During the WARS OF THE ROSES, English MEN-AT-ARMS carried various types of weapons into battle, including thrusting and stabbing implements, such as swords and daggers, and powerful battering weapons, such as maces and poleaxes.
For close-quarter combat, the fifteenth-century knight usually carried a sword that could be used for both cutting and thrusting. Such weapons varied greatly in length and width, from a broad, single-handed sword that was about two and a half feet in length to a narrower, two-handed version that was almost three and a half feet long. Swords meant solely for thrusting tended to have longer, narrower blades and longer hilts. When not in use, a sword fit into a scabbard that hung from a hip belt in such a way as to position the point a little to the rear where it could not trip its owner. From the other hip usually hung a rondel dagger, which was used to exploit gaps in an opponent's ARMOR or to pry open the visor of a downed enemy, who was then dispatched by a thrust to the eye or throat. The rondel was characterized by a disk- or cone-shaped guard between hilt and blade and a similarly shaped pommel at the other end of the hilt. Because it was used for stabbing, the rondel had a straight, slender blade that was triangular in shape and up to fifteen inches in length to allow for maximum penetration of an enemy's body.
Because the stronger, fluted armor used in the fifteenth century could deflect sword and spear thrusts, many knights began carrying new types of heavy weapons, often with hooks or spikes, which were designed to crush or puncture plate armor. Perhaps the most deadly of these weapons was the poleax, which consisted of a wooden shaft, four to six feet long, topped by a long spike that was flanked on one side by an ax head and on the other by a spiked hammer or fluke (a curved, beaklike extension for hooking an opponent to the ground). The spike could puncture plate or damage armored joints and rob a man of mobility. The ax and hammer could crush both armor and the flesh it covered. Against unarmored opponents, a skillfully wielded poleax was devastating.
While the poleax was used only for combat on foot, such other battering weapons as the battle-ax, the mace, and the war hammer were carried primarily by horsemen, who swung their weapon with one hand and held their reins with the other. RICHARD III supposedly led his famous cavalry charge at the Battle of Bosworth Field while wielding a battle-ax. Weighing from two to five pounds, the war hammer was serrated and usually carried a fluke opposite the hammerhead. Of a similar weight, the mace had a head composed of six interlocking serrated edges or some similarly formidable configuration of spikes and points. Like the poleax, these weapons were used to deliver crushing blows to armored opponents.
Besides the more formally trained and heavily armored men-at-arms, most civil war armies contained sizable contingents of billmen, foot soldiers who carried any of a wide variety of shafted weapons that could be used to drag enemies to the ground, to cut armor straps, and to frighten horses. Such weapons derived from the billhook, a common agricultural implement used for cutting and pruning that consisted of a blade with a hooked point attached to a long wooden shaft. Characterized by some type of blade, hook, or spike topping a pole that ranged in length from six to ten feet, a bill weapon could be raked, stabbed, or swung at an enemy. Depending on the type of head they employed, such weapons were known by various names, such as the halberd, which carried a spiked ax head and had to be swung at an opponent to be used most effectively. Because they required little training to use and, unlike bows, were easy to maintain, various forms of bills were the weapons usually carried by common soldiers and most often found in rural cottages and houses for protection against intruders.
Further Reading: Boardman, Andrew W., The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998); DeVries, Kelly, Medieval Military Technology (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1992); Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981).