Weapons And Warfare Of The Elizabethan Era Essay

Weapons And Warfare Of The Elizabethan Era Essay

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Weapons, where would the human race be without them? One particular period in which weapons were of great significance, was an age in European history spanning the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, known as the Elizabethan Era. In this era, many new weapons were created, old ones revived and modified, and still many others became obsolete. The evolution of weapons and warfare during this period not only directly influenced the lives of those living in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but undoubtedly had a great impact on the weapons of the following centuries, even some of those used today. The most commonly used weapons varied in their usage. For example, some swords were used in a thrusting motion, while some other swords were used in a striking motion. But swords were not the only weapons of this time. There were also bows and arrows, as well as the weapons that knights used in battle, and even some early firearms found their roots in the Elizabethan Era. The swords of the Elizabethan Era were primarily of two types. The first type was with a thin, narrow, straight, and long blade, which was designed for stabbing in a thrusting motion. A classic example of a sword of this type was the rapier. The heaviest portion of this sword was the hilt or handle, allowing the sword to be maneuvered around quickly. The other type of sword had a thick blade with a sharp cutting edge. The heaviest portion of this sword was not the hilt as in the case of the rapier, but at the tip of the sword. This was to force the blow through as the sword would be used for both striking and slashing. An example of this type of sword was the saber. This sword often came with a variety of shapes. Unlike the rapier whose blade was almost always straight, the saber was either curved or straight, long or short, and with one cutting edge or two (Gonen 30-32). This sword was used by the military personnel of the cavalry (Knopf 44). The second type of sword used in this period, the rapier, was first introduced into the Elizabethan Era about 1630. In the 1500s early predecessors of such thrusting swords became popular with civilians. Since they had relatively short grips, rapiers were almost impossible to hold with the entire hand. Therefore, rapiers had very decorative guards which protected the thumb and the forefinger by partially covering the fighter's own blade, adding to their function in protecting the fighter from his opponents blade. Fencing was indeed the art form of fighting with a rapier, but rapiers were also carried around for protection, for dueling, and as a dress sword especially by the aristocrats of this era (Knopf 42). The cavalries of this period often used unique swords especially designed for them. The European cavalries carried a versatile weapon commonly known as the backsword. This sword's origins can be traced to about 1620, just before the time of the rapier. This sword was used in both cutting and thrusting motions, making this weapon a combination of the two main types of swords (Knopf 44-45). Two-handed swords were also popular in this Era. A broadsword, which was used around 1610, was a two-handed, heavy, and double-edged sword. A similar sword was used by the cavaliers of the seventeenth century. While two-handed swords were relatively safe and simple, their use required a great amount of strength (Knopf 44-45). The Scottish Claymore, was a broadsword used by the Scottish in about 1620. Interestingly, the word Claymore means "great sword" (Knopf 17). While swords were frightening weapons capable of inflicting significant bodily harm in a single blow, they were indeed quite simple. During the sixteenth century, the designs of swords changed ;some blades became narrower, longer, and more pointed, making them much like the rapier. Such swords were designed for gentlemen and aristocrats, not just for protection, rather for dueling. Even though dueling was illegal in most of Europe, it was a popular way for "gentlemen" and army officers to settle their disagreements, making it commonplace (Knopf 42-47). In dueling two weapons were used by each fighter, one being a sword and the other a parrying dagger. First used in about 1650, this dagger was effective in duels as it served to protect the fighter by allowing him to block thrusts by his opponent. The parrying dagger was kept in the fighters off-hand to block the opponent's blows while the fighter struck with his sword. In addition this dagger could be used to mislead the opponent because it could be used for striking as well blocking (Knopf 43). The design of swords' handles was also carefully considered by the smiths. While many sixteenth century swords had decorative hilts or handles, the rapier had among the most complex hilts designed to protect the hand in dueling. In contrast the hilt of some broadswords had a much simpler design. As was the case for the rapier, complex hilts were necessary to protect the bare hand (Knopf 45). Weapons that were regularly used needed to be carried securely and yet be easily accessible. In the Elizabethan Era swords were the weapons of choice and were carried around. A scabbard, being attached to the belt, was a sheath used to hold swords and daggers. Military personnel and aristocrats were known to regularly carry their swords within scabbards (Wills 40). During the Elizabethan Era, knights were the soldiers of European armies. These soldiers needed unique weapons to use in battle, weapons that could be used to pierce through another knight's armor. The mace and the battle-axe were examples of such weapons. These two weapons were ideally suited for knights engaged in battle. The mace was a revived and modified form of the club. However, in contrast to the club which was primarily made of wood, the mace had metal spikes and weights attached to make it heavier and a more effective weapon in battle. The mace had two main parts, one which was a wooden handle and the other a stone or metal weight attached to its end. When a mace had metal spikes on its end, it could be used to pierce through the armor of the unlucky knight struck by this potent weapon (Gonen 22-23). With time, the mace was used less for several reasons. For instance, the knights' armor was gradually made thicker and the mace could not penetrate the body armor nor the helmets of the knights. Thus the mace became obsolete and was replaced by a more effective weapon known as the battle-axe. This versatile weapon was rather deadly because it could be used in both a cutting and slashing manner, easily piercing the body armor and helmets with ease. This axe was actually a club with a sharp cutting blade attached, making another example of a primitive weapon being revived during this Era (Gonen 22-26). Bows and arrows were also very significant in the Elizabethan Era. Were it not for the invention of the bow and arrow, castles could not have been defended . But the bow and arrow were not only weapons of warfare, they were also used for hunting since they could be used for striking a target from long distances. The bow and arrow were also used in both protecting and attacking castles. While the ability to hit targets at long range was an advantage, this weapon was far from perfect. For example, to generate sufficient force, one needed to pull the string back as far as possible before letting the arrow go. In addition, finding flexible materials that had sufficient strength was a difficult task in itself. If the materials were too flexible they could not generate enough power, but then if the materials were overly stiff the bow could break. In addition, the power of the bow was dependent on the strength of the archer. The aerodynamic design arrow was also an important factor. To be effective in varying battle conditions, arrows were designed in a various shapes, sizes, and weights. Heavier arrows were perfect for short range shooting and for piercing armor. On the other hand, lighter
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