Albion Armorers Next Generation Viceroy Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow, with contributions by Doug Gardner
Swords with grips long enough to accommodate both hands began to appear in increasing numbers on the battlefield in the late 13th century. Their popularity grew and they remained a staple in warfare until gunpowder took over the battlefield and the knightly class faded from its previous glory. These swords varied greatly by era and were, as most objects made by our forebears of that era, purpose-built: designed specifically to meet the needs of the situation of the day. The earliest of these large swords, known then as great swords (Grete Swerdes or Grans espeès d'Allemagne), were designed primarily to cut and cleave, like their single-handed cousins. As armour improved, though, many swords, single-handed and otherwise, began to show more acute points and more radical profile taper, necessary for thrusting in weak and vulnerable spots of an opponent.
Swords appeared with varying combinations of cutting and thrusting abilities. Some were still oriented for heavy cutting, while others had a greater focus on thrusting. Many, though, possessed good abilities in both areas. Since a sword could face both armoured and unarmoured personnel on the battlefield, as well as unarmoured or lightly-armoured foes in duels, a well-rounded weapon would give good service.
One such sword type flourished in the late fifteenth century. These swords share common traits with other cut and thrust longswords, but possessed some unique characteristics. Designated by Oakeshott as Type XXa, they have wide yet tapering blades suitable for both cutting and thrusting. What sets them most apart is their unique arrangement of fullers, usually consisting of a relatively long central fuller that is flanked by two shorter ones, or in some cases, two slightly hollowed areas of the surface of the blade or ricasso area.
Albion Armorers launched their Next Generation swords in August 2003. One of the goals of this line was to have representative examples of each of Ewart Oakeshott's blade types. Next Generation swords are based upon the research of renowned researcher and swordsmith Peter Johnsson, and feature design elements drawn from historical swords.
The subject of this review, the Viceroy, is a perfect example of that design philosophy. Its Type XXa blade is a larger version of the blade on a single-handed sword in The Royal Armouries, Leeds. The inspiration for the unique pommel and the outline of the guard came from a sword in Zurich's Landesmuseum.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
This sword feels very nice in the hands. It conveys both power and agility from the first time it's gripped. The width of the blade and overall size suggests that the blade should feel massive in the hand. The overall mass distribution, aided no doubt by the ricasso, makes for a weapon that feels brutal yet far more nimble than one would expect. It possesses a fair amount of blade presence, making it feel authoritative in the cut, yet it still feels precise and nimble in both thrust and recovery.
Against light targets this sword, as expected, fared well. Downward cuts (oberhau) from right to left were more effective with this sword than with many other swords I've cut with. In all cuts, this sword was easy to maneuver and quick in transitions. Keeping the edge aligned was no problem. The tactile feedback provided by the pommel and the hexagonal grip help the wielder know how the blade is oriented. Doug Gardner initially had more difficulty cutting light targets with the Viceroy than anticipated, but was eventually able to make several successive cuts better than he's been able to make with other swords. One series of cuts against a pool noodle involved a vertical cut shaving off about 1/2 inch, followed by a downward cut from right to left removing a roughly 3 inch wedge, followed immediately by a reversal from left to right, following the original track. This cut removed a roughly 1 inch slice, with the track almost exactly parallel to the second. This led me to the firm conclusion that any difficulty we had initially cutting with this sword is due to a lack of technique rather than an issue with the sword.
The sword is a cut and thrust sword, but the blade geometry is somewhat more optimized for cutting than for thrusting. However, that impression could be based more on the reviewers' penchant for cutting things than an inherent characteristic of the sword.
The grip is slightly thicker than some of Albion's other longsword grips, but still quite comfortable in the hands. The pommel shape provides a smooth transition from the grip to the pommel, and is very comfortable for a variety of two-handed grips. The sword can be wielded with one hand, but two-handed forms are a better match for this weapon. The blade feels too wide for half-swording, and the technique was not attempted for this review. I have no doubt that a skilled swordsman could do it, if the need arose. However, we are somewhat attached to our fingers (literally and figuratively), and would like to stay that way.
Fit and Finish
The grip is hexagonal in cross-section, with cord risers at its top, middle, and bottom. It is well-shaped and flows well between the guard and pommel. The leather cover on the grip has been dyed a bold red shade, in-between Albion's red and magenta colors, at the owner's request. The seam on the leather is visible, though not distractingly so. No doubt, the seam is visible due to the way the darker dyes used for highlighting were absorbed more at the seam than the rest of the grip, and the seam itself is very well executed. Overall the grip is quite striking.
The guard is quite unusual and complex. It is almost overwhelming in its detail, being packed with angles, shapes, and decorative lines. The arms of the guard widen as they flow towards the clubbed tips and are hexagonal in cross-section. The ecusson is cusped at the center and has two deep grooves that straddle the cusp. Both the ecusson and arms of the cross are decorated with sets of incised lines. The details are all crisply done and nicely finished.
Our initial impressions of the Viceroy were mixed. For me, the photos or drawings were never really appealing on the Web site of Albion Armorers; the individual components just didn't seem to work well with each other. Having spent some time with it in person, though, my appreciation of this sword has grown. Visually, it is one of the most complex and interesting swords in Albion's Next Generation line, and its handling is equally nice.
Doug was immediately impressed by the complex geometry of both blade and guard, as exemplified by the transition between the hollow-ground ricasso to the fullered diamond cross-section. Furthermore, the pommel seemed like it would be far more comfortable and effective for a two-handed grip than many other examples with sharp or faceted edges. What was surprising for Doug was the sword's handling. He expected it to be somewhat awkward, sacrificing agility for raw power. It isn't.
It should be noted that complexity and visual harmony alone do not make an outstanding sword. Fortunately for the Viceroy, its performance appears to match its appearance: Subtle, nimble, and fearfully powerful.
The Type XX and its subtype are somewhat under-represented in today's market. It is nice to see such a detailed example, reflective of that fabulous period of experimentation that bridged the high Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
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.
Photographer: Chad Arnow