The English or "Brown" Bill is pole arm popular in parts of Great Britain during the late medieval period. This weapon consists of a large, thin head with a hook, cutting edge, and typically features a top spike and a smaller back spike. These were usually mounted to ash hafts via a socket. With the head and pole, these were usually somewhat over six feet in total length and weighed around five pounds, sometimes rather less. The iron or, later, steel heads were usually between one and two feet in length, including the socket.
Original 16th Century English Bill
English Bills appear to derive historically from a farming implement popularized by the Romans, the securis. The securis is a variety of agricultural billhook with specialized form optimized for viticulture - pruning and cultivating grapes. In order to produce grapes suited for wine production, the vines must be carefully tended, with extraneous growth removed. The hook on these knives was used to cut vines, the spike to dig, and the rear blade to chop.
The English Bill is easily distinguished from its cousin, the Italian Bill, or Roncone, by its somewhat shorter head, typically flat top spike, and the usually simple, rolled and welded open socket, which can be seen on the original examples above and below. The essential similarities between the two include the hook above a sharpened cutting edge, a top spike for thrusting, and a rear spike.
The Arms and Armor English Bill is a close reproduction of an original Bill dating from around the year 1490. It features a carbon steel head with a mild steel socket, and an ash haft.
We hand forge the tip of the hook into a chisel shape and slack quench the head to harden the cutting edges in a period appropriate manner. The long edge below the hook is ground and sharpened with a gentle taper from the edge back several inches to reduce the weight of the overall piece and add authentic blade geometry. The top and back spikes feature chisel edges, allowing them to maintain full thickness right down to the point, for strength and rigidity.
Detail of the forged chisel point of the hook
Detail of back spike edging
As with all of our products, the English Bill is entirely handmade by our skilled and knowledgable crew here at our shop in Minneapolis, MN, USA. Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog in which Nathan uses an English Bill to cut and stab a bunch of stuff!
Reproduction by Arms & Armor Inc. of a bill excavated at Jamestown.
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