Arms & Armor Henry V Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
Within the Westminster Abby Collection rests a single hand sword that Ewart Oakeshott described as "one of the most beautiful medieval swords to handle I have ever known." This sword, labeled Type XVIII.1 in Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword, was supposedly hung above the chantry of Henry V.
Henry V, British monarch of the early 15th century, was not just a ruler but an accomplished warrior who began fighting as early as age fourteen, when he fought the Welsh forces of Owain Glyndwr. Throughout his life, Henry V fought in many battles, including against the French in the 100 Years War. It is no wonder then that he would have chosen such a practical, no-nonsense weapon. As Oakeshott mentions, "despite its plain simplicity one can appreciate that a hard, practical down-to-earth warrior such as Henry V would use a sword like this in preference to a more elaborate one."
The sword was lost for years, and eventually discovered in a chest in Westminster Abby. It is simply decorated, a design that gives just enough flair to show a sense of elegance but whose form is ultimately pragmatic and functional. The fittings are gilded, though Oakeshott speculates that this was done at the time of Henry V's funeral, and a red cross was painted into the inset of the pommel.
Arms & Armor of Minnesota is well known for creating historically accurate arms and armour, often times based on specific original pieces. There have been several recreations of the Henry V sword, but Arms & Armor are the only production company to create the sword based on notes and sketches straight from Ewart Oakeshott, who was able to handle and clean the sword.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
If I were to choose a single-handed sword that evenly balanced cutting and thrusting, and could be used for the battlefield or for personal combat, I would be hard pressed to find a sword that is better suited for such purposes than this recreation. It is not the perfect cutter, nor is it the perfect thruster, and yet it still feels nice in both types of attacks. It is a very "handy" sword, able to strike and defend, and can easily change directions mid-swing. The slightly large pommel can rub against the heel of the hand if you are not used to this, though casually shifting into a "handshake" grip when making large cutting motions avoids this problem. When making shorter, snapping types of cuts a stronger, square-on grip feels more natural.
I was actually quite surprised to see that this sword weighs close to 3 pounds. It feels far lighter in part due to a close point of balance. I ordinarily prefer swords to have more blade presence, yet I really find this weapon balances quite nicely even so. There is more to the feel of a sword than its balance point alone, and here is a perfect example of how that comes alive in a sword.
The sword cuts much better than I expected. The edge is not as sharp as many other swords I own, but the thin cross-section appears to really allow the sword to slice through targets very well. It lacks some of the blade mass of dedicated cutters, so it does not fare as well in making powerful blows that might be needed against opponents in heavily padded armour or mail, but this is made up for by the quickness it exhibits.
If we do not compare the sword to the original, it is a very handsome example of medieval single-hander. The proportions are pleasing to the eye, and the shaping of the hilt components is beautiful in its simplicity. The blade is well shaped and polished nicely to a finish that is somewhere between satin and mirror. The hilt is very tight, and though the leather wrap is stitched, the stitching is unobtrusive enough that you can hardly feel it. There are some minor casting flaws that can be seen in the recess of the pommel, though they are not very obvious, and the engravings on the guard are not perfectly even, though neither are the engravings on most original pieces. As a sword exemplifying a generic example of the high Middle Ages, it is fantastic.
As a reproduction of an original piece, however, there are clearly some corners cut to keep the price reasonable. For one, the blade of the original sword is deeply hollow-ground, a process that is more labor-intensive to produce, and Arms & Armor has opted not to make their blade this way, most likely because it would make the sword more expensive for the buyer. The pommel of the original also has lines incised around its diameter, something that is not present on the reproduction. I would have liked to see this on the modern version, but it is a small concession, and again would have raised the cost. The original also appears to have a tang that is peened directly to the pommel, unlike the modern version that has a pommel block that the tang is peened to.
One of the very subtle things about the original that Arms & Armor has not reproduced, with good reason, is the fact that the faces on the pommel are actually hollow: the raised rims of the faces are attached to either side of a disk pommel. This detail would definitely cost more for construction, so the modern version has a solid pommel. The combination of this and the lack of hollow-grinding may also explain a discrepancy in the weight: Oakeshott said that the original weighed about two pounds and three ounces, unlike the Arms & Armor version which is a full half-pound heavier. Despite the fact that the Arms & Armor reproduction is heavier, it still handles quite beautifully, even as Oakeshott described the original: "balanced like a good fishing-rod."
While it may not be a perfect recreation, Arms & Armor has still done a tremendous job of capturing the essence of the original sword that hung over Henry V's tomb. A more accurate replica is possible, but this would drastically increase the cost of the basic model, and in that respect Arms & Armor has done admirable work in presenting a very fine sword that still does justice to the sword that Oakeshott praised so much. Whether the modern collector is looking for a piece for cutting practice or as a tribute to the warrior monarch of Britain, this would be an excellent acquisition, and possibly the most accurate production version of this particular weapon.
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.
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Photographer: Bill Grandy