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Gregg Sobocinski




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PostPosted: Thu 16 May, 2013 7:23 pm    Post subject: Pole-axes for home defense?         Reply with quote

In Oakshott's European Weapons and Armour (Chapter 2, The Pole-Axe), he states," As well as being splendid weapons for fighting on foot, pole-axes had more domestic uses; it seems that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, three or four pole-axes were often kept on a rack just inside the house door, for defense should a caller prove to be hostile". Has anyone seen evidence of this recommendation having been practiced? How common was it?

I've often wondered at the very fine warhammers which are labeled as "tournament weapons" when I have not seen signs of use on most of them. Is it possible that some were created as "functional art" instead? I can see spending extra to turn these into fantastic wall hangings, if they will be on display every day.

What do you think?
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Neil Langley




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PostPosted: Thu 16 May, 2013 8:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I know this idea is based on a reference in the Paston Letters. In 1448 Margaret Paston writes to her husband John asking him to obtain crossbows (as the house is too low for longbows) and jacks to strengthen the defence of their home - she also asks for pollaxes, saying 'And also I would ye should get two or three short poleaxes to keep with doors' (see: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=vfOK8nAAUW...mp;f=false).

Neil.
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Christopher B Lellis




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PostPosted: Thu 16 May, 2013 9:28 pm    Post subject: Re: Pole-axes for home defense?         Reply with quote

Gregg Sobocinski wrote:
In Oakshott's European Weapons and Armour (Chapter 2, The Pole-Axe), he states," As well as being splendid weapons for fighting on foot, pole-axes had more domestic uses; it seems that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, three or four pole-axes were often kept on a rack just inside the house door, for defense should a caller prove to be hostile". Has anyone seen evidence of this recommendation having been practiced? How common was it?

I've often wondered at the very fine warhammers which are labeled as "tournament weapons" when I have not seen signs of use on most of them. Is it possible that some were created as "functional art" instead? I can see spending extra to turn these into fantastic wall hangings, if they will be on display every day.

What do you think?


I would be against a poleaxe for home defense unless your have really high ceilings and lots of open space. At least from my perspective I would be more likely to destroy my walls and furniture than anything.

In fact I think arming swords are probably the best, stabbing oriented ones that is like this style.



I think the way to go for indoors is thrusting. Swinging something, even a one handed sword much less a poleaxe has problems.

Just my take.

I would say just use a gun, but if you love this stuff enough go for it. These weapons are just as lethal as they ever were as long as you get the element of surprise.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 3:35 am    Post subject: Re: Pole-axes for home defense?         Reply with quote

Gregg Sobocinski wrote:
In Oakshott's European Weapons and Armour (Chapter 2, The Pole-Axe), he states," As well as being splendid weapons for fighting on foot, pole-axes had more domestic uses; it seems that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, three or four pole-axes were often kept on a rack just inside the house door, for defense should a caller prove to be hostile". Has anyone seen evidence of this recommendation having been practiced? How common was it?


Japanese spear racks in houses (and other buildings) were usually by the door. While this makes them handy for defense (not necessarily indoors; one might want to fight outside), it's also the most convenient place to keep such things. If you put the rack away from the door, you have to move long (and possibly sharp) objects through the house to get them in and out.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Bjorn Hagstrom




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 3:45 am    Post subject: Re: Pole-axes for home defense?         Reply with quote

Christopher B Lellis wrote:


I would be against a poleaxe for home defense unless your have really high ceilings and lots of open space. At least from my perspective I would be more likely to destroy my walls and furniture than anything.

In fact I think arming swords are probably the best, stabbing oriented ones that is like this style.


I think the way to go for indoors is thrusting. Swinging something, even a one handed sword much less a poleaxe has problems.

Just my take.

I would say just use a gun, but if you love this stuff enough go for it. These weapons are just as lethal as they ever were as long as you get the element of surprise.


I would rather have something of at least broomstick length to poke someone out of my doorway with. With many polearms featuring at least some sort of top spike I think that would be a better way of shooing someone out from a hallway than a sword. And if push comes to shove and someone really tries to invade your home to hurt you, scratches to the wall or ceiling beams would probably not be a prime concern..

But to each his own Happy

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
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Eric W. Norenberg





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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 7:53 am    Post subject: Re: Pole-axes for home defense?         Reply with quote

Christopher B Lellis wrote:


I would say just use a gun, but if you love this stuff enough go for it. These weapons are just as lethal as they ever were as long as you get the element of surprise.


I think the Original Post was meant to address "in period" use, as in back when the Paston household (see Mr. Langley's post) was first discussing the concern.

Please, for the sake of my constitution (and that of others) let us keep the speculative discussion of these historical artifacts for modern home defense to an absolute minimum. Many of us prefer to look like erudite collectors and eccentric reenactors, to the uninitiated outsiders.

Respectfully,
Eric
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 8:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Back to the question of the original post: I doubt the word 'house' refers to a common dwelling. Commoners of the time would only have 'common' weapons of defense. An axe, pitchfork, or simple spear would most likely guard the door of the home---or, at best, a sword given them for past military service. A poleaxe in a common home would be like me having a rack of lightsabers next to the door. Laughing Out Loud Not that it couldn't have happened, though. I just figure that the 'house' was a bit more of a fortified dwelling--large rooms, high ceilings, and narrow windows. I keep my rack near the door, with my CS Viking axe right on top. Anything much bigger would be hard to maneuver in a pinch. Just my fwiw....McM
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Marik C.S.




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 8:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

How common which weapons were for which social class largely depends on period and region, we know for example pretty well what commoners in England during the Wars of the Roses had in terms of arms from the Muster Rolls and the Array Documents and there are some pollaxes mentioned there - though rarely but there might even be one or two early firearms on those lists - so having them at home did occur.

That doesn't say much about their use - they could have been locked in the private armoury in the cellar for all we know - but availability should not be an argument against using one for defence of house and home.

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Eric W. Norenberg





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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 8:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In addressing the original query, I have seen racks for these and similar weapons in houses in Italy.

Keeping in context, a house (like the Paston's, for an historical example) that might require such items back in the day was nothing like my house or your apartment. The average peasant's house or modest craftsman or merchant's house would be small and likely occupied by the family and a servant or two.. rather we are talking here about households, with enough square footage and financial worth to accommodate a few trained heavyweights to use those pole axes and crossbows! I think there is some correspondence in the Datini collection regarding this as well (if you haven't read The Merchant of Prato, you gotta!).

This kind of house would have an entry area, a hall, which often opened directly onto the public way (big important doorway on the street side). In times of peace and balmy weather that door might be left wide open - the hall becomes a semi-public space where anybody with business would wait while the appropriate member of the household came to meet them. Not always a huge space, but sometimes quite grand, and this is the space that would become the first point of contact if some baddies try a home invasion (and your men-at-arms were doing their jobs).

The weapon racks I have seen in these Italian palazzos were sometimes right there in the hall (where I would prefer a coat rack) and sometimes in a chamber next to that entry hall. The weapons were clearly visible from the hall, and certainly did lend to the atmosphere. I recall only one (in Florence I think) where I wasn't absolutely convinced that I was seeing a recent reconstruction, and therefore something either speculative or blatantly a bit of set dressing for the tourists. But I think that it is probable that a good number of important houses had such a feature.

As to practical application, Bjorn points out the top spike's utility- at close range there is no reason not to choke up with your lead hand even just a foot or so away from the head, if available space and the range of the encounter dictates. Then you have basically a sharp spikey big knife with an extra long handle for leverage. This way your men-at-arms can clear out the baddies without having to buy you a new chandelier!
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 10:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Judging by the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources, English folks of various social classes tended to have lots of weapons. Joseph Swetnam, for example, wrote about men who went about with sword and dagger at their sides and a Welsh hook on their backs. William Harrison complained about the "divers" travelers along the way who carried 13-14ft spears/pikes. Within this context, a staff weapon - more likely a bill than a pollaxe - for home defense strikes me as plausible for more modest homes as well, depending on the period.
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Neil Langley




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 11:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Moore wrote:
B I just figure that the 'house' was a bit more of a fortified dwelling--large rooms, high ceilings, and narrow windows


In the case of the Pastons, defensive yes, although the passage I quoted from above explicitly states the house is too low for longbows so it would seem not all the ceilings were overly high. At the time they lived in a 'mansion' (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gresham_Castle), so certainly a substantial house house, but despite being described as a 'castle' (i.e. it was crenellated) it is not possible to say if this was not in part more decorative than defensive.

In a narrow passage or doorway a pollaxe spike would be very effective and, with a short staff, it can be fairly wieldy - I can use one as a thrusting weapon in my ordinary hallway and living room well enough* (although the walls, ceiling and furniture might well suffer in a fight, but this is hardly a prime concern when the stroppy neighbours break in) so I am sure it was perfectly feasible for the Pastons (and others) too. You could of course just use a short spear (or similar) instead, but I suspect a pollaxe was simply seen as having more utility.

I wold certainly go for a 'shortish' pollaxe over a sword indoors, if they get so close you can use a (half?)sword I suspect it's really time for daggers to be drawn instead (especially if they come armoured!)

Neil.

* Yes, I have tried - albeit carefully!
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Marc Blaydoe




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 3:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Being kept close to the door leads me to believe that the concept of employment would be for exterior defense, that is to have them accessible as you run OUT THE DOOR to defend the house outside. There is really no way a halberd would be practical for use in any sort of dwelling that is not a great hall, and even then it would be very limited.
An armed man is a citizen. An unarmed man is a subject.
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Ben Coomer




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 7:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've used a Kwan-Tao for something like home defense. It was (mostly) inadvertently scaring away a couple of missionaries from the door when they knocked when I was practicing. That counts, right?

But in any case, my wife and I do keep a couple stavesnear the door, more for having something if the local wildlife is being a nuisance. We'd probably never be able to use them inside, but having them at hand while heading out is helpful.
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Gregg Sobocinski




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 7:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for all of your replies. Oakeshott quotes the Paston letter, but the tone made me think he was using it as just one example of this home defense arrangement. (Hard to know for sure.)

He follows up the Parson letter with a single sentence, "Halberds and bills were used in the same way." As others (Mark and Marc) have mentioned, I believe these would be used just outside your front door, not inside the dwelling itself. The larger households concept does make sense here. Also keep in mind that this is the 15th-16th century. and your unwanted guests could be donning armor.

Thanks Eric! That was the kind of evidence I was seeking. I'm still curious how widespread the practice was, and if some of those beautiful pole-axes are the result. That gives me a direction, though. You wouldn't happen to have an image of any of those racks, would you?

Timo: I like the Japanese reference. I may check into this as well. Do you know what time periods such racks were more commonly in use? It makes sense cross-culturally, as even American settlers kept their rifles over the door of their cabins.

Ben: Using those staves like spears would still do plenty of damage to an intruder in confined spaces. Imagine a thrust to the groin, gut, chest, neck, or face. Your intruder would not be seeing straight after any one of those blows. It is also less likely to land you in prison.
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Ben Coomer




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PostPosted: Fri 17 May, 2013 10:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gregg: I am quite well aware that the staffs would be effective as thrusting weapons, considering in my martial arts they are the stepping stone to taper staffs and then onto spears. And quite frankly there's an assortment of weapons on the way to the door, including three long swords and two daggers, that would easily serve if needed.

The staffs are nice in that they are fairly thin and nonthreatening to many people, and have nice uses outside of just whacking objects (such as hiking stick) they tend to be our go-to weapon.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 18 May, 2013 4:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gregg Sobocinski wrote:

Timo: I like the Japanese reference. I may check into this as well. Do you know what time periods such racks were more commonly in use? It makes sense cross-culturally, as even American settlers kept their rifles over the door of their cabins.


This is mentioned in both of Knutsen's books (Japanese Spears and Japanese Polearms, the 1st of these is sort-of a new edition of the 2nd, but is substantially different); spear racks (yari-kake) are covered in more detail in the older one.

In common use during the Edo Period, and probably earlier. Such racks can still be seen in old buildings (old samurai residences, especially in country areas).

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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M. Phan




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PostPosted: Sat 18 May, 2013 9:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Outside the context of warfare, how violence was it back then that household would need weapon racks at the front door? Did people normally expect bandits to show up their front door? Or was it because of high level of feuding?
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 18 May, 2013 3:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Depending on where one lived, there could be legal requirements to own weapons including polearms. See, e.g., The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany. Once you have such arms, where else would you keep them? 'Tis the most convenient location, especially if you have to do town watch duty every now and then.
"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Gregg Sobocinski




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PostPosted: Sun 19 May, 2013 7:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks again for the discussion, and yet another reference for me to pursue.
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Derek Estabrook




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jan, 2014 9:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The best weapon for home defense- a good shotgun. It is a very effective close quarters weapon with excellent damage ability and with a lot of useful factors in a defense scenarios over pistols and even many submachine guns in the same situation.

A poleaxe would have been a better defense weapon centuries ago, but now body armour aside from vests are uncommon and a poleaxe is likely to be either largely ineffective or overkill in most situations. However, I see how it could be useful. If you lack a firearm the most important thing would be quick threat identification and action. If you can close the distance quickly and utilize the length of the weapon and the thrust, it might be possible to turn the tables on an aggressor even armed with modern firearms before they can inflict lethal injury to you. Good situational awareness and swift decisive action fully expecting to receive injury would be paramount here, but it would be if armed with a firearm as well. Still, if having the option go with the shotgun.
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