The Sword Through the Centuries

The Sword Through the Centuries

by Alfred Hutton

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Engrossing, carefully researched and illustrated survey spanning 5 centuries covers the development of the sword from its earliest forms, beginning with the Age of Chivalry. Lively contemporary accounts provide details on such weapons as the two-hand sword, the rapier and its auxiliaries, dagger and small sword, broadsword, duelling sword, and sabre. 48


Engrossing, carefully researched and illustrated survey spanning 5 centuries covers the development of the sword from its earliest forms, beginning with the Age of Chivalry. Lively contemporary accounts provide details on such weapons as the two-hand sword, the rapier and its auxiliaries, dagger and small sword, broadsword, duelling sword, and sabre. 48 black-and-white illustrations.

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Dover Military History, Weapons, Armor
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The Sword Through the Centuries


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14972-1


How the Lord of Ternant and the Spanish Esquire Galiot de Balthasin fought on Foot and on Horseback for Knightly Honour.

WE are in the year of grace 1445, and we are at the Court of the good Duke Philip of Burgundy. It was the custom in those days for knightly personages to travel in foreign countries in search of adventure, and accordingly Galiot de Balthasin, a noble esquire of Castille, who was Chamberlain to Philip Maria, Duke of Milan, craved permission, which was readily granted, to quit the dukedom for awhile in order that he might see the world, and if occasion offered it might gain glory for himself with his lance and with his sword. He set out accordingly with a goodly retinue, and in course of his wanderings we see him arrive at the town of Mons, in Hainault, where the Burgundian Court happens to be, and here should be an opportunity for gratifying his ambition. But it chanced that at that time the relations between the two Dukes were of a most cordial nature, and Galiot had received orders from his master that he was on no account to take up arms against any of Duke Philip's subjects unless the initiative came from them, and then only with the consent of the good Duke himself. It must be noted that a single combat, whether to settle once for all some deadly quarrel or only to enhance knightly renown, was absolutely forbidden unless permission was granted by the monarch or some other personage duly authorized by him ; which done, the lists were prepared with as much pomp and circumstance as the position of the combatants might require. These lists formed the arena, which for mounted combats was about sixty paces in length and forty in width, and was usually enclosed with a double set of rails, with an entrance at each end.

Galiot, having in his mind the orders he had received, much fears that at the Hainault Court he may not find anyone ready to do him pleasure, and decides that, if it be so, he will cross the seas to England, where the difficulty will no longer exist. He is presented to the good Duke, who sees before him a valiant fellow in the early prime of his years, with a handsome, frank face and a tall, graceful figure, with the strength of the bull and the suppleness of the panther. He is of noble blood, too, and of high renown, and such a man goes straight to the heart of the good Duke, who receives him right cordially, and appoints him lodging suited to his rank. He is still, however, hampered with his Milanese commands ; but this soon reaches the ears of the famous Lord of Ternant, a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and one of the Duke's most cherished warriors. Ternant delights in a passage of arms, and he is very willing to assist Galiot towards the realization of his desires. He accordingly, by permission of the good Duke, mounts on his left arm the badge of his lady-love, which is of itself a challenge to all and sundry to dispute the beauty of the fair damsel, and he sends the King-at-Arms of the Golden Fleece with a courtly message to Galiot to the effect that he wears the badge with special reference to him, and that should he desire to touch it and to take up the challenge, he will find him one hour after mid-day in the great hall of the castle, in the presence of his highness his lord and master. Now, it was the privilege of the person taking up such a knightly challenge to determine how far the combat should be of a serious nature, and this was shown by the manner in which he touched the badge. Galiot inquires of the Kings-at-Arms and Heralds what is the custom of their country in this respect, when Toison d'Or informs him that indeed it is the idea of the Lord of Ternant to contend for chivalry alone, but that the decision must rest with himself: that if he tears off the badge or handles it roughly, they must fight to the death ; but that if he touches it with gentleness and courtesy, then the encounter will be for love of ladies and for knightly honour.

Galiot, having received permission from the good Duke, approaches Ternant with much ceremony, and gently lays his hand upon the badge, saying : "Noble chevalier, je touche à vostre emprise, et au plaisir de Dieu vous fourniray et accompliray tout ce que je scauray que desirez de faire, soit à pied, soit à cheval." The Lord of Ternant bids him right welcome, and thanks him graciously, promising that in due course he will advise him of the weapons which it is his intention to use, and they are on foot the pike, the estoc, or espée d'armes, and the great axe, and on horseback the lance and the sword; while the good Duke arranges that the passage of arms shall take place in the town of Arras in the month of April, 1446, in order to give Galiot time to return to Milan to arm himself and to make his preparations.

The long-looked for day has arrived, the spacious lists are prepared in the great marketplace, and on one side of them a large covered stand is erected for the accommodation of the good Duke and his Court ; at one end is the pavilion (we humble moderns would call it a dressing tent) of the Lord of Ternant, and a very grand affair it is too, being of blue and black damask with his arms on the crown of it, and surrounded by numerous banners and pennons, and the silken tent of Galiot is equally rich. About an hour after midday the good Duke, attended by his son, the Count of Charolois, the Count of Estampes, and many other nobles, enters the stand, bearing in his hand the white staff of the judge, and takes his seat on the throne. The trumpets sound and a party of eight men-at-arms enter the arena. They are armed cap-à-pie, but have no other weapons than white staves, and their duty is to part the champions should the need arise. Of the combatants, the Lord of Ternant, being the challenger, is the first to arrive. He is on horseback. The trappings of his horse are embroidered with his arms, and he himself is wearing his surcoat. He is armed at all points, with his helmet on and his visor raised. He is a dark man with a strong black beard, and in good truth his appearance is such as to inspire respect. He is accompanied by the Lord of Beaujeu and the Count of Sainct-Pol, who act as his seconds or advisers. He dismounts, makes his obeisance to the good Duke, and proceeds to his pavilion. Galiot de Balthasin next rides in. He, too, is in complete armour. He is an agile fellow and intends it to be known, and he vaults clean off his horse as lightly as if he had on nothing more heavy than a silken doublet. He makes his reverence to the Duke, and retires to his tent to prepare for the fray.

The passage of arms is commenced with the combats on foot. The initial ceremonies having been completed, the Marshal of the Lists proceeds to the pavilion of Ternant and demands the pikes which he proposes to use. They are similar in every detail, and he takes them to Galiot, who selects one. At three o'clock the trumpet sounds and the champions appear in complete armour with their visors closed. Ternant advances steadily, holding his pike in both hands. Galiot assumes a much more lively manner. He has his weapon in his right hand only, and plays with it as if it were no heavier than an archer's arrow, and makes one or two leaps in the air so light and so quick that it is clear his armour is no hindrance to him. They charge with such vigour that Galiot breaks the point of his pike on Ternant's breastplate, while the latter strikes so fiercely on his opponent's helmet as to force it open. The white wanded guards appear on the scene and cause the combatants to retire a few paces, when, the damage having been repaired, they charge again, and again a third time, when Ternant's point is broken off and Galiot's pike shivered. Both now retire to their pavilions, the number of thrusts agreed upon having been delivered, for it must be understood that in this affair it had been arranged that each combat should cease after a given number of blows had been exchanged.

They again issue forth armed with the long stiff estoc. In a subsequent story we shall see what a terrible weapon this was, when used in deadly earnest, but our champions of the moment are contending only for knightly honour, just as we ourselves play a friendly bout with the foils in the fencing-room.

Galiot, as before, chooses his weapon, and the encounter commences. The Lord of Ternant, who is fond of fine clothes, and has changed his surcoat for one of white satin embroidered with gold, advances, covered with his round shield, and delivers so furious a thrust that he again forces open his adversary's helmet; but when they charge again, Galiot pierces the armguard of Ternant and carries it away on the point of his sword ; the armourers adjust it there and then, and when again they meet they both break the points of their swords and have to be supplied with others. After this Ternant plays a more careful game, and deals Galiot such a blow on his helmet that it fairly staggers him ; but he recovers himself and pays it back with a thrust on the gauntlet which twists it quite round, to such a degree that the spectators think the wrist is dislocated, but fortunately no serious harm has been done, and they retire to their pavilions, where Ternant takes advantage of the short delay to again change his costume. The Marshal of the Lists now supplies each with a great axe ; these axes are exactly similar, about five feet in length, but they have no spikes, as it has been agreed that this combat is to be one of downright blows only. Galiot springs forward and charges Ternant furiously, who steps aside, and, as his assailant is carried forward by the impetus of his advance, deals him such a blow on the back part of his helmet that he makes him reel again ; but he quickly recovers himself, and attacks Ternant with such a rain of blows that he is obliged to give back four or five large paces. This is closely watched, and the requisite number of blows having been exchanged, the good Duke throws down his white staff and so terminates the encounter. The guards separate the combatants and conduct them, each with his visor raised and his axe in his hand, to the presence of the Duke, who expresses his pleasure at their prowess and bids them retire.

But their passage of arms is not ended, and the combat on horseback with lance and sword must shortly take place. Monday, May 2, 1446, is the day chosen by the good Duke for Galiot and Ternant to accomplish the remainder of their feats of arms, and something after mid-day he and his Court take their seats, the eight guards make their appearance mounted on the finest coursers that the ducal stables can produce, each one bearing in his hand a short strong staff with which it is again their duty to part the combatants should necessity arise. The Lord of Ternant is the first to come on the scene ; he is in complete armour, and both he and his horse are, as usual, magnificently arrayed, the crest, mane, and tail of the latter being interplaited with threads of gold. He makes his obeisance to the Duke and takes his place at his end of the lists. Galiot de Balthasin now appears on a powerful charger which is covered with a species of clothing of buff leather, and he carries on the "chanfrain" and on the "poictral" great sharp spikes of steel. No sooner does the Marshal of the Lists perceive these spikes than he draws to them the attention of the Duke, who, in his capacity of judge, directs the King at Arms to inform Galiot that in his country such things are not permissible; Galiot apologizes most courteously and the offending spikes are removed. He makes his salute to the Duke and proceeds to his place opposite to Ternant. The Marshal now takes the lances and the swords which have been provided by the challenger and presents them to Galiot, who makes his selection. The trumpets sound and the combat commences ; they advance at a rapid pace, lance in hand. Ternant has girt himself with his sword in the usual fashion, but Galiot holds his weapon ready drawn in his left hand along with his bridle, and one can see from their manner of approaching each other that Ternant intends to bring his lance into play, while Galiot, who is very powerfully mounted, evidently aims at the contact of the horses themselves, in which the aforesaid spikes would have been very useful. The two champions collide with a tremendous crash, which forces Ternant's charger backwards on to his croup, but both horse and man are equal to the occasion. Unfortunately, however, a hanger of his sword-belt breaks, the hilt of the sword swings free and rests on the horse's croup ; but it cannot be said that he is actually disarmed, as the weapon is still in its scabbard, and the scabbard is still more or less attached to his person. He attempts to draw the sword, but he cannot reach it; Galiot takes advantage of this, and rushes upon him with furious blows of edge, point, and pommel. Ternant parries as well as he can with his steel gauntlet, gives his horse the spur, causing it to bound in the air, which frees the sword-hilt, and the weapon slips out of the scabbard on to the ground. He is now completely disarmed, through no fault of his own, and the guards interfere, separate the combatants, and restore the sword to its owner. It is now Ternant's turn to assume the offensive, and after delivering two fierce blows on the helmet he aims with his point at the open joints of Galiot's armour, but the shirt of mail below is serviceable, and no injury is inflicted. By this time the number of blows agreed upon have been accomplished, the good Duke throws down his white staff, and the combat ceases. The champions are conducted to his presence, when he compliments them on their skill and courage, and commands them to embrace and be friends, and thus ends a pas d'armes as fiercely fought and as highly thought of as any recorded by the chroniclers of old.


Excerpted from The Sword Through the Centuries by ALFRED HUTTON. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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