Spotlight: Oakeshott Type XVI Swords
An article by Chad Arnow
Ewart Oakeshott classified one such type as his Type XVI. Type XVI, though, is not the first type to include an acutely pointed blade. Type XII and Type XIV combine a tapering blade with the older lenticular cross-section resulting in swords designed primarily for cutting but possessing some thrusting ability. Type XV swords use a reinforced cross-section and more radically tapering blade to give a weapon whose primary purpose it to thrust, though it can be, and certainly was, used for cutting.
Type XVI can be seen as a better combination of the two abilities, seeming to be "very clearly to be made to serve the dual purpose of cutting and thrusting," in the words of Oakeshott. The blades taper quite acutely and are of a medium length (28-32"). It is in terms of cross-section, though, that this combination of cutting and thrusting abilities can best be seen. The upper part of the blade hearkens back to older cutting swords (like Types X-XIV) being "broad, of a strong section with a well-marked, deep fuller which extends a little over half the length of the blade." The lower part of the blade is "of stiff, solid four-sided 'flattened diamond' section" giving it qualities well-suited to the thrust. Oakeshott describes this combination by saying, "While the point is acute enough even to penetrate plate armour, there was enough width and edge at the 'center of percussion' or 'optimal striking point' to enable the blade to strike a very powerful shearing blow."
As with many blade-forms, there is a hand and a half version, with a longer grip and longer blade. These swords, classified as Type XVIa, have blades with a shorter fuller and a flat hexagonal cross-section rather than a diamond cross-section.
Presented here is a sampling of authentic Type XVI swords:
This example, dating circa 1300-25, was found in the London River, off Westminster opposite the Houses of Parliament. Its 27" long blade is in excellent condition, having some pitting and corrosion near the point and below the cross-guard.
Dating from 1300-25, this excavated sword's find place is unknown but is most likely a river find. The condition is very good throughout, with corrosion focused mainly at the point.
Found in Denmark, this sword is in excellent condition. The edge erosion is likely caused by wear and honing rather than corrosion. There is a four-letter inscription found inlaid in the fuller. Like our previous examples, this piece dates from the first half of the 14th century.
This is a very small and efficient knightly riding sword, only having a 21" long blade. It dates circa 1300-25 and is in nearly perfect condition, despite being a river-find.
Presented here is a sampling of authentic Type XVIa swords:
Having very little corrosion, this excavated sword is in excellent condition. It was nearly destroyed in 1942 by an incendiary bomb during the war but was later restored at the Royal Armouries to its current condition. The 33" long blade's cross-section is hexagonal and very stout with a distinct fuller running nearly half-way to the point. The short, clubbed cross-guard is nearly unique, but a sculptured example exists in Westminster Abbey on the effigy of John of Eltham.
Found in Borringholm in Denmark, this piece is in very good condition, having a fair amount of corrosion on the blade, but very little on the hilt. The grip and leather rain-guard are original and is in surprisingly good shape for this early 14th century sword.
The 33" long blade on this sword is in good condition, but has considerable erosion on the edges and some deep pitting. The fuller is very narrow and a distinct rib in the lower half of the blade is present. The grip, shown, is a modern replacement.
These swords are amply represented in art, though it is sometimes difficult to determine the categorization of a sword in its scabbard (Types XII, XIV, XV, and XVI share similar profiles). A roof boss from Exeter Cathedral shows a weapon in St. Peter's hand that is clearly of Type XVI form.
A painting by Lippo Memmi, "Maesta," housed in San Gemigniano shows two swords that appear to be Type XVIs as well. One is unsheathed, and looks to be a rather long-bladed single-hand sword. Another sword in the painting, which is sheathed, appears to have the longer grip and blade profile of a Type XVIa sword.
A Sampling of Available Reproductions
Angus "Gus" Trim produces several Type XVI and Type XVIa swords. His Type XVIs include the models MS1402 "Regalian," AT1411, AT1420, AT1425, AT1427, and AT1429. Type XVIa swords include the AT1433 (reviewed by Bill Grandy) and the AT1435.
Del Tin Armi Antiche has reproduced the Copenhagen sword (XVI.3, above) as its model DT5142. Jason Dingledine, custom swordsmith and Albion's blade-maker, has created a sword inspired by this original that we have reviewed.
Museum Replicas Limited also has several Type XVI swords in its lineup, including their European Sword, Towton, and the 15th C. Hand and a Half Sword. The latter two are of the Type XVIa sub-type.
Type XVI is the first of Oakeshott's categories to have a balanced, effective mix of cutting and thrusting abilities. The blade's lower portion retains the width and fullered cross-section seen in Types X-XIV for devastating cuts. The upper portion of the blade has the diamond cross-section and acutely pointed tip like we see on Type XV swords, creating a stiff, reinforced tip area for thrusting. This combination of qualities yielded a very versatile weapon capable of inflicting heavy damage on opponents clad in a variety of defensive armour, from mail to plate.
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
Illustrations of the "Maesta" painting © 1964 Ewart Oakeshott
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.