Albion Armorers Next Generation Mercenary
and Constable Swords
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
The common modern definition of a bastard sword is a sword that can easily be used with one hand or two on the grip. Some practitioners further add the qualification that the blade must be under a certain length (often 3 feet), otherwise it may be considered a longsword rather than a bastard sword. Regardless of what you call it and how strictly you define it, bastard swords enjoyed great popularity in the late Middle Ages both in war and in civilian settings. Their longer blades gave extra reach to the user, while the addition of the second hand on the grip gave the wielder extra power.
Bastard swords featured in period fectbuchs often possess more sharply-pointed blades, usually of Type XVa, Type XVII, or Type XVIIIa. Swords so configured would be very versatile, capable in the cut and the thrust, with blade shapes conducive to techniques such as half-swording.
The Next Generation line of swords by Albion Armorers has been on the market for more than two years. These swords represented a significant step up from most offerings on the market at the time in terms of accuracy, handling, construction, and finish. Many of the initial offerings were also quite expensive (compared to the rest of the market), due to the cost of research and development and the construction and finishing of so many fine and unique weapons.
Albion has introduced many models since the initial launch, many of which fill in the lower price range by using shared components and/or parts that are easier to finish. The swords reviewed here, the Mercenary and Constable, are part of that trend. Albion's first Type XVa, the Castellan, features fairly complex hilt components. The Mercenary was the next Type XVa introduced and shares a blade with the Castellan. Its faceted pommel and straight-forward guard take less time to finish, resulting in a lower cost. After the Mercenary was introduced, one of Albion's cutlers suggested combining the Mercenary's pommel with the Castellan's guard; this sword was approved by Peter Johnsson and introduced as the Constable. The difference in finishing and assembly times due to the guards is what accounts for the current $100 US price difference. A lesser-finished, blunted version of the Mercenary has been introduced as the Squire Line Late 15th Century Bastard sword.
Mercenary Measurements and Specifications:
Constable Measurements and Specifications:
Replicas created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
As should be expected from the stats above, the Mercenary and Constable have much in common in terms of performance. Both can easily be used with one hand or two on the grip. Both performed well with two hands whether the off-hand was on the grip or on the pommel.
They are both excellent thrusters that don't seem to sacrifice much (if any) cutting ability. They did require a slight adjustment in technique, since the Centers of Percussion (CoP) lay just a little closer to the hilt than on many swords I've used to for cutting. The reasoning behind this seems quite practical: if the CoP's were closer to the tip, the blade could be too narrow to give an effective cut.
The Mercenary seems to be just a tick slower than the Constable, though the difference is slight. The guard is fatter but less wide on the Constable, concentrating a little more mass near the primary hand. When combined with the slightly lower overall weight of the sword, the Constable seems just a shade faster.
One difference between these two swords lies in the distribution of cord risers beneath the leather grip cover. The Constable has two risers, one at either end of its grip. The Mercenary sports a single riser, near the middle of the grip. Neither configuration caused the sword to feel more or less comfortable or secure.
Fit and Finish
The guards are, as noted above, the major difference between the two swords. The guard of the Mercenary is flat in cross-section, making it easier to polish and cheaper to finish. This example does show some casting flaws and pits on it. Some of these are to be expected, but this Mercenary possessed a few more of these than I've come to expect of Next Generation swords. Nevertheless, I still found the guard's finish to be quite acceptable. The Constable's guard is round in cross-section and was well-finished on this example. It didn't contain any pitting from the investment casting process.
Both swords came with Albion's Magenta grip, a nice, rich, deep red. There is variation in color on both grips, due to the differences in each piece of leather and Albion's hand-mixed dyes. The effect is quite nice, though, showing some areas that are a brighter red and some that are almost black, with many shades in between. The riser in the center of the Mercenary's grip makes the grip area look less plain to my eye, though risers at either end of the Constable's grip give a slightly more refined look to the grip.
Both the Mercenary and Constable performed well; better, in fact, than I imagined a "thrusting" Type XVa sword would. They are wicked in the thrust and efficient in the cut once minor adjustments were made to my technique to accommodate the swords' needs. Both swords were also attractive and well-constructed. Their lower prices when compared to other swords in the Next Generation line by Albion Armorers come at no loss of quality, handling ability or historical accuracy. Personal preference alone leads me to choose the Mercenary over the Constable. I like the Constable's guard better when paired with the Castellan's pommel, as originally designed. The Constable, though, has a very (very) slight edge of the Mercenary in the hand. Both swords should serve well in a variety of situations, though, and their lower price points should make them an attractive option for many collectors.
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