Bec de Corbyn

Our Bec de Corbyn is a replica of an original 16th century knightly weapon. The original of this piece was obviously created by hand as there are some asymmetries in the component shapes and how the elements relate to the centerline. This is seen in almost any period weapon of this type and why we have carried these through from the original in our replica.

Bec de Corbyn polearm from Arms & Armor Inc.

#250 Bec de Corbyn  

Bec de Corbyn literally translates as “raven’s beak”, in clear reference to the shape of the spike opposite the hammer head on these weapons. This is a common aspect of medieval weapon terminology were the users of the day named pieces with nicknames that referred to the world around them and their trade as soldiers and knights.

Bec de Corbyn back spike detail

Bec de Corbyn rear view

As is the case with many of these names for medieval arms, the term that was occasionally used in period to refer to some weapons becomes a synonym for the type. So here we see Bec de Corbyn being used for the more generic “pollaxe”, and could equally be applied to other weapons, such as our Italian Pole Hammer (pic below), which has a similarly shaped back spike. 

Italian Pole Hammer by Arms & Armor

#232 Italian Pole Hammer by Arms & Armor

Image from Thott via Wiktenauer

Image of combat from Talhoffer via Wiktenauer

Probably the most common term for this form used by scholars today is "Lucerne Hammer". This is used to define such pieces with spikes on the face of the hammer. These can be in groups of three or four and vary in length. Weapons of similar form were used across several cultures and would have been referred to differently in different times and places. That being said, the Arms and Armor Bec de Corbyn is a particularly fine example of a beaked pollaxe. Our piece is constructed from tool steel elements molded from an original hammer in a private collection.

In the video below we examine our Knightly Pollaxe and Italian Pole Hammer to put the “Bec” in context, and discuss the history of the terminology that is used to describe this whole category of weapons. In particular, we discuss the difference between the history of the word “pole” as compared to “poll”, and what it means for how these weapons are understood. 
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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