A uniquely Scottish style of two-handed sword evolved at the start of the sixteenth Century. The Scots-Irish single hand swords had many of the same attributes and the lineage if its creation can be seen in the development of this larger sword. You can see the main elements of the hilt in the effigies at the Iona Abbey Museum.
Effigy of Bricius MacFingone, Iona Abbey, later 15th century
The two-handed swords that evolved were a bit shorter and lighter, in general, than the continental two-handers of the same period. The Scottish swords running about 55 inches in overall length, with grips of about a foot and broad fairly straight edged blades. Fairly uniform in style, the sword was set with a wheel pommel often capped by a crescent-shaped nut. The guard being its most distinctive feature with wide, straight, down-sloping arms ending in iconic quatrefoil piercings or four brazed tubes. These swords usually feature langets running from the center of the quillion block down the blade for a few inches.
There have been many arguments over the appropriate name for this style of sword, and we address the controversy in our previous blog What is a Claymore?. Although this style of sword was probably not called a claymore in the period of its popularity, we use the term Highland Claymore in our catalog for two main reasons. One is, we do not have time to answer all the well meaning but slightly inaccurate emails telling us that it is, in fact, a Claymore. Second, and more importantly, this is the name that is commonly used for the sword type, so we have opted to keep the name despite it being historically questionable.
There is precious little documentary evidence depicting these swords in use. The surviving pieces are all we really have to focus our research on and some of these were obviously made at later dates than are attributed to them. Some are also quite obvious in their crafting for use as symbols or bearing swords. Such uses are an absolutely valid reason to create a sword but should not be lumped in with comparisons against combat swords for study. The most famous of these Scottish examples is the piece with a twisted narwhal horn as a long arcing grip and a guard made with four arms all pointing to a different point of the compass.
Here we have a video spotlight of the Arms & Armor replica of a nice sword from a private collection. We are not aware of its current location as it has found a new home since we last saw it. This is crafted in our shop by our experienced artisans and is a very popular sword. You can check out our specs and details here
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.