cup hilted rapier

catteries  asked:

As a southpaw, I'm curious as to whether you have encountered any sort of left handed weapons or gear, or how much did any left handedness altered any combat situations. Thanks for reading!

Almost all complex-hilt swords I’ve seen have been for right-handers; being left-handed (being sinister…) was often Not Approved Of for religious and cultural as well as practical reasons, and was usually trained or beaten out at a young age. This isn’t an example of ancient prejudice, it was being done in the 20th century to people as important as the Duke of York (later King George VI) as mentioned in that fine movie “The King’s Speech”. 

Before about the mid-late 15th century weapons were usually symmetrical and ambidextrous - axes, maces, and swords with a simple cruciform guard could be used in either hand. A buckler or Viking-style shield with a grip behind the boss was also ambidextrous, but knightly shields held by enarmes (straps) were mostly for the left arm.

In fact AFAIK jousting was for righties only, lefties need not apply - the whole design of the tourney meant shield-on-left-arm, lance-under-right-arm, opponents approach shield-side to shield-side across the tilt barrier. Later specialised armour for jousting had the reinforcements on the left side, where the opponent’s lance would strike.

According to some sources (Gravett and Oakeshott for instance) even the jousting horse was a rightie, interpreting its name (“destrier”) as meaning it was trained to lead with the right foreleg (the “dexter side”) so as to “break right” - away from the opponent - if there were problems. YMMV on this one.

Once sword-guards started getting more complicated (and that could be as simple as the ring, shell or “nagel” side-guard on a Messer, which protected the knuckles)…

…“handedness” became an issue. Messers were usually curved and always single-edged, so left-holding them so the guard would work would mean the cutting edge was upside down…

This swept-hilt rapier is for right-hand use and shows how the layout of loops and bars differed on either side of the guard (the shell insert is unusual, BTW - normally swept-hilt guards are open)…

Here’s another asymmetrical guard (my reproduction schiavona, a Venetian basket-hilt sword.) Most protection is for the knuckles, there’s space to hook my index finger over the forward crossguard for better grip and control, and there’s also a thumb-ring. But all of it is intended for right hand only…

Oddly enough the Scottish basket-hilt “claymore” was ambidextrous, as was the Spanish/Italian “cup-hilt” rapier.)

Occasionally left-handedness was so endemic in a family that they decided to make use of it. The Border reiver family Kerr (or Carr) built at least one spiral stairway in Ferniehirst Castle rising anticlockwise (the usual direction was clockwise)  to inconvenience enemies attacking up the stairs - the Kerr defenders further up would be protected by the central spindle of the stair, while their opponents would have to lean out round it. (There are some other examples of this in other parts of Europe.)

Wheel-lock and flintlock firearms could be built for left-handed use, with the working parts on the other side of the stock, but that was for the rich. Military-issue weapons were rightie-standard and leftie soldiers learned how to use them And Like It. Most of them still are, and provide an in-your-face shower of hot brass for lefties.

There are a few exceptions. The Austrian-made Steyr AUG (as used by the Irish Army) allows a shift to left-handed firing with a simple parts swap, the Belgian F2000 ejects from the right but so far forward it’s no problem for lefties and I’m sure there are others, mostly very modern.

As usual, if tackling this topic in fiction do the necessary research - that’s how I found out about the Kerrs/Carrs and their reversed stairs, and though I’d been aware of the AUG for years (first seen IIRC in the original “Die Hard”), the F2000 was new to me, and a very science-fiction looking weapon, BTW.

Hope this helps!