From at least as far back as the early to mid 1400s, all the way up until about the French Revolution in 1789, longsword fencers have been practicing with fechtschwerter, or what is today commonly called federschwert, a specific sword type with a flared schildt and blunt edges, used specifically for training and/or competing.
However, only 23 confirmed swords are known to be preserved in various collections and for this very reason, we would like to ask for your help in locating more of these swords! We need to pool and organize our resources so we can contact as many museums and collections as possible. We need to do this in an organized manner so we don’t all rush to the same museum bombarding them with email. Preferably we should also get people to take responsibility for investigating what is in their own country, since that makes communication so much easier.
If you would like to join us in this project, then please contact me at [email protected]
And as a bit of background: The designs of most of the preserved fechtschwerter are quite different from what we see in the period sources of the fechtbuche, stammbuche, hausbuche, wappenbuche and other assorted sources like books on alchemy & astrology and loose illustrations by artists like e.g. Amman, Brun, Stimmer, Breu, Senger, Solis and Gerung.
In the early period sources we almost exclusively see swords that have blades that taper towards the point, with some of them even being illustrated as having ridged blades. The clear majority, however, are depicted as having simple flat blades.
Quite a few are shown having near parallel edges, especially in the first and second quarter of the 1500s, but also later, as can be seen in the images below.
This seems to coincide with the large, parallell edge, and sometimes quite flexible zweihänder used by Kaiser Maximilian I’s Landsknechten. Other examples are the Goliath treatise of 1510, Paurnfeindt hn236 of 1516, “Egonolph” of 1531, Agrippa of 1553 and Leküchner of 1558.
Not until the very late 1500s and early 1600s (and onwards) do we see very narrow training swords, for instance in Codex Guelf 83.4 August 8° from 1591 and in Thibault’s Academie de l’Espée from 1631.
Looking solely at the profile tapering of the blade (how it looks from the side) it is possible to divide these designs into four different categories:
Type 1. Blades with edges that taper towards the point.
Type 2. Parallel edges, or almost parallel edges.
Type 3. Blades that are at least as broad as the grip and have flared points.
Type 4. Blades that are narrower than the grip and have flared points.
Of the 23 known swords we can see types 2-4, but currently no sword of Type 1 is known to exist outside of the period illustrations (possibly with the exception of a peculiar one at Musée de Cluny) and type 4 is in distinct majority. Why this is so we can only speculate on, but one thesis is that the design changed over time and ended up with the design of Type 4 at about mid/late 1500s and onwards. And since the preserved swords are all almost exclusively dated to mid to late 1500s/early 1600s, and since they are so extremely few they might not be representative of the full spectra of training swords used. It is also quite possible that the training swords were used up and simple melted down and reused.
Another theory is that fencers used different types of training swords for different purposes, e.g. one for regular training, which possibly was a bit stiffer in the furthermost part, and another for fechtschule competitions where the added flex lessened the impact of striking with the flat and the thin but light weak part of the blade made it possible to cut reasonably safely, per fechtschule rules.
No matter what the purpose for the designs we should keep in mind that this type of swords were in use for a period of 350 years and throughout large parts of Europe and used by both the Marxbrüder and the Freyfechter von der Feder fencing guilds.
So having only 23 swords to show is a ridiculously low number (although we will certain be adding more as we discover more of them). Quite likely there are plenty more hidden away in the collections and museums, but the swords are too damn ugly to be displayed and their significance is not recognized by the owners or curators of the museums.
SO, please join us in investigating this. Hopefully we can dig out some more of these amazing and important swords!
Also, please help us spread the word about this project on various forums and other media!
Here is a list of the currently known swords.
Type 1: Blades with edges that taper towards the point.
1. One at Musée de Cluny, loaned from Musée de l’Armée, dated to 17-18th cent – No flared schildt, but finger rings.
Type 2: Parallel edges, or almost parallel edges.
2. One in the Military Museum in Turkey dated to the 16th cent.
3-4. Two reported to hang at the Armour Gallery exit at Windsor Castle, UK. Thought to be of type 2, similar to the one in Turkey, or type 3 similar to those at the NY Met.
5. One unusual fechtschwert with parierhaken instead of a flared schildt, in Bardini Museum, Florence.
Type 3: Blades that are at least as broad as the grip and have flared points.
6-7. Two almost identical ones in the New York Met, dated to 1575-1625.
8. One unidentified German sword in Italy, probably from the late 1500s.
9. One in the Museum of Spiš, Slovakia, likely refurbished with a new hilt or possibly actually a later replica.
Type 4: Blades that are narrower than the grip and have flared points.
10-13. Four in the Landesmuseum in Zürich, dated to the 15-1600s. – One was on loan to Musée de Cluny but is now at Musée de l’Armée. These are a lot beefier than the Hanwei, but very flexible in the last part.
14. One in Braunfels Castle – No data, but several full and detail images.
15-16. Two in the Arundel Castle. – One similar to the Zürich, but beefier, and the other with grooves on each side of the schildt, very similar to one in private collection in Russia (see #17). Both quite substantial and not flimsy like the Hanwei feder. These are most likely the fechtschwerter that were used by Hema Pioneers Alfred Hutton and Egerton Castle during their public displays.
17-18. Two in the private Wilczek Collection, Kreuzenstein, Austria. Only one of them documented.
19. One with flared, sharp point in the private collection of a Russian collector.
20. One with flared point and square schildt in the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Canada
21. One with flared point and schildt with small parierhaken, sold at auction by Thomas Del Mar Ltd. London UK, in 2014.
22. One mentioned to be in the Londesborough Collection, but not documented.
23- Several fechtschwerter are reported to be kept at the Solothurn Castle, Switzerland. Has at least one confirmed.
??? Sint Michielsgilde aka Hallebardiers donated 12 swords to the city of Brugge in 1905. They are possibly stored in the Gruuthuse Museum of Brugge. It is currently unknown what type these swords are, but they may just be regular bidenhänder for parades.
Here are images of most of the known swords. The swords in the Londesborough Collection and one from the Wilczek Collection still lack photos.
I apologize for not having proper attributing to all the photographers. Thank you everyone for having shared these images! Let me know if you wish to have your name added or your photo taken down.
To organize all this we first need to list all the collections and museums that we think are worth contacting. We also need to ask for the same data about the swords. Here are my suggestions:
1. Total length & width in various parts.
3. Centre of percussion and centre of balance.
4. Flex characteristics. Is the flex even and if not, where does it become more pronounced?
6. Basis for dating. Why is the date given?
7. Provenance, ie where it is from and who has owned it through history?
I have begun collating a list of museums and collections, but again I need your help in completing it. Collections marked as green are known to have fechtschwerter in their collections.
Wilczek Collection, Castle Kreuzenstein – Reportedly has two swords of which only one has been documented.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck
Belgium – Bert Gevaert, Krist Martens
Adolphe Neyt Collection, Ghent
Koninklijk Museum v Brussels
Gruuthuse Museum of Brugge – Sint Michielsgilde aka Hallebardiers donated 12 swords to the city of Brugge in 1905. These may just be bidenhänder for parading.
Canada – Sean Manning
Glenbow Museum, Calgary – Has one with flared point and square schildt.
Royal Ontario Museum
Museum „Baroque in Bohemia“ in Schwarzenberg Palace
Musée de Cluny, Paris – Has one with tapering point and finger rings, but no flared schildt. Loaned from Musée de l’Armée. Also loaned one from the Landesmuseum in Zürich.
Musée de l’Armée – Has one that is or has been on loan to Musée de Cluny.
Musée des Invalides, Paris
Musée des Beaux Arts, Dijon
Schloss Braunfels – Has a unique fechtschwert with pointy Schildt.
Münich National Museum
Italy – David Coblentz
Armuria of the Doge’s Palace, Venice
Bardini Museum, Florence – Has a unique fechtschwert with parallel edges and parierhaken.
Museo Nationale Castell Sant‘ Angelo
Armoury of the Knights of St. John
Vawel Castle, Kraków
Russia – Sergey
Slovakia – Anton Kohutovic
Museum of Spiš – Possibly a later replica
Sweden – Roger Norling
Switzerland – Daniel Jaquet, Derek Wassom, Gregor Schiess
The Landesmuseum in Zürich – Has four confirmed fechtschwerter of which one is loaned to museums in France, as seen above.
Solothurn Castle – Has a confirmed fechtschwert of unknown type. Gregor is investigating this.
Museum of Luzern – Gregor handles this
Museum of Stein am Rhein – Gregor handles this
Museum of Basel – Gregor handles this
Museum of Bern – Gregor handles this
Museum of Thurgau – Gregor handles this
Museum of Aargau – Gregor handles this
Museum of Zug – Gregor handles this
Museum of Schaffhausen – Gregor handles this
Waffensammlung Carl Beck – Gregor handles this
Museum Grandson – Gregor handles this
Ritterhaus Bubikon – Gregor handles this
Turkey – Barış Bora Güç
Askeri Müzesi, Istanbul – Has one documented fechtschwert.
New York Metropolitan Museum Has two documented fechtschwerter.
Cleveland Museum of Art
Frazier Arms Museum / Royal Armouries
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The UK – Andy Taylor, Keith Farrell, Matt Easton, Joni Karjalainen, Payson Muller and Duncan McEvoy
Arundel Castle – Two swords documented. These are most likely the fechtschwerter that were used by Hema Pioneers Alfred Hutton and Egerton Castle during their public displays. (Payson Muller and Duncan McEvoy are responsible for this contact)
British Museum / Londesborough Collection – Reportedly has a fechtschwert in their collection
Windsor Castle – Two reported as hanging at the Armour Gallery exit. Thought to be of type 2, similar to the one in Turkey, or type 3 similar to those at the NY Met.
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Museum of London
Royal Armoury at Leeds, UK
Tower of London and British Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Wallace Collection
Thomas Del Mar Auction
Castel Sant’Angelo, Vatican City