Arms & Armor Edward III Sword: Another look
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
We live in an age of unprecedented advancements in science and technology. Our lives are ever-changing as new discoveries and inventions come to light. Our perception of many historical events and artifacts has changed greatly as well, as new technologies have allowed us a greater range of tools with which to prove or disprove old theories.
A century ago, though, the situation was very different. The earliest published works on arms and armour relied almost exclusively on the visual observations of the author combined with their experience in studying the subject. This method often produced surprisingly good results, though not in every case. Many items, some in major museums and collections, once believed to be genuine have since been proven false. Rarer though are the cases where items condemned as fakes have been proven by sound science to be genuine artifacts.
One of the most notable cases of the latter scenario involves a sword that emerged from Spain in the late 19th century. It is said to have made its way into the hands of Louis Marcy. Marcy is now known as a maker and seller of fakes, dealing weapons and armour made to look old, or in some cases selling old pieces re-hilted and passed off as antique throughout. Because of this association and perhaps because of the belief that it was simply "too good to be true," this exquisite sword was labeled as a fake by author Sir Guy Laking; this label persisted for most of the 20th century. Scientific tests performed late in the 20th century on the sword and its companion dagger have proven their true age.
The sword in question is thought to have belonged to England's great warrior-king Edward III. This association comes from a variety of factors: its blade and hilt are styles popular in the mid 14th century. More conclusive, though, are the engraved or chiseled badges of the Order of the Garter (a knightly order founded by Edward III) and a portcullis, a heraldic symbol with later associations to England's royal family. The pommel contains an enameled disc bearing the coat of arms of England quartered with those of France. Since no one save the royal family would carry the royal arms and since the arms do not include the heraldic labels of the princes (rather than the king), this sword can be firmly linked to Edward III, the first English monarch to quarter the arms of England and France during the dispute over France's throne.
This beautiful sword has a blade of Ewart Oakeshott's Type XVIII, a form well-suited for cutting and thrusting; it is slightly hollow-ground. The wheel-shaped pommel and curved guard are covered with rosettes, individually made and affixed to the hilt. The hilt parts and rosettes are covered with gold foil, soldered to close up the seams. On the opposite side of the pommel from the enameled arms is a translucent disc of chalcedony covering a fragment of brown cloth, presumably a relic of some kind (rumored to be part of the shroud of St. Edward the Confessor). The wooden grip is wrapped with adder skin and further adorned with bands of gold: a ferrule at either end of the grip and three gold bands in between. All in all, this is one of the most handsome medieval swords in existence. The proving of its authenticity has not yet resulted in it going home to England though, as it remains in the hands of a private collector.
Arms & Armor of Minneapolis, Minnesota has produced fine replicas of historic weapons since 1982. The Edward III sword has been a mainstay of their catalogue for many years and a personal favorite of mine. This sword has always been one of their more expensive pieces, but is it also one of their most detailed offerings.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
There are a number of differences between this sword and its inspiration, made to keep the piece as affordable as possible. First, the pommel and guard are cast in bronze with the rosettes incorporated into them. They are then electro-plated with gold rather than being covered in gold foil (an expensive and time-consuming process). There is no chalcedony disc, and of course no fragments of shrouds of prominent saints. The royal arms are cast into the bronze pommel and then painted with red and blue on a purplish background.
The grip is wrapped in black leather, rather than snakeskin. The two ferrules are cast as part of the pommel and guard and the three gold bands in between have been replaced by soldered bands of bronze. The blade lacks the original's hollow-grinding. The garter and portcullis symbols are etched onto the blade rather than engraved or chiseled.
This is the heaviest sword I own, but it's not sluggish in any way. In the hand, it feels solid and dependable. Its agility was surprising to me, as I expected a less responsive sword given its weightyet another example of numbers not telling the whole story. This large sword was easy to control during cutting motions. When thrusting with it, I found it fairly easy to get the point to go where I wanted it. More practice with the sword will make that even better.
The relatively flat grip planes made it easy to feel the sword's orientation in the hand, so edge alignment was no issue. The grip bands caused no irritation when cutting with gloves. In fact, I wasn't even aware they were there.
The grip may take getting used to for some people. For me, there is not enough room for two hands on it and much of the pommel ends up being gripped by the off-hand when one wants both hands together. Gripping the pommel entirely with the off-hand is no trouble though its width may seem strange to those used to gripping scent stopper-type pommels.
I performed test cutting against foam pool noodles. This sword easily chopped into these test targets. I also found that this sword packs quite a punch. There were a number of cuts that didn't cut through the noodle, but the sword's momentum often caused the noodle to shear into two pieces where it was attached to the cutting stand.
Fit and Finish
The grip and its bands are generally nicely done. On one side, the seam in the leather is visible as are the solder joints in the bronze bands. The bands have been changed since late 2006 to be closer in style to the original than earlier models; mine reflects that change. The bands are not entirely symmetrical but do not detract from the look of the sword. The middle band, also the largest, sports nicely done cross-hatching along its center. On my example, the grip could have been larger at the pommel end. The pommel and the adjacent ferrule of the original are made as one piece on this recreation; a slightly wider grip end would have made the grip flow into the pommel, making it look more like the original.
The blade is evenly finished and cleanly formed. The garter emblems and the portcullis are etched onto the blade and manage to capture the feeling of the original decoration, despite the modern process to recreate them.
Arms & Armor's recreation of Edward III's sword has many differences. I have no doubt a more faithful version could be produced, but its cost would be much, much higher. The concessions Arms & Armor chose create a sword that captures the spirit of the original while bringing it to the market at a relatively reasonable price.
This sword is quite attractive and is authoritative in handling. As a replica of a significant historic sword, it captures the visual feel and stateliness of the original while incorporating changes designed to make it more affordable. It is a thoroughly impressive sword and would make a worthwhile addition to any collection, where it would quickly become the centerpiece.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Photographer: Chad Arnow