A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors

Albion Armorers Next Generation Talhoffer Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy

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Recently there has been a resurgence in the study of medieval martial arts based on the study of the works of period fencing masters. While there are numerous texts and masters, perhaps one of the most famous names today of the medieval teachers was the 15th century Master Hans Talhoffer. Talhoffer served the Swabian knight Leutold von Königsegg as his Master of Arms, and he is well known today due to his illustrated manuscripts on combat depicting various forms of medieval martial arts such as wrestling, or wielding a dagger, poleax, sword and buckler and, perhaps most commonly studied today, the longsword.

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A plate from Talhoffer

There were at least six manuscripts from Talhoffer, generally referred to as fechtbucher (plural for fechtbuch, or "fight book"). Several years ago there were few medieval fencing treatises that were widely available to the public, and of those that were available, even fewer were translated into anything but their original language. Talhoffer's works relied more on illustrations than text, which made them easily accessible to practitioners. In the earlier days of the modern western martial arts revival, though, this lead to many misinterpretations of the art, as Talhoffer's longsword images do not explain the fundamentals of the system. Indeed, Talhoffer scarcely ever even mentions the guards in which one stands. It was not until it became more common to study the text-oriented manuscripts that people began to realize Talhoffer was something different, and something more intriguing.

Talhoffer, coming from the area that is now Germany, was part of a longsword lineage that can be traced back to Master Johannes Liechtenauer, to whom an entire German tradition of fencing is attributed. There were many masters that cite Liechtenauer as the father of their art, yet Talhoffer is curious in that his fencing manuscripts show a definite delineation from the Liechtenauer school. His manuscripts rarely mention the five "Secret Strikes" that were so central to Liechtenauer's teachings. In fact, Talhoffer seemed to show a panoply of not-so-common techniques and tricks unseen in the Liechtenauer tradition. These include attacks such as letting go of the grip with the lead hand, using only the off hand on the pommel to stab the opponent's foot without exposing one's own head, or even "dirty fighting", such as throwing one's hat in the opponent's face. Talhoffer's manuals may be poor choices to learn the basics, but if one studies other manuscripts that teach the broad concepts, all of a sudden Talhoffer's works become a wonderful bag of tricks to throw into one's core of techniques.

The Talhoffer Sword was created by Albion Armorers of New Glarus, Wisconsin. Albion has in recent times become known for their Next Generation line of swords. These weapons are produced to very strict specifications that capture the essence of their historical counterparts in looks, feel, and function. The majority of the swords in this lineup are inspired by typical weapons from history, though the Talhoffer is interesting because it instead draws its inspiration from the artwork of Hans Talhoffer's 1467 fechtbuch. This manuscript has a number of longswords illustrated throughout, though there are certain features that consistently show up, such as sharply tapering blades, pear-shaped pommels and club-ended quillons. Peter Johnsson, the designer of the Next Generation swords, sought to create a sword that had many of the properties of these illustrations as a tribute to this famous German master of arms.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:3 pounds, 6 ounces
Overall length:46 3/8 inches
Blade length:36 1/4 inches
Blade width:1 7/8 inches at base, tapering to 3/8 inch
Grip length:7 inches
Guard width:9 inches
Point of Balance:3 1/4 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~21 1/4 inches from guard
Oakeshott typology:Type XVa blade, Type T4 pommel, Style 2 guard

Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.

Handling Characteristics
This sword surprised me when I received it. Somehow I had expected it to feel lighter, but it has more heft than what I anticipated. This turned out to be a very good thing: This sword has a solid feeling to it. It isn't heavy, but there is a definite feeling of confidence with it. It is a very maneuverable piece due to a close point of balance, but has enough mass to make very devastating cuts. At the same time, it is balanced nicely to allow quick follow-up cuts and recoveries.

An important principle in medieval German fighting arts is the ability to seize the initiative and not let your opponent regain it. Because of this it is important not only to be able to attack with the sword, but to continue with follow-up attacks should you miss or be parried. The Talhoffer feels very natural in continuing from one cut into the next, thrusting from one guard into another, and still being nimble enough to defend at the same time. Tip control is also excellent with the weapon, and the very acute tip would do well getting in between the joints of plate armour.

The pommel is quite comfortable to grip for those who like to do so, but the grip is long enough for both hands even if one doesn't like holding the pommel. Either way I was able to make nice strong snapping cuts and displacements without any undue strain to my forearms.

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Pommel Detail

The Oakeshott Type XVa blade is one known for being a rigid thruster, which this sword definitely is. The tip is wickedly narrow, and well-suited for getting into the gaps and joints of armour. This type of blade typically does not have as fine an edge as many blades with thinner cross-sections, but despite this, the Talhoffer is still quite sharp. There are a number of longsword techniques that involve closing or creating invitations in which the off-hand grasps the blade, thus shortening the weapon. This is known as going to the half-sword. I attempted many half-swording techniques with my bare hands and found that I had to be careful not to cut myself. This may be in part due to the fact that my modern hands are not as rough or calloused as those of typical medieval man, as many manuscripts show half-sword techniques being used with bare hands. Nonetheless, I would still strongly recommend the use of gloves for any techniques that involve grabbing the blade, as is so often shown in the manuscripts of the sword's namesake. Once I did so, half-sword techniques were very natural, including those involving striking with the pommel and hilt, such as the infamous mortschlag, or murder-stroke. In such a technique the swordsman is at the half-sword and suddenly launches a surprise attack by putting both hands on the blade to swing the hilt forward, either to use the sword as a mace, or to use the cross to catch and pull at the opponent or opponent's weapon.

I tested this sword out on many large, hard-husked pumpkins. It is important to note that almost any sword, even a blunt one, can cut pumpkins without much skill or effort. The cutting was done primarily for practicing technique and testing edge alignment. That said, the sword felt very solid during the cuts, with no noticeable shock transmitted to the hands when used. Rapid cuts from various angles were easily done with both edges, and it took very little power to cut deeply.

Fit and Finish
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Cross Detail

This is a very austere weapon, but graceful nonetheless. The lines and proportions were very well executed. At a casual glance it might be easy to overlook the subtle forms of the hilt furniture, which are beautifully sculpted. The guard flows very nicely from the center to the clubbed tips, and the pommel is very well formed, both visually and functionally, as it is incredibly ergonomic. The entire sword looks like a serious, no-frills and all business type of weapon, and yet it is clear that a good amount of attention was paid into the aesthetic of it as well.

The grip is wrapped with black leather with three cord risers. The wrap is tight and seamless, and feels very comfortable; it is also quite attractive. The entire hilt feels quite solid.

The blade is polished somewhere in between a satin and a mirror finish, and is quite attractive. The shape and polish of the blade is very precise, and like with all Albion Next Generation swords there is a tasteful maker's mark stamped into the blade in a medieval-esque style.

Albion Armorers has created another winner with this weapon. It feels just the way I like a longsword: A nice balance between cutting and thrusting, enough weight for impressive cuts, but still nimble. It also is a little cheaper than many of the other models in the Next Generation line, which makes it especially enticing for many. This is a sword I would highly recommend for anyone who wants a weapon that would have been quite suitable for 15th century personal combat, and while we can never know for certain, I think Hans Talhoffer would have been proud to have this sword named after him.

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

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