An introduction to complex hilted swords: Part 2

For the second installment of our exploration of complex-hilted swords we look at two swords from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The first is a replica of the Thames basket-hilt from the same period as the wreck of the Mary Rose, circa 1540-1560, and the second is a find from the wreck of the Sea Venture which sank in 1610.

Both pieces exhibit some common features along with the Mary Rose Sword we looked at in part 1. Aside from being aquatic finds, they both have large globose pommels and a guard and knuckle bow with a variety of horizontal bars providing additional protection for the sword hand.

 Replica of THames Basket Hilted Sword

The Thames sword was found in the bed of the river under Southwark bridge in 1979. It is so similar to the swords from the Mary Rose that it may have been constructed in the same shop. The use of these basket hilted swords by the retinue of Henry VIII is documented in paintings of the period, they were definitely weapons of high status and the newest design of the day.

 Thames Basket hilt reproduction by Arms & Armor Inc.

Thames River Basket Hilt reproduction

The Sea Venture was a ship designed and built to supply the colony of Jamestown. Despite the urgency of its mission, the ship was wrecked on a reef on its maiden voyage to Bermuda in 1610. This wreck gives us an excellent date for the sword in question. The ship was salvaged, and much of its cargo and materials were harvested from the wreck in the following decades, but this sword was found encrusted and buried in the coral and sand of the site in the 70's by amateur divers.

"Full fathom five they father lies..." The Tempest Act 1, Scene 2.  A note of interest is that the wreck of the Sea Venture is thought to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare's play, the Tempest.  


Reconstruction of Sea Venture basket hilt

Sea Venture basket hilt reconstruction by Arms & Armor Inc.
This sword is of particular interest because it is an early example of the Scottish style of basket-hilted sword. It illustrates the continued development of the bars to protect the hand and an evolution of the shape of symmetrical inner and outer guards. So check out part 2 and enjoy.
divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.

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