A Knight and His Weapons – A Review

Prior to taking my first swordsmithing class with Sam Salvati, I never heard the name “Ewart Oakeshott” before. During my first class, though, we were allowed to browse through a copy of the book “The Sword in the Age of Chivalry,” as it explained the type of sword we were making as well as offered designs for the non-blade pieces such as the guards.

While I haven’t gotten around to buying a copy for myself yet, I have been keeping an eye out for any of his other works, which lead me to recognizing this title while browsing the library.

The book is “A Knight and His Weapons”, a small book with some history. Let’s take a look what’s inside!

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==The Pitch==

Oakeshott’s books tend to revolve around the history of whatever theme is within the title. In this case, this book’s pitch is an explanation of the arms used by European knights and how they evolved and changed over time.

==What You Get==

In this book, you have a short and easy to follow history of the various arms used by medieval knights. There are chapters for spears/polearms (including lances and axes), maces, firearms, and of course, the ubiquitous sword and dagger (the largest chapter of the book).

Within each chapter, you are presented with the history of the weapon, including how it evolved to match armor and production methods, how it rose and fell with various military tactics, and even various changes to the name over time and across borders.

==The Good==

The biggest appeal of this book is within it’s simplicity: it’s written in an easy to consume fashion, from the language to the length.

When a book is barely over 100 pages and contains multiple chapters, each chapter focusing on one topic, it’s already going to be easy to pick up and find what you need. Oakeshott also wrote this with the neophyte in mind, as everything is clearly laid out and explained (foreign words translated, terms well explained, etc).

It’s a solid primer on the topic if you are just starting in on your research. Oakeshott is well known for his research on medieval arms and armor, so any of his books are well worth grabbing. This one is only a part of an overall series on European knights, and if the others are written just as well, then you have a solid short series to learn everything you need to get started with researching knights.

==The Bad==

For me, the book is just too simple. The language is geared not only toward the neophyte, but also to the layman in a rather boring way. For a work that is mostly academic, I was expecting something with a bit more to it than this. In my opinion, the language is one of the great assets to assist people with learning, but also detracts from the quality of the book.

Sadly, the book is also dated. Since the book was published, a number of other weapons have been found at various other sites, more records have been uncovered and translated, and technology has made certain tasks that were impossible an everyday job. There are a few points here that I had to question the validity of that I am still researching, solely because I could have sworn I read about it in a recent book (within the last ten years) that contradicted these points.

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Oakeshott’s typography of the sword. This book as a two-page version of this list, albeit much shorter.

==The Verdict==

Honestly, I’m not giving this book a rating. It’s just too short to really bother with a rating system, especially since it only covers one facet of knights while the other books of the series cover the castle, armor, and battle tactics. Hard to tell if it’s a cash grab or just an approach to have a short book on the topic to make it easy to consume.

If you are looking into the history of the weapons wielded by European knights, you can’t go wrong with starting here. It’s short, easy to read (to the point of being casual at times), and filled with some rather interesting historical details, as well as why things are as they are (whether by design or how they were preserved).

I think any reenactor/recreator, metalworker, or even cosplayer that has an interest in the history of weapons, their function, or even why they evolved the way they did should pick up this book. It’s not a tough read (I finished it within an hour after work one night), and it is both gripping and informative.

If anything, it’s a good primer into the arms used by European knights throughout history. It’s not nearly as intense as Oakeshott’s other works (often double the length to cover a single chapter of this one), but again, it’s more of an introduction than an in-depth work.

Copies of A Knight and His Weapons are still produced and readily available for purchase on websites like Amazon, retailing at $12.95 with cheaper copies available from other sellers.

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