Detail of blued and gilt 18th century smallsword


With no organised peacekeepers to uphold the law until the Victorian period, travellers, traders and pilgrims routinely armed themselves for protection.

The weapons evolved with each advance of technology and change in fashion.

In the Middle Ages, not only did the citizenry arm itself for protection, but also wore various forms of armour. Mail shirts were worn, but were costly, as were brigandines: poorer people could only have afforded small shields called bucklers.

Simple daggers and swords developed into weapons that were increasingly more efficient and more sophisticated, eventually becoming the elegant rapiers of the late-16th century.

By the 1750s, firearms – pistols in particular – had started to replace the sword as a means of defence. In fact, pistols became so commonplace that they became a threat to civil order. Early flintlock pistols were a practical everyday weapon, but by 1830 the flintlock had given way to the more reliable percussion lock, and by 1850 the single shot had developed into the multiple-shot revolver.

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Did you know?

Finest Sheffield steel

The Royal Armouries holds one of the finest pairs of Colt 1861 navy revolvers in the world: both in mint, unfired condition. They were originally presented to Mark Firth, the Sheffield steelmaker who supplied Samuel Colt with steel.