductions. The DT2140 from Del Tin Armi Antiche features a somewhat shorter blade, inscribed bronze pommel, and steel guard (Del Tin has reproduced versions with the longer blade). Museum Replicas Limited has sold a sword known as the Medieval Short Sword, while its affiliate Factory X has marketed the same sword as the Dracula Sword, since a similar sword appeared in the hand of Vlad the Impaler in film. Ancient Edge sells a sword, named the 14th Century Bastard Sword, with a blade and guard inspired from this sword, though its grip and pommel are decidedly different.
Oakeshott's "Moonbrand" sword has been recreated by modern makers as well. Thomas MacDonald and Kenneth Jay did a hands-on review of the DD1404 made by Angus Trim Swords. Del Tin also created a version for distribution by Museum Replicas Limited during their partnership.
Albion Armorers makes The Sovereign sword as part of their Next Generation product line, and The Solingen as part of their Museum Collection.
Del Tin has recreated a sword seen in an East Anglican manuscript house at Emmanuel College in Cambridge as its model DT5130. This sword has a unique flower-shaped pommel that, though seen in period artwork, does not survive on any known examples today.
Angus Trim Swords has another Type XIV in its line, the AT1431. As with most ATrim recreations, it is not based on a specific historic example, but incorporates the defining characteristics of the type.
Museum Replicas markets a sword inspired by one found at the The Higgins Armory Museum in Wooster, Massachusetts.
Though there are relatively few surviving antiques, Type XIV swords seem to be popular with modern-day sword makers and consumers alike. Many models are available to the collector and user of reproduction arms, with more certain to be introduced over time.
This important transitional class links the Viking-descended older-style cutting swords with the classes of effective thrusters that followed. Though eventually rendered obsolete by types with better thrusting blades and more effective balances of cutting and thrusting abilities, the Type XIV remains an important class for sword collectors, researchers, and practitioners.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Sword in the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Arms & Armor of the Medieval Knight, by David Edge, John Miles Paddock
Sword Illustrations © 2004 Peter Johnsson
Significant contributions to this article provided by Nathan Robinson
The list of available reproductions contained in this article is not meant to be all-encompassing. It is, however, a good representation of what was available at the time of this article being published.