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LOT 0461

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Medieval Type XIIIA Variant Double-Handed Sword

Mid-late 14th century AD

An iron longsword of Oakeshott's Type XIIIA. 10 or 13 (Oakeshott, 1991, pp. 105-106), the cross style a variant of 2, pommel type K; a two handed sword showing a round bevelled pommel and a straight guard with square-section quillons; the double-edged blade showing a short marked groove extending for only a third of its length; a cone-shaped roundel is visible between the pommel and the flattened end of the tang; some evidence of fighting, although both sides are well preserved in their complex. 1.6 kg, 1.11m (43 3/4"). Fine condition. Rare.

From an important private family collection of arms and armour; acquired on the European art market in the 1980s, and thence by descent; believed originally from near Dresden, Germany; accompanied by an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.

See Oakeshott, E. The sword in the Age of the Chivalry, Woodbridge, 1964 (1994); Oakeshott, E. Records of the Medieval Sword, Woodbridge, 1991; Oakeshott, E., Sword in hand, London, 2001; Gilliot, C., Weapons and Armours, Bayeux, 2008.

This sword, belonging to the type of 'Grand espée d'Allemagne', or sword of war, is similar to a German work recently published by Gilliot (2008, p.122). It introduces to the typologies of swords used in the two-hand fighting. Swords of such dimensions in fact, may legitimately be considered as two-handed. In numerous inventories, literary references, wills of 13th and 14th centuries, it is clearly described the function and the employment of such swords. The famous chronicles of Froissart, who described the tremendous period of the Hundred Years War (Chronicles of England, France and Spain) gives a vivid and lively (and not absolutely fictional) account of the use of such weapons during the first part of the war, between 1340 AD and the end of the 14th century, so describing a militant churchman, a certain Canon de Robesart, in 1358: "...il tenoit une espée a deux mains, dont il donnoit les horions si grande que nul les osoit attendre.... (he held a sword of two hands, with which he gaves strokes so great that none dared faced them). The Grete swerd of type XIIIa could be used with two hands, and according to Oakeshott the 14th century twahandswerd was just an extra-large Grete swerd of this typology (Oakeshott, 2001, pp.96 ff.). Also another important document of this period, the Chronicle of Du Guesclin said that "...Olivier Manny le fere tellement d'une espée à ll mains, qui tranchoit roidement (Olivier de Manny struck in such a way with a two-hand sword, which sliced keenly)...' Last but not least the mentions of such swords is clearly reported in the legal documents, acts of will and donatives of the period, like for example the will of Sir John Depedene, which contains in 1402 the mention of 'Unum gladium ornatus cum argento et: J. Twahandswerd', i.e. of a 'one sword decorated with silver and one two hand sword'. The double hand sword is illustrated in famous manuscripts, like the Tenison Psalter of 1284, where a miles (knight) covered by a great helm is brandishing with two hands a sword of type XIIIa (Oakeshott, 2001, p.98). According to Oakeshott there is a basic distinction between the 'Grete Sword' and the Twahandswerd. When we think about it we have on mind the enormous two-handed swords, distinctively shaped and highly specialised, of XVI century. But they were instead just a variant - maybe determined with a longer grip which made easier the two hands fight - of the usual great German war sword. This statement must be examined in detail. In the literature of the late 13th and early 14th centuries we find many references to these 'espées de guerre', 'Grant espées', 'Grete Swerdes', and so on. In art of the same period we find many portrayals of very large swords of Type XIIIa, and there are a considerable number of survivors. In the late 13th and the 14th finds and literature we find many references to such 'espées de guerre', 'Grant espées', 'Grete Swerdes', and so on. At the same time the art of these two centuries provided the better iconography of them. The references to 'Grete Swerdes' do not, I believe, indicate two-hand swords, for these are always described as such, as 'espées a deux mains'' or 'Twahandswerds', and need not be confused with the sword of war. The two-hander of the 13th-15th centuries was not, as in the 16th, a specialised form of weapon; it was just a larger specimen.

Most probably our specimen is coming from a battlefield or, most probably, a river find. The piece is in excellent condition. The swords of type XIII, to which such specimen belongs, have the following characteristics, well resumed by Oakeshott in his work of 1964 (p.91): A broad blade, nearly as wide at the tip as at the hilt. Most examples show a distinct widening immediately below the hilt, thereafter the edges run with an imperceptible taper to a spatulate point. The fuller generally occupies a little more than half of the blade's length. The grip is long in proportion to the blade—average length 6". The tang may be flat and broad, tapering sharply in its upper half towards the pommel, or it may be of a thick rectangular or square section, giving the appearance of being thin and stalk-like when seen in elevation. The pommel may be of any type, though on most surviving specimens Types D, E and I are the most common (the developed late Brazil-nut forms or the so-called 'wheel' form). The cross is generally straight, though there are a few curved examples. The variant XIIIa, to which our specimen belongs, is generally the same shape as the simple Type XIII, only much larger. The blade, of similar form, is generally from 37" to 40" long, while the grip ranges from 6½" to 9" in length.

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