A Tool Inspired by a Weapon: The Sword Letter Opener
Quite often in history, we find that weapons were usually inspired by functional tools, not the other way round. Axes, hammers, and knives were primarily crafting tools before the design was altered to make them into effective weapons. Even spears and bows were originally designed for hunting before being adapted for warfare.
However, sometimes the design of a weapon is so attractive that we can’t help but use it for more mundane purposes. The sword letter opener is an example of such a tool. Whether you have a love of history, fantasy, or just appreciate the aesthetic appeal of swords, this sword letter opener can be an accessory that puts the “fun” in “functional”.
Painful puns aside, let’s talk about the sword letter opener. The letter opener part of the design is self-explanatory. It’s a tool designed to open letters with ease. Sure, you could just use your hands like some kind of animal, but once you start using a letter opener, you’ll never go back.
The design of the sword letter opener is based on a sword, obviously. But it’s based on a specific type of sword, which is called the arming sword, or knightly sword. This letter opener is pretty much identical to an arming sword in every way except size, being made to scale.
The arming sword is a one handed sword with a double-edged blade. In late medieval times, it was commonly carried by knights who wore plate armor. They were typically considered “sidearms”, secondary to the main weapon of a knight, such as a longsword.
The blade sharply tapers to a point and has a single fuller that runs down the middle. The shape of the blade would suit thrusting and cutting techniques, not that the sword letter opener would be a viable weapon for anyone much more than 2 feet tall.
The hilt is classic in design, featuring a crossguard which gently curves towards the blade. The grip is black and the whole affair is capped off with a circular pommel. For all intents and purposes, we’re looking at a proper sword that happens to be about a quarter of the size of your typical arming sword.
The sword letter opener is a fantastic little office accessory for anyone with a passion for medieval history, or for opening letters. If you’re thinking of starting a collection of swords, this is a great way to get into the swing of things.
Letters in the Middle Ages: The Exciting World of Medieval Mail and Messages
No, we aren’t going to start talking about chainmail. We’re going to talk about something that’s just as interesting, which is how people wrote and sent letters in the medieval times.
People have communicated by mail for thousands of years, so this was nothing new to the people in the medieval period. After all, people still felt the need to communicate over long distances before instant communication was possible.
One of the only options for millennia would have been to send letters and hope that it gets there.
The Difficulties of Sending Letters in Medieval Times
If you are an aficionado of medieval history, you’ll probably have spotted an immediate issue with the concept of people communicating via the written word. That issue being that the majority of people could neither read nor write, making it very difficult for them to pen a letter. Even if they were one of the few people who was literate, the recipient might not be.
So, what did people do when they wanted to communicate with someone from a distance?
There was always the option of telling your message to a messenger, then having them memorise what you said before sending them off to repeat the message to your intended recipient. However, there were a couple of issues with this arrangement.
First, the message had to be carefully memorised by the messenger and you had to hope they could recall it perfectly. Bearing in mind that it could take months to travel in medieval times, there was plenty of room for error.
You also had to trust that the messenger wouldn’t just deliver your message to the highest bidder, which was especially important if you were sending potentially damaging secrets. This was a risk that you had to weigh up, although a messenger who was known to be indiscrete wouldn’t keep their job for long.
So, maybe you’d rather send a written letter. If you are literate, then this might be more achievable. Otherwise, you’d have to hire a scribe to get the message written down. You also need to consider your recipient, if they can’t read your letter, they’d need their own scribe to read the letter to them.
This means that even more people can potentially use your message against you, and you wouldn’t even know about it. They could replace your words with different words, and you would be none the wiser. However, as with our messenger, a scribe who is caught doing something like this would be in a lot of trouble.
All of these scribes made penning a written message an expensive undertaking. Even if you and your friend were literate, you’d still need to pay for the ink and paper (or parchment) required for the letter.
Also, you still need to get the letter to its intended destination. So, you still want a messenger or a courier to deliver the message along. As with an oral message, this could take weeks of travelling for even the swiftest messenger, if the dangers of the road didn’t prevent it from reaching your recipient entirely.
Those who did send letters would need to be either educated enough to be literate, or rich enough to afford a scribe and the materials required to pen their message. Preferably, you would be both wealthy and literate.
Letters were used formally, both for professional and ceremonial purposes, as the written word could be read repeatedly by a scribe and the message was clear as day. However, the most common letters sent would still have been personal in nature.
The Wonders of Medieval Spelling, Or Lack Thereof
While many people chose to communicate in other ways, there were still plenty of people who had both the means and desire to send messages via letter. Before we move onto the content and structure of the letter, let’s discuss spelling. We’re going to focus on English, because it’s one of the worst spelling offenders out there, thanks in part to its many linguistic roots.
Nowadays, there are standardised rules for spelling. Sure, there are occasionally some variations between different countries who speak the same language. An example that we’re probably most familiar with would be US English and UK English, and all the small discrepancies that we see.
However, an American can still easily read and recognise UK English, and the reverse also holds true. Also, both of these spelling systems are still consistent within their respective nations and follow set rules. This is the nature of the written language nowadays, but it wasn’t always the case.
First of all, the English that was spoken through the medieval times was very different to the modern English. In fact, many people still spoke Latin in the early middle ages, and French became integrated into the English language after the Normans settled in England.
English was still an evolving language, and that was just the spoken side of things. Written English was, compared to modern English, an absolute mess. Correct spelling wasn’t a thing, which led to everyone basically spelling words however they liked.
Because of this, one trick to being able to read and understand medieval texts is to read it aloud. Most people wrote phonetically, so it makes more sense when you hear yourself saying the words. However, things continued to get more complicated.
Some writers had a habit of adding letters for aesthetic reasons, as well as for financial ones. You see, scribes were paid for each inch of text. So, the longer the word, the more inches you’d get paid for. Even the invention of the printing press didn’t help, as the printers did basically the same thing, just on a larger scale.
Eventually, the spelling issue was recognised as a problem. At the dawn of the 17th century, the first attempt to control the written word was made. During the 18th century, the first comprehensive dictionary was penned.
Since then, the English language has seen some minor changes, but it has remained comparatively stable. Even if it is still considered one of the most irregular and confusing spelling systems in the world.
The Style and Structure of a Medieval Letter
Now that we know that nobody could spell in medieval England, let’s have a look at what their letters looked like. First of all, it wasn’t unusual for people to write in Latin, as that was still a universally understood language among the literate, and often made more sense than trying to write in English.
We also know that medieval letters had a very set structure, much like other medieval documents. They were made up of up to six sections, which were named in Latin:
- Salutatio, or salutation. This is where you greet the recipient and wax lyrical about how wonderful they are. It was normal to be very flattering here.
- Captatio Venevolentiae, or the securing of goodwill. Here, you want to put the reader in a good mood. Wish them good health and fortune, maybe include a scriptural proverb to remind them of how good Christians are generous with their money, if you like.
- Narratio, or narration. This is the meat of the letter, where you actually say what you want to say, whether it’s a request, information, or just to catch up.
- Petitio, or petition. This is optional and will be included if the letter is to request something. This is where you can beg, threaten, or otherwise explain why the reader should do as you ask.
- Conclusio, or conclusion. This is where you finish everything off. Wish the reader well again and say your goodbyes.
- Signature and dates. Every letter should be signed to prove its authenticity. The date and location were included at the top of the page.
Finally, seal the letter. In medieval times, the letter was simply folded over and sealed with wax. The wax could be stamped with your sigil, if you have one. Now you just need to pass it onto a courier who will deliver it for you, and hope that they don’t drop dead or get lost along the way.
The technical specifications for the medieval sword letter opener are as follows:
- Materials: 5160 High carbon steel
- Length: 10 inches or 25.4 cm
- Colour: Metallic grey with black grip