The European two-handed sword was developed in response to improvements in armour design in the 14th and 15th centuries. Although there are occasional examples of two-handed swords prior to this, during the late 13th century European armour began to incorporate steel plating for added protection, which in return resulted in the development of new weapons. The two-handed sword provided more power that the single handed, and was able to cut, thrust, pierce or bludgeon as the situation demanded, and soon became the standard weapon of the European knight.
The earliest works on English swordplay in existence are devoted to the “two-handed sword”, and there are four known sources, all of which are handwritten manuscripts. The anonymous Harleian MS. 3542 is dated circa 1450. The Cotton Titus MS. is later in date, maybe late 15th century, and also comes in two parts, the “Strokez off ij hand swerde” and “Strokes atte þe ij hande staffe”. Additional MS. 39564, signed by “J. Ledall”, is later still, the script suggesting the early 16th century. Lastly, Sloane MS. 376, published as George Silver’s Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence, from around 1605, where he says that two handed swords “are to be used in the fight as the short staff.”
There were a tremendous variety of two-handed swords produced throughout Europe, varying in lengths, weight, balance and profile depending on the intended use. In England, there was a distinction made between different types of “two handed sword,” particularly between the “longe sworde” and the “Basterd Sword”; according to Joseph Swetnam the Bastard Sword was “something shorter then a long Sword, and yet longer then a Short-sword”. However, Silver said you may “play upon double & single hand, at the 2 hand sword”, indicating a weight that could be wielded with one hand as well as two, that is no more than around 1.4kg (3lbs). Given this, his recommended weapon would be classed as a “Bastard sword” in English terminology, and this is our preferred type of two-handed sword