Monday, 26 September 2011

The Sword of Gustavus Adolphus

(Updated in 2014 with a photo, in 2017 with information about The Girl King film)

In my previous entry, I took a look at the rapier of Gustavus Vasa, who was the king of Sweden in the 16th century. The topic of this short info piece is the sword of Gustavus Adolphus (or Gustav II Adolf), who ruled Sweden in the early 17th century and modernised the country from a backwards state into one of the greatest powers of the era, rivalling those of France, Spain, England and The Holy Roman Empire.

The rapier was evidently made in Germany between 1625 and 1630 and has a distinctive shell-guard protecting the backside of the hand and fingers from direct thrusts. Surprisingly enough, it is actually heavier than the sword of Gustavus Vasa from the previous century by some 20 grams, but this is mostly due to the longer (though narrower) blade and greater heft of the handle that counterbalances it.

Gustavus Adolphus carried his gilded, iron gripped sword also to his final battle in Lützen, Germany, in 1632. Although the Swedish army won the day, Gustavus Adolphus himself was killed. The sword, however, was not looted by the enemy, but was found afterwards trampled in the mud of the battlefield. It now resides in the Stockholm Royal Armoury (title photo from their collection, photo below by yours truly).

The Royal Armoury catalogue describes the sword as follows: "Sword, Germany, 1625-1630, signed Marson. Hilt of gold-plated steel. Knuckle-guard and S-shaped quillons. Outer openwork shell-guard. Straight double-edged blade. MARSO(N) stamped on the outside of the ricasso. Length: 1156 mm, length of blade: 929 mm, width of blade: 28 mm, weight: 1410 gr. This sword was used by Gustavus II Adolphus at Lützen."

Overall, it is a pretty sword and worthy of a decent replica for a modern collector. Unfortunately, no such replica exists. The only offering is a bad copy by Hanwei, but they have re-imagined the whole sword and attached a 19th century fencing blade onto a 17th century handle. In short, that version is c. 500 grams lighter, has a different design to the shell guard and reputedly a very bendy blade, unlike the period swords actually had. This may serve those who have seen bad period films using modern epees instead of real swords, but for a history enthusiast, this is a sad failure.

The above-mentioned Hanwai replica was used as the sword of Queen Christina in the film The Girl King (2015). You can read my review of the film here and of the related exhibition here.