The Writer’s Guide to Medieval Battlefield Weapons

I hope you have enjoyed my previous posts on sword myths. Today we will be moving on to other common medieval weapons with a focus on those used on the battlefield. Although swords are synonymous with fantasy and a lot of historical fiction, they were not used excessively in battle during the Middle Ages. There were several other weapons that were more effective than the sword, although quite a few soldiers carried them as a back-up weapon.

Writer’s Tip: Including weapons other than swords in your novel is a great way to expand your fantasy or historical arsenal, include weapons that are vastly under-represented in fiction, give an indication of social standing, use military tactics other than sword stances and inject some realism.

Polearms

Polearm is the name for a class of weapons with a long wood pole. The most basic and common polearm is the spear. Starting in ancient times as a sharpened stick, the spear was improved first with a chipped stone head then bronze, iron and steel. Differently shaped heads were developed, often adapted from farm implements, resulting in the military fork, trident, partisan, pole-ax, glaive, bill, halberd and hammer, all of which had multiple variations. Polearms have the advantage of reach, ranging from the height of a person to about 16 feet (4.8 m) in the case of 17th century pikes. Also, infantry armed with polearms can be tightly packed into multiple ranks, creating a virtual hedge of protection. [1]

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Clubs, Maces and Picks

The club is probably the first purposely created weapon. On the Bayeux tapestry, William the Conqueror is depicted several times carrying a club. [2] Over the centuries, the club has been improved upon and by the Middle Ages there were flails, maces, picks, and war hammers.

Axes

Throughout most of human history, an axe with a common household tool, necessary for cutting wood for the fire. As a result, it became a handy weapon. Archers during the Hundred Year’s War carried axes on their belts to be used for cutting sharpened stakes for protection as well as self-defense if they were attacked by infantry. [3]

Bows

Originally developed for hunting, the bow was used to great effect in medieval warfare in such battles as Agincourt and Crécy during the 15th century. It was a common weapon that was not that expensive to buy nor too difficult to make. Most of the bowmen in a medieval army were yeoman, free commoners or part of the lower end of the middleclass. I will be delving deeper into archery myths in future posts.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list. To celebrate my first newsletter I will be giving away a copy of “Build Your Author Platform” by Carole Jelen and Michael McCallister, a book that has been invaluable in helping me build my platform. The deadline to sign up to be entered in the drawing is Aug. 30th.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] Weapons: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D.. The Diagram Group (1980). Diagram Visual. p. 56-62. ISBN 0-312-03950-6.
[2] Weapons: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D.. The Diagram Group (1980). Diagram Visual. p. 14-15. ISBN 0-312-03950-6.
[3] https://imgur.com/gallery/RswSL

The Writer’s Guide to Medieval Swords: Part 2

I hope you enjoyed my last blog post on swords. If you have not read it you can find it here. Today we will be tackling three more common pieces of misinformation regarding swords. As in my first post I will be focusing on medieval European swords since most fantasy is inspired by this period and region.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

Sword Through the Belt

I have seen this trope in multiple video games, movies, and television shows. If a sword is sharp the motion of putting it through the belt or pulling it out will likely cut through the belt, not to mention the high likelihood of the person cutting themselves. You can only get away with this if the sword is dull. Medieval swords were normally kept in a scabbard when not in use. The scabbard protected the blade from moisture and dulling of the edge. The scabbard was usually hung from the belt by a frog, which caused the sword to hang at the level of the hip and at the forward slant, making it easier to draw.

Reproduction medieval sword frog from The Inner Bailey. Photo source.

Cast Off (aka You’re Not Walking Off that Battlefield Clean)

If you’ve ever watched CSI or any other crime scene investigation show you already know that melee weapons are messy. After the first hit, any movement of the weapon will produce cast off. This means that anyone walking away from melee combat such as a battle will likely be quite grimy. Yet I’ve seen a number of medieval and fantasy movies and shows where the hero is spotless after a battle. Thankfully, several recent productions have tried to show how gruesome medieval melee combat can be, most notably “Game of Thrones” and Netflix’s “Outlaw King.”

Writer Tip:  The grisly stain of battle can be an opening for your character to reflect on the brutality of war or the people they lost, especially as they literally clean the blood off their clothes and equipment.

Chris Pine in Netflix’s “Outlaw King.” Photo source.

Cleaning Your Sword

I admit it. I shudder every time I see a character finish up a battle and slide their sword back into their scabbard without cleaning it. The problem is that once debris has been introduced to the scabbard it’s pretty much impossible to get out. Also, if there is any moisture it will cause the blade to rust. If a sword is left in a contaminated scabbard too long it can actually “glue” the blade inside the scabbard, making it impossible to draw.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list. To celebrate my first newsletter I will be giving away a copy of “Build Your Author Platform” by Carole Jelen and Michael McCallister, a book that has been invaluable in helping me build my platform. The deadline to sign up to be entered in the drawing is Aug. 30th.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

The Writer’s Guide to Medieval Swords: Part 1

Swords are almost synonymous with the fantasy genre, from Sting to Excalibur to Ice. Yet because they are not an item most people encounter anymore, there is a lot of misconceptions. Unfortunately, this misinformation is repeated in movies, books, and television shows until the producers and their audiences all think it to be correct. I will be focusing on medieval European swords since most fantasy is inspired by this period and region and it’s where the bulk of my experience lies.

As always, magic is the exception to the rules. Because magic.

The “Sheath of Shing”

You probably already know what I’m talking about. Someone pulls their sword from the scabbard with a loud dramatic “shing!” I admit it: this is one of my pet peeves. Most swords from the Middle Ages had scabbards made of wood covered in leather although there were some all leather scabbards. A sword drawn from one of these hardly makes a sound.

Of course, there are exceptions. Military swords from 19th century Europe commonly were either all metal, wood covered in metal or, if they were all wood or leather construction, had a metal throat. A sword drawn from a metal scabbard will produce the iconic “shing.” The sound can also be produced by any scabbard with a metal throat that touches the blade, although it won’t be as dramatic. I recommend watching Schola Gladiotora’s video here. [1]

Writer Tip: Ask yourself why you want to include the “shing” in your scene. Is it to build tension and drama? Is there another way you could achieve the same effect? Also, consider the dramatic opportunities of a sword being drawn without a sound.

19th century military sword.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Weight

One of the common misconceptions about swords is the weight, especially if you’re referring to a larger sword such as a claymore or a German zweihänder. I’ve seen claims of medieval swords weighing 10-15 pounds (4.5-7 kg). The average medieval sword weighed between 2 ½ to 3 ½ pounds (1 to 1.5 kg). The average zwaihänder had a weight of 4 ½ pounds (2 kg) and claymores tipped the scales at 5 ½ pounds (2.5 kg). For more information, I suggest ARMA’s article by J. Clements here [2]. The thing to remember about swords is a person had to be able to wield one for up to hours at a time. For example, the Battle of Hastings lasted for nine hours. Imagine swinging a ten-pound sword for that long!

Balance

The other factor to keep in mind with swords is balance. The balance point is the physical place on the blade where the weight is equally distributed between the blade and the handle, usually located 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cms) up the blade from the hilt. You literally can balance a sword on the edge of your hand at the balance point. The reason balance is so important is because it prevents fatigue and effects speed. If a sword is blade heavy it will take more effort to swing it and the swing will be slower.[3]


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

If you want my blog delivered straight to your inbox every month along with exclusive content and giveaways please sign up for my email list. To celebrate my first newsletter I will be giving away a copy of “Build Your Author Platform” by Carole Jelen and Michael McCallister, a book that has been invaluable in helping me build my platform. The deadline to sign up to be entered in the drawing is Aug. 30th.

Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2020 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

[1] https://youtu.be/0xAjpdkO-6o
[2] http://www.thearma.org/essays/weights.htm#.XwiuJShKjIU
[3] https://www.sword-buyers-guide.com/sword-terminology.html