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A. Spanjer




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2010 2:29 pm    Post subject: Why was the Basket-Hilt not invented earlier?         Reply with quote

I was reading the upside down guard thread and I started thinking. Why wasn't Basket-Hilt invented earlier? As far as I know, the earliest basket-hilts appeared sometime during the 16th century. Why not earlier? Did they not have the capability? Did no one think you add parts to the hilt to protect the hand?

Is there evidence of earlier basket-hilts that just didn't catch on?

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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2010 3:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would assume that, at least, partially, it is connected to the more widespread use of armour in earlier periods - with fully protected hand there is no need for the elaborate hilt designs - a simple crossguard protects you from most attacks quite well. Also, swordfighting techniques would like ly have lot of influence.
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Christopher Gregg




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2010 3:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Probably because in the age or full plate armor, metal gauntlets made the full basket unecessary. Besides, in an armored hand, a basket is more constricting than a simple hilted sword, and longswords allow both armored hands to be used in combat, dealing a more powerful blow.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2010 3:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What they said.

Questions like this are usually answered by common sense. The people in the age when these swords were used were practical folks and practically speaking a basket hilt wasn't necessary when you had a pair of iron gauntlets. Substitute the gauntlets for leather gloves in the late Renaissance and you suddenly need hand protection. I think your question is answered.

Lin Robinson

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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2010 3:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello,
The "basket hilt" is really a form of "complex hilt", and there are examples of complex hilts dating back to the 14th century. So the idea was around earlier, but wasn't particularly common. The reason is probably along the lines of what has been stated by others. Attached is a picture of a "complex hilt" sword from the Royal Armouries, England dated to the 14th century.
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2010 7:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the biggest single reason is that before the late 16th century, you would typically have either a shield or a buckler alongside the sword, so a basket hilt wasn't as necessary to protect your hand. A Carolingian lord might have to defend himself with nothing but a spatha at some point in his life, but normally he would have a shield and probably a spear; a 12th century student would probably wear a sword and buckler when about town looking for trouble.

Most warriors in most cultures didn't have gauntlets, but most did have shields, so I think this is more likely than the gauntlets theory. But certainly, rigid metal gauntlets serve the same purpose of a basket hilt, as well as protecting the forearm.

Also, I'm told that basket-hilted swords tend to be less handy to wear and carry than something more compact.

Some people suggest that earlier smiths weren't capable of making basket hilts, but I've never seen evidence of this. In particular, I don't think a simple knuckle-bow would have been beyond smiths in many cultures.


Last edited by Sean Manning on Mon 01 Mar, 2010 7:53 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2010 7:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most people assume it has to do with gauntlets, but I don't buy that theory. The vast majority of history didn't use gauntlets, and even when gauntlets became more common, many soldiers didn't wear/couldn't afford them.

I suspect complex hilts weren't common due to technological issues with spot welding, but that's pure speculation. I've also often wondered why it took so long for people to develop complex hilts myself. Happy

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 1:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Most people assume it has to do with gauntlets, but I don't buy that theory. The vast majority of history didn't use gauntlets, and even when gauntlets became more common, many soldiers didn't wear/couldn't afford them.


And now, when soldiers don't wear gauntlets, we still don't see basket-hilted fighting knives very often, even though we have the technology to do so.

Knuckle-duster trench knives, D-guard bowies, some D-guard bayonets. Why don't we see complex protective hilts on all bayonets and military knives? Ease of carry matters, especially for a secondary weapon.

Aslo, if you're being hit in the fingers, or on the gauntlet, or on the basket-hilt, perhaps you already have a problem. Better to not be hit. How often are you hit on the gauntlet or basket when practicing, compared to how often you are hit elsewhere?

All the more important when the thing that might be hitting you on the fingers is a bill or halberd.
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David Teague




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 1:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello All,

I have read "somewhere" in the past (probability Victorian Bull***t from a reprinted book if you get my drift) that the simple crosshilt was kept under pressure from the church to remind a Christian knight/soldier of his connection with God.

Now that I think about it... the Reformation and baskethilts are close to each other in era... WTF?!

Don't even think of quoting me on this as the real issue of how complex hilts came about. Confused

Now, does anybody else remember the "thing" about the church and the "crosshilted sword"?

Cheers,

David

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Jesse Eaton





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PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 1:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As to how often you are hit on the hand in practice.... Well that depends. In sparring, I hit a lot of hands and wrists. Its an easy target for me and one that is likely to stop my opponents strike. However, the sword and buckler style found in both early and late period manuals make hitting hands much much harder. Longsword on the other hand, it is much easier bot perilous. Two-handed swings aren't always stopped by a blow to the hand and are often a poor tactical error when you strike for the hands and leave yourself open to a powerful oberhau that will take you out of the fight instantly.

So, I agree with the argument about the use of shields as a main factor in why complex hilts were not developed earlier. The other factor, for long swords, is that complex hilts are less useful in two hand swords (less but not not entirely). Complex hilts became more common on two-handers when the role of the two-handed weapon expanded considerably in the age of infantry and pike.

There is also the matter of fashion and custom. In the early to mid medieval period it was common to walk around town with your buckler on your hip, especially in England where sword and buckler persisted well past its life span in places like Spain and Italy. In Spain and especially in Italy, the complex hilt and dagger became the fashion. Though the buckler was still in use in war and sport fighting, it just wasn't sexy.

However, I am not entirely convinced that the shield hypothesis works as reason enough. The reason I say this is because the buckler and targe come back into popularity with complex hilts used for both war and personal defense. The Spanish combined the buckler with the bilbo in war and the Brits, amongst other northerners, used complex hilted swords with small shields and bucklers as well. Why wouldn't they have dropped the complex hilts if it wasn't useful? More so, the hilts got less complex in the 18th and 19th centuries even as shields became less common on the battlefield.

I think this question deserves a little more delving than just a common sense analysis....
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 2:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, David, I seem to remember reading that somewhere as well.
Now, to clarify what I said about armour - I did not mean gauntlets as such, as Timo said, if you are hit in fingers, you are doing something wrong. I meant it more that you have overall more armour, there is less need to worry about blade glancing off and connecting somewhere you do not want it to go - and, of course, shield has a lot to do with protecting your hands. The more important bit, IMO, is about the differing swordfighting techniques - for example, if you compare Talhoffers or Fiore's work on longswords with, say, Silver's instructions, the difference is staggering. Some of the more basic stances of later rapier manuals ar such that would make me, personally, somewhat nervous without an additional protection for my hand in form of the complex hilt Happy as it seems, at least, to person not well versed in rapierplay that the point of my opponents weapon can easily reach my hand. Of course, it is possible that I am wrong as, again, I am no expert in fencing with later swords.
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Stuart Thompson




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 4:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Artis Aboltins wrote:
Actually, David, I seem to remember reading that somewhere as well.
Now, to clarify what I said about armour - I did not mean gauntlets as such, as Timo said, if you are hit in fingers, you are doing something wrong. I meant it more that you have overall more armour, there is less need to worry about blade glancing off and connecting somewhere you do not want it to go - and, of course, shield has a lot to do with protecting your hands. The more important bit, IMO, is about the differing swordfighting techniques - for example, if you compare Talhoffers or Fiore's work on longswords with, say, Silver's instructions, the difference is staggering. Some of the more basic stances of later rapier manuals ar such that would make me, personally, somewhat nervous without an additional protection for my hand in form of the complex hilt Happy as it seems, at least, to person not well versed in rapierplay that the point of my opponents weapon can easily reach my hand. Of course, it is possible that I am wrong as, again, I am no expert in fencing with later swords.


Maybe it went on fashion? Being as they are elegant looking weapons the thought might have been it'd make it look ugly...as for gauntlets i've never worn any hand protection and have lost a finger tip before so lesson learnt..still won't wear any haha.

Unless also the basket would possibly un-balance the sword? I don't know really as have never used a later sword than the viking-Norman styled swords.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 7:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

By coincidence, just last night I read in Anglo's book (The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe) that some Italian masters derided the more complex hilts. Anglo describes one master's detailed commentary on what is and is not necessary in the hilt. Anglo also supplies a Spanish quote to the effect of, "weighed down with iron, weighed down with fear". So, there might be a psycho-social element in play in addition to technological factors. I can certainly imagine some cranky master telling a student, "if you need that much hand protection you're not doing it properly, and if you're not doing it properly your hand is the least of your worries." What hurts, teaches.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 2:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Flynt wrote:
Anglo describes one master's detailed commentary on what is and is not necessary in the hilt. Anglo also supplies a Spanish quote to the effect of, "weighed down with iron, weighed down with fear". So, there might be a psycho-social element in play in addition to technological factors.

On the other hand, the quote is from Thibault, and he is using a complex hilt... Not the most complex but hardly a simple cross either. And he does rely on it somewhat.

I think the whole thing has nothing to do with gauntlets, because simple hilts were used before gauntlets were widespread. Could have something to do with shields, but then Japanese swords certainly have no complex hilts and the use of sword and shield was marginal there.

I think it evolves naturally when the fights become more oriented to dueling on the ground out of armour (which is a context perhaps not so common in the rest of the world). In this situation, it is tempting to adopt a guard position with the hand forward and the point on target, which exposes the hand considerably more. The earliest forms of complex hilts seem designed to protect from cuts, not thrusts. From there, fashion takes over, as well as the need to protect the hand from thrusts (leading to the cup-hilt eventually).

Technology is certainly an issue but I guess the determinant factor was that the usefulness of a complex hilt is limited in the earlier forms of combat, at war with cutting weapons facing some level of armour. It seems there was no perceived need to develop the corresponding technology.

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Douglas S





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PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 2:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It seems that many ancient Greek kopis had some sort of handguard.

Such changes IMHO, can be due to style as often as practicality.
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GG Osborne





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PostPosted: Tue 02 Mar, 2010 3:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wonder if the development of more complex hilts might also be traced to the ability to smelt iron into steel at reasonable prices and in sufficient quantity? I know a lot of iron ore in Britain is not particularily high grade and was difficult to work into steel of sufficient tensil strength. I also would couiple this thought into what Bill Grandy offered about the ability to weld and flux which also requires better grades of metal to be successful.

One other thought is the actual user of the weapon. Higher social grades who had the funding could use about whatever the "style" of the day dictated. However, in war time (as opposed to the dueling studio floor), tropps were armed with lower grade weapons and I really don't anyone gave a tinker's damn about whether of not they were protected as long as there were sufficient quantities pro patria mori.

So, I would posit cost and availability of steel, style, and costs as three good reasons.

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PostPosted: Wed 03 Mar, 2010 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hadrian Coffin wrote:
Hello,
The "basket hilt" is really a form of "complex hilt", and there are examples of complex hilts dating back to the 14th century. So the idea was around earlier, but wasn't particularly common. The reason is probably along the lines of what has been stated by others. Attached is a picture of a "complex hilt" sword from the Royal Armouries, England dated to the 14th century.
Cheers,
Hadrian


Very interesting sword. I knew Henry VIIIs' bodyguards carried baskethilts, in mid 1500s, as well as the Mary Rose Sword from the same era, and some examples of maces having baskethilts earlier. It seems the more you dig into this the earlier the baskethilt appears in history. Not common perhaps but clearly existing side by side with the more common cross guard.

There's another connection I hadn't thought about before also worth diggin into, about Kopis/Falcata to Messer and on to later heavy sabers. Mass oriented back swords seem to develop handguards early. Again what's most likely Henry VIII:s own kriegsmesser has a distinct handguard for the upper hand.

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 04 Mar, 2010 12:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two further thoughts on the subject:

Quality of iron/steel is only important if you want iron/steel baskets (or other complex hilts). Plenty of historical examples of brass baskets; perhaps these were a cheap and nasty option, but they clearly show you don't need steel for them.

A basket can be a very nice hand-hold for an opponent. Don't need to hold on for that long, just long enough to hit the wielder. Rules where such behaviour is abhorrently ungentlemanly could really encourage basket hilts, or at least, stop discouraging them.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Thu 04 Mar, 2010 7:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
A basket can be a very nice hand-hold for an opponent.


But this is true whether or not you have a basket. There are plenty of techniques from various historical styles that utilize grabbing the other person's arm or hand despite there not being a basket.

Quote:
Rules where such behaviour is abhorrently ungentlemanly could really encourage basket hilts, or at least, stop discouraging them.


I'm unaware of any rules preventing this outside of sport settings.

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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Thu 04 Mar, 2010 8:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jesse Eaton wrote:
Longsword on the other hand, it is much easier but perilous. Two-handed swings aren't always stopped by a blow to the hand and are often a poor tactical error when you strike for the hands and leave yourself open to a powerful oberhau that will take you out of the fight instantly.


I think this is a great point that is too often overlooked. There is only one longsword strike that targets the hands in the German system (unless I'm forgetting something), and it strikes over the hands, not under them (which in itself is, I think, very telling).

I agree with the bucker/shield being part of the reason why such hilts were unnecessary, but that's just idle speculation.

Also, let's not forget the substantial weight penalty a basket hilt. Even rings on a longsword add significant weight.

Perhaps the reason basket hilts were not invented earlier was that the sword was a much more commonly relied on weapon on the battlefied, and had to be as light as possible so as not to wear out the user.

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