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Claymore

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Scottish Claymore
Scottish Claymore
Creative Commons Licence

The word 'claymore' comes from the Gaelic claidheam-hmor, meaning ‘great sword'. The weapon itself is a two-handed cutting sword used in the Highlands of Scotland and by Scottish mercenaries in Ireland between the early sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. The word later came to be used to describe the eighteenth-century Scottish basket-hilted sword.

The claymore was not the biggest of the European broadswords – a huge lethal-looking sixteenth-century blade from Switzerland or Germany in the Fitzwilliam makes it look almost tame by comparison. But it was a brutally efficient weapon, as a contemporary account of the battle of Killiecrankie, 1689, testifies.

Viscount ‘Bonnie’ Dundee’s force, loyal to the deposed James II, engaged William III’s army under Hugh Mackay at the pass of Killiecrankie near Pitlochry, central Scotland, on 16 July. By the end of the battle,

... the enemy lay in heaps almost in the order they were posted; but so disfigured with wounds, and so hashed and mangled, that even the victors could not look upon the amazing proofs of their own agility and strength without surprise and horror.

Many had their heads divided into two halves by one blow; others had their sculls cut off above the ears by a back-strock, like a night-cap. Their thick buffe-belts were not sufficient to defend their shoulders from such deep gashes as almost disclosed their entrails. Several pikes, small-swords, and the like weapons were cut quite through, and some that wore skull caps had them so beat into their brains that they died upon the spot.

This was one of the last times that the two-handed claymore was used in battle. The development of the firearm neutralised even this powerful weapon.

The sword in the Fitzwilliam is one of the few surviving examples of the ‘true claymore', and is distinguished by several features which seem deliberately intended to evoke earlier medieval war swords. The quillons – crossguards between the hilt and the blade – are angled in towards the blade and end in quatrefoils, and a tongue of metal protrudes down either side of the blade. The top of the blade is punchmarked ‘Fettes', an old Scottish name.

Themes and periods

Northern Europe 1400 - 1700

Data from our collections database

The pommel is from a basket-hilted sword. An inscription 'AFORBES' (with the F the wrong way round) is punched (pontillé style) along one length (nothing on the other): name of previous owner?

Christie's, London, 3 March, 1949, Lot 76, vendor not named

Legal notes

Bought with the General Duplicates Fund

Acquisition and important dates

Dating

The claymore is a two-handed sword of a type used in Scotland from the 15th to 17th century.

Maker(s)

Note

The claymore is a two-handed sword of a type used in Scotland from the 15th to 17th century.

Measurements and weight

Materials used in production

Techniques used in production

Inscription or legend

Inscription present: the F is written backwards

Associated department: Applied Arts

Identification numbers

Audit data

Associated institutions

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