A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Albion Armorers Next Generation Crécy Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
They couldn't have known it on that late summer day in 1346, but the two armies facing each other in a field near Crécy stood at a crossroads in medieval military life. With this battle, fought on August 25, 1346, the hostilities of the Hundred Years War between the English and French came to their first major peak in that up-and-down, lengthy, and largely fruitless conflict. As with most large military forces of the high Middle Ages, there were similarities between the sides. Both were led by powerful monarchs (Edward III for the English, Philip VI for the French) driven by perceived entitlements and looking for expanded landholdings. Both armies were littered with nobles, knights, and men-at-arms fulfilling feudal obligations and looking to gain renown through brave deeds and perhaps money through the ransoming of captured nobles. Both contingents also had groups of archers (longbowmen for the English and mercenary Genoese crossbowmen for the French) and foot soldiers, hoping to stay alive and to share in the looting sure to follow major battles of this kind. Tactically, however, the two forces could not have been more dissimilar.
The French army that brazenly charged toward the well-ordered English ranks followed the mold of the preceding centuries: mounted, heavily-armed, well-trained men armed with lance and mounted on specially-bred and trained destriers charged forward together, ready for impact. The mounted charge had enjoyed great success for many years, and the French in particular had employed it to great effect and renown. Anna Comnena, a Byzantine princess and chronicler of the Crusades, remarked that a mounted Frenchman "would make a hole through the walls of Babylon," so highly regarded were they in that situation.
The English army had learned from some ignominious defeats at the hands of the Scots and brought with them tactics and weapons new to warfare in continental Europe. The Welsh longbow had been adopted by the English and put to good use against the Scots by Edward III at Halidon Hill in 1333. The longbow could be fired at a faster rate and across longer distances than the crossbows used on the Continent, enabling the English to create a constant shower of arrows. Along with the longbow, the English adopted new tactics. The Scots under William Wallace had employed foot soldiers in formations known as schiltrons, essentially a mobile square of spear-wielding men that could stand up to a charge of heavy horse. Armed (quite literally) with this knowledge, the English began to employ dismounted knights and men-at-arms, combined with well-placed formations of archers, in easily-defended positions.
The French were unprepared for an army consisting entirely of organized foot soldiery that did not break formation at the sight of a wall of brightly-colored horsemen bearing down upon them. The English at Crécy had chosen their position well, and the French nobility had convinced Philip VI to charge right away rather than organizing more carefully and forming up ranks before giving battle. The French were routed, beginning the English dominance in pitched battle that would continue with victories at Poitiers in 1356 and Agincourt in 1415.
The defeat of mounted horseman by foot soldiers at Crécy was not the first of its kind: the French had been repelled by the Flemish at Courtrai in 1302; the English had been defeated at Bannockburn in 1314; and Duke Leopold I's Austrian army had been soundly beaten by the Swiss at Morgarten in 1315. In the words of Ewart Oakeshott, "Courtrai and Bannockburn, Morgarten and Crécy as well as many lesser engagements all pointed to the same thing: the supremacy of the mounted heavily armoured horseman was at an end."
This shift in battlefield supremacy would have widespread effects. The expensive, difficult-to-train, and hard-to-control mounted warrior had become a liability on the battlefield. The dominance of the feudally-levied army began to erode as state-run professional armies became more widespread. A class of non-land-owning professional soldiers blossomed and helped the feudal system of indentured service become obsolete.
The warrior class that remained was shown to be vulnerable to effective archery and disciplined foot soldiers. The plate armour that was gradually being added to now-vulnerable mail suddenly became more important. As plate armour improved and became more widespread, the favored weapon of many warriors, the sword, underwent changes to match.
The wide-bladed, parallel-edged cutting swords that had served well for so long lost their effectiveness when opposing warriors encased in steel plate. Swords began to develop that had more acutely-pointed blades which were better able to find gaps in armour. Many of these blades retained the kind of width needed for powerful cuts, since not all warriors were fully clad (or clad at all) in armour. Longer-gripped swords had been growing in popularity also, enabling the user to use their off-hand for more power. One class of swords that was popular during the early Hundred Years War, known in Oakeshott's typology as Type XVIa, possessed grips long enough to utilize the second hand, and had a blade configured for cutting and thrusting.
Albion Armorers introduced their original Albion Mark line in the Spring of 2002. They have since introduced their very popular Next Generation, and Peter Johnsson Museum Collection lineups. One of the more popular swords in their original line was the Crécy Grete Swerde. Patterned after a Type XIIIa sword from Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword, its blade fell in between a Type XIIIa and Type XVIa.
Most models in the original line (now known as First Generation) have been discontinued, though some of the more popular ones have been introduced in Next Generation guise. The Crécy, the subject of this review, is one of those models. It should be noted, however, that apart from some basic visual similarities, the Next Generation sword reviewed here is very different from its earlier cousin, benefiting from the research and design abilities of Peter Johnsson. Its blade falls clearly into Type XVIa, and its hilt components have been refined. Its hilt components have been mated with the blade of another sword offered by Albion, their Type XIIIa Count, giving Albion an example of each of the blade types the original Crécy fell between.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
I first encountered the prototype of this sword (also the one used for this review) at the 2005 Atlanta Blade Show. I couldn't put it down. In dry handling, I felt it was probably the most pleasant-feeling Albion longsword I had handled or owned. It felt nimble, but without lacking authority. It also felt easy to control.
Cutting exercises have borne out those initial feelings. The Crécy is easy to control and relatively effortless to wield. While the sword is no lightweight, that weight is distributed in such a way that it feels very neutral in handling. It seems fast enough and light enough for unarmoured combat but also has enough authority in the cut that it likely would have fared well against the mix of mail and early plate armour it would have faced at Crécy in 1346.
Against light targets, tip cuts and slices were particularly effective. Cuts at or near the Center of Percussion were also quite effective and easy. No undue vibrations were passed to the user; even in poor cuts, only minimal vibrations were felt. Thrusts were fairly easy to control.
The grip is just long enough for me to fit both hands on it. The pommel is also of a decent size and shape to be gripped with the off-hand. Cuts were no less effective from either grip. The shorter guard didn't interfere with any moves.
Fit and Finish
The wheel pommel is slightly thicker at its base than at the top and is not quite a perfect round shape. The central bosses on each face of the pommel are not quite symmetrical. While Albion's modern manufacturing techniques could yield perfect shaping and absolute symmetries, it's my understanding that Peter Johnsson builds some of these asymmetries into these swords to enhance their period looks. The effect works. The pommel is nicely polished to an easy-to-maintain satin finish, as is the guard.
The grip and guard are well-done as usual. The grip is a simple affair but is well-executed and features three cord risers that add the right amount of detail. The guard is hexagonal in cross-section and tapers slightly in thickness as it moves from the ecusson to the very slightly flared ends.
The blade's fuller is cleanly done and terminates nicely about halfway down the blade. The rest of the blade is of a well-defined diamond cross-section. The overall finish is quite nice and the blade is quite sharp as well.
While not the most visually complex sword in the lineup from Albion Armorers, it still features nice lines and a classic look that is enhanced by its reasonable price tag ($620 US at the time of this writing). Its handling is top-notch and its design makes it versatile enough for most situations, whether in military or civilian use. Anyone looking for an attractive and versatile cut and thrust longsword representitive of the early years of the Hundred Years War should give the Crécy a serious look.
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