The Pollaxe – Display of Martial Combat at Royal Armouries, Leeds.

I took these photos on 4th May 2013. I was at the Royal Armouries particularly to see their Arms & Armour of the Superhero event. But while there I saw a Pollaxe display, I used to use polearms in Live Roleplay so I was interested to have a look at the skills of the interpreters.

I’m sorry to say I am not certain of the names of both combatants beyond the fact both were called Andrew. One was certainly Andy Deane, here in red, I’ve seen him many times at the Armouries and if you read my article on Jousting I wrote at Easter you will know he was always a favourite with my kids. So to differentiate between the two I will call one Andy and the other Andrew.

Before we get on to the action let us first consider the weapon. The Pollax, the original name from Old-English poll; head. So the Head Axe. Also spelt Pollaxe, Polax and Poleaxe.

The weapon consists of three main parts:

  • Haft – a wooden pole of, usually six to six and a half feet in length
  • Head – a multi-tooled head often forged in parts and consisting of at least three parts attached to the Haft by metal strips called langets.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHammer, multi-faceted for grip for purchase on armour.
    • A curved Spike or Axe for puncturing armour or to get between plates and take advantage of lesser armoured parts.
    • Spike often a four sided protrusion as a continuation of the haft. Otherwise this may be a
    • The Head may also have two small protruding spikes ar right angle to the axe and hammer.
  • Spike – the butt, none weapon head, side of the haft had a metal spike as part of its length.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weapon was used on foot by Knights or Men-at-Arms. It should not be mistaken for the some-what similar looking Halberd, the main obvious difference is that the Halberd has a mush broader axe-head and the head itself is generally larger and forged as one piece. It must be stressed that the Pollaxe varied greatly in design one to the next. The weapon my include a rondel or rivets along its length to provide guides for hand holds. The general principle of design remained the same as would the tactics used when armed with such a weapon.

As I was taking photos of men in motion with a weapon I didn’t capture all the poses I would like to display clearly enough to use here. So unfortunately some moves I will describe are not illustrated. To give you a hint at how fast this weapon is in trained hands however look at the picture on the right. You can see the blur of motion yet you can see the audience is captured without blur. You will see that only one weapon can be seen with any clarity, that of Andy here on attack; Andrew’s weapon is moving to block. The armour also does not in any way hinder movement, Andrew demonstrated this by regaining his feet from prone in under 3 seconds.

The usual grip on the weapon is quite wide, though a skilled combatant can vary in distance between his hands with ease.

The spike of the weapon can be used for thrusting, to the face or to weak spots in the opponents armour. This blow is unlikely to puncture armour but can injure parts between or under the armour such as armpits or groin.

Similarly the spike can be used to parry and turn a stroke aside. You will see that Andy’s feet are well apart and his knees are taking all his weight. As with boxing the strength in the combatants’ legs increase the weight of the blow.

The Spike of course would be particularly effective against a downed opponent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere the spiked end is being used to parry the Head of the weapon. Andrew is on the attack at this stage.

Andy has in fact got the Haft inside the curve of the Axe and has more or less stymied any possibility of attack  and could close on Andrew holding his weapon at bay. As he closes in Andy pivots his body and release the enegy to increase the strike.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Andy brings his own Axe down towards the point between helmet and gorget.

This would very often be a killing blow if the Axe passed between the two parts of armour. At the very least it is likely to wound severely. Even if the blow glanced off either helmet or gorget the blow would hurt and potentially knock the opponent off his feet.

Alternatively, as the blow releases Andrew’s Axe he could use his Axe as a leverage point, striking at the attackers leg and pulling back to trip Andy.

The Hammer, as mentioned above in the description of the weapon, has either a crowned face or in some cases has a series of four cornered studs. This is to prevent the Hammer from simply brushing off the curved armour. The Hammer is used to cause blunt trauma. When striking the helmet after a full arced swing the blow is likely to disorientate the opponent. Similarly blows to the chest could wind an opponents and blows to the leg or arm may break bones.

Both Hammer and Axe can be used to advantage of brought sharply upwards between the opponent’s lefs. This was demonstrated with much humour. The Axe curve can, when hooked behind the leg, not only be used to trip as mentioned above but also to left the opponent’s leg and make his attacks futile due to his own imbalance.

If the Head has the two studs at right angle to the Axe and Hammer those can also be used to cause injury and can either get between plates of armout or give blunt trauma.

The Haft of course can also be applied as a weapon.

Here you will see that Andrew has managed to get behind Andy and apply a choke-hold. The Haft can just as easily be used to strike the opponent in any way one might with a simple Staff.

Indeed the general fighting style with a Pollaxe is not disimilar to the standard fighting style with a Staff. There is simply the added threat of the Head and Spike at either end of the Haft.

I think you will agree that this is a particularly effective weapon between skilled combatants. Henry VIII used the Pollaxe, along with many other weapons, in Tournament.

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