St Martin's History of the Sword, 14th-15th C

In this post we continue our exploration of sword development using the period depictions of St. Martin. (part 1) As art becomes a venue for secular and religious powers to display wealth and status in the 14th and 15th centuries, the depictions of St. Martin flourish with more detail and variation. 

The sculpture below, dated to 1340, is interesting as it shows the sword being gripped with the fore finger over the guard. This is an early example of this use of the index finger. The guard and pommel are some what damaged but this detail is clearly shown, creating a firm data point in the discussion of how a sword could be used for the mid 14th century. Details like this are important to illustrate the use and development of the sword and its use.

Statue of St. Martin

Mid 1340's statue of St. Martin by Pisano

 The use of art to refine the story of sword development can leave one with questions that challenge are concepts of sword design. In the following picture we see a sword with what seems to be no guard. It also shows an extended forefinger and this may cover a short guard or it might well be showing a copy of an ancient sword as the artist may have seen sculpture illustrating such swords from the Roman period or Byzantine examples. But either way it does not fall in our normal concept of mid 14th C swords.

1340 Altar piece showing St. Martin

 St. Martin depicted in Coronation of the Virgin Altarpiece by Guariento di Arpo 1344

This is a good example of how one must use a critical eye. We need to consider the artists work but also what their influences may have been and does it add to our study or lead us astray.

In the next image we definitely see a wide arching guard and what looks to be some style of wheel shaped pommel. The forefinger again is shown over the guard and might be developing into a conventional way to show St. Martin. The sword here does not have great detail but can be seen to be a single handed sword of the later 14th century.


1380 detail of St Martin, Tuscany by Giovanni di Bartolomeo Cristiani

Swords of this form become quite common and are iconic medieval swords of singlehanded size. Here are some examples that we have crafted of this style of weapon. 

Custom Medieval sword by Arms & Armor Inc.

A custom Medieval Sword of similar style crafted by Arms & Armor Inc.

 In the next image from the beginning of the 15th century we see a nice Type XV sword single handed sword in St. Martin's grasp. This sword is of the same form as our Duke of Urbino Sword from the same period. 

 1400-10 Manuscript (Ms. AG XII 3)

1400-10 Manuscript (Ms. AG XII 3) Milan,Italy

 Duke of Urbino #086 with blued hilt and green leather grip

Duke of Urbino Sword with blued hilt and green leather grip.

The embroidery below  from the first half of the 15th century shows a sword with a longer grip than we have see so far and what seems to be a "rainguard" on the hilt. In this case it is St Martin converting the brigands, part of his legend, and the brigand is the one brandishing the sword.

 1435 Brigands and St Martin

Embroidered depiction of St Martin Converting brigands 1435. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Longsword with rain guard by Arms & Armor Inc.

A custom sword that has similar form and a rain guard to the one depicted.

The mid 1400s sees some dramatic developments in sword design and we see that reflected in the depictions of our saint. In this engraving we see a detailed sword or more of a longsword with extended grip, straight flaring guard and a fluted pear shaped pommel. The blade is fullered and there seems to be some type of ricasso or cover just under the guard.

 Detail from Metropolitan Museum of Art mid to late 15th Century.

Engraving by Martin Schongauer German 1450-1491, Metropolitan Museum of Art
A similar sword to our Schloss Erbach Sword.
Schloss Erbach Sword by Arms & Armor Inc.
Schloss Erbach Sword 
The use of longer swords, rain guards and more detailed hilts continues in the images from the 15th century. Here we see a broader bladed version of such a sword.
St Martin depicted in german painting 1450

Saint Martin parts his cloak, painted panel around 1460-70, Rottenburg Diocesan Museum

The use of St. Martin stretches across Europe, in this example we see a fresco from Beram Croatia with a straight guard on a fullered type XV blade and a scent stopper shaped pommel. The sword also seems to have a rain guard of leather. 

St. Martin cutting cloak fresco from Church of St Mary , Beram, Croatia

Fresco from Church of St. Mary, Beram, Croatia 1475

A similar style of swords we crafted a few years ago.

Fullered longsword with scent stopper pommel and blued hilt.

Longsword with double fullered blade by Arms & Armor Inc.

Custom made swords by Arms & Armor Inc.


German stained glass St Martin cutting cloak 1490 

Stained glass 1490-1500 Rhineland, Germany. The Cloisters Collection

Even though we have covered 200 years of swords being shown in these pieces of art we find that the some of the earliest and latest examples are quite similar. This speaks to the function of the sword driving its design. When it works, don't fix it, is quite true. The evolution of the use of the sword is starting to change dramatically in this period, but we still see swords continuing on in use well after they have first appeared as a type.

French Medieval Sword with black grip item #188

French Medieval Sword by Arms & Armor Inc.

Malaspina Sword by Arms & Armor Inc. 

Malaspina Sword by Arms & Armor Inc.

When we continue on into the 16th century we will see even greater diversity in St. Martins armament.

Read the first part of this series here St. Martin's History of the Sword

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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