Which of these two medieval sword forms was the more effective weapon – the one-handed or the two-handed sword? This post will not attempt to influence opinion either way. What we will do is provide a summary for both and let you decide. So, here goes.
Let’s take arguably the most common of each of these swords, the one-handed Arming sword and the two-handed Longsword, as reference points. The Arming sword measured about 28–31 inches and was a light, versatile weapon that could be wielded by one hand. This meant that the free hand or the offhand could be used to hold a shield or buckler for protection. This one-handed sword was very effective in close-quarter combat due to its small size and maneuverability.
At 33–43 inches, the heavier, two-handed Longsword was more difficult to wield. However, this did not make it an inferior weapon. In fact, the two-handed sword was extremely effective in conjunction with full-body armor. During the latter part of the medieval period, armor evolved and the shield was no longer a necessity. A bigger sword in two hands generated more power and was especially needed to damage similarly armored adversaries.
The growing popularity of two-handed swords did not wipe the one-handed sword from existence. In fact, the latter was used by light troops even after gunpowder came into the picture. One can say that it outlasted its longer, heavier counterpart.
So, which of these two was the better tool? In the battlefield, a full-armored soldier with a two-handed sword was the fiercer proposition. For day-to-day protection, the one-handed sword was by far the more convenient option; carrying a Longsword to the marketplace just does not seem cool or feasible. In a war scenario, the Longsword and armor almost always beats the Arming sword and shield. Without armor in let’s say a random street duel, the Longsword is severely disadvantaged against the smaller one-handed sword which affords the luxury of a free hand to hold another weapon or a means of protection.
Verdict: If you are a person who likes to bet safe, keep the money in your pocket on this one.
One-handed and two-handed swords were not limited to the Arming sword and the Longsword, respectively. For more extensive information on these weapons and swords in general, click here.