Knightly sword

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(knightly) sword
Albion SaintMaurice XIII horizontal.jpg
Replica of the Sword of Saint Maurice, one of the best-preserved 13th-century swords, kept in Turin. It has a heavy type XII blade, presumably intended for use from horseback, with "brazil-nut" (type A) pommel. (replica by Peter Johnsson, Albion Swords, 2005).[1]
Type Sword
Service history
In service c. 1000–1500
Weight avg. 1.1 kg (2.4 lb)
Length avg. 90 cm (35 in)
Blade length avg. 75 cm (30 in)

Blade type Double-edged, straight bladed
Hilt type One-handed cruciform, with pommel

The most widespread type of sword in the European High Middle Ages (often referred to as "knightly sword" in modern terminology) was a straight, double-edged weapon with a single-handed cruciform hilt and a blade length of about 70 to 80 centimetres (28 to 31 in). The type is frequently depicted in period artwork, and numerous examples have been preserved archaeologically.

Use of derived types of single-handed swords continued throughout the Late Medieval Period, but now often as a sidearm, often of the estoc type, now called "arming sword" and contrasting with the two-handed, heavier longsword. After the end of the medieval period, the arming sword develops into the early modern rapier.


The term "arming sword" (espées d'armes) is first used in the 15th century to refer to the single-handed type of sword after it had ceased to serve as the main weapon, and was on its way to being used as a side-sword.[2] "Arming sword" in late medieval usage specifically refers to the estoc when worn as a side-arm,[3] but as a modern term it may also refer to any single-handed sword in a late medieval context. The terms "knight's sword" or "knightly sword" are modern retronyms to specify the sword of the high medieval period.

Period terminology for swords is somewhat fluid. Mostly, the common type of sword in any given period would simply be referred to as "sword" (espée). During the high medieval period, references to swords as "great sword" (grete swerd, grant espée) or "small" or "short sword" (espée courte, parvus ensis) does not necessarily indicate their morphology, but simply their relative size. Oakeshott (1964) notes that this changes in the late medieval period, beginning towards the end of the 13th century, when the "bastard sword" appeared as an early type of what would develop into the 15th-century longsword.[4]


The knightly sword develops in the 11th century from the Norman sword. It was typically used with a shield or buckler. Descriptions of knightly combat in 13th-century romances often include two-handed use towards the end of an encounter, when a fighter is exhausted or after his shield has disintergrated.

In the late medieval period, when the longsword came to predominate, the single-handed sword was retained as a common sidearm, especially of the estoc type, and came to be referred to as an "arming sword", later evolving into the cut and thrust swords of the Renaissance.

At the end of the medieval period, the estoc arming sword develops into the Spanish espada ropera and the Italian spada da lato, the predecessors of the early modern rapier. In a separate development, the schiavona was a heavier single-handed sword used by the Dalmatian bodyguard of the Doge of Venice in the 16th century. This type influenced the development of the early modern basket-hilted sword which in turn developed into the modern (Napoleonic era) cavalry sword.


Main article: Oakeshott typology

The most widespread typology for the medieval sword was developed by Ewart Oakeshott in 1960, mostly based on blade morphology. Oakeshott (1964) introduced an additional typology for pommel shapes. Blade length was usually from 69 to 81 centimetres (27 to 32 in); however, examples exist from 58 to 100 centimetres (23 to 39 in).[5] Pommels were most commonly of the 'Brazil-nut' type from around 1000-1200 AD,[6] with the 'wheel' pommel appearing in the 11th and predominating from the 13th to 15th centuries. The common "knightly swords" of the high medieval period (11th to early 12th centuries) fall under types X to XII.

Type X is the Norman sword as it developed out of the early medieval Viking sword by the 11th century. Type XI shows the development towards a more tapering point seen during the 12th century. Type XII is a further development, typical throughout the Crusades period, showing a tapering blade with a shortened fuller. Subtype XIIa comprises the longer and more massive "great-swords" which developed in the mid-13th century, probably designed to counter improvements in mail armour; these are the predecessors of the late medieval longsword.

Type XIII is the knighly sword typical of the later 13th century. Swords of this type have long, wide blades with parallel edges, terminating in in a rounded or spatulate tip, and with a lens-shaped cross-section. The hilts become somewhat longer, about 15 cm, to allow occasional two-handed use. The pommels are mostly have bazil-nut or disk shape. Subtype XIIIa has longer blades and hilts. These are the knightly "great-swords", or Grans espées d'Allemagne which seamlessly develop into the longsword type in the 14th century. Subtype XIIIb describes smaller single-handed swords of similar shape. Type XIV sword develops towards the very end of the high medieval period, around 1270, and remained popular during the early decades of the 14th century. They are often depicted on the tomb effigies of English knights of the period, but there are only few surviving specimens.[7] Continuations of the knightly sword as the "arming sword" type of the late medieval period correspond to Oakeshott types XV, XVI and XVIII.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Formerly kept in the Treasury of the Abbey of St. Maurice in the Valais, where at least since the 15th century it had been preserved in a leather case, it was transferred to the Royal Chapel at Turin in 1591 along with the relics of the saint on the order of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy. Saint Maurice of Turin (
  2. ^ Oakeshott (1997:44).
  3. ^ George Cameron Stone, A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor, 2013, p. 18.
  4. ^ "The size of a sword has not hitherto determined its type, but here, and in swords of the 14th and 15th centuries, it will be found to do so. The reason here is partly that the XIIIa's are very big weapons, partly because in their own time they were distinguished from their smaller contemporaries by the ter 'espées de Guerre' or 'Grete Swerdes'. [...] The two-hander of the 13th-15th centuries was not, as in the 16th, a specialised form of weapon; it was just an outsize specimen." (Oakeshott 1964, p. 42)
  5. ^ Oakeshott, Ewart (1960). Records of the Medieval Sword. 
  6. ^ Loades, Mike (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Great Britain: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84884-133-8. 
  7. ^ Chad Arnow, Spotlight: Oakeshott Type XIV Swords (, 2004).


  • Oakeshott, Ewart (1964), The Sword in the Age of Chivalry.
  • Oakeshott, Ewart (1991). Records of the Medieval Sword. Boydell & Brewer Inc. ISBN 0-85115-566-9. 
  • Loades, Mike (2010). Swords and Swordsmen. Great Britain: Pen & Sword Books. ISBN 978-1-84884-133-8. 
  • Geibig, A. (1991), Beiträge zur morphologischen Entwicklung des Schwertes im Mittelalter.
  • North, Anthony (1994), "Swords and Hilt Weapons" in: Anne Cope (ed.), Swords and Hilt Weapons.
  • Schulze-Dörrlamm (1995). Das Reichsschwert: Ein Herrschaftszeichen des Saliers Heinrich IV. und des Welfen Otto IV. Jan Thorbecke Verlag Sigmaringen.
  • Seitz, H. (1967). Blankwaffen 1. Braunschweig: Klinkhardt and Biermann.