The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Poll-axe
  • Poll-axe
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • West Europe, possibly France or England
  • c. 1475
  • Iron and steel, wood and copper alloy, hatched
  • Length: 19 cm, blade
    Length: 16.2 cm, blade to hammer
    Length: 19.3 cm, spike
    Length: 45 cm, straps
    Length: 48.5 cm, straps
    Weight: 2.495 kg
    Length: 188.5 cm, total length
  • Inscription: 'de bon' inlaid in copper alloy
  • A926
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • Poll-axe, the head composed of two parts: a triangular blade with straight cutting-edge on the one side balanced by an oblong hammer-head on the other, this last having on its face two vertical rows of squared projections, with a vertical strip of copper alloy between them. It is attached to the staff by four iron straps secured with rosette-headed rivets; on the top is a strong four-sided spike, the short, steel straps of which pass over the neck between the blade and the hammer, and the straps that secure them. The two parts are secured together by a bolt and nut with projecting, pyramidal heads. The foot of the staff is shod with an iron ferrule, hexagonal in section with a knob at the base.

    The axe is decorated with trefoil piercings and the axe-blade is inlaid with vertical bands of copper alloy; a copper alloy strip down the face of the hammer is inscribed in miniscule lettering inlaid in slight relief on a hatched ground: de bon, together with a rough representation of a heart (of good heart) and foliage.

    The wooden staff, and possibly also the rondel that protects the hand, are restorations.

    French (?), about 1470.

    Viollet-le-Duc VI, 17-18; Hefner-Alteneck, Trachten, 1879, IV, pl. 279; Boeheim, 376-7, fig. 447; Laking, European Armour II, fig. 887.

    Provenance: Comte de Nieuwerkerke.

    The statement made by Boeheim that A926 was in the Riggs Collection (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) is incorrect. There was a somewhat similar poll-axe in that collection, and a reference to it by Viollet-le-Duc (VI, 18-19) may have led to the confusion.

    For hundreds of years the sword had been the weapon most closely associated with the knightly class, a symbol of aristocratic power as well as its instrument. With the development of full plate armour however, the sword became less effective in armoured combat. In the late fourteenth century a new weapon was created, far better suited to breaking through the hardened steel plates of an enemy’s armour. The pollaxe was not like other staff weapons, the vast majority of which were the arms of the lower classes developed from ordinary farm implements such as the pitch fork, scythe and flail. It was instead an exclusively knightly weapon, fine examples being as beautifully made as any sword.

    Axes of this type found in England include an example in Saffron Walden Museum (no. 1836.56) said to have come from Bartlow, near Linton, on the border between Cambridgeshire and Essex. The Royal Armouries have three such axes; nos. VII.875, 1670 and 1827. The second is said to have been excavated in Cheapside, London, and the third is said to have been found near Banbury. The example at Cotehele House, Cornwall, may have formed part of the original armoury of the house. A comparable axe is in the Historical Museum at Bern (Wegeli, Inventar, III, no. 1340, tav. IV). This general type of pollaxe was used both for war and for tournament combat on foot, although it must be noted that the spikes and blade of this example are much sharper than those of the axe A925, which appears to have been made specifically for tournament fighting.