Weapons of the Middle Ages

Knights were men of the sword. Their iron blades were heated, cooled and hammered many times before they became steel. Their blades were often damacened, that is inlaid with gold and silver designs. The knight held the sword by the hilt which was protected by two guards called quillions. The pommel, a large knob at the end of the hilt helped balance the blade. A longsword weighed between one and two kilograms and was used for cutting, slashing and occasionally thrusting. When not in use, it was carried in a scabbard. In battle, the longsword was usually attached to the knight’s breastplate by a thin chain so that it could not be lost.

The lance was made of ash, pine or some other wood and was between 2.5 and 4.5 metres long with a conical, triangular or lozenge-shaped point. By the 14th century proper hand grips and guards were added and an iron spike or ferrule was fitted to the butt so that the lance could be struck in the ground. If a knight grounded his lance, it was a sign that he wanted to talk or parley with his opponent.

battle-axeIn addition every knight had secondary weapons such as the battle-axe, the mace or the war-flail. The battle-axe was a formidable weapon. At the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Robert the Bruce of Scotland (1274-1329) was attacked by a young English knight. As the Englishman dashed forward the Scottish king rose in his stirrups and smashed his battle-axe down on the knight’s head, almost cutting it completely in two.

Maces were clubs with spikes or flanged heads. The were sometimes called “holy water sprinklers” because they were used by priests in battle. The war-flail was even more frightening. It consisted of a spiked iron ball on the end of a chain connected to a handle and was used to bludgeon opponents.

The foot-soldiers’ main weapons were longbows and crossbows. Knights would use neither in battle believing them to be unknightly weapons. The longbow was made of strong, supple yew. A notch was cut in both ends of the stave so that a length of hemp could be strung between them. Both the bow and strong were waxed and resined to keep them in good condition. The arrow or clothyard was about one metre long was armed with a metal head. Broad heads were used against foot-soldiers and thin bullet-like heads against armoured knights. The arrows were flighted with split quill feathers.

Crossbows, which were introduced in the 11th century, were made of wood or horn. After shooting, the string was drawn back by the archer placing his foot in the stirrup. He then attached the string to a hook in his belt and straightened his back until the string slipped over the retaining catch on the crossbar of the weapon. The bow was usually shot by means of some kind of trigger. Later a geared contrivance called a windlass was used to wind back the string. Crossbows shot short wooden or iron arrows called bolts or quarrels. Although much slower to load than the longbow, the crossbow was a powerful and accurate weapon.

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