Spadroon

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The typical hilt of the most commonly known spadroon, the British 1796 pattern infantry officers sword. This is the fixed guard version. Many also had a hinged inner guard so that the sword rested flush against the uniform when worn. 1796 Pattern Infantry Officers Spadroon Hilt.jpg
The typical hilt of the most commonly known spadroon, the British 1796 pattern infantry officers sword. This is the fixed guard version. Many also had a hinged inner guard so that the sword rested flush against the uniform when worn.

A spadroon [1] is a light sword with a straight-edged blade, enabling both cut and thrust attacks. This English term first came into use in the early 18th century, though the type of sword it referred to was in common usage during the late 17th century. They were primarily used as a military (army & navy) sidearm in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and for officers and NCOs in the latter part of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The type of sword also saw widespread use across Europe and America, though the term ‘spadroon’ is unique to the Anglophone world.

Contents

Spadroon is a term used to categorize a type of sword that is in between a small sword (which thrusts only), and the heavier-bladed broadsword. They may have single- or double-edged blades, and hilt types ranging from a simple stirrup guard, to double shells, and even further protection to the sides of the hand. The distinction between a spadroon and broadsword can sometimes be a difficult one, as it depends upon to what period and weapons they are being compared. The important thing is that the spadroon is fast and agile, due to having little mass at the tip of the blade, and a hilt that does not restrict wrist mobility in any way.

Castle (1892) wrote of it: "A cutting sword of still narrower dimensions, and with a much simpler guard, approximating to that of the small sword, was called "Spadroon" in England; it was, in fact, similar to the German cut-and-thrust rapier of the eighteenth century, which had been called Spadane or Spadrone since the disuse of the regular two-handed swords... The German spadroon was a regular double-edged sword, but any very light back or shearing sword was so called in England." [2]

This description is not especially helpful, as spadroons can be found with a number of different hilt types, and there is little evidence of the Germans using such a term. They typically used much more generic terms for a spadroon, such as Degen and Hieber.

Origin of the Spadroon

In its double shell form, the spadroon can be traced to the Mortuary and Walloon hilted broadswords of the mid to late 17th century. These were commonly military weapons fitted with broadsword blades, though many of the lighter examples could well be considered spadroons. However, the deletion of side bars on these hilts is what gives the agility in grip that defines a spadroon.

Épée du Soldat

The French adopted an infantry sword in the late 17th century which they called an épée du soldat (soldier’s sword): a broadsword blade fitted to a small sword hilt. They are functionally very much like many spadroons, and this was a style that also gained some popularity in Britain in the same period.

Early 18th century

Around 1680-1720 a great many British military swords took on a form that finally was called a spadroon. These swords featured light cut and thrust blades, usually double edged. Their hilts looked like a reduced version of the Walloon or Mortuary form. These were highly regarded weapons, as fencing masters Donald McBane and Sir William Hope attested. McBane wrote in his work on swordsmanship, The Expert Sword-Man's Companion (1728), that the spadroon was an “extraordinary weapon that none can compare with it.” Sir William Hope called it "The master of all weapons." These masters also referred to the spadroon as the 'sheering' or 'shearing' sword. Many of these swords share a lot in common with the double 1796 regulation spadroon, but are typically a little heavier and more robust.

1786 Regulation

1786 was a hugely significant year for the sword and specifically the spadroon, in army service, as it saw the end of pole arms for officers, and the introduction of the first standard for a sword, the 1786 pattern. Though it may be called that today, it was not in fact a pattern at all. 'Pattern' refers to a piece of example equipment that has been accepted for army service. Since the start of the eighteenth century a band of officers (or other responsible persons) has approved the quality and finish of all items of military clothing, it was then sealed with the wax of the Board of Ordnance or other Government (wax) seal to be recognised as the standard to be kept by manufacturers. This allowed manufacturers, tailors, and swordsmiths to have an example to use as a reference for both design and quality. The 1786 sword was not a pattern, but a rather vague description. Nonetheless it was the first standard outlined for army wide service, and so is commonly referred to as the 1786 pattern today but might be better described as the 1786 regulation. The only requirements for the 1786 regulation was that the blade was straight, 32” long and 1” wide at the guard, that the guard matched the colour of the buttons of your uniform, and that all officers of a regiment had the same type. [3]

Due to very loose requirements for this regulation, there was much variety found, and few swords were of a new design. Most had been in service for many years before, such as during the American Revolution.

Five Ball Spadroon

Many spadroons in the late 18th century featured what has become known as a ‘five ball’ guard. A five-ball design found on the knucklebow and/or side ring of the guard. These are commonly associated with naval swords, as many are found with fouled anchor, though the style was fashionable amongst the army too. Though it was a fashionable style, five ball spadroons only account for a small amount of spadroons found in the period they were used. They are one of many designs that fit the 1786 regulation, as well as being used before it. There is some evidence to suggest the five ball spadroon is what the French referred to as the épée anglaise. [4]

1796 Regulation

The 1796 pattern sword (spadroon) was the first British infantry sword to truly follow a pattern and be controlled by strict parameters. It followed the same regulation blade outlined in 1786, but now also featured a regulation hilt. A brass gilded double shell guard with knucklebow and urn shaped pommel. A guard that was in fact very similar to many small swords of the day, a fact that leads to them often being mistaken for one another. The 1796 spadroon was not a copy of the small sword, but in fact one in a long lineage of double shell military swords that had been in use in Britain from the late 17th century, as well as in widespread use across Europe. The exact ornamentation of the 1796 was indeed a copy of those carried by the Prussian Frederick the Great and his officers. One shell was often hinged so that the sword sat flush when wearing against the uniform, but this was not part of the regulation, and at the discretion of the purchaser. [5]

The 1796 infantry sword was for use by Infantry officers and NCO's, Royal Artillery officers and NCOs, Royal Engineer officers and other corps (Such as surgeons for example).

It was widely disliked, as is noted in many sources at the time. Though it is important to note that officers had to purchase their own swords, and so whilst many 1796 pattern spadroons are poor weapons, it is entirely possible to specify and make a successful and effective sword within the parameters of the regulation. Therefore, decent fighting weapons do exist among surviving examples of this pattern type, as well as many that range from adequate to poor fighting weapons. Attempts to replace this spadroon with a robust sabre were only partially successful. With an infantry pattern introduced in 1803, and many non-regulation sabres carried both within and against the regulations of the day. Despite this, the 1796 spadroon lived on until it was replaced in army service in 1822 by a new model of sabre, and ended the use of the Spadroon in British army service, and in Naval use in 1827 (also by a new sabre pattern).

Later use

Many straight, light cut and thrust swords continued in use throughout the 19th century, such as the French 1882 Infantry officer’s sword, and the British 1892/1895/1897 pattern infantry officers’ swords. These were not called spadroons but are certainly the same type of weapon in functional terms.

In America, the spadroon lived on in the form of the 1840 model, which closely resembled British 1796 pattern.  

Etymology

The earliest known use of the word Spadroon is in Donald McBane's 1728 work 'The Expert Sword-Man's Companion'. It likely derives from the French and Spanish espadon [6] or Italian spadone, which had in previous years referred to much larger swords to be used in two hands. [7]

Practice Today

The Spadroon is a key weapon in the study of British military swordsmanship of the Napoleonic period, as well as those practising from earlier 18th century British sources. It was one of three main weapons outlined in the key works of swordsmanship in that period, such as Charles Roworth's 1798 manual, 'The Art of Defence on Foot, with Broadsword and Sabre...to which are added Remarks on the Spadroon'. A number of Historical Fencing, or HEMA clubs around the world are now pursuing modern day practice of the spadroon.

A group dedicated to spadroons, their history and use, is now active on Facebook, called Spadrooners.

Related Research Articles

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.

Sabre Type of sword used for combat on horseback

A sabre is a type of backsword with a curved blade associated with the light cavalry of the early modern and Napoleonic periods. Originally associated with Central European cavalry such as the hussars, the sabre became widespread in Western Europe in the Thirty Years' War. Lighter sabres also became popular with infantry of the early 17th century. In the 19th century, models with less curving blades became common and were also used by heavy cavalry.

A backsword is a type of sword characterised by having a single-edged blade and a hilt with a single-handed grip. It is so called because the triangular cross section gives a flat back edge opposite the cutting edge. Later examples often have a "false edge" on the back near the tip, which was in many cases sharpened to make an actual edge and facilitate thrusting attacks. From around the early 14th century, the backsword became the first type of European sword to be fitted with a knuckle guard.

<i>Dao</i> (sword) Single-edged Chinese sword primarily used for slashing and chopping

Dao are single-edged Chinese swords, primarily used for slashing and chopping. The most common form is also known as the Chinese sabre, although those with wider blades are sometimes referred to as Chinese broadswords. In China, the dao is considered one of the four traditional weapons, along with the gun, qiang (spear), and the jian, called in this group “The General of Weapons".

The yatagan or yataghan is a type of Ottoman knife or short sabre used from the mid-16th to late 19th centuries. The yatagan was extensively used in Ottoman Turkey and in areas under immediate Ottoman influence, such as the Balkans and the Caucasus.

Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, which is a type of sword.

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.

Talwar Sword

The talwar, also spelled talwaar and tulwar, is a type of curved sword or sabre from the Indian subcontinent.

Szabla

Szabla is the Polish word for sabre.

Shashka

The shashka or shasqua, is a kind of sabre; single-edged, single-handed, and guardless backsword. In appearance, the shashka is midway between a typically curved sabre and a straight sword. It has a slightly curved blade, and can be effective for both cutting and thrusting.

Pattern 1908 cavalry sword Type of cavalry sword

The 1908 Pattern Cavalry Trooper's Sword was the last service sword issued to the cavalry of the British Army. It has been called the most effective cavalry sword ever designed, although its introduction occurred as swords finally became obsolete as military weapons. In use, it, like other thrust-based cavalry swords, is best described as a one-handed lance, due to its complete lack of utility for anything but the charge. In fact, the closely related US Model 1913 Cavalry Saber was issued with only a saddle scabbard, as it was not considered to be of much use to a dismounted cavalryman. Colonial troops, who could expect to engage in melee combat with opposing cavalry frequently carried cut and thrust swords either instead of, or in addition to, the P1908/1912.

Gothic hilted British infantry swords (1822, 1827, 1845, 1854 and 1892 patterns)

The gothic hilted swords were a family of swords carried by officers and some NCOs of the British Army between 1822 and the present day. They were primarily infantry swords, although they were also regulation pattern for some other officers such as surgeons and staff officers. The term “Gothic hilt” is derived from a perceived similarity between the curved bars of the guard and the arches found in Gothic architecture. They were elegant aesthetically pleasing weapons, although they were considered by some to be mediocre fighting swords. The weapon and its variants had a very long service life.

1796 Pattern British Infantry Officers Sword

The 1796 Pattern British Infantry Officers Sword was carried by officers of the line infantry in the British Army between 1796 and the time of its official replacement with the gothic hilted sword in 1822. This period encompassed the whole of the Napoleonic Wars.

The 1897 pattern infantry officers’ sword is a straight-bladed, three-quarter basket-hilted sword that has been the regulation sword for officers of the line infantry of the British Army from 1897 to the present day.

The Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry Sabre is a sword that was used primarily by British light dragoons and hussars, and King's German Legion light cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars. It was adopted by the Prussians and used by Portuguese and Spanish cavalry.

1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword

The pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword was the sword used by the British heavy cavalry, and King's German Legion Dragoons, through most of the period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It played an especially notable role, in the hands of British cavalrymen, at the battles of Salamanca and Waterloo. The pattern was adopted by Sweden and was used by some Portuguese cavalry.

Basket-hilted sword Sword with basket-like hand protection

The basket-hilted sword is a sword type of the early modern era characterised by a basket-shaped guard that protects the hand. The basket hilt is a development of the quillons added to swords' crossguards since the Late Middle Ages. In modern times, this variety of sword is also sometimes referred to as the broadsword.

Szabla wz. 34

Szabla wz. 34 was the last service sword issued to the Polish cavalry and other mounted units of the Polish Army. One of the finest weapons in a long list of Polish sabres reaching back to the early 16th century, although its introduction occurred as swords finally became obsolete as military weapons, it was successfully used in combat during the 1939 Invasion of Poland and remains in service as a ceremonial weapon.

The Art of Defence on Foot was first published in 1798. It is a detailed manual of instruction for British military infantry swordsmanship. It is the oldest known British manual intended to teach purely military swordsmanship on foot. Four editions were printed between 1798 and 1824, the first three in London, UK and the last in New York, USA.

The Pattern 1831 sabre for General Officers is a British army pattern sword prescribed for the use of officers of the rank of major-general and above. It has been in continuous use from 1831 to the present. It is an example of a type of sword described as a mameluke sabre.

References

  1. P.G.W. Annis (1970). Naval Swords, British and American Naval Edged Weapons, 1660-1815, Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, p. 38.
  2. Egerton Castle (1892). Schools and Masters of Fence: From the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century. With a Complete Bibliography. Bell & sons.
  3. Philip Haythornthwaite (20 April 2012). Nelson's Navy. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 45–. ISBN   978-1-78096-641-0.
  4. Tuite, Peter. "British Naval Edged Weapons—An Overview" (PDF). American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin 86:37-57. American Society of Arms Collectors. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  5. Mark Barton; John McGrath (3 July 2013). British Naval Swords and Swordsmanship: _. Seaforth Publishing. pp. 40–. ISBN   978-1-84832-135-9.
  6. J de Saint Martin (1804). L'art de faire des armes reduit a ses vrais principes. ... On y a joint un traite de l'espadon (etc.). Schrämble.
  7. "Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers". The University of Chicago. Retrieved 1 May 2019.