Windlass Steelcrafts Towton Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
The Wars of the Roses were bloody political struggles that pitted royals and relatives against one another in an effort to gain England's throne in a tangled web of succession rights. Periods of intense conflict were interspersed with years of relative peace while factions vied for power in less overt ways. The followers of the house of York and Lancaster met in at least seventeen noteworthy battles between 1455 and 1487. The period of December 1460 through March 1461 was particularly bloody with no fewer than five battles taking place. This period of conflict concluded on Palm Sunday with a Yorkist victory at Towton, after which there where three years with no major conflicts. The fact that these battles took place during the winter, rather than the other more hospitable seasons, shows the level of hostility and depth of the power struggles in the English nobility of the time. This battle has been referred to as the bloodiest battle ever on English soil. The agreement that no quarter would be given contributed to a death toll believed to exceed 20,000 (some figures estimate 30,000).
The rise of the longsword (longer swords that could fit a second hand on the grip) largely corresponded with the transition from mail to full plate armour. These swords took many different forms, necessitated by the variety of the defenses they were designed to oppose. Some were largely cut-oriented, while others used the thrust in varying degrees. The powerful English lord of the mid-15th century would likely have been clad in an imported fashionable full plate harness. Swords designed to oppose plate armour typically tapered to an acute point necessary for thrusting. The cut could not entirely be set aside, as some lesser nobles, men-at-arms, and most foot soldiers would have been clad in combinations of cloth, mail, and plates.
Windlass Steelcrafts chose to create a longsword in mid-15th century style and name it after the battle at Towton. This sword is one that simply doesn't fit neatly into Oakeshott's typology. Its blade is too slender and its fuller is too long to make it a true Type XVIa. The blade is not thick enough or heavy enough to be a Type XVII, though the blade, in profile, is similar to some examples of that type. The sword's configuration would make it most suited to combat against lightly-armoured opponents. The narrow blade is not wide enough at the Center of Percussion (CoP) for heavy cutting blows, and is also not quite rigid enough for heavy-duty thrusts.
Windlass has sold their weapons via an attractive catalogue for many years; their Web site is now another important part of their operation. They began as an importer and retailer, dealing in swords, weapons, and armour by such companies as Del Tin and Arms & Armor. They and their parent company, Atlanta Cutlery, were acquired in the 1990s by India-based Windlass Steelcrafts, who now produces the vast majority of their weapons with the exception of some eastern-styled weapons produced in China.
The Towton Sword has been the subject of a great deal of discussion in Internet communities. Its popularity is further attested to by the fact that it was out of stock during the time of my purchase at all the Windlass dealers I had checked, including Museum Replicas Limited. One dealer in particular, 888 Knives R Us, has fantastic pictures of the sword and its scabbard as well as the lowest price I found. After a quick check of their return policy (a by-product of my previous poor Windlass transactions), I placed an order with them which was easy and quick.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
The Towton is a pleasant-handling sword. It is easy to maneuver in cutting and the edge is generally not difficult to keep aligned. No noticeable vibrations were felt except when I accidentally didn't align the edge correctly. In that case, the sword let me know my technique was off. Its factory-unsharpened edge handled light target cutting with surprising ease. Tip slashes and cuts at the Center of Percussion were both effective.
My preference is generally for swords designed for heavy warfare; this sword is not in that category. As such, while it handles well and cuts light targets well, it lacks some authority in the cut that I would prefer. With its more flexible blade and narrowness at the CoP, however, it performs exactly as its design dictates.
Fit and Finish
The guard is fairly well-done and shows more subtleties than what most pictures of the sword portray. It is widest at the center and tapers as it moves out from the grip before forming slightly clubbed ends. There are some minor irregularities in the guard itself: it appears symmetrical from one side but very slightly asymmetrical when the sword is turned over.
The leather of the grip is unspectacular and some of its stitching by the pommel appears to be a little frayed. Time will tell if it holds up to use. The grip itself is well-shaped and flows nicely into the pommel. The eight facets of the pommel are equally well executed. The pommel is capped off by a round pommel nut. The pommel nut appears to be threaded and peened onto the tang.
Swords from Windlass Steelcrafts have almost always included scabbards, and this one is no exception. The scabbard is of thick leather with metal mounts. Unlike in years past, when their scabbard's metal fittings were simple bands, this scabbard shows an effort to improve. The top fitting is somewhat shaped to echo the cusp of the guard while the scabbard's chape is crested by a fleur-de-lis motif and has a small knob at the bottom. While the scabbard would not fill the needs of someone involved in a living history troupe, it is functional and not unattractive.
My biggest problem with the sword, aesthetically, lies with how Windlass marks their blades. On one side of the blade is "Windlass ® - India" in black letters. It is not engraved or etched or made to look period-correct at all, it just stamped with some sort of ink into the lacquer coating of the blade. Unfortunately, it is better than what was on the other side of the blade. In the fuller, just below the cross, I found a half-inch wide square holographic sticker. I was so irritated that I scraped it off with my fingernail before I could decipher what it said (not that it matters). It left a bit of glue that I had to remove carefully in order to keep from removing any of the sword's lacquer.
I generally expect a number of issues in swords of this price range: uneven grinds, asymmetries, inaccuracies, fit and finish that fall a little short, etc. This sword possesses some of these elements, to be sure, but certainly not as many as I had expected nor to the degree that had I feared. I have owned and seen swords that cost more (sometimes twice as much) that weren't as nicely made. This sword is solidly put together and quite attractive. I feel I got my money's worth and more.
Like many who've been burned in the past by products from Windlass Steelcrafts, I was initially hesitant to make the purchase despite the rumor of improvements and recent reviews that bear them out. I'm glad I put that aside to make this purchase. It does not compare to swords that cost three or four times as much (or more), but that shouldn't be expected. I found the Towton to be an extremely good value and a nice weapon overall.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Photographer: Chad Arnow