A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Albion Armorers Squire Line 15th Century Bastard Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy, with comments from Pamela Muir
The 15th century in Europe is often cited as being the pinnacle of armour development. During this time period even the lowest foot soldiers and mercenaries often had at least some form of plate and mail, however light, and members of the knightly class were generally covered head to toe in full plate armour. Full plate armor, while an incredibly effective form of defense, still was not without its vulnerabilities, and weapons such as the sword were adapted to deal with such weaknesses. Even a full suit of plate had gaps and openings at the articulations, such as the arm pit or the inside of the elbow; else the wearer would be unable to move. Those openings, even if covered in mail, could still be exploited by a thrust from a narrow blade. Sword types, such as the estoc, were developed to specially combat this. Such weapons were very specific, though, and versatility was a virtue that naturally was prized. Due to this, swords such as the Oakeshott Type XV were developed. They possessed blades that had wide bases and could still handle cuts against lightly armoured foes, but which tapered strongly to handle accurate thrusts through the gaps of plate with their acute points.
Modern historical sword collectors often require swords to fall into one of two categories: A sword intended to be as close to original swords as possible, which would include a blade with the correct cutting geometry, or a sword intended to be used as a tool for recreations such as stage combat or martial arts use. Swords designed for these different tasks require different blade designs. Often times, however, the sword user needs a sword that has qualities of both categories. This includes reenactment groups, stage combatants, or even those who perform educational demonstrations. For those middle-ground users, the sword must overall look and handle like a realistic sword, but still be able to be used with accurate sword techniques against another sword.
Albion Armorers of Wisconsin has developed their Squire Line swords to fall into this middle-ground category. The swords are more economical than their higher-end line of Next Generation swords, and are sold blunt unless requested by the customer to be sharpened.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
The term "bastard sword" is generally used to describe a sword that can be used with either one or two hands, and therefore it is a fitting term for this weapon. This sword feels quite at home with either single-handed or two-handed techniques. Using two hands on the grip, the balance is at a point where the sword is fast and easily maneuverable for strong cuts, yet at the same time does not feel out of control. This sword is short enough to ensure quick cuts and attacks, and when used single handed is still easy to handle. The blade has just enough presence to really guide the sword in the cut, particularly in one hand. Using George Silver's method of measurement, as described in his treatise Paradoxes of Defense, the sword fits my perfect length for a two handed sword; i.e., by holding the sword at one shoulder and reaching out with the other hand in a closed fist, as if holding a dagger, the sword fits just right. Another way of looking at this measurement would be to say that if I grasped an opponent at the shoulder with an outstretched arm, I could still comfortably pull the sword back to thrust.
During drills and bouting the edge and finish held up quite well, as has the guard, which is slightly nicked from some hard hits to it, but still holding up quite nicely. The rounded tip is wide enough to be safe, although I took the extra precaution of placing a rubber blunt over it.
Pamela Muir, a practitioner of the Liechtanauer school of fencing, who also owns an Albion 15th Century Bastard Sword, had comments to add about her experiences with it:
"I've used it fairly heavily and it's held up beautifully. It has a couple of nicks on the edge and some superficial scratches on the blade and the guard, but that's to be expected from the amount of use and abuse it has seen so far. It doesn't "sing" as much as when I first received it so I suspect the hilt components have loosened ever so slightly, not enough to notice when using it, just enough to stop that perfect tuning fork sound, which I miss. Again, considering the heavy use I give it, it's in great shape, especially since it was not specifically designed for sparring and I've used it for sparring a lot.
"I'm certainly not an expert, but it seems to me that this is a true bastard sword in the sense that I've been able to use it for both two-handed and single-handed techniques on a regular basis. Most of its use has been two handed, but any problems that I've had using it single handed have mostly come from my technique, or lack of it, and not from the balance or heft of the sword."
Considering that this sword is intended to fill the role of an economical sword, it is surprisingly attractive. The finish of the blade is slightly better polished than the usual satin finish often seen in blades of this price range. The guard and pommel show very little signs of being cast. The octagonal pommel is very attractive and also feels very comfortable in the hand. The wooden grip is wrapped in black leather with a smooth and even seam. The assembly is rock solid.
Pamela Muir adds these notes:
"As far as fit and finish, my first reaction was, 'Wow, this is supposed to be a "lower end" sword! Nonsense!' I still think she's absolutely gorgeous. The sword is very plain-Jane, but in that school teacher with her hair up in the bun kind of way. You know that the lack of decoration does not disguise the beauty at all. I don't wear much make-up myself and I don't see a need for it on my practice sword either. The look is clean and utilitarian but beautifully made."Conclusion
There are quite a few swords out on the market that are sold blunt but could still be considered a functional weapon if sharpened. This new Squire Line that Albion Armorers has released seems to have taken that niche a step further in terms of accuracy, both in handling and in appearance, without having taken the price a step further. It handles wonderfully, looks handsome, and functions strongly. As far as swords go, the 15th Century Bastard sword is an incredibly nice buy for the price.
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: Nathan Robinson