An introduction to complex hilted swords: Part 3

Our look at complex hilted swords continues in part 3 as we check out a replica Italian rapier and a 17th C Haudegen. These two forms of hilt illustrate some of the variations of the complex hilted sword as it evolved from the simple bar structures of the earliest forms.

The rapier hilt is contemporary with the development of the basket hilts we have looked in part 1 and 2. The protection of the sword hand is the primary function shared by all of the hilts we have looked at. The rapier shares the knuckle bow and cross as the other hilts. But instead of the bars crossing the hand vertically from tip to pommel as the main bars of the basket hilts do we see the rapier incorporating horizontal rings, diagonally and horizontally crossing sweeps as well as support bars.

Custom RApier based on one in the Museo Stibbert, Italy
Italian Rapier custom made by Arms & Armor Inc.

In rapiers we see the addition of a new element to the hilt, the finger rings. These curl forward from the guard and protect the fore finger when placed over the guard. They also allow rings and bars to be anchored forward of the cross at the ends of the rings. The moving of the hilt components forward of the cross is one of the chief design differences between the basket hilts we looked at earlier and rapiers. This also allows the horizontal side rings and diagonal sweeps to be  combined in many forms to create the vast variety of hilts identified as rapiers today.  

The rapier we are looking at today is an elegant and high-status piece based on one in the Stibbert Museum in Florence, Italy, dated to 1630. It has the fore and rear guard arms curved into an S shape in the plane of the blade. It has three side rings and a sweep bar from the largest ring to the knuckle bow. The inner guard is composed of four sweeps joining into one bar midway to the knuckle bow. Inside this structure it is adorned with two plates one fore and one back that add to the protection of the hand. This is the style of rapier sometimes referred to as a Spad da lato or side sword.

Custom RApier hilt by Arms & Armor Inc.

Chiseled detail and wire bound grip

All of the structures of the outer guard are enhanced with decorative filing, chisel work and pierced detail in the plate. The urn shaped pommel is chiseled as well. This full hilted rapier provides a lot of protection to the hand but is also decorated in an elaborate way to express the wealth and status of the owner.


Overall picture of Haudegen reproduction

Haudegen reproduction by Arms & Armor Inc.

The second sword we will look at is a Haudegen or Wallon Sword, a late form of complex hilt but was used by military and civilians for a long period of time throughout Europe. It was recognized as a durable and quality design and usually fitted with a German made blade. It was very common across northern Europe, especially during the thirty years war 1618-1638. It is thought that after the conflict so many were captured by the French that it influenced a similar design to become the first standard issue sword in the French Army. It may also be related to the Mortuary style of hilt common in the English civil war 1642-1651.

This example has the plates pierced in a basket pattern with a star punch at the junction point of the basket weave. These thin plates are set into two rings, one on either side and supported by sweeps to the knuckle bow and a bar covering the hand on the outside. The inner guard is supported by one S shaped sweep to the knuckle bow.

reproduction HAudegen by Arms & Armor Inc.

 Haudegen hilt with blued finish

 This style of sword was also very popular in Sweden and was issued to the Swedish Army from the time of Gustavus Adolphus to the 1850's. Our reproduction of this sword is mounted on a double-edged blade with a fuller running about 1/3 of the way down the blade. 

Check out our video of these interesting swords and enjoy some complex hilt joy. We hoped you have liked this exploration of some complex hilted swords.


divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.

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