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Simon G.




Location: Lyons, France
Joined: 02 Jun 2008

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Posts: 238

PostPosted: Tue 15 Feb, 2011 12:44 pm    Post subject: Sword-breaking in degradations - origin of a "sword myt         Reply with quote

Hi all,

I wondered about the apparent ease with which blades were broken in degradation ceremonies. It's probably part of the popular imagery and may have a part in making some people think blades are easily broken; see for instance this famous image of the degradation of French captain Alfred Dreyfus:



This surprised me, given the resilience and ability to bend and return to true that, as everybody here knows, any well-tempered sword has. I suspected there was some trickery to this, and found confirmation in this New York Times article dated January the 5th, 1895, about the degradation of Dreyfus:

The New York Times wrote:
As a measure of preparation for stripping the prisoner of his insigna of rank the prison tailor yesterday removed all the buttons and stripes from Dreyfus's tunic, the red stripes from his trousers, and the regimental number and braid from his collar and cap. These were all replaced with a single stitch so that they could be torn away readily. The condemned man's sword was also filed almost in twain, in order that it might be easily broken. The Adjutant's quick movement and apparent effort in breaking the sword was consequently mere pretence, as only a mere touch was necessary.


What's interesting is that the custom of breaking one's sword during a degradation seems to hark back to the Middle Ages when degraded knights were so shamed. I wonder if the same method of filing the blades was used then, but that's probable, given descriptions such as this one:
Quote:
The last public degradation was in 1621 at Westminster Hall, when Sir Francis Mitchell was found guilty of 'grievous exactions' and had his spurs broken and thrown away, his belt cut and his sword broken over his head. Finally, he was pronounced to be 'no longer a Knight but Knave'.

Which must hurt, even with a filed-down blade. Eek!

Anyway, thought I'd share this with you shoud anyone find that interesting or have additional thoughts on that. It'd be interesting to trace back the origin of some "sword myths". I was reading an old thread here the other day and there was talk of tracing back the source of the famous "fifteen pound swords" myth, but IIRC there was no definitive answer on that. Does anyone have more clues on that myth, or on any other sword myth?

Cheers,

Simon
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,810

PostPosted: Tue 15 Feb, 2011 1:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Why am I now trying to remember all the lyrics to the 1965 American TV show Branded with Chuck Connors (formerly ofThe Rifleman) There are videos and ringtones of the ceremony and the song but I am on dial up, so things go slow.

I can see it being true from a sharp snap at the forte but maybe it has a trick, as you suggest. I would go look for more references but get hung up with chuckling over remembering Chuck's song.

Cheers

GC.
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John Lundemo
Industry Professional



Location: New Hampton, N.Y.
Joined: 03 Nov 2005

Posts: 239

PostPosted: Tue 15 Feb, 2011 9:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glen A Cleeton wrote:
Why am I now trying to remember all the lyrics to the 1965 American TV show Branded with Chuck Connors (formerly ofThe Rifleman) There are videos and ringtones of the ceremony and the song but I am on dial up, so things go slow.

I can see it being true from a sharp snap at the forte but maybe it has a trick, as you suggest. I would go look for more references but get hung up with chuckling over remembering Chuck's song.

Cheers

GC.
Yeah man that show came to my mind as well. Branded marked with a cowards name, what can ya do when you're branded and you know you're a man. I remember the melody but not much of the lyrics. Did Johnny Yuma also get a sword broken? The song from "Ringo" in the Westerners was also cool.Happy
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

Posts: 1,810

PostPosted: Tue 15 Feb, 2011 11:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is a synopsis and intro here that runs a wav file

It seems he was left with more of a sword than I remembered.


http://northfork.tripod.com/branded.html

Oh the shame, Glen posting a youtube video Worried Laughing Out Loud

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKmJPnAGUJk

Oh joy, the Badges scene too (with knives)

Cheers

GC
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Reading list: 7 books

Posts: 2,689

PostPosted: Tue 08 Mar, 2011 12:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As said in a Parliamentary record about an exchange over the quality of British swords at the end of the 19th century:

Quote:
In this case, for instance, some of the swords were tested across the man's thigh when held flat towards the thigh with both hands. Almost any sword could be thus bent or broken easily.


Of course, the same person expressed the opinion that the standards imposed on British blades prompted the manufacturers into making them too hard and thus too brittle. Maybe the smae criticism could be leveled at some other types of 19th-century swords too?

(I remember getting the text from an older myArmoury topic but my search-fu has failed me this time. Would anybody step forward and name the original instance?)
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