Malta Historical Fencing Association

The ‘De Valette’ 16th Century Sword

The sword in use. Photo by Chris Cachia Zammit

After almost a year of research and trials, a fully functional practice sword, based on the sword of Grandmaster Jean De Valette has been finally created for the members of the Malta Historical Fencing Association to learn with and practice in safety.

One of our main objectives is to teach and practice the use of the weapons left by the Knights of St John which are exhibited in the Palace Armoury and other museums. Having already included in our syllabus weapons like the 14th-15th century two handed sword, the 17th century rapier, 18th century smallsword and the 19th century sabre we have set our eyes on the period that is more iconic with Maltese military history; the 16th Century Great Siege period of 1565, and what better sword to describe this period than the sword Grandmaster Jean De Valette used to fight with.

Original on display at VittoriosaWhat many people do not know is that this sword of De Valette has been in Malta, and exhibited to the public for all these years. Tradition has it that the Grandmaster Jean de Valette placed his personal sword and hat in the chapel of Our Lady of Damascus as an ex voto for the conclusion of the Great Siege of 1565.

While documentary evidence for or against this tradition is limited, there is no doubt that both artefacts, currently displayed in the Oratory of St. Joseph in Vittoriosa (Birgu), date back to the right time period.

 

Handling the original

Examining the originalIt all started last year when the MHFA had the rare privilege to handle and examine this sword in detail.

Precise measurements and photographs were taken to document every part of the sword.

The sword was weighed and immediately we noticed how surprisingly light and  maneuverable it was, considering the width of the blade.

 

Original guardThe style of this sword is closely related to military swords produced in Saxony in the mid and late 16th century. Unlike most surviving examples in the Dresden Rustkammer and the Deutsches Historisches Museum, its appearance is very restrained, exhibiting no decorations on the guard and a very plain grip and pommel.

The blade itself appears to be sparsely engraved. Surviving decorations include what appears to be a rosary engraved around the fuller and a crescent moon at the point of balance. It is possible that other engravings might have been erased or obscured by the passage of time, but there is nothing to indicate that it was ever heavily decorated.
Engraving around fullerThis was not meant to be a gentleman’s accessory, but a practical weapon for use in battle. Contemporary accounts paint De Valette as a hard, practical man, a seasoned veteran not given to vanity. One can easily imagine that he would have heartily approved this kind of weapon.

 

Close up of the  original guard, showing the space for the thumb

At first glance, the sword appeared to be suitable for use in either hand; however, on closer examination, one of the protective bars at the back of the sword is placed further than the other to allow the thumb to be comfortably placed on the blade. This is a clear indication that this sword was designed for a right-handed person.

The handle is terminated by a pommel, square in cross section. It is interesting that the pommel is not aligned with the grip, but is set at 45 degrees to it. This feature is rather unusual, and can make the handle rather unpleasant to hold for someone who has large hands. It is possible that this feature was introduced later in the sword’s life; perhaps some misinformed repair, or the replacement of the pommel with another from a similar, but not identical, artefact. In either case, it is unlikely that the sword was configured in this way when it left its maker’s workshop.

 

The creation of the practice sword

After having all the data we could possibly gather, designs drafted were then passed on to sword maker and friend Marco Danelli of Danelli Armouries which was to handle the arduous task of creating a replica suitable for the practice of historical European martial arts, which was as close as feasibly possible to the original.

Replicas

After a couple of prototypes were created and tested, the final model was finally done.

The sword produced by Danelli Armouries is a faithful copy of the weapon that currently rests in Vittoriosa, save for minor diversions in weight and profile required for safe practice. The blade is marginally heavier and slightly thicker to avoid edge sharpness.

Replica-alone

The resulting blade is extremely agile and handles very well. The Malta Historical Fencing Association is glad to announce that this model will be adopted as our official 16th century practice sword. This is the first time in Malta that a sword with such a close link to it’s martial heritage has been re-created for study and practice. The methods we will use in the practice of this sword are still in a phase of study and are inspired from fencing treatises of the 16th century, together with the research and interpretations of teachers that the MHFA collaborates with, who have been studying these methods for some time.

We would like to thank Danelli Armouries for the exceptional work on the De Valette sword, together with the Vittoriosa Local Council, and the San Lawrenz Parish for their assistance.

 

Other Links

Read more about the sword and the Vittoriosa Parish Museum at maltain360.com