A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Albion Armorers Next Generation Ritter Sword
A hands-on review by Patrick Kelly, with comments from Joachim Nilsson
Throughout the military history of the sword, one of the predominating trends seems to have been the search for a sword that could be used for a variety of applications. A sword that could be used for the cut as well as the thrust or a sword that could be used with either one or two hands would have been a valuable commodity. History has shown us many designs that adhered to this jack-of-all-trades design philosophy. Some met with outstanding success while others were found to be less than adequate.
In spite of this trend towards maximizing a sword's versatility, many sword types were designed towards a specific end. Even the ancients saw the value of mission-specific weapons. The Roman Empire did not equip its infantry and cavalry with the same type of sword. As far back as the Bronze Age, swords were designed with either cutting or thrusting as their focus. A sword designed for an infantryman might not be as effective when used by a cavalryman and so on. Consequently, this search for versatility never fully overshadowed the need for specificity.
For centuries the infantryman dominated the battlefield, serving as the backbone of any army, with cavalry being used in a supporting role. Whether it was the Greek hoplite, the Roman legionary, or the Saxon thegn, a man on foot standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his comrades remained the primary component of any army. The origins of European cavalry as a major military component can be traced to the Carolingian Empire. However, it seems that the mounted warrior really came into his own during the 11th century with the rise of the Normans. By the end of the 11th century the mounted soldier had become a significant force, perhaps even the dominating one, on the European battlefield. Specific sword designs came into use that allowed the man on horseback to optimize his fighting efficiency. One of these designs can be traced to the beginning of the 12th century. This sword was of single-handed design and featured a blade that was much longer and narrower than the earlier types. Ewart Oakeshott classified this sword as the Type XI in his well-known typology. There are few replica swords of this kind available. However, one such sword is manufactured by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin. Albion calls this sword the Ritter, and it is the subject of this review.
In 2003, the staff at Albion Armorers decided to revamp their product line. Their intent was to introduce a line of swords that featured historically accurate points of construction not previously seen in the production market. These aspects of the Next Generation line have been covered in detail in our hands-on review of Albion's Baron sword.
The many designs in the Next Generation line are the product of research conducted by noted swordsmith and author Peter Johnsson. Peter has spent many hours conducting hands-on research of surviving original swords. The various aspects of detail and construction that Peter has observed in these originals have been incorporated into the Next Generation line.
The history of the European sword is rife with a plethora of different designs. Many of these designs are not well-known to collectors and practitioners due to a lack of exposure, both in print and in the exhibition halls of museums. When Peter began designing the Next Generation line, his desire was to bring some of these lesser-known designs to light. His hope was that collectors would gain an increased appreciation for them once they were exposed to a quality recreation. The Ritter is one of these lesser-known types and is a good example of this philosophy.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
As a classic example of Oakeshott's Type XI, the Ritter represents a sword that reached the pinnacle of its popularity during the height of the crusading era. One can easily visualize this sword in the hands of a knight during the 2nd or 3rd crusade, or in the hands of a Teutonic knight in service along the Lithuanian frontier.
Fit and Finish
The blade features a narrow fuller that runs to within 8 inches of the blade's tip. Albion's fuller execution has always been one of my favorite features of their product line, and the Ritter's fuller is no exception. It is straight and evenly defined, with crisp edges and a clean interior channel. There are no visible machining marks anywhere on the blade and its edges are well-defined and quite sharp. The blade also features a point that is rather rounded and spatulate, a feature that is correct and in keeping with the type.
The sword's Style 2 guard is a design that was quite popular during the high Middle Ages. While this style of guard reached the height of its popularity during the 13th century, it can also be found on swords dated to a century earlier. Guards of Style 2 can be found with round, square, and octagonal cross-sections. The earliest examples of the type are found with circular cross-sections, and the Ritter's guard features this type.
The Type D pommel is a very interesting design that has been called a "cocked hat" design by modern historians. In his book, The Archeology of Weapons, Ewart Oakeshott theorized that this pommel design might be an evolution of the earlier Brazil nut form that was so popular during the late Viking and early Middle Ages. Both guard and pommel are tightly fitted as an assembly. The hot-peening of the tang over the pommel's top is indistinguishable.
The Ritter's assembly is finished off by a nicely assembled grip. The sword's birch grip core has been covered in leather that is dyed a very attractive oxblood color. This color looks nearly brown; however, when exposed to direct sunlight it shows a pleasing red hue. The grip also features a cord riser at both ends and the leather covering's seam is invisible to the eye.
Collector and martial arts practitioner Joachim Nilsson provided these observations on the Ritter's appearance:
"While the majority of my impressions regard the sword's handling, I was still impressed by its visual appearance. At first I was not sure what to make of the pommel, but after I had it in my possession for a while and had viewed and handled it extensively, the pommel grew on me and I started to truly appreciate the visual look of the Ritter. This is quite an impressive sword that radiates violent authority and determination."The Ritter does indeed possess an appearance that is somewhat unique in the replica market. The use of a cutting-dedicated blade, when used with this type of pommel and wide guard, gives the Ritter an appearance that is sure to stand out in any group of swords.
The Ritter is a sword that is dedicated to the cut. This is a design that was intended primarily for use by a mounted knight or man-at-arms. The sword's long blade would have given the mounted man quite a bit of reach from the back of a horse. While the blade's lenticular cross-section and rounded point do not impart a great thrusting ability to the sword, it should have been reasonably effective against an opponent wearing light armour such as a fabric gambeson or padded jack.
Joachim Nilsson formed these impressions of the Ritter's handling:
"The Ritter is a very agile sword. Although I didn't have access to a shield, I did try it out with a buckler and that worked marvelously well. Another general impression from testing the sword is that it's quite a fearsome cutter. With the right technique, one is still able to deliver slashing cuts with the tip and first two inches of the blade that would cause tremendous wounds in the neck/throat area of an unarmoured opponent. I was able to slice up two-three inches long and one-two inches deep gashes in small (0.5L) plastic bottles without tipping the bottle over and without spilling any water."Joachim also formed some very interesting opinions regarding the sword's pommel design:
"Regarding the pommel, one is left with a variety of gripping options. The sword can be gripped close to the cross. This 'locks up' the agility a bit and makes it somewhat less responsive in the follow-through due to a slight difference in the stiffness of the wrist. The second way to grip the sword is to grip it close to the pommel so that the bridge of the hand rests against the curved part of the pommel. Besides increasing the reach by an inch or two, this also serves to 'loosen up' the sword and makes it follow through the arc of cutting with increased agility. The third way to grip the sword was to 'palm' the pommel and finger one of the recesses with the pinky. This was to me one of the more comfortable ways of gripping the sword, and it did allow for a variety of techniques and cuts to be utilized with ease. It also increased the range yet again. While gripping the sword that way one has to be careful not to have it knocked out of the hand. In general when gripping any sword, the grip should be loose enough to allow for ease of transitions of grip as well as getting the most out of the sword in cuts, follow-throughs, etc."Conclusion
At the time of this review the Ritter has not been a big seller for Albion. In my opinion this is due to the sword's somewhat offbeat appearance. As modern sword enthusiasts, we have come to expect our swords to have a certain look to them. This comes from several sources. We have all grown up seeing certain sword types in the hands of our favorite motion picture heroes and have also seen the same photos of "classic" sword types recycled in most books dedicated to the subject. Consequently, many of us have formed images in our mind of how the archetypal knightly sword should look, and the Ritter does not match that image.
On the other hand, the Ritter does offer many things to cause it to be recommended. Some swords feature a physical character that shows exactly what the sword is meant to do, and this is such a sword. The Ritter is also a design that is very characteristic of a specific period in history. Anyone interested in the age of mail and the crusading era should give the Ritter a long, hard look. It would definitely stand out from the crowd at any reenactment event. Oakeshott's Type XI has never been one of my favorite designs. Like most, I was put off by its outward lack of style and grace. However, Albion Armorers has once again changed my mind by producing a quality recreation that exhibits the historically accurate qualities of the type. In the end I found myself liking the Ritter quite a bit. I think any fan of the high Middle Ages will feel the same.
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: Patrick Kelly