A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Arms & Armor French Medieval Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
Common threads appear when one studies swords of the Migration Era, Viking Ages, and early Middle Ages. The majority of these swords are designed for cutting against the lightly armoured targets they faced. They are generally light and thin, with cross-sections that enable them to be flexible enough to handle the shock and torque of high velocity cuts. Prominently featured on these blades are one or more fullers, or grooves, that lighten the blade somewhat while allowing it to retain the flexibility and width required for devastating cuts. With the addition of plate armour in the high Middle Ages, these swords began to lose their effectiveness. Never operating in a vacuum, weapon makers of the day had to find a new way to counteract these defenses. Some chose to take the old fullered blades and improve them. Some, however, chose a different approach.
One of noted researcher and collector Ewart Oakeshott's most lasting achievements was his framework for categorizing medieval European swords. Consisting of typologies for blades, pommels, and guards, as well as featuring a system of families that combine all these elements, it has become the standard way of looking at swords of the Middle Ages. Of his thirteen blade types (X-XXII), only two do not regularly feature the fullers so common in the other types. These two groups, Type XV and Type XVIII, usually feature a diamond cross-section instead of the fullered cross-section of old. This diamond cross-section lends rigidity to the blade in thrusting, an action necessitated by increasing use of plate armour.
There are many similarities between Type XV and Type XVIII. Both feature blades that are broad at the base, stiffer than their predecessors, and taper to an acute point suitable for finding gaps in armour. Their main difference lies in how they taper to the point. Type XV swords typically feature a straight taper, giving the blade a triangular, or wedge, shape. Type XVIII blades feature a convex taper that gives them more width at the Center of Percussion. Sometimes the difference between the two types is very subtle, making classification difficult. Added to this is the fact that swords needed to be sharpened over their working life, and often needed more severe honing to remove nicks and gouges from their cutting edges. These actions remove metal from the blade and can sometimes have the effect of changing the blade's shape enough that it moves from one type to another.
Arms & Armor of Minneapolis, MN has long produced high-quality reproductions of historical swords. In some cases, they have been able to use Ewart Oakeshott's notes in the design/redesign of their products. Many of their models have been in production for years, though they tend to quietly improve and upgrade their products every few years. One of the newer additions to their sword lineup is the French Medieval Sword. Based on a sword dated circa 1375-1400 in the The Wallace Collection (A.460), it is a good example of a sword whose blade type changed throughout its working life. Oakeshott classified this sword as a Type XV based on its current blade shape, but seemed sure that its shape had changed through repeated, and severe, honing. A&A chose to recreate this sword as it probably left the cutler's shop, giving it a blade with less acute taper of Type XVIII form.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
With a Point of Balance relatively close to the cross, I expected this sword to lack some blade presence. What I found instead was a sword with nimble control and a pleasing amount of blade presence. I had no difficulty keeping the blade in line during cutting and experienced no vibrations unless my technique was off. This sword cut well against light targets. When thrusting with the sword, it was very easy to put the tip where I wanted it to go.
Fit and Finish
Many historical swords featured rivet blocks atop the pommel over which the end of the tang was peened. On this sword the rivet block is cast into the top of the pommel. I'm sure this was done to save cost to the customer and eliminate a step in the sword's assembly; nevertheless, I would have preferred for it to be a separate piece for purely aesthetic reasons. The cross is hexagonal in cross-section and is well-defined.
The Type XVIII blade is of flattened diamond section. Its median ridge is straight and even throughout the blade's length. The blade tapers gracefully in profile, creating a shape that shows its purpose: it is wide at the Center of Percussion for powerful cuts, yet tapers to a strong point for thrusting.
Arms & Armor continues to produce affordable, high-quality products without too much fanfare in some Internet circles. Being a past owner of one of their swords (and current dagger owner), I can say that the French Medieval Sword reviewed here is an improvement in terms of fit and finish over swords Arms & Armor produced even a handful of years ago. Their drive to constantly refine and update their products without constantly increasing their prices shows their commitment to historical accuracy. I also appreciate the decision to reproduce the blade in what is most likely its original form.
Not having seen any of Arms & Armor's new products in person for quite some time, I was impressed by this offering and feel confident recommending it. Any issues with the size and shape of the grip are more likely due to my technique (combined with large mitts) than to the sword's design, since it is historically accurate.
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.
Photographer: Chad Arnow