Albion Armorers Next Generation Senlac Sword
A hands-on review by Bryan Heff
In the year 1066, during the twilight of the Viking Age, a desperate struggle for control of England came to a head. Duke William of Normandy, with claims to the throne of England, landed his Norman army consisting of mixed troops that included a large contingent of heavy cavalry on the Southeastern coast of England. King Harold II of England and his Saxon army, fresh from a hard fought battle and difficult march from the north, had quickly returned south in an effort to stop this Norman challenge to his throne. The Saxon took up a defensive formation with a traditional shield wall, high atop a hill along the London road in an effort to block the Normans' march north and bring them to decisive battle. Several weeks before, this same Saxon army with its Huscarl core of heavy infantry had successfully smashed an invading Viking army at Stamford Bridge. The fate of the island now lay at the feet of these two armies. By the end of battle a victor would emerge and history would be set. The Battle of Hastings was about to unfold and its outcome would help set the stage for European battle tactics for years to come. The battle was fought on a hill called Senlac, and swords similar to the subject of this review would have been used on both sides. Whether being swung from horseback or from behind large shields, these slashing cutting blades designed to oppose mail and textile armour were the order of the day.
Albion Armorers Next Generation Senlac is a long bladed single-hand medieval sword best described using Ewart Oakeshott's typology as a Type Xa, a cousin to the broad cutting blades of Type X. Being slightly longer, having a fuller that is not quite as wide and with a more pronounced profile taper is what essentially differentiates the Type Xa subclass. While potentially more suited to a thrust than a Type X, its primary purpose would be in the cut. Albion produces three swords all using the same blade. Those swords are the Senlac, Norman and Knud. The Norman and Senlac are very similar, differing most significantly in the cross-guard only. The riser patterns on the grip are also different between the two but not greatly so. The Senlac is a no-nonsense sword with little adornment. It is a sword that soldiers could have worn at their hip from Hastings all the way to the gates of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. This is a sword a man could rely on with confidence.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
The Senlac is a long-bladed weapon with a fairly short grip intended solely for single-hand use. These combined factors could create a sword that is sluggish. This is not the case here. The handling is really quite nice. No cutting was done with the sword prior to this review, just basic dry handling movements to gauge how it feels; smooth would be the word most adept at describing its overall characteristics. To borrow from boxing terminology, the blade could be described as a middle-weight. The point of balance is not particularly close to the hilt so it displays nice blade presence. It is a weapon that allows quick attacks and recovery but still has enough heft to deliver vicious slashing and hewing cuts as well.
Often swords like this would have been used as side arms, not necessarily the primary weapon. The handling speaks volumes to this kind of usage. It is a sword agile enough to be used for a long period of time if need be while being light enough to wear on long campaign marches; it has enough punch to get its wielder out of a jam.
Fit and Finish
One aspect of the blade that really stands out is the slight convex curvature of the profile the final 1/3 of the blade. Many production swords available today have very straight lines along the blade's profile until the final tip is formed. The ever so slight convex curve of the Senlac's profile really gives it a beautiful blade presence and is one of the subtle details that helps make what seems like a simple sword much more.
The pommel is a disc-shaped Oakeshott Type G. It is simple in form, not overly complex, and could be easily described as quite plain. It does however have some rounding of the faces from the center out to the edges which gives it an element of complexity that differs from a flat disc. It is also not a perfectly round circle in shape but comes out of round ever so slightly where the pommel meets the grip. The peen is blended into the pommel so well that you simply cannot see it unless the light hits it in just the right way. The convex sides of the pommel are not perfect in terms of symmetry, but come very close to it and I think provide a good example of the hand work on the sword. This is not a criticism so much as an observation. It adds a warm handmade look and feel.
The guard is a straight, very basic Oakeshott Style 1a. The guard slot is expertly cut and fitted to the blade with extremely tight tolerances. The guard is rectangular in cross-section where the blade slot is located and then tapers down to a thinner square as it moves away from the blade. What struck me right away is how thin the cross-guard is compared to heavier/bulkier cross-guards more common on lower-priced swords. It's almost elegant in its utilitarian and lean design. There is not a lot of extra unneeded steel in the guard, just enough to accomplish its purpose.
The Senlac is unquestionably a simple and plain sword at first glance. This may be a deterrent to some sword enthusiasts especially at its price point. I think the argument could be made that along with their Bayeux and Hospitaller models, it is the least adorned medieval sword Albion Armorers produces in terms of hilt components. With all that in mind this reviewer has come to the conclusion that the Senlac is simply and clearly a classic medieval cruciform sword. It is perhaps the classic sword type for this post-Viking Age time period and it makes perfect sense that Albion would want such an iconic design as part of its Next Generation line. The straight guard and disc pommel are function over form in its purest sense. There is beauty in that simplicity. Its clean and straight lines are pleasing to the eye. It has an overall balance in both looks as well as handling that hit the mark on stylistic sensibilities that subscribes to the less is more ideal and it delivers on that extremely well. The Senlac is a beautifully understated but classic sword design.
About the Author
Bryan Heff is a Systems Analyst living in the Philadelphia suburbs with his wife and 2 sons. He has always been intrigued by the European sword as a work of art, symbol and weapon of war. His main area of interest is rooted in the 8th to 14th centuries but he has interests in other time periods as well. In addition to adding to his small but growing collection of swords, he enjoys modifying and customizing swords in his compact basement workshop, hiking and exploring historic sites and trying to get his boys to do their homework.
Photographer: Bryan Heff