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"The medieval flail" Topic

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776 hits since 5 Aug 2022
©1994-2022 Bill Armintrout
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Warspite106 Aug 2022 2:11 a.m. PST

The flail, a weapon of the 15th and 16th century. One hit and you stay hit!
This was a development of the peasant threshing tool and was much used by the Hussites and up into the Landsknecht period.

YouTube link

He makes the point that the butt end is just as good as the business end. You could fence with it.


Antioch06 Aug 2022 9:53 a.m. PST

Barry, haven't watched the video but I spent a number of years hanging around with the Medeival recreationists…& learning to fight with medeival weapons. I agree that a flail (or ball & chain) is a dangerous weapon….but in my experiance almost as much to the user as the potential target. Its partially a timing thing & in a real melee lacks a lot of control…. I have even seen them swung & clock a friend who got in the way as the user didn't see him there. Ultimately almost everyone stopped trying them & went back to other weapons you had better control over. Personally in a melee with mulriple people I preffered a pole arm (as long as I had a few friends with shield in front I could duck behind.

Personal logo PaulCollins Supporting Member of TMP06 Aug 2022 10:03 a.m. PST

Very interesting demonstration. Thanks for sharing this.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP06 Aug 2022 1:41 p.m. PST

I've long suspected that the physics of the flail actually make it a less effective weapon than just a long, spiked mace. Consider that when the head strikes a target, the head will undergo a force to rebound away from the target. Since the head is on a chain, the flail can essentially bounce back, like a ball bouncing loosely off a bat; the head loses momentum. But with a solid mace, the wielder's strength and momentum continue through the strike, potentially overcoming the rebound.
Maybe it really wouldn't make that much of a difference— presumably the shaft of the flail continues on, pulling the head with it, but that's no longer the force of a blow, but the force pulling against the target, should a spike have gained purchase. And in the end, if you've got a spike in your head… well, you're probably dead whether the blow is straight on or yanking you along.

Hmmm… since the weapon is developed from the threshing flail, what is the purpose of a threshing flail and why is it made as it is? Threshing simply means stalks of grain to separate the grain heads from the straw (the chaff). This is done by placing the grain on a hard surface— such as stone or dried, hard-packed earth, and beating it with a stick. Obviously, hitting it with a straight stick means that not much of the stick contacts the grain. With a flail, a length of wood attached to the end of the stick will hit the grain with the full flat of the wood. So it's not a design meant to increase force, but rather to have force applied along the length rather than just at a relative point.

Does this make a good weapon? Well… probably not as a purpose design. As what you have handy, okay.

EDIT: Well, the vid gave me some things to think about— I hadn't considered the effect of the strike continuing "around" the parry so that even a blocked blow results in a hit. Hmmm.
Still, I do see that the weapon has a potential big disadvantage in a military line, as it's very much a weapon that requires a long swing and a "reload" pull back to swing again, both of which will interfere with anybody near you (and vice versa). I would not want to be the guy behind or next to a fellow soldier using one of these— he's very likely to hit me with that "flailing" thing (which perhaps is the origin of that meaning of "flail"— to swing around wildly!).
I noticed that an effective offense for the long sword against it was to begin at a distance and then drive in quickly and close, because that long swing attack exposes the wielder. The first guy also realized that grabbing the head was effective as a defense.

Warspite106 Aug 2022 3:01 p.m. PST

Yes, the 'wrap around' was quite effective. It would also have the same effect at knee height and that would mean impacting the generally unarmoured back of the target's knee.

Yes, it was designed as a threshing tool but when peasants go to war they grab what is to hand. I happen to have a traditional pitchfork and was once accosted by a drunken and unreasonably angry man in my own back garden and I had to decide whether I should use it and with which end. I eventually refrained and just blinded him with my torch (US: flashlight) as it was late at night.

Please watch the video. Both guys were quite surprised at how effective the weapon was, as indeed was I.


Toaster06 Aug 2022 4:54 p.m. PST

Also very useful as a horseman's weapon because the impact won't be transferred back to the wielder so no risk of being unhorsed by your own weapon.


Antioch06 Aug 2022 6:20 p.m. PST

Barry…just wached the. Ideo & few extra thoughts. Proper flail vs more of a morning star i tried out.

First there are differnces in a one one one fight vs a melee. Almost all fighting with hand weapons is a matter if range…every weapon has an optimal range…changing the range on your opponent you can alter the attack in your favour or cause someone to miss. A man with a flail is more of an initial one shot weapon…meaning if you miss or don't connect you could pay a price if your opponent steps in on you. (No it doesn't work all the time but a fair amount…ie stepping back while he swings) A sword & shield man also can block with a sword on a flail (not always effective) but its not standing there playing there ideal target. I don't dispute if it lands it will hurt…maybe even a lot. (A mass weapon 2 handed will cause damage on the opponents body behind chainmail or plate.) I can vouch for that.

In a full on melee …range can be an even bigger problem, for both sides especially if there is pushing from behind as you litteraly can have your weapon jammed up against you, with no way to swing it…probably leading to a horrific slaughter.. having multiple weapons on you is a good idea…. Like a sharp thin dagger up close for example.

Now there are no real manuals on how to fighting with medeival weapons… so no way to prove any if this (rapier etc yes, but again very differnt). Given a choice I would prefer something else over having a flail…as a peasant where there were few choices it could work very well if you had a chance to practice with it.

Now portraying this in a game…haven't a clue how to make those parameters work.


CeruLucifus07 Aug 2022 12:15 p.m. PST

If I remember WFB right, it gave these weapons a bonus but only on the first turn. Flail was +2 Str (same bonus as Greatsword) and Morning Star was +1 Str (same bonus as Halberd).

Zephyr107 Aug 2022 8:07 p.m. PST

I don't think flails were used all together in a unit of their own, but as part of a "combined arms" force, meaning, the flails having a 'longer' range, struck first, then other differently armed troops supported them, finishing off the enemy struck by the flails. I can also see, with the longer reach, it being quite wicked against cavalry…

dapeters08 Aug 2022 9:59 a.m. PST

I think the fact that the Hussites were using these say it all. They need a weapon that they could use from the their wagons at the same time that pole weapons were needed to defeat better armor. A halberd in the confines of a wagon must have been fairly limited and risked being grabbed if thrusted over the top of the wagon wall. The Landsknecht fought the Hussites and probably thought initially it was a fearsome weapon. It major problem is people on your onside, if you swing directly over head then fine for the folks to your left and right should be okay, it really the rank behind you.

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