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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A special exhibition in the White Tower at the Tower of London, commemorating the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.

23 October 2015

Tower of London

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Did you know?

Too hot to handle

Before the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver, the most powerful handgun in the world was the Mars pistol. It was so powerful that, during testing in 1906, the Royal Navy vowed never to fire it again.