A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Angus Trim and Christian Fletcher 15th Century Side Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
Civilian sidearms have taken many shapes and forms over time, and by the Renaissance, the sword was the most common of these weapons. For many, the rapier is the first sword that comes to the modern mind when thinking of Renaissance dueling swords. Before the rapier became common, many used single-hand swords that were not unlike more cut-oriented arms used on the battlefield. These swords often were lighter than their battlefield counterparts, though this is by no means always the case. Often they had complex hilts to give better protection to the hand and can be said to be the evolutionary link between sword and rapier, though they did exist side-by-side. Many modern scholars refer to such a weapon as a spada da lato, or side sword. The term side sword appears to be a modern one, mistakenly coined from fencing manuals that mention the words but likely did not mean them to be a specific weapon. Such a classification, whether period or not, is useful for modern categorization, even though the lines of definition between rapier/side sword and side sword/sword can often times be very blurry.
Many Renaissance fencing masters taught the use of this style of sword, such as the Italian Achille Marozzo, and even the famed Englishman George Silver's comments of his beloved short sword could directly be applied to the side sword. Italian masters are famous for becoming more and more intent on using the thrust, and manuals by men such as Camillo Agrippa show this style of sword in a predominantly thrusting system, showing the change into the preference for the rapier.
Christian Fletcher has carved a name for himself in the sword world as a custom cutler offering hilt upgrades using blades by several other manufacturers. He most commonly builds hilts for blades made by Angus "Gus" Trim, as is the case with the 15th Century side sword reviewed here.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Angus "Gus" Trim and Christian Fletcher.
This sword is a featherweight in handling, and this is a good thing. It is very light and incredibly fast in both cut and thrust. I spent some time working through side sword plays from Marozzo with the single sword, sword and dagger, as well as the sword and buckler, and this sword feels very natural. As a light sword, maneuverability is easy, as is making sudden changes in direction during cuts. The ricasso is comfortable to wrap the finger around, and the rings would protect the finger from a blade sliding down. There is just enough blade presence to easily get the tip up to speed for very strong and precise cuts. The tip control is excellent so that if one wanted to practice a thrust-dominant style this sword would be very well suited for it.
Fit and Finish
The blade of this sword is the standard satin finish that is typically present on Angus Trim blades. There are some light grind marks visible near the ricasso, and there is evidence of where the edge was shaped by hand, leaving a visible wavy line running parallel to the edges.
The hilt is very tight, and the fittings are well polished. Christian did a very nice job of getting the form of the bars down, although the finger rings are a little large. This is not a big issue, but it is worth mentioning. The simple line engravings at the quillon block are a subtle but attractive touch. This sword has the standard Angus Trim pommel nut securing the assembly, which keeps the sword from being historically accurate. If this is a problem, the buyer should work something out with Christian as he has other assembly options, such as a peened pommel.
The grip is cord-wrapped and covered with blue leather. The seam is nearly invisible. The raised bands at the center and ends are not only attractive but feel good in the hand. I also have a matching leather-over-wood scabbard for this sword from Christian, and the workmanship on it is superb. It is a solid piece of work, but with raised decorative elements to make it very striking. The sword fits snugly into place so that it will not slide out if held upside-down.
This Christian Fletcher/Angus Trim combination is another in a long line of dependable, excellent handling swords with good aesthetic appeal. It is a great example of the agile civilian fighting swords that were common throughout the end of the 15th century into the Renaissance. Christian Fletcher and Angus "Gus" Trim compliment each other's talents very well in producing fine fighting swords that preserve the spirit of duelists who originally fought with such weapons.
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: Nathan Robinson