Spotlight: Oakeshott Type XX Swords
An article by Chad Arnow
A unique class of swords was designated by Ewart Oakeshott as Type XX. When Oakeshott originally conceived his typology in 1958, he ended with the number XX (twenty). This is how it was published in 1964 in The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. Further study, though, led him to revise it. Swords previously listed as the subtype for swords of Type XX, the Type XXa, became divided into Types XXI and XXII.
Swords of Type XX are generally long-gripped, fullered war swords with broad blades, a description that could easily apply to many of Oakeshott's blade types. What sets them apart, though, is the number and configuration of the fullers. Many of these have three fullers: two short, shallow fullers surrounding a longer third fuller. Others have two fullers that extend a short way down the blade. Some swords of this type can be seen as an off-shoot of Type XIIIa, while others are clearly large bearing swords not intended for battle. The blades are typically wide and taper little to a rounded point. Typical examples have grips between eight and ten inches in length, and are found with both wheel and scent stopper pommels (the latter usually of
Oakeshott has created a subtype, known as Type XXa. The main difference is in the taper of the blade: examples of the subtype taper acutely to a point suitable for thrusting.
Typical examples of this Type are said to date from the late 15th century, though there is at least one example that clearly dates from the early 14th century. This large bearing sword has marks on the blade that place it clearly in the period of 1320-1340.
Presented here are authentic Type XX swords:
This large two-handed sword dating circa 1440-50 is in beautiful condition. The 42 1/8 inch long blade is marked with a passau wolf mark, the letters IRI, and a bishop's cozier. The original grip of leather over wood survives and is only slightly worn.
Dating from 1420-50, this large bastard sword is in very good condition. The grip of leather over wood seems to be original. Traces of an orb and cross mark are found on its 37 inch long blade. A twin of this sword can be found in the Castle Museum at Norwich.
The blade and fittings of this large sword are bright and in good condition. The blade is 50 inches long and is struck with marks that definitively date the sword to the early 14th century, circa 1320-40. The original grip, wood with cord and a leather covering, survives.
Datable to circa 1450-75, this sword has a 35 inch long blade which is nearly identical to samples found in Glasgow and Norwhich. The pommel has deep recesses that are thought to have held small relics, perhaps holy statuettes. The cross is recurved horizontally and the original grip of fine cord and leather over a wooden core survives.
Presented here are authentic Type XXa swords:
Oakeshott describes the 34 inch long blade on this sword as "fresh as it was made" and calls this an "absolutely outstanding sword." There are marks on the blade that match with those on a sword located in the Glasgow Museum. The grip appears to be original. This piece is datable to circa 1425-50.
Dating from 1425-50, the heavily corroded 36 1/4 inch long blade exhibits large nicks on one side, but none on the other. Not entirely visible in the photo, this sword has the typical ricasso found on blades of the type. Another sword of similar form was found alongside this one in the River Dordogne, near Castillon.
Type XX Swords Found in Art
Oakeshott does not mention any instances of these swords in art, and though examples can be found equipped with the hilts and overall proportions common for the type, it's difficult to ascertain if these samples truly have blades of Type XX form.
A Sampling of Available Reproductions
This type of sword is not frequently represented in the reproduction market, most likely because of the dearth of historical examples to use as a basis for a replica.
CAS Iberia / Hanwei has a sword called the Mercenary that is modeled after a Type XX (shown above as XX.4) formerly in Ewart Oakeshott's collection.
Museum Replicas Limited's "Longsword" is a Type XXa sword, while their Irish Two Hander can loosely be classified as a Type XX.
In their Next Generation lineup, Albion Armorers produces a Type XXa called the Viceroy.
Arms & Armor of Minnesota does not carry a Type XX in their normal lineup, though they will produce custom examples at a customer's request.
Identifying typical examples of this type can be difficult, as many examples fall in the gray area in between one type and another, and because few examples have been identified. Nevertheless, these swords merit their own attention and classification within Oakeshott's typology due to their unique qualities. Hopefully, further study will bring more examples to light, which will most likely lead to an increase in their appearance in today's sword market.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Sword in the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Arms & Armor of the Medieval Knight, by David Edge, John Miles Paddock
Sword Illustrations © 2004 Peter Johnsson
The list of available reproductions contained in this article is not meant to be all-encompassing. It is, however, a good representation of what was available at the time of this article being published.