The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

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The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

Postby Richard Marsden » Wed Jul 20, 2011 1:54 am

The longsword as a battlefield weapon, a limited history.
By Richard Marsden



The longsword can be categorized using numerous swords. The origin of the weapon is difficult to pinpoint, but it was popular in the late 1200's and the 1300's.

The English utilized a tactic that encouraged the use of the longsword on foot as a primary weapon in 1333.

English experiences in Scotland, France and its surrounding principalities, the Iberian peninsula, and the Northern Italian City-States led to their martial ideas spreading.

The creation of longsword poems/books in England, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and in Northern Italy occurred in the 14th century, the same time as the Hundred Years War and the mercenary conflicts in Northern Italy took place.

The longsword's capability as a primary tool rapidly diminished throughout the Hundred Years War due to advances in armor and tactics, but the weapon remained popular as a side-arm for centuries to come.

What is a longsword?

Categorizing longswords as any two-handed sword will not suffice. Dating blades, let alone categorizing them has not been a precise science. Alfred Hutton categorized by size and shape based on his limited personal experiences and collection, historical manuals at times give indications of the difference of swords, while Ewart Oakeshot used a system of categorizing blades by their blade, pommel, hilt, but not their grip-length. In short- there is no clear definition what makes the difference between a longsword and any other two-handed sword with plenty of cross-over in the case of Oakeshot's categorizing.
Alfred Hutton, a Victorian historian and a forerunner of today's Western Martial Arts, had in his possession or access to a considerable amount of swords, which he in turn categorized. In particular of the two-handed varieties Hutton mentioned a 'bastard sword' that could be used in one hand or two. Specifically he described the use of this bastard sword in a judicial duel fought in 1549 (1).

Hutton also wrote about swords designed for two-handed use and cited them in The Vse of the Two Handed Sworde, or MS Harley 3542 dated to the 14th century . In the case of MS Harely 3542, Brandon Helsop and Benjamin Bradak in their English Lessons on the Longsword firmly place the verses in the realm of the longsword as used by contemporaries such as Liechtenauer and Fiore (2).

George Silver's Paradoxes of Defense 1599, and Joseph Swetnam's treaties of 1617 also documented two-handed swords, but these are not the same as the ones used by Liechtenauer and Fiore. In the case of Silver and Swetnam, the weapon is too heavy and long to be considered a longsword in the same sense as those of the 1300's. George Silver stated that the two-handed sword should be in the length of its blade the same length as a single-handed sword (3). This would at first suggest a sword similar to those seen in the longsword fight-books of the 1300's, but in his Brief Instructions, Silver suggests the two-handed sword should be used as a short-staff and lumps the two-handed sword in the same family as the long-staff, Morris pike, and forest bill (4).

Joseph Swetnam categorized swords differently specifically mentioning a two handed sword as different from a short or back sword, and different yet from a bastard sword, which by his definition was longer than a short sword, but shorter than a long (two handed) sword (5). The artistry on the cover of Swetnam's work depicts swords that are meant clearly to be used two-handed and are large in size.


Ewart Oakeshott, the accepted expert on categorizing blades today approached sword classification differently than Hutton and the masters of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Oakeshott divided swords into types based on the dimensions of the blade. Because not all swords with the same blade dimension looked the same, he further broke down his classifications into pommel types and cross styles. Furthermore, he noted that dating swords can be tricky because it was perfectly possible for a blade to be made at one time and a century later remounted on another hilt (6). The types do not follow a specific chronology. Type XIIa swords for example co-existed with XVa blades, but there were trends where certain blades were popular. He did not use grip-length to determine what type a sword was, nor did he use words such as 'longsword' to define weapons.

Thus, his type XIII blades include similar looking blades, but different grip-lengths, pommels and cross styles. This can be problematic because his type XIII swords labeled as 2, 3 and 4 have small grips, incapable of a two-handed grip (unless the wide pommel was used). Meanwhile the XIII labeled as 1 can easily fit two hands (7). It is impossible to say all XIII swords were meant to be used as the longswords of Liechtenauer or Fiore due to differing lengths in the grip.
When using generic terms, Oakeshott referred to swords as -
Riding = Smaller and used most likely for day-to-day usage.
Arming = Larger, heavier and good for an expected armed encounter.
War Sword = Even larger and meant for heavy action such as the XIIIa, XVa, XVIa, and XVIIIb type swords (8).

Additionally, Ewart used other generic terms which crossed over numerous types, such as bastard swords which could be used in one hand or two, and two-handed swords, which he indicated were expressly meant for two hands due to their size and weight (9).

Identifying what is a longsword in the same vein as those used by the author of Ms Harley 3542, Liechtenauer and Fiore is not as simple as finding the right 'word' or the right 'Oakeshott type'. However, using Oakeshott's typology it can be determined that a longsword can be a weapon of the type XII, XIIa, XIII, XIIIa varieties. These weapons date from as early as 1150 (note A) and were popular throughout the 1300's and beyond. They would have been perfectly capable of being primary tools on the battlefield until armor advancements made them less popular around 1400-1450. These longswords were replaced (neither evenly nor gradually) by later types such as the XV which were stiffer and designed to thrust more than cut, such as Oakeshott's XVa number 6, a sword from 1370 reputed to have belonged to the Black Prince and XVa numbers 3, 4 and 5 which came from the 1400's (10). While these weapons are still longswords, they were becoming steadily obsolete as a primary tool in the face of armor and tactical changes on the battlefield.


Other swords, such as two-handed swords were, used in pike formations and were better suited in a primary role during the 15th century and were so large, and so heavy, that they were not used in the same way as the longswords that were popular throughout much of the 14th century. An example would be to compare Fiore's 1410 manual and the use of the longsword to another Italian, Marozzo and his use of the two-handed sword in 1536-clearly a different weapon used in a different way, though both are swords and both have grip lengths that can fit two hands (11-12).


Who used the longsword?

The longsword of the 1300-1400's was knightly in nature and used by non-knights as well. While the swords of kings and notable knights were treasured items, such as the war sword of Henry V located at Westminster Abby, most were somewhat disposable based off the findings of Oakeshott who noted that many of his findings were swords he deemed to have been purposefully, or accidently cast aside, or in one case a whole shipment of swords were found in an English barge sunk by the French during the Hundred Years War. These weapons were mass-produced and shipped en-masse, and not necessarily custom-built swords in the hands of a loving owner (13).

Knights and mounted mercenaries did not have a single sword, but were outfitted with numerous weapons. Teutonic Knights of the 13th century for example had at their disposal numerous types of swords, but most were one handed or so-called bastard swords (14).

In England during the late 1200's the longsword was not a primary tool. Heavy cavalry was seen by most Europeans as the key to victory in warfare and with it the lance. Frankish dominance on horseback in the period after the fall of the Roman Empire, and the Norman's success at Hastings in 1066 cemented in the minds of Europeans that heavy cavalry could not be opposed.

This commonly held belief was not true. At Hastings in 1066, a Norman arrow did more to sway the battle than a glorious Norman cavalry charge, but the ruling class, who were mounted men, depicted victory with themselves as the key players (15). Archery was so disdained in England that the bow (long or otherwise) did not appear in the Assize of Arms of 1181 and King Richard I and King John raised and trained crossbowmen, going so far as to devise specific tactics using shields called pavis rather than relying on the longbow as a weapon for their armies (16). Under the reign of Henry II the longbow became slowly recognized as a valuable tool in warfare as Welsh archers demonstrated their prowess with the weapon. Still, the crossbow remained a premier weapon. Crossbowmen, for example, were paid more than longbowmen in 1281 (Note B).

King Edward I's experiences fighting the Welsh convinced him of the value of the longbow. The Earl of Warwick used longbowmen to great effect in 1295. In 1298 Edward had success against the Scottish at Falkirk thanks in large part to the longbow (17). The English military commanders of Edward I's reign learned from their experiences in Scotland that heavy cavalry, by itself, couldn't run rampant over the field of battle. Archers were needed to augment them (Note C).

England uses the Longsword as a primary foot-weapon.

Knights, by their very nature, were men who did not like to walk into battle. Possession of a warhorse was as much a mark of their station as their armor, heraldry and swords. Knights and nobles even began to wear footwear that prevented walking as proof of their literally lofty status. The longsword's longer grip makes it ill-suited for mounted combat. While not impossible to wield the longsword with two hands while mounted, the technique certainly isn't easy due to a lack of control over the horse. Additionally, the longer grip makes the weapon less wieldy than a single handed sword while mounted. Fight books from the 1300's to 1400's show mostly single-handed swords being used while mounted, such as the majority (but not all) of the images in Fiore's work of 1410 and in Talhoffer's work of the mid 1400's (18 19). In later periods, such as the 1500-1600's, a soldier might only carry one sword, thus mounted or not it would be of the longsword variety as indicated in the works of Mair (20).


Art of the era, while not entirely accurate, also shows numerous instances of the longsword being a weapon different from the ones knights were employing while mounted.


(Note D).

Evidence indicates that the decision to have knights fight on foot arose during the 1300's in Britain. While certainly the longsword was used on foot earlier and in other places, the English developed a particular tactic calling for its use.

In the 1300's Edward II, as his father before him, Edward I, meddled in the affairs of Scotland. His end goal was to have Scotland under his dominion, either through outright invasion or preferably, through a puppet. His efforts, unsurprisingly, were met with resistance. To settle the matter Edward II put his army in the field (Note E).

In 1314 King Edward II of England's army met the Scottish forces led by Robert Bruce at Bannockburn. During the battle English forces were confounded. Robert had chosen for himself superior ground, making it difficult for the English knights to engage the Scottish. Scottish schiltroms, armed with long spears fended off the English heavy cavalry. Meanwhile, the English longbowmen had arrived on foot to the battle. They were unsupported and ridden down by the Scottish knights. Bannockburn was a disaster for the English and forces. Just as Welsh use of the longbow in the 1200's led to England adopting the weapon, Scotland's victory at Bannockburn led to tactical changes on England's part.

In 1333 at Halidon Hill the English confronted Scotland again under a different king, Edward III, with different and revolutionary tactics.
Traditionally, the English used their archers to punish their foes, then swept in with their knights to claim the field, with their foot-soldiers providing support as needed. Edward III broke from this tradition and ordered his knights to dismount and provide protection for the English longbowmen, who were placed on the flanks of the army. The knights were also to bolster the foot-soldiers (21). These knights were armed with longswords and poleaxes and wore a variety of heavier armor that limited their mobility. However, in this case, they didn't need to go anywhere, the Scottish were coming to them (22).

The archers were no longer marching on foot and had horses. The same went for the foot-soldiers and of course the knights. By mounting their entire army (or at least as much as they could), the English could move quicker than their opponents, launch raids, dismount to fight on foot, and remount to give chase or charge during a battle as needed, and they had the option to, if necessary, flee.

The formation of the English foot soldiers, men-at-arms and knights alike, were not tightly compressed. The knights with their longswords and poleaxes and the men-at-arms, with cleaving pole-weapons called bills, needed room to operate.

In the ensuing battle the tightly ranked Scottish schiltroms, armed with shields and spears, had no cavalry unit which to set themselves against. They were forced to march toward the English positions and driven back by archery. Meanwhile, the Scottish knights were scattered under a storm of English arrows, perhaps due to a lack of armor themselves, or under-armored horses (23). Even of the Scottish cavalry reached the archers, they would have found themselves facing their nearby English counterparts. When the Scottish army broke under the continual rain of arrows, the English knights mounted their horses and gave chase. The loss at Bannockburn was erased by a victory at Halidon Hill.

Flushed with victory, Edward III raised an army to make a claim in France, confident his new tactics would be able to oppose the much larger kingdom. The English army was outfitted as a professional fighting-force with men under contract. Knowing exactly what they carried is difficult, but 'by the book' there were rules about what a man needed in order to be paid (Note F). Knights required horses, a sword, and secondary weapons. Their armor by the time the Hundred Years War started was considerably better in terms of protection as well as mobility, and this trend only continued for the next hundred years (24). Not everyone was blessed with the same level of armor though. While armor protection steadily increased, only the most wealthy could afford it. In the case of France it is surmised their peasant levies had no armor at all, while English foot soldiers would have very little or a lot, depending on how long they'd been looting the fields of battle.

For the knights of England, the primary weapon on foot was a shorter lance, the longsword, and poleaxe (25). While armor had certainly improved since Halidon Hill, it was not evenly distributed meaning the longsword was still viable as a prime tool.

Three major battles during the Hundred Years war led to further use of the longsword. Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt. In all three cases, French knights mounted, or on foot, attempted to close with their English adversaries and in all three cases were disorganized by English longbowmen and defeated by English counter-attacks by their knights who could advance on foot, or remount their steeds as needed.

The French, after their loss at Crecy, did place their knights on foot at times mimicking the English and there is debate if they did the same at Agincourt in 1415. There is every reason to believe they French would have chosen similar weapons as well, such as the longsword on foot in their attempts to copy English tactics.

The Hundred Years War was not continuous and during its many pauses soldiers, French and English, traveled to other areas taking with them their experiences. English forces under John Gaunt ended up in Iberia for example. It was in Italy though that the majority of the mercenaries migrated in the mid 1300's.

The Longsword in Italy

The Hundred Years war led to English and French tactics and counter-tactics, including weaponry advances that spread throughout Europe. This was most keenly felt in northern Italy where English, French, Gascon, Breton and German mercenaries freely mingled while there were truces between England and France.
John Hawkwood and English knight crossed into Italy with a German mercenary commander, Albert Sterz, in 1362. They brought with them a wave of mercenary soldiers that flocked to the rich Italian city-states in search of war and profit (not necessarily in that order). The English brought with them the dismounted form of combat they had learned in Scotland and France in which a foot-lance was the primary weapon as well as a sword, presumably, the longsword (26). Supporting these English mercenaries were squires and bowmen who were also mounted but fought on foot. In essence, the English 'lance' as it was called, was a mini-representation of their field armies.

It was in this melting pot of mercenaries that Fiore de Liberi learned his trade and later created his Flower of Battle, a book designed for primarily military purposes and self-defense. In his work, created in 1410, Fiore dedicated his fifty-years of knowledge in mercenary-laden northern Italy to Niccolo D'Este. Fiore in the introduction to his Flower of Battle indicated he traveled to many places learning the use of the longsword and other weapons. While some surmise he crossed the Alps and entered the Holy Roman Empire, it is just as feasible to say he traveled all over Italy to the different city-states and met masters from many nationalities. They were certainly plentiful in the form of mercenaries with battlefield experience. John Hawkwood for example reached the height of his career during Fiore's lifetime.

Fiore's patron, D'Este, was to command Papal forces against the Visconti, as John Hawkwood had done before his death in the 1390's at a ripe old-age, and quite wealthy. Fiore noted that D'Este did have an extensive library of military manuals, but nothing complete.

Fiore's instructions are telling. They are for men in or out of armor and his techniques are simple, fast and entirely appropriate for the battlefield as well as self-defense. While there is no reason to say Fiore's techniques could not be used in a judicial duel (he himself fought five duels), the audience the book was written for was a military commander, more interested in training his men than seeing haughty nobles fight over issues of honor. That said, Fiore's credentials in his introduction list no battles, but only his duels and the various tournaments within the barriers his students fought and won in, giving indications that perhaps the manual was designed for such issues of honor? It is difficult to surmise given the context of the patron, the techniques, and the author's own words (27).

In Fiore's manual the longsword could be used in one hand, two, or in a position known as half-swording where the blade itself was gripped to help direct thrusts. This technique marks a sign of the longsword's decline by 1410. Why shorten the range by half-swording? The answer is one of armor.

By the time Fiore's book was published it was in many ways obsolete as a primary tool on the battlefield. The longsword, a primary tool of the dismounted knight during the Hundred Years War, by the late 1300's was changing and being relegated as a secondary tool. The XIII type blades were being replaced by other weapons to contend with the more effective armor including type XVa swords as well as pikes, poleaxes, two-handed swordsd etc. The changes in armor from 1350-1400 was dramatic, including the use of more plate, and lighter more mobile armor despite the added protection (28). These upgrades were in a direct response to the English longbow, powerful crossbows and early gunpowder weapons that would inevitably made armor all-but obsolete.

Fiore depicted tactics to deal with stronger forms of armor- namely half-swording. This means his other techniques of cutting and thrusting would be more effective out of armor than in, or against opponents in lighter armor. In Italy the prospect of encountering lighter armored foes was entirely possible as the mercenaries were slow to adopt new ideas and technology after the initial influx of Hundred Years War veterans. Over a hundred years after Fiore's death, Nicolo Machiavelli repeatedly warned his patron of the folly of using mercenaries and their outdated methods (29). This was mildly ironic given Milan, a rich Italian city-state, was producing some of the most advanced suits of armor at the time and shipping them abroad to those who would later cross the Alps as enemies.

The longsword had other issues to contend with as well. Mercenary companies from Switzerland, and later Germany, utilized the pike, and moderately armored men to great effect during the 1400's. These 15th century innovations all but making the foot-based knight with his longsword obsolete. By the time Fiore's manual was in the hands of its patron, Swiss soldiers were already offering a superior alternative to the mounted knight. As early as 1315 Swiss halberds had defeated the Holy Roman Empire and Swiss foot soldiers using pikes defeated a larger combined-arms force in 1339 at Laupen (30). (Note G).

With the ascendance of long, thrusting pole-weapons the longsword was obsolete as a battlefield weapon. Thus, to meet the conditions of the battlefield the weapon became something 'different'. Weight and length were increased and the two-handed sword became one meant to be used within pike formations where room was limited. These weapons were designed to defend the unit's standard by men paid extra for the efforts needed to wield their heavy swords (31). This was no longer a knightly weapon, but one for professional soldiers with no title, heraldry etc. Knights, like their longswords, were being replaced. Longswords did not vanish, but they became a secondary tool and worn less after 1450 compared to before.

The larger two-handed swords led to manuals such as those of Achille Marazo in 1536 and Alfiere in 1653. In these manuals the two-handed swords are too long to deliver cuts as seen in the Fiore tradition, but they can be used much like a pike for the thrust, or to batter away incoming strikes, which would be appropriate within a pike-formation. They are also too long to carry in a scabbard, and so are clearly designed for military, or potentially judicial, purposes only (32).

The Longsword in Germany

Johannes Liechtenauer was born in the 1300's and produced a textual description of using the longsword in 1389, twenty years before Fiore de Liberi. Unlike Fiore's manual, which had rhyming couplets and extensive images, Liechtenauer's work was more esoteric in its nature. It is theorized that while Fiore's work was for a military commander, D'Este, Liechtenauer's writings were for his students and their art was to be a secret.

This is an appropriate theory for context of the time. Skilled craftsmen jealousy guarded their trade secrets during Medieval and Renaissance Europe. There was no capitalism, no desire for competition, and no sharing of ideas if it could be helped. The craftsmen of this era attempted to set up monopolies or guilds with the blessing of their local governments in the form of a charter. Example, in England the colonists heading to the New World did so as a company with a royal charter. They were (in theory) guaranteed a monopoly to settle a region. England continued the practice of state-sanctioned monopolies into the nineteenth century. There is no reason to think that a master, such as Liechtenauer, wouldn't wish to do the same and create a fencing guild that could be maintained by himself, his students and their students and so on. The potential customers would be the aristocracy of the Holy Roman Empire and potentially mercenaries who were plentiful and sometimes wealthy thanks to looting.

During Liechtenauer's lifetime German mercenaries entered Northern Italy and France to participate in the various wars taking place. It is not unreasonable to assume they took with them their methods of using the longsword.

Liechtenauer's longsword would have been a viable battlefield tool in 1389, though due to better armor technology and newer weapons and tactics it would have found itself less useful in a span of twenty years. Armor was simply getting too good and there were better primary tools.

While Fiore taught a complete system to be used in or out of armor, Liechtenauer and his followers divided longsword combat into two categories- in harness (armor) and out of harness. As a battlefield weapon, it would be good to know how to use the longsword, armored or not, but as the 1400's progressed and other masters from the Holy Roman Empire expounded on Liechtenauer's ideas, they were using a weapon that had an increasingly limited use on the battlefield.
Despite this change, the longsword remained popular in the Holy Roman Empire well into the Renaissance, but not necessarily as a primary battlefield weapon, but rather one for civilian defense, judicial dueling, and sport fencing. Joachim Meyer for example taught the use of the longsword in the context of a school in the mid-to-late 1500's. While Meyer's longsword techniques would be relevant in sport-play, civilian defense, or in a judicial duel, its battlefield practicality as something other than a secondary weapon would be in question given the primary weaponry at the time ranging from pikes to firearms.
When did the longsword cease its battlefield role?

Weapons do not become obsolete necessarily quickly. In the early 1300's the dismounted knights of England used their longswords to great effect in their battles with Scotland and France. However, by 1450 when the War of the Roses broke out that was no longer the case. Armor at that point was to such a level of protection that the longsword was less useful than a pole-axe, bludgeoning weapon, or a foot-lance. Cuts from a longsword would fail against the plate worn by 1450 and thrusts would need to be aimed precisely, no easy feat in the press of combat. Meanwhile, lances, hammers, and pole-weapons require less precision and could be used from a greater distance and thus be easier to use.

In Italy the situation was much the same. Advances in armor and tactics made the foot-based knight (or mercenary) outmatched. The wealthy Italian city-states were overrun by France and the Holy Roman Empire respectively by 1500, with both nations utilizing pike-formations, heavy cavalry, and gunpowder.
However, the sword, including the longsword, was as much a status weapon as it was a tool for the battlefield. Though outdated and surpassed as a primary tool, it certainly continued to be used during the entirety of the Renaissance and its cousin, the two-handed sword flourished, while single-handed swords remained popular, for foot and mounted soldiers.

Henry VIII of England for example had a longsword of such size and power that he wasn't allowed to use it at a the Field of Cloth of Gold where he and the King of France staged a tournament and party of epic proportion to show their mutual love for one another in 1520. By 1521 they were about to go to war with one another over issues in Italy. While this incident was in a tournament setting, it does show how the longsword endured as a weapon of war (both kings saw themselves as warriors), even if its practical use was diminished.

While Henry VIII clearly enjoyed owning a monstrous longsword, it would not be his choice-weapon for his armies. By Henry's time, the feudal-system of warfare had long ago collapsed. Even when the longsword was popular, the cost of training someone to use it was astronomical. John Gaunt, brother to the Black Prince participated heavily in the Hundred Years War, and though one of the wealthiest men in England, he never had a financially successful role as commander. It was simply too costly to pay for trained men and knights (33). Worse, knights were inefficient having only to serve for short durations and likely to leave if loot or glory was not to be found. Veteran men-at-arms were less expensive and mildly more reliable so long as the received steady pay. If the pay ceased, they either became bandits, returned home, or found employment elsewhere as so often happened during the Hundred Years War.

Meanwhile, ranged-weapons , such as the English longbow which so demonstrated its value throughout the Hundred Years War, and the cheaper and easier to train crossbowmen, offered a cheaper and more effective solution to winning battles, and pike formations offered yet another.

An easy comparison to make is the manuals of Fiore compared to pike-drills of the 1600's. Fiore's book would require intensive study and practice, in and out of armor, for a person to call themselves competent with a longsword. Such training would take considerable time and not be possible for everyone. Meanwhile, pike-drills are relatively simple affair of how to hold the weapon with mass formations making up for individual skill, which is why marching increasingly became important to post-Medieval armies and not individual weapon expertise. The time to train such a soldier probably borders on weeks opposed to the years of study knights no doubt put into their craft.


The longsword was a unique weapon, giving knights a new way of fighting on foot that gave them extra power and range compared to their swords used for single-handed mounted combat. The weapon predates 1333, but was used at Halidon Hill by dismounted English knights.

So successful was the weapon, that English knights continued to fight on foot during the Hundred Years War in France throughout the 1300's, keeping their horses close at hand for sudden charges or retreats as needed. The veterans of the Hundred Years war traveled throughout Europe and created a boom of mercenaries, many of which ended up in northern Italy. It is during this time that the first longsword manuals appeared, however no sooner had the masters written down their techniques, that technological advances threatened the longswords' role in a warfare setting as a primary weapon.

Rapidly increasing protection offered by armor with retained mobility, coupled with the use of massed pike formations from 1400 onward made the longsword difficult to use on the battlefield because it could no longer cut an armored foe due to a lack of gaps in the armor. Nor could the longsword be used to thrust an armored opponent in his gaps without reducing its reach by half-. Against pike formations the longsword was no match because of the room required to maneuver the weapon made it a poor match against a literal wall of ever-marching spears. Additionally, ranged weaponry, much to the annoyances of the knights, was taking on an increasingly important battlefield role.

While the longsword remained a status symbol, and certainly a viable weapon in tournaments, duels, and for unarmored civilians, or as a soldier's secondary weapon, after 1450 technological changes made the two-handed sword the longsword's replacement as a primary tool, where the weapon's increased reach and weight could be used within the pike formations that dominated the battlefields until the development of the musket and bayonet in the 1700's (Note H).


Suits of armor from the late 1300's to the late 1400's.

1 = The Sword and the Centuries by Alfred Hutton, pg 31.
2= Lessons on the English Longsword by Brandon Helsop and Benjamin Bradak.
3 = Paradoxes of Defense by George Silver.
4 = Brief Instructions by George Silver.
5 = The School of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defense by Joseph Swetnam, Chapter XII.
6 = Records of the Medieval Sword by Ewart Oakeshott, pg 2.
7 = Ibid, pg 96-97.
8 = Ibid, pg 9.
9 = Ibid, pg 207-212.
10 = Ibid, pg 143-144.
11 = Flower of Battle by (4 Versions) Fiore de Liberi.
12 = Opera Nova by Achilles Marazzo.
13 = Records of the Medieval Sword by Ewart Oakeshott, pg 9-11.
14 = Teutonic Knight 1190-1561 by David Nicolle, pg 60-61.
15= The Art of War in the Middle Ages by CWC Oman, pg 16.
16= Ibid, pg 117-118.
17= Ibid, pg 119-120.
18= Flower of Battle by (4 Versions) Fiore de Liberi.
19 = Fight Book (1459 Version) by Hans Talhoffer.
20= Fight Book (Various Versions) by Hector Paulus Mair.
21 = A Brief History of Medieval Warfare by Peter Reid, pg 49-56.
22 = Ibid, pg 16.
23= Ibid, pg 55.
24= Ibid, pg 75.
25= Ibid, pg 75.
26= The Devil's Broker by Frances Saunders, pg 65-66.
27= Flower of Battle by (4 Versions) Fiore de Liberi.
28= A Brief History of Medieval Warfare by Peter Reid, pg 216.
29= The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.
30= The Art of War in the Middle Ages by CWC Oman, pg 88-89.
31= The Sword and the Centuries by Alfred Hutton, pg 35.
32 = Ibid, pg 35.
33 = The Last Knight by Norman Cantor, pg 93-94.

Note A = Oakeshott indicated in many cases it is difficult to judge when a blade was created. While many of the blades I deem as 'longswords' were made post 1300, the type XIIa's were made before, there is a German longsword of the Teutonic Knights dated from 1240, and indication that longswords that are similar in appearance to those popular in the 1300's were in existence in 1100 or even earlier! Oakeshott was clever not to even try and find a date for when certain swords appeared or disappeared, hence his typology isn't chronological in nature.
Note B= In the payroll of Rhudlan castle of 1281 crossbowmen were paid twice as much as archers by Geoffery le Chamberlin.
Note C= The scope of the essay is too narrow to include great detail of the military campaigns mentioned- only a summary of their results.
Note D = Art is not the best tool to determine the why and how equipment was used. Example, in one of the images depicted a canon is shown. There were no canons at Crecy and the painting was done many years after the event. Art often focuses on important figures as well which is why in Medieval battle art heavy cavalry seem to frequently dominate the scene.
Note E= The details of the war and battle are outside the scope of the essay.
Note F = The matter of pay for the English is not merely one of a lump sum of money. Part of allure for knights, footmen and archers alike was the prospect of looting which Edward III highly encouraged. These pillaging raids were known as chevauchees and consisted of not only looting the French countryside, but of burning towns, killing peasants and spreading destruction. One of the reasons England had difficulty holding onto their gains in the Hundred Years War was because they were outfitted for checauchees, not garrison duty. Knights meanwhile had access to pay in a very different matter through the taking of prisoner of other knights and ransoming them.
Note G= Charles Oman's book covers in detail Swiss developments from the halberd to the pike during the 1300's.
Note H= The essays does not claim the origins of the longsword, only that England's experiences helped spread the longsword's use throughout the 1300's. The first fight books involving the longsword are English, German and Italian in origin, all of them were created during the 14th century during the Hundred Years War and mercenary wars taking place in Italy. Both of these events are a result of England's actions. The essay does not claim when the longsword stopped being worn, only that it's battlefield applications diminished during the 1400's.
Last edited by Richard Marsden on Wed Jul 20, 2011 12:28 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

Postby Richard Marsden » Wed Jul 20, 2011 2:02 am

This is my final version. No changes (except some pics I want to add, or spelling/grammar errors) will be made at this point and I will not be responding to criticisms as I did in the first version since the article isn't changing. However, feel free to comment away. Others will be reading and your views and they are valued. For those 'dying' to get something out of me, feel free to PM.

I have set the bar. My end-goal is that someone comes along and makes a better article and that this stimulates thought and research and counter-articles in the WMA community.

Things that changed from version 1

Lots! The scope of the essay changed as did longsword definitions. More references were made and new sources added. Pictures were added. Notes were added. Wording was altered to make it less contentious and commentary on two-handed melee weapons being non-existent was removed as more sources proving it were found. Much more as well.

Thanks for everyone's comments on version 1, your opinions were sifted through, studied to the best of my ability in the time-frame I wanted and in many cases altered the final product.
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Re: The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

Postby KeithFarrell » Wed Jul 20, 2011 11:15 am

Fantastic job! I can see that a lot of the comments were taken on board and it looks like you have patched the various holes in the essay. This is a wonderful piece of work and you should be rightfully proud of it. I have just one single small correction to make, so I'm about to PM you with it.
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Re: The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

Postby Alex B » Wed Jul 20, 2011 12:25 pm

I just want to echo Keith, very nice work. The first draft was impressive, but I think the changes have made it even better. I hopes this does indeed spark further articles.
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Re: The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

Postby Jean Chandler » Wed Jul 20, 2011 9:26 pm

I strongly disagree with most of your basic premises but it's a well written article and much improved from the first draft.

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Re: The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

Postby Jeffrey Hull » Thu Jul 21, 2011 6:30 pm


I think your article has a lot to offer and I am happy that you wrote it. It got me to rethink the proper place of the the longsword in Medieval warfare.
Please keep researching and doing work in this field. :)

Good luck
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Re: The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

Postby Brandon Heslop » Sat Aug 20, 2011 8:29 am

I like it. Don't agree w/ everying in it. But I like it.

Nicely done.

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Re: The rise and fall of the longsword 'Final Version'

Postby A Froster » Tue Aug 23, 2011 5:06 am

Well done Richard. I enjoyed and appreciated the read.
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