One of the interesting things in Vadi is that he dedicates a short chapter to the proper size and shape of the sword. Although brief, I think this chapter is extremely interesting for two reasons. First of all, most authors don’t do this (I’m not aware of any others at least). If we have any idea of the type of sword they prefer its from looking at the art work in their treatise, and comparing the size of swords to the size of the fighters. However, more interesting for me are the actual measurements that result from his advice. As we’ll see, I think Vadi’s sword advice represent yet another area where he clearly differs from Fiore, again rubbishing the claim that Vadi is not really that different to the earlier Italian master.
Vadi’s depiction of a sword for use by someone in armor
Given that Vadi carefully spells out what type of sword I should be using, it would be churlish of me to ignore him. So I asked myself the simple question: do I have the right type of sword? We’ll explore Vadi’s advice on swords by comparing it to the practice swords that I own.
I have two practice swords, which are both about as common as you can get. My nylon is a Rawlings Synthetic from the Knight Shop with steel quillons (crossguard). My steel feder is the literally off-the-shelf standard from Peter Regenyei. Apart from the steel quillons on my nylon, there is nothing at all unusual about either and no customisation at all (and the quillons aren’t that uncommon either). To be clear, I’m pretty happy with both products and this isn’t intended as a review of either. This post is simply to answer one question: do these swords measure up to Vadi’s standards? As I’ll explore at the end, Vadi has quite different views of swords to even his closest contemporary, so if it doesn’t measure up, that doesn’t automatically make it a bad sword.
Regenyei on top, Rawlings on the bottom
As you wish to avoid any trouble,
The pommel should be round to fit the fist
Do this to not enter the trap.
This is some pretty straight forward advice. I want a round pommel, that will be comfortable to grip in my hand (I will make a post in the near future showing why this is important for Vadi).
Whilst the Regenyei is nicely rounded, the Rawlings has this “scent stopper” shaped pommel that flares quite sharply. Definitely, I wouldn’t describe it as round.
Likewise, the Regenyei is much more comfortable to hold in your fist. I feel like you can even see in the pictures the difference in in comfort when gripping the sword by the pommel. The grip also feels a lot more solid and secure with the Regenyei.
All in all, the Rawlings pommel is not ideal. It’s uncomfortable to grip it directly, and this would cause problems if using a grip where you held the pommel. The Regenyei, however, is basically perfect – according to Vadi.
And do this as it is always done:
The handle should be always a span
If it is not of this measure there is confusion.
Once again, pretty clear. What’s particularly useful – and striking – is that this and all measurements that Vadi gives are relative to the fighter (short fighters who favor longer swords take note). I’m not sure why it will be confusing to have a shorter pommel, but the instruction on length is pretty clear – the handle (without pommel) should be the length of my hand span.
Again, the Rawlings sword comes up a bit short here. My thumb comes to the middle of the pommel, so the handle is slightly to short. Once again, the Regenyei fits perfectly.
So your mind is not deceived,
The crossguard should be as long as the handle
And pommel together, and you won’t be condemned.
This is the second time Vadi has stated that his measurements are so that my sword doesn’t confuse me. I assume Vadi doesn’t have some weird crazy paranoia about living swords trying to trick their wielders, and he probably means this metaphorically (at least I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt… for now). I’m really not too sure why a shorter/longer crossguard would confuse me though. I haven’t got pictures of this, but both crossguards are the same width, which is a span. So they are both about 5cm too short.
You want the crossguard strong and square
With a wide and pointed iron,
It must cut and thrust to do its duty.
The Regenyei’s crossguard is nicely square, where as the Rawlings has a very slight curve. Neither has “pointed iron”, but this is a good thing – they are practice swords after all.
The sword should be of the just measure,
The pommel should come under the arm
As it appears here in my writing.
I actually find this description a little ambiguous here, and I don’t know if this is a product of the translation or the original text. Should the sword come literally just under my arm (i.e. to my armpit) or is this expressing a maximum size?
I think it is probably the former. If it is, the Regenyei is about 5cm too short (coincidentally: if I got the longest blade Regenyei does and had the same pommel and handle, this would make it the perfect size).
The Rawlings – being slightly shorter than the Regenyei – is also too short.
This is, I think, really interesting. I’m tall, but not that tall, and yet more or less the longest feder on the market is the sword for me.
Also shorter friends take note: Vadi is pretty explicit about this in several places, both in terms of direct advice and the fact he gives relative measurements. If you are short, you should have a short sword. If you are tall, it should be long.
Take note and understand this guide
If you wish to test the sword in armour,
Make the cutting edges four fingers from the point,
With the handle as is said above,
With pointed crossguard, and note well the text.
I’m not going to talk about this in great detail. There’s two things of interest to me here. One, note that Vadi is really talking about maximising the effectiveness of the sword by making every point sharp but allowing you to grip the sword in the middle comfortably. The second is that Vadi is giving us specific instructions for how your sword should differ depending on use. I’m not aware of any other (longsword) masters who cover both armored and unarmored that do this.
Vadi’s Sword vs Fiore’s Sword
I think Vadi’s instructions on sword construction present a very interesting contrast to Fiore. It is widely agreed that Fiore’s style is better suited to a shorter longsword, yet Vadi (supposedly the same) advocates a very long sword. I’m hoping the contrast is representative of deeper differences in the style rather that just personal preference.
One thing I think this might be is that Fiore does not seem to have the concept of a specialised sword for any specific purpose. Going by art work, in general the swords always look pretty much the same. Although some images in the one handed sword section look like an arming sword, by and large the handle has more than sufficient room for an additional hand. Likewise, the sword in armor has no significant differences with the unarmoured sections.
Sword in one hand, sword in two hands and armoured sections from the Getty manuscript
Vadi has no one handed sword section, and both in description and depiction, the swords for unarmoured and armoured fighting are very different.
Armoured and unarmoured sections of Vadi
Fiore and Vadi do refer to the two-handed sword slightly differently. Fiore refers to it as spada a doi mane where Vadi refers to is as spada de doi mane. I don’t know if this is significant. My knowledge of 15th century Italian is somewhat lacking. I don’t even know how to say “please don’t kill me with your two handed sword!”, let alone make sure to be specific as to which sword it is that I don’t want to be killed with.
Even without knowing the finer points of how to prevent my own murder in renaissance Italy, I think there is strong evidence in the text to support this claim: that Vadi’s sword is one intended solely for two handed use, where as Fiore is teaching us how to use a sword that could at a push be used in many situations.
The Regenyei sword clearly matches Vadi’s specifications much more closely. Actually, the pommel on the Rawlings is something that I’ve never been particular happy with. It would be nice if The Knight Shop produced a pear shaped pommel that wasn’t quite as long as their extended pommel. However, I suspect that if one wanted to make the Rawlings a closer fit to Vadi’s specifications, the extended pommel used for turning a single handed sword into a longsword would make it much a closer fit. I will likely try this and report back.
Do note that if you are a different size to me the results would be different. I’d be very curious to hear if the swords that you use match to Vadi’s specifications – if you’re willing, post the results in the comments below.
This is part of a series of posts, where I’m reading Vadi for the Esfinges challenge.
Credit and thanks for all translations in this post go to Guy Windsor, with additional thanks to Wiktenauer for hosting it freely and publicly online. Images from Vadi are taken from scans by the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma, where are the images from Fiore are courtesy of the J Paul Getty Museum.