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A SCOTTISH HIGHLAND CLAYMORE, circa 1574

  • Country of Origin: Scotland
  • Price Range: £50000+
  • Date: 1574
  • Size: Overall length: 126.4 cm / 49¾ in Blade length: 94.5 cm / 37¼ in
2088
2088-12088-102088-7

Literature

Laking, Sir Guy Francis, A Record of European Armour and Arms, vol.. 2, 1920, pp. 304, fig. 684

Provenance

Private Collection, Scotland W. Keith Neal Collection Earlshall Collection Private Collection, Germany

Description

The hilt has downward sloping quillons of diamond section emanating from the base of a high collar, tapering towards their terminals, which are forged from one piece to create their distinctive quatrefoil shapes. Beneath the collar a pair of langets erupt from the base to extend for equal lengths down the blade, either side retaining evidence of fine line decoration extending across the front and sides of each langet. The slightly ovoid pommel is constructed characteristically of two bossed outside plates brazed with latten onto a middle band. The tang protrudes through a crescent-shaped pommel-cap which protected the hollow pommel from damage when the tang was peened over during the assembly of the sword.

The broad, gently tapering blade is formed with a central fuller which extends for twelve inches either side of the hilt; the fuller contains a running wolf inlaid in latten on one side and an orb and cross-in-splendour on the reverse. Inside the fuller an armourer’s mark is stamped in the form a heater-shaped shield, inside which an arrow, above a cross inside a circle, appears in relief. This mark is typical of a number of blade-makers producing similar blades in Solingen in the late 16th century. On each side of the blade the mark is flanked by two numerals, one indistinct, but taken together, the four probably form the date 1574. The sword is in fine condition with pitting commensurate with its age, with a minor old chip to the tip.

Our sword is a particularly fine example of a 16th century Scottish claymore – the two-handed sword of the Scottish Highlands and Isles. ‘Claymore’ is the Anglicised version of the Gaelic term Claidheamh-mor, meaning ‘Great Sword’, and it has often been inappropriately used to refer to Scottish basket-hilted swords carried by Highland regiments. The origin of the true Highland claymore emanates from a much earlier period of Scottish history that is less understood but intriguing. The elegant, well proportioned and sleek profile of a genuine claymore is instantly recognisable. The distinctive cross-guard, with its high collar and langets beneath, has an ancestry which can be traced back to the single-handed swords of the late Viking era in Scotland and the Western Isles. Only forty or so examples of genuine claymores are known to exist today, and most are in public and institutional collections. As a group, the surviving swords are also in varying states of restoration, repair and condition. Our sword is not only a rare survivor but is a fine example of the type. It lacks its grip but it has never been dismantled and retains its classic proportions.

Four outstanding examples, including our sword, are illustrated among others by Laking in A Record of European Armour and Arms. The first is a claymore once owned by Noel Paton, now in the National Museums of Scotland (no. a.1905.634); the second is the ‘Breadalbane’ claymore, from the Rutherford Stuyvesant Collection, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (no. 54.46.10) and the third is the one housed in the British Museum (no. OA.3189 PRN: 7064). Our sword is the fourth in Laking’s notable sequence of outstanding examples, illustrated and described as a ‘claidheamh-mor . . . In a private collection in Perth’.

The earliest representation of a claymore in its fully developed form appears on a grave slab in Kirkapoll churchyard on the island of Tiree and is dated 1495. The latest is the depiction of a man wearing armour and holding a claymore, point down, sculpted into the left side pillar of the Upper Hall fireplace of Huntly Castle, some time around 1600. Between these extremes other dated representations are known, notably at Oransay Priory and at Rodel Church on Harris, in the Hebrides, where MacDuffie chiefs of Colonsay and MacLeods of Dunvegan on Skye are interred. They are all of hand-and-a-half size, slightly smaller and therefore more manoeuvrable than larger Continental two-handers. Interestingly, claymores are generally shown in scabbards but none survive today; most of these depictions lie in the Western Highlands and Isles.

By the end of the 15th century the claymore had reached the peak of its development, suited for the tactics, technology and practicalities attached to warfare in the Highlands, Western Isles and surrounds. This perfection of the sword design created a consistency of form over a long period of time, lasting for more than a century. The clan warriors equipped with these swords generally moved over long distances by foot, over rocky terrain, or by galley across water, travelling light and in an unencumbered self-sufficient manner, sustained by what they could carry and take from the land. The 16th century, the period with which the claymore is associated, was one of the bloodiest in Highland and Scottish history. The period is not well recorded in the Highlands; the Highlanders and Islanders spoke Gaelic and lived in a bardic clan culture with little need or incli

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