When were swords last used in European warfare?

When were swords last used in European warfare?

Specifically, I'm interested in the last documented occurrence of swords (of any sort) being used as a primary weapon by infantrymen or cavalrymen in Western warfare. That is, when did any European or North American army last combat with swords in live battle?

I think I am safe to say that by the late 19th century swords were overwhelmingly ceremonial items, harking back to the earlier days of warfare. No doubt, even in the 17th century when gunpowder and indeed muskets were being increasingly starting to be used in battle, the sword would have played a diminished role compared to that of the High Middle Ages (12th century). However, I am tempted to think the sword lingered on in usage for centuries afterwards. Does anyone have any historical evidence to suggest when this usage finally stopped for good?

Cavalry sabres (a.k.a. Shashkas) were still widely used in the Russian Civil War (1918-1922) and appear in many books on that period. This weapon is primarily associated with Cossacks even though it was standard equipment in the Russian and later Soviet army. The Russian Wikipedia article claims that Shashkas were still used by the cavalry in the Second World War which was (according to this article) the last massive military use of a sword-like weapon. Other sources seem to confirm that all Soviet cavalry units were equipped with Shashkas during Second World War - but it is hard to imagine what they would use them for. After the war they became purely ritual weapons.

Edit: This article shows lots of WWII Soviet posters displaying cavalry charges with shashkas. The article (and a bunch of others) explain that this pretty much never happened in reality: horses were used primarily for transportation and shashkas were put away before an attack. So Wikipedia most likely exaggerates when it talks about "massive military use".

I believe that the last use of sword in Western military were cavalry sabres used in cavalry charges alongside revolvers. Those were used in the Crimean war and in the USA Civil War. So we are talking mid-19th century. After the USA Civil War automatic rifles made cavalry obsolete (or nearly so) so I do not think you will find any more examples.

Depending on your definition of sword, bayonets were used as late as the Falkland war in the 1982 . It is, as far as I know, the last time a unit charged a position with bayonets. If I could remember the battle, I would add it but cannot -- Mount Tumbledown, thanks to hawbsl . In addition, in 2013, then corporal Sean Jones led a bayonet charge across 260ft of open ground through Taliban gunfire has been given the Military Cross.

The Polish lancers at Krojanty (1939) did attack German troops using sabres (but did not attack tanks) so that would be the last use. Of course, it was highly irregular and desperation more than military tactics.

Since British soldier Jack Churchill was still using a sword in WW2 (and getting the latest yet confirmed kill with a bow, also in WW2), this might just be the most recent major war where these were used.

The only reliable use of a sword I can find is mentioned in Tuchman's book 'The Guns of August' when a British cavalry Captain used the 1912 new pattern sabre against some German cavalry. That was August 1914.I will dig out the reference.


Page 269 in my edition in the Chapter 'Debacle: Lorraine,Ardennes,Charleroi,Mons'. "Captain Hornby, leader of the squadron, was awarded the DSO as the first British officer to kill a German with the new pattern cavalry sword.". Tuchman, 1994 Edition. Papermac.

[edit] The UK National Archives do show a number of awards to various 'Hornby's' for the correct period. For example, Hornby, Edward Windham, Lancashire Hussars,Second Lieutenant, later Captain. Without forking out two quid a pop for the privilege, I can't specifically place which one it was. I am very sure there were later examples than 1914 but that's the only written reliable source I have to hand. If I had to bet my money would be on ' Hornby, Reginald Forte',Hussars which is a poor summary.

Cutlasses remained a personal weapon in various navies, mainly for use when boarding an enemy vessel, I think. The cutlass was reported to have been used during the Korean War (wiki).

US cavalry troops carried sabers throughout the US Civil War of 1861-1865.

During JOseph Wheelter's cavalry raid on Union supply lines after the Battle of Chickamauga one of General Crook's brigades made a saber charge against some of Wheeler's forces. Source Crook's autobiography or official records.

The autobiography of General James Wilson mentions a saber battle between Union and confederate cavalry that I remember because a very young soldiers rode up to Wilson to ask for reinforcement to rescue his colonel.

I have read that General Custer preferred to make saber charges because they demoralized the the rebels who faced them.

US cavalry used sabres during parts of the indian Wars and probably in the Phillipines.

General Custer ordered the seventh cavalry sabers left behind on his march to the Little Big Horn in June 1876, but two of his men took their sabers anyway.

Second and Third cavalry men in General Crook's forces carried sabers at the the Battle of the Rosebud on June 17, 1876 - I believe two of the Sioux carried sabers captured at the Rosebud at the Little Big Horn. Major Chambers in charge of Crook's mule-mounted infantry was so frustrated by their ragged riding that he was seen to throw down his infantry officer's sword in disgust.

Lt. McKinney of the Fourth Cavalry was shot and killed as he led a charge waving a saber at the capture of Dull knife's village in November 1876.

I have read that Tauregs fought French colonial forces it in the 19th and twentieth centuries with swords. For a example a sudden treacherous sword charge wiped out most of the Flatters expedition around 1881.

I have read that during a civil war in the Sudan in the 1970s warriors in chain mail made charges with spears and swords.

I can't comment here yet, so I'll have to make this an answer despite its being broad, but I hope useful. If you're looking for the end of the sword "being used as a primary weapon by infantrymen or cavalrymen in Western warfare" then I think you have answered your own question: "the High Middle Ages (12th century)." Stretch that to 1300 or so.

One might wonder whether the sword was ever "primary." Until gunpowder, the best way to kill people (or shock veteran units into breaking) outside of really close combat (such as took place on castle walls) was always with pointy sticks---whether feathered or carried by men on foot or on horseback. The Romans used short swords and shields in close coordination with spears. The Normans used spears and long, blunt swords against infantry in mail armor; no horseman or footman used either one exclusively of the other. Until longer lances were developed, light cavalry used straight or curved swords against other lightly armored cavalry. Heavy cavalry used heavy lances on horseback and swords/axes on foot, and these forces were often decisive.

But when the Swiss pikemen emerged, heavy cavalry declined; when gunpowder weapons arrived, close combat on castle walls and anywhere else declined in military importance too. The sword as a primary military weapon was moribund at this point, though far from dead. Swords were still used as backup or personal defense, though other armor-penetrating weapons seem to have taken up some slack as armor continued to improve.

I think the question---as well as available information---is too imprecise to give a battle or a precise date. But 1300 is the usual date given for both the gunpowder revolution and the rise of the Swiss pikes. Heavy cavalry armor continued to improve, but heavy cavalry itself declined in importance from 1300 to 1500, when it was abandoned. From 1300 onward, swords slowly declined into essentially civilian weapons or military sidearms---or fetishized symbols of former power.

Dronz: Again, this is in answer form because I still can't comment. The zweihander certainly dates from post-1300 and may have been the last type of sword used as a primary weapon in a military formation (i.e., unit tactics) in Europe, aside from the occasional cavalry charge. But even this is dubious. Wikipedia has this to say about the zweihander:

The Zweihänder was allegedly used by the Doppelsöldner to break through formations of pikemen, especially Swiss pikemen, by either being swung to break the ends of the pikes themselves or to knock them aside and attack the pikemen directly. The veracity of this tradition is disputed, but at least as a legend, it appears to date to at least the 17th century.

These swords represent the final stage in the trend of increasing size that started in the 14th century. In its developed form, the Zweihänder has acquired the characteristics of a polearm rather than a sword. Consequently, it is not carried in a sheath but across the shoulder like a halberd.

By the second half of the 16th century, these swords had largely ceased to have a practical application, but they continued to see ceremonial or representative use well into the 17th century.

As observed elsewhere cutlasses remained in use as boarding weapons on warships until the mid 20th century at least. One documented (aleged) instance of their use was the capture of cruiser RN Pola by the destroyer HMS Jervis at the Battle of Matapan (March 1941):

From Clash of Titans by Walter J Boyne:

Within three minutes the Italians lost the cruisers Zara and Fiume and the destroyer Alfieri. Moments later, the destroyer Carducci was sunk, but the most bizarre moment of the night was yet to come.

The original mission of the newly sunk Italian ships was the protection of the damaged Pola, now drifting, guns trained in the evening fore-and-aft position. Captain Philip J. Mack, whose handling of his destroyer force had earlier displeased Cunningham immensely, now entered history by sending a boarding party from HMS Jervis, complete with cutlasses and bloodcurdling yells, to capture Pola. Instead of a ship -of -the -line sword fight, they found instead only 256 members of the original crew of 800, many of them drunk. They were taken prisoner and the Pola torpedoed.

Alleged is attached to this report as officially cutlasses were withdrawn from the ships of the Royal Navy in 1936. However in addition to the above incident we have the alleged use of cutlasses when HMS Cossack captured the Altmark in 1940, which is often described as the last use of the cutlass in anger by the RN.

Sabres were widely used in WWII, although I would not call them swords.

By Russia

This is a cavalry charge by 2nd Ukrainian front, 1944

By Germany

By Italy

By Poland

Swords were issued as standard weapons of cavalry and officers in the first world war, which was when they saw their last viable use in early cavalry charges and later trench warfare. Swords were not widely used in the second world war, however many officers, especially British and Russian officers, considered swords to be vital weapons of rank and carried and used them in place of bayonets on the battlefield.

If you want to look to the middle east though swords are still regularly seen worn by warriors of both Islamic and European origin. Many Muslim tribes, especially in Afghanistan, consider swords to be marks of a warrior (and some others consider muskets to be warrior status weapons and still use them instead of assault rifles). There has also been a trend among US troops to adopt swords (though more commonly small axes) as status symbols which they use to satisfy superstitions in their own ranks, or to intimidate Islamic soldiers who see them.

You can also see swords still as standard weapons in many cultures. Some branches of the British army still take swords into war, for example the Gurkha's. There are also a few European countries which consider training in sword and horse to still be vital for cavalrymen, though they will go to war in armored vehicles and light tanks rather than on the backs of horses.

The last organized use of swords was probably by the Polish cavalry in September 1939 and possibly as late as March 1945.

Polish cavalry in 1939 were really mounted infantry. Instead of trucks or bicycles, they used horses for mobility. Fighting was intended to be done dismounted and with modern weaponry. However, they were still armed with a very fine sword for both ceremonial and combat purposes, and they were still trained to fight on the hoof.

Wikipedia states that "during the Nazi and Soviet Invasion of Poland of 1939 there were 16 confirmed cavalry charges in which the Polish units used the sabres against enemy soldiers". Unfortunately their citation is 404, but this related article has some citations for further reading.

Battle of Borujsko/Schoenfeld, March 1st 1945, featured what is likely the last cavalry charge. It was, again, done by Polish cavalry and, again, against German infantry. I don't have information about whether they used their sabres, or if they retained them in 1945. It's worth investigating.

It should be noted that the popular view of Polish cavalry charging German tanks has little support.

To take off on another answer about the Crimean war, the use of swords (by cavalry) is documented in Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem about the Charge of the Light Brigade ("sabering the gunners there"). It was a late example of sending soldiers with blade weapons against soldiers with "fire" weapons that became infamous for the disproportionate losses suffered by the British cavalry. Shortly after that, "repeating" rifles and artillery made such charges altogether impractical.

Thereafter, cavalry was used only as a form a transportation, with cavalrymen dismounting and using fire weapons such as rifles. One quarter of the men had to hold the horses of the other three quarters, so this disadvantage had to be balanced against the faster arrival.

My understanding is that the Dutch used the Klewang cutlass against the indigenous population in the war in Aceh at least into the 1930's . I believe the Klewang was specifically designed by the Dutch to combat the guerilla warfare tactics of the locals in this nasty jungle campaign.

This question is hard to answer, as swords were never primary battlefield weapons. They were used as a backup or as a personal defense weapon. In the medieval period, the primary battlefield weapons were spears. Knights went into battle with a poleaxe or other equal as their primary, and had an arming sword as a backup. Plate armour made the sword obsolete on ancient battlefields long before weaponized gunpowder did. Not saying that swords weren't used at all, in war you will use whatever will keep you alive, but sadly, Hollywood and Video games have shone the sword in the wrong light. Hope that this info was taken in the spirit it was given, I know how dark the internet can be.

Knives, Swords, and Daggers – To c. 1500 c.e.

Almost every human culture and civilization in the world has used knives and daggers. A knife is one of the most basic tools, used for cutting any number of materials, from food to fibers. Knives were also used as weapons to kill humans. A dagger could be considered a long, double-edged knife, ranging from 15 to 50 centimeters and meant specifically as a weapon. Knives and daggers have two basic parts: first, the blade, a flat surface with one sharp edge or two, usually narrowing to a point second, the hilt, covering the tang, which extends back from the blade, and providing a handhold. The hilt itself has two parts: the grip, perhaps with some sort of guard to protect the hand, and a pommel, which is a piece at the end of the grip to back up the hand and provide balance. For protection from the sharp blade, knives were carried in sheaths or scabbards while not in use.

Some knives were meant to be thrown. Otherwise knives and daggers were usually wielded either overhanded, with the blade extending down from the fist, or underhanded, with the blade sticking up from the fist. These weapons also had the advantage of concealment when worn underneath clothing. In the warfare of all but the most primitive societies, the knife or dagger was usually the weapon of last resort, after other weapons had been lost.

Most cultures have also developed swords, which could be considered extended daggers, with blades longer than 40 centimeters. Swords could, given their weight and length, more effectively hack, slash, puncture, or cut an enemy. Grooves in blades, or fullers, are often believed to have been channels to drain away blood but were usually built into the blade to add flexibility, lightness, and strength. The limited reach of the sword, compared to that of the spear or bow, often meant that it was a secondary weapon. Although rarely decisive in itself during battle, the sword was one of the most widely used weapons for close combat before 1500 c. e.

The history of knives, daggers, and swords has perhaps been more influenced by fashion than by application in warfare. These weapons and their sheaths have often been made with great care and decoration, conveying the status of their owners. The sword, especially, became a work of art, status symbol, magisterial emblem, and cult object. The right of knights or samurai to wear swords indicated their social positions, and men defended that rank in sword duels. In medieval Europe a squire was dubbed to knighthood with a sword blow, known as an accolade. Large ceremonial swords of state were carried in processions or displayed in court to illustrate a ruler’s power over life and death. Swords or daggers also embodied religious significance, such as sacrificial daggers made of chalcedony used by the Aztecs for human sacrifice. The similarity of a sword’s shape to that of a cross also lent it a Christian symbolism. Legends concerning Arthur’s Excalibur and Roland’s Durandal celebrated the sword in Europe, and many Japanese believed that certain old swords embody the spirits of Shinto deities.


The earliest humans made the first knives and daggers from stone, such as flint or obsidian. They shaped blades through “pressure flaking,” banging pieces of stone against one another so that chips of stone broken off would leave a blade form behind. By the time of the agricultural cultures of the New Stone Age (Neolithic times), a grip made of wood or bone was then formed and attached with lime or binding to the tang. The peoples of the Americas and the Pacific rarely progressed beyond stone technology, and so did not develop significant swords. The Aztecs, however, may have been able to dominate their neighbors in the thirteenth century c. e. with the interesting sword-club, the maquahuitl, which set obsidian blades on either side of a wooden shaft. They also used special stone knives to cut out the hearts of human sacrificial victims.

The essential change came with the beginnings of metallurgy. Copper was the first metal to be used for knives, probably beginning around 4000 b. c. e. in the Middle East and East Asia. The invention of bronze, usually copper alloyed with tin, led to a great improvement in the strength and durability of weapons. In “grip-tongue” blades, whether cast in one piece or two, hilts were attached to the blade or reinforced with rivets. By the second millennium b. c. e. hilt and blade were forged from one piece of metal, with flanges between hilt and blade to protect the user’s hand.

As blades began to get longer, the resulting weapons became known as swords. Some were curved, based on the sickle, an agricultural implement used for harvesting. Curved blades were better suited to cutting, whereas straight blades were better at hacking and thrusting. The Minoans and Mycenaeans of the Eastern Mediterranean from about 1400 to 1200 b. c. e. began to develop not only decorative long swords but also highly useful short swords. The curious “halberd” of the Early Bronze Age looked like a dagger set at right angles to a shaft, creating a kind of dagger-ax.

Swords became more lethal after smiths had mastered the use of iron, beginning around 900 b. c. e. Instead of being cast from liquid metal, iron weapons were beaten out of ingots heated in forges. Because the hardness of ancient iron varied considerably, a key development toward improving the swords was pattern welding, which was the combining or plaiting together of different strips of iron into formations or patterns. This technique blended the weaker and stronger parts of the iron into a more uniformly strong and flexible blade. Although ancient smiths might not have understood the scientific basis of making steel, iron hardened with carbon, many swordmakers developed techniques that guaranteed its use in the sword.

With the Iron Age, the sword became a standard, if not always decisive, weapon. In the Greeks’ phalanx method of combat, the opposing formations of spear and shield were most important, but swords were used in close combat, often as a desperate measure. The hoplite sword, intended mainly for slashing, had a wide bulge about one-third of the way down from the point, narrowing to a waist until widening at the hilt again. Some Greeks also used a kopis, a heavy, single-edged, downward- curved sword.

The Roman legions made their short “Spanish” sword, the gladius hispaniensis, a more essential part of their fighting system. After weakening the enemy with thrown spears, they closed and smashed their large shields against their opponents. Then, while the enemy usually used an overhand sword blow, caught by the Roman shield, the Roman legionary would thrust his short, stabbing sword underneath into the stomach, where its long point could penetrate most linked armor. The Romans also carried fine daggers, but they seem not to have been used in battle. By the time of the early empire, the in fantry preferred the short, hacking, “Pompeian” sword. Beginning in the second century c. e., with the rise of cavalry, a more suitable, longer (80-centimeter), slashing sword, the spatha, began to dominate in the Roman armies. This sword was the ancestor of medieval European swords.

The Roman Empire was brought down by Germanic peoples using long swords. Through the early Middle Ages, the sword became the basic weapon of a warrior. Battle would often begin with a charge, on foot or on horseback, using spears or lances. Once those weapons were spent, however, the warriors would hack at their armored foes with swords. Axes and maces were also popular, as well as the seax, a heavy, single-edged, broad-bladed chopping sword which had evolved by 900 into the scramasax, a short chopping blade. With the rise of knighthood by the eleventh century, warfare with lances and swords allowed Europeans to push back their opponents in the Crusades. After armorers developed better armor to help knights survive in battle, swordsmiths devised blades that would break through metal. The falchion, a broad-bladed, cleaverlike sword addressed that need. Thirteenth century knights also began to use heavier and longer one-and-one-half-handed (“bastard”) or two-handed swords. By 1500 infantry, especially the Swiss and German Landsknechte, had developed huge swords, up to 175 centimeters long.

Another solution to European plate armor was to emphasize the swords’ thrusting ability. The blade became thicker and more rigid, so the user could pierce weaker joints in the armor. In order to improve grips on such swords, protective rings began to be added to the cross-guard. Guards became more elaborate, including a curved bar stretching from cross-guard back to pommel, while the blade became narrower and sharper at the point. Thus the modern rapier appeared, which began to dominate after 1500.

Daggers were worn by European warriors throughout the Middle Ages. Daggers played only a minor role in combat, with one exception: Should a knight through exhaustion or wound be found on the ground, his enemy might dispatch him with a “misericord” dagger thrust through a chink in the armor. The popular late-medieval baselard and rondel daggers with their long, narrow blades were used for this purpose. The former had a curved cross-guard and pommel, whereas the latter had a disk-shaped guard and pommel. The rondel dagger also evolved into the Scottish dirk.

Sub-Saharan Africa was not using bronze weapons by the Bronze Age and began to use iron by the third century b. c. e. By the fourth century c. e., the use of iron tools and weapons had spread throughout the continent. A shortage of iron, however, meant that sub-Saharan peoples had to import many weapons from European and Islamic civilizations. In some cultures, the Kuba kingdom of the Congo, for instance, daggers and swords with unusual blade shapes acquired great cultural importance. Africans also developed a unique throwing knife, the hunga-munga, with several blades branching out at angles from a main shaft.

Islamic swords, whether Arab, Turk, Persian, or Indian, were often typified by the scimitar, a curved, single-edged blade meant for slashing, which developed in the eighth or ninth century c. e. Scimitars predominated by 1400 c. e. but never entirely replaced straight blades. Until the fifteenth century the city of Damascus not only made famous swords but also served as a trading center for weapons made elsewhere. Persian weapons were famous for “watered” steel, in which the combination of higher and lower carbon content created a wavy pattern in the blade visible after an acid wash. Islamic dagger shapes varied widely according to region, although the jambiya, or curved ceremonial dagger, is most famous. Persian and Indian versions have a double curve. Interesting daggers from India included the Gurkha’s kukri, with a downward-curved, single-edged, leaf-shaped blade, and the katar, or punch dagger. The unusual Malayan kris had a blade that could be wavy and widened from the point to a thick wedge at the hilt, which itself was set at an angle down from the blade. Throughout Southeast Asia, machetes, or parangs, were used as jungle knives for both clearing vegetation and fighting.

In China, straight bronze swords of various lengths dominated until the establishment of the Chinese Empire in the third century b. c. e. Iron weapons were then introduced, which led to long (90-centimeter) straight swords. Cavalry, charioteers, and infantry all used swords, although an important side weapon was also the dagger-ax. The scimitar-like cavalry sword, probably introduced by Turkish peoples of Central Asia, became more popular after the eighth century c. e.

The high point of sword-making skill lay in Japan. Japanese swords were made with a highly sophisticated folding of metals: millions of times for the cutting edge, mere thousands for the spine. With polished blades and decorative hilt fittings, Japanese blades were unsurpassed in both beauty and lethality. The earliest swords in Japan, around 700 c. e., were based on straight Chinese blades. During the Heian period (794-1185 c. e.) the blades of the long tachi used by samurai horse warriors began to be curved. These types of swords were perfected in Japan during the late eighth and early ninth centuries. Although the primary weapon of the samurai was originally the bow, failed attempts by the Mongols to invade Japan in 1274 and 1283 c. e. led to a new emphasis on the sword in combat. In the fourteenth century the Soshu tradition of sword making was founded, creating the curved sword that became the katana. By the fifteenth century, the samurai warrior class had the sole right to carry swords, normally both the long sword, the katana, and the short sword, the wakizashi. The Japanese also had equally fine knives, ranging from the dagger, or tanto, carried with the swords, to smaller blades that fit into the scabbards of other weapons. Knives had various uses: as a replacement for chopsticks, for throwing at an enemy, for committing ritual suicide, or for giving the coup de grace to an opponent.

Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453)

Actually a series of wars, the Hundred Years’ War began in 1337 and lasted until 1453. The chief cause of the war was the desire of the English kings to hold on to and expand their territorial holdings in France, while the French kings sought to “liberate” territory under English control. King Edward III of England (r. 1327- 1377) claimed to have better right to the French throne than did its occupant, King Philip VI (r. 1330-1350). Another factor was the struggle for control both of the seas and international trading markets. Finally, the English sought retribution for the assistance provided by the French to the Scots in their wars with the English.

In 1328, Philip VI marched in troops and established French administrative control over Flanders, where the weavers were highly dependent on English wool. Edward III responded to Philip’s move by embargoing English wool in 1336. This led to a revolt of the Flemings against the French and their conclusion of an alliance with England in 1338. Edward III then declared himself king of France, and the Flemings recognized him as their king. Philip VI declared Edward’s fiefs in France south of the Loire forfeit and in 1338 sent his troops into Guienne (Aquitaine). The war was on.

The first phase of the war lasted from 1337 to 1396. It began with Edward dispatching raiding parties from England and Flanders to attack northern and northeastern France. In 1339 Edward invaded northern France but then withdrew before Philip’s much larger army. Philip planned to turn the tables and invade England, ending Edward’s claim to the French throne. Toward that end, French admiral Hughes Quiéret assembled some 200 ships, including 4 Genoese galleys, off the Flemish coast.

Already planning another invasion of France to secure the French throne, Edward III gathered some 200 ships at Harwich. Warned of the French invasion force assembly, Edward planned to strike first.

The English fleet sailed from Harwich on June 22, with Edward commanding in person, and arrived off the Flanders coast the next day. Fifty additional ships joined it, and Edward sent men and horses ashore to reconnoiter. The reconnaissance completed, he decided to attack the next day.

Sea battles of that day resembled fights on land and were decided at close range, often by boarding. Ships were virtually movable fortresses with temporary wooden structures known as castles added at bow (the origin of the term “forecastle”) and stern of converted merchant ships in order to give a height advantage for bow- men or allow the opportunity to hurl down missiles against an opposing ship’s crew. It has been claimed but not proven that some of the ships in the battle carried primitive cannon as well as catapults.

The battle occurred off Sluys (Sluis, Ecluse) on the Flemish coast. Quiéret had divided his 200 ships into three divisions. He ordered the ships of each division chained together side by side, with each ship having a small boat filled with stones triced up in the mast so that men in the tops could hurl missiles down on the English decks. The French were armed chiefly with swords and pikes but had little in the way of armor. Quiéret also had some crossbowmen. In effect, he planned to face the English with three large floating forts incapable of rapid movement. Estimates of the number of Frenchmen involved range from 25,000 to 40,000.

Edward had many archers and men-at- arms, the latter well armored. He placed the largest of his 250 ships in the van, and between every 2 ships filled with archers, he placed ships filled with men-at-arms. The smaller ships formed a second division with archers. The decisive weapon in this battle, as it would be on land, was the longbow, which outranged the crossbow.

Barbavera, the commander of the Genoese galleys in the French fleet, urged that they put to sea. He pointed out that failure to do so would yield to the English the advantages of wind, tide, and sun. Quiéret rejected this sound advice.

The Battle of Sluys opened at about noon on June 24, 1340. The English archers poured volley after volley of arrows into the French ships. Once they grappled a French vessel, the Englishmen boarded it and cleared its decks in hand-to-hand fighting. They then proceeded to the next ship, taking one after another under a protective hail of arrows.

Having secured the first division of French ships, the English moved on to the other two divisions. The action extended into the night. The French fleet was almost annihilated, with the English sinking or capturing 166 of their 200 ships. Estimates of casualties vary widely, but the French and their allies may have lost as many as 25,000 men killed, Quiéret among them. The English lost 4,000 men. Edward III now claimed the title “Sovereign of the Narrow Seas.” His letter to his son about the battle is the earliest extant English naval dispatch.

The Battle of Sluys was the most important naval engagement of the Hundred Years’ War, giving England command of the English Channel for a generation and making possible the invasion of France and the English victories on land that followed. Without the Battle of Sluys, it is unlikely that the war between England and France would have lasted long.

Edward then landed troops and besieged Tournai, but the French forced him to raise the siege and conclude a truce that same year. During 1341-1346 a dynastic struggle occurred in Brittany in which both Edward and Philip VI intervened. To raise money, Philip had introduced the gabelle (salt tax), which led to increased dissatisfaction with his rule. In 1345 Edward began to raise an expeditionary force to invade Normandy, intending to assist his allies in Flanders and Brittany.

Edward landed at La Hogue near Cherbourg in mid-June with perhaps 15,000 men, including a heavy cavalry force of 3,900 knights and men-at-arms and a large number of archers. Most were veterans of the Scottish wars. Edward’s army in France was experienced, well trained, and well organized it was probably the most effective military force for its size in all Europe.

The fleet returned to England, and Edward marched inland. The English took Caen on July 27 following heavy resistance. Edward ordered the entire population killed and the town burned. Although he later rescinded the order, perhaps 3,000 townsmen died during a three-day sack of Caen. This act set the tone for much of the war.

Edward III then moved northeastward, pillaging as he went. For the next month, Philip chased Edward across northern France without bringing him to battle. Meanwhile, Philip’s son, Duke John of Normandy, moved north against the English from Gascony, while Philip assembled another force near Paris. Edward III thus achieved his aim of drawing pressure from Guyenne and Brittany.

Reaching the Seine at Rouen, Edward learned that the French had destroyed all accessible bridges over that river except one at Rouen, which was strongly de- fended. Increasingly worried that he might be cut off and forced to fight south of the Seine, Edward moved his army rapidly along the riverbank southeast and upriver toward Paris, seeking a crossing point that would allow a retreat into Flanders if need be. At Poissy only a few miles from Paris, the English found a repairable bridge and, on August 16, crossed over the Seine there. Although Philip VI had a sizable force at St. Denis, he made no effort to intercept him.

Only after the English had crossed the Seine and were headed north did Philip attempt to intercept. Edward reached the Somme River on August 22, about a day ahead of the pursuing Philip, only to learn that the French had destroyed all the bridges over that river except those at heavily fortified cities. After vainly attacking both Hangest and Pont-Remy, Edward moved north along the western bank trying to find a crossing. On August 23 at Ouisemont, the English killed all the French defenders and burned the town.

On the evening of August 24 the English camped at Acheux. Six miles distant, a large French force defended the bridge at Abbeville, but that night the English learned of a ford only 10 miles from the coast that could be crossed at low tide and was likely to be undefended. Breaking camp in the middle of the night, Edward moved to the ford, named Blanchetaque, only to discover that it was held by some 3,500 Frenchmen under experienced French commander Godemar du Foy.

A now desperate supply situation and the closeness of the French army led Edward III to attempt to cross here. Battle was joined at low tide on the morning of August 1. Edward sent some 100 knights and men across the ford under the cover of a hail of arrows from his longbowmen. The English gained the opposite bank and were able to establish a small beachhead. Edward then fed in more men, and under heavy English longbow fire, the French broke and fled toward Abbeville. Soon the entire English army was across. So confident was Philip VI that the English would not be able to cross the Somme that no effort had been made to clear the area on the east bank of resources, and the English were thus able to resupply, burning the towns of Noyelles-sur-Mer and Le Crotoy in the process.

Finally, having resupplied and reached a position where he could withdraw into Flanders if need be, Edward III decided to stand and fight. On August 25 he selected a defensive position near the village of Crécy-en-Ponthieu. High ground overlooked a gentle slope over which the French would have to advance. The English right was anchored by the Maye River. The left, just in front of the village of Wadicourt, was protected by a great wood 4 miles deep and 10 miles long.

Edward III commanded more than 11,000 men. He divided his forces into three divisions, known as “battles.” Each contained a solid mass of dismounted men- at-arms, perhaps six ranks deep and about 250 yards in length. Edward positioned two of the “battles” side by side as the front line of his defense. The 16-year-old Ed- ward, Prince of Wales (later known as the “Black Prince”), had nominal command of the English right, although Thomas de Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick, held actual command. The Earls of Arundel and Northampton commanded the left “battle.” The third “battle,” under Edward’s personal command, formed a reserve several hundred yards to the rear. Archers occupied the spaces between the “battles” and were echeloned forward in V formations pointing toward the enemy so as to deliver enfilading fire.

Edward located a detachment of cavalry to the rear of each “battle” to counterattack if need be. He also had his men dig holes on the slope as traps for the French cavalry. The king used a windmill located between his own position and his son’s right “battle” as an observation post during the battle.

It has been suggested that Edward may have had some gunpowder artillery at Crécy, but that is by no means certain. The year before he had ordered 100 ribaulds, light guns mounted on carts. If these were employed in the battle, it was the first European land battle for gunpowder artillery. In any case, they did not influence the outcome. The French army at Crécy has been variously estimated at between 30,000 and 60,000 men, including 12,000 heavy cavalry of knights and men-at-arms, 6,000 Genoese mercenary crossbowmen, and a large number of poorly trained infantry. This French force, moving without a reconnaissance screen or any real order, arrived at Crécy at about 6:00 p. m. on August 26, 1346. Without bothering to explore the English position, Philip VI attempted to organize his men for battle. He positioned the Genoese, his only professional force, in a line in front. At this point a quick thunderstorm swept the field, rendering the ground slippery for the attackers.

The well-disciplined Genoese moved across the valley toward the English position, with the disorganized French heavy cavalry in a great mass behind them. Halting about 150 yards from the English “battles,” the Genoese loosed their crossbow bolts, most of which fell short. They then reloaded and began to move forward again, only to encounter clouds of English arrows. The Genoese could fire their crossbows about one to two times a minute, while the English longbowmen could get off an arrow every five seconds. The English arrows completely shattered the Genoese, who were not able to close to a range where their crossbow bolts might have been effective.

The French knights behind the Genoese, impatient to join the fray, then rode forward up the slippery slope, over and around the crossbowmen, and encountered the same swarms of arrows. The shock of the French charge carried to the English line, however, where there was some hand-to-hand combat. The English cavalry then charged, and the remaining French knights were driven back. The French regrouped and repeatedly charged (the English claimed some 15-16 separate attacks throughout the night), each time encountering English arrows before finally breaking off contact. The battle was over. The French dead included some 1,500 knights and men-at-arms and between 10,000 and 20,000 crossbowmen and infantrymen in addition to thousands of horses. Philip VI was among the many Frenchmen wounded. English losses were only about 200 dead or wounded.

Crécy made the English a military nation. Europeans were unaware of the advances made by the English military system and were stunned at this infantry victory over a numerically superior force that included some of the finest cavalry in Europe. Crécy restored the infantry to first place. Since this battle, infantry have been the primary element of ground com- bat forces.

After several days of rest, Edward III marched to the English Channel port of Calais and, beginning on September 4, commenced what would be a long siege. Only in July 1347 did Philip VI make a halfhearted attempt to relieve Calais. The city fell on August 4. It turned out to be the sole English territorial gain of the campaign, actually of the entire Hundred Years’ War. On September 28, 1347, the two sides concluded a truce that, under the impact of the plague known as the Black Death, lasted until 1354.

With the failure of negotiations for a permanent settlement, fighting resumed in 1355. The English mounted a series of devastating raids. King Edward III struck across the English Channel into northern France, his son Edward the Black Prince moved from Bordeaux into Languedoc, and Edward’s second son John of Gaunt attacked from Brittany into Normandy.

The English did not seek battle with the far larger French army their intent was simply to plunder and destroy. Edward III landed in France to strengthen the northern force but was forced to return to England on news that the Scots had taken Berwick. John was unable to cross the Loire and effect a juncture with his brother’s force.

Edward the Black Prince had set out from Bergerac on August 4. Most of his men were from Aquitaine, except for a number of English longbowmen. He reached Tours on September 3 and there learned that French king John II (the Good, r. 1350-1364) and as many as 35,000 men had crossed the Loire at Blois on September 8. As he had only about 8,000 men, the Black Prince ordered a rapid withdrawal down the road to Bordeaux, but the English were slowed by their loot. The French succeeded in cutting off the raiders and reached Poitiers first, making contact on September 17 at La Chabotrie. The prince did not want to fight, but he realized that his exhausted men could go no farther without having to abandon their plunder, and he cast about for a suitable defensive position, moving to the village of Maupertuis some seven miles southeast of Poitiers.

John II wanted to attack the English on the morning of September 18, but papal envoy Cardinal Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord persuaded him to try negotiations. The Black Prince offered to return towns and castles captured during his raid along with all his prisoners, to promise not to do battle with the French king for seven years, and to pay a large sum of money, but John II demanded the unconditional surrender of the prince and 100 English knights.

Edward refused. He had selected an excellent defensive site, and his men used the time spent in negotiations to improve their positions. Edward’s left flank was protected by a creek and a marsh. Most of his archers were on the flanks, and his small cavalry reserve was on the exposed right flank.

John II’s army greatly outnumbered his opponent. It included 8,000 mounted men-at-arms, 8,000 light cavalry, 4,500 professional mercenary infantry (many of them Genoese crossbowmen), and perhaps 15,000 untrained citizen militia. Rejecting advice to use his superior numbers to surround the English and starve them out or turn the English position, the king decided on a frontal assault. He organized his men into four “battles” of up to 10,000 men each. The men-at-arms in the French “battles” were to march the mile to the English lines in full armor.

The resulting Battle of Poitiers on September 19, 1356, was a repeat of the August 1346 Battle of Crécy. The footmen in the first French “battle” who had not fallen prey to English arrows reached the English defensive line at a hedge. The next French division, under the Dauphin Charles, moved forward and there was desperate fighting, with the French al- most breaking through. Edward commit- ted everything except a final reserve of 400 men, and the line held. The remaining French reeled back. The English were now in desperate straits, and if the next French “battle” commanded by the Duc d’Orléans, the brother of the king, had advanced promptly to support their fellows or struck the exposed English right flank, the French would have won a great victory. Instead, on seeing the repulse of their fellows it withdrew from the field with them.

This produced a slight respite for the defenders to reorganize before the arrival of the last and largest French “battle” of some 6,000 men, led by John II in person. The French were exhausted by the long march in full armor, but the English were also at the end of their tether. Fearing that his men could not withstand another assault, the Black Prince ordered his cavalry and infantry, along with the archers who had used up their arrows, to charge the French. He also sent about 200 horsemen around to attack the French rear. Desperate fighting ensued in which John II wielded a great battle-ax.

The issue remained in doubt until the English cavalry struck the French rear. The French then fled the English were too exhausted to pursue. “There were slain all the flower of France,” says Jean Froissart in his chronicles. The French suffered perhaps 2,500 dead and a like number of prisoners, including King John II, his 14-year-old son Philip, and two of his brothers, along with a multitude of the French nobility, including 17 counts. The English may have sustained 1,000 killed and at least as many wounded.

Following the battle, the Black Prince withdrew to Bordeaux with both his booty and prisoners. Vast fortunes were made over the ransoming of the nobles. Meanwhile, there was chaos in France with the collapse of the central government.

The next 10 years saw the English raiding the French countryside almost at will, as did bands of freebooters known as routiers. Those French who could do so sought refuge in castles and fortified cities. In 1358 the peasants, who had been unable to defend themselves against their many attackers, rose up against the nobles in what is known as the Jacquerie. It was prompted by the heavy taxes levied on the peasants to pay for the war against England and the ransom of nobles taken in the Battle of Poitiers but also by anger regarding the pillaging of the countryside by the routiers. The Jacquerie was crushed by the nobles, led by Charles the Bad of Navarre.

In 1360 the Dauphin Charles signed the Treaty of Brétigny, ransoming John II in return for 3 million gold crowns. While Edward III gave up any claim to the throne of France, he received Guyenne in full sovereignty as well as the Limousin, Poitou, the Angoumois, the Saintonge, Rouerque, Ponthieu, and other areas. King Edward now possessed an independent Guyenne but also Aquitaine, representing one-third of the area of France. Edward set up the Black Prince at Bordeaux as the duke of Aquitaine.

John II was allowed to return home from England, but his three sons remained behind as hostages until the ransom was paid. When one son escaped, the good king returned of his own free will to take his place, dying in England in 1364. Incredibly, the lessons of the Battle of Poitiers seem not to have taken, it being said that the French remembered everything but learned nothing. Poitiers would be virtually replicated in form and effect at Agincourt in 1415.

Nominal peace was maintained from 1360 to 1368, although fighting continued in the successionist struggle in Brittany. There in 1364 the English drove off a French army attempting to relieve their siege of Auray and went on to take the town. Charles the Bad, ruler of Navarre, took advantage of French weakness to seize territory in southwestern France.

In 1364 King Charles V came to the French throne. Known to French history as Charles the Wise, he was physically weak yet an able realist. He was probably responsible for saving France, rescuing it from the military defeats and chaos that occurred under his immediate predecessors Philip VI and John II. With the able assistance of the first great French military commander of the Hundred Years’ War, constable of France Bertrand du Guesclin, Charles reformed the French military.

The two men created new military units and established the French artillery, along with a permanent military staff. They also reorganized the navy and ordered the rebuilding of castles and city walls (most notably in Paris). In addition, Charles managed to control the new financial arrangements established by the States General. In 1364, he dispatched du Guesclin and French troops to intervene in the civil war in Castilla (Castile).

In 1368 a revolt by the nobles of Gascony against Edward the Black Prince, Duke of Aquitaine, provided Charles the opportunity to test his new military. The French military intervention in Gascony, however, led King Edward III of England to again lay claim to the French throne.

Adopting a commonsense approach to warfare, du Guesclin employed such techniques as night attacks (despite English charges that these were unknightly). He also excelled in siege warfare, and one by one he captured castles held by the English. In 1370, however, Edward the Black Prince took and sacked the French city of Limoges, massacring many of its inhabitants.

The reformed French Navy met success when, off the southwest coast of France on June 22-23, 1372, some 60 Castilian and French ships under Genoese admiral Ambrosio Bocanegra defeated an English fleet of 40 ships under John of Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, sent to relieve the French siege of English-held La Rochelle. The allies captured Pembroke, along with 400 English knights and 8,000 soldiers. This naval victory also gave the French control of the western French coast and of the English Channel for the first time since the Battle of Sluys in 1340.

In 1375 a formal truce went into effect between the two sides, lasting until 1383, although sporadic fighting continued. The principal figures in the war died during this period: Edward the Black Prince in 1376 his father, King Edward III of England, in 1377 Constable of France du Guesclin in 1380 and French king Charles V in 1380.

Richard II was only 10 years old when he became king of England in 1377. His uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, exercised power as regent. The government was nearly overthrown in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 led by Jack Straw and Wat Tyler. Then rebels under Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, defeated the royalists in the Battle of Radcot Bridge in 1387 and forced Richard to agree to their demands. Another dispute with his nobles led Richard to assume absolute power in 1397, producing yet another revolt and his forced abdication.

In 1386 the French began preparations for an invasion of England, but the plan was abandoned following an English naval victory in the Battle of Margate (March 24, 1387), when the English captured or destroyed some 100 French and Castilian ships. Another period of truce ensued during 1389-1396, nonetheless occasionally interrupted by fighting.

In 1396 Kings Richard III of England and Charles VI of France signed the Truce of Paris. Supposed to last 30 years, under it England retained in France only the port of Calais and Gascony in southwestern France between Bordeaux and Bayonne. The truce lasted only until 1415, however, and was, in any case, marked by intermittent warfare. In 1402, moreover, French troops had assisted the Scots in an invasion of England. The English also had to contend with a revolt in Wales during 1402-1409, led by the Prince of Wales Owen Glendower, who waged a highly effective guerrilla campaign against English rule. In 1403 English king Henry IV also faced a revolt of northern nobles led by Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who led some 4,000 men deep into central England with the aim of joining forces under Glendower. Henry, however, interposed his own army between them and defeated Percy in the Battle of Shrewsbury (July 21, 1403) before Glendower could arrive. Percy was among the dead.

With Henry IV preoccupied with these internal revolts, that same year the French raided the southern English coast, including Plymouth. In 1405 the French also landed troops to assist Glendower, but these accomplished little and were soon withdrawn. In 1406 the French mounted operations against English possessions in France, around Vienne and in Calais. In 1408 Hotspur Percy’s father, Henry Percy, first Earl of Northumberland, rebelled against Henry IV but was slain in the Battle of Bramham Moor (February 19). The next year, 1409, Henry also defeated the revolt in Wales.

Louis, Duc d’Orléans, younger brother of French king Charles VI, and John I, Duke of Burgundy, had been at odds seeking to fill the power vacuum left by the increasingly mad Charles. Louis’s assassination on November 24, 1407, brought war between the Burgundians and Orléanists, with each side seeking to involve England on its behalf.

In May 1413 new king of England Henry V (r. 1413-1422), seeking to take advantage of the chaos in France, concluded an alliance with Burgundy. Duke John promised neutrality in return for in- creased territory as Henry’s vassal, at the expense of France. In April 1415 Henry V declared war on King Charles VI. Henry crossed the English Channel from Southampton with 12,000 men, landing at the mouth of the Seine on August 10.

On August 13, Henry laid siege to the channel port of Honfleur. Taking it on September 22, he expelled most of its French inhabitants, replacing them with Englishmen. Only the poorest Frenchmen were allowed to remain, and they had to take an oath of allegiance. The siege, disease, and garrison duties, however, reduced Henry V’s army to only about 6,000 men.

For whatever reasons, Henry V decided to march overland from Honfleur to Calais. Moving without baggage or artillery, his army departed on October 6, covering as much as 18 miles a day in difficult conditions caused by heavy rains. The English found one ford after another blocked by French troops, so Henry took the army eastward, up the Somme, to locate a crossing. High water and the French prevented this until he reached Athies, 10 miles west of Péronne, where he located an undefended crossing.

At Rouen the French raised some 30,000 men under Charles d’Albert, constable of France. This force almost intercepted the English before they could get across the Somme. The trail was not hard to find, marked as it was by burning French farmhouses. (Henry once remarked that war without fire was like “sausages without mustard.”)

D’Albert managed to get in front of the English and set up a blocking position on the main road to Calais, near the Chateau of Agincourt, where Henry’s troops met them on October 24. Henry faced an army many times his own in size. His men were short of supplies, and enraged local inhabitants slew English foragers and stragglers. Shaken by his prospects, Henry V ordered his prisoners released and offered to return Honfleur and pay for any damages he had inflicted in return for safe passage to Calais. The French, with a numerical advantage of up to five to one, were in no mood to make concessions. They demanded that Henry V renounce his claims in France to everything except Guyenne, conditions he rejected.

The French nobles were eager to join battle and pressed d’Albert for an attack, but he resisted their demands that day. That night Henry V ordered absolute silence, which the French took as a sign of demoralization. Daybreak on October 25 found the English at one end of a defile about 1,000 yards wide and flanked by heavy woods. The road to Calais ran down its middle. Open fields on either side had been recently plowed and were sodden from the heavy rains.

Drawing on English success in the battles at Crécy and Poitiers, Henry V drew up his 800-1,000 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers in three “battles” of men-at-arms and pikemen in one line. The archers were located between the three and on the flanks, where they enfiladed forward about 100 yards or so to the woods on either side.

About a mile away, d’Albert also deployed in three groups, but because of French numbers and the narrowness of the defile these were one behind the other. The first rank consisted of dismounted men and some crossbowmen, along with perhaps 500 horsemen on the flanks the second was the same without the horsemen and the third consisted almost entirely of horsemen.

In the late morning of October 25, with the French having failed to move, Henry staged a cautious advance of about a half mile and then halted, his men taking up the same formation as before, with the leading archers on the flanks only about 300 yards from the first French ranks. The bowmen then pounded sharpened stakes into the ground facing toward the enemy, their tips at breast height of a horse to help protect against mounted attack.

Henry’s movement had the desired effect, for d’Albert was no longer able to resist the demands of his fellow nobles to attack. The mounted knights on either flank moved forward well ahead of the slow-moving and heavily armored men- at-arms. It was Crécy and Poitiers all over again, with the longbow decisive. A large number of horsemen, slowed by the soggy ground, were cut down by English arrows that caught them en enfilade. The remain- der were halted at the English line.

The cavalry attack was defeated long before the first French men-at-arms, led in person by d’Albert, arrived. Their heavy body armor and the mud exhausted the French, but most reached the thin English line and, by sheer weight of numbers, drove it back. The English archers then fell on the closely packed French from the flanks, using swords, axes, and hatchets to cut them down. The unencumbered Englishmen had the advantage, as they could more easily move in the mud around their French opponents. Within minutes, almost all in the first French rank had been killed or captured.

The second French rank then moved forward, but it lacked the confidence and cohesion of the first. Although losses were heavy, many of its number were able to re- tire to re-form for a new attack with the third “battle” of mounted knights. At this point Henry V learned that the French had attacked his baggage train, and he ordered the wholesale slaughter of the French prisoners, fearing that he would not be strong enough to meet attacks from both front and rear. The rear attack, however, turned out to be only a sally from the Chateau of Agincourt by a few men-at-arms and perhaps 600 French peasants.

The English easily repulsed the final French attack, which was not pressed home. Henry then led several hundred mounted men in a charge that dispersed what remained of the French army. The archers than ran forward, killing thousands of the Frenchmen lying on the field by stabbing them through gaps in their armor or bludgeoning them to death.

In less than four hours the English had defeated a force significantly larger than their own. The French lost at least 5,000 dead and another 1,500 taken prisoner. D’Albert was among those who perished. Henry V reported English dead as 13 men- at-arms and 100 footmen, but this is undoubtedly too low. English losses were probably on the order of 300 killed.

Henry V then marched to Calais, taking the prisoners who would be ransomed, and in mid-November he returned to England. The loss of so many prominent French nobles in the Battle of Agincourt greatly increased Duke John of Burgundy’s influence, to the point that he was able to dictate French royal policy.

Henry V spent 1416 preparing his forces and putting together a powerful fleet, which turned back a Genoese effort to control the English Channel. He also secured the neutrality of Holy Roman emperor Sigismund, who had been allied with France. Returning to France in 1417, Henry conducted three campaigns in Normandy during 1417-1419. He success- fully besieged Rouen during September 1418-January 1419 and secured all Normandy, except for the coastal enclave of Mont Saint-Michel.

Duke John of Burgundy was also actively campaigning. On May 29, 1418, his forces captured Paris. Installing him- self there as protector of the insane French king Charles VI, John ordered the massacre of virtually all opposition leaders at court, although the Dauphin Charles managed to escape to the south.

With Duke John controlling Paris and the English having occupied northern France, the Dauphin sought a reconciliation with John. In July 1419 they met on the bridge of Pouilly near Melun. On the grounds that further discussions were re- quired to secure the peace, Charles pro- posed another meeting, on the bridge at Montereay. There on September 10, John appeared with his escort for what he assumed to be negotiations, only to be killed by companions of the Dauphin. In con- sequence, Philip the Good, the new duke of Burgundy, and Isabeau de Baviere (Isabeau of Bavaria), queen consort of France, allied with the English against the Dauphin and his allies, the Orléanists and Armagnacs.

Henry V marched on Paris, forcing French king Charles VI to conclude the Treaty of Troyes on May 21, 1420. Charles agreed to the marriage of Henry to his daughter Catherine. The French king also disowned his son Charles as illegitimate and acknowledged Henry as his legitimate heir. Henry married Catherine of Valois on June 2, 1420, and was now ruler of France in all but name.

With the intention of invading southern France and defeating the Dauphin, Henry first consolidated his hold over French territory north of the Loire. In this connection he successfully besieged Meaux (October 1421-May 1422) but then became ill. On August 31, 1422, Henry V died of dysentery at Blois. The only child of Henry and Catherine, the nine-month-old Henry of Windsor, was crowned king as Henry VI, with Henry V’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, as regent.

French king Charles VI died in Paris on October 21, 1422. His supporters then crowned at Bruges the Dauphin as King Charles VII. Duke John of Bedford, regent for the boy-king Henry VI, meanwhile continued the English consolidation of northern France, completing it by 1428. Burgundy was increasingly restive in its alliance with England as John prepared to take the offensive against the Dauphin Charles south of the Loire.

In July 1423 a Burgundian-English force of some 4,000 men under Thomas Montacute, fourth Earl of Salisbury, met at Auxerre to intercept a Dauphinist French- Scottish army of 8,000 men under the Comte de Vendome marching into Burgundy for Bourges. The two armies came together on July 31 at Cravant on the banks of the Yonne River, a tributary of the Seine. The Dauphinists were drawn up on the east bank, the Anglo-Burgundians on the west bank. Both were reluctant to attempt a crossing of the shallow Yonne, but after three hours Salisbury ordered his men to ford the waist-deep river, about 50 yards wide. English archers provided covering fire.

A second English force under Lord Willoughby de Eresby forced its way across a narrow bridge and through the Scots, cutting the Dauphinist army in two. The French then collapsed, although the Scots refused to flee and were cut down in large numbers. Reportedly, the French-Scottish army lost 6,000 dead and many prisoners, including Vendome. This battle marked the zenith of English arms in the Hundred Years’ War. The English and Burgundians now anticipated conquering the remainder of France.

In April 1424 John Stewart, second Earl of Buchan, arrived at the Dauphin Charles’s headquarters at Bourges with an additional 6,500 troops from Scotland. In early August the Dauphinist forces departed Tours to join French troops under the Duke of Alençon and the viscounts of Narbonne and Aumale to relieve the castle of Ivry near Le Mans, under siege by the Duke of Bedford. Before the army could arrive, however, Ivry surrendered.

Following a council of war, the Dauphinists decided to attack English strong- holds in southern Normandy beginning with Verneuil, which was secured by a ruse as Scots, pretending to be Englishmen escorting Scottish prisoners, were admitted to the fortified town. Learning what had transpired, John, Duke of Bedford, rushed with English troops to Verneuil.

The Scots persuaded the French to stand and fight, and battle was joined on August 17 about a mile north of Verneuil between 8,000-10,000 Englishmen and 12,000-18,000 French and Scottish troops. The battle was fought along the lines of Crécy and Agincourt, although this time French cavalry broke through. Instead of wheeling about and exploiting this situation, however, they continued on to the north to attack the English baggage train, and the French infantry were then defeated. Bedford had taken the precaution of protecting the baggage train with a strong force of 2,000 longbowmen, and they turned back the cavalry.

The battle was one of the bloodiest of the Hundred Years’ War, but the English emerged victorious, with some 6,000 French and Scottish troops slain. Alençon was captured. The English paid a heavy price, however, with 1,600 of their own dead, far more than at Agincourt. On March 6, 1426, Duke John of Bedford and an English army defeated a French army led by constable of France Arthur de Richemont at St. Jacques near Avranches. The battle forced Jean V, Duc de Brittany, the brother of de Richemont, to submit to the English.

Having consolidated his hold on northern France, Bedford launched a southern offensive. In September 1428 the Earl of Salisbury advanced from Paris with 5,000 men to secure the Loire River crossing at Orléans as the first step to taking the Dauphin’s strong- hold of Armagnac. Orléans was a large city and one of the strongest fortresses in France. Three of its four sides were strongly walled and moated, and its southern side rested on the Loire. The city walls were well defended by numerous catapults and 71 large cannon, and stocks of food had been gathered. Jean Dunois, Comte de Longueville, commanded its garrison of about 2,400 soldiers and 3,000 armed citizens.

Salisbury and his men arrived at Orléans on October 12, 1428, and commenced a siege. Because he had only about 5,000 men, Salisbury was unable to invest Orléans completely. Nonetheless, on October 24 the English seized the fortified bridge across the Loire, although Salisbury was mortally wounded. In December William Pole, Earl of Suffolk, assumed command of siege operations, with the English constructing a number of small forts to protect the bridge and their encampments.

On February 12, 1429, in the Battle of Rouvray, also known as the Battle of the Herrings, an English supply convoy led by Sir John Falstaff transporting a large quantity of salted herrings to the besiegers was attacked by the Comte de Clermont and a considerably larger French force with a small Scottish contingent. Falstaff, who had about 1,000 mounted archers and a small number of men-at-arms, circled his supply wagons. Although greatly outnumbered, the English managed to beat back repeated attacks and then drove off the French.

Although the French in Orléans mounted several forays and were able to secure limited supplies, by early 1429 the situation in the city was becoming desperate, with the defenders close to starvation. Orléans was now the symbol of French resistance and nationalism.

Although the Dauphin Charles was considering flight abroad, the situation was not as bleak as it appeared. French peasants were rising against the English in increasing numbers, and only a leader was lacking. That person appeared in a young illiterate peasant girl named Jeanne d’Arc. Traveling to the French court at Chinon, she informed Charles that she had been sent by God to raise the Siege of Orléans and lead him to Rheims to be crowned king of France.

Following an examination of Jeanne by court and church officials, Charles allowed her, dressed in full armor and with the empty title chef de guerre, to lead a relief army of up to 4,000 men and a convoy of supplies to Orléans. The Duc d’Alençon had actual command. Word of Jeanne and her faith in her divine mission spread far and wide and inspired many Frenchmen.

As the French relief force approached Orléans, Jeanne sent a letter to the Earl of Suffolk demanding surrender. Not surprisingly, he refused. Jeanne then insisted that the relief force circle around and approach the city from the north. The other French leaders finally agreed, and the army was ferried to the north bank of the Loire and entered the city through a north gate on April 29.

Jeanne urged an attack on the English from Orléans, assuring the men of God’s protection. On the morning of May 1 she awoke to learn of a French attack against the English at Fort St. Loup that had begun without her and was not going well. Riding out in full armor, she rallied the attackers to victory. All the English defenders were killed, while the French sustained only two dead. Jeanne then insisted that the soldiers confess their sins and that prostitutes be banned, promising the men that they would be victorious in five days. A new appeal to the English to surrender was met with derisive shouts.

On May 5 Jeanne led in person an attack out the south gate of the city. The French avoided the bridge over the Loire, the southern end of which the English had captured at the beginning of the siege, but crossed through shallow water to an island in the middle of the Loire and from there employed a boat bridge to gain the south bank. They then captured the English fort at St. Jean le Blanc and moved against a large fort at Les Augustins, close to the bridge. The battle was costly to both sides, but Jeanne led a charge that left the French in possession of the fort. The next day, May 6, Jeanne’s troops assaulted Les Tournelles, the towers at the southern end of the bridge. In the fighting Jeanne was hit by an arrow and carried from the field. The wound was not major, and by late afternoon she had insisted on rejoining the battle.

On May 7 a French knight took Jeanne’s banner to lead an attack on the towers. She tried to stop him, but the mere sight of the banner caused the French soldiers to follow it. Jeanne then joined the fray herself. Using scaling ladders, the French assaulted the walls, with Jeanne in the thick of the fight. The 400-500 English defenders attempted to flee by the bridge, but it was soon on fire and collapsed. On May 8 the remaining English forces abandoned the siege and departed.

In his official pronouncements Charles took full credit for the victory, but the French people attributed it to Jeanne and flocked to join her. Although the Hundred Years’ War continued for another two decades, the relief of the Siege of Orléans was the turning point in the long war.

Following their defeat in the Siege of Orléans, the English dispatched an army from Paris under Sir John Falstaff. He joined his men with the remaining English defenders of the Loire battles, and they moved to join battle with the French in the vicinity of the small village of Patay. Falstaff and John Talbot, first Earl of Shrewsbury, had per- haps 5,000 men. French scouts discovered the English at Patay before the latter could complete their defensive preparations. Not waiting for the main body of the army under Jeanne d’Arc to arrive, the French vanguard of some 1,500 cavalry under Étienne de Vignolles, known as La Hire, and Jean Poton de Xaintrailles mounted an immediate charge. Many of the Englishmen with horses were able to escape, but the longbowmen were cut down. Unlike Crécy and Agincourt, for once a French cavalry frontal assault succeeded.

For perhaps 100 French casualties, the English suffered some 2,500 dead, wounded, or taken prisoner. Talbot was among those captured. Falstaff escaped but was blamed for the disaster and disgraced. The battle decimated the corps of seemingly invincible English longbowmen and did much to restore French confidence that they could defeat the English in open battle. The French peasants also took heart and began to engage the English in guerrilla warfare. Jeanne then led the army in the capture of territory controlled by the English, including the cities of Troyes, Chalons, and Reims. On June 26, 1429, Jeanne realized her goal of seeing Charles VII crowned king in the traditional manner at Rheims Cathedral. The ungrateful and lethargic Charles then denied Jeanne the resources to continue the struggle and, indeed, sought to discredit her.

Despite Charles VII’s lack of support, Jeanne d’Arc was determined to liberate Paris. But English reinforcements arrived in the city in August, and Jeanne’s attack on September 8, 1429, failed, and she was wounded. Still unsupported by King Charles VII, she led a small French force to Compiegne, which the English and Burgundians were besieging as part of the effort of English regent John, Duke of Bedford, to reestablish English control over the central Seine Valley, but on May 23, 1430, Jeanne was captured by the Burgundians, who turned her over to the English. Brought to trial by the English on charges of heresy, Jeanne was convicted and executed at Rouen on May 30, 1431. To his lasting shame, King Charles VII made no effort to save her. The English, however, created in Jeanne a martyr and ultimately a saint.

French resistance to the English grew, although Duke John waged a skillful defense of the English holdings in France until his death on September 14, 1435. In 1435 the English and French opened diplomatic talks. The English refused, however, to relinquish claims to the French throne and insisted on a marriage between the adolescent King Henry VI of England (crowned King Henry II of France in Paris at age nine in 1431) and a daughter of French king Charles VII. The English then broke off negotiations to deal with a French raid.

Meanwhile, Philip, Duke of Burgundy, agreed to join the negotiations. By the time the English returned to the talks, they discovered that Burgundy had in effect switched sides. Under the terms of the Treaty of the Peace of Arras of September 21, 1435, Philip agreed to recognize Charles VII as king of France. In return, Philip was exempted from homage to the French throne, and Charles agreed to punish the murderers of Philip’s father, Duke John of Burgundy. The Treaty of Arras thus brought to an end the long Burgundian- Armagnac strife and allowed Charles VII to consolidate his position as king of France against the claim of Henry VI. With France already allied with Scotland, England was now largely isolated and vastly outnumbered in terms of population. Thereafter its position in France steadily eroded.

In 1436 French forces besieged Paris. With food in short supply, Parisians loyal to Charles VII allowed the besiegers entry to the city on April 13. The English then withdrew to the Bastille, where they were starved into submission and subsequently allowed to withdraw. This ended 16 years of English control of the city. A general amnesty followed.

On April 16, 1444, the English signed at the city of Tours a five-year truce, hoping that the demobilization of large numbers of French soldiers, many of whom would be roaming the countryside, would bring anarchy and strengthen their hand. The inept French king Charles VII, however, followed the advice of his principal ministers to the extent of authorizing the creation of a standing professional army (the first in Europe since Roman times) to enforce the peace. This produced a well-trained force capable of contesting the English on an equal footing. With French resources so much greater than those of England, France’s victory was now largely a matter of time.

With the expiration of the Truce of Tours in 1449, Charles VII had the forces ready to begin a campaign to retake Normandy. The French were led by Jean d’Orléans, Comte de Dunois, and had the benefit of a highly effective siege artillery train established by Jean Bureau, master of artillery, and his brother Gaspard Bureau. Facing the inept English commander Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, the French forced the surrender of Rouen on October 19, 1449. The French then besieged and quickly took Harfleur in December 1449 and Honfleur and Fresnoy in January 1450. They laid siege to Caen in March 1450.

The English assembled a small army of about 3,000 men under Sir Thomas Kyriell. It landed at Cherbourg on March 15, 1450. Instead of going to the aid of Caen, though, Kyriell diverted his force to capture Valognes. Although successful in this, the battle was costly in terms of casualties. At the end of March an additional 2,500 men arrived under Sir Matthew Gough, but Kyriell still had only about 4,000 men as he proceeded southward. Two French armies were just south of the Cotentin (Cherbourg) Peninsula in position to engage the English. The Comte de Clermont commanded 3,000 men at Carentan, 30 miles south of Cherbourg, while the Constable de Richemont had 2,000 more 20 miles farther south at Coutances and now hurried north to join Clermont.

On April 14 Kyriell was camped near the village of Formigny on the road to Bayeux about 10 miles west of that city. Clermont was at Carentan, 15 miles west of Bayeux, while Richemont was moving through Saint-Lo, 19 miles southwest of Bayeux, hoping to link up with Clermont and prevent the English from reaching Bayeux. In midafternoon on April 15, Clermont approached the English camp. Alerted, Kyriell drew up his forces in the traditional English formation that had worked so many times in the past: some 600 men-at-arms in the center and close to 2,900 longbowmen en echelon on the flanks behind planted stakes and narrow trenches. The English formation was backed against a small tributary of the Aure River.

Clermont opened the Battle of Formigny with infantry attacks followed by cavalry. The English easily beat them back. Clermont then brought forward two cannon, which effectively harassed the English archers out of longbow range, leading the longbowmen to charge and capture the guns.

This inconclusive fighting lasted about three hours, sufficient time for the Constable de Richemont to arrive with his largely mounted force. He fell on the English left flank, forcing Kyriell to abandon part of his prepared position. In a series of charges, the French crushed the English for an over- whelming victory. The English sustained some 2,500 killed or seriously wounded, with another 900 taken prisoner, including Kyriell. The French suffered only about 500 casualties. The battle was one of the first in Western Europe in which cannon played a notable role. During the next several months, the French secured the remainder of Normandy. Caen fell on July 6, and Cherbourg surrendered on August 12.

In 1451, the French began the final chapter of the long Hundred Years’ War when Jean d’Orléans led some 6,000 men in an invasion of Guyenne in southwestern France. Benefiting greatly from their siege artillery train under Jean Bureau, the French captured the regional capital of Bordeaux on June 30 and Bayonne on August 20. Nonetheless, many Aquitaine nobles who-thanks to generations of English rule-identified with the English rather than the French continued to resist.

Although the French army in short order conquered Guyenne, resistance continued. Indeed, a number of the nobles and Bordeaux merchants sent a delegation to London that convinced King Henry VI to dispatch an army. It numbered some 3,000 men led by John Talbot, Earl of Shrews- bury. A veteran of much of the fighting in the war, he was now in his 70s. The English landed near the mouth of the Garonne on October 17, 1452, and the leaders of Bordeaux turned over the city to them. Other cities and towns of Guyenne quickly followed suit, effectively undoing the French conquest of 1451.

The French were caught by surprise, having expected the English expeditionary force to land in Normandy. Thus, it was not until the summer of 1453 that Charles VII had put together an invasion force. Three French armies sliced into Guyenne from different directions, and Charles VII followed with a reserve army. English reinforcements under Talbot’s son, Lord de Lisle, arrived at Bordeaux, bringing total English strength up to about 6,000 men. Loyal Gascon forces supplemented this number.

In mid-July, the French eastern army laid siege to Castillon, west of Bordeaux on the Dordogne. Jean de Blois, Comte de Perigord and Vicomte de Limoges, was nominal head of the army, but actual command was held by master of artillery Jean Bureau, assisted by his brother Gaspard Bureau. In operations against Castillon, the French employed some 300 guns, most undoubtedly small. Up to 6,000 men were in the French camp, largely an artillery park beyond artillery range of Castillon and designed by Jean Bureau for defensive purposes. Another 1,000 French men-at-arms were in another camp about a mile to the north. Bureau placed some 1,000 French archers in the Priory of St. Laurent north of Castillon, where a relief force from Bordeaux might most logically be expected.

Talbot departed Bordeaux on the morning of July 16 with mounted troops followed by infantry and artillery. He had at least 6,000 English and Gascons. His men passed through St. Émillon on the night of July 16-17 and in the morning surprised the French archers in the priory, killing a number and scattering the remainder. Talbot allowed his men the opportunity to rest following their 30-mile march but then received a report that the French at Castillon appeared to be withdrawing. Wishing to strike his enemy at the most vulnerable, Talbot ordered an immediate attack without waiting for the arrival of his English-Gascon infantry.

Crossing the Lidoire River that joins the Dordogne from the north, Talbot paralleled the Dordogne to come in on the French artillery camp from the south. The French were prepared, and the English encountered a hail of gunfire from behind the earthen defenses. Talbot ordered his men to dismount and attack the French parapet on foot. Few reached it. With the English-Gascon infantry committed to the battle as they arrived, the French were able to defeat their enemy piecemeal. Breton cavalry then hit the English in the flank to cut off any retreat.

The attackers sustained some 4,000 casualties, including those captured. It was in effect Crécy and Agincourt in reverse, with the decisive element being cannon fire rather than archers. The French sustained perhaps only 100 casualties. The Battle of Castillon was decisive. With no field army left to support them, the remaining towns and cities of Guyenne quickly fell.

Bordeaux surrendered to Charles VII on October 10, 1453, following a three-month siege. Held by the English for three centuries, it was now definitively French. Bordeaux’s capture effectively ended the Hundred Years’ War, although coastal raids continued for the next four years.


Beginning as a feudal struggle between France and England, the Hundred Years’ War came to assume a nationalist character. The war saw rapid military change, with the creation of a standing army and new weapons, technology, and tactics. The long struggle presaged the demise of the armored knight and the rise of the infantry as the dominant military arm. The fighting, coupled with the Black Death, devastated much of France. During the course of the war the total French population may have declined by as much as half, to 17 million. Normandy was particularly hard hit, losing perhaps three-quarters of its population.

Although the war created considerable wealth for many Englishmen through their ransom of captive French nobility, it also nearly bankrupted the English government and ultimately brought on a series of civil wars in England known as the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487). And although English monarchs continued to refer to themselves as king or queen of France until 1802, the English were obliged to give up all of their territory in France except for Calais, which itself was relinquished in 1558.

The establishment of professional armies late in the war also marked the end of feudalism. France was transformed from a feudal state to a more centralized state, with increasing power vested in the monarchy and where the people came to think of themselves as Frenchmen rather than, say, Normans or Bretons. The Hundred Years’ War also created a strong enmity between England and France, leading to a rivalry that lasted until the Entente Cordiale of 1904.

Further Reading Barber, Richard. Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine. London: Allen Lane, 1978. Bourne, Alfred H. The Crécy War. Reprint ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1976. Clowes, William Laird. The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, Vol. 1. London: Sampson Low, Martson, 1897. Froissart, Jean. Froissart’s Chronicals. Edited by John Jolliffe. London: Harvill, 1967. Gies, Frances. Jean of Arc: The Legend and the Reality. New York: Harper and Row, 1981. Hewitt, H. J. The Black Prince’s Expedition of 1355-1357. Manchester, UK: University of Manchester Press, 1958. Hibbert, Christopher. Agincourt. New York: Dorset, 1978. Keegan, John. The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo & the Somme. New York: Vintage Books, 1977. Rodgers, William Ledyard. Naval Warfare under Oars, 4th to 16th Centuries: A Study of Strategy, Tactics and Ship Design. 1940 reprint, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1967. Seward, Desmond. The Hundred Years’ War: The English in France, 1337-1453. New York: Atheneum, 1978. Sumption, Jonathan. The Hundred Years’ War: Trial by Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988. Warner, Marina. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. New York: Knopf, 1981.

Turning Away—Slowly𠅏rom Chemical Warfare

This worldwide repudiation of chemical warfare almost withstood another world war. “Use of such weapons has been outlawed by the general opinion of civilized mankind,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a 1943 address in response to a report that the Axis powers were contemplating the use of poison gas. “I state categorically that we shall under no circumstances resort to the use of such weapons unless they are first used by our enemies.”

Despite the rumors𠅊nd a stockpile of sarin gas in Nazi Germany—the Axis powers never did make extensive use of poison gas against military targets during World War II. However, the Nazis did use industrial chemicals against innocent civilians: Zyklon B, an industrial pesticide, and other chemicals were used to murder millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

The deadly cyanide-based pesticide Zyklon B used in the gas chambers of the Holocaust concentration camps. (Credit: Sebastien ORTOLA/REA/Redux)

The international community was shocked by the Holocaust and seemingly committed to halting the use of chemical warfare agents. However, innovation and testing continued during the 20th century. Over the years, the U.S. developed and stockpiled nerve agents like ricin and used herbicides likeਊgent Orange—most notoriously in the Vietnam War—in defiance of the Geneva Protocol.

Though it’s still unclear what weapons the Soviet Union developed during its secretive, decades-long regime, it’s thought that the USSR did the same, and used chemical agents against਌ivilians during the Soviet-Afghan War. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, “The amount of chemical weapons held by [the U.S. and the USSR] was enough to destroy much of the human and animal life on Earth.”

However, most chemical attacks in the late 20th century were used against smaller targets. Starting in 1963, Egypt used mustard bombs and phosgene, a nerve agent, against military targets and civilians during the Yemeni Civil War. In the 1980s, Iraq used tabun, a nerve agent, and other chemical weapons against Iran and Iraqi Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War.

A mother and father weep over their child’s body who was killed in a suspected chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, in August 21, 2013. (Credit: NurPhoto/Corbis/Getty Images)


Polearms or the pole weapon is known as a close-range combat weapon wherein its main force is focused at the end of its long shaft which is commonly made of wood. The purpose of utilizing these weapons is to increase angular momentum or extend the user’s reach, improving the striking power when the polearm is swung. The idea of linking a weapon to a long shaft is actually an old one and the first spears date all the way back to the Stone Age. Staff weapons from the Renaissance or Medieval period were all lumped together under the category of staves.

Massed individuals wielding weapons with pointed tips were highly recognized in history as part of organized warfare, considering them as efficient military units. When it comes to defense, the warriors wielding the polearms were definitely challenging to reach and for attacks, these were devastating to every unit unable to escape its reach. During the advent of armored warriors, especially cavalry, the pole weapons were usually combined with the spear point for thrusting with a hammerhead or axe for deadly swinging strikes which could readily break through armor.

Brief History of Swords

A sword is a bladed weapon used for cutting, thrusting, slashing, or stabbing. Several types of swords had been used by people from different civilizations all over the world and for different ages.

The word &ldquosword&rdquo was derived from an Old English word sweord which means &ldquoto wound&rdquo, &ldquoto pierce&rdquo, or &ldquopiercing thing&rdquo. The main parts of the swords are the blade, grip, hand guard, and pommel. It has a protective cover for the blade called a scabbard.

Bronze Age sword

First known ancient swords were made of bronze and appeared during the 17th century BC. They were about 50 to 90 cm that, technically, they could be categorized as daggers. Swords from the Bronze Age were short because bronze easily bends in longer lengths. Prior to this era, cutting weapons and tools were made from stone and animal bones.

&bull Bronze Age in China &ndash Shang Dynasty

Sword production first became an industry in China during the Shang Dynasty from 1766 BC. It was also during this period that the earliest Dao (Chinese broadsword) appeared. Sword making in China only became popular during Qin Dynasty &ndash late Iron Age, 3rd century BC.

Iron Age swords

Iron Age swords are said to have better quality than the swords from the Bronze Age in terms of hardness although there is no significant difference. Like bronze, iron as material for the sword blade could also bend when the sword is used.

The Hallstatt Culture during the European Early Iron Age (8th to 6th centuries BC) were the first users of iron swords. Iron Age swords include:

&bull Celtic swords

A Celtic sword can be categorized in two types: heavy, long-bladed swords and one handed short swords. Generally, this type of swords had unique human-shaped hilts.

Many Celtic swords had well decorated hilts inlaid with ivory or gold leaf. Scabbards, shields, and helmets were adorned with a European venomous snake (adder) which was believed to have magical powers.

&bull Greek swords

Greek swords were leaf-shaped swords used as secondary weapon when a hoplite&rsquos (Greek soldier) spear is broken. Types of Greek swords were a single handed doubled-edged sword (xiphos), a slightly curved single-edged blade (makhaira, and a forward-curving blade used for cutting meat (kopis).

&bull Roman swords

Glaudius is a latin word that means sword. This was also the general term used in Roman swords. The Roman swords were two edged swords with a tapered point that makes it ideal for stabbing. The designs and patterns of the swords of Roman soldiers, however, varied through time. Ancient Roman swords are said to be of Celtic, Greek, and Hispanic origin and influence.

&bull Persian dagger swords

Iron dagger swords called the acinaces were made popular by the Persians. Such short sword had a Scythian (a branch of ancient Iranian people) origin. This type of sword was also used by the Greeks in a later period. Still during the Iron Age, Damascus steel swords which were originally from India and Sri Lanka made their way to Persia. Damascus steel is a type of steel heated and forged using traditional Middle Eastern sword making process.

Middle Age Swords

The middle ages, also known as Medieval Period, started from the 5th century (fall of the Western Roman Empire) to 16th century (Early Modern Period) AD. Medieval swords in Europe were long swords usually made of strong steel alloy. Aside from being weapons, swords from the middle ages were also a symbol of societal status. On the other hand, as the technology of steel developed, sword making also became widespread in Asia.

&bull Medieval swords in Europe:

1) Viking swords

Viking swords were swords used by the Scandinavian explorers, merchants, and pirates called the Vikings. A Viking sword was about 37 inches in length and had a deep fuller which increased its strength and flexibility and decreased the sword&rsquos weight at the same time. Though this weapon was very famous during the Viking age, the Vikings often preferred an axe for battle.

2) Knights swords

The Knight swords are the long, steel-blade weapons of soldiers in the middle ages. Apart from being useful weaponry in battlefields, the knight swords were also a representation of a knight&rsquos prestige.

Knights Templar swords were a type of knight sword used by the templar knights who fought in the religious wars (crusades) during the Middle Ages. These swords were single-handed, double-edged swords that had a length of more than 40 inches.

&bull Medieval swords in Asia

1) Korean Sword

Hwandudaedo is an ancient sword with a folded blade and a ring pommel. They come from the Three Kingdoms of Korea era (200-100 BC). This sword was more of a symbol of political rule and military power that it was not often used as a weapon.

2) Japanese long sword

Sword making was also becoming an industry in Japan during the middle ages. In the Heian Era, a Japanese long sword, tachi was developed. The oldest recorded tachi was made in 1159 by Namihira Yukimasa.

3) Samurai Katana

In the Muromachi Period (1392-1573), the katana was created. It was a long, curved sword, with the sharp edge facing upwards. This type of sword was derived from the earlier sword tachi. The katana is also popularly referred to as the Samurai sword. Learn more about what is a katana sword.

4) Ninja swords

What is a ninja sword? According to Japanese sword history, the ninja swords were called ninjato. This was one of the weapons used by the ninjas who were masters in guerilla warfare, assassination, and stealth. They existed in 15th century feudal Japan.

Modern Age

The modern era came after the Middle Age in the 16th century. It was a time of great development in terms of government, politics, and technology. Modern age is divided into: early modern period, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and the contemporary era in the 19th century when World War I, World War II, and the Cold War happened.

&bull Rapier

The rapier sword was developed at around late 15th century. The word &ldquorapier&rdquo is said to come from the Spanish term, espada ropera which literally means &ldquosword of the robes&rdquo. A rapier is a long-bladed sword and is used more often for thrusting. It has a hilt that has rings extended forward from the crosspiece to protect the hand once the sword is used. Read about what is a rapier.

&bull Backsword

A backsword is an early modern European, single-edged, bladed weapon. The thickest part of this sword is the back portion designed to support and to strengthen the sword.

&bull Saber sword

Although a type of saber sword is said to first appear during the 10th century, a saber can also be categorized as belonging to the modern era. It was widely used during the Napoleonic Wars (sabers are also called Napoleonic swords) in early 19th century. A sabre was a backsword which had a curved, single-edged blade with a big hand guard. Sabers are also one of the types of civil war swords in the 18th century.

As said, the modern age was a time of great development. Eventually, with the invention of firearms, swords were not anymore used as weapons during wars. European swords may be used as ceremonial swords while Japanese swords are still used for modern and traditional Japanese sword cutting techniques training and other martial arts.

The Earliest Steel Swords Were Game Changers

Today they might play largely ceremonial roles, but for hundreds of years swords were perhaps the most important weapon in any army's arsenal. The development of new sword-tech was, accordingly, crucial to the unfolding of history. The earliest steel swords in particular were game changers.

YouTuber Shadiversity, eccentric expert in castles and other medieval tech, offers a terrific overview of the several properties needed to make a good ancient sword. Beyond that, he's built a recreation of what one of those swords looked like.

The Vered Jericho sword is described by the Israel Museum as a ceremonial sword from the 7th century BCE. With a complexity greater than one would assume for the era, it's a remarkable feat of engineering. Quoting the Biblical Archaeology Review, Shad describes the sword as:

A rare and exceptionally long sword, which was discovered on the floor of a building next to the skeleton of a man, dates to the end of the First Temple period. The sword is 1.05 meters long and has a double edged blade, with a prominent central ridge running along its entire length.The hilt was originally inlaid with a material that has not survived, most probably wood. Only the nails that once secured the inlays to the hilt can still be seen. The sword's sheath was also made of wood, and all that remains of it is its bronze tip. Owing to the length and weight of the sword, it was probably necessary to hold it with two hands. The sword is made of iron hardened into steel, attesting to substantial metallurgical know-how. Over the years, it has become cracked, due to corrosion.

Today, it might be possible to smash a crowbar into a sword right in your own garage, but it probably couldn't hold a candle to this centuries old work of craftsmanship.

Forged in Fire

If you haven’t already caught Forged in Fire you’re really missing out. Deadly blades, high paced competition and expert blacksmithing all rolled into one: Forged in Fire is the show bringing historic weaponry back to life.

Thanks to the recent boom in fantasy blockbusters, passions for sword fighting and smithing have been on the rise. From replicas of a character’s trusty longsword to the equipment used in combat choreography: the swords reimagined in today’s popular culture are all inspired by real blades from history. Here are three historic blades that are still capturing imaginations centuries later.

The claymore, the longsword, and William Wallace

The Scottish claymore (translated from Scottish Gaelic to mean ‘Great Sword’) is a two-handed double-edged sword most commonly used during the late medieval period and into the early modern period. Used for clan warfare in the highlands, and border skirmishes with the English, the claymore sword is a later variation of a traditional Scottish longsword. Most commonly associated with Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, the Claymore was first recorded as being used in the 15th century though it is believed to have first been used in the 1200s.

William Wallace

The claymore was a deadly weapon and a devastating tool on the battlefield. With their average length falling to around 130cm, the claymore offered a mid-ranged combat style and the combined length, dual handed wielding, and weight meant that the claymore could easily sever limbs or even decapitate with a single blow.

There is still often debate around whether William Wallace used a claymore or an earlier iteration of a two-handed greatsword. The Wallace sword (currently on display at the National Wallace Monument in Stirling), is a two-handed sword that stands at an impressive 1.63 meters tall and while similar, is not a claymore. However, there is still debate as to the true owner of the sword as it wasn’t recorded as Wallace’s sword until 200 years after his death.

Either way, the claymore’s legacy lives on in modern warfare with the A18 Claymore mine (named for the iconic blade) still in use by the military today.

Read more about: Mysteries

Scotland’s Greatest Victory Over the English

The katana and Masamune: Japan’s greatest sword smith

Known for its slender curve, sleek design, and decisive strike, the katana is more prominently known as the iconic single-edged blade of the samurai warrior. Steeped in tradition and legend, many are often surprised to hear that the katana didn’t always boast its signature curve.

The first known katana blade was inspired by a Chinese double-edged steel blade. The origin behind its curve is attributed to the legend of Amakuni. The story goes that Amakuni (a Japanese swordsmith) noticed that a lot of the swords that were returning from battle were broken. This inspired Amakuni to design a near-indestructible sword (the single-edged curved katana that we more commonly recognise today) that was perfect for precision slicing and combat. Amakuni’s design was so deadly that his legend goes on to say that he gained immortality from all the blood spilt by his swords.

Read more about: Japan

Traditional Japanese knives and their uses

Masamune was another medieval Japanese swordsmith and is, to this day, considered the greatest swordsmith in Japanese history. With a skill of precision, Masamune was known for creating blades that were not only deadly but considered works of art. Working in the late 1200s to the early 1300s, a time when steel was notorious for its poor quality, Masamune developed a style for his creations that resulted in blades that were razor-sharp and breathtakingly beautiful in equal measures.

There are still Masamune blades in existence today with the most infamous perhaps being the Honjō Masamune katana. Passed from shōgun to shōgun throughout the centuries, the blade eventually ended up in the hands of its final owner Tokugawa Iemasa. The sword was named a Japanese National Treasure in 1939 but disappeared less than a decade later when its owner surrendered it to his local police station under new laws instituted by the American occupation. To this day its whereabouts remain unknown.

Para 3: Saladin’s singing scimitar

Often when we think of scimitars the image that is brought to mind is the scene in Indiana Jones where Indy is in a standoff with a skilled swordsman facing him down - only to shoot from the hip. This iconic view of the ‘oriental’ blade is the first thing that people think of when they hear the word scimitar.

Scimitar, however, is much more of an umbrella term than any one specific type of blade. Dating back to the 1500s, the word scimitar was the English word for a sword with a curved blade that had originated from Asia, the Middle East, and other western cultures. This can include anything from the Persian Shamshir to the Turkis ‎Kilij.

One particularly infamous scimitar in history is that which belonged to Saladin. Influential Muslim leader and sultan of Egypt, Yemen, Palestine and Syria, Saladin founded the Ayyubid dynasty that ruled throughout the 12th and 13th century. One contributing factor to his successes is his ‘singing’ swords and their deadly ability to deftly hack and slash any opposing forces.

When were swords last used in European warfare? - History

Humans’ ability to transform mineral ores into useful materials has shaped the course of human history. Those civilizations that have been armed with a greater range of metal technologies have always defeated their rivals.

Early metal work fuels the development of steel
In particular, steel has governed the destiny of ambitious Europeans. The conquistadors who swept through the New World were armed with steel swords forged in the Spanish city of Toledo. Settler communities in North America and the Cape of Good Hope were able to capitalize on European-invented steel rails, steel locomotives and steel ships to transform their model European economies. From its creation in the forges of medieval Europe, through its key role in the Industrial Revolution, to the triumph of modern technologies, steel has always been one of the greatest agents of conquest of human history.

Steel is an almost uniquely European technology. It would not have been possible without the earliest experiments with fire and minerals, conducted by Neolithic hunters and farmers over ten thousand years ago. Thanks to the dry environment of the Fertile Crescent, fire pits could be kept ablaze for several days, raising a temperature sufficient to transform limestone into plaster. Before long, this technology was applied to other mineral ores &mdash copper technology brought forth the Bronze Age and iron technology the Iron Age. Once iron ore had been smelted, steel was only a matter of time.

Those parts of the world that were too wet to keep an open furnace ablaze for several days could never make the leap to even the simplest pyrotechnology. The tropical jungles of Papua New Guinea, for example, could never sustain an open fire for more than a few hours. Lacking sufficient conditions to allow them to even begin to experiment, the hunters of the New Guinean lowlands were trapped by their geography in a perpetual Stone Age &mdash until the arrival of metal-bearing Europeans.

The right conditions alone were not enough &mdash budding ironmongers and steel-smiths also needed the right raw materials. Europe struck lucky. Steel's complex manufacture requires large quantities of iron ore and plentiful, carbon-rich forests, plus access to fast-flowing water for power and transport. All of which were readily available in Europe.

From the earliest days of European civilization, the forests of Germany and northern Italy became the home to iron technology. The products they created were unique throughout the world &mdash single plates of armor hammered from one sheet of metal lightweight longswords with heavy counterweight pommels and, delicate rapiers designed for popular duel.

The development of steel forever changed the art of warfare
These swords, from the Spanish espada robera, or sword of the robe, were invented in the late fifteenth century as an ultra-modern, ultra-chic dress-sword for the upwardly mobile. It was the pride of Toledo, a Spanish city that by the late Middle Ages rivalled any Italian or German city for sword manufacture. Toledo steel was famous throughout the Old World &mdash and soon became infamous throughout the New World.

Geography gave European metallurgy another precious advantage. Thanks to what has become known as the 'optimal fragmentation principal,' the physical environment of Europe allowed a significant interplay of political independence, economic competition and technological collaboration. In other words, the geography of the European continent destined it to host thousands of communities, all jostling for power and prestige.

By the mid-fifteenth century, the latest forging techniques were used to create the strongest, sturdiest, lightest and most flexible armor and swords. Geography had made it inevitable that this precious technology would be used by Europeans to perfect the art of war.

Iron and bronze technologies were also common in the Far East but without the competitive incentive of Europe, the applications of these materials remained fairly limited. Armor never developed the unique and versatile qualities of European plate armour. Swords remained relatively uniform in style, and thanks to the ease with which technologies could spread from east to west, innovative Asian inventions, such as gunpowder were rapidly snapped up by the voracious European war machine.

It has long been known that agricultural civilizations in Africa were producing iron long before the arrival of Europeans &mdash the deadly, lightweight, Zulu Assegai was testament to the skill of native African ironmongers. But recent studies have also confirmed the independent production of steel in Africa as well &mdash a technology previously believed to be uniquely European. Nevertheless, indigenous Africans were about 1,000 years behind their European rivals &mdash and we will never know what they might have gone on to achieve, had the trajectory of African culture not been interrupted by colonialization.

The Conquistadors won an easy Victory against inferior Inca weapons technology
Civilizations in the Americas lacked equivalent iron resources &mdash but were rich beyond imagination in copper, tin, and precious metals like silver and gold. This, after all, had been the incentive for European exploration &mdash the search for Eldorado, the quest to seize a paradise made of gold. The invaders were not disappointed. Gold was so common in the land of the Incas, it was used purely for decoration and bore no inherent monetary value. Protected solely by bronze weapons and knives carved from stone, the Inca Empire fell easily to deadly Spanish steel.

The Industrial Revolution catapulted Europe into a position of unprecedented global domination over the course of the nineteenth century. Building on colonial conquest accrued over the previous 200 years, industrialization transformed the lands of the Americas, Africa and Asia into economic satellites of Europe &mdash producing and consuming raw materials and manufactured goods to fuel imperial economies,spawning 'European' cities thousands of miles away from home. The British, French, Belgian, Dutch and German Empires of the late 19th and early 20th centuries would have been unthinkable without the awesome power of steel.

Early 15th Century Hundred Years’ War Arms and Armour I

All three kingdoms, England, Scotland, France, used the same types of arms and armour it was just that each favoured the use of some particular types more than others. This came from each of three kingdoms having different types of soldier as the core of their armies. Archers, for example, were raised by English, Scottish, French, Gascon and Burgundian captains, but the most sought after were the English and Welsh. Why? They certainly had more experience and had lived in a country which had actively encouraged military archery for at least three generations by the time of Verneuil. But England and Wales were not the only countries which developed some tradition of hand bow archery. William Wallace had archers from Ettrick Forest at the Battle of Falkirk, although it was their absence rather than their presence that had an effect on the outcome of the battle. The Counts of Foix in Aquitaine used archers, both local recruits and English hirelings, in their wars with their noble rivals in the area from about 1360 onwards. The Burgundian army throughout the fifteenth century included archers, perhaps initially in imitation of their English allies. The Burgundians were both enthusiastic hirers of English and Welsh archers and employers of ‘home grown’ archers. So the question remains, why were the English and Welsh the dominant archers on the battlefield for two centuries? While they were not invincible, indeed they were on the losing side in a number of battles, they were never defeated by archers of another nation. But, while we always think of the English and Welsh as longbow archers, the English at least also used crossbows to a limited degree. Unlike the practice in Continental European armies, there is no evidence that they used them in field armies, but only in garrisons.

Men from all three kingdoms wore plate armour, but again the proportion of men using part or full plate armour varied in the three kingdoms. There were two significant stages in the development of plate armour that happened around the beginning of the fifteenth century which have great importance for the Battle of Verneuil. These were the manufacture of full suits of plate armour and advances in iron and steel production. Taken together, they meant that a man wearing the best quality plate armour could be reasonably confident that war-bow arrows presented no fatal threat until they were shot at point-blank range (about 40–60yd) or found one of the gaps in a suit of plate armour necessary to allow movement.

Protecting these openings in a suit of armour was a challenge to armourers which they met with increasing success in the fifteenth century. Just as the English tactical system was unique in military history, so the western European development of full suits of rigid plate armour is not found in any other culture. In the Moslem world, India, China and Japan, robust helmets, chainmail, scale armour and relatively small plates that overlapped or reinforced chainmail were the norm. All of these cultures had sufficient metallurgical skills to make effective plate armour if they wished, it was just that they seemed to prize the flexibility of their style of armour over the arguably higher level of protection offered by full plate armour. Why western Europe military culture developed suits of full plate armour which were extravagantly expensive in their use of materials and skilled time is difficult to explain for certain. The Classical Greek tradition favoured rigid breast and back plates while the Roman tradition went for smaller overlapping plates or even scales. It is likely that the use of powerful crossbows in Continental European warfare and the use of the English and Welsh longbow were a powerful stimulus for this development. Advances in iron and steel production in the late fourteenth century made the development of full suits of plate armour worthwhile because they made it likely that the plate would be more or less impervious to missiles. It was in north Italy where ‘a certain sophistication in manufacturing techniques is apparent by 1400 when higher quality iron and steel were produced by new carburising processes and the use of the blast furnace’. These technological improvements, particularly surface hardening, enabled armourers to improve the impenetrability of their products without necessarily increasing the weight of the suit of armour. This was a significant improvement to field armours, which were tiring to wear while engaging in demanding physical activity like advancing across a rough battlefield or hand-to-hand fighting. If men wearing armour designed for fighting on horseback were fighting on foot, they would find this more tiring than if they had been wearing a foot armour, because a mounted man would tend to wear heavier leg protection. This would have a noticeable effect on the way they walked and on their sustained agility. This may explain in part the behaviour of the Lombards in the Battle of Cravant (see the account of this battle below). Also, most plate armours, whether designed to be worn on foot or horseback, restricted how deeply the wearer could breathe, which in turn affected the wearer’s stamina. In addition to these technological developments, by the second decade of the fifteenth century the armourers of north Italy had come to the final stage of the development of the various pieces of a full body armour, and the way they fitted together.

The developments of the rest of the century were aimed at improving the functionality and appearance of the armour. This armour had been developed to meet the needs of the professional mercenary soldiers in Italy. They had concentrated on ensuring that a mounted man could charge in battle with confidence that he was unlikely to be fatally wounded by the opposing mercenaries. As a result the shoulder pieces or pauldrons were large and asymmetrical (the left being larger than the right to remove the need for a shield) to protect a common weak point in most earlier armours, and the helmet (known as an armet) was shaped like the bow of a ship to deflect arrowstrikes and other blows as the owner charged. These developments led to armour from north Italy being the most sought after for perhaps two generations until the German armourers caught up with the technology. It also meant that mercenaries from north Italy who were equipped with this armour were much sought after, as the account of the Battle of Verneuil below will show.

In the fifteenth century, the design and shape of armour, particularly the pieces protecting the body and the head, developed to improve the protection it offered. Two major helmet types developed: the bascinet, a close-fitting helmet often tapering to a point at the top of the head to provide glancing surfaces and the sallet, which looked a bit like a smooth, steel baseball cap worn back to front with a tail to protect the back of the neck. Both types were used with or without visors.

A fundamental problem with good suits of plate armour was that, to be as comfortable to wear and effective as possible, the armour had to fit the wearer well. In other words they were made to measure. This made the suits very expensive and time-consuming to obtain. If the armour was made to measure this presented the owner with a major problem – he couldn’t change shape much. This problem is made clear by the armours of Henry VIII in the collection of the Royal Armouries, which show that he gained weight as he aged.

As a result it was difficult for anyone other than the original owner of the armour to wear the suit without alterations, which might include modifying or replacing some parts. But armour was like modern men’s suits: not all are made to measure. There are records of merchants carrying bales of armour and numbers of helmets of differing styles to England, France and Spain. This armour was not designed to make full suits but provide a good level of protection for men who could not afford bespoke armour. Since armour needed to fit well to be comfortable and effective, this had an effect on its value as booty.

Plate armour was worn with various types of soft or flexible protection, and many fighting men wore very little plate – maybe only a helmet. In the main, men who had little if any plate armour couldn’t afford it and would hope to get some as booty. However, some men, what proportion we cannot know, deliberately relied on the more flexible forms of protection because they were lighter, less draining of stamina and relatively effective. These soft, flexible armours included gambesons, chainmail, and brigandines. The gambeson (commonly known as an aketon or actoun in Scotland) was usually made of linen, quilted and padded in vertical strips, commonly long enough to reach the wearer’s thighs. The quilting was usually stuffed with folded linen, woollen fibres or other cheap frayed cloth. When sleeves were part of the gambeson they were separate pieces laced to eyelets in the armholes of the gambeson. The impenetrability of the gambeson depended on how tightly folded the stuffing was but it was an efficient protection much favoured by the English and Welsh archers and Scottish fighting men. Shorter versions were worn under plate armour to cushion the wearer. Chainmail was no longer worn on its own by this time in western Europe but was used with plate armour to protect the spaces necessary for limbs to be able to move freely and often the undersides of arms and backs of legs. The brigandine was like a gambeson with much less padding, having small, overlapping plates like scales sewn onto the garment. These scales were often covered with at least one layer of fabric, sometimes quite showy material. A brigandine was quite heavy, less flexible than a gambeson, but provided better protection. The point has already been made that it is possible that the development of war-bow archery, with its advantages of range, penetration and relatively rapid shooting, encouraged the development of full suits of plate armour, rather than flexible armour such as mail with plates worn to protect particularly vulnerable areas. Even good mail worn over a gambeson will not reliably keep out war-bow arrows if they are fitted with the appropriate head. This last point is key there was an ‘arms race’ between medieval English arrowsmiths who continued to develop types of military arrowhead between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries to penetrate armour, while the armourers improved the arrow resistance of their products. At the beginning of the period the specialist military arrowheads in use were types whose development can be traced back to Viking times. These included long needle-pointed bodkins that would go through an individual ring in chainmail and quite probably penetrate the gambeson worn underneath. However, as the wearing of armour plates over the mail became more common in the fourteenth century, this type of arrowhead became obsolete. It just bent against plate. While this may not have been a problem for the English archers fighting the Scots in the 1330s, because the great majority of the Scottish soldiers would have no plate at all, it was a problem fighting the knights and nobles of France in the following decades. As a result, shorter, more triangular heads were developed with bigger sockets for the heavier arrowshafts required as bows gained in draw weight. Edward III’s administration made a significant contribution to this development in 1368 when it issued orders to the sheriffs of twenty-six English counties for a large number of arrows. These orders were very specific about the quality of the arrows necessary, not only requiring that seasoned wood be used for the shafts, but saying that the arrows were to be ‘fitted with steel heads to the pattern of the iron head which shall be delivered to him (the sheriff) on the king’s behalf’. These orders were not the first time that military arrowheads made of steel were mentioned in royal orders, but it is the first time that all the heads were to be steel. This, and the supplying of a design pattern, shows that the royal administration wanted a standard, good-quality military arrow with the capability to penetrate plate. However, recent tests suggest that the arrowheads developed later in the fifteenth century to penetrate plate armour may, paradoxically, have been less effective at penetrating gambesons and brigandines.

The types of hand-to-hand weapon used in all three kingdoms were much the same. Every fighting man carried at least one knife, ranging from the specialised misericord through to an everyday eating knife. The misericord, later known as the rondel dagger, had one purpose in war – finishing off an armoured knight. They had long, stiff, slim blades, not uncommonly 12in (30cm) long, and were designed to fit through the gaps in armour. The handles of these daggers often had flat ends to allow them to be driven through mail and padded jackets by a hammer blow from the hand. These were perhaps more commonly owned by wealthier fighting men, although they would be popular battlefield booty. By the fifteenth century they were worn by better-off citizens, aping the military style. The bollock dagger, so named from the shape of its handle, has been found widely in England and parts of northern Europe, and was used by ordinary men. Many bollock daggers found in England are single-edged with blades up to about 13in (335mm) long. They would serve well as fighting knives, although less effective for subduing an armoured man than a rondel dagger, and should be regarded as part of a man’s personal property in peace and war.

Ownership of a sword was almost as widespread among the soldiery of all classes as was ownership of knives and daggers. These varied widely in type and quality depending on the standing of the owner. As a result of the long run of relative military success for the English and Welsh soldiers from 1415 onwards, many of the ordinary archers and men-at-arms probably owned better quality swords than might be expected for men of their social status. From the thirteenth century onwards, knightly swords came in two broad types, the great (or war) sword and the arming sword. The blade of the great sword was about 48in (122cm) long with a grip long enough to allow it to be used two-handed as well as one-handed. Most surviving examples are well enough balanced to allow effective one-handed use. Originally, the great sword had a blade for both cut and thrust, but by the second half of the fourteenth century the blade shape changed noticeably. It was longer, narrower and stiffer, and its manufacturing probably placed greater demands on the skills of the swordsmith than had the earlier type. It is generally considered to have been developed in response to the increasing use of plate armour, which not only provided protection against the arrows of the upstart English archers, but also slashing blows from swords. This new blade shape shows that sword fighting techniques were changing to incorporate more thrusting moves to attack weak points in armour. In the first half of the fifteenth century, if Talhoffer’s manual is any guide, these swords could be used ‘half sword’, with one hand holding the blade halfway down, so that the point could be thrust into the weak points of the armour with force at close quarters. It is difficult to know how attractive great swords would be as booty for the ordinary archer and soldier of the various nations fighting in France at this time because of their specialised design, which required special training to use effectively. The arming sword was smaller, the blade being about 28–32in (71–81cm) long, and was worn as a secondary weapon by most fighting men and as a dress weapon marking social status. This is not to denigrate its real utility as a one-handed fighting sword for both cut and thrust. Most arming swords were light and well balanced so that they could be used in a fast, agile style of fighting which would contrast with the popular image of medieval battles, namely lines of armoured men bludgeoning each other with heavy weapons. The archers and other ordinary infantrymen would often use arming swords.

Lightly armoured men such as archers could take on more heavily armoured men-at-arms with the arming sword because it was easy to manipulate. They also used the more brutal falchion, which had a short, wide, heavy blade with a curved edge and straight back and was used for hacking blows. Besides the inevitable buffeting effect of being hit by a brawny archer using a falchion, the blow could distort or crack individual plates in a suit of armour.
This was also the period when the use of the shield declined, whereas the use of the buckler continued. It has been suggested that this decline came about because of the improvements in the quality of armour and the move to using two-handed weapons like the poleaxe and the great sword. This was despite the undoubted value of a shield against an arrowstorm of war-bow arrows.

Otherwise, the hand weapons used by the men of the various nations involved in the fighting in France in the first three decades of the fifteenth century varied according to the type of fighting they were trained for, their financial and social status, and to some degree which nation they came from.

Finally, in this general summary of the arms and armour used by the men fighting in the wars in France in the first quarter of the fifteenth century, there is the matter of training. Nobles and knights were well trained in use of arms being an effective fighting man was still one of their major roles in society. Since English armies were made up of paid soldiers it is reasonable to expect that they all had some level of skill with their weapons. Similarly, the French urban militias would have practised. The Scottish soldiers also seem to have had some skill. The legal requirements for ordinary English and Welsh men to practise archery have been noted above. But the question remains, how did all these men gain their weapon skills? For the ordinary men of all three nations there is almost no evidence.

No doubt experienced soldiers led the practice but they have left almost no trace. There are tantalising references in the Register of Freemen of York to two men who may have played a part in this training. In 1298 Robert of Werdale, who was described as an archer, was enrolled in the register, and in 1384–85 Adam Whytt, a buckler player, was enrolled.

To be eligible to be a Freeman in York, these men would have become established in the city by following their trade in their own right for a number of years. They would also be reasonably prosperous since there were fees to pay to be registered. In short, they would have been respectable citizens of York, not just rough, skilled fighting men. They are the only two men on the register who might have been instructors in fighting arts. However, for men who were prepared to pay for training there were manuals of fighting and no doubt masters of arms to train them. In noble households the training was led by experienced members of the household. Some of these may have had access to one of these fighting manuals. But the fact that these manuals were written at all suggests very strongly that there were professional teachers of fighting skills. The earliest manual (Royal Armouries Ms.I.33) dates to around 1300 and was created in south Germany. This German tradition continued when Liechtenaur created his manual somewhere between about 1350 and 1389, when his work was incorporated in another manual compiled by Dobringer. In about 1410 Fiori de Liberi produced the first surviving Italian manual. Evidence of an English tradition of fighting manuals is found in two fifteenth-century manuscripts on swordplay.

The existence of theses manuals shows that the medieval warrior was interested in developing his skills medieval battles were not just two lines of meatheads battering each other. As Liechtenaur put it, ‘above all things you should learn to strike correctly if you want to strike strongly’. While it would be a mistake to suggest that the majority of the professional fighting men in the wars in France during the early fifteenth century had access to a fighting manual, it is not unreasonable to suggest that many benefited from training or demonstrations by men with skill and experience, some of whom had access to such a manual.

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