Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

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Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby Ninetails1985 » 03 Nov 2014 14:10

Hello guys,
For the past couple of days I've been wandering that and researching in hopes to come to a conclusion. I think I've managed to narrow it down to England, France and the Holy Roman Empire. Here is my argument for all three:
France - perhaps the most famous medieval kingdom for its knights and as far as I know the first to mention "epee bastarde" or swords of unusual length.
England - the longsword, being a weapon that excels on foot, would have been perfect for the english knights which are famous for dismounting and fighting on foot. Also, something that is valid for both France and England is that the Hundred Years War was fought exactly at the time when the longsword was developed.
Holy Roman Empire - consisting of several kingdoms, of which Germany was the largest, it also included Northern Italy, which makes it the first and biggest source of longsword manuals we have today, from Liechtenauer to Fiore dei Liberi. Also, from what I've seen, the most longswords in museums with certain place of origin are from kingdom of Germany. However, my question is not where there were the most longswords but where they were most popular - i.e. biggest percentage of knights and men-at-arms that used them.
I know a lot of longswords in museums were also found in Spain and Denmark but for the above 3 nations I mentioned there was a lot more evidence that they were widespread.
So what do you think and from where do you draw your conclusions?
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby Thearos » 04 Nov 2014 21:27

It's an interesting, dreamy question, but which time period do you mean ? (You could add to your picture the "granz espees d'Allemaigne" mentioned in the C14th already.)
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby Ninetails1985 » 04 Nov 2014 23:33

Basically, the period in which the longsword was used the most from about 1350 to 1500
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby Monzambano » 19 Nov 2014 21:58

If you look through the chronicles of Diebold Schilling (both the Elder and the Younger), most Swiss had as their personal arm a longsword. Messer were not very popular here.
I should emphasise that for constitutional purposes, Switzerland was a (loyal!) part of the Holy Roman Empire until its dissolution.
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby SteelCat » 20 Nov 2014 00:22

Switzerland was a relatively poor area of Europe at that time, a lot of young men became soldiers fighting for other countries because at home there was no carreer for them, and swiss soldiers earned themselves a reputation (the Swiss guards of the vatican is the last remnant of this tradition)

It makes sense that a lot of young men in the area also trained in weapons of war rather than mere self defence and a lot of returnees had such weapons/used them.
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby Monzambano » 20 Nov 2014 10:14

SteelCat wrote:Switzerland was a relatively poor area of Europe at that time...


I don't think that's right. It was only in the 19th and first half of the 20th C that Switzerland was relatively poor. In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Switzerland was quite prosperous. It was the prosperity and stability that generated the population surplus for export in the form of mercenaries.

The major cities were very active in trade and finance, and Switzerland had a highly aggressive foreign policy right up to the loss at Marignano 1515. Already in the 15th C, wars were becoming expensive, and the Swiss Estates had both the financial and the armaments resources to fight them.
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby SteelCat » 20 Nov 2014 11:45

Most people didn't live in the cities those days and farming in the more mountainous regions was tough and not very profitable and would only feed so many people.
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby Monzambano » 20 Nov 2014 18:48

SteelCat wrote:Most people didn't live in the cities those days and farming in the more mountainous regions was tough and not very profitable and would only feed so many people.


True, but they still produced very healthy youths. Yes, it was (and still is) tough, and the capacity to take up additional population was limited, so the surplus children had to go elsewhere. But that does not mean the rural areas weren't moderately prosperous.

In the early 14th C, the Confederacy consisted of only three rural, mountain estates - yet they had the resources to beat a knightly army under the Habsburgs in 1315. Morgarten was arguably a fluke, but Sempach was not - but there, the only city estate involved was Lucerne, and they supplied only about 400 of 1400 effectives. So again, the bulk of the force was raised, armed and equipped by the rural estates.

One of the key estates in the Old Confederacy, and the main protagonist opposite Zurich in the Old Zurich War (mid-15th C) was Schwyz, a rural estate without any city, and yet it had the resources to lead the opposition against - and win over - a Zurich allied with Habsburg.

There were no major famines. The rural areas were producing cash crops for export, e.g. linen (for which St Gallen was a European centre) and cheese - in the 30 Years' War, the rural areas benefited greatly from supplying food preserves (i.e. cheese) to the combatants.

The persecutions of Protestants brought Huguenots to Geneva, which founded the watch industry, and Italian Protestants to Zurich, which founded the silk industry. Both industries depended on skilled to semi-skilled rural cottage industries. Granted, the bulk of the value added was captured by the city factors, but it was additional income for the rural population.

I agree, agriculture as a wealth generator took second place to other industries - especially trade. But the rural areas had their own additional industries, e.g. providing transportation and access across the Alpine passes, and renting out mercenaries.

Switzerland has no significant natural resources in terms of ores, but it has ample energy in the form of water power, the primary source of energy until the advent of coal. Still, there is no record of a significant arms industry in Switzerland, so the arms and armour were mostly imported. That takes money, and the rural estates obviously had it. The rural areas leveraged their opportunities to generate cash, and were mostly successful.

The rural estates were obviously capable of equipping themselves to the state of the art right up to the early 16th C. The longsword was the preferred personal arm of the Swiss warrior, and they could be procured by a broad sector of the populace, both rural and urban.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 21 Nov 2014 07:43

Very enjoyable post!
Independence, no famine, good cashflow and a lot of longswords - your country was a really nice place to live! And still is...
< envious emoticon > ;-)
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Re:

Postby Monzambano » 21 Nov 2014 09:52

Ulrich von L...n wrote:Independence...


Well, "independence" only for the full members of the Confederacy and the associate members; a large part of Switzerland - the present-day cantons of Vaud, Aargau, Thurgau, St Gallen and Ticino - were subject territories of one or more of the full or associate members.

It took Napoleon to rearrange that.
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby Thearos » 22 Nov 2014 19:01

That's really interesting in terms of subject territories, something one forgets when thinking of Switzerland (in the Historical Museum at Bern, the throne of one of the officials of the city-state proudly bears the inscription "FREIHEIT", but of course at that time Bern dominated Vaud, parts of the Jura, etc).

Very interesting re. basic prosperity of a lot of the rural cantons-- the cheese trade of Gruyere I knew about for the C18th, but not that it had operated much earlier. I still suppose that the Valais must have been pretty poor (in spite of trans-alpine trade), and I had an idea that the textile industry of Sankt Gallen mostly profited the urban aristocracy, leaving weavers etc in great poverty (just like Geneva-- not a canton before 1815-- had lots of pockets of urban poverty in the C17th).

Nice post-- I wish BD were here to continue the conversation.
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Re: Which medieval nation used the longsword the most?

Postby Thearos » 26 Nov 2014 14:12

As a follow-up, here's an old thread about longswords and basilards in Switzerland

viewtopic.php?f=4&t=17272&hilit=bears
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