Doug's Excalibur Page

I like reading Arthurian Legend books. There are several series of them that I like, by authors such as Stephen Lawhead, Mary Stewart and others (like "Firelord" by Parke Godwin).

My current favorite is one I just discovered. Jack Whyte has written a six-volume set consisting of:

  1. The Skystone
  2. The Singing Sword
  3. The Eagles' Brood
  4. The Saxon Shore
  5. The Fort at River's Bend
  6. The Sorcerer: Metamorphosis

This fascinating series begins with Arthur's great-grandfathers' lives and continues past his death, as seen through the eyes of three of his ancestors, all soldier warriors. It begins around the year 400 and ends about 500.

This relates to swordmaking because several major characters are bladesmiths and there is a substantial amount of information about the craft and the practice. Excalibur gets made in Book 2, and Book 5 describes its internal construction or the makeup of the pieces the maker pattern-welded together, complete with a full-page diagram. That diagram is on page 217 of the hardcover ("Forge Books") edition. It details how 17 iron rods were welded together, twisted and welded over and over again and then shaped into the most efficient profile.

The author's note at the very beginning of the books says:

"The diagram of a pattern-welded sword that appears on page 217 was developed by John Anstee of Great Britain, who actually made such a sword, using ancient materials and techniques that he had researched over the course of decades. I found the diagram, and a vast range of other, equally useful information, in Hilda Ellis Davidson's excellent book The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England." [See below]

So, for potential bladesmiths who also enjoy thoroughly-researched, well-written and entertaining historical fiction I highly recommend reading this series both for pleasure and for education.

You can find out about the invention or development of the concept of Knighthood, the symbology of the cruciform sword hilt, the circular seating arrangement of councillors at a meeting (eventually the Round Table, of course), the shift from infantry to cavalry and the consequent requirement for the replacement of the short Roman Gladius with a longer sword enabling a rider to strike a foe on foot, the lance that knights use and many, many other important ideas.

I got my copy of The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England from Barnes & Noble in 1995, for $9.95. Appendix A covers the experiments reproducing the pattern-welded sword, taking 7 pages. It includes 2 good-sized diagrams and a chart listing the amount of time spent in th 18 steps making the blade (total 43 hours and 128 heats) and the 13 steps making the belt and scabbard (30-1/2 hours). It also gives a formula for a heat-treatment paste which may have added some carbon to the iron. They do say that it did make the treated rods harder to twist than the untreated rods. There are not a lot of pictures in the rest of the book, though. And most of them are of viking-era hilts and few pictures of blades.

There is a lot to learn in these books!

If you do read them, I'd like to hear about your opinions of them.

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