Albion Armorers Next Generation Landgraf
and Sempach Swords
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
European armor in the 14th and 15th centuries is well known for evolving from mail into full plate. Those who could afford armor would almost certainly choose to wear it, and as the use of plate armor grew, the weapons of the time evolved in order to combat this trend.
Swords in particular changed to have sharply tapering blades and acute tips. Because plate armor could not simply be hacked through, armored combat involved a great deal of thrusting into the joints and vulnerabilities between the plates. To effectively do this, the sword must have a stiff, narrow point and balance so that tip control is paramount. Swords such as the estoc, a purely thrusting sword created specifically for fighting against armor, were commonly used. Such a weapon is very specialized for that purpose. Since not everyone on the battlefield wore full armor, the cut could not be ignored as an effective means of attack, which is why so many swords still needed to maintain a sharpened cutting blade.
Enter swords like the Landgraf and Sempach by Albion Armorers.
Albion has developed a line of high-end production swords known as the Next Generation. Some of the swords in this line share the same blade, such as the case of the Landgraf and the Sempach reviewed here. Each blade is classified as an Oakeshott Type XVII, characterized by its sharply tapering, stiff blade of hexagonal cross-section. Swords of this type are built with grips for two hands. It was a very common sword type in the 14th and early 15th centuries, though despite this fact, it is a very rare type in the modern reproduction market.
Landgraf Measurements and Specifications:
Sempach Measurements and Specifications:
Both replicas created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
Despite sharing the same blade, these are definitely two different swords. While still being similar in feel, the major difference is that the Sempach has more blade presence, and feels a bit livelier in the cut, while the Landgraf feels just slightly steadier in the thrust. Both are wicked thrusters with excellent tip control, and the very narrow but stiff tip was designed for penetrating the small openings in armor.
The Landgraf's pommel is wide and therefore cannot be gripped, while the Sempach's tapering pommel feels very comfortable in the hand. On a personal level, I preferred the Sempach's feel more, mostly because I happen to prefer gripping the pommel. The combination of this plus the blade presence mentioned earlier makes the Sempach feel very natural for cuts in the German system of longsword fencing. Both could easily be maneuvered, but the Sempach felt just slightly faster when cutting and transitioning between guards. The Landgraf's tip control, however, was just slightly superior due to the weight being just barely closer to the hilt. If I had to choose one for armored combat, I would pick the Landgraf, and the Sempach would be my preferred choice for unarmored fighting, although both would work quite well for either situation.
Both blades feel fantastic when trying out half-swording techniques. Half-swording is where one grabs onto the middle of the blade with the off hand and utilizes the sword more as a short staff or spear. This might be done when a fighter and his opponent have closed to a distance where they cannot effectively swing their swords as they normally would or because full armor is being worn. In each of these cases, half-swording aids in being able to thrust into the joints. The differences in feel for both the Landgraf and Sempach were negligible at this point, but both felt perfect for the short and powerful stabs made from this position, and could quickly deflect on-coming attacks easily as well.
Many attacks associated with half-swording involve letting go of the grip entirely to attack with the hilt. One famous one, known by many names, including the "murder-stroke", the "thunder-stroke", or the "battering point", involves feinting from a half-sword stance, then as your opponent moves to defend, the sword is reversed by putting both hands on the blade and swinging the pommel at the opponent. Such techniques do not work well with a "floppy" blade, which make the hilt hard to control, but this is not at all a problem with these two swords.
In cutting, this Type XVII blade did not suffer from being so thrust-oriented. Against light targets such as water filled bottles and cartons, it worked just fine. I suspect strongly that against other targets, these two swords would not cut nearly as well as blades with thinner profiles, but considering that the cut was compromised to make an effective thruster, this blade still cuts quite efficiently.
Both swords exhibit a very high standard of assembly and historical accuracy. The fittings are solid, and Albion's construction method of riveting the pommel permanently into place before adding the wooden grip means that it is unlikely for them to come loose. Both have a high-polished blade, coming almost up to a mirror polish. The lines of the blade and fittings flow evenly and are superbly executed. Both swords also have hilts with excellently crafted leather showing texturing from a cord-wrap. The seam of the leather is blended well enough that it cannot be felt at all.
The piercing on the guard of the Landgraf is well executed. They actually are not machine-perfect, which is a positive comment: They look professionally done and yet they still are just barely imperfect; the way antique originals are. Albion has managed to make them "perfect" in that they reflect the medieval swords on which this piece is based, but making sure their work was not sloppy or clumsy looking. The pommel looks fantastic with the engraving of a flat-armed cross. The decorations on this particular sword, in my opinion, are just right. They give an air of a sophisticated warrior, but are still simple and down-to-earth.
The Sempach has a different aesthetic feel. The lines are a little sharper and are much more angular. The pommel has beautiful ridges along the outside, and the guard has a hexagonal cross-section. This is a slightly more no-nonsense blade than the Landgraf, though it still shows a beauty of grace and form. I am tempted to say it shows beauty in simplicity, but this would be a mistake: The subtle details and angles of the hilt components are not simple, and in fact make this a very striking piece.
The grip of the Landgraf is oxblood, and the grip of the Sempach is brown. I was surprised by the color of the oxblood, because it was much more brown than I would have preferred. This is a minor complaint, but one that should be noted should the potential customer have a more dark reddish color in mind. Potential customers may need to compare what Albion calls oxblood, red, and magenta to avoid surprises.
Albion Armorers has really raised the bar with the creation of their Next Generation line. Here are two fine examples of how a production sword does not have to have all of the corners cut to be produced. These two pieces in particular were interesting to compare, being that they share the same blade. While Albion designed two similar swords with the exact same blade, they are still different in more ways than in looks alone. On a personal level, I prefer the aesthetics of the Landgraf, but the handling characteristics of the Sempach, though this does not really reflect the quality or workmanship of either. I could easily see many others having feelings that go the other way. In either case, both swords are outstanding pieces that do justice to a type of sword that is very rare on the market.
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: Bill Grandy