This sword is based on a depiction in a Book of Hours from France dated about 1440. It is one of the earliest examples of a knuckle bow being added to the guard of a sword in the European context and is interesting as it is mounted on a double edged blade rather than one with a single edge. This is not unique to this instance but it is not common. The guard would function well and the blade is similar to any other blade of the period. The subject of the art is St. Martin cleaving his cloak to share with a disabled less fortunate man. Thus we have the sword of St Martin.
It is a type XVIII blade mounted with a forged guard and the knuckle is created by a right angle turn of the guard. It is mounted with an octagonal wheel pommel. The grip is brown leather with equal spaced risers under the leather.
This is an excellent example of the early development of complex hilts. The earliest examples we come across are bars being added like this to a straight cross but very quickly after the first half of the 15th century we begin to see the guards having several elements added. We look at some of these developments in past blogs listed below.
The addition of the knuckle bow in this case adds protection to the hand but does not limit the sword in function from just a straight guard other than it is now aligned for the long and short edge to not change in use.
The shorter double edged blade combined with a knuckle bow is not limited to its brief introduction in the mid 15th C. It continues to crop up in variations from the early 1400's into the high Italian Renaissance and even daggers with wide blades and complex guards in the Elizabethan period that would be in the same family of broad blades of a short nature.
For more info on hilt development check out
Also not to put too fine a point on it, St Martin is the patron of soldiers, tailors, vintners, wine growers.
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.