The men of Willem Barentsz shooting a polar bear while holding in back a with halberds. 1596 engraving by Gerrit de Veer Source

A halberd (also called halbard, halbert or Swiss voulge) is a two-handed pole weapon that came to widespread use in the 14-15th centuries. 

Troops that used the weapon are called halberdiers.The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft. It always has a hook on the opposite side of the axe blade that can be used for pulling down mounted opponents.

Swedish helberds from the 16th century.  Nordisk familjebok (1910), vol.12, p89 Source

The halberd was a formidable weapon, capable of on the one side slicing with its’ ax head, but also able to pull riders from their horses with the metal hook on the other side. Researchers think it was a halberd which dispatched Richard III at the battle of bosworth. 

The halberd is a military staple in Europe, and was used by certain ranks of the military through to the 18th century, It is still used ceremoniously by several militaries including that of Spain and the Swiss Guard. 

It was a weapon that was chosen as the body guard weapon, being able to quickly defend against an assailant.

You’ll see the body guard usage harkened to in films and movies, like Robin Hood by Disney. The jail birds monitor the prisoners by carrying a halberd. Similarly, the Rhino warriors are armed with halberds as well. Youtube Robin Hood Jailbreak Clip:


But did SHAKESPEARE have halberds?

Yes, it seems he did. 

The word halberd is used twice in the dialogue of Shakespeare’s plays, and 4 more times in the stage directions where the military or armed guards are instructed to carry halberds. 

In Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII Buckingham enters accompanied by halberds “on each side” Shakespeare indicates, even going so far as to direct the positioning of the blade, writing that “the axe with the edge towards him” is how the actor should carry the weapon. 

The other three halberd uses are from Richard III, all of which indicate the actor is simply to enter “with halberd” 

For Shakespeare’s life, it’s likely the halberd was still in use as a military weapon, but carried by certain, and often lower ranking, personelle.

Halberd of the royal bodyguards of Prince Karl Eusebius of Liechtenstein (1611-1684). Steel, etched, partly gilt, and wood. German, c. 1632 (note the “1632” worked into the design). In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Fordmadoxfraud Source

With the advent of the firearm, which was happening during Shakespeare’s lifetime, the halberd would fall out of functional use and into ceremonial use. A weapon very similar to the halberd, called the partisan, is still used in British military ceremonies today as you can see from this parade 

Shakespeare included that weapon in his play, Hamlet, when the character Marcellus says

Shall I strike at it with my partisan?” (I.1) 

As it does today, the weapon appears to represent the military in a visual way, even if it does not function as the most prominent weapon on the battlefield. That’s likely one reason Shakespeare had it appear in his plays, but the suspected death of Richard III by halberd is also why it likely features three times in that work.

That’s it for this week, I’m Cassidy Cash and I hope you learn something new about the bard.
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