Windlass Steelcrafts Type 1 Schiavona
A hands-on review by Gene George
The schiavona is one of the most easily recognizable of the developed basket-hilts that emerged from the 16th century. Built for maximum hand protection and evincing a flair for design that one might say is typically Italian; the schiavona-style basket-hilt remained popular until the last decades of the 18th century.
Museum Replicas Limited (MRL) markets this sword for its parent company Windlass Steelcrafts. Providing inexpensive to moderately priced swords and accessories, MRL is a long established mail order house based in Conyers Georgia. Ordering was a matter of a simple toll free call. My sword arrived promptly and packaged professionally.
This is an example of an early schiavona, or what Ewart Oakeshott classified as a "Type I" variant. This type of sword evolved from a combination of the earlier Venetian schiavonesca and the German/Swiss basket-hilts of the 16th century.
Like the Scottish basket-hilted "Claymore", the schiavona is associated with a very specific region and people. schiavona means "Slavic" in Italian. The schiavona, along with the earlier Schiavonesca, is associated with soldiers recruited from Venice's extensive holdings along the Balkan coasts. "Schiavoni" also known as Stradioti or Estradios served in Spain and brought their distinctive swords with them. Some of these fierce fighters served as bodyguards to the Doge of Venice and others fought the Ottomans in the near constant wars with the Sultan. These Slavic soldiers became inextricably associated with the unique and elegant basket-hilted broadsword known as the schiavona.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
The sword handles sluggishly and the tiny grip and lack of a thumb ring hamper performance. Combine those flaws with the sharp edges on the basket metalwork that prevent applying leverage with a finger over the quillon, and you have a recipe for disaster. If this wasn't bad enough, the grip leather is very slick and this adds the final touch to a very uneasy feeling when maneuvering the blade at speed. This sword is the most disappointing of the Windlass pieces I have acquired. This is just a poor handling sword.
In comparison to the Museum Replicas Del Tin bladed schiavona I own that was purchased in 1993, this newer piece handles horribly. A larger grip and thumb ring help with maneuvering on this older example, and the difference is like night and day.
Fit and Finish
Metalwork on this piece is quite good with welds clean and metal smooth. The basket itself is roomy without being overly large. The traditional "cat's head" pommel has a simple motif consisting of a central boss surrounded by 12 smaller raised circles and is neat and well executed, if shiny. The grip is finished at top and bottom with raised lips, like solid leather "Turk's-heads" that add a bit of interest to what would be an otherwise plain grip. The grip is very small looking, and at 3 3/8" long by 1 1/8" wide, it feels small in my hands. The basket and single-edged backsword blade has a deeply and attractively blackened finish. The small twin fullers are crisp and add a small accent to what would otherwise be a rather dull blade. Blade geometry seems a little off to me; the blade is pretty much just a simple V-shaped wedge. I don't have much first-hand experience with backsword blades so I cannot reliably say whether or not this is a common style or a modern manufacturing conceit.
The bright brass cat's head pommel is held by a brass pommel-nut connecting to a substantial and well-made tang. The whole assembly seems to be held together by a liberal dousing with an epoxy or cement of some kind. This material had oozed out around where the blade emerges from the quillons/basket and contributed to an overall tight fit. Once one of these little epoxy "shims" gave way and broke off, the basket began to rattle. I disassembled the piece, cleaned the excess adhesive and tightened it. Even after tightening, the sword rattles slightly under hard swings. While disassembled, I noticed the tang was very well made with the exception of having its shoulders cut at 90-degree angles, a condition that can promote stress cracking under heavy use that could be avoided by rounding the corners of the shoulders.
The blade took a very slight but noticeable set after a 15-20% Bend-spection™, indicating possible issues with heat treat.
Many Schiavone, especially the "Type I" baskets are associated with cruder munitions grade weapons. This would easily qualify as one of these 'no-frills' swords. The straightforward construction, relatively robust materials and durable finishes on basket and blade would fit in well with an armory piece. Otherwise, all the features that make a schiavona a schiavona are present. From the cat's head pommel in the traditional brass, and sporting a basket proportioned and proper looking, this piece is a very good example of this type of schiavona. Like most of MRL swords, this piece is offered with no particular historic counterpart but does a good job in representing schiavona from approximately 1630 onward. The back-bladed sword is a clue that this piece is an interpretation of a slightly later schiavona; earlier pieces are usually found mounted with double-edged broadsword blades. Experts are unsure whether the "Type I" basket is an earlier version of the hilt, or a Southern German regional variation versus Northern Italian style hilting. What is known is that many examples of these attractive and efficient swords survive in armories, museums and in private collections. Like the Scottish basket-hilt, the obvious utility of this design was easy for many to appreciate.
This has been a difficult sword to review and write about. The schiavona is one of my favorite styles of sword. This piece is a disappointment in general. To be perfectly honest, I cannot help but make comparisons with my older Del Tin/Museum Replicas schiavona, in these head-to-head assessments, the newer Windlass piece is invariably the loser.
I have been impressed by Museum Replicas and Windlass Steelcrafts' quality on their simpler pieces, but perhaps the cost and quality control required to produce a relatively complex hilt like the schiavona is still in the future. This is not to say that the sword is a pile of junk. On the contrary, it is fairly well made in certain aspects, and even historically accurate, but this just makes it more disappointing, leading to a severe case of "could-have-been".
They got close, but missed the mark. Ironically, this is also the only item I have purchased from Museum Replicas Limited that was not on sale or on closeout, making the value for money equation even grimmer. As a costume piece or wall hanger, this is a decent buy on a relatively historically accurate sword. As a working addition to a collection of functional weapons, it is lacking in design elements and quality of materials.
About the Author
Gene George has been fascinated with weapons and armor as long as he can recall. A former archaeologist and historian, he lives with his wife 14 miles west of where they filmed The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and 60 miles North-Northwest of where they filmed Captain Blood (1935). He has a big pile of swords and wants more.
Photographer: Gene George