The Knight's Sword made its debut in the Fourth Edition of the Mini Museum. We are happy to offer a larger piece as a stand-alone item!
Above: Front of the specimen card
Though many battles raged throughout the "long thirteenth century" of the High Middle Ages, scholars often refer to this century as a time of relative peace. This did not mean knights could retire on their estates. Eager kings looking to extend their authority continued military campaigns to the Holy Land, and a growing professionalization of warfare all combined to keep the European knight reliant on the tools of their trade: horse, armor, and sword.
Above: Detail shot of the Knight's Sword
This specimen is a fragment of a knight’s sword dating to the late 13th / early 14th century CE. For the last 200 years the sword was held in a private family collection in France until acquired in the early 21st century by a private dealer of antique arms in the United Kingdom.
The specimen is enclosed in an acrylic specimen jar held within a handsome, glass-topped riker box case measuring 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". A small information card is also included, which also serves as the certificate of authenticity.
Above: The Knight's Sword specimen with the remaining blade fragment and medieval chainmail.
Please Note: This is very early steel and will likely gather rust over time. This is especially true if you handle the specimen frequently or keep it exposed to the air for long periods. To help preserve the specimen, we've also included a small desiccant pack inside the specimen jar. Do not remove the desiccant pack. If you handle the specimen, clean it with rubbing alcohol prior to returning it to the jar.
More About the Knight's Sword
Above: Detail from Folio 23 from the Maciejowski or Morgan Bible, c. 1290 CE
Our modern knowledge of medieval swords is indebted to the work of Ewart Oakeshott (1916-2002). As is the case today, fashions and technology changed often in the middle ages. Oakeshott spent much of the mid-twentieth century identifying different sword typologies and building a detailed system which is the standard by which swords are assessed, classified, and dated. Under the Oakeshott system, this sword is classified as Type XIIIa. This style of sword is typically of German origin and sometimes described as Grans espeès d'Allemagne or "Big Swords of Germany".
To restore the original luster of the steel, we embarked on an intense process of shearing, hand-rolling, and annealing.
Above: Close-up of the "preserved" blade fragment and the near-final restored surface. We use a number of rolling mills here at MMHQ. The small one in the background is used in the last step.
Between 1000 and 1300, fourteen different types of sword were in use, all of them consisting of a straight, two-edged blade with blunt tips, designed for cutting and hacking rather than thrusting. By the thirteenth century, the knightly (or arming) sword became the standard, with a blade between 30 and 32 inches long (~80 cm), and weighing about 2.5 to 3.5 pounds (~1.5 kg) in total.
Contrary to depictions in popular movies and television shows today, these swords were very maneuverable, owing to their lightweight and the emphasis placed on balance during the manufacturing. Because the sword was meant to be wielded with one hand, swordsmiths weighted the blade toward the hilt, where the knight gripped the sword. Additionally, heavy pommels, often shaped as discs and perhaps containing a relic or precious stone in very luxurious examples, helped to counteract the weight of the long blade. A crosspiece, either straight or curved, separated the hilt from the blade, placed there to protect the knight’s hand from an opponent’s blade that might slide along his sword in the heat of combat. The grip normally consisted of two pieces of wood glued together and perhaps wrapped with leather.
Each sword was individually crafted by a smith who had developed the tricky art of sword making over time through apprenticeship, trial, and error. Because a sword had to be strong to make an effective cut, yet remain flexible so as not to shatter on impact, smiths experimented with forging blades from steel, created by adding carbon (usually from charcoal) with iron. During the forging process, the smith had to shape the metal, ensuring a softer, more flexible core, while the edges and point needed the harder steel. After the sword was forged, it needed tempering, a process of hardening the blade by slowly heating and then rapidly cooling it in a bucket of water or oil. Without the benefit of standardized measuring instruments or even precise timing implements, smiths often developed their own techniques, making each sword unique.
Sword makers and owners recognized and promoted the unique aspect of a sword through inscriptions chiseled along the fuller (the middle section running the length of the blade) or by naming the sword. Inscriptions fall into three main categories: the maker’s name, a religious or spiritual message (such as in nomini domini, in the name of the Lord), or an as-yet indecipherable grouping of letters.
The great expense and time needed to make a sword meant that it became a family treasure, often passed down for generations, though new swords were obviously made throughout the period. A young boy might receive a sword at various points in his life, such as at birth or during his knighting ceremony.
Above: Back of the specimen card.