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Michael Kelly





Joined: 22 Sep 2015

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PostPosted: Sat 06 Jan, 2018 8:16 am    Post subject: Longsword Grip Length...         Reply with quote

Is there a specific reason that so many contemporary longsword makers produce swords with relatively short grips? I tend to favor grips of about 10 inches (including the pommel) and these seem so few and far between... Most seem to top out at around 7-8 inches, and while I can manipulate one with a grip that length, I can't say I find it very comfortable. At that length it's definitely not a single handed grip, but not quite enough to comfortable swing it with two hands. I know 2-3 inches isn't a lot, but it really makes a difference. I dunno, maybe I just have large hands? Albion has some great designs I'd love to jump on, especially the Fiore, but after handling a few longswords with comparable grip lengths I refuse to spend $1000 on a sword I'll never swing because it's grip is too short.

Every feder and waster I've ever handled has grips closer to what I'm looking for, often more than 10 inches, why does it seem so hard to find sharps that have comparable grip lengths?
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T. Diamante




Location: United States
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PostPosted: Sat 06 Jan, 2018 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, the biggest reason I can think of is that many extant longswords have grips of that length. Particularly the earlier period longswords. If you want a sword that feels more like a feder, I would suggest Albion's Munich, or the H/T longsword on the budget side of things. Keep in mind that many feders and wasters are designed to allow the user to handle it with padded, bulky gloves on.
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Ryan Hobbs




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PostPosted: Sat 06 Jan, 2018 11:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Longswords began to show longer grips in later periods, when longswords began to take on a more civilian application. I don't know why longer grips weren't used on the battlefield, but the men who actually fought with them at the time preferred a shorter grip, despite the use of mail mittens and guantlets and the obvious leverage advantage.
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Johannes Zenker





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PostPosted: Sat 06 Jan, 2018 1:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On earlier longswords with a total hilt length of 25cm (grip+pommel) or less I would definitely recommend grabbing the pommel. With a disc pommel that can also help with edge alignment and Fiore's Bicorno guard feels very natural with it as well.

My reasoning for the prevalence of short grips would be usage based:
The Great Swords of War (from which the long sword arguably descended) weren't fencing weapons, so you probably won't need all the finesse you can employ in an unarmored fight. Therefore a moderately long hilt (~24-26cm) was plenty, even for their heavy blades: you could easily hold it with two hands in gauntlets if you grabbed the pommel.

The longsword of the late 14th C usually had a shorter and/or narrower, or at least more tapered blade than the GSOW. Thus the same handle length already provided much enhanced mobility, especially when not wearing heavy gauntlets. As for why the handles stayed short for such a long time (I'd wager about 100-150 years) I'd argue that a shorter handle is much more comfortable to wear. That is what a weapon mostly does, especially in a civilian context. It gets carried. You don't even want to use it. You carry it in case you *have to* use it, and if you're lucky you'll end up carrying it everyday and not using it once.

Yes, longer hilts appear to have become more common at the end of the 15th C and through the 16th C, but we still very commonly find "bastard-length" hilts during that time. My assumption (!) for that is twofold: The shorter hilts were from people who actually wanted to wear their swords (or riding swords that were primarily used one handed from horseback and had the longer grip as a fallback option), even those with somewhat more complex guards, while the longer hilts were either for warswords or people that either were fine with the handle sticking out a lot further or wore them only on special occasion and maybe for dueling. (compare also this thread for later longsword hilts: http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=197...lex+hilted )

Lastly: A feder is not a sword. It is not even a representative simulator for a sword. It is a sporting tool, and it always has been. They overemphasize quickness and agility, because they don't want to and don't need to deliver a proper blow. Light, narrow blades and extremely long handles usually give them radically different handling than most swords (even the quite long and narrow Albion Munich, which has a very beefy and quite heavy blade).
Truth be told, I have recently cut with one replica by Steffan Roth that felt very much like a feder (slightly shorter blade), and it dearly lacked blade presence in the cut. Yes it is extremely agile and it stabs well, but it is not a good cutting weapon. This is (at least for me) in no way ameliorated by the long handle, I'd even argue that it makes proper cutting mechanics more difficult.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sat 06 Jan, 2018 5:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Michael,

In my experience, when a conflict arises between how we, as modern people, expect a sword should be as opposed to how the sword was actually made by medieval people, it is usually our own lack of understanding that gets in the way. This is a good idea to bear in mind for other such situations.

I can give you two excellent reasons for preferring shorter grips. Obviously, the longer your grip, the longer you can reach with the sword. Having longer reach might appear to be beneficial, but it is not as much as you think. The reason is because most actions at the bind, the crossing of swords, work best at close range. The wider the measure between the two swordsman, the harder it becomes to perform many actions because of decreased leverage and more time for the opponent to respond.

An example from Liechtenauer can illustrate this. If you bind swords from striking in and then use a winden, where you turn the edge and lift your arms so the hilt portion of your blade is up to the cutting part of his blade, you are in an excellent position to thrust to the face. Your sword is held horizontally with the point right to his face. At a relatively close distance in the bind, it is difficult for the opponent to displace your thrust because you have such superior leverage. Even if the opponent displaces your attack, you can often remain in the winden and simply adjust your point position slightly to hit with another thrust.

However, if you were to enter into the same bind but increase the distance between you and the opponent by another foot or so, (because you and/or your opponent have longer reach with your sword), you would no longer have the same degree of leverage. Your opponent will find it considerably easier to drive your sword away, and you end up having to do much wider and riskier sword motions from the bind that involve suddenly snapping a cut to another opening. Such snapping cuts can often be countered, meaning you get struck or sliced and he remains unharmed.

A second reason for shorter grips involves manipulating the sword. Many times, the most efficient way to make a sword move is through a push/pull motion. One hand pushes the grip of the sword while the other pulls to speed the motion up. These push/pull motions are easier to manage with a shorter sword grip. A longer grip must move much more to perform the same action as a shorter grip would. Therefore, a shorter grip is superior in this regard as well.

I personally prefer shorter grips on long swords. I'm six feet tall, so size is not the reason for my preference. Rather, shorter grips are just fine for the various actions I need to perform. If I need to, I grip the pommel with my hand; that's what it's there for.

It would be a shame for you to decide against ordering a fine sword like the Fiore over something like the grip length. I would encourage you to spend time handling whatever long swords you can that have a shorter grip, just so that you get used to them and find them comfortable. There's good reasons why they were made short.
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T. Kew




Location: Cambridge, UK
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PostPosted: Sun 07 Jan, 2018 1:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The short answer for "why do most reproduction longswords have grips of no more than 7-8 inches?" is "because most historical longswords have grips of no more than 7-8 inches"

After an unrelated recent argument, I went through my copy of the catalogue from Das Schwert: Gestalt und Gedanke, picking swords with a date within 1300-1500, which are likely to have been intended as fighting weapons (excluding e.g. executioner's swords) and have an overall length of at least 1 metre. I skipped messers, to save a little time, although some of those do fall into approximately the same lengths and proportions as contemporary swords.

The catalogue does not include grip length, but does have blade and overall lengths to the nearest mm, along with accurate scale drawings of each sword, so I have derived approximate grip lengths (generally rounded up to the nearest half inch).

By catalogue number:

2. 1250-1350, XIIa, 6" grip.
8. 1300-1350, XIIIb, 5" grip.
12. 1250-1350, XII, 5" grip
15. s.xiv, XVI, 4" grip
18. Early 14th century, XIIIa, 7.5" grip
19. 1350, XVIIIc, 6.5" grip
20. s.xv ex, unclassified type, 9.5" grip
21. s.xiv in, XIIIa, 7" grip
22. s.xiv in, XIIIa, 7" grip
23. s.xiv mid, XVIa, 5.5” grip
24. 1400, XVII, 6” grip
25. s.xiv ex, XVa, 7.5” grip
26. 1450-60, untyped (ceremonial), 6” grip
27. 1425-1520, XVIIIb, 7.5” grip
28*. 1480-1500, XVIIIb, 7.5” grip
29. s.xv ex, XX, 16” grip.

*This sword is particularly interesting, since it’s under-scaled compared to normal swords. If scaled up to a more usual length for a XVIIIb of ~4 feet, the grip length would be a little under 8.5”.

As should be immediately obvious, grip lengths beyond 7" or so are extremely rare in this group of swords.

Instructor and scholar, Cambridge HEMA
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Michael Kelly





Joined: 22 Sep 2015

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PostPosted: Sun 07 Jan, 2018 7:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's interesting... I have never seen Das Schwert, but when I look up the oakshott typology I usually find longsword's described as having grips of 6-9 or 10 inches, sometimes more or less depending on the type and time period. However, it inevitably seems that sword manufacturers like Albion always default to the short end of the spectrum. I can't help but feel it's a cost cutting measure on the manufacturers part, and that a lot of people just assume that the shorter grips are more historical because they are historically accurate and because that's what they're used to seeing from manufacturers who produce accurate swords.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 08 Jan, 2018 3:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael,

If you look at the swords even in the myArmoury features section for Oakeshott Type XV.a and XVI.a, all of the swords have grips on the short size. For the XV family, Nathan's article even explicitly states, "Many Type XV swords are shown in paintings dated between 1440 and 1510, all characterized by short grips and having blades broad at the shoulders that taper evenly to an acute point." This quote in context is referring to XV.a grips, and not simply single-handed XVs. The only adjustment to the quote I would make is to remove "all", lest the reader think the quote says no swords of this type have long grips. Another example, the myArmoury XVI.a 3 is a good illustration of a sword that has an "appallingly" short grip by standards of modern people who insist long swords should have long grips. Of course, this does not match with the historical reality of many swords, nor with the functional benedits I have previously mentioned. Also, if you search Manuscript Miniatures with dates of circa 1350 to 1400, you will see more than a few long swords with grips hardly much longer than a single-handed sword. I suspect the Wallace Collection Sword A.645, the myArmoury Type XV.6 sword, is actually a Type XV.a- that it really was intended for use as a long sword similar to other short gripped long swords.

All this to say that Albion's choices have little to do with cost cutting measures, and more to do with extant historical examples/evidence.
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T. Kew




Location: Cambridge, UK
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PostPosted: Mon 08 Jan, 2018 4:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

First, costs: the price of Albion - or pretty much every other high quality swordmaker - is determined mostly by labour costs. Making a sword takes a long time and skilled work, and that's expensive. Even a cursory search through their catalogue will show that there are lots of cases where shorter swords are more expensive than longer ones, due to e.g. More work required on the hilt components.

Next, sizes:

It's important to remember that when people talk about "longswords" they're generally referring to a number of Oakeshott types at once. Each of these types has different details, in terms of normal blade shape, size, grip, and so on. A blanket statement like "longsword grips were mostly 7 to 9 inches" is about as useful as saying "cars mostly have five seats" - it might be true overall, but it'll be quite misleading if you're buying a sports car.

Most of the early types are fairly compact in both hilt and blade. Albion do a lot of models which are towards this earlier high-medieval end, and so when you're looking at a catalogue full of XVas and so on, the grips will naturally be short. If you insist on having a longer grip, you should instead try an XVIIIb like the Earl, which represents a later type and has a bit of a longer hilt. Note how the majority of the grips longer than 8" in the sample I have are on XVIIIb type swords.

Instructor and scholar, Cambridge HEMA
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JG Elmslie
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PostPosted: Mon 08 Jan, 2018 8:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I can't help but feel it's a cost cutting measure on the manufacturers part,


As a craftsman, I can say from making swords that a 110cm bar of steel suitable for a longsword with a 180mm grip will cost me about $15 roughly. (even with the excess costs of me living in the remote highlands of Scotland and all the extra shipping for small orders of metal.) I expect a company like Albion, yet alone a company like Hanwei, is getting their steel stock in bulk at 1/4, perhaps even 1/10th that price.

And a bar 135cm long for a 25-30cm grip? that'll cost me about $18-20.

3-5 dollars, 2-4 pounds, on a sword that will probably be priced close to a thousand times that amount. 0.1% of the cost.

Frankly, if I cared about a 0.1% profit margin, I wouldn't be in the business of making swords. (Lets be honest. I make objects which have been obsolete for 5 centuries for a living... I am a textbook case of bad business practice. 0.1% profit margin doesn't even come close to being the biggest expense waste or bad business choice I make every day... Just getting up in the morning is a bad business choice when I could probably make 3 times as much per hour by simply becoming a jeweller... Big Grin )

I spend more than that on a sandwich for lunch in the museums I'd have to go to studying the original object. the extra costs of a few cm of steel are so insignificant as to be utterly irrelevant.

No sword maker is making the hilts shorter because they're saving pennies. We're making the hilts shorter, because that's what the real ones were like.

(Now, at nearly 100 dollars for just 10cm (4 inches) of 1mm thick 24kt gold wire for an inlay, THAT I might do my utmost to save on materials...)
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Jan, 2018 10:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm a bit confused by the numbers used here. For example, the Albion Fiore has a 36.5in blade and an overall length of 46.25 inches, so that's somewhat over 9in of grip plus pommel. It's not quite 10in, but awfully close. Various Albion longsword look to have a grip-plus-pommel length of over 10in: the Earl, the Regent, the Principe, the Viceroy, the Cluny, the Brescia Spadona, the Svante, etc.

Artwork 1450-1550 or so frequently shows longswords with long grips worn at the side, especially by Swiss soldiers, so I suspect such longswords were relatively common in that era.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Michael Kelly





Joined: 22 Sep 2015

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PostPosted: Wed 10 Jan, 2018 8:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For all my bitching and lamentation, I placed an order today for an Albion 'Munich'... Check back next Christmas.
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Dan Kary




Location: Canada
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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jan, 2018 9:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for this discussion. I wanted to throw out a related idea. I'm wondering about the "it is historical" stuff in justifying the proportions of a longsword. Isn't it the case that the average height in the middle ages generally was shorter than it is now? If that is the case (and if I am mistaken then this whole argument collapses), then why are we, as generally larger people, basing our size specifications on examples for people who were, generally, smaller and expecting the sword to function in the same way? Shouldn't the sword specifications be scaled appropriately to the difference in body size? Arguably, this would be more historical in some sense because our proportions from sword to body would be the same and, therefore, the mechanics involved in using the sword would be the same. What do you all think about this?
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Max L




Location: Philly
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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jan, 2018 10:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Kary wrote:
Thanks for this discussion. I wanted to throw out a related idea. I'm wondering about the "it is historical" stuff in justifying the proportions of a longsword. Isn't it the case that the average height in the middle ages generally was shorter than it is now? If that is the case (and if I am mistaken then this whole argument collapses), then why are we, as generally larger people, basing our size specifications on examples for people who were, generally, smaller and expecting the sword to function in the same way? Shouldn't the sword specifications be scaled appropriately to the difference in body size? Arguably, this would be more historical in some sense because our proportions from sword to body would be the same and, therefore, the mechanics involved in using the sword would be the same. What do you all think about this?


Thats a bit of a misconception. People weren't significantly shorter/smaller on average in the middle ages than they were today. There were more outliers (people who were much taller or shorter than the average) however. The average height plummeted in the early modern era due to industrialization and deterioration of living conditions.

Matt Easton of Schola Gladitoria has done a couple videos on this that are pretty informative.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCM1cOKM_2Y
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jan, 2018 10:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Depending on the exact historical and contemporary populations we're talking about, the average period height wasn't that different from the average modern height. For example, the mean height for the bodies from that mass grave connected with the Battle of Towton 1461 is around 5' 7" or 5' 8" (171.4-172.7cm). The mean male height in the United States was 5' 9" (175.7cm) in 2011-2014. So that's a difference of only an inch or two.

Particularly tall modern folks would reasonably want somewhat larger swords than the historical average, but it should be fairly close for most of us.

I'm about 5' 10.5" and I get blade lengths within the range George Silver specified when using his measuring system. About 38" feels best to me, in-between Silver's mean-stature (37") and tall (39-40") categories. If Silver's mean stature was about 5' 8", that lines up nicely. (Of course, that's a controversial topic, as some of the best contemporary Silverists prefer slightly shorter blade lengths than Silver specified.)

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Michael Kelly





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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jan, 2018 11:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Double post.......

Last edited by Michael Kelly on Thu 11 Jan, 2018 12:21 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Dan Kary




Location: Canada
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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jan, 2018 11:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the video. I often watch that series but I hadn't seen that one yet. I suppose, however, that what longsword you choose should have something to do with your height. Can anybody point me to where I would find out what longsword proportions are appropriate for a person's height? For example, I am 6 feet tall. Is there a particular handle and blade length I should be looking for? I'm in the process of selling off some items and buying some new items. For longswords, I really like the Albion Regent since it looks a little more sizable than some of the other longswords. I think the Munich might be too big, however. How could I determine this (short of actually handling each!).
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Michael Kelly





Joined: 22 Sep 2015

Posts: 57

PostPosted: Thu 11 Jan, 2018 12:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Michael Kelly"]
Max L wrote:
Dan Kary wrote:
Thanks for this discussion. I wanted to throw out a related idea. I'm wondering about the "it is historical" stuff in justifying the proportions of a longsword. Isn't it the case that the average height in the middle ages generally was shorter than it is now? If that is the case (and if I am mistaken then this whole argument collapses), then why are we, as generally larger people, basing our size specifications on examples for people who were, generally, smaller and expecting the sword to function in the same way? Shouldn't the sword specifications be scaled appropriately to the difference in body size? Arguably, this would be more historical in some sense because our proportions from sword to body would be the same and, therefore, the mechanics involved in using the sword would be the same. What do you all think about this?


Thats a bit of a misconception. People weren't significantly shorter/smaller on average in the middle ages than they were today. There were more outliers (people who were much taller or shorter than the average) however. The average height plummeted in the early modern era due to industrialization and deterioration of living conditions.

Matt Easton of Schola Gladitoria has done a couple videos on this that are pretty informative.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCM1cOKM_2Y


That's actually a misconception as well. I've seen Matt's video and you'd get more out of reading the actual study. What the actual study says is that in the early Medieval period from 900 to 1300 (before the longsword gained any real prominence) the average height was just under 5'7" and not significantly shorter than the modern average of 5'10" (or 5'9" if you live in England). This was probably due to the abundance of food made available by the Medieval warming period. However, by the time the 16th Century rolled around (the waning years of the longsword) the average height had fallen to about 5'4", which is half a foot shorter than the modern average and that's hardly an irrelevant height.


Last edited by Michael Kelly on Thu 11 Jan, 2018 12:30 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Max L




Location: Philly
Joined: 29 Dec 2013

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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jan, 2018 12:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Kelly wrote:
Max L wrote:
Dan Kary wrote:
Thanks for this discussion. I wanted to throw out a related idea. I'm wondering about the "it is historical" stuff in justifying the proportions of a longsword. Isn't it the case that the average height in the middle ages generally was shorter than it is now? If that is the case (and if I am mistaken then this whole argument collapses), then why are we, as generally larger people, basing our size specifications on examples for people who were, generally, smaller and expecting the sword to function in the same way? Shouldn't the sword specifications be scaled appropriately to the difference in body size? Arguably, this would be more historical in some sense because our proportions from sword to body would be the same and, therefore, the mechanics involved in using the sword would be the same. What do you all think about this?


Thats a bit of a misconception. People weren't significantly shorter/smaller on average in the middle ages than they were today. There were more outliers (people who were much taller or shorter than the average) however. The average height plummeted in the early modern era due to industrialization and deterioration of living conditions.

Matt Easton of Schola Gladitoria has done a couple videos on this that are pretty informative.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCM1cOKM_2Y


That's actually a misconception as well. I've seen iMatt's video and you'd get more out of reading the actual study. What the actual study says is that in the early Medieval period from 900 to 1300 (before the longsword gained any real prominence) the average height was just under 5'7" and not significantly shorter than the modern average of 5'10". This was probably due to the abundance of food made available by the Medieval warming period. However, by the time the 16th Century rolled around (the waning years of the longsword) the average height had fallen to about 5'4", which is half a foot shorter than the modern average and that's hardly an irrelevant height.


Ah okay, thanks for the clarification.
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Max L




Location: Philly
Joined: 29 Dec 2013

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PostPosted: Thu 11 Jan, 2018 12:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Kary wrote:
Thanks for the video. I often watch that series but I hadn't seen that one yet. I suppose, however, that what longsword you choose should have something to do with your height. Can anybody point me to where I would find out what longsword proportions are appropriate for a person's height? For example, I am 6 feet tall. Is there a particular handle and blade length I should be looking for? I'm in the process of selling off some items and buying some new items. For longswords, I really like the Albion Regent since it looks a little more sizable than some of the other longswords. I think the Munich might be too big, however. How could I determine this (short of actually handling each!).


You might want to look at the Earl. Same blade as the Regent, but the pommel extends grip length significantly.
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