The sword of "the great captain," Gonzalo de Cordova (1453-1515}, is not of Spanish make (Plate lvii., No. 3). It has a straight blade with bevelled edges. The pommel and quillons are decorated with Renaissance carving, and the bars, which are of gilded iron, grow wider at their end and curve towards the blade. The pommel, of gilded copper, is spherical, and bears, upon one side, a scene which represents a battle, together with the words gonsalvi Agidari Victoria De Gallis Ad Cannas.
Upon the other side are carved his arms. Other inscriptions in Latin are also on the pommel and the blade.
The Count of Valencia de Don Juan believed that this sword was a present to Gonzalo from the corporation of some Italian town, and that it replaced, as an estoque real, or sword of ceremony, the state sword (see p. 252) of Ferdinand and Isabella.
Pizarro's sword remained in possession of his descendants, the Marquises of La Conquista, until as recently as 1809, in which year this family presented it to a Scotch officer named John Downie, who had fought in the Peninsular War against the French. Downie, in turn, bequeathed it to his brother Charles, lieutenant-colonel in the Spanish army, from whom it passed into the hands of Ferdinand the Seventh. The appearance of this sword is not remarkable. It has a stout, four-surfaced blade, with a powerful recazo or central ridge, engraved with the Christian name of Mateo Duarte, a swordsmith who was living at Valencia in the middle of the sixteenth century. The hilt is of blued (pavonado) steel, inlaid with leaves and other ornament in gold. The pommel is a disc; the quillons are straight, or very nearly so, and there is a pas d'ane (Plate lvii., No. 2).
Spanish Swords (Royal Armoury, Madrid)
The sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries are famous as the epoch of the Spanish rapier. Toledo, as the world is well aware, enjoyed an undisputed name for the production of these weapons. Within this ancient and historic capital generations of artists bequeathed, from father to son, and son to grandson, the secret (if there were a secret) of the tempering of these matchless arms; nor have Toledo blades deteriorated to this day. Many an idle superstition seeks to justify the talent and dexterity of these swordsmiths; though probably the key to all their skill was merely in the manual cunning, based on constant practice, of the craftsman, as well as in the native virtues of the water of the Tagus.
In one of my books I have described the workshop of an armourer of Toledo in the sixteenth century. "After a few moments we entered the Calle de las Armas, which struck me as having grown a good deal narrower; and my companion, pausing beside an open doorway topped with a sign depicting a halberd and a sword, invited me to enter. Two or three steps led downwards to a dark, damp passage, and at the end of this was a low but very large room, blackened by the smoke from half a dozen forges. The walls were hung with a bewildering variety of arms and parts of armour - gauntlets and cuirasses; morions, palettes, and lobster-tails; partisans and ranseurs; halberds, bayonets, and spontoons; as well as swords and. daggers without number. Several anvils, with tall, narrow buckets filled with water standing beside them, were arranged about the stone-paved floor; and beside each forge was a large heap of fine, white sand.
"The showers of sparks, together with a couple of ancient-looking lamps whose flames shook fitfully to and fro in the vibration, showed thirty or forty workmen busily engaged; and what with the clanging of the hammers, the roaring of the bellows, and the strident hissing of the hot metal as it plunged into the cold water, the racket was incessant.
"My cicerone surveyed the discordant scene with all the nonchalance of lifelong custom, daintily eluding the columns of scalding steam, or screening his chambergo from the sparks. Finding, however, that I was powerless to understand the remarks he kept addressing to me, he finally held up his finger and gave the signal to cease work; upon which the oficial handed him a bundle of papers which I took to be accounts, and the men, doffing their leathern aprons, and hanging them in a corner, filed eagerly away.
"'It is quite simple,' said my companion, as though divining the query I was about to put to him; 'and indeed, I often wonder why we are so famous. They say it is the water; but any water will do. Or else they say it is the sand; and yet this sand, though clean and pure, is just the same as any other. Look! The blade of nearly all our swords is composed of three pieces - two strips of steel, from Mondragon in Guipuzcoa, and an iron core. This latter is the a/ma, or soul. The three pieces are heated and beaten together; and when they grow red-hot and begin to throw-out sparks, they are withdrawn from the fire, and a few handfuls of sand are thrown over them. The welding of the pieces is then continued on the anvil; and, finally, the file is brought to bear on all unevennesses, and the weapon passes on to the temperer, the grinder, and the burnisher.
"'It is in the tempering that we have earned our principal renown, although this process is quite as simple as the rest. Upon the forge - see, here is one still burning - a fire is made in the form of a narrow trench, long enough to receive four-fifths of the length of the weapon. As soon as the metal reaches a certain colour' (I thought I noted a mischievous twinkle in the armourer's eyes, as though this certain colour were the key to all our conversation), 'I take these pincers, and, grasping the portion which had remained outside the fire, drop the weapon so, point downwards, into the bucket of water. Any curve is then made straight by beating upon the concave side, and the part which had been previously kept outside the trench of fire returns to the forge and is duly heated. The entire blade is next smeared with mutton fat, and rested against the wall to cool, point upwards. There is nothing more except the finishing. Your sword is made.' "1
1 Toledo and Madrid: their Records and Romances; pp. 99-101.
Sword (13th Century. Royal Armoury, Madrid)