Angus Trim and Christian Fletcher's Oakeshott Type XVIIIa Sword
14th century hilt upgrade, Basic Scabbard, and 15th century belt suspension
A tale of (two?) swords
A hands-on review by Gene George
Author Ewart Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword is one of the fundamental reference works for hoplologists. Many of the pieces shown on those pages are careworn from uncounted years spent rusting in rivers, or gathering dust in old churches and tombs. A few pieces look as if their owners have just stepped away and left their sword to be cleaned by their servant. The Oakeshott type XVIIIa number 4 pictured on pages 188 and 189 of Records of the Medieval Sword is as well preserved a sword as any ever seen.
Christian Fletcher has been creating historical replicas since 1990. His armor and sword fittings are historically accurate as well as beautiful. Christian offers hilting options, both fantasy-inspired and historical for blades manufactured by Gus Trim, Albion Armorers and others. He is a premier craftsman and my dealings with him have been quite pleasant.
At the time of my order, Christian acted as the go-between with Gus, requesting the XVIIIa blade, which Gus then made to order. Recently, Christian's ordering policies have changed. Please call or email Christian or see his site for ordering details. Christian was up-front about the costs of what I had in mind and was quick to respond to my requests for status.
Angus "Gus" Trim is a self-described "sword-fabricator" whose training as a machinist has led to his coming to the forefront of modern performance sword design. Gus' attention to engineering detail and constant striving to refine his designs has earned him a great deal of respect among a significant portion of the sword collecting community.
This project seemed to take a very, very long time to complete, even for makers as backlogged as Christian and Angus, I initially placed my order August 30, 2002 and was quoted a 12-week delivery time. Fast forward to July 1, 2003 when UPS delivered the sword. The thing that should be noted here is that each time I requested a status on any of my pending orders, Christian was very prompt with a response and made me aware of where things stood. Even so, I occasionally wondered if my order had fallen through the cracks. There were also other minor problems related to fit, finish, and the sword's furniture, which I will go into in the appropriate section.
Oakeshott describes type XVIII swords as "…the very quintessence of the true, age-old cut and thrust fighting sword…" Possessing a wide blade with a flattened diamond cross-section, the swords of the type XVIII family were very popular between 1410 and 1510 throughout Europe. These swords are indeed well suited to both cut and thrust as is evidenced by the combination of wide blades with sharp point geometry and the stiffening effects of a strong diamond shape. This shape often became a central ridge when the faces of the diamond were hollow ground. The subtype A is a slightly larger sword usually having longer handles and with blade lengths averaging 32".
The sword pictured is very similar to a sword pictured in Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword XVIIIa #4 p.189 listed as being in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Oakeshott dates the piece at 1350-1400, earlier than other experts who place it circa the first quarter of the 15th century.
Measurements and Specifications of final sword:
Measurements and Specifications as originally shipped:
Replica created by Angus "Gus" Trim and Christian Fletcher.
Like the other Angus Trim offerings I've handled, this sword is agile and well balanced and is very sharp. No real test cutting was done when the sword arrived, as the hilt and pommel assembly were quite loose.
After the sword was returned, test swings showed that this piece is light and agile even for a blade as broad as the XVIIIa. Performance was similar to other Angus Trim offerings and that means wicked cutting ability.
One of the reasons Christian stated for the substitution of the larger pommel for the more historically correct pommel was in order to match Angus Trim's balance calculations. To be honest, although the blade does now balance .5" forward than with the stock pommel, the sword handles just fine with its new pommel.
Fit and Finish
As shipped on July 1st the sword was unsatisfactory, having a very loose peen on pommel and as a result a rattling guard. The sword was also supplied with a plain round pommel, quite unlike the more historically accurate pommel that was shown on the 14th century upgrade. This was the pommel I had expected when I placed my order. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed. I called Christian immediately and he was very much willing to take the piece back and make me a satisfied customer. I shipped the sword back right away with a note recapping our phone conversation and outlining my expectations explicitly. Christian is a very personable and reasonable artisan who, in my opinion places a high degree of importance in assuring that the products he creates are the highest quality.
The blade finish is typical Angus Trim high performance over high polish. Minute scratches are evident in the finishnot surprising in a piece that is designed to maximize cutting performance over pure aesthetics. Angus will be the first to tell you that you are getting the best cutter he can make, not perfection. The grind on this piece is slightly off center at the tip, and the edge profile was a bit off to my eye as the blade tapers from the very broad beefy center. All hand ground swords exhibit irregularities in some way or another, but this seems to be a tad excessive. To be honest I expected more from a sword that had a base price of $345 USD at the time of purchase last year (not including Christian's furniture, or hilt treatment).
It took a long time to get here and then it had to be sent back. It's ground poorly at the tip. It cost me just over $700 USD including custom fittings, scabbard and rig. Was it worth it? The answer is a qualified yes. I love the sword; it handles nicely despite its flaws. This purchase was also quite a learning experience for me personally. This is the first "historic" sword I purchased from the CF/Atrim team. While Angus makes undeniably good cutters, the effect of Atrim utilitarian finish and grind with Christian's high quality hilt and pommel work is a bit jarring. My personal opinion is that my next Angus Trim sword will be a pragmatic cutter, not a historic showpiece.
About the Author
Gene George has been fascinated with weapons and armor as long as he can recall. A former archaeologist and historian, he lives with his wife 14 miles west of where they filmed The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and 60 miles North-Northwest of where they filmed Captain Blood (1935). He has a big pile of swords and wants more.
Photographer: Gene George