A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Hanwei / CAS Iberia Mortuary Sword
A hands-on review by William "Bill" Goodwin
These types of swords were mainly issued to the cavalry during the English Civil Wars of 1642-1651. Though favored by the harquebusier troops of the Parliamentary forces, they saw action with the Royalist cavalry as well. Their short period of manufacture and use (1635 to 1670) still had a major impact on the hilt designs of future cavalry swords/sabers. The antique sword from the Royal Armouries has been replicated in nice detail by CAS Iberia / Hanwei.
Hanwei Forge in Dalian, China, run by swordmaker Paul Chen, is probably best known for the Asian line of weapons they produce. They also offer a wide range of European items as well through their distributor CAS Iberia. Like other models, the Mortuary Hilt Sword is available in their practical line (lower finish and left blunt for stage combat or sparring), antique (given an articifically-aged appearance), and sharp versions. The sword reviewed here is the model # 2004 sharpened version. This is the first real "functional sword" I ever purchased, so I was very excited at the time it arrived. After seeing it, I became extremely interested and eventually obsessed with the mortuary-style sword and the time period in which it was used. Hearing accolades from people such as swordmaker Michael "Tinker" Pearce, I ordered the CASI sword through Jason Hill at Brightblades.com. The mortuary hilt is of strictly English design and is often referred to as an "English half basket."
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
After having this sword for so long, it's hard to describe my first impressions of it. This version is light, quick, and nicely balanced. Though historically, mortuary hilt swords were primarily meant to be cutters, this one falls a bit short in that department. The narrow blade does not have enough mass behind the edge to produce good cutting power. I've done a good deal of test cutting with it (milk jugs, melons, etc.) and it's obvious that cutting is not its main strength.
Thrusting, on the other hand, is another story. This little sword is like a sewing machine needle when it comes to making precise thrusts. The blade tip, which ends more in a "V" shape rather than a tightly rounded point, contributes to this. The sword acts more like a rapier during test cut/thrust maneuvers. The blade is good and flexible, but is still rigid enough for thrusting. For someone on a budget and studying the Bolognese cut and thrust style of historical fencing, it would be a workable piece. How a sword feels in one's hand plays a big role in overall performance of a piece, which is sometimes over-shadowed by other rating aspects.
Fit and Finish
Hanwei / CAS Iberia has done an outstanding job of replicating this sword from the original. The only cosmetic feature missing is the Passau running wolf mark on the blade. All other aesthetic aspects closely follow the original piece. The sword is very tightly assembled. The basket is a bit small compared to other originals and reproduction pieces I've seen and handled, but this may be due to the fact that people of this region and time period were of smaller physical stature. The leather-wrapped grip is very neat and tight, and the Turk's Head knot wire wrappings are clean and even. All engravings/incisions on the basket stool, guards, and blade look great. Even the small bust/face carved into the pommel is decently done. The finish on this one has always seemed a bit aged compared to the shiny appearance of ones in the catalog/Web site. The leather wrapped scabbard is okay in that the blade fits snug except for a small rattle at the tip. A good stiff thumbs-up goes out for the efforts to capture the look of the original piece.
Since this sword was the very beginning of the seemingly never-ending road of my mortuary infatuation, I can only give it and CAS Iberia / Hanwei due praise. At the original purchase price of $215 US, it has been money well spent. It will always find a special place in my collection of 17th century reproductions and be one of the first I present when doing demos/presentations.
About the Author
Bill Goodwin has been interested in swords for well over 15 years. He became a more serious collector of 17th century swords sometime in 2002, gathering data primarily on mortuary swords and other sword types used during the English Civil War period. He is also strongly interested in the art of historical European swordsmanship, especially German longsword.
Photographer: Bron Duncan