Historians often use the Norman Conquest (1066) as the start of the Medieval period in England, even though it officially started with the departure of the Romans (c. 500 AD), the Migration period, and finished with the battle of Bosworth (1485). For the oft-overlooked eating knife, it was one of the most important periods in their gradual evolution: blade-making technology, trademarking of blades, the founding of cutlers’ companies in London, Thaxted and Sheffield plus the varied shapes and purposes of knives as dining fashions moved on, all coming together and combining with the influences of immigrant cutlers from Europe.
The Migration period had seen the departure of the Romans from Britain and the invasions of the Norsemen, bringing their weapons as well as eating knives. The Romans made knives for many purposes; eating, surgery, weapons and more specialized so that soothsayers could examine animal entrails to foretell the future. They also had the technology to make a crude carburized iron that, with refining, could be called steel, hard enough to make an effective edge for their weapons and knives.
The Norsemen brought the added refinement of blade decoration. Blades inlaid with colored metals – copper, latten (yellow copper-zinc alloy with 1-2% iron impurities) and tin alloy (pewter). Also, the technique of pattern welding where iron rods, often criss-crossed, were forged into the main body of the blade adding strength and an interesting design.
This article first appeared in the May 2021 issue of KNIFE Magazine. Premium Online Members can view the whole thing by clicking the blue button below.