The Truth about Medieval Swords

Okay, A.S. Akkalon and Thomas Weaver busted me. I have been researching many things in the Middle Ages and the Roman era. I’ve studied a lot about politics and daily life. One thing I did not think to question was my belief in large, heavy swords being the norm for knights.

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She’s got nothing on any paladin I’ve ever played. And I’ve played a lot of them.

I am going to blame it on years and years of D&D, video games, and some bad information from the History Channel. I stupidly thought these were researched. I know. Stop laughing.

Here is the truth.

The weapons of the Middle Ages were light, strong, and well-designed. They were agile weapons designed to kill, and they did a fine job of it. They were not clumsy or heavy. They were not “clubs with edges”.

According to the Wallace Collection Museum in London that has dozens of actual swords from the Middle Ages, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that weight more than four pounds. Most weigh less than three.

sword2
Perhaps a bit more accurate. Picture from Pixabay.

Yeah. Three pounds.

Even the large “hand-and-a-half” swords rarely weighed more than 4.5 pounds.

All of these swords would be easily handled by a man who’d been training with them since the age of seven.

Perhaps popular media (and my RPGs) were thinking of special “parade” swords when they came up their weights. However, they only weighed up to eight or nine pounds, not the forty you regularly see in popular culture (or on the History Channel). Even so, you’d really have to be stretching to make this mistake. These swords were show pieces, not fighting weapons. Their blunt edges should bring home that point.

This idea is perhaps older than Hollywood. Hey, misinformation isn’t just for TV and movies.

hollywood
Land of more misinformation than even the Mythbusters can bust.

In a fencing booklet from 1746, the author already talked about how heavy and unwieldy earlier swords were, stating they were designed basically for brute force. Perhaps the author felt that way as he was used to using a foil instead of a sword, but I’m going to guess a foil isn’t nearly as deadly on a battlefield or more soldiers would’ve used them.

In the 1870s, a historian describes earlier weapons as ponderous and requiring both hands. Getting back to the Victorian hubris Thomas Weaver spoke of where the Victorians assumed all things that came before them must be inferior.

There are other example, but the one thing we have to remember is that much of this was documented by people who were not swordsmen or otherwise trained in battle. Perhaps a man who has survived a half-dozen battles will find a certain sword light, well-balanced and agile when the scholar who has never left his library will find it heavy and unwieldy compared to his quill.

When I step back and look at this logically, of course it makes sense that knights and soldiers of the Middle Ages had finely-crafted blades that were light, sturdy and agile. War tends to bring about inventiveness as nothing drives innovation like survival.

I admit my ignorance on this, but I’ve learned and will go back and rewrite accordingly. Reminds me again to question everything.

How about you? Ever believe something you later learned was Hollywood magic? Any other common misconceptions held by the general public that could make me go back and rewrite?

 

Book Review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie
Rating: 5/5
Author: Jennifer Ashley

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This story was a pleasant surprise. The hero, Ian, appears to be autistic in Victorian England. While the son of a Duke, his upbringing was marred by violence and a lack of understanding or compassion.

I know little about autism, but the author seems to have done her research, and she never deviates from the character she creates for Ian. He is not magically healed or suddenly “made right”. He does learn how to love, and the foundation is laid that he’s always had emotions but he struggles with names for them.

His father sends Ian to a private asylum at the age of 12 for reasons that are divulged later in the book. The author does satisfy this curiosity, and I appreciate that.

As a matter of fact, this romance is a combination romance and murder mystery. The author does an artful job of leaving clues throughout the book that culminate in the ending. She handles the fact the heroine is a widow extremely well, not glossing over her first marriage but also leaving room for the heroine to fall in love again.

Ian, after being freed by his eldest brother upon their father’s death, uses his amazing memory and skill with numbers to significantly increase the family’s already massive wealth, helps his brother with treaties and laws, and collects Ming bowls.

In the process of acquiring a Ming bowl, he learns of Beth Ackerly. He decides she’s worthy of saving, like the Ming bowl, and proceeds to tell her truths about her fiancée and propose to her himself.

Beth investigates his claims, finds them to be true, and dumps her fiancée. She goes to Paris and Ian follows her.

This is where the murder mystery really begins, both a current one and one from years before.

I liked the hero a lot. He’s vulnerable and yet can be very much the alpha male. This, in the hands of a lesser author, is a recipe for disaster. I thought Jennifer Ashley handled it very well.

The heroine I also liked, but a bit less so. She was feisty and beautiful. While she came from the gutters, she’s cconfident, smart and now very rich. She is actually the one that solves the murder mystery.

I also appreciate that while there was love-at-first-sight, the heroine also considers the issue of lust. Rather than giving in, she takes some time away. Of course more hijinks ensue, but I liked that she didn’t just fall into the hero’s arms.

All in, I was engaged throughout the story. I liked the mystery elements. They kept things going and kept the romance interesting.

The characters all stayed true to themselves throughout the book, and I appreciate that most of all

Book Review: The Highwayman

Rating: 3/5

Title: The Highwayman

Author: Kerrigan Byrne

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The story takes place in Victorian England and chronicles the story of two orphans. It starts in the orphanage where they meet, explains what drove them apart, and then shows their reunification in the end.

Characters 

Farah- Farah is the sweet and gentle heroine. She is regularly referred to as a fairy because of her small, frail appearance, silvery curls, and grey eyes. I liked her well enough. She is the daughter of an earl, but the rest of her family dies of Cholera. For reasons I never ascertained, she’s sent to an orphanage. Apparently, despite her vast fortune, she has no family, friend of the family, or servants that can care for her. I found this unbelievably odd, but okay.

She is introspective, thinking through her own feelings, wants and needs. She has some steel under her fairy exterior, and you see this through her work at Scotland Yard and the way she deals with the hero.

Dorian Blackwell – is your bad-boy hero. Cruel, ruthless and feared, he has taken over the underside of London and stretched his “influence” all the way up to parliament. He does his own dirty work, and you see that in the novel. Years in prison have hardened him, and while he extends his rule and dominance, he keeps himself cold and frozen on the inside. No one is allowed to touch him, physically or emotionally.

I liked Dorian, although I was less convinced by his change in the end. After the horrors he experienced in prison, I can see why he’s as cold and ruthless as he is. Why he doesn’t fear death. This is a romance novel, so he’s redeemed by the heroine’s love in the end.

Secondary Charcters

  • Murdoch – liked him. He’s Dorian’s valet.
  • Warington – barely see him. But he’s the villain in the background.
  • Sir Morley – he’s a brief alternative love interest. Was expecting way more from him. He’s perfectly set-up in the beginning as a “villain” trying to do the right thing, but that’s quickly tossed to the side.
  • Others – none terribly interesting or annoying

Plot

Warning on this plot. It’s your standard “love of a good woman saves a bad man” narrative. It’s softened a bit because they start out loving each other as kids, but it’s still about his redemption and finally letting himself “thaw” because of her love.

While it was done pretty well, the theme itself disturbs me. It’s definitely not something I buy into, and I think it’s a generally unhealthy message. You don’t marry someone thinking you’re going to change them!

Off my soap box and back to the story.

 

As children at the same orphanage, Dorian (known as Dougan then) and Farah fall in love and promise themselves to each other through a hand fasting. A priest takes liberties with Farah although he doesn’t rape her. She is rightfully super upset, and the two are going to escape together. No idea how they knew the kids were running off, but the priest and others are waiting for them and stop them. In the process, Dorian kills the priest and gets sent to prison.

Farah manages to escape a short time later, and through a series of highly improbable happenings, eventually ends up in London and gets a job with Scotland Yard. She calls herself Mrs. Mckenzie as if she and Dorian had truly married and lives as a virtuous widow.

Fast forward 17 years. Dorian is now a feared and powerful crime lord. He learns Warington, who was betrothed to Farah, has a hit out on Farah. Warington has “found” the long lost heiress and married her. He’s now trying to claim the fortune and title bequeathed to her by her dead parents.

Dorain offers to get Farah back what’s hers if she agrees to marry him. Of course, she doesn’t recognize him. The marriage will be in name only as Dorian allows no one to touch him. She agrees, but only if he’ll give her a child. She desperately wants a family.

Some back and forth, and he agrees. They marry, he eventually has sex with her, and they show Warington’s heiress as a lie and claim Farah’s title (which I didn’t realize women could inherit titles in Victorian England).

The sex scenes might be a bit disturbing. They have a violent undertone and bondage although there is no overt rape. These are not sweet passionate scenes.

After all this, she finally figures out who Dorian is. She’s devastated that he won’t love her. It had been one thing to think him dead and he can’t love her, another that he’s alive and won’t love her. She returns to her inherited home, where Warington strikes determined to kill her after all she’s taken from him.

Still not sure why he doesn’t just kill her as he reveals the syphilis he contracted has made him impotent and he can’t rape her as he wishes. But typical dumb villain, there’s time for Dorian to rescue her. Dorian realizes he’s in love with her and we get our first “love” scene and then our happily ever after.

 

All in there are a lot of pieces in the plot either far-fetched or that don’t make sense.

  • Why was Farah in an orphanage? No trusted family servants or friends?
  • Really, she got all the way to London and happened to find a family to take her in as one of their own?
  • Why did Warington wait so long to “find” the heiress? He could have married her at 16 or 18. Why wait until she’s 27? Why would anybody think she was to be found with a death certificate?
  • If Warington knew where she was to put a hit on her, why not just take the real heiress?
  • Why would the nun fake a death certificate? Especially for an earl’s daughter and heiress? Not convincing that more wouldn’t be done to find her.
  • Why wouldn’t Warington just kill her at the end?
  • Warington’s syphilis spread awfully fast. According to the CDC, Stage 1 is 90 days after exposure. stage 2 is another couple weeks, and stage 3 is where the disease goes latent and you can have it for 3-15 years before it starts to attack your organs. Good thing he was impotent and couldn’t give his much more virulent strain to anyone else.

 

To get this Book to a 5

There is so much it would take to move this book up to a five. I need a lot more explanation of what was going on earlier on and why. It has so many holes but is so important to the story.

Frankly, I also need more from Dorian. Or, perhaps, less. It sounds as if the author did research on the prisons of the time period (I have no strong desire to find out if what’s portrayed us the truth). While these hardened Dorian, they harden him too much. There needs to be something left to redeem. I need his change to be believable.

I also need the villain to be more believable. Only reason I can see that he waits until Farah is 27 to trot out his imposter heiress is to make the timeline work for Dorian to get out of jail and build his empire.