Ewart Oakeshott – Records of the Medieval Sword – An enduring legacy…

Ever since early childhood Ewart Oakeshott was interested in arms and armour. As a matter of fact, it was when he was only a boy of four in Dulwich England when he began building his collection of swords that would one day become one of the most significant collections of arms and armour known. It was his passionate interest in swords that eventually led to his publication of The Archeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of the Chivalry.  A tome that remains to this day an authoritative classification of medieval swords.

Ewart Oakeshott
Ewart Oakeshott

Oakeshott’s contribution to the study of medieval swords via his fantastic typographic system parallels his skill as an artist and as a speaker who effectively changed the way we view the history of the sword.

Oakeshott’s groundbreaking reference work consisting of a thirteen-category typology was built on the previous works of Dr. Jan Peterson who had developed a twenty-six category typology of viking swords, and Dr R.E.M. Wheeler’s simplified seven category version. Oakeshott expanded this simpler typography with his nine category system and would later introduce his own thirteen-category typology of the medieval sword thus expanding the the typology of the sword to twenty-two major categories.

While sword typography previous to Oakeshott’s work had primarily focused on the hilt as the prime factor in categorizing the sword, he was among the first to actually take into consideration the function and shaping of the blade and place this functionality into an evolutionary timeline spanning centuries.

Ewart Oakeshott was a scholar from outside the traditional academic circles and maybe that was for the best. He carried with him a wonderfully romantic view of one of history’s most noble weapons. It’s his enthusiasm for the sword that truly takes his research out of the dry laboratory that is typical of such archeological investigations, whilst maintaining an erudite precision that’s rooted solidly in the facts.

The Oakeshott Institute was founded in 2000 by the owner of Arms and Armor, Christopher Poor in Minneapolis MN. Poor met Ewart in London in 1985 and they became fast friends. The institute was entrusted with Oakeshott’s incredible collection of over 75 pieces that span 4 millennia of sword history from the the Iron Age to the 16th century.

Ewart Oakeshott passed away in 2002 at the age of 86. However, his legacy will live on thanks to his invaluable research that has redefined our modern understanding of medieval history by enlightening millions on the subject of it’s most pervasive weapon.

“I have to admit that my approach to this fascinating subject is a romantic one. I have been unable to avoid seeing, and celebrating, glamour as well as the academic niceties in all the books and articles I have written; and the enthusiasm which still burns in me is the outward expression of a love-affair with the sword which began when I was four, seventy years ago.”

-Ewart Oakeshott “Records of the Medieval Sword” – Boydell Press (1991)

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