Tudor Knight

Artwork by Graham Turner

The sword
The sword remained the favoured arm of the gentleman. Military weapons at the beginning of the 16th century still had long thrusting blades, but were wide enough to deliver a lethal cut from the sharpened edges. The hilt was still essentially a simple cross, the wooden grip bound in cloth or leather and often overlaid by cords or wire either twined round or in a lattice, to help prevent the weapon slipping in the hand. A pommel at the end helped prevent the hand sliding off but more importantly provided a counterbalance to the blade, so that the point of balance was as near to the hand as possible; this made the sword less point-heavy and less tiring to use. Several styles of pommel had been developed, from a simple disc or flanged wheel to a scent-bottle style. This type of cross-hilt continued to be worn with armour by a few enthusiasts until after the third quarter of the 16th century. However, by the beginning of the century some infantry swords had already developed a half loop or a ring to guard the finger hooked over the blunted first section of blade to assist a swing. This form was then seen on the swords of gentlemen. By mid-century swords usually had finger-rings and side-rings, but frequently lacked the knuckle-guards and displayed none of the diagonal guards popular in Continental Europe.

The rapier
When in civilian dress, knights now sometimes wore a rapier. Much ink was spilt at the time in assessing whether the traditional sword was better than these weapons. Sir John Smythe wrote Instructions, Observations and Orders Mylitarie in 1591, published four years later. In it he points out that the rapier is too long for a foot soldier to draw in the press of battle or a horseman to draw unless he lets his rein fall, and is not therefore a military weapon. Moreover, the blade was so hard and narrow that it broke when it struck armour. Tucks, however, with their foursquare thrusting blades, he notes as sometimes worn on horseback by men-at-arms and demi-lances, under their thighs in the Hungarian or Turkish manner.

George Silver disliked rapiers, referring to them as 'bird-spits' and, echoing Smythe, he lists all the things they cannot do in battle: pierce a corselet with the point, unlace a helmet, unbuckle armour or cut through pikes. He considers them unsuitable for cutting, excessively long and with inadequate guards. He says that many skilled men using them are wounded because they cannot uncross the weapon without stepping back. Nevertheless, rapiers were becoming popular for wear with civilian dress and their owners had to be trained in their use. For this they went to the foreign fencing masters who were setting up schools in London and who may have provided a further reason for Silver's hostility to the new weapon.

The principal gun used by the gentry was the wheellock, which used the spinning action of an abrasive wheel against a piece of iron pyrites to create sparks. The great advantage of the wheellock was that it could be wound up ready for action so that the pistol could be discharged swiftly. For military use a pair of pistols was carried in leather holsters at the saddlebow, but a man of rank would only use these when serving as a captain of cavalry. The other form of lock was the snaphance, in which a flint struck the face of a steel mounted on a pivoted arm. This form of ignition would eventually be modified by amalgamating the pan cover with the steel, to form the flintlock. The snaphance was cheaper than the wheellock, which also had the disadvantage of having the main moving parts inside the breech, making servicing difficult in the field, especially as the parts could break if roughly handled. The English did not at first take up the idea of the cartridge, whereby the powder and ball were tied in a paper cartridge, though from mid-century it began to appear in mainland Europe.