Arms & Armor Knightly Riding Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow

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We often think of warriors of the Middle Ages going about their daily lives girded with their war-swords. In fact, wearing these swords was not customary and illegal in some areas, especially earlier in the period. As we move toward the Renaissance, though, we see the emergence of smaller, lighter swords suitable for civilian defensive use. Known as riding swords, these swords were the forerunners of the side swords that are seen as ancestors of the rapier.

A sword designed for civilian use would need versatility, since the wearer could face a variety of situations afoot or mounted. Some riding swords feature blades of Ewart Oakeshott's Type XVIII, giving a nice blend of cutting and thrusting abilities. Type XVIII blades feature taper in their width that creates a nice point for thrusting without giving up the width and balance needed for good cuts.

Arms & Armor of Minneapolis boasts a lineup entirely consisting of reproductions of existing historical swords. One of the more venerable members of that lineup is their Knightly Riding Sword, the subject of this review. Based on a 16th century riding sword in The Wallace Collection, it is designated as A.515 in their collection and is thought to date from around 1500. The reproduction differs slightly from the original, likely in order to keep the cost within Arms & Armor's normal price range. The original sword's blade sports two fullers and gilded furniture. The grip is also a strongly waisted shape, rather than being mostly cylindrical with a swelling at its middle like the reproduction.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:2 pounds, 4.4 ounces
Overall length:38 1/2 inches
Blade length:32 inches
Blade width:1 3/4 inches at base, tapering to 5/8 inches
Grip length:4 1/4 inches
Guard width:5 3/4 inches
Point of Balance:6 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~20 1/2 inches from guard
Oakeshott typology:Type XVIII blade, Type T3 (?) pommel, Style 11 (?) guard

Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.

Handling Characteristics

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Grip and Guard

The top of the grip is rather narrow and thin, while the bottom swells to form planes that flow into the shape of the pommel. In the hammer grip, the thickest part of the grip fell underneath my ring and pinky fingers, making it feel like I couldn't quite close those last few fingers fully around the grip. A more handshake-like grip helped a little, but I would need more time with this sword to find a comfortable way to hold it.

I'm sure my lack of comfort with the grip contributed to this sword's performance in my hands. The sword has a lot of blade presence, so I expected great performance when cutting that I was, unfortunately, not able to get. The blade flows pretty well through cuts, propelled by its mass, but my trouble with the grip made it difficult to achieve consistent cutting results with it. A grip shaped more like the original sword's grip may have helped, though the more complex shape would likely change Arms & Armor's price. In its current configuration, it simply wasn't a good fit for me.

The blade presence made it a little difficult for me to align the point in a thrust. Again, I'm sure a longer breaking in/getting-to-know-you period would help with this as well.

Fit and Finish
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Pommel Detail

Arms & Armor uses a matte satin finish on their products that is attractive and should be easy to maintain through the sword's working life. It gives the sword a very historic look as well. Guard and pommel are investment cast in mild steel and show no major casting flaws. Both are nicely shaped and are unique in form. The knobbed and down-turned ends of the guard contrast nicely with the blocky central portion. The four-sided pommel is also shaped well and is topped with a separate pommel nut. While the sword doesn't appeal to me visually, it is nice to see these unique and historical features available on the market.

The blade is evenly finished and well-shaped, though it does show very minor evidence of the amount of hand work that goes into making the blade. The median ridge is well-defined, making the cross-section not an overly flattened diamond shape.

Riding swords fill an interesting place in the history of the sword. Not usually intended to be a weapon of war, its adoption paved the way for the generations of civilian swords so ubiquitous in the Renaissance. Side swords and rapiers can trace their lineage back to these older weapons.

The Knightly Riding Sword will not appeal to everyone from a visual standpoint. Craig Johnson of Arms & Armor noted that "it has always been a sword the sells best once someone handles it. If I put it down on a table with several of our pieces it will be one of the last that people pick up, but often one of the swords they really think about buying after they handle it. It will often come down to the Knightly Sword and the sword they thought they were going to buy before handling any of them." It is a historical reproduction and great example of its type. My issues in cutting with this sword should not be seen as a reflection of its quality or historical accuracy, both of which are beyond reproach.

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

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