Albion Armorers Next Generation Norman Sword
A hands-on review by Patrick Kelly

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For nearly two millennia the sword was considered to be one of the main weapons on the battlefield. For much of that time, swords designed towards the cut were preferred over swords oriented to the thrust. This trend continued throughout the Viking age and into the early Middle Ages. Mail, body armor made from thousands of interconnecting iron rings, was considered to be the state of the art in body defense for much of that time. Swords with broad flat cutting surfaces were found to give good service against this type of defense. As mail continued to advance towards the all-encompassing suits of the high Middle Ages swords also began to show subtle advancements in design. Sometime in the 11th century a sword design began to appear that can be considered as the first step on the long road to a truly efficient cut and thrust weapon.

In the middle part of the twentieth century the noted author and researcher Ewart Oakeshott developed a typology for the medieval sword that has become the standard of its kind in the English language. Oakeshott began his typology with the Type X (ten). This design featured a blade with a broad cutting surface and a semi-serviceable thrusting point. This type saw a wide range of use throughout the Viking age and early Middle Ages, so much so that it might be seen as the defining design of that period. A variation of this design is listed within this typology as the Type Xa. Oakeshott described the Type Xa as being identical to the Type X, with the exception of a fuller that is distinctly more narrow than that of the Type X. In spite of this rather minute difference, as noted by Oakeshott, most surviving examples considered to be of the type feature more subtle differences. While these types exhibit Oakeshott's narrow fuller, they also possess blades that are slightly longer and have more profile taper than their earlier counterparts, thereby resulting in a blade that possess similar cutting abilities as well as increased thrusting potential. For more information on the type and its variant see our Spotlight article on the Type X.

In mid-2003 the Wisconsin based company of Albion Armorers introduced a new line of high-quality production swords known as the Next Generation line. More details on this line are available within our hands-on review of Albion's Next Generation Baron sword. Within this product line are several swords that fit into Oakeshott's type Xa classification. One of these swords, the Norman, is the subject of this review.

The Norman is of a generic yet classic design that forms an excellent example of the type. From the beginning of the eleventh century onward, the Type Xa served alongside its older brother, the Type X. The Norman is a sword that could have easily found itself in the hands of a Norman knight charging up Senlac Hill at the Battle of Hastings, or in the hands of a doomed Saxon Huscarl in the defending shield wall. It could have also traveled on Crusade and found itself outside the walls of Jerusalem.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:2 pounds, 8 ounces
Overall length:41 1/8 inches
Blade length:35 7/8 inches
Blade width:2 inches at base
Blade thickness:0.214 inches
Grip length:3 3/4 inches
Point of Balance:6 3/4 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~20 3/4 inches from guard
Oakeshott typology:Type Xa blade, Style 1 guard, Type G pommel

Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.

Fit and Finish
In keeping with the austerity of its namesake, the Norman is a sword that is elegant in its simplicity. Its blade of nearly three feet is cleanly machined and very well executed. The blade's fuller, which runs nearly to the point, is straight and crisply defined. Albion's fuller work is some of the nicest in the production field and the Norman's cleanly executed example is no exception. The sword's point is more acute than earlier types and is quite sharp. While not of optimal thrusting geometry, the Norman's point would have likely had decent effect upon the common body defenses of the age. The blade's bevel geometry has a slight belly that slopes gently to a keen edge, forming an apple seed shape that would have been durable and effective when used against contemporary targets.

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Detail of the

The blade's shoulder is tightly fitted into a guard of Oakeshott's Type 1 design. This Type 1 variant features a square cross-section and a gentle downward curve that compliments the sword's overall line. The Norman's pommel is a simple flattened disk that Oakeshott designated as a Type G. The faces of the pommel are not quite flat, but instead feature a slightly convex shape. This aspect adds a nice bit of minor detail to the sword's proportion. Both the guard and the pommel are types that saw widespread use from the mid-tenth century all the way into the Renaissance, although their highest period of popularity seems to have been circa 1000-1300. The last feature of the Norman is its grip. This is the standard Albion component that features a stabilized birch core. The core is then bound at both ends with a cord riser, and then covered with leather. The grip is finished in a very pleasing brown color that compliments the sword's muted appearance. The completed sword is finished in the standard Albion finish: an even satin finish that is nicely applied and quite attractive. The entire assembly is tightly fitted with no rattles or vibrations occurring during handling. The Norman is a strong sword that should give its owner years of trouble-free service.

Handling Characteristics
The Norman can be described as a sword that is agile, yet not particularly quick. This is a sword that was designed to hit with authority, and it will do exactly that. The Norman features a bold blade design with well-defined cutting surfaces, and would have delivered powerful cleaving strikes when used from horseback. When used on foot with a shield, the sword is easily controlled both in the cut and the thrust. Its dynamic handling qualities are quite good when placed within the context of its age. A modern-day practitioner who spends his time cutting grass mats and water-filled bottles may find the Norman a bit tiring if used in an afternoon cutting session.

Due to the fact that the Norman is a historic recreation it would not be fair, or accurate, to evaluate it in this fashion. This design was meant for service against mail-clad, iron-helmeted warriors hiding behind stout wooden shields. The Norman possesses just the right amount of blade presence that would allow for decisive cuts against these hard targets. Throughout the conducted cutting exercises, the Norman tracked well into the cut, and recovery was easily accomplished when transitioning back into a defensive posture. The sword features a slight point-forward feel that aids in control during a thrust. While evaluating the Norman's handling qualities I ran it through drills with another sword of Type X design. The subtle increase in the blade's length and profile taper greatly increased the point control. These seemingly minor changes in design have a significant change on a sword's handling qualities. The fact that such changes occur at a steady and common rate throughout the sword's evolution is proof that the medieval mind possessed a strong grasp of geometry and design.

The Norman Sword by Albion Armorers is a classic design that features strong construction and quality materials. I have used the term "classic" to describe the Norman. There is another term that can accurately describe this sword, "plain vanilla". This is not meant as a criticism but instead as a compliment. The Norman's design is a very common one that saw widespread adoption throughout the Middle Ages. Because of this it will fill a wide range of roles for the modern sword lover. Not only is the Norman a good strong design that will give years of service to the practitioner, but it would also be of value to the re-enactor and living historian. The sword's "vanilla" design means that it would be equally at home on the hip of a knight or man-at-arms, as well as an archer or spearman. Any of these enthusiasts who purchase the Norman will find their money well spent.

About the Author
Patrick is a State Trooper serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. He has been fascinated with edged weapons, particularly the medieval sword, since early childhood. Not only is Patrick thankful for any opportunity to indulge in his favorite hobby, he is also blessed with a wife who tolerates a house full of sharp pointy things.

Photographer: Nathan Robinson

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