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The baselard, Schwiizerdolch in Swiss-German (also basilard, baslard, in Middle French also badelare, bazelaire and variants, Latinized baselardus, basolardus etc., in Middle High German beseler, baseler, basler, pasler; baslermesser) is a historical type of dagger or short sword of the Late Middle Ages.
In modern use by antiquarians, the term baselard is mostly reserved for a type of 14th-century dagger with an I-shaped handle which evolved out of the 13th-century knightly dagger. Contemporary usage was less specific, and the term in Middle French and Middle English could probably be applied to a wider class of large dagger. The term (in many spelling variants) first appears in the first half of the 14th century. There is evidence that the term baselard is in origin a Middle French or Medieval Latin corruption of the German basler [messer] "Basel knife".
Both the term baselard and the large dagger with H-shaped hilt or "baselard proper" appear by the mid 14th century. Several 14th-century attestations from France gloss the term as coutel "knife".
Depictions of mid-14th-century examples are preserved as part of tomb effigies (figuring as part of the full military dress of the deceased knight). By the mid-14th century, the baselard is a popular sidearm carried by the more violence-prone section of civilian society, and it retains an association with hooliganism. One early attestation of the German form pasler (1341) is from a court document of Nuremberg recording a case against a man who had injured a woman by striking her on the head with this weapon. Several German law codes of the 14th to 15th centuries outlaw the carrying of a basler inside a city. By the late 14th century, it became fashionable in much of Western Europe, including France, Italy, Germany and England. Sloane MS 2593 (c. 1400) records a song satirizing the use of oversized baselard knives as fashion accessories. Piers Plowman also associates the weapon with vain gaudiness: in this case, two priests, "Sir John and Sir Geoffrey", are reported to have been sporting "a girdle of silver, a baselard or a ballok knyf with buttons overgilt."
Wat Tyler was slain with a baselard by the mayor of London, William Walworth, in 1381, and the original weapon was "still preserved with peculiar veneration by the Company of Fishmongers" in the 19th century.
In the Old Swiss Confederacy, the term basler seems to have referred to the 14th- to 15th-century weapons with the characteristic crescent-shaped pommel and crossguard, which occurred with widely variant blade length, and which by the early 16th century had split into the two discrete classes of the short Swiss dagger (Schweizerdolch) and the long Swiss degen (Schweizerdegen), indicating a semantic split between the formerly synonymous terms Dolch and Degen. The baselard proper falls out of use by the early 16th century.
The term baselard and its variations persist for some time, but lose their connection with a specific type of knife. French baudelaire could now refer to a curved, single-edged hewing knife. Basilarda is the name of a sword in Orlando Furioso.
A very late occurrence of the term is found in 1602, in the context of a duel fought in Scotland, in Canonbie. The document recording the agreement on the weapons used in the duel mentions "two baslaerd swords with blades a yard and half quarter long".
After this, use of the term is restricted to antiquarian contexts.
- Pearce (2007) calls this "a hilt in the form of a capitol (sic) 'I'" (meaning the letter I including serifs. The idea is that the grip has two pronounced guards at a right angle, on either side of the hand, like the two vertical bars of the letter H, or alternatively like two pronounced horizontal serifs of the letter I)
- Harold L. Peterson, Daggers And Fighting Knives of The Western World (1968)
- OED in its current (2010) online edition preserves the suggestion from the original New English Dictionary fascicle Ant–Batten by Murray (1885), suggesting that the word is "probably a derivative of late Latin badile, badillus a bill-hook (P. Meyer )". This ad hoc etymology has been obsolete since antiquarian Claude Blair discovered an explicit record of 14th-century baselards manufactured in Basel (basolardi di basola) in the accounts of an arms dealer of Florence, Francesco Datini, dated to 1375. See Meier (1998). Earlier authors made other attempts at suggesting plausible etymologies. Jonathan ooucher in his Glossary of Archaic and provincial words (1833) judges this task to be "almost desperate", but goes on to suggest a corruption from bastard (as used in "bastard sword"). Johan Ihre based on a Swedish form basslere assumed the word to be "Old Teutonic" (according to Boucher). Oberlin (1781) also claims Germanic origin by connecting it to a "Gothic basslara", but alternatively also to "Lat. Barb. bisacuta, bizachius, besague". The first printed dictionary of the German language, the 1477 Vetus Teutonista by Gerardus de Schueren, lists the word as baslere.
- suggesting that the reader was at the time not assumed to be familiar with the term. E.g.: cutellos ... seu badelares (1355), un coutel, appellé Badelare (1348), Basalardum seu cutelhum (1386), coustel portatif, appellé Baudelaire (1415)
- W. Schultheiss, Die Acht-, Verbots- und Fehdebücher Nürnbergs von 1285–1400 (1960), 68, 21
- * Nuremberg : man hat verboten [...] daz dhein burger weder in der stat noch auzwendig niht sol tragen dhein silberin gürteln [...] dhein welhisch messer noch dheinen basler (Satzungsbücher und Satzungen der Reichsstadt Nürnberg aus dem 14. Jahrhundert ed. Werner Schultheiß, 1965, p. 217)
- Mainzer Friedgebot (1300), 101: wel man zu Meinze inne woninde ist, der rutinge dregit odir swert odir beseler, der sal uz Meinze varin ein vierteil iaris (ed. Rudolf Steffens), in: Mainzer Zeitschrift 98 (2003), 1-10; beseler glossed as "two-edged knives" in F. J. Mone, Der Friedensbruch der Stadt Mainz, um 1430 (1856).
- A 1427 law code of Tegernsee lists paslär as one of a number of illegal weapons (verpotne wer), setting a fine for carrying them in the street: Gustav Winter, Osterreichische Weistümer, vol. 8 (1896), p. 970.
- prenegarde prenegarde, thus bere I myn baselard; Wright, Thomas (1836). Songs and Carols Printed from a Manuscript in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum. W. Pickering.
- cited after Dilon 1887
- according to Boucher, Glossary of Archaic and provincial words (1833). But the depiction of the death of Wat Tyler in the late-14th-century Royal MS 18.E shows Walworth wielding a large, curved falchion. The corresponding image in the Chronicle of Froissart shows a group assaulting Tyler with a variety of weapons (including a Falchion), while the weapon used to slay Tyler is drawn as a long, straight baselard sword.
- "a hoked Baslarde is a perelse wepon with the Turkes." (Horman's Vulgaria, cited after Dillon 1887)
- cited in Joseph Nicolson, Richard Burn The history and antiquities of the counties of Westmorland and Cumberland (1777), here cited after OED. Apparently intended is the long form of the rapier which is contemporaneously also called a "long sword" by George Silver. C.f. Thimm, Carl A. A Complete Bibliography of Fencing and Duelling. Pelican Publishing. p. 269. ISBN 978-1-4556-0277-3.
- Lionello G. Boccia, Armi d'attaco, da difesa e da fuoco, la collezione d'armi del Museo d'Arte Medievale e Moderna di Modena, Modena 1996, nr. 80.
- Harold Dillon, ‘On some of the Smaller Weapons of the Middle Ages,’ The reliquary and illustrated archæologist (1887). https://archive.org/details/reliquaryandill01unkngoog
- Jürg A. Meier, Sammlung Carl Beck, Sursee (1998). http://www.waffensammlung-beck.ch/waffe197.html
- Michael 'Tinker' Pearce, The Medieval Sword in the Modern World (2007), ISBN 978-1-4303-2801-8, pp. 34, 65f.