When people talk about rapiers today they usually have in mind a sword with a long thin blade and a complex hilt. Many rapiers do take this form, but there are also many swords that complicate this generalization. In today's blog post we examine two such swords, our Town Guard Sword and our Cavalier Rapier. Both are complex-hilted swords from the early 17th century that have significantly wider and shorter blades than are commonly associated with weapons with this hilt design.
The Arms and Armor Cavalier Rapier
The Cavalier Rapier is a replica of a weapon in the collection of Sulgrave Manor (the ancestral home of George Washington) and hails from the period of the 30 years war. This weapon would have been a relatively high status military sidearm. Whereas civilian swords were long, thin-bladed weapons that were designed to optimize the thrust, the military context required a sword that was still capable of cuts that could be effective against foes with some armor. During this period firearms were firmly established as the most deadly weapons on the field of battle, but they were relatively slow to reload and were mostly utilized in relatively close proximity. This, of course, meant that soldiers often needed recourse to their sword when in the press of battle.
Above is an example of a Dutch armor from the 30 years war in the collections of the British Royal Armories. Check out this article about the arms and armor of the period, and this one from the Smithsonian about archaeological finds from one such battle. This is a heavy armor that was meant to be bullet resistant and was likely designed for use while mounted. The cavalier rapier has sufficient heft to be used from the mount, cutting down on less armored enemies.
The blade of this sword, at just under 1.75 inches, is twice as wide at the cross as some civilian rapiers of the time. The blade is 34 inches long, at least a hand shorter than most of its thrust-oriented contemporaries. It does, however, taper very substantially in profile to a very keen point, which would allow it to be forced into the gaps in a foes armor and to penetrate quite effectively.
The hilt of the Cavalier Rapier is ornate, but lacks the knuckle-bow seen on many, but not all, civilian rapiers. This is possibly because the user was expected to be armored and/or mounted, making that form of protection less necessary. It could also just be a stylistic choice, fashion being, as always, of the utmost importance. Overall the sword weighs in at 2.9lbs and is balanced to allow a forceful cut while still maintaining excellent point control.
The Arms and Armor Town Guard Sword
Our Town Guard Sword is a replica of a famous piece from the Wallace Collection (A612) that is believed to have been made for the Munich Town Guard around the year 1610. Below you can see our reproduction on the left, and a photo of the original on the right. Unlike the Cavalier Rapier, the Town Guard Sword has a knuckle-bow, which suggests that it might have been meant for use without heavy armored gauntlets.
Arms and Armor Town Guard Sword. Original sword, the Wallace Collection.
The blade of this sword is 1.8 inches at the cross and 31.3 inches long. It is of a diamond cross section and has a stout central ridge all the way to the point. Though the Wallace Collection describes this as a cavalry sword, it would also have been used on foot by the city guards as they patrolled, likely also armed with halberds and firearms. Here is a fairly in-depth review of this sword from our friend Skallagrim on Youtube.
Due to the complex hilts on these swords it is tempting to lump them in with their long and pointy fellows, but to do so would be to miss the functional differences between broad bladed rapiers and their narrower kin. These more cut-oriented swords were a soldiers weapon, for use mounted or on foot, armored or unarmored. If you've never handled such a sword we would encourage you to pick one up!