Flails, often erroneously called "Morningstars" due to some Dungeons and Dragons-related confusion, are one of the more exotic seeming medieval weapons. Originally developed as an agricultural implement for threshing corns of grain from the stalk, they eventually evolved into an iconic weapon of war.
Two of the most famous flails at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Farmers in the medieval period were intimately familiar with flails and used them extensively in their occupation. As with other agricultural implements such as sythes and pitchforks, when peasants were assembled into the ad hoc armies of the time these tools became weapons.
Some of these agricultural tools eventually earned a place in the established pantheon of respectable weapons. The illustrations below are from Paulus Hector Mair's 16th century fighting books, courtesy of Mike Chidester and the other folks at the Wiktenauer website.
Flails in particular were even adopted as a knightly weapon in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Foot combat with flails against Wilhelm Auer von Herrenkirchen zu Neudorf (fol.83) Freydal Manuscript
Here is a video of Arms and Armor's good friend Ton Puey using an Iberian Mangual flail in practice. You can note the similarities between use of the two handed sword and the Mangual.
Mangual appears at :38 seconds
There has been some controversy over whether one handed flails were ever a weapon in common military use, or whether they were mostly a parade weapon, or even a bit of a collective medieval and Renaissance fantasy. This article by Paul Sturtevant has become a bit of a lightning rod in the debate, alongside the reassessment of the provenance of several famous flails in museums, including that in the first picture in this blog at the Met. Originally thought to date from the 15th century it is now listed as a 19th century reproduction in 15th century style.
Regardless of these debates, it is clear that various military flails had a place in medieval and Renaissance warfare, from a common weapon of peasant recruits to a knightly dueling weapon.
Details from Passion of Christ, and a 14th century battle respectively
Flails by Arms and Armor
The Arms and Armor Spiked Flail is a reproduction of a 16th century German original in a private collection. In weights just over three pounds and is constructed entirely of steel. It is 21" inches in total length, and the chain makes up 6" of that. As all one handed flails, most of the weight is in the ball, making it a fearsomely powerful tool for utterly destroying anything that has the misfortune to be hit by it.
The Arms and Armor German Flail is a close reproduction of the famous example in the Metropolitan Museum, described above. It was made to be used in one hand while fighting on foot or horse. This high gothic example of a hand flail has a beautiful design. The links of the chain are sculpted with two rows of spikes on their outer edge. The right angle links also allow for a sinuous flow of the head and chain when in motion. The grip is topped by a ring and butted by a turned finial. This flail also exhibits a twisted link chain. This allows for the chain to move more freely and not kink as straight links may.