In the National Museum of Medieval Art in Paris, also referred to as the Cluny Museum, there is an unusually fine late 15th C long sword on display.
In connection with the special exhibition on swords in 2011, Albion developed the Museum Line Cluny Sword. It has benefited from direct side by side comparison of prototype parts, with the original during development, making sure the copy would be as close as ever possible to the original sword in dimensions, character of shape and dynamic properties. It is unique in the modern market that reproduction swords are made with direct access to originals in this way. The final result is not only a faithful reconstruction or replica, but also a stunningly beautiful sword of exquisite quality.
A close study of the original reveals many interesting details.
The original grip survives in just about pristine condition. The only major departure from its original form is that the lower part of the rain guard has been shorn off and replaced by flaps of leather, probably in rather recent times (19th C?).
For the Museum Line Cluny we have chosen to give it a rainguard of a shape that was the common type on swords from this region at this time. It is of tubular construction, like a collar, that encased the top of the scabbard. It is very probable that the Cluny sword had just such a rain guard originally, rather than what the recent addition suggests.
The original surface is largely intact on both pommel and guard: they still show much of the original blueing.
The filework and surfaces are still crisply defined.
It is probably of south German manufacture and shares elements of form with a few other well-known swords.
The guard is S-curved and has filed bevels and decorative lines on the front side, while the back is plain and flat. At first glance it is very similar to the famous long-gripped long sword in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, but the guard on that sword has bevels filed on both sides of the guard.
In the Musée de l ´Armée in Paris, there is another long sword of very similar size and proportions to the Munich sword, with a guard of exactly the same form as the Cluny sword. Also the XX.4 in Oakeshott´s Records of the Medieval Sword (now in a private collection) has a guard of exactly the same type as the Cluny sword: beveled front and flat back. The guards on these swords are so similar that it is tempting to think they were made by the same craftsman.
The blade is a slim spike of steel with a diamond section. It is just thin enough for its width to have a useful edge in the mid third of the blade, where cuts tend to be made, while being stiff enough for very effective thrusts. The point is awl shaped and pretty thick, given how nimble it is.
The blade is altogether expertly shaped, balancing the need for stiffness, with an economy of material to keep weight down and the edges keen. The bladesmith who forged it had a good eye for shape and a deep understanding of the functional reality of sword blades.
As you grasp this sword you are struck by how very quick and well balanced it is, nimble and light like some rapiers but with space for two hands.
It is well balanced, not just in that it is very sweet, light and responsive, but also in that it is so clearly and purposefully suited for a fast type of sword play, that relies on precise thrusts and well aimed and timed cuts. For a weapon of this character, designed for encounters where speed and agility will be a deciding factor, it may perhaps be tempting to classify it as a civilian weapon. While it would surely be very useful in a fight between unarmored opponents, we must not forget that swords of this type are depicted in late 15th C paintings of military saints in full armour.
In art of this period we also see young men about town, or on horse back in civilian clothes, with swords such as this strapped to their waist.
Being favored for both unarmored and military use, perhaps this kind of very handy long swords are predecessors of the rapier?
The Cluny sword can also tell us a thrilling or even chilling story: it carries clear marks from having survived a swordfight. Whether its owner survived is another question...
In the surface of the leather and the almost completely intact blueing, we can see some moderate traces of use. On the lower part of the grip, there is some wear where the owner has grasped it or rested his hand occasionally.
The sword initially gives an impression of well-cared for artifact that has traveled, directly from the hands of its owner in a fast lane through time directly to us. Only the patination any century old object will get from gentle oxidation and ageing of organic materials is witness to its actual age.
However, looking closer we can see that this sword has been through at least one event that was far from gentle.
In the blade at the point of impact there are deep scars, where an edge has cut into the spine on both sides: one cut on one side and two cuts on the other. Curiously, apart from these deep gouges, there is no other damage in the blade: no deep notches in the edges. Looking down the blade there is not much unevenness in the edges from resharpening, if any.
In the sides and front of the guard there are several small nicks and cuts. None of these are very deep, but still clear: you can tell they were made by a sharp blade and not caused by bumps and knocks from casual handling.
The most vivid witness of the fierceness of the fight is the deep cut in the grip, right in the spot where the index finger of the left hand would rest. Or perhaps the wielder of the sword was lucky and fully grasped the pommel? In that case the cut would have landed harmlessly between his hands. It is obvious that the cut was made with some considerable force and that the edge of the weapon was very sharp.
The Cluny sword stands out not only because it is a splendid example of its type, but also because it is such a beautiful example of the swordsmith´s art. Its maker combined supreme functionality with a highly developed sense of form, creating an object that perfectly expresses the spirit of its time.