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Mark T




PostPosted: Sat 04 Dec, 2010 8:21 pm    Post subject: Practical/tactical benefits of long single-handed swords?         Reply with quote

Many discussions I've seen about the practical and tactical aspects of (medieval) sword length have fallen into two camps. First, the benefits particular to longswords (bastard/hand-and-a-half swords or two-handed swords) and their historic use have been heavily documented and discussed - and, coming from a JSA background originally, make sense to me. Second, discussions of the benefits of shorter, one-handed swords include factors such as ease of carry, comparative lightness, ease of draw while on horseback, ability to use the 'off hand' or a buckler, and so on.

Many shorter swords, both historical and modern-day reproductions, seem to fall into the 30-32" range, with many 'riding swords', and many messers, being in the sub-30", and even low-20" range. What I'm curious about, then, are single-handed swords that have longer blades - say, 34-36". I want to make it clear here that I'm not talking about later, Renaissance thrust-oriented long swords, or sabres, but rather the types of long 15th C. single-handers like the Wallace A466 XVIII we're currently discussing in this thread. However, I'm also open to discussions of other types and from earlier times.

Some of the questions I'm pondering are:
    - What would have been the appeal of single-handed swords of this length?
    - How and when would they have been used?
    - What benefits might they have that both shorter single-handers and longer bastard swords don't?
    - Would they be someting of a 'jack-of-all-trades' sword, or would they have more of an emphasis on 'but master-of-none'?
    - If someone could choose a (possibly) lighter, shorter single-hander, or a bastard sword that had the benefits of extra reach and added control and range of technique, what would be the benefit in choosing a long single-hander?
    - If we exclude horseback use, and just look at soldiers on foot, why would one not 'move up' to a bastard sword?
    - Would a buckler have been used with swords of this length and in this time period?
    - What's the other hand going to to be doing, if not using a buckler?
    - Do any of the Fechtbucher show use of swords of this type? Some of the swords in Talhoffer 1467's section on sword fighting on horseback seem to be bastard swords, while others appear to be long single-handers (and longer than the swords shown in his sword and buckler plates).
    - and so on ...

I have nagging feeling like I'm missing something - and something possibly very obvious - but I don't know what it is! Worried

All reflections, guesses, period sources, and recent analysis greatfully accepted ... although, I guess I'm after something more meaty than 'it all came/comes down to personal preference': hence the thread's heading about the practical and tactical benefits.

Cheers,

Mark

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 04 Dec, 2010 10:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is an example of a long bladed one hander that I have made by Del Tin:
http://www.kultofathena.com/product.asp?item=...on+Randeck

39 1/2" blade although in a pinch one can use the other hand on the very long pommel it's still a one hander.

With it's very stiff blade halfswording would work if fighting in armour but the short handle does make some techniques of hooking with a long handle not workable.

Long reach and capable of a heavy blow but a bit slow in recovery so either one should use it with a shield or in full harness?

Anyway, an interesting Topic and the above is just to get the discussion started and to show one sword that fits the question(s). Wink

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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Sun 05 Dec, 2010 9:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Without armor longer sword allows you to threaten your opponent while being out of his reach. With armor on foot you can use half-swording techniques, on horseback it is easier to reach these damn footmen who keep running away from you.

Now the more difficult question: why not longsword then? Well, according to my experience sword with shorter grip is easier to control even if it is heavier (you need a heavier pommel to compensate shorter handle). So if you don't plan to use the sword in two hands, why make a long handle?
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Mark T




PostPosted: Sun 05 Dec, 2010 12:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the replies.

After some more research, I've found that two of my assumptions were incorrect:

    First, single-handed swords of 34-36" can indeed weigh the same as those of 30-32", and have similar balance and handling. So, in swords where that is the case, then you get more reach for no more difficulty in use.
    Second, using a sword single-handedly can gain more reach than using one with two hands. We see this as part of the arguments about the shift to rapiers, so as a concept, I suppose it's still relevant for earlier single-handers too.


Aleksei Sosnovski wrote:
Now the more difficult question: why not longsword then? Well, according to my experience sword with shorter grip is easier to control even if it is heavier (you need a heavier pommel to compensate shorter handle). So if you don't plan to use the sword in two hands, why make a long handle?


Hi Aleksei, I take the point about control. However, my question is more to do with the 'So if you don't plan to use the sword in two hands' aspect: if we take out the question of the need for single-handed use while on horseback, I'm still wondering why someone would choose to use a single-hander on foot, when using a sword with two hands gives more control, finesse, power, and so on.

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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Sun 05 Dec, 2010 12:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The answer is simple: I would be holding a shield in my left hand. A buckler, to be more specific. This way I would have a longer reach than a longsword with same blade length, and my hands would be perfectly protected. I would then keep my distance and try to hurt my opponent from afar, enjoying protection of my buckler, or I could rush forward and show my opponent that a buckler is good not only for defence, but also for attack. It is the middle distance where greater leverage and faster point of a sword in two hands have an advantage.
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Quinn W.




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Dec, 2010 7:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To back up Aleksei's last comment, the main reason to choose a single-hander over a 1.5-2 hander is simply that it gives you an extra hand to work with. Having made that decision, some might wish for the added reach a larger sword brings, hence the longer one-handers. Even if it is more difficult to control (just because it weighs the same as a shorter sword doesn't mean it handles the same) some might find the trade-off worthwhile, particularly if the can defend themselves better in the process, since a shield/buckler s now an option.
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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Dec, 2010 7:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have always thought that swords like Wallace 466 (and Wallace 459, another interesting relatively longer sword with a rather shorter grip) to be designed for use on horseback. A 30 inch arming sword is rather short for use on horseback. Not only are these swords a bit longer than the typical arming sword, but their mass balance and PP's tend to result in swords that feel natural for long sweeping cuts
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Mark T




PostPosted: Mon 06 Dec, 2010 2:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thom R. wrote:
I have always thought that swords like Wallace 466 (and Wallace 459, another interesting relatively longer sword with a rather shorter grip) to be designed for use on horseback. A 30 inch arming sword is rather short for use on horseback...


Thom: I've thought the same too ... which is why I find it interesting that some folks define 'riding swords' as usually having been shorter than longer 'arming swords'. Perhaps this is more about them being used in a civilian horseback context than military, then?

Anyway, so it sounds like the main case here so far for 'long' single-handers over shorter ones is greater reach, whether on foot or on horse, and better handling for long cuts from on horse. And the benefits over a bastard or two hander are mostly being able to use a buckler in the 'off' hand.

Any other reflections?

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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Dec, 2010 8:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two swords, same weight, same blade length, same COG. Sword "A" has a shorter grip for single hand use, sword "B" has a longer grip which allows for two hand use. When swung with one hand, the two swords will be noticeably different and recovery from a swing will be different because, despite the weight and the COGs being the same, the not insignificant weight of the pommel is several inches further behind the hand with sword "B". Note I didn't say "better" just different. They will handle differently when in motion despite their static parameters (weight and COG) being similar.

Having said that - the particular sword you are discussing (Wallace 466) has a slightly longer grip than most single hand swords. Although Oakeshott classified Wallace 466 (and the Cluny sword) in Records of the Medieval Sword as type XVIII, he hedged on that and seemed to include it in XVIIIa later on when he was subdividing the XVIII category into more sub-types. It does have a grip long enough for two hands with the back hand grabbing both pommel and grip.

Its just another example of the wide, albeit subtle at times, variety of western medieval swords. Those XVth century swordsmiths were expert craftsmen!
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Dec, 2010 11:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A long sword has a number of advantages. The most obvious one is initiative. Since you have a longer sword, the engagement distance is determined by your striking range; the opponent will always have to move within your range to threaten you.
This striking range is not just the range of your sword, but includes your attack step. Consequently, your foes has to make more than one attack step to reach you, as long as you maintain distance. Typically, you can react to his initial movement by stepping backwards and striking; Even if you miss, he will still need another step, giving you more time to counter in some other way.

Because you can attack more easily, you can also be more offensive, putting pressure on your foe, preventing him from striking at all.

A buckler effectively gives you another 20 cm of reach, as you remove your hands and lower arms as a target, allowing you to put similar presure on a foe with a sword of the same length.

The weakness of long blades lie in close quarters, where they can get pushed into the ground. However, they are perfectly capable of killing at that range as well, if they are not bound.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Dec, 2010 12:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The other thing to note is that in the late 14th c., several blade sections started to become more common which seem to facilitate a longer blade while maintaining good handling and cut/thrust character, namely, hollowgrinding of Type XV and XVIII profiles, and the type XIX hexagonal section.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Dec, 2010 1:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, you have long one handers in the 12th and 13th century as well, in the form of XI and XIIs. These develop into the longsword as heavy armour makes the shield less important, and knights start to figth on foot with two handed spears or polearms.
From there, the longsword makes the transition to civilian dueling. However, its use still declines rapidly when heavily armoured infantry is replaced by massed pikemen.

At the same time, long one handers come back into fashion as civilian sidearms, both accompanied by bucklers (got'a love that 13th c retro...), alone, or with a dagger to offset the close range disadvantages. The fighting styles developed for these weapons eventually culminate in rapier fencing for the thrust inclined, and backsword for those striking personalities.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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