Assuming normal wear and tear, how long before a knight had to replace his sword?
Anywhere between "after first serious use" and "never". Assuming thorough, regular maintenance, a sword can last almost indefinitely - the oldest one I've held that has seen use was about 250 years old and might still be usable, given a good cleaning. The oldest one that I've seen was about 1500 years old and while thoroughy rusty, was worn (indicating regular sharpening and use), but seemed solid.
The problem with trying to determine something like that is that medieval swords never really were consistent, especially where the quality of steel is concerned; sword steel of consistent quality wasn't broadly available before about 18th century, and before then, swordsmiths were mostly at the mercy of their ore. When someone happened to be able to consistenly produce (or at least, get their hands on) high-quality sword steel, their name would basically become legendary (as in the case of Ulfberth swords).
So, why would a sword need replacing anyway? A very handy property of steel is that it can be ground and sharpened repeatedly without affecting its mechanical properties; a sword would have to be sharpened a whole lot more than would be considered reasonable by any standard to become unusable. Simply put, a steel sword doesn't really "wear out".
Because of the hit-and-miss nature of medieval metallurgy, a common mode of failure was catastrophical breakage caused by hidden faults within the steel (mostly because the swordsmithing methods of the time would give you a material rife with microsopic pieces of slag in the process of trying to get the carbon content into a reasonable range), which may or may not randomly manifest when the sword gets a good jolt in just the right spot. Of course, this would often happen in a life-or-death situation, so you would likely not end up in any shape to be needing a replacement sword anyway.
Another reason why you might need a sword replaced would be if you got a dent in it too big to be ground out, but again, this requires contact with a blade of similar or superior quality along with an unhealthy dose of sloppy swordsmanship, and doesn't really depend on the age of the sword anyway.
Of course, constant compulsive sharpening may eventualy make your blade too thin to be usable, but that's by no means a standard mode of usage. If you neglect maintenance, you may get rusting which may or may not be repairable, depending on the conditions, but if you seriously intend to rely on your sword to protect yourself, you do not neglect it.
Bottom line, if you get a good sword (that does not fail catastrophically) and take good care of it, it will last you a lifetime. After that, either whoever killed you will let it rust on the field of battle, or alternatively, one of your descendants might take it up and go on using it (or they will decide it doesn't suit them and stash it in the family armoury).
If you go to an old farm, you may be surprised to find out that a lot of the metal tools in the shed have the metallic part dating back 50 or even older than that without significant degradation other than rust and some chips. The wooden parts however have long been replaced with newer material, and the edge is periodically resharpened. I wouldn't be surprised that some metallic part of swords and other arms would go on to last several decades, until it finally break on usage or is deemed too damaged to repair.
well, i think it's fairly random. When you say knight, i presume you are referring to a medieval longsword.
It depends on many factors such as make, luck and ultimately what the sword is used for/against. If it was a civilian weapon used for duels and self-defense, it would probably last more than a battle weapon used against polearms, axes, maces and various layers of armour.
I do Historical European Martial Arts and i already broke one decent quality high carbon steel longsword in about 18 months of sparring. Mind you, in some cases, the blade can be replaced.
I'd say the average life expectancy for a standard modern longsword reproduction that is intensively used for sparring is about 2-3 years. Common things that may happen: ruining the hilt, breaking the blade or the crossguard. And keep in mind that we generally don't use longswords against steel armour (we wear modern padded armour) or heavy weapons.
I'd have to agree with the Mike L. As long as the sword or blade is of at least decent quality steel and make, and cared for properly ( cleaned free of blood, perediocally sharpened, and kept free of rust) and you use it as intened (killing things, not chopping down trees or digging up stones or anything like that) Then the sword will last pretty much forever. Of course, they don't usually last more than a few generations in families, either because a major catashtrphe happened to break them, someone went ahead and used them for something beside the intended use, or they were simply neglected and/or forgotten. These days, most such family weapons would never hold up in battle, and are decorative at best.
The weapons used during the Middle Ages include the Medieval Swords. The Medieval Swords was predominantly used by a Medieval Knight. The weapons, armor and horse of the Knight were extremely expensive - the fighting power of just one knight was worth 10 ordinary soldiers. Medieval swords were the primary weapon of the Knights. Medieval swords changed as Medieval Warfare and armour changed. At the beginning of the Middle Ages a double edged slashing sword was used but as time went by it evolved into a stronger, diamond-shaped sword that could thrust between the rings of chain mail more easily. There were many different types and styles of Medieval swords which formed part of the Medieval Swords history the names of the different Medieval swords included the Broadsword, Falchion sword, Longsword, Scimitar, and Greatsword.
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The first major distinction is between prehistory and history. Basically, history is the timeframe for which we can (attempt to) date events with reasonably good precision and we know the names of at least some important people, usually rulers. Everything earlier is prehistory. By and large, history begins in the 3rd millenium before the common era, in Mesopotamia and Egypt, with the oldest written documents that we can read.
There is no such thing as a universal periodization of history we the participants to this forum are more familiar with the periodization pertaining to the lineage of civilizations which eventually resulted in the modern western civilization (Europe, the Americas, Australia, parts of Asia, parts of Africa). This is commonly organized as follows:
- Preclassical, or deep antiquity: from the earliest document to about the 6th century before the common era.
Major event: the Battle of Marathon, 490 BCE. The western world separates decisively from the Near East / Middle East.
- Classical period: from the 6th century before the common era to the 3rd or 4th century of the common era. This is the age of the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman civilizations it lasted for about one thousand years.
Major event: the fall of the Western Roman Empire, 476 CE. Western Europe is broken into a multitude of small and weak centers of power.
- Post-classical antiquity: a brief period between the classical world and the Middle Ages roughly from the 3rd or 4th century to the 6th century of the common era. In this time the classical world mostly disintegrated and the feudal relationships specific to the Middle Ages were established. The major powers in our lineage were the (Eastern) Roman (aka Byzantine) Empire and the Persian Empire.
Major events: the (Eastern) Roman (aka Byzantine) Empire loses Syria and Egypt to the Arabs. The classical world dies forever.
The Middle Ages, from roughly the 6th or 7th to the 14th or 15th century about 8 or 9 centuries. It covers the time span between the fall of the classical world and the rapid developments of the Renaissance.
The essential characteristics of the Middle Ages are feudalism and the existence of numerous small centers of power, which were only very loosely structured in larger kingdoms or empires. Another important characteristic of the Middle Ages is that the loyalties of people were to persons and not to countries or institutions this makes the medieval world very different from the classical antiquity and the modern world please note that in a story set in the Middle Ages it makes no sense to have patriots (there is no concept of loyalty to a nation, and there is no concept of a nation as a political structure).
Major events: fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans (1453), Columbus reaches the New World (1492), Vasco da Gama reaches India (1498).
- The Renaissance, a short period from the 14th to the early 17th century this is a time of rapid developments in culture, science and technology, and of geographical discoveries. This unprecedented developments resulted in the dissolution of the feudal bonds and the emergence of the modern world. The Renaissance begans asynchronously in different parts of Europe by the late 14th century Italy was in full Renaissance mood, whereas northern regions such as England and the Germanies were still fully medieval.
Major event: the 30 Years War, 1618-1648. Almost western and central European states are involved.
The Modern age, usually reckoned to begin with the Peace of Westphalia which ended the 30 Years War. (Sometimes the Renaissance is subsumed as the first part of the Modern age, or as the last part of the Middle Ages.) The major characteristic of this ages is the emergence of sovereign states as the principal actors on the historical stage, and the universal importance of the rule of law. It is usually divided into:
- The Early Modern period, which saw the first industrial revolution, and
- The Late Modern period or the age of machines, beginning with the second industrial revolution in the 19th century.
This periodization is made simply in order to make it easier for students to understand historical development. The people actually living in the 6th century did not in any way have a feeling that they were living in a time of transition between the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The guiding principle of the periodization of history is finding great commonalities, in social structure, culture, economy and so on.
It is important to understand that any periodization of history is specific to a civilization or to a lineage of civilizations for example, the division between the Renaissance and the Modern age is highly specific to the European civilization and it is completely meaningless to the Oriental civilizations of India, China, Indochina and Japan. For and Indian, or a Chinese, or a Japanese history has different periods specific to the development of their civilizations for example, in the history of Japan the modern period begins with the Meiji Restoration in the second half of the 19th century.
Use and Tradition
The Katana was used primarily as a cutting weapon, allowing both a two-handed and a one-handed grip. The oldest schools of katana art originate in the XV-XVI centuries. The basic idea of the Japanese art of sword and the techniques based on it is that the longitudinal axis of the sword during the attack must go to the target not at a right angle, but along its plane, causing cutting strokes. Therefore, it is more appropriate to speak not about strikes in the form in which they are characteristic of Western sword technicians but about cuts. That is why the blades have a curved shape.
The Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi wrote the book “Gorin no Se” (“The Book of Five Rings”), in which he reveals his technique of two swords. Working with a katana and wakidzashi is similar to the methods of eskrima. Kenjutsu, the practical art of fencing with a sword, reborn into a modern look – gendai budo. The art of a surprise attack and counterattack is called Iaido and is a meditative type of combat that is fought with an imaginary opponent. Kendo is the art of fencing with a bamboo sword, in which it is mandatory to wear a protection kit similar to the fencing European and consisting of a helmet with a grille covering the face and armor. This type of sword fencing, depending on the particular style, can be practiced as a sport discipline. In Japan, there are still numerous traditional fencing schools that managed to survive after the general prohibition of Emperor Meiji to carry swords. The most famous are Kashima Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shin Ryu and Katori Shinto Ryu .
The katana and wakizashi are always worn on the left side of the case in a sheath, laid down by the girdle, with the blade up. This is the accepted method of wearing in society, formed after the end of Sengoku wars in the early 17th century, when arms were more a tradition than a military necessity. When the samurai entered the house, he took the katana out from behind his belt. In the event of possible conflicts, he held the sword in his left hand in a state of alert or, as a sign of trust, in the right. Sitting down, he laid the katana on the floor within reach, and the wakizashi was not removed .
The installation of a sword for wearing on the street is called Kosirae, this includes the lacquered sheath of the saja. In the absence of frequent need to use a sword, it was stored at home in the installation of untreated magnolia silasia tree, which protects the steel from corrosion. Some modern katanas are originally produced in this version, in which the sheath is not varnished and not decorated. Such an installation, in which there was no tsuba and other decorative elements, did not attract attention and became widespread in the late 19th century after the imperial ban on wearing a sword.
Some of these terms originate contemporaneously with the weapons which they describe. Others are modern or early modern terms used by antiquarians, curators, and modern-day sword enthusiasts for historical swords.
Terminology was further complicated by terms introduced  or misinterpreted    in the 19th century by antiquarians and in 20th century pop culture,  and by the addition of new terms such as "great sword", "Zweihänder" (instead of Beidhänder), and "cut-and-thrust sword".  Historical European Martial Arts associations have turned the term spada da lato  into "side-sword". Furthermore, there is a deprecation of the term "broadsword" by these associations. All these newly introduced or redefined terms add to the confusion of the matter.
The most well-known systematic typology of blade types of the European medieval sword is the Oakeshott typology, although this is also a modern classification and not a medieval one. Elizabethans used descriptive terms such as "short", "bastard", and "long" which emphasized the length of the blade, and "two-handed" for any sword that could be wielded by two hands.
The term two-handed sword, used as a general term, may refer to any large sword designed to be used primarily with two hands:
- the European longsword, popular in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance.
- the Scottish late medieval claymore (not to be confused with the basket-hilted claymore of the 18th century)
The term "hand-and-a-half sword" is modern (late 19th century).  During the first half of the 20th century, the term "bastard sword" was used regularly to refer to this type of sword, while "long sword" or "long-sword", if used at all, referred to the rapier (in the context of Renaissance or Early Modern fencing). 
The term "single-handed sword" (or "one-handed sword") is a retronym coined to disambiguate from "two-handed" or "hand-and-a-half" specimens. "Single-handed sword" is used by Sir Walter Scott.  It is also used as a possible gloss of the obscure term tonsword by Nares (1822)  "one-handed sword" is somewhat later, recorded from c. 1850.
Apparently, many swords were designed for left-hand use, although left-handed swords have been described as "a rarity". 
Great sword Edit
Great swords or greatswords are related to the long swords of the Middle Ages.    [ dubious – discuss ] The great sword proper was developed during the Renaissance, but its earlier cousin, the Scottish Claymore, was very similar in size and use, like the "outsized specimens" between 160 cm and 180 cm (approx. the same height as the user) such as the Oakeshott type XIIa or Oakeshott type XIIIa. These swords were too heavy to be wielded one-handed and possessed a large grip for leverage, the point would be to hold the grip with one hand at the top of the grip, and one hand at the bottom. The top hand would push, and the bottom hand would pull this gave extra leverage thus the sword would be easier to swing, ignoring much of its weight.
The Scottish name "claymore" (Scottish Gaelic: claidheamh mór, lit. "large/great sword")   can refer to either the longsword with a distinctive two-handed grip, or the basket-hilted sword. [ citation needed ] The two handed claymore is an early Scottish version of a greatsword.
The Zweihänder ("two-hander") or Beidhänder ("both-hander") is a true two-handed sword, in the sense that it cannot be wielded in only one hand. It was a specialist weapon wielded by certain Landsknechte (mercenary soldiers), so-called Doppelsöldners.
Double-edge and straight swords Edit
These are double-edged, usually straight bladed swords, designed for optimized balance, reach and versatility.
Jian (simplified Chinese: 剑 traditional Chinese: 劍 pinyin: jiàn Cantonese: Gim) is a double-edged straight sword used during the last 2,500 years in China. The first Chinese sources that mention the jian date to the 7th century BC during the Spring and Autumn period  one of the earliest specimens being the Sword of Goujian. Historical one-handed versions have blades varying from 45 to 80 centimeters (18 to 31 inches) in length. The weight of an average sword of 70-centimeter (28-inch) blade-length would be in a range of approximately 700 to 900 grams ( 1 + 1 ⁄ 2 to 2 pounds).  There are also larger two-handed versions used by ancient and medieval armies and for training by many styles of Chinese martial arts. Two handed jians from the time of the Chu (state) and Han Dynasty were up to 150 cm (58 in) long.
These days, the term longsword most frequently refers to a late Medieval and Renaissance weapon designed for use with two hands. The German langes Schwert ("long sword") in 15th-century manuals did not necessarily denote a type of weapon, but the technique of fencing with both hands at the hilt. [ citation needed ]
The French épée bâtarde and the English bastard sword originate in the 15th or 16th century, [ citation needed ] originally having the general sense of "irregular sword or sword of uncertain origin". Qui n'était ni Française, ni Espagnole, ni proprement Lansquenette, mais plus longue que ces fortes épées. ("[a sword] which was neither French, nor Spanish, nor properly Landsknecht [German], but longer than any of these sturdy swords.")  Espée bastarde could also historically refer to a single-handed sword with a fairly long blade compared to other short swords. 
Joseph Swetnam states that the bastard sword is midway in length between an arming sword and a long sword,  and Randall Cotgrave's definition seems to imply this, as well. The French épée de passot was also known as épée bâtarde [ citation needed ] (i.e., bastard sword) and also coustille à croix  (literally a cross-hilted blade). The term referred to a medieval single-handed sword optimized for thrusting.  The épée de passot was the sidearm of the franc-archers (French or Breton bowmen of the 15th and 16th centuries).  The term passot comes from the fact that these swords passed (passaient) the length of a "normal" short sword. 
The "Masters of Defence" competition organised by Henry VIII in July 1540 listed  two hande sworde, bastard sworde, and longe sworde as separate items (as it should in Joseph Swetnam's context).   
Antiquarian usage in the 19th century established the use of "bastard sword" as referring unambiguously to these large swords.  However, George Silver and Joseph Swetnam refer to them merely as two hande sworde. The term "hand-and-a-half sword" is modern (late 19th century).  During the first half of the 20th century, the term "bastard sword" was used regularly to refer to this type of sword. 
The Elizabethan long sword (cf. George Silver  and Joseph Swetnam) is a single-handed "cut-and-thrust" sword with a 1.2-meter-long (4 ft) blade  similar to the long rapier. "Let thy (long) Rapier or (long) Sword be foure foote at the least, and thy dagger two foote." Historical terms (15th to 16th century) for this type of sword included the Italian spada longa (lunga) and French épée longue.
The term longsword has been used to refer to different kinds of sword depending on historical context:
- Zweihänder or two-hander, a late Renaissance sword of the 16th century Landsknechte, the longest sword of all
- the long "side sword" or "rapier"  with a cutting edge (the Elizabethan long sword).
The Spatha was a double-edged longsword used by the Romans. The idea for the Spatha came from the swords of ancient celts in Germany and Britain. It was longer than the gladius, and had more reach, so the Spatha was most popular with soldiers in the cavalry. The blade could range between 0.5 and 1 m (1 ft 8 in and 3 ft 3 in) long while the handle was usually between 18 and 20 cm (7 and 8 in).
The term broadsword was never used historically to describe the one-handed arming sword. [ citation needed ] The arming sword was wrongly labelled a broadsword by antiquarians as the medieval swords were similar in blade width to the military swords of the day (that were also sometimes labeled as broadswords) and broader than the dueling swords and ceremonial dress swords. [ citation needed ]
Short sword Edit
Knives such as the seax and other blades of similar length – between 30 and 60 cm (1 and 2 ft) – are sometimes construed as swords. This is especially the case for weapons from antiquity, made before the development of high quality steel that is necessary for longer swords, in particular:
- , a tool and weapon, common in Northern Europe. , an early ancient Roman blade , a double-edged, single-hand blade used by the ancient Greeks
- , a late medieval heavy dagger , a civilian long dagger , the Scottish long dagger (biodag) or wood-knife, a type of hunting sword or infantry sabre
- , a blade of about 64 cm (25 in) in length designed after the Roman gladius. Also known as a coupe-chou (literally a cabbage cutter) in France.
Oversized two-handers used as parade swords or ceremonial weapons often exceeded the length and weight of practical weapons of war.
Edgeless and thrusting swords Edit
The edgeless swords category comprises weapons which are related to or labelled as “swords” but do not emphasise "hacking or slashing techniques" or have any "cutting edges" whatsoever. The majority of these elongated weapons were designed for agility, precision and rapid thrusting blows to exploit gaps in the enemy's defences some are capable of piercing iron or steel armour.
Basket-hilted sword Edit
The basket-hilted sword is a sword type of the early modern era characterised by a basket-shaped guard that protects the hand. The basket hilt is a development of the quillons added to swords' crossguards since the Late Middle Ages. In modern times, this variety of sword is also sometimes referred to as the broadsword.  
The Spartiatēs were always armed with a xiphos as a secondary weapon. Among most Greek warriors, this weapon had an iron blade of about 60 centimetres. The Spartan version was typically only 30-45 centimetres. The Spartan's shorter weapon proved deadly in the crush caused by colliding phalanx formations – it was capable of being thrust through gaps in the enemy's shield wall and armour, where there was no room for longer weapons. The groin and throat were among the favourite targets.
The term "rapier" appeared in the English lexicon via the French épée rapière which either compared the weapon to a rasp or file it may be a corruption of "rasping sword"  which referred to the sound the blade makes  when it comes into contact with another blade. There is no historical Italian equivalent to the English word "rapier". 
Panzerstecher and koncerz Edit
The Panzerstecher is a German and East European weapon with a long, edgeless blade of square or triangular cross-section for penetrating armour.    Early models were either two-handers or “hand-and-half” hilted,  while later 16th and 17th century models (also known as koncerz) were one-handed and used by cavalry. 
Tuck and verdun Edit
The "tuck" (French estoc, Italian stocco) [ citation needed ] is an edgeless blade of square or triangular cross-section used for thrusting. [ citation needed ] In French, estoc also means thrust or point and estoc et taille means cut and thrust. [ citation needed ]
The tuck may also get its name from the verb "to tuck" which means "to shorten". [ citation needed ]
The small sword or smallsword (also court sword, fr: épée de cour or dress sword) [ citation needed ] is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting [ citation needed ] which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. [ citation needed ] The height of the small sword's popularity was between the mid-17th and late 18th century. [ citation needed ] It is thought to have appeared in France and spread quickly across the rest of Europe. [ citation needed ] The small sword was the immediate predecessor of the Épée de Combat from which the Épée developed  and its method of use—as typified in the works of such authors as Sieur de Liancour, Domenico Angelo, Monsieur J. Olivier, and Monsieur L'Abbat—developed into the techniques of the French classical school of fencing. [ citation needed ] Small swords were also used as status symbols and fashion accessories for most of the 18th century anyone, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis. [ citation needed ]
Single-edge and curved swords Edit
These are single-cutting edged, usually thick or curved construction bladed swords, typically designed for slashing, chopping, severing limbs, tripping or broad sweeping techniques but were often very poorly designed for stabbing. Swordsmen were trained to use the dulled-side for defensive and blocking techniques.
The backsword was a single-edged, straight-bladed sword, typically for military use. This type of sword had a thickened back to the blade (opposite the cutting edge), which gave the blade strength. The backsword blade was cheaper to manufacture than a two-edged blade. This type of sword was first developed in Europe in the 15th century and reflected the emergence of asymmetric guards, which made a two-edged blade somewhat redundant. The backsword reached its greatest use in the 17th and 18th century when many cavalry swords, such as the British 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword, were of this form.
Dao are single-edged Chinese swords, primarily used for slashing and chopping. The most common form is also known as the Chinese sabre , although those with wider blades are sometimes referred to as Chinese broadswords . In China, the dao is considered one of the four traditional weapons, along with the gun (stick or staff), qiang (spear), and the jian (sword). It is considered "The General of All Weapons".
Hook sword Edit
The hook sword, twin hooks, fu tao or shuang gou (simplified Chinese: 钩 traditional Chinese: 鈎 or 鉤 pinyin: Gou ) also known as hu tou gou (tiger head hook) is a Chinese weapon traditionally associated with northern styles of Chinese martial arts and Wushu weapons routines, but now often practiced by southern styles as well.
Unlike the xiphos, which is a thrusting weapon, the kopis was a hacking weapon in the form of a thick, curved single edged iron sword. In Athenian art, Spartan hoplites were often depicted using a kopis instead of the xiphos, as the kopis was seen as a quintessential "villain" weapon in Greek eyes. 
The Khopesh Edit
The khopesh is an ancient egyptian curved short sword with a length of approx.. 50-60 cm long and typically made of bronze or iron.
Historically, katana ( 刀 ) were one of the traditionally made Japanese swords ( 日本刀 , nihontō)   that were used by the samurai of feudal Japan.  Modern versions of the katana are sometimes made using non-traditional materials and methods. The katana is characterized by its distinctive appearance: a curved, slender, single-edged blade usually with a round guard and long grip to accommodate two hands.
The hanger (Obs. whinyard, whinger, cuttoe), wood-knife or hunting sword is a long knife or short sword that hangs from the belt and was popular as both a hunting tool and weapon of war.  
Falchion and cutlass Edit
The falchion (French braquemart,  Spanish bracamarte) proper is a wide straight-bladed but curved edged hanger or long knife.  The term falchion may also refer to the early cutlass.
The cutlass or curtal-axe also known as a falchion (French badelaire, braquemart,  coutelas,  malchus Italian coltellaccio, storta, German messer,  dussack, malchus) is a broad-bladed curved hanger or long knife. In later usage, the cutlass referred to the short naval boarding sabre. [ citation needed ]
The sabre (US saber) or shable (French sabre, Spanish sable, Italian sciabola, German Säbel, Russian sablya, Hungarian szablya, Polish szabla, Ukrainian shablya) is a single-edged curved bladed cavalry sword. 
The scimitar (French cimeterre, Italian scimitarra) is a type of saber that came to refer in general to any sabre used by the Turks or Ottomans (kilij), Persians (shamshir) and more specifically the Stradioti  (Albanian and Greek mercenaries who fought in the French-Italian Wars and were employed throughout Western Europe).   The scimitar proper was the Stradioti saber,   and the term was introduced into France by Philippe de Commines (1447 – 18 October 1511) as cimeterre,  Italy (especially the Venetian Republic who hired the stradioti as mercenaries) as scimitarra, and England as cimeter or scimitar via the French and Italian terms.
An analysis of edge sharpness during the middle ages
It is one of those devilish questions that can confound people even today: how sharp was a Medieval sword?
The problem lies with the question – there is an underlying assumption that when it comes to how they are used, Medieval swords can be generalized into a single category. This belief is erroneous. The reality was that from the very beginning, the form and function of Medieval swords was fluid and in constant development. The “longsword” of the 15th century judicial duel, which was a cut-and-thrust weapon designed for unarmoured combat, was very different from the “longsword” of the 14th century knight, which was a thrusting weapon built to puncture plate armour.
Indeed, it would be accurate to say that a full-out arms race existed between bladesmiths and armourers in the Middle Ages, with armour developing to counter the latest weaponry, and bladesmiths modifying their swords to match. This is one of the reasons that when talking about Medieval swords, it is best to use Oakeshott’s Typology – with no fewer than 22 different categories of sword blade in use from 1000 to 1500, it is far more useful in understanding how swords developed and how they were used.
The Oakeshott typology is particularly useful as, particularly in the early Middle Ages, it is next to impossible to determine the original sharpness of the sword through surviving examples. Swords used in battle survive primarily as archaeological finds, with the edges so corroded that any indication of the original sharpness is long lost. Determining the sharpness of a Medieval sword must usually be done through deduction, using the literary evidence, armour of the time, and blade type to figure out how sharp the sword needed to be.
So, when it comes to the sharpness of Medieval swords, the real question is, “how sharp did a Medieval sword need to be at any given time?” To answer this question, we need to examine the physics of a sword blow and what this means in terms of penetrating armour. The sword is used in three types of attack: the thrust, the cutting blow (striking with the edge of the sword in a swing), and the slice (drawing the edge of the sword with pressure against the target).
On a very basic level, in a cut or thrust, the power of the blow is generated by the mass of the blade and the velocity with which it impacts the target. The sharper the blade, the greater the concentration of force upon impact, and the more powerful and damaging the blow.
However, it is important to remember Newton’s Third Law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. While the blade strikes the target, the target strikes the blade with equal force. This becomes very important when it comes to dealing with armour – hard metal armour has enough resistence to deliver force back into the sword, and the sharper a blade is, the thinner its edge is, and the more (BRITAL) it becomes. If a sword blade is too sharp when it hits a hard target, the edge can take additional damage that could have been prevented.
The slice, on the other hand, operates primarily through shearing. Again there is force applied, but, as a slice does not involve a percussive impact, it has less force than found in a blow. Therefore, the sharpness of the blade is a determining factor in the effectiveness of the slice. So, the first factor to consider in when it comes to the sharpness of a Medieval sword is what kind of blow the sword will be used for. The slice requires a sharper sword than a cut, and a thrust does not require a very sharp sword at all.
The type of blow will therefore be determined by the type of armour the opponent is wearing. Striking through leather armour is very different than striking a coat of mail, which it itself very different than striking a coat of plate. Against leather or cloth armour, a very sharp sword is an asset – leather or cloth armour is a relatively soft target, and, while it can absorb a great deal of force, both the cut and thrust would penetrate it. As a result, for the early Middle Ages prior to the Norman Conquest, we tend to see a lot of swords with relatively little profile taper – types X and Xa in the Oakeshott typology – and a lenticular cross section, built primarily for cutting, but also capable of thrusting.
From the literature, cutting appears to be the primary use of these weapons. The Battle of Maldon records that Byrhtnoth’s nephew Wulfmær was “slashed by the sword.” In the same poem Eadweard swings his sword so savagely that he kills his enemy on the spot. When Byrhtnoth draws his own sword, he slashes. While slashes and cuts seem to be the most often used blow, thrusts appear in The Battle of Maldon as well – towards the end of the battle, Offa tells Ælfwine that he must encourage the men to use their weapons, and that they must “lunge and parry with our swords.” Slices are not mentioned at all.
Both the literature and archaeology give an indication that these swords were very sharp. The Battle of Brunanburh recalls the West Saxons chasing down Norse fugitives after the battle with “sharpened swords.”
As metal armour such as mail became more common, particularly in the period of 1050-1350, sword blades changed. Represented by Oakeshott types XII to XIV, as well as XVI and XVIa, they became far more tapered, while the blade geometry remained optimized for cutting. At least one type of sword – the Type XVI and XVIa, appeared to be specifically designed to handle reinforced mail armour. A coat of mail is a far harder target than leather armour – because it is metal, slicing does very little to it. Swords built to deal with this armour were not well served by a near-razor edge. This was in part because mail armour is far better at delivering force back into the blade – as mentioned above, too sharp a blade would leave too little material to receive this force, rendering the edge too brittle to handle the impact without taking unnecessary damage. This does not mean that swords of this period were dull – they needed to be sharp enough to bite into armour. The blades of this period were sharpened to strike a balance between the need to inflict damage and preserve the integrity of the blade.
It is towards the end of this period that we find a document that gives us an explicit insight into the use, and therefore also the sharpness, of the sword in this period. Known as i.33, it is the earliest known Medieval combat manual (A copy of the manual can be downloaded in PDF format at the following link: http://www.aemma.org/onlineResources/restricted/i33/i33text.pdf
I.33 dates to around 1290-1320, and is currently kept in the Royal Armouries.
The manuscript illustrates a duel with single handed swords between a monk and a pupil. Here the majority of strikes remain cutting blows, but thrusts are far better represented. Cuts to the arms are taught – and are enough of a concern that the primary use of the buckler is to protect the hand and wrist – and slices also appear. This suggests that in at least the early 14th century, single handed swords were kept sharp enough for the slice, regardless of any risk of damage from striking armour. This also suggests that a balance may have been struck where a blade could be sharpened so that it would slice, and still be able to strike mail without undue harm to the edge.
The advent of plate armour caused dramatic changes in sword design. Cutting would do very little to a breastplate – the steel would be too hard to penetrate with cutting blow, and would likely only blunt the sword. Many blades developed around 1350 were made with thrusting as their primary purpose. These blades tended to be stiff and triangular, with a diamond or hexagonal cross-section built to support the tip upon impact with a heavy target. Type XV swords for example, although still balancing thrusting and cutting, are far more optimized for thrusting. The blades of type XVII are thick and hexagonal in section – the shape and blade profile indicating that cutting was barely a concern. While they might have some sharpness, it was far from a primary concern. These were weapons built for the thrust, and little else. In Records of the Medieval Sword, Oakeshott describes this type as being designed to dent and bore holes in full plate armour. Oakeshott also records this type in both Archaeology of Weapons and Records of the Medieval Sword as being the closest the Medieval sword gets to a sharpened crowbar.
As warfare changed in the late Middle Ages, so too did the sharpness of swords. The 15th century saw cut-and-thrust swords, triangular blades built to deliver both effective thrusts and cutting blows in equal measure (Oakeshott types XVIII-XXII). Part of this may have been due to the development of the sword into an infantry and duelling weapon, which took it away from dealing with primarily heavy targets and back to light targets. A survey of techniques in German longsword (http://talhoffer.blogspot.ca/2011/05/how-sharp-were-medieval-swords.html) indicates that slicing was a frequently used technique, requiring a very sharp edge.
But even this exploration of sword sharpness provides little more than basic guidelines. That many swords were not razor sharp does not mean that razor sharp swords did not exist – while a razor edge is brittle against armour and difficult to maintain, Medieval swords could always be sharpened after becoming blunt. Even once one has considered the purpose of the sword, one must also consider how well it was built and maintained. In short, while there were factors that influenced how sharp a Medieval sword might be, there are few, if any, hard and fast rules.
It is one of the aspects of the Medieval sword that just when it comes to sharpness we see such a variety in how swords were constructed.
The sword was a specialized precision weapon, its sharpness determined by the armour it needed to penetrate as well as the combat techniques it was designed to carry out, with both armourer and bladesmith racing to create the next development.
It is in this arms race that we see the true artistry of the Medieval sword. Swordmaking was a dynamic art – as the nature of combat changed, and the types of armour on the field developed, so did the shape and sharpness of the blade to match. The sword was not a sharpened crowbar, or a simple weapon that was little more than a long knife – it was, in its day, the height of technology and engineering, designed and forged by people who understood the challenges faced by those on the battlefield and in the duel, and how to engineer the best possible weapon to meet them.
For further information about edge to edge combat and the proper use of a sword, please read John Clements excellent article. http://www.thearma.org/essays/damagededge.htm
Further reading: Ewart Oakeshott, The Archaeology of Weapons Ewart Oakeshott, Records of the Medieval Sword
Archery in the Middle Ages
The training of the medieval archer and the use of the longbow and crossbow in medieval European warfare.
The archer was a valued soldier in the medieval age and, when working with a team of archers, could change the outcome of a battle in a matter of minutes. Before gunpowder was widely used, the longbow and crossbow were among the most deadly weapons available to a medieval soldier.
Archery was an essential part of medieval warfare, where much of the fighting was done hand to hand. A trained archer could down a horse and kill several soldiers with just a few arrows. Even when greatly outnumbered, a group of highly trained archers could each fire around a dozen arrows a minute, with such speed and accuracy hundreds of men could be killed and injured within minutes.
The bow and arrow has been used as a hunting and fighting weapon for at least 5,000 years in mainland Europe. But it was in the Middle Ages that archers were used to great effect. Both the crossbow and longbow were inexpensive, being made from materials which were easily to obtain. Both weapons were fashioned from yew, ash, hazel or elm.
There were two main types of weapon used medieval archers the longbow and the crossbow. Historians still debate which was the superior weapon, but either could cause devastation on a battlefield.
The longbow was used in medieval mainland Europe, but was particularly popular in England. Archers using longbows are depicted on the 11th century Bayeux tapestry and use of the longbow by fighting forces at major battles including the battles of Crecy (1346) and Agincourt (1415) led to decisive English victories over French armies.
A longbow was at least five feet long, and was supposed to be at least as tall as the person firing it, for maximum aim and range. Although the longbow was a powerful weapon, it was only really effective when used by a highly-trained archer. To pull back the bow took considerable strength, and the weapon also had to be aimed accurately and another arrow loaded within seconds of the first arrow being fired.
A professional longbow archer would have trained for many years, usually from childhood. Many villages had their own butts, where villagers could practise their archery regularly. Once fully trained, a longbow archer was a valuable soldier and if caught in battle, was often ransomed for a large sum, rather than being killed.
The crossbow was an easier weapon for an untrained person to use. Although large crossbows did exist in medieval times, the most common was a handheld bow, which didn’t require the huge strength needed to shoot a longbow. Unlike the longbow, the crossbow could be loaded with an arrow in advance of firing. The bow was mounted on a stock, and so could be held in place until a trigger was pushed to release a bolt.
There are medieval examples of large crossbows, as tall as a man, but these were heavy and difficult to transport. A smaller crossbow could be carried and used easily by a single soldier, with no need for assistance.
The Archer in Medieval Warfare
Archers seem to have been people of a fairly ordinary class in life who practised continually until they were good enough to hire themselves out as soldiers. Although the archer was a highly prized fighter, most individuals seem to have come from ordinary families, rather than from the nobility.
An archer was very vulnerable on the battlefield, despite the danger he presented to his enemies. The main risk to anyone shooting a longbow or crossbow was the time it took to load an arrow, take aim and fire, during which the soldier was defenseless. The archer often carried a short sword for defense or was placed behind a defense wall of soldiers armed with swords and protected with shields.
The development of gunpowder in weaponry gradually brought an end to the use of the longbow or crossbow. Explosives, rather than hand-held weapons were used in battles and sieges and the bow and arrow were consigned to popular legend, such as the stories of Robin Hood.
How much would a medieval sword cost in terms of other items available during the period?
I'm aware there are going to be a huge number of factors that could influence price. Materials used, skills required to make, time period etc etc.
For your high level Knight's average single handed longsword, how much would it cost?
For example, it could cost as much as a small village, or 500 pigs, or 100 bales of hay. You get the picture.
"15th C England basically went like this:
You had "li, s, d" or "pounds, shillings, and pence". 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings, or 240 pence, in a pound.
Average sword was a pound.
Average person made 2 pence a day so 120 days of labor for a sword.
Skilled Labor could make 4-6d a day, someone like a stone mason.
Archers made 6d a day on campaign so 40 days of campaigning for a sword. "
And how much would that pound be worth today adjusted for inflation?
That would be correct if you saved every pence and spent nothing for those 4 months on anything else. This is fascinating to put the item into days worked. A modern day equivalent might be something like a car bought with cash.
How in the hell did armies ever come about if everything was so expensive?
So of you really wanted to make bank, you should have been a blacksmith?
Considering that I spent six months worth of my money on my car, that doesn't sound so bad.
Don't forget guys that while a laborer is making 2 pence a day he is not earning a middle class wage he is lower class and quite poor. There are millions of people today who work as laborers who make $1 US a day.
This link reports 1 gallon of beer costs 1d and two chickens cost 1d. Perhaps that that 2d per day wage includes food? Any way these peasents were quite poor people.
You do realize that Swords r Us is having a huge sale right now?
I've got a good list of prices for all sorts of things from the middle ages through the enlightenment here:
It says there that a cheap peasan's sword could be as low as 6 pence, which is pretty cheap, almost unbelievably so.
Overall, it's a pretty well-researched list, though.
That is a nice list!! Probably gonna spend a good half hour reading through it all :)
So if we equate, say, a software engineer to a stonemason thatɽ be maybe 8, 10 thousand dollars in modern money.
But back then society was more stratified and there were many fewer people who could afford something like that. A much bigger slice of humanity lived below what we would consider the poverty line. Consider someone living on welfare or working part time in a minimum-wage job: 10,000 dollars might as well be a billion.
This is true back then many were subsistence farming or working for their local lord or landowner so had little in the way of money at all.
Actually in regards to the poverty point it really depends which bit of the medieval era you're talking about - in the aftermath of the plague, when there was a lack of labourers compared to the demand (so they could insist on better working conditions), income of the working classes relative to the cost of living was the highest of any point in English history until after the industrial revolution. The medieval period is one of such momentous change, it's hard to generalise scoioeconomic situations within it.
That said I agree with the actual point of what you're saying, - that a larger slice of the population than today constituted that 'poorest' rung of society, so luxuries like swords would be out of their reach.
Teenagers at War During the Middle Ages
Teenagers at War During the Middle Ages
Kelly DeVries (Loyola University, Maryland)
The Premodern Teenager: Youth in Society, 1150-1650 (2002)
Early in 1212 a young man from western Germany, whose name has come down through history only as Nicholas, became the focal point of an attempted military endeavour against the Muslims in the Holy Land. Sweeping through the Rhineland, the fervour for participation grew with such vigour that more than a thousand like him joined the endeavour. They were fearless, willing to leave the comforts of their homes and families to travel thousands of miles and fight enemies whose different religion compelled them to make the journey. Because of their relative youth, this `crusade’ has become known historically as the `Children’s Crusade.’1
More than a century later, late in the afternoon of 26 August 1340, a young man stood firm in his position. It was important that he not show fear at what he was about to encounter. He was obviously rich, with a noble and brave demeanour the result of years of training in military arts. He was well armed and well armoured. He was also young and fear must have crossed his heart. No doubt he thought about the role he was to play in ensuing events, for he was in command of the most vulnerable spot on the battlefield, the central position of the middle of three solid defensive lines. Although only a teenager, a mere sixteen years old, Edward, Prince of Wales, later to be known as the Black Prince, was about to engage the French army at Crecy.2
Not one hundred years after the Black Prince fought at Crecy, early in the morning of 7 May 1429, another teenager, Joan of Arc, prepared to make military history. On this occasion, she was not waiting in a defensive formation as the Black Prince had done at Crecy, but poised to attack an enemy-controlled position, the strongly fortified bridgehead called the Tourelles that stood opposite the besieged city of Orleans.3 This was not her first military engagement, for she had been fighting against the besiegers of Orleans for more than a week, but it was to be her first great military effort, a direct assault on a fortification packed with the enemy armed with a large number of gunpowder weapons as well as with more traditional medieval arms. Like the `children crusaders,’ but unlike the Black Prince, Joan probably felt little fear, for she had a divine mission to fulfil, and that mission began with the relief of the English siege of Orleans.
All three of these military incidents, with their adolescent participants, have given historians the impression that warfare in the Middle Ages was fought often, if not primarily, by warriors under the age of twenty: teenagers. Judging from what little age-related evidence there is, however, this may actually not have been the case. In fact, the children of the Children’s Crusade may not actually have been children, or even adolescents, while the young age of the Black Prince and of Joan of Arc may have been unusual in leadership roles, but seems not to have mattered as the two youths showed military skill far beyond their teenage years.
There is no doubt that throughout history youths in their teens fought in wars. Even beyond those who were recruited in early modern armed forces as musicians (pipers, buglers, and drummers) and as logistical personnel in armies or as ensigns in navies, many teenagers chose to enlist among those actually fighting. Muster rolls in the early modern and modern periods, which sometimes contain age-related details, have confirmed this fact. For example, a statistical analysis of late eighteenth-century British soldiers found an average age of 21.6 years for 74 soldiers serving in the British army in America in 1776-82 and 24.0 years for 951 soldiers serving in the British army during the Napoleonic Wars of 1790-99. These same soldiers’ ages stayed relatively the same during proximate years of peace: an average of 22.8 years for 35 soldiers serving in the British army in 1762-75 and 24.0 years for 56 soldiers serving in the same army in 1783-89.4 Still, because of poor and frequently dishonest recruitment information, it is almost impossible for the historian seeking statistical evidence to determine how many teenagers actually fought in any engagement.
Yet another source of evidence has facilitated the historians’ search for soldiers’ ages: the excavation of corpses from military conflicts. For example, excavations of graves from a 1812 battle at Snake Hill, near Fort Erie, Canada, have established that 17 of the 32 bodies were of soldiers under the age of 25, with 9 of these under the age of 20. The youngest was only 14 years old.5 These findings are further corroborated by the excavations of 21 eighteenth-century military corpses from Fort Laurens, Ohio, whose average age was 23.5 years, with two soldiers aged between 12 and 15 years.6 Other age-related studies of victims of war indicate a similar young age of the soldiers: five who died during the attacks on Fort William Henry in 1757 averaged 23.3 years, and thirty New York Provincials who died during engagements in 1760 averaged 25.5 years.7 It is this evidence that has led-some early modern military historians to estimate that while the largest portion of men serving in armies of the period were between 20 and 40 years of age, up to a quarter of the soldiery might have been under 20 years of age, with many only 15 or 16 years old.8
Can the same estimation apply to soldiers fighting during the Middle Ages? While there are several medieval muster rolls, such as that for Edward III’s Crecy campaign in 1346 or the Bridport muster roll of 1457, none of these contain the ages of their listed participants.9 Nor have prosopographical studies of medieval military endeavours aided this understanding even James M. Powell’s Anatomy of a Crusade, a detailed study of the Fifth Crusade that uses an extremely large number of sources, has not been able to determine how old, or young, those crusaders were.
What about the excavations of medieval military corpses? Despite knowing the locations of several grave mounds and cemeteries, only a few have been excavated. The unearthing by Bengt Thordeman of more than a thousand skeletons from the largest of these, the battlefield of Visby, where in 1361, the Danes defeated the Gotlanders, revealed no information on the ages of these soldiers, primarily because Thordeman was little concerned with the bodies themselves and even bagged all the bones together.10
However, two recent excavations are far more profitable for determining the age of medieval soldiers. The first, undertaken by the Council for British Archaeology at St. Andrew’s cemetery in the Fishergate area of York, while not a military cemetery per se, did reveal 29 skeletons which had sustained fatal blade injuries. Their average age, however, was much older than the early modern corpses mentioned above: 28 years old.11 Far more secure evidence of medieval soldiers’ ages can be found in the second excavation, that of 32 bodies from the battle of Towton, fought in 1461 during the English Wars of the Roses. These skeletons, found only in July 1996, have received extremely close scrutiny by forensic archaeologists on all aspects, including age. Using both dental and bone data, it was discovered that the average age of these victims of this most bloody battle fought on English soil was 29.2 years of age. Moreover, of these 32 corpses, only 11 can be identified as between 16 and 25 years old, with the archaeologists unwilling to specify whether these 11 were teenagers or not. This makes the average age of the Towton warriors considerably older than their early modern and modern counterparts.12
And yet, what about the famous examples of medieval adolescent soldiers mentioned at the beginning of this article? How do they reconcile with the age-related detail from the excavations that showed a relatively more advanced age for medieval soldiers? The simple answer could be that all three examples – the Children’s Crusade, the Black Prince, and Joan of Arc – were special and unusual cases, and that while they included famous teenagers in military roles, they were anomalies. That may be so, and certainly the cases of the Black Prince and Joan of Arc seem to confirm this thesis. In the case of the Children’s Crusade, however, these famous young soldiers were not soldiers, or even young. For, despite a persistence among nineteenth-century writers to glorify or even romanticize this 1212 military endeavour by `poor children,’ more modern research has argued that the Children’s Crusade was, to use Thomas Madden’s words, `not an army of children, and it was not a crusade.
As is well known to medieval historians, by 1212 the crusades were not going well. During the previous half century, endeavours in the Holy Land had met with ineptitude and bickering between the resident crusaders in Outremer and their reinforcements (the Second Crusade), with military failure when facing a superior enemy (the Third Crusade), or with misdirection of crusading efforts to suit more personal ambitions and greed (the Fourth Crusade). Jerusalem was no longer in the hands of Christians and the other Latin kingdoms in the Middle East stood on the brink of surrender. Only the death of Saladin, it seems, had prevented all of the gains of the First Crusade to fall back into the hands of the Saracens.
Scholars have frequently debated how much of this news from the Middle East reached the poorer `grassroots’ of Europe. Some have claimed that victory or failure in the Middle East had little effect on what was happening in Europe14 judging from the responses given to Gerald of Wales’ crusading sermons, such an assertion may have validity.15 Perhaps early thirteenth-century peasants in the Rhineland would never have known of the failings of these Crusades had preachers not told them about them and warned them of the disastrous future of Christianity because of them. Whether this was the case or not cannot be determined from our meagre sources, but what can be determined is that when some lower class groups heard of the plight of the Holy Land they were spurred on with an enthusiasm that knew no equal among the upper classes. Such had certainly been the case with the popular crusaders of the First Crusade who, led by preachers such as Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, had met their end outside Nicea without making even so much as a single military foray. Since that time, most of these poorer crusaders, even if initially enthused about service in the Holy Land, would soon realize the futility of such endeavours and return to their previously militarily uneventful lives, as Gerald of Wales witnessed.
Such seems not to have been the case in 1212. Contemporary sources note that between 25 March and 13 May a popular crusading movement gained strength primarily along the border lands between France and the Holy Roman Empire.16 They record that thousands of pueri accepted the call to crusade, joining with a puernamed Nicholas who may have been the originator of the crusade – or had risen quickly to be its chief instigator. Their mission was to relieve the crusader holdings in the Holy Land, to redeem Jerusalem, and to recover the Holy Sepulchre, doing so essentially because it was not being done by the soldiers of their kings and princes.17
Who this Nicholas was is somewhat of a mystery. Some sources indicate he came from the region around Cologne, but there is no certainty in this, especially as the Cologne chroniclers reporting on this crusade say nothing about it.18 Nor do any of these sources indicate his age, beyond saying that he was a puer. Contemporary Giovanni Codagnello suggests that Nicholas had received a vision in which he had been instructed by an angel to regain the Holy Sepulchre and remove it from Saracen control.19 (It is uncertain here and elsewhere whether Nicholas or any of his followers had a precise understanding of who their enemy would be, beyond the simple designation `Saracen.’) Most other original sources give no such divine rationale for this crusading movement.
Starting in the Rhine region near Cologne, the Children Crusaders travelled south to Alsace, stopping along the way perhaps at Trier and definitely at Speyer. According to Alberic of Troisfontaines, a separate French Children’s Crusade led by a shepherd boy named Stephen, inspired by the German one, also began around Vendome at this time and marched south to Marseilles, but most modern historians see this as a confused figment of the writer’s imagination.20 These crusaders were humble, poor, and, perhaps more importantly, poorly prepared for the endeavours of European travel. Several seem to have died of hunger, thirst, and exposure along the way others turned back at Mainz and returned home.21 Many more travelled through the Alps and reached northern Italy, arriving in Genoa on 25 August. This in itself was an impressive undertaking – the city annalist, Ogerius Panis, expressed awe when he counted the 7,000 crusaders who had arrived there with Nicholas.22
In Genoa the crusade somehow began to fall apart. Perhaps some crusaders began to doubt Nicholas’ divinity when no transportation awaited their transfer to the Holy Land. The crusade fractured. One group went from Genoa to Marseilles, another to Rome, while still another appeared in Brindisi, where the wise bishop forbade them from further attempting to reach the Holy Land.23 Some of the crusaders even seem to have secured boats for the Mediterranean crossing, although the Chronicon Eberheimense reports that no sooner had these set sail than they were captured by Muslim pirates and sold into slavery.24 A few returned to the Rhineland, but most seem to have disappeared from the historical record. Even Nicholas’ fate is unknown. Only two sources comment on him once he left Genoa: one, the Gesta Treverorum suggests that he died in Brindisi, while a second, the Annales Admuntenses, claims that he survived this initial crusade and later, in 1217, took the cross and fought at Akirs and Damietta.25
So, warriors they were not, at least not in 1212. But exactly how old were these crusading `children’? The original sources use the words puer, puella, or puelle to describe them. However, because these sources include them with homines and feminae and even infantes lactantes, several modern historians see this crusade less as one in which only children, or even predominantly children or even adolescents, participated.26 They regard it, instead, more as a `popular’ or even `poor’ crusade, in other words as one designated more by class and wealth than by age. This assertion becomes even more convincing when the contemporary account of the Marbach annalist is examined. Not hiding his feelings of disgust nor his criticism for this crusade and its leaders, the Marbach annalist may be the most trustworthy source in which to research the question of age as he does not embellish what occurred in 1212. And this source claims that not only were these crusaders not teenagers or younger children, but that they were adult and married `children. Other contemporary sources seem to indicate no age for them. Only medieval chronicles written long after the crusade insist on the youth of these crusaders.28
Furthermore, according to Georges Duby and Philippe Aries, the word puer was often used during the Middle Ages to indicate an agricultural labourer or wage-earner.29 (A somewhat analogous semantic situation occurred in the pre-Civil War American South where slave-owners often referred to their adult male slaves as `boy.’) Without firmer contemporary information, one must agree that the `Children’s Crusade’ was not a military undertaking by adolescents.
What, then, of the Black Prince and Joan of Arc? In their cases, it is almost certain that they were teenagers. For the Black Prince, there is no doubt. He was born on 15 June 1330 as the first child of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Joan of Arc’s exact age cannot be determined from the sources available she never revealed it nor was she asked at her trial how old she was. Unfortunately, without a clear answer to such a question, Joan’s age during the events of her military career cannot be known for sure. Some believe she was born in 1412, which would make her seventeen years old when she began her military adventures. Others give 1414 or 1411 as her birth year. Since none of these dates is based on the least amount of original source evidence, scholars, such as Regine Pernoud and Jules Quicherat, have simply not discussed her age, except to say that she was still a teenager, even at her death in 1431.30
What were these two teenagers doing, fighting in a war which seemed to know no chronological bounds, especially if, as was shown above, it might have been unusual for teenagers to have fought in medieval wars? Indeed, not only were they fighting, but they were also leading other soldiers far older and more veteran than they. And why did adult men follow them into these and other military engagements? The answer is quite simple: their youth did not matter. Should they have failed in their military tasks, their age might have mattered. What mattered was their victories, which most contemporary commentators and eye-witnesses credit to their bravery, leadership, and military skills.
Because of the tumultuous times, provoked for the most part by his father, the young Prince of Wales was active in warfare at a younger age than most sons of even the most bellicose of medieval leaders. While too young to participate in his father’s early efforts at the battle of Sluys and at the siege of Tournai (1340) or in the Breton civil war (1342), once King Edward III was again able to attack the French in 1346, the young prince not only went with him, but also supplied him with men and revenues from his English holdings.31 Whether the noble youth could have anticipated what awaited him in France cannot be known it was to be quite the introduction to warfare.
The speed and scope of the English march from their landing at Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue to Crecy was impressive. Between 11 July and 26 August, not only did the English manoeuvre across a large amount of enemy territory, but they also captured many towns and fortifications, including the historical capital of Normandy, Caen.32The sources do not say what the Black Prince’s role in the affair was to this point, but no doubt he was getting an education in how to lead an army from one of the best generals of the medieval world, his father, King Edward III.33 In turn, he must have inspired such trust that his father gave him heavy responsibilities in the battle to follow.
On the morning of 26 August, with King Philip VI’s army quickly approaching the battlefield, King Edward III ordered his troops in a defensive formation. All troops were to fight on foot, the cavalry dismounting to stand alongside the rest of the infantry. Even the Black Prince, who was placed in command of the centre line, was dismounted. Why was Prince Edward placed in this position of responsibility when still so young? It is difficult to say without being able to look into Edward III’s psyche if his son failed in his task at Crecy, his future military leadership would be largely ineffective. The Black Prince, however, would not fail.
After a largely one-sided archery duel, in which the English longbowmen clearly proved their strength against Genoese crossbowmen fighting in the employ of the French, Philip VI ordered his cavalry to charge the English position, directly at the centre of the line commanded by the Black Prince. Although the archery exchange had proved a failure for the French army, its main body, the cavalry, armed with lance and sword, was still an impressive and formidable force which in the past had often caused infantry foes to flee in panic even before encountering them. The French cavalry could still carry the day, especially if the Black Prince’s position were to fail.
It was a brutal fight, described by the bourgeois of Valenciennes as `very perilous, murderous, without pity, cruel, and very horrible. The Herald of Chandos agrees: `That day was there battle so horrible that never was there a man so bold that would not be abashed thereby. The French cavalry made a number of attacks on the English line. These charges became directed at the centre of the English front line, the section commanded by the Black Prince. Indeed, the Prince himself became the target of many direct attacks, but despite on one occasion being `compelled to fight on his knees,’ he and his men held their position.36
Although having previously been knighted when the English landed at Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue, it was in this battle experience that the teenaged Edward, the Black Prince, `earned his spurs.’ Praise for his performance at Crecy was almost unceasing. The following day, when the English king conducted a funeral service for all those who had fought and died on both sides, the Black Prince stood by his side.37 On 12 October 1347, back in London after the successful siege of Calais, and despite his age, Prince Edward became one of the first inductees in the chivalric Order of the Garter, established by his father to honour those nobles who had performed well in their military escapades in France he was by far the youngest inductee. Also inducted were many others who had stood near him in that centre position and who, impressed by his strength of leadership, would continue to be his companions for the rest of his life.38 His adolescence had not mattered, for he had performed his military task well, and even much older soldiers honoured that.
Joan of Arc did not have the wealth, education, nor the advantages of Edward III’s eldest son. Nor, it should be said, did she have the responsibilities. The only similarity she had with the Black Prince, aside from her age, was her ability to make followers of much older troops, soldiers who seemed not to have considered her too young to lead them once she had proven her capabilities on the battlefield.
Born in Domremy, Lorraine, of comparatively wealthy peasant parents,39 Joan had a relatively normal young girl’s rural life until the fall of 1428 when she approached the castle of Vaucouleurs with her now famous tale of having heard heavenly voices, most often those of Saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine. Their message, spoken to her since childhood, was that she was to seek out Charles, Dauphin of France, and he would give her an army with which she would deliver France from its English occupiers.40 Why the castellans at Vaucouleurs did not turn her away is undoubtedly one of the great mysteries of history, surpassed only by the mystery of why later at Chinon the Dauphin actually provided her with her desired army. Yet, Joan still had to perform some great military feat to validate the faith the Dauphin had placed in her. Her chance came at Orleans.
Joan joined the French army at Orleans in April 1429. It was a demoralized force, led by Jean, Bastard of Orleans who, only two weeks before, had led his troops to an extremely embarrassing defeat at the battle of the Herrings. The Bastard of Orleans was reluctant to attack the English in their well armed and fortified siegeworks instead, he wished to retreat from the city and leave it to the English.41 Joan would have none of this, for her voices had told her that a victory at Orleans must precede the crowning of the Dauphin. A new strategy was undertaken, with the French attacking several of the boulevards surrounding the town. Finally, on 7 May, Joan herself led her soldiers against the most fortified and well armed boulevard held by the English, the boulevard of the Augustins, which had been erected to add protection to the Tourelles.
There was never any question in Joan’s mission about her need to relieve the siege of Orleans. This had always been one of her tasks and she had talked unceasingly about it during her time at Vaucouleurs and Chinon. No one would have forgiven her had she shunned it on the morning of 7 May 1429. As for herself, Joan was adamantly opposed to caution and promised to lead the main attack in a direct assault of the fortress. She knew this would be risky in fact, she prophesied to her confessor that she herself would be wounded.42 Despite the risks, Joan was certain that she would be supported by her troops in an undertaking for which she felt some urgency.
In the midst of the battle, Joan was wounded, precisely as she had predicted. Yet, this did not stop her from carrying on the battle. Her fellow leader, the Bastard of Orleans, recalled the event as follows:
On May 7, early in the morning, when the attack was beginning against the
enemy who were within the boulevard of the bridge [the Tourelles], Joan
was wounded by an arrow which penetrated her flesh between her neck
and her shoulder, for a depth of half a foot. Nevertheless, her wound not
restraining her, she did not retreat from the conflict, nor did she take medication
for her wound. (my translation)43
When other leaders, including the Bastard of Orleans, became fatigued and wished to retreat from the fight to rest until the following day, Joan refused. The Bastard continued his testimony:
The attack lasted from early morning until the eighth hour of vespers [eight o’clock in the evening], so
that there was almost no hope of victory on this day. On account of this, this lord [the Bastard of Orleans]
chose to break it off and wanted the army to retreat to the city. And then the Maid came to him and requested
that he wait for a little while, and at that time she mounted her horse and retired alone into a vineyard at a
distance from the crowd of men. In this vineyard she was in prayer for a space of seven minutes. She returned
from that place, immediately took her standard in her hands and placed it on the side of the ditch. And instantly,
once she was there, the English became afraid and trembled. The soldiers of the king regained their courage and
began to climb [up the ramparts], making an attack on those against the boulevard, not finding any resistance.
And then the fortification was taken and the English in it were put to flight. (my translation)44
Joan corroborates this testimony when she testified at her own trial that she `was the first to put her ladder on the boulevard of the Tourelles.
Joan’s military career was far from over. Although it would last less than a year longer, her relieving of the siege of Orleans with the attack of the Tourelles was recognized by both the French and the English as the defining moment in the way the Hundred Years War would fare. John, Duke of Bedford and Regent of England, wrote to his nephew, King Henry VI:
And all things prospered for you until the time that the siege of Orleans was undertaken . . . At which
time . . . by the hand of God, as it seemed, a great offense upon your soldiers who were assembled
there in great number, caused to a large party of them . . . by a disciple and follower of the Fiend, called
the Pucelle, who used false enchantments and sorcery. This offense and destruction not only lowered by
great party the number of your soldiers there, but as well removed the courage of the remnant in a
marvellous way, and encouraged your opponents and enemies to assemble themselves afterwards in great
The French were more positive about what had occurred. The Dauphin’s secretary, Alain Chartier, writing to an unnamed prince at the end of July 1429, could not help but extol Joan’s virtues in raising the siege:
This Maid, whom divine precept burns to satisfy, immediately asked him to give her an army to succour
the Orleanais who were then in danger. He [the Dauphin], to whom she showed no fear, at first denied
her request, but finally conceded to it. This having been accepted, she took a huge amount of foodstuffs
to Orleans. Crossing under the enemy camps, they perceived nothing hostile . . . Leaving the victuals in
the city and attacking these camps, which in a way was a miracle, in a short space of time she captured
them, especially that which was erected almost in the middle of the bridge [the Tourelles]. It was so strong,
so well armed with all types of weapons, and so fortified that, if all people, if all nations fought against it,
they could not capture it . . . Here is she who seems not to come from anywhere on earth, who seems to be
sent from heaven to sustain with her neck and shoulders a fallen France. She raised the king out of the vast
abyss onto the harbour and shore by labouring in storms and tempests, and she lifted up the spirits of the
French to a greater hope. By restraining the ferocity of the English, she excited the bravery of the French,
she prohibited the ruin of France, and she extinguished the fires of France. O singular virgin, worthy of all
glory, worthy of all praise, worthy of divine honours! You are the honour of the reign, you are the light of
the lily, you are the beauty, the glory, not only of France, but of all Christendom.(my translation)47
Neither side seemed to focus on the fact that she was a woman, or even a teenager.
It would be folly to suggest that the above information proves that either many or few teenagers participated in medieval combat. Because of the scantiness of age-related evidence on medieval soldiers, such a suggestion is not defensible. Perhaps more importantly, this discussion reveals that when one encounters what seem to be historical examples of adolescent warriors fighting in the Middle Ages, caution must be followed: were they truly teenagers and, if so, did their youth seem to affect their fighting skills or leadership? Perhaps the only conclusion that can be reached is that in the Middle Ages when teenagers participated in a military engagement if they performed their task well their youth did not seem to matter to their contemporaries.
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Armour from the Battle of Visby, 1361, ed. Bengt Thordeman. 2 vols. Stockholm: Kungl. vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien, 1939-40.
Baker, Geoffrey. Chronicon Galfridi le Baker de Swynebroke, ed. Edward Maunde Thompson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889.
Barber, Richard. Edward: Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: A Biography of the Black Prince. New York: Scribner, 1978.
Boylston, Anthea, Malin Holst, and Jennifer Coughlan, `Physical Anthropology’ pp. 45-59 in Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton, AD 1461, ed. Veronica Fiorato, Anthea Boylston, and Christopher Knusel. Oxford: Oxbow, 2000.
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Chronicon Eberheimense, ed. Ludwig Weiland. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, 23. Hanover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1874.
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DeVries, Kelly. Joan of Arc: A Military Leader. Stroud: Sutton, 1999.
Duby, Georges. ‘Les pauvres des campagnes dans l’occident medievale jusqu’au XIIIe siecle’ Revue d’histoire de Peglise de France 52 (1966): 25-32.
Gesta Treverorum, ed. Georg Waitz. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum, 24. Hanover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1879.
Gilchrist, John. `The Erdmann Thesis and the Canon Law, 1083-1141′ pp. 37-45 in Crusade and Settlement: Papers Read at the First Conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East and Presented to R. C. Smail, ed. Peter W. Edbury Cardiff: University College Cardiff Press, 1985.
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Miccoli, Giovanni. `La “crociata dei fanciulli” del 1212′ Studi medievali 3 (1961): 407-43.
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1. For a good, short summary of the Children’s Crusade, see Madden, A Concise History of the Crusades, pp. 138‑40 for more in‑depth studies see Raedts, `The Children’s Crusade’ Miccoli, `La “crociata dei fanciulli”‘ and Zacour, `The Children’s Crusade.’
2. It seems that `the Black Prince’ as a nickname was not assigned to Prince Edward until the sixteenth century, and then probably at the bidding of antiquarians such as John Leland. Barber suggests this was done perhaps to differentiate this prince from Edward of Woodstock, later King Edward IV Edward, pp. 242-43.
3. For a description of the Tourelles and its importance see DeVries, Joan of Arc, p. 60.
4. Steegmann, `Eighteenth Century British Military Stature.’ McKern/Stewart showed that the average age of Korean War soldiers was 23.7 years see their Skeletal Age Changes. The average age of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam was 19 Boylston, `Physical Anthropology’ p. 5.
5. Pfeiffer, `Estimation of Age at Death,’ pp. 167-75. For a discussion of how age is determined in these excavations see Boylston, `Physical Anthropology,’ pp. 45-59.
6. Sciuli/Gramly, `Analysis of the Fort Laurens, Ohio, Skeletal Sample.’
7. These are included with references on a table found in Knusel/Boylston, `How Has the Towton Project,’ p. 171.
8. Tallett, War and Society, pp. 85-86.
9. Wrottesley has edited Edward III’s Crecy muster roll (Crecy and Calais from the Public Records) while Richardson has done the same for the Bridport muster roll (`The Bridport Muster Roll of 1457′). There are others, but none contain age-related information.
12. See Boylston, `Physical Anthropology,’ pp. 47-53.
13. Madden, A Concise History of the Crusades, p. 138. For a review of nineteenthand twentieth‑century writings about the crusades see Raedt, `The Children’s Crusade,’ pp. 279-82.
14. See, for example, Gilchrist, ‘The Erdmann Thesis.’
15. Giraldus Cambrensis, Itinerarium Kambriae, passim, in Opera.
16. Raedt, ‘The Children’s Crusade,’ pp. 282-89.
17. So says Reiner of Liege, Reined annales, p. 665.
18. Raedt, ‘The Children’s Crusade,’ p. 290.
19. Codagnello, Annales Placentini, p. 426.
20. Alberic of Troisfontaines, Chronicon, p. 893. Alberic claims that these children, some 30,000 in number, were either shipwrecked and drowned or were betrayed and sold into slavery. Those doubting this story include Raedt, ‘The Children’s Crusade,’ pp. 293-94 Zacour, ‘The Children’s Crusade,’ p. 337 and Munro, ‘The Children’s Crusade,’ p. 520. Other contemporary French sources also report a popular crusading movement which began that year in Vendome, but claim that, once it reached Paris, the crusaders were sent home by King Philip Augustus. See Raedt, `The Children’s Crusade,’ pp. 292-93.
21. Reiner of Liege, Reineri annales, p. 665 Chronica regia Coloniensis, pp. 191, 234.
22. Panis, Annales Ianuenses, p. 131.
23. Gesta Treverorum, p. 399.
24. Chronicon Eberheimense, p. 450.
25. Annales Admuntenses, p. 592.
26. See especially Miccoli `La “crociata dei fanciulli,”‘ p. 430 and Raedts, `The Children’s Crusade,’ pp. 295‑300.
27. Annales Marbacenses, pp. 82-83.
28. Raedts, `The Children’s Crusade,’ pp. 296-97.
29. Duby, ‘Les pauvres des campagnes,’ p. 30 Aries, L’enfant et la vie familiale, pp. 14-15 Raedts, `The `Children’s Crusade’,’ p. 296.
30. For a further discussion on this see DeVries, Joan of Arc, p. 202 n. 8.
32. On the English army’s movement from the Seine to the Somme see Barber, Edward, pp. 59-61, and DeVries, Infantry Warfare, pp. 157-158.
33. Admittedly, while there is no doubt as to Edward III’s later success as a military leader (see Rogers, `Edward III and the Dialectics of Strategy,’ pp. 83-102), at this point in his career he had seen personal victory only at the battle of Halidon Hill and at the naval battle of Sluys, while he had been defeated at the siege of Tournai and in numerous other engagements associated with this siege.
34. Recits d’un bourgeois de Valenciennes, p. 232.
35. The Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince, p. 9.
36. Geoffrey le Baker, Chronicon, p. 84.
37. John Arderne, the English army’s (and perhaps the royal family’s) surgeon leaves the best record of this funeral and the Black Prince’s place in it: see his Treatises of Fistula in Ano, p. xxvii. See also Barber, Edward, pp. 68-69 and pl. 16. It is also here that the Black Prince may have taken up his famous motto, Ich d(i)ene, impressed either by his Flemish allies or by the bravery of the dead King of Bohemia, whose blindness had not kept him from playing a role in the Crecy battle see Barber, Edward, p. 69.
38. Barber, Edward, pp. 80-93.
39. DeVries, Joan of Arc, pp. 35-36.
40. On Joan’s voices and their message see DeVries, Joan of Arc, pp. 38-39. This is largely based on Joan’s own trial testimony in Proces de condamnation, 1:51-53, 171, and several testimonies of her friends and neighbours in her rehabilitation trial, as found in Proces en nullite, 1:253-310.
41. On the Bastard of Orleans at the siege of Orleans see DeVries, Joan of Arc, pp. 63-65. For an alternate view see The Retrial of Joan of Arc, p. 101 n. 1, where Pernoud defends the Bastard’s military leadership at Orleans.
42. According to the testimony of Pasquerel, in Proces en nullite, 1:394-95. Joan also testified (in Proces de condamnatton, 1:79) that she knew that she would be wounded in the attack on the Tourelles.
43. Dunois, in Proces en nullite, 1:320.
44 Dunois, in Proces en nullite, 1:320-21.
45 Joan, in Proces de condamnation, 1:79.
46. In Proces de condamnation, 5:136-37. See also DeVries, Joan of Arc, p. 95, and Pernoud, Joan of Arc, pp. 100-1. Quicherat dates this letter to the end of July 1429, but Pernoud dates it, in my opinion more accurately, to 1434. If this is correct, it is a particularly interesting document in that it reveals that Bedford, the leader of the English forces in France during this time, believed that the relief of the siege of Orleans was the turning point of this phase of the Hundred Years War.List of site sources >>>
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