Arms & Armor Black Prince Sword
A hands-on review by Ted Hitchens, with contributions by Chad Arnow
Unfortunately for scholars, not every medieval sword comes equipped with rock-solid evidence regarding its provenance and original ownership. Many swords, of course, do have verifiable histories and can be attributed to specific individuals with certainty. Many of these were deposited in churches or royal armouries, where they have sat undisturbed through the centuries. Others bear unmistakable maker’s marks or are seen in period portraiture, establishing their ownership with little doubt.
For ones that have emerged in the private sector or through other findings, though, making a certain attribution can be tricky indeed. Scholars can use many tools to help in identification, from maker’s marks to patination, to blade forms, materials, and ornamentation. One interesting sword, in particular, has been the subject of much speculation and debate.
Found in the mid-1940s, it was examined and later owned by collector and researcher Ewart Oakeshott. He was convinced he had found the long-lost sword of Edward, the Back Prince, said to have been stolen from Canterbury Cathedral by Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War of the 17th century. Oakeshott used many of the tools mentioned above and established that its blade form was correct for the era, its patination matched the prince’s helm at Canterbury Cathedral, and the remnants of its blade bore a maker’s mark later associated with royal cutlers. This and other research led him to offer the sword to the cathedral, where it would have joined the Black Prince’s helm, gauntlets, coat armour, and scabbard, plus a shield made for Edward’s funeral.
Oakeshott’s clout and careful research, though, failed to persuade the leadership of Canterbury Cathedral. The sword remained with Oakeshott for some years afterward, but now resides in the hands of a private collector. Perhaps future research will confirm its provenance, allowing it to either re-join Edward’s funerary achievements or be regarded in its own right, unattached to the Black Prince but serving as an excellent example of 14th century weapon-making.
Arms & Armor, of Minnesota boasts a lineup of products based on period weapons, and has long been an important source of historic reproductions for modern collectors. Their close relationship with the late Ewart Oakeshott has allowed them access to his notes, which they have used to design new products and update older ones.
One example of the latter scenario is their Black Prince Sword. This model has been in their lineup for many years, but has undergone changes, to make it more accurate, that resulted from using Oakeshott's notes.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
When holding the Black Prince sword for the first time, it almost feels alive in the hands; it seems to practically know what you want it to do and where you want the blade to go. This sword is essentially a dedicated thrusting sword whose point would have deadly efficiency if used by someone who knows how to exploit weaknesses in armour. Its cutting ability, while secondary, is admirable. Like all Arms & Armor pieces, the Black Prince sword comes with a serviceable edge. A thick cardboard box was cut in half in three or four cuts; not bad for a blade that's only 1.25 inches wide at the center of percussion.
"No part of the sword was invented in vain," said Johannes Liechtenauer in 1389 in one of his famous fechtbucher while describing how hilt components can be used in battle. The Black Prince Sword is solid proof of this statement. Its massive pommel could be used as a mace to bludgeon an opponent's head or face. In armoured combat, the sword could be gripped by the blade and used as a hammer; the resulting trauma from strikes caused by the Style 8 guard would be ruinous.
The Black Prince sword has such an incredible balance that it could be used quite easily with one hand despite weighing roughly 60 ounces. I am able to hold the Prince's leather grip with both hands, but since my hands are rather large, it is a tight squeeze. This is easily solved by taking my guide hand (my left since I'm right-handed) and grasping the pommel. Though the Black Prince's pommel can be called a "weapon within a weapon" as I discussed above, it is very comfortable when grasped and adds to the ease of the sword's use, especially in point control.
Fit and Finish
The blade and hilt are finished with Arms & Armor's signature satin finish which gives an austere beauty to this and all of their other pieces. When viewed from the side, one can see that the Black Prince's distal taper is by no means machine perfect, but is executed extremely well. The profile taper of its Type XVa blade is outstanding and complements the near-perfect spine that runs the length of blade, showing a profound diamond cross-section when viewed downward from the tip. The guard and pommel show very slight imperfections that can only be spotted with close examination. Such observations should not be seen as flaws, but rather as traits of a hand-made object which is exactly what this one is and the original was.
I am very thankful to Arms & Armor for recreating this sword with its original grip featuring the two risers that encircle it. The leather stitching on the one side is quite visible, but very secure and is not a hindrance when wielding this sword. The small cross design on the pommel is a nice touch that adds to it a subtle air of sophistication; after all, this sword symbolizes the son of a kingthe Prince of Wales no less.
The Black Prince is as compelling a figure today as he was popular to the English subjects of his day. So great was that popularity that officials at Canterbury Cathedral went against his wishes to be buried in the cathedral's crypt, choosing instead to place his magnificent monument on the main floor, near to that of St. Thomas Becket. An accurate recreation of a sword thought to belong to him should be high on the list of any student of the Hundred Years War. Anyone with an interest in the High Middle Ages, or who aspires to acquire a sword associated with a specific person from that period, is highly encouraged to add the Black Prince sword by Arms & Armor to his or her collection.
Arms & Armor's designers were able to examine the original Black Prince sword up close, take all the necessary measurements, and document it. The resulting recreation leaves no question on how accurately it portrays the original. In a word: Outstanding. Prince Edward would be proud!
About the Author
Ted Hitchens is a U.S. Navy veteran who resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. A graduate from the University of Cincinnati, Ted's sword collection and historical interests focus mainly on the Medieval and early-Renaissance periods. Apart from collecting swords and attending Renaissance festivals, Ted is also a musician.
Chronicles (Classics S.), by Jean Froissart
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Three Edwards, The, by Thomas B. Costain
Photographer: Chad Arnow