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This impressive and massive sword forms part of the well documented group made for Duke Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (lived 1528-1589) in 1573 and 1574. The sword type is the most impressive and distinctive to emerge from the evolution of the two-handed sword in Europe. Duke Julius was the ruler of one of the most important military principalities in the Germanic region at the time. It lies in Lower Saxony east of Hanover and functioned as an independent state when Germany consisted of separate dominions which were often at war with each other. Duke Julius had a developed commercial as well as military mind and his reign brought considerable wealth to the Duchy through mining, trade, and metalworking. Much of his own wealth was invested in his soldiery including their weapons.
In 1573 Julius decided to re-equip his Guard and decided on a new type of two-handed sword intended mostly for processional use. However, doubtless in the right hands these would be formidable weapons which were made to the highest standards. The prototype was probably that made by Wolf Gabriel and delivered to the court in 1573. It seems that around 300 were made in 1573 and a smaller unknown number in 1574. The 1573 design was upgraded for the 1574 swords. There are also slight variations between swords of the same year as the armourers employed in different workshops expressed their own individual flourishes to their work *.
The armourers located in Brunswick and its surrounds thrived under this patronage for all forms of weapons during this period including its famous armours, halberds, swords and guns. The scale of this manufacture is testimony to the military importance of the Dukedom. Duke Julius, like other rulers in Europe at the time, was an autocrat who would take any opportunity in peace and war to demonstrate his military might in terms of numbers of soldiers and the manner in which they were equipped.
It would certainly have been an impressive display of power when visiting dignitaries witnessed hundreds of men in the Duke’s Guard, fully equipped with the most modern weaponry and armour, walking in formal procession with their lord. The armoury of the ducal castle in Wolfenbüttel where the swords were displayed was a popular destination for the late 16th century tourist industry being specifically mentioned in 1578.
Gradually these swords fell from use. In 1871 the Duchy of Brunswick was absorbed into the unified German nation and much of the Wolfenbüttel armoury was dispersed although the largest group remains in the State Museum in Brunswick. Those that remained in the possession of the Duke until 1911 underwent some restoration by R Bohlmann in that year with replacement grips. It is not known how many of these swords have survived into modern times. A recent survey indicates that 49 are present in various private and public collections **.
The sword discussed here has a straight double-edged blade of flattened diamond section of the highest quality. It has a rectangular ricasso boldly incised on each side with a linear rectangular frame inside which the crowned Brunswick ducal monogram is present and the date 1574 plus the number 4 marking its place in the manufacturing sequence of these swords. The numbers are vertically divided by a gibbet within the frame. The ricasso has a pair of slender pointed lugs which form secondary guard. One is stamped with the wheel mark of the blade maker.
The span of the cross guard is 22.5 inches (56.5 cm) and consists of a pair of flat quillons sumptuously engraved with foliage and chevron-like lines, each length of design separated by a dragon’s head. The quillons widen towards their terminals which are of flattened form and fluted in decoration, point downwards, and are counter-curved at the extremes. A pair of small flat engraved parrying hooks inclined towards the blade are present a short distance from the middle of the guard.
The secondary guard defence consists of well forged diamond section inner and outer guard rings. The thicker, larger outer rings are engraved all over with a trellis of diamond shapes centred with dots. Each outer ring is formed with three diamond shaped baluster mouldings and joined with the inner ring by two further bars of diamond shaped cross section. A thumb ring is present on one side. The thick crutch-shaped pommel is centred with an open ring inside which the threaded tang end of the blade is visible. The upper surface of the pommel is depressed in the middle with exaggerated downward drooping left and right edges. The decorative style of the engraved foliage front and back is the same as that on the cross guard. The sides of the pommel are profusely decorated with scales.
The sword is in very fine condition. The blade length is 51.5 inches long (just over 130 cm) and the overall length of the sword is 75.5 inches (just under 192 cm).
* The distinctive sword type was an adaptation of the style which evolved on a smaller scale in Brunswick for processional use in front of civic dignitaries.
** Thanks to Neil Melville for sharing the results of this survey
Peter Finer, 2003 Catalogue, inventory numbers 25 & 26.
Neil Melville, The Two-Handed Sword, Pen & Sword Military, pages 152 to 153