The Two Handed Sword – History, Design and Use, Neil Melville

The Two Handed Sword – History, Design and Use, Neil Melville

The European two handed sword was one of the most visually impressive weapons of the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods, found across most of Europe, and clearly quite a prestigious weapon. How despite that it was also produced in fairly large numbers, and its role in battle is rather unclear.

I hadn’t expected there to be so much technical development with this weapon, but it turns out that the two handed sword was a more complex weapon than you would expect. Over time all sorts of extra features were added, including small spurs a short distance up the blade, to protect the user’s hands if they were placed in front of the normal cross guard, complex cross guards which jutted out in all sorts of directions and different types and shapes of blades (including the wavy flambard).

This book is unusual in that it focuses on a weapon that appears never to have been terribly significant in battle, and whose actual role in battle is very difficult to trace. The author looks at the surviving literary and artistic evidence, and produces some suggestions about how the weapon was used, but also has to admit that many of the options that have been suggested don’t make much sense, given the large amount of space required to whield this weapon. Two handed swordsmen always appear to have been present in small numbers, perhaps not surprising given the nature of the weapon. The best evidence for its use in battle comes from Germany and Switzerland, where it was present in the largest numbers, and appears to have been significant for longer.

I had mistakenly been expecting a section on the two-handed sword in the Jacobite revolts, but the Highland soldiers of that period actually used a one handed sword and shield, and not the two handed sword, which had already fallen out of favour in Scotland. The author also points out that the earlier references to the Claymore also refered to this one handed sword, and the name only became attached to the two handed sword in error, after it has already fallen out of use.

The section on the surviving swords is fascinating. Many of them come from the later period, when the two handed sword had become more of a status symbol than a real weapon, used by the bodyguards of noblemen or the elite city guardsmen. The most famous examples all appear to have been ceremonial weapons, carried ahead of processions as a mark of status. However enough of the earlier combat weapons have survived for the author to be able to come to some conclusions about them.

Overall this is an interesting book on a rather specialist subject, but one that should appeal to the general reader as well as the weapons specialist.

1 – How Two Handed Swords Differ from Ordinary Swords
2 – Origin and Development
3 – General Form, National and Regional Styles
4 – How to Fight with the Two-Handed Sword
5 – Use of the Two-Handed Sword in Combat
6 – Fencing, Duelling and Tournaments
7 – Significance and Symbolic Status
8 – Conclusion

Author: Neil Melville
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2018

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