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The rondel dagger is a type of military dagger that appeared in the second half of the 14thC, probably due to increasingly levels of armour being worn by men-at-arms.  At the end of the 13thC and beginning of the 14thC we see more and more armoured soldiers in contemporary art wearing some form of dagger together with the sword; this was likely related to the growing popularity of the coat of plates, protecting the torso with steel plates, and the appearance of plate (whether cuir boulli or iron) defences for the limbs.  In itself this would not explain the need to carry a dagger, but it is possible that as conventional weapons became less effective against the fully armoured men-at-arms, grappling started to occur between that type of soldier with greater frequency and so the dagger grew in popularity to assist the close combat that often occurs between armoured fighters.  This is also the period that saw the fall from favour of the shield (after the middle of the 14thC), and the rise in popularity of the longsword and pollaxe, and coupled with these factors it makes sense, to me at least, that grappling and close combat would have started to feature more greatly in armoured fights.

At the end of the 13thC and beginning of the 14thC we can see men-at-arms wearing what have been termed by Victorian antiquarians as 'quillon daggers', that is dagger that have quillons, like a miniature sword.  However, by the late-14thC the rondel dagger had evolved as a more specialised implement.

The rondel dagger receives its name from the presence of a disc (rondel) as a guard, or in some examples (normally mid-15th to 16thC) there are two discs, above and below the grip.  Most early rondel daggers appear to have had one disc guard, and a small globular pommel, and this is the type shown in Fiore's manuscripts (called 'daga' by him and Vadi).  The disc guard means that you can stab, point down or point up, with great power to get through mail and padded undergarments - an important feature, as areas not covered by steel plate in the 14th and 15thC's were generally covered by mail, or at least some leather, padded or quilted defence.  Many later rondel daggers have two rondels either side of the grip, and this gives a very secure grip, especially with gauntlets on, though I have found this type can sometimes be more tricky to pull out quickly, whereas the type with a small pommel seem easier to grab when worn from the belt.

Rondel daggers survive with all types of blade, but all of them taper to a sharp, stiff point and perhaps the most frequent types are:

- In section with a thick blunt back edge tapering towards an edge at the front.  Sometimes they are hollow-ground with concave sides (flats), to reduce weight while keeping stiffness.  Hollow-ground flats also result in a sharper, more acute edge.  However, due to the thickness of the blades, these daggers are not particularly sharp on the edge (not like something with a very thin and flat blade, like a kitchen knife), so it is easier to grab their blades than with most modern knives, but they are much stiffer and stronger when it comes to penetrating with the point, which is what they were maximised for.  This type often have a false-edge near the point of the blade, so that the end is actually diamond or square-section, for better penetration.

- In section square or triangular for the whole length, with no real cutting edge.  Purely a strong and stiff spike for ramming through an opponent's defenses.

Some rondel daggers which survive do have more cut-and-thrust blades however, being of flatter section than the majority.

In armour rondel daggers were normally worn in a scabbard at the right side of the belt (usually the main belt, not the sword belt) hanging point-down, and are sometimes shown in the 15thC having their scabbards attached directly to the steel fauld (skirt) of the armour.  Occasionally they were worn in other ways, such as at the back of the belt, diagonally or horizontally on the belt, or in the middle of the front of the belt, hanging in front of the groin, like other forms of daggers and knives like 'baselards' and 'bollock daggers'.

Like many military weapons, the rondel dagger did become an item of fashion and defence in civilian life, and many 15thC paintings show gentlemen wearing rondel daggers and these weapons must have been especially important in cities where the wearing of larger weapons, such as swords, was forbidden.  To some extent the rondel dagger seems to have been a gentlemanly weapon in most places, while in England it seems more normal for 'commoners' to have worn another type of knife, such as the bollock knife.

Easton 07/04/2005



This page was composed by Matt Easton - Last update: 07/04/2005

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