The Arming Sword
(About): A Stunningly Recreated Renaissance Arming Sword from the Finest Sword Collection
As the 15th-century dawned, warfare was totally transformed from how it was a handful of generations before. Where a couple of centuries before, armies were characterised by the bonds between feudal lords and their levied peasants, poorly equipped with whatever their lord could outfit them with, now battlefields were a carnival of steel, featuring serried ranks in cheap plate armor brigandines, nobles clad head-to-foot in gleaming white armor, and professional mercenaries strutting in spectacular garish outfits. Whilst the knightly arming sword was already rapidly becoming eclipsed on the battlefield as a relic of an age of ritualised chivalric combat now trampled underfoot by Machiavellian power politics and fighting to win at all costs, it had nevertheless adapted for this new era. The Renaissance ‘cut-and-thrust’ 15th century arming sword was the perfect weapon for a noble knight seeking to bear the quintessential weapon of his status, amid the ranks of pike, hardered mercenaries and early cannon.
Canada’s finest Darksword Armory have undertaken a painstakingly accurate historical reproduction of a stunning Late Medieval cut-and-thrust sword. They have worked from a genuine historical original in the Wallace Collection, London, UK, to produce a fully battle-ready knightly arming sword, unequalled since its ancestor was made six centuries ago.
A Hardy Battle-Ready Blade
The blade of our Arming Sword is a stunning example of a Type XVIII, by Oakeshott’s typology. Its edges subtly increase in taper toward the long point, denoting this as a versatile weapon designed for a fighting style combining cutting and thrusting against both heavily- and lightly-armored opponents. The blade is diamond-shaped in cross-section, resulting in a stiff blade, and it is unfullered. In order to reduce the weight of these swords and turn them into staggeringly agile weapons, medieval swordsmiths would ‘hollow-grind’ the faces of this blade’s cross-section, resulting in a prominent strengthening mid-rib. The careful shaping of this hollow-grind brings the point-of-balance closer in to the hilt of the sword, making it incredibly lively and agile in the hand. Where many other similar arming swords for sale skip this process to save on effort, resulting in poor-quality, unbalanced weapons, Darksword’s master smiths have carefully replicated this technique, resulting in a blade with a unique and handsome blade geometry.
The blade has been forged from 5160 spring steel, the gold-standard for re-enactment-grade weaponry. It is a hard, high-carbon steel with miraculous properties developed for highly-resilient heavy springs in the automotive industry. It has been differentially heat-treated, resulting in a dual-temper of 60 HRc at the edge and 48-50 HRc at the core. This means it has both an excellent degree of edge-retention, and the right amount of flex to absorb the impacts of re-enactment, roleplay and combat without damage. The end result is that Darksword’s swords have been tested bending through 90° (!) springing back into perfect alignment.
A Masterworked Historical Hilt
The hilt of our 15th century Arming Sword is a fantastic example of the all-purpose combat tool that the cruciform arming sword had become by the 1400s CE. It is forged from solid mild steel, a workhorse material that will stand up to punishment. The guard is a handsome utilitarian curved form, wide enough to give an excellent degree of protection, and elegantly shaped as to frame the forte of the blade. The grip is a stable leather wrap, giving an excellent grip surface. The pommel is a large wheel-shape – carefully balanced by Darksword’s master smiths to give this weapon exactly the right balance between accurate thrusts and cutting heft. The hilt is constructed with a full-tang, peened into place – the guard, grip and pommel are all threaded onto the tang of the blade, which is then hammered flat to lock it all securely into place. This means it is a fully battle-ready, 100% functional sword that can be used safely in combat, re-enactment and roleplay settings.
Overall, this weapon is an absolute gem. It recreates in staggering detail the design, look, and most importantly, the feel of a genuine historical 15th century arming sword. It would pass muster in even the most stringent re-enactment circles, and would make a peerless weapon for an impression of a late-medieval German or French knight. But it is also a dramatic and evocative weapon in its own right that would fit into a wide number of fantasy roleplay contexts: as the weapon of a fallen paladin, or the sword of an elven bladesinger.
So – buy our Arming Sword for sale, and put the weight of history behind each thrust!
(History): The Arming Sword
Medieval arming swords were an indelible mark of knightly virtue. They emerged with the elite Norman cavalry of the 11th-century CE: these warriors who were instrumental in the toppling of Anglo-Saxon England set the imprint of chivalry for the medieval period, and their emblematic weapon was the cruciform one-handed sword that had been developed from the weapons of their Viking ancestors. Its tale is one of a constant struggle for supremacy against the armor of its day – one which it reigned supreme in for five centuries.
An Arms Race: Arming Swords vs Medieval Armor
Origins in Early Medieval Europe
The vast majority of fighters on any battlefield in the Early Medieval period would have been feudal levies – poor subsistence farmers and artisans whose occupation of their lord’s land was dependent on their agreement to serve in their armed force when mustered to fight. These levies would have been outfitted by their lord: most were issued with a weapon (usually a cheap pole-arm like a spear), but would have had to defend themselves from their own pockets – usually a broad wooden shield, and clothing made from stout linen or wool, maybe a leather or rawhide tunic if they could afford it. Chainmail was an enormously expensive status symbol: it represented hundreds of hours of work and a significant investment in materials. Only the wealthiest lords would have been able to outfit their knights and their household with suits of defensive chainmail. Thus, the kinds of swords that evolved to deal with the resulting battlefield armors were gauged toward cutting: broad-bladed arming swords designed to chop through fairly lightly-armored opponents and sever limbs, where thrusting capability was an afterthought. This type of arming sword blade, which generally conforms to Oakeshott’s Type X, was broad and flat, with parallel or near-parallel edges, and had a short or even spatulate (rounded) point – although they were cunningly forged to be reasonably agile, much of their weight was distributed toward the tip of the blade in order to give their cutting blows significant force. This kind of arming sword was popular from the Late Viking era, all the way to around the middle of the 12th century CE – it remained well-adapted to the kinds of armor that were common.
The High Middle Ages: The Arms Race Comes of Age
As the High Medieval period advanced and Europe became comparatively more prosperous and populous, chainmail began to become more common, being worn by many more knights and nobles rather than just by the highest elites – as well as an emerging class of independently wealthy commoners in medieval towns who could outfit themselves more stoutly. Since maille is extremely effective at frustrating cutting blows, this necessitated swords that were much more effective at thrusting, using the application of force at a point to burst the maille’s rivets. Thus, arming sword types like the Type XI and Type XII (broadly) became more popular in the late High Middle Ages – much slenderer blades that were designed to be more rigid for thrusting, though they remained primarily focused as cutting swords, albeit with more effective points. At the same time, some swords became larger and heavier to counter improving armor, extrapolating the Type X design into forms such as the Type XIII, heavy butcher’s swords that emerged in the Crusader period, which would smash maille to pieces as much as cut.
Around the middle of the 13th-century CE, armor began to change again in response to new weaponry that became dominant toward the end of the High Middle Ages – heavy crushing weaponry like pole-axes, and piercing weapons like the emerging longbow. This necessitated new experimentation in the realm of personal armor in search of more effective solutions than increasingly inadequate chainmail-and-shield – it stimulated the period that we call ‘transitional armor’, between the era of chainmail and the age of plate. Obviously, medieval armorsmiths did not conceive of this era as a transition ‘to’ anything in particular, since they were merely following new ideas and developing new conventions! Typical armor in this period involved the addition of small metal plates onto older armor forms: for example, the sewing of iron plates into your knightly surcote to make a ‘coat of plates’, or the strapping of a shaped steel plate over your maille chausses as a schynbald. Initially, these new forms were available only to the wealthy, but they quickly spread, becoming rapidly more affordable into the 14th-century CE. As we saw with the increasing availability of chainmail armor, the increasing availability of proto-plate armor stimulated a raft of new developments in the development of the arming sword. The arming sword underwent a fundamental change in the course of the 14th-century from a flexible weapon designed primarily for cutting and slicing, to one that was stiff and privileged thrusting and puncturing. The archetype of this kind of arming sword is Oakeshott’s Type XV: a slender sword with a diamond cross-section and an even taper from cross-guard to point. Earlier lenticular cross-section arming swords possessed a degree of flex, which was required for delivering effective slashing blows – but weight put behind a hard thrust would merely bend the sword. The diamond cross-section of the XV means the sword is very stiff, meaning that weight leant into a thrust would be much more effectively delivered to the point of the weapon, resulting in its ability to defeat chainmail with ease and to exploit weak-points in the early transitional armors.
The Late Medieval Era
Ultimately, the advent of full plate armor in the early 1400s meant the arming sword’s days as a battlefield weapon were numbered. No matter how well-designed an arming sword is, it had an upper-limit in being only a comparatively small weapon with a limited field of use. Whilst it could be used in close combat against reasonably heavily-armored opponents, it was simply quantitatively less powerful than the devastating anti-armor weapons of the Late Middle Ages, like the warhammer, the crow’s beak and the two-handed longsword. Increasingly, the slender piercing form of the arming sword gradually morphed into the narrow-bladed civilian rapier of the Renaissance era. But contemporary with the civilianising of the arming sword amid the burgeoning world of mercenaries and early cannon, it persisted in the form of the ‘cut-and-thrust’ sword: the last hurrah, and finest hour, of the medieval knightly sword.
As with much of the terminology used by modern medievalists, it is very unlikely that a person in the medieval era would have recognised a ‘cut-and-thrust sword’ as its own distinct category. They’d probably have looked at you funny and said “What, you mean a sword?”. But we can discern a type of sword that was broader and more robust than the slender (dare we say effete?) rapier. We can see that these weapons had evolved significantly in use from their earlier chivalric ancestors: according to the Renaissance fighting manuals that have survived to the modern era, they were highly effective weapons, certainly capable of piercing steel plate, although they were often used to attack weak-points like the armpit, groin and visor. It seems they were often paired with a buckler, a small shield usually made from metal, as the large broad wooden shields of earlier days had almost completely vanished – though one-handed fighting styles can often be seen depicted.
These were both a status symbol of the chivalric past, as well as well-adapted and versatile weapons that would cope with anything that a warrior could face on the medieval battlefield. Our Arming Sword distills the essence of these gorgeous swords into the perfect ideal form.
Do you love arming swords? We have another one for you here!
- Total length: 39 inches
- Blade length: 32 inches
- Blade width: 2 1/16 inches
- Blade material: 5160 carbon steel
- Blade hardness: 60 HRc at edge ; 48-50 HRc at core
- Guard and pommel material: Mild steel
- Grip material: Leather
- Weight: 2.65 lbs.