Hanwei / CAS Iberia "William Marshal Sword"
A hands-on review by Björn Hellqvist
Thanks to a friendly sword dealer, I got this sword on loan for review purposes. I've been curious about this sword ever since it first appeared, as it is a rather nice one. While discussing this sword with Peter Johnsson, he said that it is probably a replica of a sword in the Wallace Collection, London UK. Checking my trusty Oakeshott Records of the Medieval Sword book and comparing with the notes I made when I visited the museum, I had to agree that it must be the case. So, this gave me something to use in this review. How well does the offering from CAS Iberia / Hanwei measure up to the original?
Made by the Hanwei forge in Dalian, China, it is one in the company's line of European-style swords. Most known for their Practical Katana, Hanwei has in just a few years built a strong position in the reproduction sword world. The Hanwei line is marketed worldwide by CAS Iberia. This is how they present their product on their own Web site:
"Our single-hand 'Marshall' sword sets new standards of quality of construction and authenticity in broadsword reproduction. The sword is based on an original used by one of England's finest knights, Sir William Marshall, who served the crown faithfully under Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, and Jack Lackland. This version of the Marshall sword is equipped with forged high-carbon steel blade (see Model 2001-GT for the Damascus-bladed version). The blade section features a central ridged fuller and full-length distal tapera tough test for the bladesmith but resulting in a superb combination of speed and strength. The grip is leather-wrapped and laced and the guard and pommel are elegant in their functional simplicity. The scabbard is leather-covered with steel mounts. Truly a sword for the connoisseur."
They also claim that the sword is an "Authentic replica of a museum piece", with "Excellent balance" and being "Fully functional". We'll see if these claims hold water...
The sword is apparently based on the sword known as A.459 in the Wallace Collection catalogue (James G. Mann & A.V.B. Norman: European Arms and Armour in the Wallace Collection, p. 242:vol.1, p. 113:vol.2) and in Ewart Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword, p. 37. The sword is probably French, and was part of a private collection in the 1800s (Comte de Nieuwkerke). There's no reference to this sword being owned by William Marshal in the literature I've consulted, including the official Wallace Collection catalogue. As far as I know, there's no sword preserved that is attributed to William Marshal, if one doesn't count the sword that is found in the effigy of William in the Temple Church, London. The William Marshal connection appears fabricated. Why?
The original sword is dated to c. 1300 AD, but it could be older, possibly from c. 1100 AD according to Oakeshott. It could be of French origin, and might be a river-find or possibly from a tomb. Apart from the fact that the grip is missing, the sword is in very good condition. The blade has a distinct fuller and hollow-ground sides, getting hexagonal in cross-section towards the point. One can almost make out that there might have been a cross inlaid in the raised area of the pommel. The cross arms have an octagonal cross-section. The sword is easy to wield, and probably the nicest High Medieval one-hander I've handled to date.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
As one might deduct from the stats, there is little evidence of a sword that is of "excellent balance" and featuring "full-length distal taper". It is relatively blade-heavy, but not by much thanks to the rather low total weight. The 2000-GT lacks the degree of distal taper found in the original (28% as opposed to 72%), the pommel is almost half the thickness of the original, and the point of balance is twice the distance from the cross as compared to the original. To be fair, the 2000-GT actually handles pretty well better than some other maker's single-handers, but I've handled livelier swords, too. I would think that it come pretty close to the Del Tin 2070, which handles very well for a production sword. When compared with the original sword, though, it feels deadishthe A.459 is very lively, and among the nicest original swords I've handled.
Fit and Finish
The blade has a distinct fuller and hollow-ground sides, getting hexagonal in cross-section towards the point. It is nice to see a blade displaying these features, as compared to the standard run of production swords out there. But in my opinion, the point is poorly executed, as the cross-section looks clumsy. The rounded cross arms lack the octagonal cross-section of the original. Another review mentions a blade cross-section that appears to be different (less authentic?) from the one of the sword I reviewed. Was my review sample an improved version, perhaps?
The review sample came with a slightly loose hiltthe pommel could be twisted a few millimeters, and it rattled slightly. As I didn't have access to any appropriate tools for tightening the hilt, I left it as it was. The blade had a slight bend, some 4 mm/0.16" when laid flat against a table. The sword rattled a bit in the scabbard, but this can probably be fixed with wooden shims or a thin piece of leather. The scabbard mounts were extremely shiny, and probably nickel-plated. The scabbard isn't in the style of the purported age, if that kind of things is of importance, and the top mount makes it hard to fit a belt of the style most likely for the period.
The scabbard is well made, wood covered with thin, black leather, and with very shiny metal mounts. For some reason, the scabbard is 77 mm/3" longer than the blade. Considering the general standard of the scabbards that comes with swords, it is very nice.
So what about the claim that the sword is an "Authentic replica of a museum piece"? Well, with a liberal interpretation of the word, that's true, but there's no evidence that the sword belonged to William Marshal. The "Excellent balance" is a matter of taste I found it so-so. As for it being "Fully functional", it depends on what one considers to be "fully" and "functional". I would say that it is pretty much functional. To be fair, this isn't a bad sword. Actually, a few years ago I would've been very happy to own a sword like it, and who knows, even now I might pick one up if the price is right. But if one manages to find a flawless sword at a reduced price, it is a good buy. It is the European counterpart of the Practical Katananot close enough for the "experts" and purists, but quite good for the average sword buyer. Just don't expect to become a new William Marshal from buying it...
About the Author
Björn Hellqvist is a Swedish optometrist with an interest in historical European swords.
There's a budget version of this sword ("Practical Knight"), with a rebated edge for reenactment. Check reenactment rules for recommended edge thickness, as there are reports that it's just about 1.5 mm, which is half the minimum required for reenactment swords in the UK. There's also a folded ("damascus") steel version at a heftier price, but whether it is worth twice the money is hard to know. The photos featured in this review are of this folded-steel version.
Photographer: Steve Fabert