Drawing a two-handed sword from your back

Brian G Turner

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#1
A research question on the use of the 2H sword.

The question is, how would a two hander be drawn from its sheath, especially if worn at your back?

It's just that I figure the sword would need the sheath adapting for drawing sideways from the back, and I'm not sure that's going to be very practical.

In which case, would the sheath be removed from the back first, and the sword then drawn?

Just trying to figure how it's usually done. :)
 

Mouse

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#2
I only know how to draw a katana, and that cannot be done from your back because the sword's too long and your arm's too short. I imagine it's the same for a two-hander broadsword (?) depending how long the blade is.

Don't know if you ever watched Farscape, but D'Argo had this massive sword he wore at his back, but in interviews the actor has said that it was impossible to draw it like that, and there was always someone at his back, handing it to him so it looked like he had drawn it.

If the sheath's sideways at your back, that'd work, but you'd have to twist - which'd work quite nice if there was someone close by you wanted to cleave in half!
 

HareBrain

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#3
Not sure how historically accurate it is (my guess, not very) but here is a practical solution -- only the end of the blade is sheathed, with the hilt-end being held in place by hooks around the guards.
 

The Judge

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#4
It isn't only drawing a sword from your back which is next to impossible -- how would you re-sheathe the sword afterwards?!

I'm pretty sure the zweihander of the Landsknechte didn't have a scabbard, not one which was worn, anyway http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Landsknecht_with_his_Wife.jpg

I visited the Wallace Collection last year and they had a fair few longswords, but I don't recall seeing any scabbards for them, though there were scabbards for other, smaller, swords. It might be worthwhile contacting the Royal Armouries and seeing what information they have.

In my fantasy, I've got the longswordsmen carrying the blades against their shoulders, in the same way pikemen would carry their pikes.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#5
My husband says there are pictures of landsknecht's and Scots going into battle simply carrying their two-handed swords unsheathed on their shoulders. He's also seen pictures of landsknechts holding sheathed swords horizontally in front of them.

So in between encounters a character could wear his two-handed sword in a sheath over the back (which is the only way to wear it without tripping over it). If he were taken by surprise during a scene, he would either have to take off the strap and the sheath to draw the sword -- presumably, the strap would be constructed in such a way that it would come off easily -- or do what John has seen people do live: wearing their swords with only the bottom third sheathed, a ring at the top, and with practice they can pull the sword out of the little sheath, which allows them to change the angle and pull it over the shoulder and in front of them, so that they can then pull it out of the ring. He doesn't know if the last way is really in period, but it does work.
 

Brian G Turner

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#6
The only thing that concerns me about the 1/3 scabbard is this is going to expose the weapon to the elements, so it may not be practical for general wear - only short-term wear, ie, before a battle. However, the problem is that if I put it a 2H in a full scabbard, with fur at the top to stop the rain leaking in, it is going to be undrawable, unless I set up some kind of hinged release - which would work, but may be far too modern.

I guess I was kind of hoping there was an authentic solution for drawing two handed swords quickly, but I suspect that was never an intended part of their use.
 

Kylara

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#7
You could always strap it to the side of a saddle on a horse and then you could probably pull it out if you were riding or wandering along by the side...?
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#8
The only thing that concerns me about the 1/3 scabbard is this is going to expose the weapon to the elements
Coincidentally (but not so much, because Miles has people out in the garage armoring much of the time) someone who would know just stopped by the house. He says that he thinks the pulling the sword over the shoulder thing wasn't done (although he acknowledges that it is possible with the 1/3 scabbard and ring). If a sword were carried in the shorter scabbard, for travelling it would be wrapped in something like waxed wool or wool with lanolin in it.

Since these swords were often not carried in a scabbard at all -- they weren't sharp, so there was no worry about that -- they were greased to keep them from rusting. Also, they had to be maintained, using something like a whetstone to scrape off any rust.
 

The Judge

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#9
You know, I wish I'd thought to ask this flaming question, and 18 months ago -- it would have helped me no end (and saved a lot of time!).
My husband says there are pictures of landsknecht's and Scots going into battle simply carrying their two-handed swords unsheathed on their shoulders. He's also seen pictures of landsknechts holding sheathed swords horizontally in front of them.
When you say horizontally, do you know mean one hand gripping the hilt, and the other holding the sheathed blade ie across the body? I wondered whether as a longer term measure it would be more comfortable with the blade resting against the other arm, eg in the crook of the elbow, as the body would be taking some of its weight.

I also wondered about what would happen to any scabbard (of whatever size) as and when they fought -- they couldn't continue to hold it, so presumably would have to dump it and then try and find it (or someone else's) afterwards. Or would it be left with the wagons following behind, perhaps?

If a sword were carried in the shorter scabbard, for travelling it would be wrapped in something like waxed wool or wool with lanolin in it.

Since these swords were often not carried in a scabbard at all -- they weren't sharp, so there was no worry about that -- they were greased to keep them from rusting. Also, they had to be maintained, using something like a whetstone to scrape off any rust.
Scribbling fast to make notes here! Thank you!
 

Brian G Turner

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#10
Excellent, as I've already got the oiling regime mentioned.

The curious pointer is them not being sharp - I come across all kinds of conflicting stories about 2H sword use. I guess there are different needs and styles, so the weapon is built accordingly.

Here's the sort of thing that's leaving me thoughtful - it's supposedly an historical replica, and comes with scabbard - but is the scabbard authentic or made up?
http://www.theknightshop.co.uk/catalog/english-twohand-sword-p-1539.html

I'll be detouring to the Royal Armouries at Easteron so I can ask directly.

Much obliged for your answers, btw, Teresa - I know living history is part of your background.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#11
When you say horizontally, do you know mean one hand gripping the hilt, and the other holding the sheathed blade ie across the body? I wondered whether as a longer term measure it would be more comfortable with the blade resting against the other arm, eg in the crook of the elbow, as the body would be taking some of its weight.
John doesn't remember because he's only seen one picture with the blades held horizontally, but your way makes sense. The swords weigh five or six pounds, so they aren't the heavy monsters that people think they are, but still ...

In by far the most pictures he's seen, the swords are held resting against their shoulders like someone carrying a rifle.

I also wondered about what would happen to any scabbard (of whatever size) as and when they fought -- they couldn't continue to hold it, so presumably would have to dump it and then try and find it (or someone else's) afterwards. Or would it be left with the wagons following behind, perhaps?
In an emergency, if they were taken by surprise, they'd have to toss it aside, but, when possible, things get left behind in camp or with the wagons.
 

TheTomG

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#12
My thinking is that two handers are not weapons of convenience or of self-defence. They were to be used in battles that you knew were coming up, and you just had the sword out and ready.

If you were marching from point A to point B, it was stored away. For defending yourself along that journey from surprise attackers you'd most likely have a dagger or shorter sword about your person.

I'd say it might be kept "handy" but again for fights you could see coming, giving you a minute or two to retrieve it and unwrap it. You could carry it on your back for intimidation and show, but that would probably be the worst place for getting to it right enough and you'd REALLY need to see the fight coming to be ready in time.

Unless you have Stormbringer with its tendency to jump out of its scabbard pretty much by itself ;)
 

Teresa Edgerton

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#13
Oh, and TJ and Brian, I will pass your thanks on to the appropriate persons. I am sure they will tell you that the pleasure was theirs (the menfolk around here do like to talk about arms, armor, and armed combat whenever they get the chance).
 

Venusian Broon

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#14
My thinking is that two handers are not weapons of convenience or of self-defence. They were to be used in battles that you knew were coming up, and you just had the sword out and ready.

If you were marching from point A to point B, it was stored away. For defending yourself along that journey from surprise attackers you'd most likely have a dagger or shorter sword about your person.
I agree, I've got a short history of Galloglass's - Gaelic mercenary warriors - here at home (I love dipping into those Osprey books!) and they fought battles with two-handed weapons, although because they have nordic origins it tended to be double headed axes. But they also carried side arms, ranging from dirks, hunting bows to scabbarded broadswords - as TomG points out for immediate use if required. The two-hander would be brought up when a battle was about to start.

For that purpose, although the book is not 100% clear, it seems to be more or less given that each galloglass had at least one attendent/knave. And it would be the attendents responsiblity to store (and sheaf if it had a sheaf!) and then bring it to his master when required, I guess.

I don't know how expensive the weapons themselves are - compared to other smaller versions, but the actual soldier who would be wielding it was expensive to train and to use these big weapons well (He'd have to big and strong and so be built up from childhood), hence these were higher status troops. And so I'd expect he'd have a retinue to service his needs, as he was a more valuable asset.

You see them same thing with knights - they would have gone into battle with a retinue - who would look after his armour, bring him new horses, etc...Obviously the richer you were the bigger the retinue you could bring.
 

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#15
My understanding is that someone wielding a two handed sword generally had a normal single handed sword as well. The problem with a two handed sword is that in a close melee it is pretty much useless; too unweildy and long. I believe the two handed sword was typically swung in a horizontal figure of eight (wrapping around to your sides). Once sufficient 'contacts' had been made that the momentum of that swing was lost it was simply dropped and the broadsword drawn and used.

As Teresa mentioned the scabbard is more about prtecting you (and your friends) from the blade. Keeping it protected from the elements was the job of grease. Incidentally this was also the case in recent times. My father's naval dress sword was always kept coated in vaseline.
 

Vertigo

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#17
Absolutely, but remember this was a dress sword designed to be worn on parade. However if just left for months in the scabbard without greasing it, it would start to rust. And that could ruin it as a dress sword; trying to remove the rust without leaving scratches and pitting in the polished finish of the blade was very difficult.
 

Brian G Turner

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#20
Skallagrim does a decent piece about carrying two-handed swords:


He agrees that wearing at it at the back is practical for carrying, but not for drawing. Interesting to see it could be carried like a rifle, though. :)
 
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