Aug 20, 2013

Weapons & Warriors: The Lantern Shield of the Europeans

I’ve read several stories about the lantern shield and realized that a lot of historians did not like it much. Some called it impractical and clumsy, some said it was for amateurs, and some claimed that a sword and shield on their own was much better. I disagree with them all. This weapon was never meant to be used by itself. Combined with a rapier (thin bladed fencing style sword), it was a game changer for anyone who had actually trained with the thing. This is one of the most insane weapons I’ve ever run across and I will find a way to get one for my collection someday. It’s truly a masterpiece of mind boggling weaponry.

The Lantern Shield (Art by TL Jeffcoat)
A lantern shield is hard to describe. It has a lot of pieces. All those moving parts are one of the things that make it look clumsy. In Italy during the 1500’s, many duelists practiced using Lantern Shields. The entire thing was made of steel, and bolted together. It was worn on the shield arm. The Lantern Shield was designed to replace the standard lantern carried by duelists when they fought in the dawn hours when sometimes the sun wasn’t up enough. Lanterns made decent shields if the duelist knew how to use them, and if raised at the face of an opponent, would blind them. It was a cheap move, but very effective.

The Lantern Shield brings a lot more to the table than simply a shield with a lantern in it. The Lantern had a switch that attached to the steel gauntlet fastened to the inside of the shield. This gave the duelist the ability to flash light at an opponent’s eyes with the flick of his wrist. The lantern pointed to a hole with a steel flap that was controlled by the switch. If the lantern was broken, the duelist had many other resources that he could use.

Another misconception about lantern oil that many people might not realize is that lantern oil is not combustible. It will light a lantern, but if a lit lantern is broken and oil is sprayed everywhere, it does not burst into flames. At most it will smother the flame and go out. So the duelist did not have to worry about being strapped to a firebomb.

Built into the knuckles of the gauntlet were two spikes. These rounded spikes were meant to penetrate light armor, and were strong and thick enough to puncture even a thin breastplate or chain-mail.

Underneath the gauntlet is a sword blade. The back end of the blade stuck out from behind the shield and worked as a guard for the elbow, while the sharper end was used similar to how a dagger would have been used in a second hand, by deflecting blows or slicing open an unprotected thigh with a counter strike.

Finally, the final piece of the lantern was a spike protruding directly out from the center of the shield. This was used as a sword breaker, but could also be deadly for simply pushing at an opponent’s face. That move in combination with stabbing with the rapier created a double attack that could skewer an opponent who did not have a shield of his own. The flaps were meant to catch the thin rapier blades and with the twist of the arm, the thick spike would lock the blade and then break it in two or bend it horribly.

Some references mentioned the Lantern Shield was primarily used as a deterrent for muggers and bandits. It makes sense that something like this would be very useful to a city watch where they can shine light down allies and dark corners.

Not all Lantern Shields were created equal. Some were simply the shield and lantern, but many had spikes and extra blades built in. The overall concept was the same. Blind an opponent, or search the dark with the lantern, and use your rapier to kill your opponent. At the same time use the shield to protect yourself and disarm, injure, or confuse your opponent with the additional spike and blades.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

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