Monday, 8 July 2013

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 2: Flail

The W.A.R. Armoury, Part 2
Item: Hugin's flail

The second of our occasional outings to that part of the Castle where the weapons are kept!

Tonight's subject is a mean looking object: a multi-spiked metal flail used by Hugin on a number of photo shoots - including those shown for the first time here on Honour and Darkness: a world exclusive airing of photos of our Austrian hero in corpse paint and a wizard's hat, an unlikely but ultimately beguiling vision of what splicing Orko from Masters of the Universe, Nate Hatred from Combat Zone Wrestling and a large bag of flour at a genetic level might look like....

Now, the term flail refers to two similar but ultimately different weapons: one a two-handed infantry weapon derived from an agricultural tool, and the other a one-handed weapon. The defining characteristic of both is that they involve a separate striking head attached to a handle by a flexible rope, strap, or chain.  We have the one-handed variant here, attached with chain, and a nasty looking piece of kit it is too.  You really wouldn't want this to lamp you around the head, trust me.

What Nazgul can tell you about the history flail is limited: The one-handed variant is generally depicted as a short wooden handle connected to one or many metal heads by way of a chain. At least four examples of this type are housed in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

One of these is a Swiss "morning star mace" dated to approximately 1530, consisting of a relatively long handle compared to the others, a long chain almost as long as the handle, ending in a large spiked ball. A second is 16th-century German, having a medium-length metal handle, a short chain, and a small iron ball with large spikes. A third is 15th-century French, having an unusually short handle, a chain nearly as long as the handle, and an iron head lacking spikes but having several angular points. The fourth is also 15th-century, but German, and equally short, but ending in three short chains each ending in a small, angular, iron head. All of these except the 16th-century German example have chains long enough to require care not to allow the head to strike the user's hand.  Yes, injuring yourself with your own weapon would be something of an embarrassment on the battlefield...

Although the flail seems like rather an ungainly weapon, it is undisputed that it was a devastating weapon.  In the Medieval Ages, particularly in France and England, there existed a 'Code of Chivalry' that knights were obliged to follow. This Code was more about rules of war than the romanticised images that come to mind with the word chivalry (blame Hollywood for that). These rules of war dictated that a knight, wearing full plate armour, should use only what was seen as a chivalrous weapon, and the sword was the primary choice. When two full plate armoured knights would square off in combat with both using a sword, it was actually unlikely that death would be the outcome, and by the Code, a knight should only try to best - and not kill - his opponent.

The flail was not chivalrous in the least. Its design and purpose was to bash armour and break bones. The spiked balls were not designed to kill a plate armoured opponent in one blow, rather to bash in and dent the plate to a point that the knight was incapacitated. Think of it this way, you are the knight, wearing full plate, and the heavy spiked ball hits you in the side of the chest. The armour dents in severely and breaks ribs. You are winded, in pain, and not in a position at that point to fully defend yourself. One final blow to the head, and pink noodles are leaking out of your ears.

The design also was effective, when used properly, against a foe with a shield. The user could, in closer combat, swing the stick portion at the shield and allow the chains to swing around and land a hearty blow to the opponent. Head blows often times were death blows, smashing the skull even with a heavy helmet on. If nothing else, it would cause massive disorientation and concussions instantaneously.

It is said that the age of chivalry died after the 'War of the Roses' (1455-85). In the immediate period thereafter England was outnumbered and threatened by the French armies, and turned to more underhanded tactics with weapons that were not at all chivalrous, such as the longbow and the flail. The French deemed these an atrocity, but the English used these to push the French back time and time again and after that most knights were known to carry the flail into battle both on horseback and on foot.

That makes this weapon a very distasteful weapon and, by default, a firm favourite with Nazgul!

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