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Jeff Larson





Joined: 29 Dec 2011

Posts: 8

PostPosted: Fri 02 Sep, 2016 10:50 pm    Post subject: Hilt for winding         Reply with quote

So, I'm pondering the evolution of war swords in Europe as plate armor became highly developed. As armors became impossible to cut, swords emphasized the cut less and less and the thrust more and more. Half-sword technique became more and more important. The mordhau or murder-stroke, where the sword is grasped by the blade and the hilt is used as a sort of impromptu war-hammer, went from being a novelty to being an important technique to at least wear down an opponent, if not defeat him directly. Finally, the sword became a secondary weapon, superceded by the lance, poll-axe, the estoc, the war-hammer, and the mace, and used only when one of those other weapons was damaged or dropped.

It occurred to me that anyone wealthy enough and promient enough to afford a fine suit of plate armor and a well-made battle sword likely knew the murder stroke, as much of poll-axe technique follows long sword technique. So, my question is, why didn't the sword evolve into a sort of combination weapon, part traditional battle sword but emphasizing thrusting, much like an oakeshotte type XVII, and part war-hammer? I envisioned a crossguard something like a double-headed crows beak or something similar.

I don't know that anything like that was ever developed (there are some strange "war hammer hilted" swords from a later period, but they don't look well built for cracking heavy armor and are probably best regarded as an oddball design that was ultimately unsuccessful). It seems to me that the reason cross-guards never developed to enhance the murder-stroke was because 1) they were more or less adequate as made in more traditional forms, and 2) cross-guards had more important things to do, namely assist in the "winding" techniques that ultimately exposed one's opponent to either a well-aimed thrust or a murder-stroke.

So, the question becomes, what would a hilt optimized for "winding" combat look like? Start with a more or less typical type XVII and go from there: Type 1 or Type 1a downcurved, or type 6 crossguard, and a pommel that is either an oval H1 or a scent-stopper T2. Would it evolve into something else, or are these forms close to the ideal?

I ask because I don't feel I have a good grasp of all the winding techniques, and am missing an intuitive feel for what sort of hilt would work well for this, and what wouldn't.
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Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 960

PostPosted: Sat 03 Sep, 2016 5:29 am    Post subject: Re: Hilt for winding         Reply with quote

Jeff Larson wrote:
So, I'm pondering the evolution of war swords in Europe as plate armor became highly developed. As armors became impossible to cut, swords emphasized the cut less and less and the thrust more and more.

Well, you can't cut mail either. Plate just diffuses the blunt trauma more efficiently, so while you could hurt someone in mail with a heavy enough blow even without actually penetrating the armour, it takes more energy than a sword can deliver to do that through plate.

Quote:
Half-sword technique became more and more important. The mordhau or murder-stroke, where the sword is grasped by the blade and the hilt is used as a sort of impromptu war-hammer, went from being a novelty to being an important technique to at least wear down an opponent, if not defeat him directly. Finally, the sword became a secondary weapon, superceded by the lance, poll-axe, the estoc, the war-hammer, and the mace, and used only when one of those other weapons was damaged or dropped.

The sword didn't become a secondary weapon, it always was one. Spears and polearms were the dominant primary weapons for the battlefield, along with projectiles; the sword by its very design is a sidearm, like the modern handgun.

Quote:
It occurred to me that anyone wealthy enough and promient enough to afford a fine suit of plate armor and a well-made battle sword likely knew the murder stroke, as much of poll-axe technique follows long sword technique. So, my question is, why didn't the sword evolve into a sort of combination weapon, part traditional battle sword but emphasizing thrusting, much like an oakeshotte type XVII, and part war-hammer? I envisioned a crossguard something like a double-headed crows beak or something similar.

There actually are such swords depicted in many fencing manuals, and even a few rare surviving ones. They seem to have been intended for armoured duels rather than warfare - I suppose they'd be fairly inconvenient to wear as a sidearm, and are too specialized for armoured one-on-one close combat on foot to make a good primary weapon.

Quote:
I don't know that anything like that was ever developed (there are some strange "war hammer hilted" swords from a later period, but they don't look well built for cracking heavy armor and are probably best regarded as an oddball design that was ultimately unsuccessful). It seems to me that the reason cross-guards never developed to enhance the murder-stroke was because 1) they were more or less adequate as made in more traditional forms, and 2) cross-guards had more important things to do, namely assist in the "winding" techniques that ultimately exposed one's opponent to either a well-aimed thrust or a murder-stroke.

More or less #1 there, I'd say. Of course you can sharpen the points of the cross, but then it becomes more of a pain to wear, and the only other way to make it more effective for the mordhau would be to add weight to the hilt, which would hinder the weapons use as a regular sword so that's a non-starter, too.

Quote:
So, the question becomes, what would a hilt optimized for "winding" combat look like? Start with a more or less typical type XVII and go from there: Type 1 or Type 1a downcurved, or type 6 crossguard, and a pommel that is either an oval H1 or a scent-stopper T2. Would it evolve into something else, or are these forms close to the ideal?

Any sort of complex hilt, really - note that messers made do with just the nagel, a very small third branch of the cross to cover the outside of the hand, although it's hardly ideal. But simply adding large siderings to a longsword is already pretty much all you need, and anything more is just gravy.

Quote:
I ask because I don't feel I have a good grasp of all the winding techniques, and am missing an intuitive feel for what sort of hilt would work well for this, and what wouldn't.

You basically just need something that prevents the opponent's blade from reaching your hands and forearms during blade-to-blade contact. Correctly sized and shaped siderings do that very effectively. And technically speaking, with proper footwork and blade angles you don't even need those, they just give you a wider safety margin for when you're not quite on point with your technique (which is inevitable in practice, of course).

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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T. Kew




Location: Cambridge, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

Posts: 174

PostPosted: Sat 03 Sep, 2016 10:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are depictions in fencing manuals of hilts designed to use as bludgeons - spiked pommels, sharpened crosses. I think a very few even survive, but they'd be such a faff to wear around that I can see why they aren't exactly common.

As far as winding goes, I find that a s-curved cross is very useful. This makes it less effective for striking with, but striking with the cross guard is so niche that it's basically irrelevant. Beyond that side-rings might be nice, but they make the sword more cumbersome, so a schilt or rain-guard is normally more than sufficient. I personally find a flattened but smooth fishtail type pommel most pleasant - you can grip it in a variety of ways (very good for winds and thrusts), but still feel edge alignment if you're delivering a cut while holding the pommel. A ball is just fine, though.

Complex windings are also less relevant for armoured combat, where you are much more likely to carry out your techniques with one hand on the blade. At that point the hilt design is pretty much irrelevant.

Instructor and scholar, Cambridge HEMA
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Mick Jarvis




Location: Australia
Joined: 18 Jul 2010

Posts: 76

PostPosted: Sat 03 Sep, 2016 3:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'll second the S shaped cross guard.

that's what i have on my sword and i find it most useful to bind and grab onto the opponents sword using a twist and getting it caught between the S guard and my blade. form there its a simple matter of grab and stab/pommel strike
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Jeff Larson





Joined: 29 Dec 2011

Posts: 8

PostPosted: Sat 03 Sep, 2016 4:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for your answers. I was unaware of Kampfschwerts, and the information in your replies led me to them. This article and others gave me a better appreciation for the use of the sword versus armor.

http://actaperiodica.org/documents/APD2013/AP...150007.pdf
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Andrej S





Joined: 01 Jun 2016

Posts: 7

PostPosted: Sun 04 Sep, 2016 5:14 am    Post subject: Re: Hilt for winding         Reply with quote

Mikko Kuusirati wrote:

The sword didn't become a secondary weapon, it always was one. Spears and polearms were the dominant primary weapons for the battlefield, along with projectiles; the sword by its very design is a sidearm, like the modern handgun.

Sword was most commonly a secondary weapon, but to equate it with modern handgun is terribly wrong. Modern handguns are drawn in combat extremely rarely. Vast majority of professional soldiers today never ever use their handguns in combat. Same can't be said of swords in medieval times.
I think bayonet of an 18th century line infantry musket might be a better comparison for a sword. In beginning of battle you will most certainly use your musket (or in medieval times, polearm of some sort), and if you manage to survive it, you will most probably use your bayonet (i.e. sword in Middle Ages). Men armed with polearms often dropped them in favor of swords when they became impractical for use on short ranges. If you are cavalryman, you can't expect your lance to last forever. You will very often fail to retrieve it even after initial charge, and sword was pretty much your weapon of choice after that.
In rare cases, sword was even primary weapon. Single-handed arming sword is example of what could be considered as a sidearm in High to Late Medieval times, but longsword was often used as primary weapon. If we go back in history, then we see men in front ranks of shieldwalls in Germanic countries were mostly armed with swords, and that short sword was primary weapon of Roman legionaries for most of the time.
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Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Sun 04 Sep, 2016 8:12 am    Post subject: Re: Hilt for winding         Reply with quote

Jeff Larson wrote:
As armors became impossible to cut, swords emphasized the cut less and less and the thrust more and more.


You won't have any more luck thrusting through plate than you will trying to cut through it. Type XII's didn't yield to Type XVI's because the latter were better at thrusting through armor, other factors were at play. My guess is it had something to do with advances in metallurgy making new blade types feasible.

Quote:
Finally, the sword became a secondary weapon, superceded by the lance, poll-axe, the estoc, the war-hammer, and the mace, and used only when one of those other weapons was damaged or dropped.


Primary/secondary/whatever is not a good way to think about it. If the sword was some kind of poor cousin to all these "primary" weapons nobody would have ever carried a sword, they'd carry a second war-hammer or whatever else instead. Swords do different jobs than the other tools, you carry the tools you think you'll need and choose the right one for the job at hand.


Quote:
So, the question becomes, what would a hilt optimized for "winding" combat look like?


A disk.
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Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 960

PostPosted: Sun 04 Sep, 2016 10:36 am    Post subject: Re: Hilt for winding         Reply with quote

Andrej S wrote:
Sword was most commonly a secondary weapon, but to equate it with modern handgun is terribly wrong. Modern handguns are drawn in combat extremely rarely. Vast majority of professional soldiers today never ever use their handguns in combat. Same can't be said of swords in medieval times.
I think bayonet of an 18th century line infantry musket might be a better comparison for a sword. In beginning of battle you will most certainly use your musket (or in medieval times, polearm of some sort), and if you manage to survive it, you will most probably use your bayonet (i.e. sword in Middle Ages). Men armed with polearms often dropped them in favor of swords when they became impractical for use on short ranges. If you are cavalryman, you can't expect your lance to last forever. You will very often fail to retrieve it even after initial charge, and sword was pretty much your weapon of choice after that.
In rare cases, sword was even primary weapon. Single-handed arming sword is example of what could be considered as a sidearm in High to Late Medieval times, but longsword was often used as primary weapon. If we go back in history, then we see men in front ranks of shieldwalls in Germanic countries were mostly armed with swords, and that short sword was primary weapon of Roman legionaries for most of the time.

Fair enough, yeah.

My point was more that the discussed developments in arms and armour didn't actually change the sword's role in warfare in any meaningful way or "demote" it from a primary battlefield weapon to a backup.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
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