Friday, January 13, 2017

The Broadsword: A Curatorial Discussion


So again, this is one of my more formal discussions on a subject. This means that it is long-ish. The subject of the broadsword is one which has been of interest to me for a while now, and was prodded along more recently by studying the smallsword, and also the workshops at Swordplay 2016 given by Keith Farrell. There are various arguments that you will find going through this post, some of which will be of interest and some, I hope, will clear some of the myths away. Thanks goes to Keith Farrell for his editorial assistance with this piece and correcting me on a few things.




          Most curatorial examinations of weapons are dry and give little detail as to their origins or development. What follows examines the origins and development of the broadsword along with some of the issues which have accompanied this weapon through history to this era. This examination is a close look at the broadsword to demonstrate that previous methods of classification need to be corrected and that the history of a weapon is important as is its development. Only through the assembly of all the data about a weapon can a person have any idea about how the weapon would handle.


          What follows is an examination of the broadsword. It is indicated by the title that this will be a curatorial examination, but this will be a little broader than most curatorial examinations as they are most often concerned with hilt construction. This has often led to this misclassification of weapons. Thus this investigation will concern itself with the entire weapon, but also more than that.
          To begin with there is the question of what is and is not a broadsword, to this point a definition will be examined and argued for and against, then another proposed. Following this will be a brief history of the development of the broadsword. The word “development” is used here and not “evolution” as it was a process which was affected by external and internal factors, and also had an effect upon other weapons of similar make. Next will be a discussion of the broadsword and the backsword, two weapons which are often confused, usually as a result of one or both not having a clear definition. Getting even more specific there is the question of the claymore and what is and is not one, a question which has been argued to and fro for many years.
After all these preliminary arguments have been established and some of the background has also been established. Then the weapon will be examined. The previous is necessary so that both writer and reader understand what is being discussed. The broadsword will be discussed in order of hilt, blade and then the weapon in general. This will give the differences in different nationalities of broadsword, specifically, English, German and Scottish and the differences between them.
There will be mentions of other weapons of similar classification. The backsword has already been mentioned above, and will feature in different placed in the investigation. The sabre will also be mentioned in the discussions, but more in passing rather than in any sort of detail. Finally, with regard to use considerations, this can only come from the knowledge of the weapon as a whole. This discussion will only barely scratch the surface of that and give some very vague indications. The focus of this investigation is more about the form, origins and development of the weapon. 


“a broad-bladed sword used for cutting rather than stabbing. Also called backsword” (Collins English Dictionary, 2016)

          The definition supplied by the Collins English Dictionary (2016) is rather broad and covers quite a few weapons, it could even cover some forms of medieval sword as well, especially as the definition above does not in any way take into account the form of the hilt. What this means is that the definition needs some refining. The broadsword is most easily defined as a straight-bladed, double-edged, relatively broad-bladed sword with a basket-hilt that protects the hand. What needs to be noted here is that the previous definition did not take into account the hilt of the weapon which is a mistake often made in the curatorship of swords in that often all the weapon is not taken into account.
          The change in hilt is significant where the cross-guard was changed to a basket-hilt and is similar to that which is found with regard to the development of the rapier, and for similar reasons. The civilian rapier’s hilt developed to protect the unarmoured hand of the civilian. The more military broadsword hilt developed as armour declined as a result of the introduction of effective firearms to the battlefield.

The Broadsword Story

“they [basket-hilted broadswords] are most closely associated with the 18th-century Scottish Highlander.” (Holmes, 2010:106)

          When the broadsword is thought of, it is the Scottish Highlander which is first thought of wielding the weapon. The history of the weapon will reveal that they were not the only people to use the weapon, and indeed it could be claimed that they were not even the first. The discussion which follows will follow the development of the broadsword, for the most part, in chronological order. It will start with a more general introduction to the history and then examine the three important centuries of development, the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While this is not really designed to be a curatorial discussion, there will be curatorial elements present.
          To begin there must be a brief examination of the weapon which came before, and to understand that this was primarily a military weapon, rather than a civilian one, even though it found its way into civilian hands. Its history starts with the knightly sword of war, as armour was lessened the hilt had to develop to protect the hand. These developments are primarily noted in England, the result being that the English hilt is the common ancestor of the basket-hilted claymore and English military pattern (Oakeshott, 2012:176). More of this much-argued weapon will be discussed later on.
          There is a lot of argument about the dating of weapons and where they came from. This is for a multitude of reasons firstly weapons are difficult to date due to similarity in design and references found for the pieces themselves (Oakeshott, 2012:177). To accurately date something a design needs to be in print in some form to compare to and when the designs are common across an expanse of time this makes the dating even more difficult. This situation can be complicated even further in the case of many swords not just the broadsword with regard to the idea of re-hilting. In the case of the broadsword re-hilting was common, an old blade would be placed in a new hilt, or rarer old hilt and new blade would be put together (Oakeshott, 2012:179). Needless to say, this results in a weapon, if it manages to date both parts with a date for one part and a date for the other.

Sixteenth Century

          Previously it was noted that the broadsword was primarily a military weapon. It was also noted that it was a modification of the knightly war sword, answering the need to protect the hand. After 1520 the knightly war sword acquires a more complex hilt, changes at end of the sixteenth century to the proto-typical forms of broadsword of 17th and 18th centuries (Oakeshott, 2012:126). These developments were in answer to a changing situation on the battlefield where armour was being reduced in answer to its lack of effect against firearms. The speed of which the development came is impressive.

One of the earliest basket-hilted swords was recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose, an English warship lost in 1545. Before the find, the earliest positive dating had been two swords from around the time of the English Civil War. At first the wire guard was a simple design but as time passed it became increasingly sculpted and ornate. (Wikipedia, 2016)

          In a relatively short amount of time, the hilt of the weapon became more and more complex resulting, by middle of century hand protected and surrounded by plates, bars lined with leather or fabric (Coe, 1996:73). This is not a simple operation as can be told by anyone who has assembled a sword of such complex parts. What needs to be noted here is that the earliest hilt here is not Scottish, but English.
          Rather than being nationalistic about where it was invented at this point in time, the important thing to note here is that, the ancestry of broadsword hilts found in those that evolved by 1570s and survived (Oakeshott, 2012:156). It was this pattern of basket-hilt which was spread around and resulted in developments in other places. It should be noted that the beginnings of broadswords of 18th and 19th centuries in German experiments of c.1600 can be seen (Oakeshott, 2012:156).
          What is most interesting is that the weapons which were developed by the English would have to wait until toward the end of the century to cross over the borders of the closest neighbours, and thus would gain a new name, and not the one expected. As in the last years of the sixteenth century basket hilts associated with Highland Scots, known as ‘Irish hilts’ in early seventeenth (Oakeshott, 2012:176). More to the point many of these would be sourced from Continental swordsmiths.

Seventeenth Century

          In a typical Victorian fashion many have attempted to classify the broadsword hilts of the seventeenth century to try and see if there are any patterns of development, but not with much success, “Any attempt to specify prototypical patterns for the broadsword hilts of the seventeenth century would be doomed to failure,” (Oakeshott, 2012:173). This is for two clear reasons the first of which is that the broadsword hilt spread to different nations and was thus changed and developed as according to their own requirements. The second is that, “Basket hilts underwent various changes during the course of the [17th] century.” (Coe, 1996:74), and when these two are combined, there are too many variables to be tracked.
          What is known is that, “Basket hilts continued to be used during the seventeenth century, especially in England and Scotland” (Coe, 1996:74), which is of little surprise due to the origins of the hilt itself in the sixteenth century as indicated above. More to the point it is also here where most of the fame for the broadsword is found. While the Scottish hilt seems to dominate in popularity and in form and construction, English hilts of same period are often of fine construction (Coe, 1996:74). The other thing that should be noted with regard to this is that with regard to the origins of this weapon, it has a distinctively English heritage.

“Scottish it was, even in the seventeenth century, and exclusively Scottish it became, but England has good a claim to it, for it originated in that country. However, since it is always called the ‘Scottish’ sword ... it is necessary to observe the distinctions.” (Oakeshott, 2012:170)

          One of the most useful things about the popularity of an item in the historical record is that sometimes it makes it easier to track through the historical record because it was more likely to be recorded, and also because it was more likely to be researched and thus the information brought to light. In the case of the Scottish broadsword both are the case.

“The 1881 Ancient Scottish Weapons had this to say: The broadsword first appears in formal record in Scotland in 1643, when, along with the Lochaber axe and the Jedburgh staff, it constitutes part of the equipment of the levies then called out by the Convention of Estates, From 1582 to 1649 a "ribbit gaird" often appears as the "essay" of the armourers of Edinburgh, but in 1649 it was changed to "ane mounted sword, with a new scabbard and an Highland guard."” (Scottish Tartans Authority, 2016)

          This clearly dates the first official record of the appearance of the “Highland guard”, clearly what was to be known as the Scottish hilt later on, and fills in another piece of the puzzle of the history of the broadsword which otherwise would have remained unfound. The seventeenth century served as a kind of formative years for the Scottish hilt in which it developed and took its shape. Needless to say that there were many variations of hilt through the period, as a curatorial discussion will find, but eventually will settle on a single one.

“The Scottish basket hilt, with its traditional heart-shaped piercings and large square plates, seems to have appeared in the second half of the century [17th] and remained in use for over a hundred years.” (Coe, 1996:74)

Eighteenth Century

"During the 18th century, the fashion of dueling in Europe focused on the lighter smallsword, and fencing with the broadsword came to be seen as a speciality of Scotland. A number of fencing manuals teaching fencing with the Scottish broadsword were published throughout the 18th century." (Wikipedia, 2016)

          While the Wikipedia (2016) is not the most reliable source the information presented above is accurate. Most of the Continent was focused on the use of the smallsword and thus most of use of the broadsword was left to military matters. Being a more “native” weapon to the Scots, manuals for the use of the broadsword were also published alongside those for the smallsword.
In the case of the broadsword, the stage of full development had arrived, “The basket-hilted sword, in which the entire hand was protected by a leather-lined cage of bars was made in many variations throughout the eighteenth century.” (Coe, 1996:85). The complete hand was protected and the weapon was established. In the end, the broadsword would serve more as a military sword rather than a civilian sword and, “The variety of basket hilts found on eighteenth-century military swords is enormous,” (Coe, 1996:86). One thing that can be said is that the Scottish type was the more dominant form later due to its developmental stages.

“As for the ‘Scottish’ sword, in its earliest forms it as uncompromisingly English, and remained a standard English pattern far into the eighteenth century; only very late in the century did it become exclusively Scottish.” (Oakeshott, 2012:170)

          The Scottish form of broadsword was to dominate in form and function and became the more dominant form of hilt for the military. Even in the backsword form, the “basket-hilted backsword of about 1766. Swords of this pattern were fashionable for officers in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.” (Coe, 1996:86). The effect of the popularity of this form of hilt type can be seen in popular culture as for the most part when a basket-hilt is seen it is compared to the Scottish form. Instantly the broadsword is associated with the eighteenth-century Scottish Highlander, and also the Highland Regiments of the British Empire which followed.

Broadsword or Backsword?

          To delve into the question of the broadsword is also to come up against all sorts of different questions and be confronted by different weapons which may claim to be the same thing when in fact they are not, and sometimes they are. One of the first stops along this path is the backsword. This is the first question that must be answered, what is the difference between the broadsword and the backsword, where is the line drawn between the two, or is there one to be drawn? The answer to this is actually relatively simple, but some other things have to be taken into account.

“The Basket hilted sword was also called the Scottish Broad Sword. There was also a version called the claidheamh cuil which means back sword. The back was blunt with just one sharp edge.” (Watterott, 2016)
What can be seen here is that the concept of the backsword is actually quite found quite far afield. In this case there is Scottish Gaelic for the term backsword meaning a weapon which has only one sharp edge, so in essence the idea stands on firm ground. When it comes to the broadsword it is the Scots who would seem to be the experts, as for questions about the “claymore”, they will be answered later on. In our contemporary society ideas of curatorial differences in weapons based on form rather than function still hold true, “Where the blade has only one cutting edge it is known as a backsword.” (Akehurst, 1969:8). This does not take into account the use of the weapon merely the form of the weapon.
          One of the more interesting discoveries which came out of this research is that the weapons, both the broadsword and backsword were claimed as cavalry weapons (Wagner, 2004:20). This is most interesting as it is the Scots Highland Regiments which were primarily infantry units where the broadsword is most known from, not to mention all of the evidence from manuals which points to using the weapon on foot. Further in the same discussion he claims that the weapon, “had a straight blade, originally two-edged, later only one sharp edge. These weapons were uniform in character,” (Wagner, 2004:20). What should be noted is that it is the two-edged broadsword, of the infantry version which will be the primary focus of this study and that in the sources which describe the use of the weapons both terms were used to describe the same weapon meaning the difference is more a question for curators, rather than those interested in its use.

What is a Claymore?

When the word “claymore” is said two weapons are immediately thought of, a two-handed weapon of medieval origin and also the basket-hilted broadsword more associated with a later period. The question remains as to which is the “claymore”. Of course it would be simple just to use a modern definition.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “claymore” as “a large 2-edged sword formerly used by Scottish Highlanders, also their basket-hilted broadsword” (Merriam-Webster, 2016). This is rather confusing as it actually indicates two weapons a large one and also the basket-hilted broadsword. What this means is that the common confusion as to what a claymore actually is continues. The aim of what follows is to bring some of this discussion out and find a solution to this question.

“Perhaps the most famous version of the broadsword is the Scottish claymore. Though claymores were originally two-handed swords usually with simple cruciform hilts, their most famous incarnations were fitted with basket hilts, these swords became iconic weapons of the Highland Regiments that fought for the British Empire.” (Soud, 2014:53)

          Soud (2014) would indicate that both were named “claymore”, both the two-handed version and also the basket-hilted version, and that the name was carried through from one weapon to another. Thus for this author it would seem that it is not a matter of naming convention which is the problem, merely that it is a problem with naming the correct era which is being spoken about. For him there would be a “medieval claymore” and a “basket-hilted claymore”. Unfortunately, this does not take into account the origins of the word or where the weapon came from.

“The long two hander was called a claidheamh dà làimh, translated it literally means two handed sword. … In the romanticised period after the Jacobites the term Claymore was then applied to the long medieval sword.” (Watterott, 2016)

          Watterott (2016) examines the native language from which the term “claymore” came from, Scottish Gaelic, presenting the name of the two-handed sword in the language and giving the reason that it was changed to the more familiar one in the later period. This would seem to give more evidence than the previous explanation of giving both weapons the same name. Further to this he explains why the basket-hilted weapon is correctly named “claymore” using similar evidence.

“The Scottish version [of the basket-hilted sword] was broader than similar swords of the time. This sword was called a claidheamh-mór. This is Gaelic and translates into Great Sword due to its larger size than its contemporaries. It is well accepted that Claymore is derived from the Gaelic claidheamh-mór.” (Watterott, 2016)

          Watterott (2016) uses the original language and demonstrates through history the naming conventions of why the basket-hilted weapon should be called “claymore” and the two-handed weapon should not. Oakeshott (2012) being a respectable historian and curator of weapons gives a much simpler reason and evidence for why the basket-hilted broadsword should be called a “claymore”. One based on the weight of history.

“the familiar basket-hilted broadsword was called a ‘claymore’ by the Scots from early in the sixteenth century, and with such respectable contemporary usage behind it, the name may well be allowed to stick.” (Oakeshott, 2012:175)


          The broadsword hilt was not first developed in Scotland, but England, in fact Scotland was last on the list of places for the broadsword to arrive. “The idea of a basket to protect the hand first came to England and then Scotland from Scandinavian and German sword makers.” (Scottish Tartans Authority, 2016). What this does is it explains the origins and spread of the broadsword around Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as has already been indicated previously, and will also explain the foreign blades found in many Scottish hilts.
          What should be noted in the hilts of the weapons are the similarities between those of the late sixteenth century and even those of much later periods, the ancestry of broadsword hilts are found in those which evolved by 1570s and survived (Oakeshott, 2012:156). This is because the foundations were laid by these early weapons and developed over time. One of the more important things about these broadswords is that they were made to last they were often japanned or oxidised to prevent rusting (Oakeshott, 2012:181). These are common methods so that the weapon can be passed down and thus have multiple owners.


          The German hilts are clearly influenced by the English hilts. In the experimental forms of basket hilt that were being tried around c.1600 and can be seen the beginnings of the broadswords of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Germany (Oakeshott, 2012:156). The most contention however comes from the discussion of the differences and similarities between the English and Scottish hilts.

English vs Scottish Hits

          There are differences between the English and Scottish hilts and enough that some time needs to be spent examining them. Oakeshott (2012) states that there are three features that differ between the Scottish and the English hilts in the sixteenth century, pommel shape, addition of pair of bars on rear of guards, small linking bar between third and fourth bars inside and outside (Oakeshott, 2012:177). What will be noted from below, as the hilts are examined separately that there are common areas and also some areas where they differ, along with these three which have been noted above.


          The history of the broadsword notes that the English hilt was in use by the mid-sixteenth century, and a curved quillon form as dated as early as the 1560s (Oakeshott, 2012:175). What this tells us is that the dating for the English form of the broadsword is very early and this needs to be compared to the Scottish form of the broadsword, which will be noted to be somewhat later in the history of the weapon. The fact that the Scottish claymore took over, and the military pattern was designed from the English hilt, or is at least a common ancestor (Oakeshott, 2012:176), places the English hilt as one of importance.


          Starting with the pommel, it is quite distinctive, it is described as, “a large rounded pommel” (Akehurst, 1969:8). This description of the pommel is not particularly descriptive. It implies that it would be spherical in shape. Luckily there is some more specific information which states that it is apple or bun-shaped (Oakeshott, 2012:177). This means that it is not quite spherical, but more of a slightly compressed sphere.


          With all the focus on the Scottish hilts, being the more famous, English hilts of same periods are often neglected, but are often of fine construction (Coe, 1996:74). This must be the case as has been noted that they formed the bases for many of the guards which followed them. To address the guard more directly, it had, three vertical bars either side, connected by diagonally crossing bar with small circular plate at the join (Oakeshott, 2012:177). This formed the basis of the basket toward the front of the weapon. To the rear there was also protection toward the wrist. This rearward protection consisted of bars which slope sharply from pommel to where rear quillon would be (Oakeshott, 2012:177), noting of course, that in some instances that quillons may still be present.


“By the mid 17th century, ribbon baskets were being made in large quantities and by the turn of the 18th century, the Highland basket was reaching its full pattern. With the addition of the final rear wrist guard at the time of Culloden, it had fully matured. All basket hilt swords after 1746 were of military pattern.” (Scottish Tartans Authority, 2016)

          What appears above is a quite truncated history of the Scottish hilt and broadsword. It does take into account some important parts of its development, which is true, but also leaves out its origins. What can be said is that there is a pattern for the broadsword’s development and, “The traditional hilt-pattern, so very well-known, seems to have developed during the late sixteenth century, from an English-designed ‘basket’ hilt” (Oakeshott, 2012:175). Of course, usually for nationalistic purposes, this inconvenient piece of the history of the hilt is often neglected. What cannot be denied is the link between the hilts.


          The Scottish hilt has a different pommel. The “Scottish basket hilt with its flattened conical pommel.” (Akehurst, 1969:8), is obviously different from the English hilt. This changes the profile of the weapon, even when it is slightly different and is formed as a double cone round (Oakeshott, 2012:177). The conical shape of the pommel remains the same.


          When examining that famous Scottish guard it is best to examine the basic elements and then the more specific ones. The differences between this and the English hilt will be clear. The Scottish guard is constructed of a rectangular plate at where the bars cross on the English hilt, these are decorated; further the rear bars are closer to vertical and an extra shorter one is added to the back of the hilt with an added linking bar (Oakeshott, 2012:177). It is the combination of all of these Elements which gives the Scottish guard all of its characteristics.
          The ‘beaknose’ in which the “basket is formed from a series of welded, flat, ribbon-like strips of metal and is drawn into a kind of beak in front.” and is one of earliest Scottish guards c.1600 – 1680 (Oakeshott, 2012:177). This element of the guard remained on the guard for most of the history of the hilt. It could be inferred that this is the remains of the protection for the finger which may be used on the ricasso of the weapon.
          The design of the rest of the hilt with regard to the plates on the sides and front of the hilt, were standardised in a fashion. There were exceptions to this, but the mass produced weapons did follow form. Coe (1996) places the appearance of the openwork of hearts and circles on Scottish hilts in late 1600 (Coe,1996:85) or then previously stated that they appeared somewhat later.

“The Scottish basket hilt, with its traditional heart-shaped piercings and large square plates, seems to have appeared in the second half of the century [17th] and remained in use for over a hundred years.” (Coe, 1996:74)

          What is known for certain is that he states that after 1710 the hilt changed to have rectangular linked bars, pierced and edges filed into serrations (Coe, 1996:85). This denotes a change in the decoration of the hilt. The change in decoration of the hilt can be useful in dating the weapon, at least to before or after 1710, if it follows the standard pattern.


          One thing that is known about the Scottish hilt is that they were lined. This was no doubt for comfort in the use of the weapon. The hilt was most often leather-lined, with thin chamois, covered with velvet or felt and edged with braid, and the base had a thick lining of deer skin (Oakeshott, 2012:181). Examples of these linings can be found on museum examples and good modern reproductions of the weapons.


“The chief modern varieties of the curved blade are the Broadsword, the Backsword, the Hanger, and Cutlass, the Scymitar and Düsack, the Yataghan and the Flissa.” (Burton, 1987:123)

          Burton (1987) classifies the broadsword under a large family of weapons. What is most interesting is that he says that they are curved which they is clearly not the case, however in comparison with the smallsword which would have been the basis of comparison for him at the time of his writing in 1884. There are further issues with the classification of the broadsword, some of which have already been noted. Oakeshott (2012) states that they were mostly double-edged, though back-edged blades were not uncommon (Oakeshott, 2012:178). Clearly there is confusion here between the blade of the broadsword and the backsword, however on the basis that they are both mentioned simultaneously in the manuals this is less of an issue. Similarly the cavalry weapon is similarly confused by Wagner (2004) “It had a straight blade, originally two-edged, later only one sharp edge. These weapons were uniform in character,” (Wagner, 2004:20). The cavalry weapon is for a different purpose, so is a different weapon, even if it has a similar hilt. This is the reason why it is important that the entire weapon needs to be taken into account rather than just hilt forms. A similar issue has often been found with the classification of the rapier and similar weapons.
          The blades themselves were carefully selected, “preference was given to blades of older origin from workshops of well known blade-makers.” (Wagner, 2004:20). Clearly when considering the weapon to be constructed the blade had to be trusted thus an older blade would have shown its worth previously, and well-known blade-makers likewise would have proven their worth. Occasionally the curatorial details will allude to the use of the weapon, and thus give descriptive ideas about the blade, “The blades of such swords were almost invariably for cutting rather than thrusting.” (Coe, 1996:74). This would imply a blade which is shorter rather than longer and broader rather than thinner. Soud (2014) gives some detail with regard to this, “Long hacking and slashing blade” (Soud, 2014:53), rather than being short it was long.
          With regard to particular nationalities or types of broadsword, Scots weapons have broad blades, often with three fullers (Oakeshott, 2012:178), thus a definitive statement of a broadsword. In comparison, “The British army and many other armies had similar hilted swords but the blades were more slender.” (Watterott, 2016). This is an important consideration when considering use characteristics and method of use. The Scottish weapon would have had a heavier cut, based on this description, and it must be remembered that these blades were of some quality, “The Scottish broadswords or backswords have fine springy steel blades, mostly imported from Germany and bearing the ‘trade mark’ Andrea Ferrara.” (Akehurst, 1969:43). This also supports the idea of the broadsword coming to Scotland after having been to the Continent.


          The following will discuss the weapons themselves, and examples of them. There are curatorial issues with regard to dating the weapons, due to similarity and references (Oakeshott, 2012:177). The weapons are often of similar construction and made over such a broad period that reference to a style of hilt or even maker is not necessarily helpful. Further to this, re-hilting was common, old blade with new hilts, and rarer old hilts and new blades (Oakeshott, 2012:179). This means that a blade from an older period can be placed in a newer hilt which means that there is actually two dates, one for the blade and one for the hilt. What can be said about the broadsword, and this often causes problems with dating them is that there was eventually a uniform shape and ornamentation for whole armies by mid-eighteenth century (Wagner, 2004:20). This is useful for general dating, but not specific.


          Two examples of broadswords will be presented the first a sixteenth-century basket-hilted sword, the second an eighteenth-century cavalry sword. The first weapon is English and dated to c.1540. It has a full-encompassing hilt which is older than the broad German blade, it weighs 1.36kg and is 1.04m long (Holmes, 2010:104). The second example is English and is dated to c.1750. It has a full- encompassing hilt, a straight broad single-edged blade. It weighs 1.36kg and is 1m long (Holmes, 2010:104). It is most interesting that the weight is consistent as is the length, for the most part, even over the broad expanse of time.


          This is a single example of a proto-basket hilt sword. What this means is that it is one which would have been copied from the English hilt design. This sword is dated c.1550 and is German. It weighs 1.59kg and is 0.96m long. The blade is double-edged, and the weapon has a simple guard design, which is a “significant improvement over earlier Swiss weapons.” (Holmes, 2010:105). Clearly by the weight and length comparison the Germans were in the early development stages.


          The Scottish hilt of the broadsword is the most well-known of all, and well-developed, “The characteristically Scottish basket-hilt guard was designed to protect the swordsman’s hand.” (Holmes, 2010:106). There is a single example from the same source which has been used for both the English examples and the German example above, of a Scottish weapon. This broadsword is Scottish and is dated c.1750. The basket is lined with felt-covered leather. It has a wide double-edged blade for cutting and thrusting and a basket-hilt for hand protection. The sword weighs 1.36kg, and is 0.91m long (Holmes, 2010:106).
If the weapons are compared, the Scottish weapon is the shortest of all the weapons which have been described. The Scottish and two English weapons are of equal weight. This would imply that there is more metal in the hilt of the Scottish weapon than the English. This is actually no surprise as in comparison the Scottish hilt would actually cover more of the swordsman’s hand and wrist.


          The broadsword is a weapon which is well-known by many, but often misrepresented or even presented as the wrong weapon. From medieval swords to swords which have similar characteristics but are not the same, each one has been called a “broadsword”. Often this is because of the definition given for the weapon. For convenience a definition has been derived as, a straight-bladed, double-edged, relatively broad-bladed sword with a basket-hilt that protects the hand. The definition needs to be specific enough to take into account all of the weapon and not just the hilt. This one is a beginning.
          After defining the weapon an examination of its history was made. For some it would sound quite familiar. Due to armour around the hand being reduced, and armour in general being reduced due to the presence of firearms, the hilt was increased. This is actually quite accurate for the broadsword as it was primarily a military weapon, unlike the rapier which was a civilian one in which case the hilt developed to defend the unarmoured hand of the civilian.
          More specifically, the English forms of hilt developed first, followed by the German and European, and then the Scottish. In the eighteenth century Scotland became the broadsword fencing centre of Europe, while most of the rest of the nations focussed on the use of the smallsword. Military weapons of the same and later eras were based on the Scottish and English hilt designs.
          In the case of the broadsword and the backsword and their differences, the broadsword has two edges, and the backsword has one edge. The mistake of classification of one as the other is usually a result of classification by hilt design. The backsword saw some service in the hands of the cavalry but this was a different weapon again, the problem again being classification by hilt design. For the most part manuals of the period did not discriminate between the broadsword and backsword in use, and it is here where the real definition of the weapon lies.
          Next is the question of the claymore and what it is. In Scots Gaelic, the two-handed weapon has a different name as was indicated, meaning that even in the native language of the origin of the weapon it does not mean the larger of the two weapons. More to the point in contemporary usage the Scots themselves were calling the basket-hilted broadsword a “claymore” from the sixteenth century and it results in there being little argument left. The other weapon was only referred to by this name as a result of some romanticised notion of revival after the Jacobite Rebellion.
          In the case of the actual curatorial notes which have been made, much of the foundation for the evidence has been laid in the history, with the English hilt influencing all which followed, but the English using the Scottish hilt for the military weapon. Notes about the blade demonstrate more errors of classification due to being based on hilt forms, but demonstrate that the Scottish weapon had the broader blade, and that all had quite long blades even though they were cutting weapons. The weapon examples are more there for interest as they provide not enough information for any real idea about the weapons, even with images if they had been added. It is most important to look at the entire weapon to get idea about it. To classify a weapon by its hilt only is erroneous.
          A weapon needs to have a lot of data given about it to give any idea of how the weapon would be used. This is an investigation into the development of the weapon. It is also designed to clear up exactly what weapon is being discussed and to clear up some historical issues with regard to it. The easiest method to do this was a curatorial examination, to look at the form and construct of the weapon.


Akehurst, R. (1969) Antique Weapons for Pleasure and Investment, Arco Publishing Company Inc., New York

Burton, R. (1987) The Book of the Sword, Dover Publications Inc, Mineola, New York (originally published 1884)

Coe, M. (et. al.) (1996) Swords and Hilt Weapons, Prion Books Ltd, London

Collins English Dictionary (2016) “Definition of Broadsword”,, Harper Collins Publishers, Glasgow

Holmes, R. (2010) Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armour, Dorling Kindersley, London

Oakeshott, E. (2012) European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge

Scottish Tartans Authority (2016) “Highland Weapons”,

Soud, D. (2014) The Illustrated History of Weapons: Swords, Spears & Maces, Kingsford Editions, Heatherton, Victoria

Wagner, E. (2004) Swords and Daggers: An Illustrated Handbook, Dover Publications Inc., Mineola, New York

Watterott, H. (2016) “Is it a Claymore or a Scottish Basket Hilted Broadsword - History Police 3”,

Wikipedia (2016) “Basket-hilted sword”, Wikimedia Foundation

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