(About): A Squire Sword for a Knight-To-Be
Our Squire Arming Sword has been designed to be exceptionally swift and light, taking inspiration from the younger men and boys who became squires, apprentices in training to take their lord’s accolade and serve as a knight one day. The design of Squire our Arming Sword, exquisitely constructed by Darksword Armory’s historically-inspired design department, dates it to the last quarter of the 15th-century CE: this was the very heyday of the mounted knight in shining armor – which was itself already becoming an anachronism, a constructed image of an imagined glorious past, parodied and exaggerated to buttress up their temporal power in a rapidly changing world. The complexity contained within the symbolism of a knightly 15th century arming sword is as much its power as the sharpness of its edge; it can be a potent addition to any armory and brings untold depth to a re-enactment or roleplay outfit as a beautiful item in its own right.
A Sword Design Used by Kings
The blade of our Squire Arming Sword is of an instantly recognisable and distinctive design: the Oakeshott Type XVIII. The Type XVIII is characterised by a straight, stiff blade made with a diamond-profile blade with an increasing taper to a sharp, long point. The famous ‘Henry V sword’ that laid at rest over the monarch’s tomb for several hundred years in Westminster Abbey is a particularly fine example of Type XVIII (although it is unlikely that such a sword overlapped with Henry V’s lifetime!).What makes the XVIII unmistakeable is that instead of a fuller, as is common in medieval swords, this type of blade has a raised ‘rib’ running along its entire length – this is created by careful sanding of the faces of the diamond cross-section of the blade until they are slightly concave, a process called ‘hollow-grinding’. This was a process developed by sword-makers in the late 14th-century CE, in pursuit of creating powerful cut-and-thrust blades capable of piercing chainmail and compromising weak-spots in plate armor.
Hollow-grinding significantly reduces the weight of the blade and brings the balance-point closer in towards the crossguard: a hollow-ground sword is much lighter than a similar unground blade, and it feels more agile and alive in the hand. Indeed, our Squire Arming Sword is a mere 2 lbs (900g) in weight, meaning that it is completely effortless to wield, whilst retaining strength and rigidity from the hollow-ground central spine. You won’t find an arming sword for sale that handles as fluidly and gracefully as our Squire Arming Sword.
The Knight and the Blast Furnace
Like all of Darksword’s functional blades, their master smiths have made the blade of our Squire Arming Sword from 5160 spring steel. This is a chromium-steel alloy that even the refined metallurgists of the Renaissance would have been envious of. Steel itself was a rare commodity throughout most of the medieval period: the majority of medieval weapons used by ordinary levies were simple pole weapons or axes little different from agricultural implements, which incorporated only a case-hardened steel edge or no steel at all. A good sword, made from a good proportion of high-quality carbon steel, was rare. By the late 1300s CE, blast-furnace technology had become fairly widespread in Europe, with several centres of small-scale steel production in Germany, Italy and Southern England, with small quantities of so-called ‘Damascus’ wootz steel from South India being imported via trade routes from the Levant. This meant that steel weaponry became closer to the norm in the Late Middle Ages, but it would mostly have been variable in quality, despite homogenising processes like piling together different billets of steel to make uniform pieces. All this would have meant that even high-quality sword blades would have required constant upkeep: sharpening, grinding out nicks, straightening, etc. This would have not been an obstacle for a noble or wealthy mercenary, whose retinue would include a smith or squire to maintain their panoply; even a regular soldier would likely have been able to locate craftsmen to do the skilled maintenance that they could not.
However, a modern roleplayer or re-enactor likely cannot have a full-time artisan on-staff, and blacksmith’s shops tends to be few and far between! Thus, 5160 spring steel, produced to exacting uniform standards by modern industrial processes, is carefully heat-treated using Darksword’s trademark dual-tempering system which mimics the processes of blade composition used by medieval smiths, resulting in a blade with fantastic edge-retention that is rugged and resilient, whilst the core remains flexible enough to elastically absorb blows without bending. You know that this blade is of master-built quality because it bears Darksword’s dragon sejant maker’s stamp just below the crossguard.
A Horseman’s Sword
The defining characteristic of a 15th-century arming sword is its grip large enough to securely accommodate a single hand, designed to be wielded with one-handed primarily from horseback – hence its more formal name the ‘knightly arming sword’. Our Squire Arming sword follows this pattern faithfully with a one-handed banded grip wrapped in handsome wet-formed dark leather. The cross-guard of our Squire Arming Sword is surprisingly broad for its size, making this an excellent defensive weapon. Its knobbed terminations are a feature seen commonly on later 13th-century ‘cut-and-thrust’ style swords: they are able to stop an opponent’s blade sliding free when engaged, meaning that it is able to control the sword of an opponent considerably more easily than others of its type. The round wheel-pommel, classified as an Oakeshott Type I1, is a classic of the period – and it is carefully weighted so as to maximise the agility afforded by the hollow-ground blade. The hilt pieces are made from mild steel – tough, hard, and more than capable of standing up to the rough-and-tumble of light combat, re-enactment and roleplay use.
The construction used in all of of Darksword Armory’s weapons is a peened full-tang. This is the authentic medieval method of construction where the guard, grip and pommel are all threaded onto the tang of the blade, which is then peened flat to the pommel with a hammer, securing it all rock-solidly in place. The result is a re-enactment grade sword that is safe to be used as a functional, battle-ready weapon.
The Squire Arming Sword is a marvel: a fantastically light, agile arming sword made with the fantastic modernised period-accurate materials using heritage techniques. It is available with either a standard scabbard or an upgraded scabbard with an interwoven leather sword belt. It would make a magnificent accompaniment to a fully historically faithful re-enactment of a late 14th / early 15th century horse-noble, alongside a harness of plate – or perhaps indeed the arming sword of a squire! It would also make a fantastic addition to a huge range of fantasy outfits: the trusty sword of a monarch, the sword-and-board blade of a valorous chevalier, use your imagination!
(History): The Arming Sword: Three Centuries of Battlefield Dominance
What we today recognise as an ‘arming sword’ emerged around the beginning of the 11th-century CE. Before this period, most swords made in Europe would have followed the basic pattern of the Carolingian or ‘Viking Age’ sword – a straight-edged blade with a spatulate (rounded) tip, with a narrow oblong or curved cross-guard and ‘lobed’ pommel. As the Viking Age progressed, bladesmiths began to experiment with broader cross-guards, first creating hilts with broader curved quillons, and then eventually a straight-guarded cruciform sword, usually paired with a ‘Brazil nut’ pommel. This sword is traditionally identified as emerging in North-West France in the Norse Dutchy of Normandy, hence it known foremost as the ‘Norman arming sword’. At the same time, sword-makers had generally narrowed their blades, experimenting with distal tapering (the blade gets narrower in cross-section towards the tip) – Ewart Oakeshott notes this feature when he describes the Norman arming swords as conforming to Type X in his typology. These swords’ distal taper drew their balance towards their hilt and meant that they were significantly lighter and easier to wield than their heavy Carolingian predecessors – and though they remained primarily edged slashing weapons rather than thrusting swords, there was little reduction in their cutting power.
The cheapest and best form of readily available personal armor during the development of the knightly arming sword was the shield, a heavy wooden board made from multiple slats of conjoined wood, often rimmed with a metal band or bossed at the centre. The one-handed arming sword was used with the shield throughout the period of its supremacy as the integral centre of a knight’s panoply of weapons. As chainmail became more common and tougher, and early ‘transitional’ forms of armor that would bridge the gap between chain and plate armor began to appear, the arming sword began to change in the 13th-century in order to maintain its dominance. One form of innovation was the ‘Crusader sword’, the Oakeshott Type XIII. Although it has a different lineage, the XIII resembles more closely its predecessor Carolingian blades: wide, flat and straight-edged, this arming sword attempted to circumvent improving armor through brute force, transmitting smashing force through its weight and power to burst mail. Other blades appear to have been designed to improve the thrusting capability of the arming sword, making its taper more sharp and the point longer, so as to be able to frustrate the more protective armors of the day by finding weak points to puncture with the point of the blade.
Plate Armor and the Arming Sword
The full-scale adoption of plate armor by the middle of the 15th century revolutionised almost all areas of warfare – and the arming sword is no exception. In all, it more-or-less ended the arming sword as the go-to knight’s weapon, primarily for two interrelated reasons. Firstly, a one-handed sword is mechanically limited in its ability to overcome plate armor. Since there was no longer any chance of cutting through your opponent’s armor, percussive force became the primary method of subduing armored opponents, and by by only one hand even a heavy one-handed sword would always have an upper limit; it became si engaging mply comparatively less effective than a heavy blow from a two-handed sword. Secondly, at the same time the risks involved in wielding a two-handed weapon became less severe: whereas before, a two-handed weapon wielder would have had to forsake a nice sturdy shield in favour of reliance on (at best) chainmail of dubious quality and fragility. But now, with a harness of plate (or even a cheap brigandine that would have been available to the mass of soldiers), it was likely that a serious blow would at worst wound you rather than kill you outright. Incidentally, the shield almost completely disappears in this period for the same reason, apart from the small buckler used by unarmored or lightly armored fighters.
Thus, the divergent forms of the arming sword – long and heavy; narrowed and pointed – accelerated away from one another rapidly: the heavy arming sword more or less completely disappeared by the first quarter of the 15th-century, replaced in essence by the heavy Late Medieval two-handed longsword, war-sword, claymore, Zweihander and associated swords. The slenderer thrusting arming swords thereby changed to accommodate this new world as best they could: by becoming even more effective piercing swords. Our Squire Arming Sword is the child of this process: the diamond-shaped profile is common to a number of swords in this period, since it was incredibly effective at creating a stiff sword that could puncture through weak points in armor. Fortunately, there is a new source available to use from this period which illustrates the use of the arming sword in armored combat: the Fechtbucher, or ‘fighting manuals’, by which squires and nobles learned swordplay, likely in conjunction with a fighting tutor. Armored combat with close-quarter weapons in this period appears to have been very much closer to a sort of heavily-armored wrestling than what Hollywood has instilled in us as the notion of ‘sword fighting’, with each combatant attempting to maneuver their opponent such as to work their sharp, pointed sword into an armpit or groin or throat.
This was the life that faced the late-medieval squire, as they grew up and sword their vows, their Squire Arming Sword by their side. Is it the life you wish to lead? Think about the complexities of late-medieval warfare as you develop your impression or fantasy outfit in order to lend it the extra depth that will give it the depth and authenticity that our Squire Arming Sword can bring.
Total length: 34 inches
Blade length: 27 ½ inches
Blade width: 2 1/16 inches
Blade material: 5160 spring steel
Guard and pommel material: Mild steel
Weight: 2 lbs