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Introduction to Broadswords

A large and impressive piece, the broadsword is always an excellent addition to any weapons aficionado’s collection.The term broadswords can refer to any large fantasy sword, but historically, the term is generally used to describe the early modern basket-hilted sword and a few others. Many of the popular movie replica weapons are considered broadswords. If you are planning to add one of these styles to your collection or simply want to learn more about them, each has a unique place is history and modern popular culture.

Description of Broadswords

The term broadsword was coined in the sixteenth and seventeenth century to describe any sword with a wide, flat blade. This was to contrast the slim shape of the fencing rapier, which was also popular at the time.

The basket-hilted broadsword is the primary weapon given this designation. It is recognized by the basket-shaped guard that covers the handle to protect the hand. There are several design styles and the baskets took on various shapes, some lined with fabric or leather. Some also have an embedded quillon as an upper cross guard. The overall length is usually between 36 inches and 40 inches. The blade is sharp on two sides, making it possible to slash or stab at the opponent.

Another sword often considered a broadsword is the Chinese Dao. This weapon has a single-edge curved blade that becomes wider from the handle until tapering at a point. The handle is usually wrapped and may curve in the opposite direction of the blade. Most are around 27 inches in length, but may be as large as 38 inches.

The third sword that is often called a broadsword is the Scottish Claymore. This double-edged weapon is quite large and heavy, at around 47 inches to 55 inches in length and as much as six pounds. The largest historical example of this weapon measured 7-1/2 feet in length and weighed 23 pounds. The Claymore has a distinct design with a cross-hilt with forward angled quillons that end in a honeycomb shape and a large, round pommel. This sword is intended to be swung with both hands.

History of Broadswords

Each of the three swords has a different place in world history. The basket-hilted broadsword was a military weapon, used by cavalry men across western Europe from the Late Middle Ages until the Napoleonic Era in the late 1800s. Throughout this timeline, the basket evolved from a simple hand protection to an elaborate work of art. Variations on the design tended to be regional.

The Schiavona was used in Italy during the Renaissance. It is recognized by what was called a cat's-head pommel, a series of leaf-shaped bars that attached to the cross guard. The mortuary sword was used during the English Civil War. It had a half-basket hilt that was intricately designed. It is best known for its use by Oliver Cromwell, an English military leader in the seventeenth century. His sword is maintained by the Royal Armouries andis on display in the Tower of London. The Sinclair Hilt sword was created in South Germany and had a half-basket hilt that was shaped like a triangular plate and long quillons. The Sinclair may have been the model for the Scottish basket-hilt claymore. This is not to be confused with the larger Claymore and it resembled the smaller, lighter weapons.The walloon sword was popular throughout Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands during the Baroque Era, an early part of the Renaissance. Its signature marking was a shell-shaped guard that made it ambidextrous.

The Scottish Claymore was used throughout the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries in Scotland. It was used by peasants in clan fights as well as in border skirmishes with the neighboring English villages. The design of this weapon changed little over the two centuries of use, which may contribute to why it is so readily recognized.

The Chinese Dao is quite different from its Western counterparts in the broadsword category. The earliest record of this weapon is the Bronze Age and the Shang Dynasty. These early models had a straighter blade. During the Han dynasty, it became the weapon of choice for cavalry riders due to its ease of use for slashing. Following the Mongolian invasion in the thirteenth century, the blades began to take on a more curved appearance. The Dao maintained popularity with the military through the beginning of the twentieth century and in modern martial arts schools, it is still used extensively.

Variations on the Dao generally fall under one of four categories. These are the yanmao, liuye, pian, and niuweidao. The yanmao was straighter, use primarily for thrusting attacks. The liuye was favored by cavalry and infantry because of its slight curve. The pian was deeply curved like a scimitar and often used paired with a shield. The last version, the niuweidao, was a civilian weapon and was heavy with a flare only at the tip.

Broadswordsin Popular Culture

Due to the versatility of this weapon, many styles of broadswords have made their way into popular culture through the film industry. However, some of the most widely-recognized blades are those on display in museums. The basket-hilt broadsword of Oliver Cromwell, as displayed by the Royal Armories, is distinguished by its red fabric lining in the handle. The Sir William Marshal broadsword is a simple but recognizable design with a cross hilt and ridged distal taper, as it can be seen in the British Museum. Marshal was the First Earl of Pembroke and a knight under four kings in the thirteenth century.

The Scottish Claymore is arguably one of the most widely-recognized swords for both its historical significance and its portrayal in film. It was carried by the leader of the Scottish rebellion Sir William Wallace in the late 1200s and early 1300s. His story was romanticized in literature following his death. One of the most iconic but historically inaccurate versions is the 1995 American film Braveheart, starring and directed by Mel Gibson.

Of all the variations on the Chinese broadsword, the niuweidao is the one most readily recognized. It was popularized by Chinese and American kung fu movies in the 1970s and afterward.

Fantasy swords are generally modeled in the broadsword style. The basic medieval swords in the long sword style are also broadswords. This category also includes the replica weapons in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings franchises, as well as the legendary Robin Hood and King Arthur swords. The swords carried by the Knights Templar also fall under the broadsword category, to include swords from films like Kingdom of Heaven, Arn: The Knight Templar, and Ironclad.

Modern BroadswordMakers

Due to the variety of swords that fall under the broadsword label from European to Asian, as well as fantasy, most modern sword forges make at least one type. The following forges are reputable and create these swords using a variety of techniques, both classic and modern.

Hanwei forge has become synonymous with its founder, Paul Chen. The techniques used are a combination of Chinese and Japanese methods. Swords are forged using traditional and modern equipment to create a quality blade for a lower price. In the 1990s, Hanwei began crafting European style weaponry as well and has developed a reputation for its quality replicas.

At conception in 2003, Dynasty forge specialized in Japanese sword making. It has since expanded to include a number of Chinese swords. The technique combines three types of high-carbon steel to create a forge-folded blade. The high-end Dynasty swords are hand-polished, which can take hours to complete. Its budget class models are finished using buffing wheels to create an attractive shine at a fraction of the cost.

Cold Steel forges weapons with the intention of making a product that is tough and tests all of their weapons for strength. It uses a lamination process called san mai, or three layers. Many of their blades include a high-carbon cutlery grade steel. All of the swords and knives are intended for combat use in the dojo and at practice.

Tips for Choosing a Broadsword

The diversity of a broadsword makes choosing a single model somewhat challenging. It is likely that you are in the market for one of these specific types: the basket hilt, Chinese Dao, or Claymore. The first is popular for live-action role play enthusiasts. If you will be using your sword in reenactment combat, it is important to choose a forged blade that is rated as such. The Dao is still used in some martial arts styles, but the composition of the blade may be designated by the dojo where you practice. Although the Claymore is an impressive beast of a weapon, its modern function is often that of decoration only. Each of these weapons can be displayed in the home and makes an excellent centerpiece to a collection. Consider how often you will use the blade and whether you will need a stand. Any blade that is handled should be polished regularly.