You would think that combining two deadly weapons to create a super-weapon would be a smart move for any warmonger. Some combination weapons, however, were simply over-ambitious monsters: clumsy, cumbersome, useless.
The popularity of the combination weapon rose during the 16th and 17th centuries, when weapons-smiths were innovators and owning a trident dagger elevated one’s social status. Self-protection on the city streets or when making long journeys by coach was paramount, so the rich and cautious armed themselves with all sorts of different surprise weapons. Spring-loaded daggers concealed up sleeves or rapiers capable of firing projectiles were used in the hope of catching a would-be assailant on the back foot.
Intricate, opulent, and innovative are words which fairly describe these contraptions. Effective and militarily useful they were not. While a robber may have admired the wealth of a gentleman carrying a sword-stick or dining with cutlery fitted with miniature pistols, fear would not have stopped him from swiping his pocket-book. They were play-things of the wealthy, ornaments to be disregarded by any serious military body.
Or were they?
From the 16th to the 18th century, the flintlock axe pistol was the trademark weapon of the Polish cavalry. It was also used by the Swedish navy, and variants were invented and used in Hungary and Germany. Henry VIII was a fan of combination weapons, equipping his bodyguards with round iron shields each fitted with a pistol. When checking up on his police constables, Henry himself carried with him a walking stick which doubled up as a morning star and had a three-barrel pistol attached to it.
Later, in 1838, the US Navy developed a single-shot smooth-bore pistol equipped with a 11.5-inch Bowie knife blade intended for use by boarding parties; it was the first percussion-cap gun in naval service, but, as was the case with many of these weapons, only 150 were made due to the high production cost. The Navy specifically intended them for the Wilkes South Seas expedition, and in 1840 a naval landing party used the pistol effectively against Fijian warriors who had reportedly attacked the sailors on the island of Malolo. Some such pistols were still in use during the Civil War, but were not popular among soldiers, who found them unwieldy.
Although the origins of the bayonet are hazy, there can be no doubt that it is a type of combination weapon, used by millions of soldiers from the late 17th century onwards. Surely the most widely ever used combination weapon, the bayonet is exempt from being sent back to the drawing board; that fate is reserved for books with unreliable hidden pistols, and hammers with heavy, inaccurate rifles attached to them.
Thank you for letting me know that the Polish cavalry’s trademark weapon was a pistol. My friend wants to have a wheel-lock pistol. I should advise him to look for a business that sells and collects rare and important antique arms and armor.