Some Historical Swiss Swords Examined
By Derek Edward Wassom
I was recently allowed access To the Swiss National Landesmuseum's large collection of medieval and renaissance weaponry. My main focus was to examine their Federschwert.
A Federschwert ("Feather swords") is a foiled practice blade with a large flanged ricasso and a thick but narrow blade used for longsword training. We can find examples of these swords in the old Martial Arts Fechtbucher (fight books) from the early 1420s up until the early 17th century, but they might have been in use for a longer period of time. We see many varying styles of Feders as their designs change from Fechtbuch to Fechtbuch. The style of Feder in the Landesmuseum is one that I've been unable to find in the Fechtbucher, but Joachim Meyer's Fechtbuch, Kunst des Fechten (circa. 1570), depicts specimens that are similar.
In Meyer's Kunst des Fechten, the corners of the flared ricasso are slanted upward, away from the cross, and the ones on this piece actually slope slightly downwards, which is a feature not uncommon on 16th century two-handed greatswords. The age of this sword, though, is almost one hundred years older; used around the time the anonymous Fechtbuch, Codex Guelf was written; circa late-15th century. The Feders found in this Fechtbuch are also similar.
This Feder, despite it being about four and a half centuries old, it is in excellent condition. The fourteen-inch long hilt still has its original wood and stitched leather grip (though the leather is naturally deteriorating), and is tight as a drum. The tang has been hot peened through a simple Oakeshott Type T5 (pear shaped) pommel. The pommel is medium sized, having a diameter of 1.75 inches.
The eleven-inch cross is also very simple. It is only a round steel bar with a 0.4 inch diameter, which is swelled enough in the middle to accommodate the blade. It does have a lump of an ecusson to accommodate the thumb for various gripping positions. The grip is a plain, slightly swollen, flattened oval with the dimensions of 1.49 by 1.35 inches at its widest point.
The 37.5-inch long blade is basically a flat rectangular tempered steel bar. In my haste, I neglected to measure the dimensions of its narrowest point so you will have to estimate from the picture.
When measured out to seventeen inches from the cross, the blade is 0.38 inches thick by 0.8 inches wide, thinning out to be 0.1 inches thick by 1 inch wide at thirty-six inches from the cross. At 27.4 inches from the cross is where most of the distal tapering occurs, and it gets considerably whippier, taking only a little pressure to bend it off line. This reflects the ideal striking portion and such flex at this location is something not uncommon even on sharp fighting swords. Although the blade sags slightly under its own weight, it isn't, in my experience, to an extraordinary degree. This is not unusual in some longer swords with a thin diamond or oval cross-section.
The large ricasso is three inches long by 2.85 inches wide and is 0.21 inches thick. It has a strange cross section due the fact that it has two odd, slightly angled fullers, one on each opposite side. They are wider at the top of the ricasso, and grow thinner as they angle towards the center of the cross, finally disappearing about one inch from it. This sword weighs a little over three pounds, and with the balance point being only 1 inch from the cross, makes this a quick and agile sword.
This next sword is type XIIIa of the Oakeshott classification. A sword we would call a great sword, or sword of war. It becomes obvious why very quickly. Some of these swords are what we call true two-hand swords, because they are too hefty to manage with just one. On average, these have a blade between thirty-two, to forty inches long with a six to ten inch grip. The edges of these swords run nearly parallel until tapering to a round point. Obviously lacking in the thrusting category, they are powerful cutters.
This specific sword is roughly around the same age as the earlier Feder, dated to about the early 15th to mid-16th century. It still has its original wooden grip, but it is splintering badly, making the tang visible on one side. The hilt is twelve inches long with a large squared type "J" pommel and an eight-inch long type 2 cross.
The thirty-six inch long blade is in excellent condition for its age, and even retains its chisel-like edge (although the very tip has chipped off). A wide shallow fuller runs exactly half way down the blade.
The dimensions of the ricasso are 2.18 inches wide by 0.28 inches thick. This tapers down only slightly to being 1.75 inches wide by 0.2 inches thick seventeen inches down the blade. At thirty-four inches down, it is a bit narrower at 1.35 inches, but it hasn't changed much in thickness at 0.18 inches thick.
Although this sword doesn't have too much of an apparent distal taper, the large pommel balances the sword nicely. I wouldn't necessarily consider this a true two-hander, but I wouldn't be too comfortable wielding it with only one.
The next longsword examined is classified as being a type XVII, and is very similar to ones found on page 160 to 162 of Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword.
This type of sword is an armor fighting type. Due to the advances in armor, cutting swords were being supplemented with stiffer tapering swords that excelled in thrusting. Such swords needed to be able to thrust through the links in mail and the gaps in plate armor.
XVII are always hand-and-a-half swords with a rigid stiff hexagonal blade, sometimes with a shallow fuller. A round flat pommel is found on about 75% of all surviving swords of this type, and the same in monumental brasses and sculptures.
This sword is very much your average XVII. Discovered in a Swiss lake, this fourteenth century longsword is in "excavated" condition, so keep that in mind when studying my measurements. Although the grip has long since rotted away, the 9.2-inch hilt is solid and secure (though this may be due to corrosion). The pommel is a type H1 which first appears around 1350 but fell out of favor by the first quarter of the fifteenth century. The cross is a basic down turned type 7 and is eight inches overall.
The blade is 37.5 inches long and has somewhat of an edge for the first few inches down the blade. The tip of this sword is frighteningly acute. The ricasso is 1.34 inches wide by 0.4 inches thick and tapers down to 0.85 inches wide by 0.38 inches thick at twenty-one inches from the cross. As you get close to the point, the hexagonal blade changes into a thick diamond cross-section. The dimensions at thirty-six inches from the cross are 0.4 inches wide by 0.17 inches thick.
This last sword is from the early 17th century and is hard to classify. Although it has a straight blade like a cut-and-thrust sword, the "point" is as round as the Feder's, and it handles more like a falchion. It has a beautiful wire wrapped hilt, and magnificent fluted hollow-ground spiral pattern on the quillons, and on the side, finger, and thumb rings. The sword is in excellent condition, the hilt is sturdy, and the blade still has a good edge. Although small, this sword feels substantial, and would be an excellent cutter. Such "flammarde" styles were also known on two-handers as well as rapiers and cut-and-thrust swords.