MATT BARRON

Matt is an avid historian and writer. He Matt has a doctorate in History and Cultural Studies. Matt draws from his knowledge of historical cultures and events, and combines it with his zest for all things creative. Matt is a man of strong conviction and faith and lives in Perth, Western Australia with his wife and 2 children. 

Memories of Far Jerusalem – Why Longswords?

Readers of Rage of Lions will know that in the world of the Grand Kingdom, the longsword is the symbol of a knight, or indeed, any noble man-at-arms. So, what is a longsword (as opposed to other types of swords, such as arming swords, short swords, broadswords, rapiers…actually, it’s a pretty long list). And why did I choose to make that the symbol of a knight in the Grand Kingdom?

What is a longsword?

It’s more than a sword with a long blade, though it is that. A European longsword was a battlefield weapon of the 1400’s. It has a cruciform (that is, cross-like) shape with a hilt designed to be used one- or two-handed. That might confuse some folks who have learned their swords from playing roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, because D&D defines a longsword as a one-handed weapon and a one- or two-handed sword as a bastard sword.

However, what D&D usually means by longsword is actually an arming sword or sidesword, the knight’s precursor to a longsword. The bastard sword was essentially a particular form of a longsword, more common toward the end of the heavy man-at-arms dominance of the battlefield. So the longsword was a professional soldier’s blade, and it became popular when plate armour reached its zenith – the heavy armour was so good, that a knight was willing to risk combat without a shield, so a blade that could be one- or two-handed made more sense. It was longer and so could reach further and two-handed use made it possible to use it in much more sophisticated ways, including gripping it like a spear (half-swording) and reversing it to use the crossguard like a pick or the pommel like a mace, especially useful for hitting helmets apparently.

Why  the longsword?

When the Tokugawa Shoguns took over Japan after the civil war period called Sengoku Jidai, in the early 1600’s, they began to disarm the general populace, to cement their reign. This is why in places like Okinawa, peasants developed fighting styles using tools as weapons, like nunchaku (flail) and kama (sickle). As a symbol of their status, the samurai class were given exclusive privilege to carry the paired great and lesser blade, the dai sho.

This was the katana (the dai-to), what most folks know as the classic“samurai sword”, and the wakizashi, (the sho-to) a short-sword version of the same blade.

The two swords, the dai sho were the mark of a samurai’s status and anyone caught carrying them who was not born to that social caste was libel to severe punishment. Borrowing this concept, and melding it with the longsword being the last great refinement of the European knight’s sword art, I have the same laws in the Grand Kingdom. Only knights and nobles may own or carry a longsword and even making one is restricted to those with special licenses that can only be granted by peers of the realm – dukes, princes and the king himself.

It is a sign of how out the Grand Kingdom is falling behind its neighbouring nations in the arts of warfare that Yentow Sent, the master weaponsmith from the far southern land of Masnia, thinks it ridiculous that he would need a license to make a longsword. It also gives insight into Prentice’s need to make the White Lions a force that does not use the longsword, but a different kind of blade. I’ll talk about the swords carried by the Lions’ Fangs at another time.

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