Albion Armorers Squire Line Late 13th Century Great Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
The proliferation and reinforcement of mail in the High Middle Ages caused some changes in the basic sword design handed down from the Viking Age. One of these changes, commonly held to have developed in Germanic-influenced parts of Europe, came to be called the Great Sword. To counter the defenses of the day, these swords were larger in both blade and grip. The additional room on the grip allowed the second hand to be used for extra leverage, while the extra blade length increased the cleaving power and reach of the sword. The early great swords were still cut-oriented like their smaller single-handed brothers. Ewart Oakeshott originally included these within his Type XIIIa classification. Later research caused him to move some of them to a new subtype, Type XIIa. Swords of Type XIIa featured blades that tapered more than swords of Type XIIIa, ending in a point more useable for thrusting. In addition to the added versatility in the cut, these swords tend to be a little livelier in the hands.
In July 2004, Albion Armorers introduced the Squire Line. This line of swords has a different focus than their Next Generation and Peter Johnsson Museum Line swords and is at quite a different price point. Designed to be "affordable swords for the beginner, reenactor, and practitioner of the western martial arts," they feature a lower level of overall finish and are designed around a non-sharpened edge. In terms of their construction, however, they still feature Albion's sturdy and historically accurate hilt assembly (detailed in our hands-on review of the Baron). Albion will sharpen the edges at the customer's request, though it will lack the historical edge geometry found in their other sword lines. A sharpened version of a Type XIIa great sword, called the Late 13th Century Great Sword, is the subject of this review.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
In dry handling, the sword handles with the authority you would expect of a cutting sword. It's a bit of a beast when wielded with one hand, but so are most swords of its type. In cutting, it handled quite well, especially considering that this line is not built from the ground up for that. Cuts were easy to control with two hands. With one hand, it was not as easy to control, but, again, that is to be expected of these great swords. When used single-handed, it would typically be swung from horseback in a great shearing blow where control was less important. While not as agile as the later thrusting types, it would be serviceable for thrusting against lightly armoured opponents.
Compared to the Next Generation Baron, a sword of the same type and at a significantly higher price point, it held its own in light target cutting. It should be noted, however, that the pool noodles I used as my cutting material are not the best judge of a sword's edge. I would expect a larger difference between the performances of the two swords when using a a heavier cutting medium. The Squire Line sword was just a tick slower and heavier in the hand than the Baron, but is still a capable performer in light target cutting.
For a sword priced at $350 US I expected a much lower level of finish. The guard and pommel are polished to a more matte finish than their Next Generation brothers, but are not roughly finished at all. The hilt fittings are of a much simpler style and do not have the fancier (and more expensive to produce) planes, shapes, and angles. The hilt has a very austere and classic look that is attractive. The peened end of the tang is ground flush to the pommel and is nearly invisible.
The finish on the blade is also less refined but still nicer than I anticipated. The Next Generation line tends to carry more of a glossy satin finish, while the Squire Line sports a finish better described as "matte satin." The sharpening of the blade created secondary edge bevels that begin either 1.75 or 2.5 inches down the blade, depending on which side is viewed. The bevel is about .10 inches wide and meets fairly well at the blade's tip.
One difference in the two lines is in the grips used. The Squire Line grips lack the cord detailing of their higher-priced siblings and the choice of leather color is limited to black. The leather also has a different feel and sheen, appearing to be of a slightly lower quality. A small seem is visible along one edge of the grip but is unobtrusive in the hands. At the top and bottom of the grip are two extra bands beneath the leather cover. These are wider and more flat than the typical cord risers on Albion's other swords.
It's pretty easy to recommend this sword on several levels. It should satisfy the needs of someone looking for a blunt sword for reenactment. It is historical in both appearance and dry handling. Some western martial arts practitioners have stated that they feel the edge geometry on the Squire Line swords is too acute for safe sparring. Consequently, this line of swords may not be optimal for that purpose. Albion's Maestro Line is likely more suitable for that.
A sharpened version of a Squire Line sword would serve pretty well for folks interested in an entry-level sword for light-duty cutting. It should perform at least as well as the other swords in its price range that are not sold sharpened (and are sharpened by vendors or users after the fact). Whether interested in the sharp or blunt versions, the Squire Line by Albion Armorers is still the only line of swords in this price range to feature an accurately assembled and sturdy hilt.
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