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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 8:20 am    Post subject: Did gauntlets influence sword handles?         Reply with quote

This is something I've wondered about for a while and can't find an answer:

Around the 13th century, European sword handles lengthened from a typical length (give or take) of around 3.5" (in X, Xa, XI) to 4.5" (not to mention the much longer handles on greatwords and later bastard swords that also started coming in around this time). I know this is not a hard and fast rule, but its a clear trend - handles got longer.

Most people relate this change to the use and balance of the sword. What about the influence of wearing more armour on the hand? Wouldn't this require more space on the handle? I have never fenced with gauntlets, don't have any, and I know little of their history. I have the impression that little or no handgear was used in Viking times, whereas it was well in place by 14th century (e.g., at battle of Wisby). That's all I know.

So I would like to hear from people who know more about this - when did the use of gauntlets (or some earlier thick hand protection) become common? How much more space is needed on the grip to accomodate them? Did this coincide with changes in sword construction?

Thanks for your anticipated opinions and/or links

- JD
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 9:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have had similar thoughts. The slight legthening of single-hand sword grips does happen to be roughly coeval with the adoption of gauntlets. I myself am still struggling to understand the workings of gauntlets. I have spent years learning how to wield a sword in a historically correct manner, always without gauntlets. I have friends who fight SCA, and I would like to join them, but gauntlets are a major sticking point for me. They just limit movement so much and feel so awkward that I get quite frustrated. I just can't do anything in them. SCA basket-hilts present similar problems. Granted, no SCA gauntlet I have tried has been very authentic. I realize I am going borderline off-topic, but this just shows that protecting the hands and maintaining the abiltity to effectively wield a sword can be a difficult thing. On the other hand, when doing Viking Vinland style combat wearing padded, heavy-leather reinforced gloves, I find that no enlongation of the grip is necassary, and that the 4- 4 1/2" grips on the blunts we use are too large. The gloves are flexible enough that they do not inhibit movement, and the heavy padding really doesn't effect anything at all. I too am curious what anyone might think on this matter.
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David Clark





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PostPosted: Fri 27 May, 2011 12:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Scott Woodruff wrote:
I have had similar thoughts. The slight legthening of single-hand sword grips does happen to be roughly coeval with the adoption of gauntlets. I myself am still struggling to understand the workings of gauntlets. I have spent years learning how to wield a sword in a historically correct manner, always without gauntlets. I have friends who fight SCA, and I would like to join them, but gauntlets are a major sticking point for me. They just limit movement so much and feel so awkward that I get quite frustrated. I just can't do anything in them. SCA basket-hilts present similar problems. Granted, no SCA gauntlet I have tried has been very authentic. I realize I am going borderline off-topic, but this just shows that protecting the hands and maintaining the abiltity to effectively wield a sword can be a difficult thing. On the other hand, when doing Viking Vinland style combat wearing padded, heavy-leather reinforced gloves, I find that no enlongation of the grip is necassary, and that the 4- 4 1/2" grips on the blunts we use are too large. The gloves are flexible enough that they do not inhibit movement, and the heavy padding really doesn't effect anything at all. I too am curious what anyone might think on this matter.


This is a problem I and many others have faced in the SCA. More historical gauntlets do not provide as much protection from blunt impacts from what I have seen. However, they seem to allow much more dexterity and thus control over sword grip. It is possible to use gauntlets that rely on padding and such, in order to have a more practical grip in the SCA, but you need to realize the increased danger to finger damage. I myself, am sick of the clunky, unwieldy gaunts I have used in SCA fighting and am about to get some form of hand pro that will not protect quite as well, but will allow a more effective grip.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Thu 30 Jun, 2011 3:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm gonna resurrect this, because I would still like to know.

There must be someone out there who either:

- has better knowledge of the development of hand armour during the period when sword grips were changing; ~1200

- or has themselves experimented with different hand armour and different period sword grips

Is there some relation between the two?
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Thu 30 Jun, 2011 8:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi J.D.,

You might want to ping Craig Johnson. He's presented recently on this issue, with the take home message: "Gauntlets aren't a hinderance with swords. If you're having issues, you need bettter gauntlets."

That's a gross oversimplification of what I've heard even second hand, so I'm sure there's much more to this.

Yours,

Christian

Christian Henry Tobler
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Thu 30 Jun, 2011 12:48 pm    Post subject: Simple and Gross         Reply with quote

Hello Guys

While I have often been accused of being simple and my teenage daughters think I am gross, I would say that Christian has encapsulated the point in his usual elegant and refined fashion.

But for Doug's sake I will try to fill out the idea a bit and highlight the points imho.

The first element of why I think folks have problems with their gauntlets is our view of what armor is. Today it has this tank quality in our minds. We tend to much towards when in armor one can be pounded on with impunity and suffer few ill affects. This is also reinforced in the reenactment community which has varying degrees of rules/guidelines/dictates about what is needed to participate or is thought to be "what is best" to use. I am not advocating for the rescinding of such safety precautions but rather pointing out that these where made to keep folks in a sport safe and not what one would have used in period or what would evolve if the combats today where based on life and death results.

In period it is my humble opinion that the majority of armor was worn to enhance ones ability to fight and would have been designed for creating a last line of defense as it where. When your tactics, skill, speed and reflexes had failed you the armor was there to help save your butt. The style of armors and what one chooses to wear for the expected conditions would all be part of this. So one may well choose something different between a battle, a duel, a tournament or moving about the country side on campaign. Thus one can see several different options developing for the armored combatant of the day dependent on what ones objective is and the environment one is fighting.

As an example the Italian armor of the Condottieri battles is vastly different than the armor worn by combatants shown in depictions of fighters north of the Alps in the same period. Today a lot of people focus on this being a stylistic difference based on the design aesthetic of the regions, but would not a difference in what was expected of the armor as a defensive element in combat have more to do with the broad styling of the pieces. This also would give more meaning to the depictions of armor that seem to be cross-pollinated from the two areas mentioned. These could then be seen as decisions made for the
choices the fighter was making in combat and would be more purpose driven than a purely art historical style choice.

Now back to the gauntlets. The gauntlets today often are made with a great concern for keeping ones hand safe from impact as David pointed out above. In the period there are many that today would be considered far to light to be used by many groups. Even if made form spring steel and hardened.

Along with a tendency to over build in thickness modern gauntlet replicas have a tendency to try and cover the whole back and sides of the hand. In many period examples you would be surprised on how little area is covered on the sides of the fingers and even the lower side of the hand (the side away from the thumb). Thus if you had a sword with a nice grip covering you would not expect the gauntlet edges to meet this in most cases. As an aside, I have, more than once, put an original gauntlet on someone today and they have told me it was not right or the wrong size because it did not cover their whole hand.

Now when gauntlets are made to fully enclose the hand the result a lot of folks get when the slip on their new gauntlets is a torn up sword grip, if they do not check out the fit first. This is also why someone who has trained in a given menu of actions for combat and they then put on gauntlets that do not match these actions has difficulty doing what they know they can do. It is not the actions fault but rather the hindrance of the protective covering of the gauntlet.

This also highlights the choices and priorities of the period combatant over those of today. The well-heeled knight of 1420 would have several choices of kit in his possession to accommodate conditions as well as several swords to use. He would not tear up his fancy impress the girls hilt in practice. In the economics of the period there would also be little effort needed to have ones man get the sword regriped in short order when needed, for maintenance or to not be seen with last season grip still on your favorite sword.

Well I have probably rambled a bit too much but I hope it makes sense to folks. I have been describing gauntlets to folks for many years this way and some of the ideas about armor styles and choices where the focus of Josh Davisís paper at Kalamazoo this year. He has been working on this line of research for a while and has done some nice thinking along these lines.

Best
Craig
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Sander Marechal




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PostPosted: Thu 30 Jun, 2011 3:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Great explanation Craig. thanks for that. Two questions:

- Do you happen to have any pictures of you (or someone) with correct not-enclosing gauntlets gripping a sword? I'd like to see what it looks like.

- Also, what do you know about maille gauntlets?

The Knights Hospitaller: http://www.hospitaalridders.nl
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Thu 30 Jun, 2011 4:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's quite enlightening Craig and goes well beyond what I was originally asking, so to re-focus on my original question, I gather from what you are saying that period-correct hand armour would have been less bulky and would have had little influence on the development of sword grips? What about mail mittens as Sander asks?
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Thu 30 Jun, 2011 9:23 pm    Post subject: Ooops missed the point :-)         Reply with quote

Hi Guys

Looks like I got caught in my own head on the reply above and I never brought it home to the sword grip length portion. Sorry about that.

Now it is a difficult thing to id a single reason for something like this. A gradual lengthening of grips in a relatively long period of time with a very unstructured sample and little direct evidence for why such would occur. The best we can do is surmise the reason through the very process we are doing here. Discussion, theory and hypothesis. Can we prove the reason absolutely? I doubt it.

First lets look at the gauntlets of this period. They do have some distinct differences than say the high gothic styles but the still provide the elements that we discussed above. Now the gauntlet of the period is most likely to be used in combat with a sword on a single handed weapon. The lengthening of the grip could be one of the factors contributing to this. Though my guess is the number of individuals wearing gauntlets was always less than the number of folks using swords. Some would stick with mail if that was their preferred form of armor while my guess is even more had just a glove or bare hand.

How much influence this may have on the lengthening of swords in general is difficult to judge in my mind. It definitely has some of the aspects I would look for in a factor driving this typological change but does not seem to have the over riding energy to do this across the board as it where.

Mail for the hand I would think would not have as much push as the hard gauntlets. The mail would conform to the hand quite well and it would have been applied to a leather mitt or glove to keep in place. These would not be sloppy affair but items tailored to the wearer or at least close to the wearer. The human hand has a surprising small variation from person to person on average. My guess is these would be comfortable and not a hinderance much at all.

The size of the mail I think is the factor that makes some of the modern reproductions a bit difficult in use. I have seen some made with mail on the palm and run in such a fashion that you would have difficulty in closing the hand around any type of haft or grip.

Now looking for what would drive a change in the sword style on a wide basis across large regions and one that would also be appreciated no matter what the style of armor or non-armor one had to hand? I would say the strongest candidate for this would be the way the sword was being used and what the sword user needed to adapt to the changes one might encounter in the use.

I have given a couple of lectures over the years about the birth of the longsword. Where did it come from. To me the answer lies in the realization that taking the sword in two hands creates a different set of leverages and strengths in the fight. The simple answer for me of when does the longsword start is when combatants realized the situations where one should drop or sling the shield and grip the sword in two hands to control the fight and win. I think one can demonstrate through art that this is an ongoing process in the very period we are looking at and this would be a strong force on the design of swords.

Now the development of tools and how this would interact with the medieval way of viewing change and innovation in society is a huge and very pertinent subject but one that would shine an interesting light not only on the typological development of the sword but also the armor and combat techniques of those using the sword.

Hope that makes sense and its not to much of a huge subject dump to kill the discussion.

Best
Craig
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Tomas B




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PostPosted: Fri 01 Jul, 2011 2:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For me a possible reason for the slight lengthening of one-handed sword grips is the thrust. This is purely on a gut feeling and I have nothing else to back this theory up at the moment. The mechanics behind thrusting needing an extra half inch on a sword handle seem to work in my mind.

Just my two cents.

Tom
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Brian Robson





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PostPosted: Fri 01 Jul, 2011 5:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I guess we won't know for definite if the use of mail mufflers resulted in a lengthening of the grip without seeing some kind of documentary evidence (which is pretty unlikely) - but the timescales do seem to match, so it makes sense to me to accept that it could have been an influence.

I do late 12C to mid 13C re-enactment and own a set of custom-made integrated mail mufflers, based on period illustrations showing the split along the palm to let your hand through.
They do cover the sides and end of the hand (It was built to show no gaps in the mail when gripping a sword), but also due to their flexible nature interfere very little (if at all) with the grip on the sword.

However, they definately do add to the width of the hand because of the thick glove underneath - and the layer of mail on each edge of the hand - and the fact that it may bag slightly (needed to allow movement in opening/closing your grip).
Personally, i'd say that yes, mufflers do cause a need for a longer grip (although mine do have additional leather re-inforcements under the mail for the extra modern protection vs blunts).

Also I think I'd also be correct in saying that most UK early/high medieval re-enactment swords have longer grips than was historically accurate - but this is as much to offset the heavier blades (due to a 2mm edge) as it is to do with required hand protection for H&S reasons.

As I understand it, in western Europe, the mid 12c didn't see much use (if any) for mufflers. Most evidence I've seen shows either short sleeved mail or wrist-length. I also havn't seen anything indicating that any kind of textile gloves were worn too.
Towards the late 12c, mail mufflers started to become popular amongst the wealthy. they were *always* integrated into the hauberk - so if you couldn't afford a hauberk, you also had no hand protection.
by the early 13c I understand that it was pretty much universal amongst the knighthood.
mid-13c shows evidence of integrated hand protection on padded armour (presumably worn under mail too) - although I don't know how long this had been in use before then. I imagine this would further affect the length of grip required.

Don't have any closeups of the mail itself - but this may give an idea ..

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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Fri 01 Jul, 2011 6:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The increase in size would have been much earlier if it was for this reason as we see fully incorporated mail covering toward 1100. My guess for why grips get bigger is simply changing of what was desired in a sword as well as a general size increase in the sword itself. With my plate gauntlets I can use the smaller gripped viking type sword I have with little issues. Having worn mail gauntlets as they were my first pair I doubt it'd be any more or less an issue than my plate ones.


RPM
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 01 Jul, 2011 7:59 am    Post subject: Re: Ooops missed the point :-)         Reply with quote

Craig Johnson wrote:


Hope that makes sense and its not to much of a huge subject dump to kill the discussion.

Best
Craig


Thanks Professor Johnson. Happy

And thanks guys for the other input - that's the sort of thing I'm looking for.
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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Fri 01 Jul, 2011 12:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Excluding hand and a half swords what is evidence that single handed sword handles got longer? Do we have a large enough sample of early swords to say that sample is representational of the historic norm?

mackenzie
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Fri 01 Jul, 2011 9:02 pm    Post subject: Why oh why did they change the design         Reply with quote

Evenin Guys

I think I would agree with Randall on the mail being something that would have changed the dynamic earlier if it was was the main factor.

Another note is the size of the mail rings on the hand armor I think Brian's kit looks quite good. So I do not want to critic his point based on that, but the period mail examples I have come across almost always shows a variety or maybe variable sized rings in a single piece and I would not doubt that the rings on the hands would have been smaller than the main body. Can I prove this? No, not by actual statistical findings but the elegant tailoring and shaping I have seen in original pieces leads me to think they well may have had some sophisticated sizing of the rings to fit the hands well.

Mackenzie's query is an important [point to take in to account. The general trend seems to be recognized by the community of historians backed up by the typological work that has been done so far. Is it definitive? I would guess not. It seems to be something we can say with some confidence but I think the population of the survey has been degraded by time to such an extent that definitive declarations are not what is important here. the general trend seems to be there in the surviving examples and the art of the period. This allows us to discuss the idea broadly. It is not the type of question where we can say in the years between 1175 and 1190 this happened in the sword design world. I fear much of this history is something that we can only see happening in the space of several generations and if we look at our own lives it is staggering to see what has changed around us in the last 20 years.

Now the debate about the pace of change is a whole topic to start a thread about Wink

I feel this period of time we are looking at is a very dynamic period of change rather than a "dark age".

Best
Craig
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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Fri 01 Jul, 2011 10:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mackenzie Cosens wrote:
Excluding hand and a half swords what is evidence that single handed sword handles got longer? Do we have a large enough sample of early swords to say that sample is representational of the historic norm?

mackenzie


Sorry I don't mean to be grumpy I will try and phrase this differently. Does anyone know of studies that show this tend or is it an observation in passing?

mackenzie
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Jul, 2011 5:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig,

I have seen original mail hand armour and some is clearly smaller sized rings and others are the larger types used on some hauberks. I have no idea what the difference was and why though. In fact I saw many hauberks and habergeons that were made of very small rings. I assume they were made to be hidden armours but I honestly could not say.

And every body else out there (not sitting on a cushion...)

Personally my guess is the added length of the grip came from newer demands on the sword. For a sword where certain things are expected such as an increase on the ability to thrust while the blade remains long or even gets longer the added length counters the additional weight and gives more of a lever to counter and control the blade. It sounds overly simply but having made a handful of my own swords I found added grip made longer blades more manageable, ironically only a 1/2 inch can make a big difference.


RPM
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Jul, 2011 8:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mackenzie Cosens wrote:

Sorry I don't mean to be grumpy I will try and phrase this differently. Does anyone know of studies that show this tend or is it an observation in passing?
mackenzie


Hi Mackenzie

I did not take it as grumpy at all the query

Mackenzie Cosens wrote:
... what is evidence that single handed sword handles got longer? Do we have a large enough sample of early swords to say that sample is representational of the historic norm?
mackenzie


Is exactly the question to ask and one I am fearful we would have a difficult time proving for any small frame of time or for any particular region. The trend is there as over time of the medieval sword grips do get longer but to assess the rate, time frame and reasons exactly is the crux of the issue and I think the sample base is so fragmented and out of context that it creates a challenge the most artifacts do not.

Swords have this tendency to slide around and one in a collection somewhere will usually have some kind of associated provenance but these are often sketchy, tradition and in many cases made up. This makes it hard to draw more than the broadest conclusions.

Randall, I agree on the mail being a variable commodity and one that is difficult for us to see the direct nature of influence on the sword.

I think the way the sword is used is the strongest candidate as you point out. The thrust maybe a definite reason, but I think it would be even more comprehensive than that. As the single handed sword and shield began to lose prominence and the use of body armor and the ability to use the sword in two hands to gain advantage (whether in the hau or the stich) would be a very strong candidate for a far reaching design change. That is why I would include the longsword in Mackenzie's question above as I do not see a hard line between one style of sword and another it is far more important to look at the intent of the combatant than the tools for why changes where made.

I would guess this would make an excellent example for someone doing a dissertation in the field of human tool engineering and ergonomics Happy

Best
Craig
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Sander Marechal




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Jul, 2011 4:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
I have seen original mail hand armour [...]


How was the coverage on the sides of the hands on the originals? Was the hand covered with mail pretty much to the grip? Or did mail just cover the backs of the hand? That would impact the required grip length I think.

The Knights Hospitaller: http://www.hospitaalridders.nl
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Jul, 2011 7:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Almost all mail hand armour I have seen leaves the palm open. There was one at the RA with a palm covering but the entire mitten was small ringed mail. Let me see if I can dig up an image.

RPM
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