Spotlight: Oakeshott Type XXI and XXII Swords
An article by Chad Arnow
Weapons and armour of the nobility in this era were often elaborately decorated to show their wealth. Swords, sparse in their decoration early in the Middle Ages, fell victim to this trend, too, often being lavishly embellished with etching and gilding. Ornate parade and civilian weapons flourished from the 15th century on, as weapons and armour shifted in purpose from the battlefield to use in tournaments and civilian life.
The two final categories of Ewart Oakeshott's typology of the medieval sword take us from the high Middle Ages to the early Renaissance and contain many examples of weapons influenced by fashion and not necessarily designed for use in battle. Types XXI and XXII were originally published as Type XXa in Oakeshott's 1964 book, The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. In his 1991 work, Records of the Medieval Sword, though, he created these last two numbered groups and combined them into a single chapter, as we are doing with this article. Both types were popular in the 15th century and lasted into the 16th century.
Type XXI consists of swords seemingly influenced by the famed civilian dagger/shortsword known as the cinquedea. So named for its blade (said to be five fingers in width), the cinquedea consisted of a wide blade that was often elaborately etched and gilt. The blade could range in size from a regular dagger to a typical single-handed sword, though many examples fell in-between. Cinquedea guards were usually short and curved down towards the blade, and most examples possess U-shaped pommel caps.
It should be noted that while a typical sword-length cinquedea will likely be able to be classified as a Type XXI, not every example of Type XXI can be classified as cinquedea, as will be seen in this article's Historic Examples section below. The defining features of the type are blade width, blade form, and a short, down-curved cross, clearly drawn from the cinquedea.
Swords of Type XXII are generally ornate parade swords. Blades on these swords are generally wide and flat but taper to an acute point. A pair of narrow and deep fullers usually rest just below the hilt.
Presented here is a sampling of authentic Type XXI swords:
Dated 1493-1498, this sword was made for Cesare Borgia when he was Cardinal of Valentino. The hilt is of gilded bronze and is decorated with enamel and gold filigree work. The cross bears his name and title. The blade is 33 1/4 inches long and is decorated with etching and gilding.
Dated circa 1480-1500, this sword is of true cinquedea form. The 32-inch blade is fullered, but not etched and gilt. The grip and filigree discs are modern replacements.
This example, dated circa 1470-1490, is of more typical sword form. The 30-inch fullered blade lacks decorative etching and gilding. The pommel is a variant of Oakeshott's spherical Type R, and the cross is longer and less sharply curved than the other examples.
Dating circa 1500, the 33.5" blade on this sword is mated to a typically cinquedea style hilt of bone slabs. No etching is found on the blade.
Presented here is a sampling of authentic Type XXII swords:
Dated circa 1440, it was made for Friedrich III, King of the Romans, before his coronation as Emperor. The 36-inch long blade is of Italian origin, but the hilt was made in southern Germany. The base of the blade is etched and gilt.
The 26-inch long blade is of Type XXII form, though the cinquedea-like hilt could be said to be of Type XXI. The plate of steel on the grip seems original, but the grip's slabs of horn appear to be replacements, as they're much more sloppily executed than the rest of this sword. The blade has a fine etched pattern just below the guard.
This sword is attributed to "Heinrich der Fromme" (Henry the Pious), an apparent reference to Herzog Heinrich V of Saxony (1473-1541), Elector of Saxony from 1539-1541. The blade is 31.5" long and the overall length is 46.1". The museum housing this sword dates it to 1512-1541.
Oakeshott referred to this sword as being nearly identical to XXII.2, above, though this one appears to have its original grip of horn and its 25.6" blade has no decorative etching. This example is attributed to Venetian manufacture circa 1500.
This ceremonial sword was given to Emperor Sigismondo I when he was in Italy in 1433 and crowned by Pope Eugenio IV. The hilt is gold-gilt and is in the form of a dragon, reminiscent of the knights of the Company of the Dragon, created by Sigismondo, King of Hungary. The twisted ivory hilt evokes an image of a narwhal tusk, the mythical unicornthe symbol of purity. The thirty-inch long blade is etched and inlaid with gold.
Type XXI and XXII Swords Found in Art
Oakeshott calls survivors of Type XXI "rare," but notes that several English effigies of the late 15th century show swords of the type.
The best example is on the effigy of Sir Robert Harcourt, who died in 1471. There are two other English effigies, dated 1450 and 1510 which show swords that could be of Type XXI.
There is a painting showing a sword of Type XXI form with a globular pommel by Lorenzo di Niccolo Gerini, dated 1404, in the Accademia in Florence.
Oakeshott mentions no examples of Type XXII swords featured in artwork.
A Sampling of Available Reproductions
Since survivors of these two types are rare, it should be no surprise that they are not well-represented in today's market. While modern collectors can find several examples of the dagger-length cinquedea on the market, sword-length examples and other Type XXI reproductions remain largely absent.
Museum Replicas Limited once produced a sword-sized cinquedea, but it has since been discontinued. Other Windlass Steelcrafts vendors still show this model on their Web sites, but it is unknown at this time if that model is still available.
The author is unaware of any examples of Type XXII swords being reproduced at this time.
Even though their period and area of influence may have been limited, many examples of Type XXI and Type XXII swords show a great deal of decorative artistry. Oakeshott obviously felt these swords deserved separate mention and classification. They are an important historical link between the pure battlefield weapons and the ceremonial and highly decorative civilian swords of the Renaissance.
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.
Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Sword in the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Arms & Armor of the Medieval Knight, by David Edge, John Miles Paddock
Armi Bianche Italiane, by Boccia, Lionello G. ; Coelho, Eduardo T.
Sword Illustrations © 2004 Peter Johnsson
Detail illustration of Sir Robert Harcourt effigy by Ewart Oakeshott
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.