The Privilege of the Sword

Champlain with his arquebus, 1609
Based on detail of the engraving Defeat of the Iroquois at Lake Champlain

Champlain, The Voyages, 1613
National Library of Canada

In Champlain’s books, depictions of battle scenes show Champlain as the only Frenchman carrying a sword. However, in his own account of the 1609 battle, Champlain states that twenty or thirty men besieged the fort "sword in hand."

Swords (1600) and dagger (1590)
Made in Germany
Musée de l’Armée, Paris, France
Photo: Steven Darby, Canadian Museum of Civilization
CMC S2004-649

. . . At once they approached the barricade as they had done before, having us on their flanks to shoot at those who should try to prevent them from pulling it down. They behaved so well and so bravely, that, thanks to our volleys, they made an opening, which nevertheless was difficult to get through; for there still remained a part as high as a man, as well as branches of felled trees which impeded us greatly. Still, when I saw that there was a pretty fair opening, I gave orders for the firing to cease, which was obeyed. At the same moment, some twenty or thirty, both Indians and whites, went in, sword in hand, without meeting much resistance.

Champlain, The Voyages, 1613

Daggers and swords were personal weapons, used only by the owner. At the site of the second settlement, two pieces of a sword guard were found - of a semicircular type that is usually associated with rapiers. Champlain carries just such a sword in his engraving of the 1609 battle against the Iroquois.


    Last Updated: September 1, 2009