The Medieval Sword

The recent coronation of Charles III made use of numerous swords that have been associated with coronation ceremonies of European monarchs from the seventeenth century onward. 

The British coronation swords include the jewelled Sword of Offering, the Sword of State, and the Sword of Mercy (Curtana). These were first used at the coronation of Charles I in 1626. 

Although none of the swords featured in the recent royal coronation were from the Middle Ages, their forms, functions, and symbolisms were connected to the past. 

A new wide-ranging book by Robert Jones uncovers the breadth of the sword’s place within the culture of high medieval Europe. Encompassing swords both real and imagined, physical, and in art and literature, it shows them as a powerful symbol of authority and legitimacy. It looks at the practicalities of the sword, including its production, as well as challenging our preconceptions about when and where it was used. In doing so, it reveals a far less familiar culture of swordsmanship, beyond the elite, in which swordplay was an entertainment, taught in the fencing school by masters such as Liechtenauer, Talhoffer, and Fiore, and codified in fencing manuals, or Fechtbücher. The book also considers how our modern attempts to reconstruct medieval swordsmanship on screen, and in re-enactment and Historical European Martial Arts (or HEMA), shape, and have been shaped by, our preconceptions of the sword. As a whole, the weapon is shown to be at once far more mundane, and yet just as special, as we imagine it.

Robert W. Jones, A Cultural History of the Medieval Sword: Power, Piety and Play (Boydell Press, 2023).

Read more about this book on the publisher's site:

The author, Dr. Robert W. Jones, is a historian specialising in the socio-cultural history of medieval warfare and warriors. 

He has been a regular contributor to Medieval World: Culture & Conflict, authoring the column on Heraldry, and also serves as an advisor for the magazine. His feedback on various aspects of content and illustrations has been invaluable. Keep reading to learn more about his training and interests.

Check out his blog "Historian in Harness", which features his scholarship and interests in medieval wargaming, as well as new content on medieval swords.

Learn more about Rob and his recent medieval sword book below:  

I received my BA in History, a Masters in Medieval British Studies, and my PhD, all from Cardiff University. I did all my studies there because I was fortunate enough to have some excellent scholars in the history department, in particular Professor Peter Coss (my supervisor), and Doctors Bill Aird and Helen Nicholson, who were an inspiration to myself and other students, creating a marvelous community of medieval historians.

I'm fortunate that in my job working at an independent study abroad programme for American undergraduates called 'Advanced Studies in England' (ASE), I am not only supported in my on-going research but also get to teach on the subjects of knighthood and chivalry, castles, and military culture to bright, enthusiastic students. This really fires my enthusiasm, as well as keeping me on my academic toes!

Two things drive my academic study. The first is that, for me, warfare is a cultural phenomenon and its study should be as much about understanding the participants and their experience of battle as it is about the battles themselves. The second is that living history and experimental archaeology  - learning by doing - offers a wonderful window into the past. I came to military history from a background in reenactment and costumed interpretation, so experiential learning is a large part of my research. I have my own fourteenth-century harness, and am a practitioner of Historical European Martial Arts, focusing on medieval longsword combat.

Now that the sword book (which friends have dubbed 'Dr Bob's Bumper Book of Choppers'!) is finished, I am switching my attention back to the battlefield, and have been thinking a lot about the role of cavalry who were not knights: the sergeants, hobelar, scurrours, and prickers. There is interesting work being done on these that offers a much more nuanced - and cultural - to how we understand their role and place in medieval warfare.

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