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Halbert, Halberd

HALBERT, HALBERD or HALBARD, a weapon consisting of an axe-blade balanced by a pick and having an elongated pike-head at the end of the staff, which was usually about 5 or 6 ft. in length. The utility of such a weapon in the wars of the later middle ages lay in this, that it gave the foot soldier the means of dealing with an armoured man on horseback. The pike could do no more than keep the horseman at a distance. This ensured security for the foot soldier but did not enable him to strike a mortal blow, for which firstly a long-handled and secondly a powerful weapon, capable of striking a heavy cleaving blow, was required. Several different forms of weapon responding to these requirements are described and illustrated below; it will be noticed that the thrusting pike is almost always combined with the cutting-bill hook or axe-head, so that the individual billman or halberdier should not be at a disadvantage if caught alone by a mounted opponent, or if his first descending blow missed its object. It will be noticed further that, concurrently with the disuse of complete armour and the development of firearms, the pike or thrusting element gradually displaces the axe or cleaving element in these weapons, till at last we arrive at the court halberts and partizans of the late 16th and early 17th centuries and the so-called " halbert " of the infantry officer and sergeant in the 18th, which can scarcely be classed even as partizans.

Figs. 1-6 represent types of these long cutting, cut and thrust weapons of the middle ages, details being omitted for the sake of clearness. The most primitive is the voulge (fig. i), which is simply a heavy cleaver on a pole, with a point added. The next form, the gisarme or guisarme (fig. 2), appears in infinite variety but is always distinguished from voulges, etc. by the hook, which was used to pull down mounted men, and generally resembles the agricultural bill-hook of to-day. The glaive (fig. 3 is late German) is a broad, heavy, slightly curved sword- blade on a stave; it is often combined with the hooked gisarme as a glaive-gisarme (fig. 4, Burgundian, about 1480). A gisarmeiioulge is shown in fig. 5 (Swiss, 14th century).

The weapon best known to Englishmen is the bill, which was originally a sort of scythe-blade, sharp on the concave side (whereas the glaive has the cutting edge on the convex side), but in its best-known form it should be called a bill-gisarme (fig. 6). The partizans, ranseurs and halberts proper developed naturally from the earlier types. The feature common to all, as has been said, is the combination of spear and axe. In the halberts the predominates, as the examples (fig. 10, Swiss, early century; fig. n, Swiss, middle 16th century; and fig. 12, German court halbert of the same period as fig. n) show. In the partizan the pike is the more important, the axe-heads being reduced to little more than an ornamental feature. A south German specimen (fig. 9, 1615) shows how this was compensated by the broadening of the spear-head, the edges of which in such weapons were sharpened. Fig. 8, a service weapon of simple form, merely has projections on either side, and from this developed the ranseur (fig. 7), a partizan with a very long and narrow point, like the blade of a rapier, and with fork-like projections intended to act as " sword-breakers," instead of the atrophied axe-heads of the partizan proper.

The halbert played almost as conspicuous a part in the military history of Middle Europe during the 15th and early 16th centuries as the pike. But, even in a form A I A distinguishable from the voulge and the glaive, it dates from the early part of the 13th century, and for many generations thereafter it was the special FIGS. 7-12.

weapon of the Swiss. Fauchet, in his Origines des dignitez, printed in 1600, states that Louis XI. of France ordered certain new weapons of war called hallebardes to be made at Angers and other places in 1475. The Swiss had a mixed armament of pikes and halberts at the battle of Morat in 1476. In the 15th and 16th centuries the halberts became larger, and the blades were formed in many varieties of shape, often engraved, inlaid, or pierced in open work, and exquisitely finished as works of art. This weapon was in use in England from the reign of Henry VII. to the reign of George III., when it was still carried (though in shape it had certainly lost its original characteristics, and had become half partizan and half pike) by sergeants in the guards and other infantry regiments. It is still retained as the symbol of authority borne before the magistrates on public occasions in some of the burghs of Scotland. The Lochaber axe may be called a species of halbert furnished with a hook on the end of the staff at the back of the blade. The godendag (Fr. godendart) is the Flemish name of the halbert in its original form.

The derivation of the word is as follows. The O. Fr. hallebarde, of which the English " halberd," " halbert," is an adaptation, was itself adapted from the M.H.G. helmbarde, mod. Hellebarde; the second part is the O.H.G. barta or parta, broad-axe, probably the same word as Bart, beard, and so called from its shape; the first part is either helm, handle, cf. " helm," tiller of a ship, the word meaning " hafted axe," or else helm, helmet, an axe for smiting the helmet. A common derivation was to take the word as representing a Ger. halb-barde, half -axe; the early German form shows this to be an erroneous guess.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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