Two-handed sword
  • Two-handed sword
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • England, possibly
  • Date: c. 1450
  • Medium: Iron or steel and cord, blackened
  • Length: 117 cm, blade
  • Width: 6 cm
  • Weight: 2.892 kg
  • Width: 6 cm, blade at guard
  • Width: 27.9 cm, guard
  • Balance point: 13.9 cm, forward of the guard block
  • Inv: A474
  • Location: European Armoury I
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Further Reading
  • The cumbersome, heavy two-handed sword is one of the great clichés associated in the modern imagination with medieval knights. In reality the ‘twahandswerd’ was of little value to ‘men-at-arms’ who wore full plate armour, yet were expected to be adaptable at the same time, fighting on foot or on horseback as required. They were never especially heavy (the Wallace Collection example is 2.89 kg, only about twice the weight of a cricket bat) but their size alone meant that they were only practical for combat on foot and could not be used while mounted. Thus the two-handed sword was a more specialised weapon, lethal in infantry combat but of little value otherwise. The late fourteenth-century historian Jean Froissart described such a sword being used by a warrior monk, the Canon de Robesart, in 1358:

    Il tenoit une espée à deuz mains, don’t ill donoit les horions si grande que nul les osoit attendre.
    (‘He held a sword of two hands, with which he dealt blows so great that none dared to face them’)

    (Chronicles of England, France and Spain (1369-1400), Book I)

    The Wallace Collection two-handed sword is one of only a very few examples dating from before the sixteenth century. Its ‘fish-tail’ pommel and straight cross-guard ending in spherical terminals suggest that it might be English; among the eighty swords found in the River Dordogne near the city of Castillon in the early 1970s were a number of similar but smaller arming swords and longswords with very similar hilts, the so-called ‘Castillon ‘Group B’. In 1453 the last battle of the Hundred Years War was fought at Castillon, the French delivering a final terrible defeat against their English enemies. The source of the river-find is thought to have been some kind of river barge accident, part of the English supply effort before the battle, or transport of French battlefield loot afterwards. Either way, it is likely that many of the Castillon swords are English, indicating a similar origin for the Wallace Collection two-handed sword. Very similar swords are now in the Museum of London (found in the Thames) and the Royal Armouries, Leeds (probably from the Castillon find), while they also appear on English funerary effigies of this same period.