Custom Danish Two-Hander from Arms & Armor
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
When one thinks of swords from the Renaissance, often times the first things that come to mind are rapiers and complex-hilted weapons. Many often forget that simpler, cross-hilted cutting swords survived long after the Middle Ages. Ewart Oakeshott even makes mention of medieval swords that continued to stay in use beyond their original time period. In fact, many contemporary Renaissance blades were based on the same designs as earlier blades, some only slightly evolved for the arms and armour of the current day.
Large two-handed swords are such an example of an evolution. Their blades tend to be similar to the blade styles that fall under categories such as Oakeshott's Type XIIa or Type XIIIa, obvious cousins of the earlier medieval "grete swerds" and "war swords", but sized even larger. These weapons started becoming most common across Europe during the 16th century, weapons as large as some men, weapons of great reach and mass while still maintaining the abilities of a sword. We know that the Swiss, Burgundians, Venetians, and later the German landsknechts used these as regulation weapons, though other nationalities were known to use them with regularity as well. The Scottish, for instance, are famous for their distinctive brand of two-hander known as the claidheamh mor, or more commonly today referred to as the claymore.
Such swords were famous for fighting against pole arms, as these swords not only gave reach, but also had enough leverage for dealing with long staff weapons. These weapons were also ideal for fighting against multiple opponents. The Italian fencing master, Giacomo DiGrassi, wrote, "And so in war it is employed to defend the standards because it is able to withstand numerous attackers in defence of the colours. It is also customarily carried inside cities by day or night whenever it happens that a few must oppose many."
This sword was a custom piece created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota. It is a replica of a Danish two-hander commissioned by Søren Niedziella, who generously loaned the sword to myArmoury.com for review. The original sword was found in Helsingør (Elsinore) during the digging for a sewage system. It was given to the Danish National Museum in 1900 and is currently on display.
The measurements of the original are as follows: Total length: 59.5 inches; Grip length: 16.1 inches; Cross-guard width: 10.5 inches; Pommel height: 2 inches; Blade width near cross-guard: 2.1 inches.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
The first thing anyone will notice about this sword is that it's huge. The sword, held tip down on the ground, comes up to my shoulders, and I'm 6' 2". Despite the weight, it feels very good in the hands. Full body swings with this sword would be incredibly powerful, but due to the length, they would also be very slow to execute and to recover, which could leave the wielder potentially open to counter attack in a one-on-one setting. The very long grip, however, allows this sword to make cuts with a "snap" of the forearms that still has plenty of power and is much faster. Fighting against multiple opponents, on the other hand, would require larger strokes to keep multiple opponents on the defensive. DiGrassi wrote, "Such men having by themselves to oppose many, in order to be more safe to strike and to terrify their adversaries with the fury of the two-handed sword, are all accustomed to using great slashes, bringing the sword back in a full circle, balancing their weight now on one foot, now on the other, hardly bothering at all to use the point in a thrust, since they are of the opinion that they can only affect one man while a cut has the power to deal with many."
DiGrassi's comment regarding the lack of thrusting has more to do with fighting many opponents, but in a one on one setting one could certainly use the advantage of reach with this sword to make good thrusts at the opponent. The blade is slightly wobbly, but most swords of this size simply have to be in order to have the proper distal taper, so this is not unusual at all. It is not an ideal thruster, but is certainly more than up to the task.
Setting an oncoming weapon aside is a matter of using the leverage of the long grip to move the tip of the blade to either side from either a high or low guard, thereby deflecting either thrust or cut. This is a common method of defending with staff weapons, and in fact, being such a large sword, it works quite well with staff techniques. It is easy to stand back and use the length to keep opponents at bay. In a one-on-one situation, grabbing onto the blade and using half sword techniques feels very natural, and the edge geometry allows for a weapon that is sharp enough to cut, but not so sharp as to dig into the hands, particularly through a leather glove. The ability to use this weapon as a short spear in this fashion makes it very versatile, and something that can defend against multiple opponents while still not being unwieldy when up close.
Fit and Finish
The pommel is expertly crafted. It is an Oakeshott Type T2 shape, with an octagonal cross-section. It is well sculpted, the lines are crisp and clean, and it fits very comfortably in the palm of the hand.
The opening in the guard out of which the blade extends is a little rough, probably the only real cosmetic flaw I could point out on the entire sword. The opening is not filed perfectly smooth. This is a very minor complaint, and not only is it hardly noticeable, but in fact is very common on original swords as well.
This is a very impressive weapon. The simple beauty really comes across well, capturing the essence of a simple, austere fighting weapon without coming across as sloppy. The same can be said of the functionality, that this is a powerful but efficient weapon for dealing with multiple foes and massive hand-to-hand weapons. This is a sword that a 16th century doppelsolder would be proud to own. Arms & Armor continues to create fighting weapons that look and feel like period originals.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Photographer: Bill Grandy