Medieval flails, sometimes inaccurately called "Morningstars", are an iconic weapon of the Middle Ages. Despite many period representations of these weapons, and some famous surviving examples, there is little truly known about how they were used and why a warrior might choose to wield one of these instead of another more common weapon such as a mace, sword, axe, or hammer. In today's video you can see Craig menacing Nathan with a Flail, and some boards getting clobbered by a mace and flail as we explore how these weapons really work.
While we've previously examined some of the dynamics of these weapons, and smashed a big block of ice, here, in today's blog we focus in on the strengths and drawbacks of several varieties of flails. We make a distinction between knightly flails such as that pictured below in an early 15th century illustration, and agricultural or peasant flails. Our German Flail, a reproduction of a famous example from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, is an excellent example of the former.
Besançon BM MS.1360 Bellifortis of Konrad Kyeser 1401-1450
Peasant flails were a repurposed agricultural implement used to thresh grain. By altering the head of the flail to include a heavier piece of wood or adding metal spikes the tool could be turned into a common weapon.
The agricultural flail
Militarized agricultural flails
The final variety of flail we examine is the Iberian flail or mangual. This can be seen below at the feet of the figure on the frontispiece of the Handbook of the True Skill of Arms in Thirty-Eight Assertions by Miguel Perez de Mendoza y Quixada, published in 1675 (below). This weapon was a specialized armament meant primarily to oppose rapiers and perhaps two handed swords like montante in combat.
Check out the video here:
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.