A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Custom Lutel Spadroon
A hands-on review by Peter Frank
The spadroon is a cut and thrust sword of simplistic elegance, the name of which derives from the word espadron, simply meaning sword. It represents a first effort to unify the swords carried in the British army and replaced the spontoon (also written espontoon), a half pike, as a symbol of rank. The King's order of 1786 only made official what was already an on-going change in the active service as the spontoon proved itself to be more and more unsuited for the modern battlefield:
His Majesty having been pleas'd to order, that the Esponton shall be laid aside, and that, in lieu thereof the Battalion Officers are, for the future, to make use of Swords, it is His Majesty's Pleasure, that the Officers of Infantry Corps, shall be provided with a strong, substantial, uniform-sword, the blade of which is to be straight, and made to cut and thrust; to be one inch at least broad at the shoulder, and 32 inches in length: the hilt, if not of steel, is to be either gilt or silver, according to the Colour of the Buttons on the Uniforms and the Sword Knot, to be Crimson and Gold in the strips, as required by the present Regulation.
The regulation was further clarified in 1796:
The sword to have a brass guard, pommel and shell, gilt with gold; with grip, or handle, of silver twisted wire. The blade to be straight and made to cut and thrust; to be one inch at least broad at the shoulder and 32 inches in length, conformably to former orders given out in April 1786.
The specifications given by the orders are vague, but it has to be taken into account that before the existence of a fixed system of patterns, officers themselves were directly responsible for outfitting the soldiers serving under them. The focus on the officer as the defining person of the regiment was indeed so strong that it was not uncommon to have the regiment named after its officer. This lead to a great diversity in the equipment used, which in turn made it hard to keep the troops in good supply during longer campaigns. Several bitter experiences made it clear that this had to change, but even the smallest steps towards standardization took a great deal of time and effort. Individuality was, after all, also a point of great pride for the regiments. Given their nature and the situation, it should not come as a surprise that the orders were interpreted with some liberties at times.
Trying to find a good compromise between a blade mainly intended for cutting or one specialized in quick thrusts resulted in the sword being criticized for not being particularly good at either. Especially in the case of the earlier spadroons, it was also noted that the weapon afforded very little protection for the hand. In his book Swords of the British Army: The regulation patterns, 1788-1914 Brian Robson quotes the following account by General Cavalié Mercer:
Nothing could be more useless or more ridiculous than the old Infantry regulation [sword]: it was good neither for cut nor for thrust and was a perfect encumbrance.
Nonetheless, the spadroon enjoyed a long life cycle, with the latest incarnation being the American Model 1840 Non-commissioned Officers' Sword that saw great use in the Mexican–American War (1846-1848), and the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The sword here reviewed is not an exact copy of any one particular piece, but rather a blend of several pieces, with some individual liberties taken. The blade is longer than the 32 inches (81.28cm) on most originals, and is also slightly broader than the specified minimum of an inch (2.54cm). The hilt is very much in style with many pattern 1786 spadroons. It follows the common form of a straight knuckle-bow, incorporating the iconic decorative balls that lead to the pattern often being called "five-ball-spadroon". The slightly tapering grip, featuring a metal band with an oval plate in its middle that originally often had the name of the regiments' initials inscribed in it, ends in a cushion-shaped pommel.
Lutel is a company best known for their catalogue of affordable yet reasonably accurate and very durable weapons. Located in Opava in the Czech Republic, they began producing in 1979 and over the last three decades they have built up a reputation for good customer service and fast turnaround time. Though they are mostly known for their stock products, the parts of which can be interchanged at will, they also produce full custom works, as was the case with this spadroon.
In 2011, the company split from their previous manager and due to a dispute over the name moved to their current Internet domain. Due to this they are now sometimes called "Lutel Handicraft" to distinguish them from the company run by their former associate through their old Web site.
My experience with Lutel was a very pleasant one. I first contacted Jan Krasl in mid-July with the intent of commissioning a spadroon hilt based on photographs I found of an original piece. Since a blade I separately acquired from a different vendor was not to my liking on closer inspection, the project was soon changed to a full custom weapon.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Lutel of the Czech Republic.
It took an exchange of 19 emails to set the outlines of the project and Jan answered each of my questions with a great deal of patience. After safely submitting the payment of 389 Euros (shipping included) via PayPal in July, it only took until the end of November for the finished product to be delivered to my doorstep. Throughout the wait, Jan was quick to reply to my emails and provided feedback on the status of my order upon my requests.
I can safely say that this was the best packed sword I have received up until this day, which includes more expensive pieces. The spadroon was wrapped in transparent film and surrounded by tailored Styrofoam plates, with the whole box safely held together by several strong binders. I strongly doubt anything could have harmed the sword on its way to me.
In general, when sparring, the spadroon is nice to handle though it is not quite the light affair a more typical specimen would be and one has to pay attention in order for cuts to not arrive too heavy due to the forward point of balance. By design, the knuckle-bow offers little protection and it is easy enough to understand the complaints on that regard which can be found in historical sources. If the parry is not spot on it is very easy to get one's fingers caught by a drawing cut.
A good thing about the sword is that it makes a very durable impression, with the blade not being too prone to nicking. The one weakness is inherited from the original hilt upon which it is based. The way the knuckle-bow is connected to the pommel makes this the point at which the sword will most likely fail sooner or later, as it is a very thin metal pin. At one point it will probably bend and shift.
Fit and Finish
The blade fits nicely into the guard and there is no looseness present in any of the parts, however there is a small crack in the wood of the handle where the metal band has been nailed together. While this most probably will not present a structural weak-point, it is something I will keep watching.
All this does not detract from the weapon's charm though, especially since it is a practical weapon, custom made for me, and took quite a determined critical eye and a close range to spot.
This sword holds a special place in my heart, and most probably always will. It is my first commission and prior to it I had been eyeing Lutel for quite a while, basically ever since I encountered one of their smiths at a Renaissance fair in Germany while still in my teens.
I am happy with how the project turned out and will probably buy from Lutel again in the future. I only wish the blade would feature a more subtle profile, to reduce weight and put the point of balance a little closer to the hilt.
Nonetheless, I can wholeheartedly recommend Lutel, for the excellent customer service and fair pricing alone.
About the Author
Peter Frank works in IT and in his free time is an Instructor of Historical Fencing in Cologne, Germany. Since he watched too many period movies in his youth he is interested in all kinds of swords, but mostly sabres from the 18th to 19th century. He likes to spend his time reading through as many fencing manuals as he can access.
Photographer: Oliver Kniest
Swords of the British Army: The regulation patterns, 1788-1914, by Brian Robson