On a sword, the crossguard (or cross-guard, also known as quillons), is a bar of metal at right angles to the blade, placed between the blade and the hilt. The crossguard was developed in the European sword around the 10th century for the protection of the wielder's hand. The earliest forms were seen in late Viking swords, and it became a standard feature of the Norman sword of the 11th century and of the knightly arming sword throughout the high and late medieval period. Early crossguards were straight metal bars, sometimes tapering towards the outer ends. While this simple type was never discontinued, more elaborate forms developed alongside it in the course of the Middle Ages. The crossguard could be waisted or bent in the 12th and 13th century. Beginning in the 13th or 14th century, swords were almost universally fitted with a so-called chappe or rain-guard, a piece of leather fitted to the crossguard. The purpose of this leather is not entirely clear, but it seems to have originated as a part of the scabbard, functioning as a lid when the sword was in the scabbard. In the 14th to 15th century, many more elaborate forms were tried. A feature of such late medieval forms is the cusp or écusson, a protrusion of the crossguard in the center where it is fitted on the blade. Also from the 14th century, the leather chappe is sometimes replaced with a metal sheet. An early example of this is a sword dated to c. 1320-40 kept at Glasgow Museum. A later example is the "Monza sword" of Estore Visconti (early 15th century), where the rain-guard is of silver and decorated with a floral motif.
After the end of the Middle Ages, crossguards became more elaborate, forming first quillons and then, through the addition of guard branches, the basket hilt, which offered more protection to the unarmored hand.
Ewart Oakeshott in chapter 4 of his The Sword in the Age of Chivalry (1964) classifies medieval cross-guards into twelve types:
- a plain horizontal bar, tapering towards the end. This is the basic shape found from the late Viking era through the 17th century.
- waisted type, popular in the 15th century.
- a relatively short bar with a rectangular cross-section. Popular during 1150-1250 and again during 1380-1430.
- the terminals of the bar are bent towards the blade.
- "bow tie" style with widened and flattened terminals.
- a curved or bent variant of type 5.
- the bar has a flat cross-section and is bent towards the blade; popular in the 14th century.
- bent terminals as in style 4, but a more elaborate form with a hexagonal cross-section of the part fitted around the tang and a pronounced écusson, popular in the late medieval period.
- an elaborate late medieval type with the bar bent towards the blade and a flat diamond or V shaped cross-section and a pronounced écusson.
- the arms of the bar taper towards the hilt rather than away from it; mostly also with a pronounced écusson.
- knobbed terminals, with round or rectangular cross-section, popular during the 15th to 16th centuries
- the bar curves strongly in the horizontal plane, forming an S-shape; this type dates to the end of the medieval period and is transitional to the early modern quillon types.
The medieval dagger in the 14th and 15th century also adopted a variant with quillons, styled after the hilt of a sword. Quillon-daggers remained popular in the 16th century, after the sword type it resembled had fallen out of use.
- a quillon is "either of the two arms forming the cross-guard" (OED). The term arises in Middle French in the late 16th century, and is adopted in English only in the 19th century.
- The rainguard presumably originated in the 13th century but did not become universal until the 14th. Oakeshott (Archaeology of Weapons, 1960, p. 229) is aware of one preserved specimen of c. 1250. The main problem in researching the development of this feature is the fact that it is lost to decomposition in all swords recovered archaeologically. Note that the term "rain-guard" is modern, and reflects the hypothesis that the purpose was to protect the sword in the scabbard. It is possible that the function of this feature developed to offer added hand-protection to the wielder, or alternatively into a mostly decorative addition to the cross-guard. Oakeshott (1964) uses chappe, which may be the historical term, but which is ambiguous as it is merely a French word for "cap" and is also used for the part of the scabbard known in English as chape. But Oakeshott also embraces the "rainguard" hypothesis explicitly in his European weapons and armour: from the Renaissance to the industrial revolution (1980), where he talks about how the metal sheath-covers of early modern swords are derived from the medieval chappe ("A feature which many of these swords have is a solid sheath-cover made of metal attached to the underside of the hilt, ... to keep rain from reaching the blade, like the old 'chappe' or rainguard of previous centuries", p. 135)
- Frederick Wilkinson, Edged weapons, 1970, p. 71
- Ewart Oakeshott, The Sword in the Age of Chivalry (1964), chapter 4.
- Oakeshott cross types (myarmoury.com)