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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > A peasant and his weapons Reply to topic
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Christopher Lee




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jun, 2011 3:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting pics Bob and some good observations. As you may have seen from reading the thread i hold a somewhat divergent opinon of peasants and the attitude towards them; as you say, strong arms and sharp weapons.
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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jun, 2011 4:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bob's pictures in his post bare a striking resemblance the the "Choppers" that one see's in the Maciejowski bible and such.
Hm. This thread (and the other one) has inspired me to start to try to make some peasant inspired agricultural weapon mod's Big Grin

A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,/ That fro the tyme that he first bigan/ To riden out, he loved chivalrie,/ Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie./ ... He was a verray parfit gentil knyght./ But for to tellen yow of his array,/ His hors weren goode, but he was nat gay./ Of fustian he wered a gypoun,/ Al bismotered with his habergeoun;/ For he was late ycome from his viage,/ And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.
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Bob Burgess




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jun, 2011 5:32 am    Post subject: Richard Jeffries - Billhook         Reply with quote

Have a look at the quote from Richard Jeffries, elsewhere on the forum...

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?p=223094

Any hedging tool makes a formidable hand weapon... I saw some long handled bills(weapons/polearms) in York Museum about 20 years ago, they were obviously made from billhooks.... Sadly I didn't take any pictures....

Note in the 12th to 15th centuries many gardeners also carried a sabre/machete/type of edge tool - sometimes in place of a billhook. sometimes as well as... Possibly these could be a pruning saw, but in some images they most definitely appear to be a sword type of tool....



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Edge tool collector and historian, with a special interest in the billhook...
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A. Elema




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jun, 2011 12:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm late to the party too. I found an interesting snippet about this topic awhile back. Here's an excerpt from De l'Oustillement au vilain, a thirteenth-century French poem describing the kind of equipment a well-supplied peasant should have around the house.

Here's the relevant bit (my scratchy translation to follow).

Puis le covient armer
Por sa terre garder:
Coterele et hiaumet,
Maçuele et gibet,
Arc et lance enfumee,
Se vient a la meslee;
Au chevés soit couchie
L'espee enroeillie.
Qu'il n'ait soing d'estoutie

Ne d'esmovoir folie:
Tost est un homme mort,
Soit a droit, soit a tort,
Par une saietele,
(Tele oevre n'est pas bele),
Par petite achoison,
Ce nous dit la reson.
Si ait son viez escu
A la paroit pendu;
Por ce se il n'est bel
Acesmez de novel
N'est il mie mains durs,
De ce sui toz seürs;
A son col le doit pendre
Por sa terre desfendre.
Mes gart qu'il ne soit mie
Devant a l'escremie,
Quar il feroit que fols,
S'il ert aus premiers cops.
Tels vient aus premerains,
S'il ert des daarrains
Qu'il n'i perdist ja rien;

De ce savons nous bien.
Toz jors soit en porpens
De revenir par tens,
S'il puet, a sa meson.


Here's my translation.

Then he ought to be armed
In order to protect his land:
With a small knife and helmet,
Club and fork,
Bow and fire-hardened lance,
Thus he goes to battle;
At his bedside ought to lie
A rusty sword
So that he does not have any excuse for courage,
Nor to enact folly:
For a man is soon killed,
Either rightly or wrongly
By an arrow
(Such a deed isn’t pretty),
On account of a small decision;
Reason tells us this.
So let him have his old shield
Hung on the wall;
And if it is not pretty
Paint it anew.
He is not at all a strong hand,
Of that I am sure;
It ought to hang from his neck
To defend his land
But beware that he be not
At the front of the fighting,
For it would be foolishness
If he strikes the first blows,
Those which come at the beginning
If he strikes the last ones
See that he has not already lost anything;
This we know well.
He should always intend
To return in time,
If he can, to his house.
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Scott Woodruff




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jun, 2011 10:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wow, cool poem! That does seem like a lot of weapons for one man to have, but then I'm one to talk.
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Shahril Dzulkifli




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2011 11:01 am    Post subject: A peasant and his weapons         Reply with quote

During the peasant revolts across medieval Europe the peasants would arm themselves with tools. Whether it's an axe, flail, pitchfork, you name it but not swords. Why? Because at that time swords can only be wielded by knights and royals, not peasants and civilians if I'm correct.
“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength”

- Marcus Aurelius
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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2011 11:19 am    Post subject: Re: A peasant and his weapons         Reply with quote

Shahril Dzulkifli wrote:
During the peasant revolts across medieval Europe the peasants would arm themselves with tools. Whether it's an axe, flail, pitchfork, you name it but not swords. Why? Because at that time swords can only be wielded by knights and royals, not peasants and civilians if I'm correct.


In my opinion, to be truly effective on a medieval battle field with a sword you need specialized training. Peasants did not have that training, but they did have have a lifetime of using axes flails and pruning hooks. Axes, flails and pruning hooks tend to be a lot better at dealing with men in armour then swords are.
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2011 11:41 am    Post subject: Re: A peasant and his weapons         Reply with quote

Shahril Dzulkifli wrote:
During the peasant revolts across medieval Europe the peasants would arm themselves with tools. Whether it's an axe, flail, pitchfork, you name it but not swords. Why? Because at that time swords can only be wielded by knights and royals, not peasants and civilians if I'm correct.



The laws of the time in certain regions might reserve swords to the nobility and their own retainers ( soldiers ), but even if true this is a big generalization.

As mentioned by Mackenzie the peasants would use what they where they already knew how to use effectively and much better for them than trying to use a sword against someone trained to use a sword, although they might still use a sword if they found one against others of lesser sword training.

As to
Quote:
can only be wielded by knights and royals,
Do you mean because of skills or because of period laws ?

By definition a peasant revolt, is a revolt, and in such a case why obey laws or traditions since the penalties for using a sword couldn't be worse than the penalties for revolting if one lost ! Wink

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Lafayette C Curtis




PostPosted: Fri 17 Jun, 2011 11:32 am    Post subject: Re: A peasant and his weapons         Reply with quote

Shahril Dzulkifli wrote:
Because at that time swords can only be wielded by knights and royals, not peasants and civilians if I'm correct.


Er...wrong. Knights and nobles would have liked to restrict sword ownership to themselves, certainly, but even by the 11th century swords were already leaking out (so to say) beyond the higher orders of society. A great deal of the sword-related laws and lawsuits throughout the Middle Ages (especially from the 13th century onwards) was basically whining about how the proliferation of swords among middle-class students and craftsmen turned them into rowdy troublemakers, and this tells us that swords were available to those middle-class people.
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Bob Burns




PostPosted: Sat 18 Jun, 2011 8:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Though all in all the sword is a superior weapon in the hands of one who has had many years of formal training as Jean stated. A sword in the hands of a peasant I woul d think to be suicide for the said peasant, who therefore would be much better off with his scythe, pitchfork or other familiar tool.it would be like me going up against Christian Henry Tobler or. Stephen Hand, I'd be a dead man!

Humbly,

Bob

It IS What It IS! Only In Truth, Can Reality Exist!
To "Learn" we must empty our minds and therefore open our mind and spirit. A wet sponge absorbs no water. A preconceived mind is recalcitrant to new knowledge!
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Christopher Lee




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Jun, 2011 3:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A few semi-connected thoughts: in a one on one contest between a peasant and a trained noble the outcome is pretty much assured, but in the context of a peasant revolt it would be massed foot and battlefield tactics; at that point even improvised pole weapons could come into their own.

As for the martial skills of peasants, it is interesting that there is a number of fighting techniques recorded that deal exclusively with the use of "peasant weapons", such as the sickle, flail, messer, pike and quarterstaff. That's also forgetting about skills with bow, crossbow and sling from years of hunting.

It is also an interesting idea that the tools and implements that peasants may use on a day to day basis were not necessarily the ones that they used in battle. Recalling the Battle of Coutrai, the peasant infantry used a weapon called the godendag which i recall having read somewhere was specially manufactured to arm the peasant uprising. Skipping forward several hundred years or more I have recently read on the Irish wars and the later Irish rebellions. It was well known at the time that in the lead up to the rebellions in the later 18th and early 19th centuries that local blacksmiths throughout Ireland were churning out as many pike heads as they could physically manufacture. The pike would have been an easy, cheap and quick weapon to make to arm massed infantry and go some way to reducing the effectiveness of noble cavalry. Swords were relatively expensive to manufacture and to arm a large group would have been perhaps beyond the skills and raw resources of a local blacksmith; pikes, flails and other pole weapons would have been a lot cheaper and faster to make.
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Mackenzie Cosens




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Jun, 2011 11:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am not sure that you can call the men who won the Battle of Coutrai, peasants. I think they were made up of the militia of Bruges. They would likely be men of property and trade who own armour and train to defend their city and property.

Of course I am using wikipedia as my quick and dirty source, not the most academic of references Happy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Golden_Spurs
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 23 Jun, 2011 12:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One of the last hurras of noble heavy cavalry where the german peasant wars in the 1520s, where the heavy cavalry of the Swabian Leauge routinely overran and smashed peasant pikemen, even when these where trained and led by experienced landsknechts, and at times encamped in wagon forts.
Pikes alone are not enough. You also need superior morale and dicipline, good terrain, and preferably missile weapons.

In related news, neccesity breeds creativity;
http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/06/di...ls/100086/

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Lafayette C Curtis




PostPosted: Fri 24 Jun, 2011 6:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mackenzie Cosens wrote:
I am not sure that you can call the men who won the Battle of Coutrai, peasants. I think they were made up of the militia of Bruges. They would likely be men of property and trade who own armour and train to defend their city and property.


Yes. True. From the noblemen's elevated perspective they might still count as "peasants," but the burghers themselves took great pains to distinguish themselves as a middle class. If a man could afford to buy a sword back then, he probably could afford to pay for some degree of training in how to use it too, and as such he (even if still a commoner) would have damned well done anything to make sure that people didn't mistake him for a peasant.
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William P




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Jun, 2011 8:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

eling, that is AWSOME!. thanks so much for sharing that one.

as for peasents weapons. let me see if i cant find some lines from terry prattchetts night watch.
ok, essentially its vimes talking about how the fact hat theres lost of nast things used by labourers, theres the cleavers, the meat hooks, the bills and hammers, things that people carried freely and legally, items that would make a mere sword look look lie a girls hatpin
'you knew where you were with conventional weapons, it was the unconventional ones that scare the cackey out of you. '

while many tools used by 'peasents' in the medieval period wernt exactly the lean killers like a longsword, a katana, or a daneaxe are. they still hurt ALOT! in okinawa the sickle andthe hoe are key weapons in the kobudo arsenal, indicators of their potential lethality,
bnot to mention the simple woodsmans axe, not as god as a daneaxe but i still wouldnt prefer facing it. or a blacksmiths hammer, and i think people seem to not realise just how much a pitchfork would hurt when hurled at you from a few feet up.
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Jun, 2011 11:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:

Yes. True. From the noblemen's elevated perspective they might still count as "peasants," but the burghers themselves took great pains to distinguish themselves as a middle class. If a man could afford to buy a sword back then, he probably could afford to pay for some degree of training in how to use it too, and as such he (even if still a commoner) would have damned well done anything to make sure that people didn't mistake him for a peasant.


Still however peasants did buy and carry swords. In fact, Swedish medieval provincial laws required peasant to arm themsleves with swords, so apparently these weapons were considered to be a realistic option within the budget for a member of that class. Of course sword prices varied depending on time and place, but judging by mid 15th century Swedish sources a sword could be bought at a cost corresponding to a week's salary for an unskilled labourer.
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Bob Burgess




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Jun, 2011 1:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikael Ranelius wrote:
Still however peasants did buy and carry swords. In fact, Swedish medieval provincial laws required peasant to arm themsleves with swords, so apparently these weapons were considered to be a realistic option within the budget for a member of that class. Of course sword prices varied depending on time and place, but judging by mid 15th century Swedish sources a sword could be bought at a cost corresponding to a week's salary for an unskilled labourer.


But what peasant would want to spend a week's salary on a sword when he had a family to feed and probably didn't want to fight in the first place?? Unless his fedal lord conscripted him, and either made him buy his own weapon, or supplied him with one, I suspect he would rather stay at home - or if he did have to fight, rather than use some weapon he was not trained to use, would prefer to use something he was familiar with - pitchfork, flail, sickle and scythe are all potent weapons - but a billhook, staffhook or slasher are closer to a pole arm, and a damn sight more useful....

Edge tool collector and historian, with a special interest in the billhook...
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Bjorn Hagstrom




PostPosted: Sat 25 Jun, 2011 5:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bob Burgess wrote:

But what peasant would want to spend a week's salary on a sword when he had a family to feed and probably didn't want to fight in the first place?? Unless his fedal lord conscripted him, and either made him buy his own weapon, or supplied him with one, I suspect he would rather stay at home - or if he did have to fight, rather than use some weapon he was not trained to use, would prefer to use something he was familiar with - pitchfork, flail, sickle and scythe are all potent weapons - but a billhook, staffhook or slasher are closer to a pole arm, and a damn sight more useful....


Well, this is most probably the reason laws where made to make sure arms where up to expectations!

I find this aspect of medieval scandinavian society quite interesting. The concept of having your population armed is really a double edged sword (yes, eventual puns very much intended) The threat of invasions and the ability to quickly raise troopsrequire the peasants to be armed and rudimentary trained. On the other hand, the threat of rebellion will always be present with an armed population.

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Jun, 2011 7:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Swords appear as cheap as 2d. so hardly a weeks work, a days work perhaps but not a week. As well it is common for weapon and armour to go generation to generation. Ralph Mey leaves a sword and much of a harness to his heir. Likely as his heir was already established he had such equipment already. Swords come up fairly common in inventories of commoners I have examined. That said swords were not required for commoners usually in England but spears, bows and knives. Though England in general was economically doing better than much of Europe so I assume a cheap sword would be in their price range.

The issue in England is easy. If you were required, which is done by wealth- as is the case in much of Europe, you had good reason to live up to expectation. Every year, usually several time their were appraisals on the men in their area to see if they lived up to these laws. The Statute of the Realms has three relatively interesting statutes on this. If you were not equipped you were fined, usually 2-4 times or more the value it would have cost you. We have accounts of these reviews being done all over England and Fines assigned. Since the person who did the review got the fine in many cases you can imagine they had a good deal of incentive to do this.

It seems the norm in much of Europe to have an armed populace. Since many of these countries, England for example have low incidents or rebellion (not civic war mind you as this is usually insistence by the uppers). It does not take weapons to have a rebellion only an angry population. The Peasant Wars in Central Europe in the Early Modern Period are a good example, a stick with some spike can be made in an hour.

RPM
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Jun, 2011 7:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bob Burgess wrote:


But what peasant would want to spend a week's salary on a sword when he had a family to feed and probably didn't want to fight in the first place?? Unless his fedal lord conscripted him, and either made him buy his own weapon, or supplied him with one, I suspect he would rather stay at home - or if he did have to fight, rather than use some weapon he was not trained to use, would prefer to use something he was familiar with - pitchfork, flail, sickle and scythe are all potent weapons - but a billhook, staffhook or slasher are closer to a pole arm, and a damn sight more useful....


The status of peasants as well as the definition of the peasant class itself varied dramatically across medieval Europe; in Sweden, Norway, the Swiss Cantons, the Dithmarschen peasant republic and a few other places the peasantry was well armed and made up the bulk of those armies raised. But then one could argue that (depending on the definition) these countries did not have any real peasant class, but a class of farmers and minor landowners roughly corresponding to the English yeomen.

I agree with the notion that the poorest of the poor probably didn't invest their meagre means in weaponry, but most of the freeholding farming households would have been able to afford swords, armour and other weapons during times of prosperity. In the 14th century and onwards, the crossbow came to be the weapons of choice among Swedish peasants, a weapon that was normally more expensive than a sword.
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