Ewart Oakeshott

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Ewart Oakeshott

Ewart Oakeshott (25 May 1916 – 30 September 2002) was a British illustrator, collector, and amateur historian who wrote prodigiously on medieval arms and armour. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a Founder Member of the Arms and Armour Society, and the Founder of the Oakeshott Institute. He created a classification system of the medieval sword, the Oakeshott typology, a systematic organization of medieval weaponry.



Ronald Ewart Oakeshott was born in 1916. His uncle Jeffery Farnol wrote romance novels and swashbucklers and also had a collection of antique swords, through which the young Oakeshott became interested in swords. After leaving Dulwich College, Oakeshott studied at the Central School of Art in London. He worked at Carlton Studios and at A.E. Johnson Ltd as a commercial artist, [1] while still being interested in collecting arms and armour.[ citation needed ] During the 1930s and 1940s, antique swords could still beacquired relatively cheaply and Oakeshott began collecting them. Because of the scarcity of information about these he began to research them himself. As a trained artist he illustrated most of his own books and also became a speaker on arms and armour. [2] [3]

Oakeshott served in the Royal Navy from 1940 to 1945 on destroyer escort during and was relieved from service after being wounded. He returned to A.E. Johnson, Ltd. and served as its director for fifteen years [1] before leaving in 1960 to become a full-time researcher and writer. In 1964 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He co-founded the Arms and Armour Society in 1948, for which he served as President in 1951. That same year, Oakeshott published the article "A Royal Sword in Westminster Abbey" in The Connoisseur on the results of his work on the sword of Henry V in Westminster Abbey. As a result, Oakeshott began to be consulted by museums such as the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge and private collectors. [3]

At his death, Oakeshott bequeathed his personal collection of more than 75 swords, including many of historical significance, to the Oakeshott Institute of Arms and Armour in Minneapolis, an educational organisation dedicated to youth outreach, and "promoting the interest in ancient arms and armour through hands-on educational experience." [3] The Institute is currently creating an online 3D database of the collection, titled the Historical Sword Documentation Project, providing international access to the ancient weapons, and keeping with Oakeshott's wish that his family's collection stay accessible and of benefit to the public.

Personal life

In 1963, Oakshott met the educationist and writer Sybil Marshall (1913–2005). He left his wife for her and they became partners for life and married in 1995, after the death of Oakeshott's first wife, Margaret Roberts. [4] [5] [6] Oakshott had a son and two daughters from his first marriage.


Oakeshott's typology of medieval and early renaissance swords is among his most influential and most lasting works. He has been described as the sword's "most distinguished modern commentator". [7] Dr. Jan Peterson had previously developed a typology for Viking swords consisting of twenty-six categories. Peterson's typology was simplified by Dr. R. E. M. Wheeler in short order to only seven categories (Types I–VII). This simplified typology was then slightly expanded by Oakeshott by the addition of two transitional types into its current nine categories (Types I–IX). From this basis, Oakeshott began work on his own thirteen-category typology of the medieval sword ranging from Type X to Type XXII.

What made Oakeshott's typology unique was that he was one of the first people either within or outside of academia to seriously and systematically consider the shape and function of the blades of European medieval swords as well as the hilt, which had been the primary criterium of previous scholars. His typology traced the functional evolution of European swords over a period of five centuries, starting with the late Iron Age Type X, and took into consideration many factors: the shape of blades in cross section, profile taper, fullering, whether blades were stiff and pointed for thrusting or broad and flexible for cutting, etc. This was a breakthrough. Oakeshott's books also dispelled many popular cliches about Western swords being heavy and clumsy. He listed the weights and measurements of many swords in his collection which have become the basis for further academic work as well as templates for the creation of high quality modern replicas.

List of published works


Related Research Articles

Pole weapon Type of melee armament with a long shaft for infantry combat

A pole weapon or pole arm is a close combat weapon in which the main fighting part of the weapon is fitted to the end of a long shaft, typically of wood, thereby extending the user's effective range and striking power. Pole weapons are predominantly melee weapons, with a subclass of spear-like designs fit for both thrusting and throwing. Because many pole weapons were adapted from agricultural implements or other tools in fairly large amount of abundance, and contain relatively little metal, they were cheap to make and readily available. When warfare breaks out and the belligerents have a poorer class who cannot pay for dedicated weapons made for war, military leaders often resort to the appropriation of tools as cheap weapons. The cost of training was minimal, since these conscripted farmers had spent most of their lives in the familiar use of these "weapons" in the fields. This made polearms the favored weapon of peasant levies and peasant rebellions the world over.

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.

Falchion One-handed, single-edged sword

A falchion is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European origin, whose design is reminiscent of the modern machete. Falchions are found in different forms from around the 13th century up to and including the 16th century. In some versions the falchion looks rather like the seax and later the sabre, and in other versions the form is irregular or like a machete with a crossguard.

A longsword is a type of European sword characterized as having a cruciform hilt with a grip for two-handed use, a straight double-edged blade of around 85 to 110 cm, and weighing approximately 1 to 1.5 kg.

Classification of swords

The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.

Guisarme Type of pole weapon

A guisarme is a pole weapon used in Europe primarily between 1000 and 1400. Its origin is likely Germanic, from the Old High German getīsarn, literally "weeding iron". Like many medieval polearms, the exact early form of the weapon is hard to define from literary references, and the identification of surviving weapons can be speculative.

Dane axe Viking weapon

The Dane axe is an early type of battle axe, primarily used during the transition between the European Viking Age and early Middle Ages. Other names for the weapon include English long axe, Danish axe, and hafted axe.

Armet Early type of lightweight helmet that fully enclosed the head

The armet is a type of helmet which was developed in the 15th century. It was extensively used in Italy, France, England, the Low Countries and Spain. It was distinguished by being the first helmet of its era to completely enclose the head while being compact and light enough to move with the wearer. Its use was essentially restricted to the fully armoured man-at-arms.

Destrier Type of war horse

The destrier is the best-known war horse of the medieval era. It carried knights in battles, tournaments, and jousts. It was described by contemporary sources as the Great Horse, due to its significance.

Viking sword Type of Sword

The Viking Age sword or Carolingian sword is the type of sword prevalent in Western and Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

Oakeshott typology Medieval sword classification system

The Oakeshott typology is a way to define and catalogue the medieval sword based on physical form. It categorises the swords of the European Middle Ages into 13 main types, labelled X through XXII. The historian and illustrator Ewart Oakeshott introduced it in his 1960 treatise The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry.

Bevor Plate armour for the neck and chin

A bevor or beaver is a piece of plate armour designed to protect the neck, much like a gorget.

Horses in the Middle Ages

Horses in the Middle Ages differed in size, build and breed from the modern horse, and were, on average, smaller. They were also more central to society than their modern counterparts, being essential for war, agriculture, and transport.

Close helmet Helmet that fully encloses the head, with a pivoting visor and integral bevor, is use from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern period

The close helmet or close helm was a military helmet worn by knights and other men-at-arms in the Late Medieval and Renaissance eras. It was also used by some heavily armoured, pistol-armed, cuirassiers into the mid 17th century. It was a fully enclosing helmet with a pivoting visor and integral bevor.

Seax of Beagnoth

The Seax of Beagnoth is a 10th-century Anglo-Saxon seax. It was found in the River Thames in 1857, and is now at the British Museum in London. It is a prestige weapon, decorated with elaborate patterns of inlaid copper, brass and silver wire. On one side of the blade is the only known complete inscription of the twenty-eight letter Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet, as well as the name "Beagnoth" in runic letters. It is thought that the runic alphabet had a magical function, and that the name Beagnoth is that of either the owner of the weapon or the smith who forged it. Although many Anglo-Saxon and Viking swords and knives have inscriptions in the Latin alphabet on their blades, or have runic inscriptions on the hilt or scabbard, the Seax of Beagnoth is one of only a handful of finds with a runic inscription on its blade.

A Threshal was a type of two handed Medieval flail, looking rather like a larger version of the more well-known Nunchaku. Considered a peasant's weapon, it was nonetheless capable of defeating many types of armor, as illustrated in contemporary manuscripts.

In the European High Middle Ages, the typical sword was a straight, double-edged weapon with a single-handed, cruciform hilt and a blade length of about 70 to 80 centimetres. This type is frequently depicted in period artwork, and numerous examples have been preserved archaeologically.


The Ingelrii group consists of about 20 known medieval swords from the 10th to 12th century with a damascening blade inscription INGELRII, appearing with several slight spelling variations such as INGELRD and INGELRILT. It is comparable to the older, much better documented Ulfberht group.

Tomb Effigy of Jacquelin de Ferrière

The Tomb Effigy of Jacquelin de Ferrière is usually on display in the Medieval Art Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The effigy is of the French knight, Sir Jacquelin de Ferrière, who was from Montargis, near Sens in northern France. The effigy is dated between 1275-1300 CE. It is 73 34 in (187 cm) long, 24 58 in (63 cm) wide, and 5 inches (13 cm) deep, and carved into a flat limestone slab, which now has a wooden frame. Effigies were often commissioned by the nobles or their families, as a means of remembrance. They would normally be found covering the sarcophagi of the knight, or installed in or near a church that the family were patrons of. Although the inscription on this effigy is not clear, most effigies contained similar inscriptions that would include the name and title, dates of birth and death–or approximates, a link between the date of death and a notable holy figure or day, and petitions of prayer that would offer pardons to those that prayed for the depicted soul–largely an attempt to create a tangible link between the nobility and divinity.

Ada Bruhn Hoffmeyer Danish weapons expert

Ada Bruhn Hoffmeyer was a Danish museum curator, writer and medieval weapons expert. She founded "The Institute of Studies on Ancient Weapons" which was recognised as the authority on Spanish arms and armour.