A war hammer (French: martel-de-fer) was a long-handled weapon used by foot-soldiers, especially in the defense of fortified walls and in action against mounted men-at-arms. It is a very ancient weapon and gave its name, owing to its constant use, to one of the rulers of France. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the war hammer became an elaborately decorated and handsome weapon.
Indo-Persian war hammer, heavy iron head with a hammer in front, a 4.5 in curved spike on the other side, cut channel decorations, hard wood shaft.
|Type||Impact weapon or polearm|
|Place of origin||Europe and the Middle East|
|Head type||Hammer, sometimes an additional spike|
|Haft type||One or two handed|
The horseman's hammer was a short-handled weapon used with only one hand by mounted men. It usually possessed one blunt or dented face with a sharp point or beak on the opposite side of the handle, but sometimes both sides were pointed. The weapon was usually entirely of metal.
This section does not cite any sources. (July 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
A war hammer consists of a handle and a head. The length of the handle may vary, the longest being roughly equivalent to that of a halberd (5 to 6 feet), and the shortest about the same as that of a mace (2 to 3 feet). Long war hammers were pole weapons, or polearms, meant for use against riders, whereas short ones were used in closer quarters and from horseback.
War hammers were developed as a consequence of the prevalence of surface-hardened steel on wrought iron armor of the late medieval battlefields during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The surface of armor had become as hard as the edge of a blade, so blades tended to ricochet. Swords and battleaxes were likely to give only glancing blows, losing much of their impact, especially on the high curvature of helmets. A war hammer could deliver the full force of a blunt blow to the target.
War hammers, especially when mounted on a pole, could damage without penetrating armor. In particular, they transmitted their impact through even the thickest helmets and caused concussions. Later war hammers often had a spike on one side of the head, making them more versatile weapons. A blade or spike tended to be used not against helmets but against other parts of the body where the armor was thinner and penetration was easier. The spike end could be used for grappling the target's armor, reins, or shield, or could be turned in the direction of the blow to pierce even heavy armor. Against mounted opponents, the weapon could also be directed at the legs of a horse, toppling the armored foe to the ground where they could be more easily attacked.
A maul is a long-handled hammer with a heavy head, of wood, lead, or iron. Similar in appearance and function to a modern sledgehammer, it is sometimes shown as having a spear-like spike on the fore-end of the haft.
The use of the maul as a weapon seems to date from the later 14th century. During the Harelle of 1382, rebellious citizens of Paris seized 3000 mauls (French: maillet) from the city armory, leading to the rebels being dubbed Maillotins. Later in the same year, Froissart records French men-at-arms using mauls at the Battle of Roosebeke, demonstrating that they were not simply weapons of the lower classes.
A particular use of the maul was by archers in the 15th and 16th centuries. At the Battle of Agincourt, English longbowmen are recorded as using lead mauls, initially as a tool to drive in stakes but later as improvised weapons. Other references during the century (for example, in Charles the Bold's 1472 Ordinance) suggest continued use. They are recorded as a weapon of Tudor archers as late as 1562.
The Flail, or holy-water sprinkler, consisted either of a long shaft with several whips (corresponding to a cat-o'-nine-tails) with iron points, or else of a shaft with a spiked wooden ball or a plain iron ball suspended by a chain. Sometimes the weapon was composed of a spiked piece of wood, about two feet in length, attached by a ring to the end of a shaft. The name 'holy- water sprinkler' arose from the nature of the wounds which the weapon inflicted; it probably dates from the eleventh century, and was most used during the fifteenth century, especially on board ship. Flails with short handles belonged more particularly to the East.
The knout, a whip or scourge formerly used in Russia for the punishment of criminals, was the descendant of the flail. It was manufactured in many forms, and its effect was so severe that few of those who were subjected to its full force survived the punishment. The Emperor Nicholas substituted for the knout a milder whip. 
- Sargeaunt, Bertram Edward (1908). Weapons, a brief discourse on hand-weapons other than fire-arms. London, H. Rees. p. 11.
- Tuchman, Barbara (1979). A distant Mirror. London: Penguin. p. 380. ISBN 0140054073.
- Bourchier, John (1523). Macaulay, G.C. (ed.). Chronicles of Froissart (1924 ed.). London. p. 288. Archived from the original on 2012-02-23.
- Strickland & Hardy 2005, p. 337. sfn error: no target: CITEREFStrickland_&_Hardy2005 (help)
- Strickland & Hardy 2005, p. 364. sfn error: no target: CITEREFStrickland_&_Hardy2005 (help)