article is based on research by Peter Busch, a Ph.D. student
at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and Sword Forum
Magazine Online Staff Writer.
The sword carried on parade by Highland officers throughout
Canada is universally, and erroneously, referred to as a "Claymore" - and in
fact, the word of command "Draw Claymores" often punctuates Regimental parades
of the Calgary Highlanders.
The Claymore has been a part of the Highland officers' full
kit, regardless of whether he served in the British Army, the Canadian Army, or one of the
other Commonwealth countries which boasted Highland or Scottish regiments, throughout the
20th Century. By the 1990s, the erroneous term "Claymore" was partially
replaced with the more proper "Basket - hilted Broadsword." So called
because the hilt is defined as being a full basket (as opposed to a quarter, half or
three quarter hilt), and because the blade is typically double edged, as opposed to a
single edged straight blade (which would be a "Backsword"). (Peter
Busch notes that "broadsword" was a Victorian (1837 - 1901) addition to the
English language) .
|Busch goes on to say:
The Highland Officers Basket Hilted Broadsword is one of the "regulation
patterns" worn by commissioned officers, although admittedly another version exists
for senior Non - Commissioned Officers (NCOs), as illustrated in Dufty (1974), Enfield
having been a manufacturer.
The 1828/65/68 pattern is by no means the most commonly
worn by Britain and its former Empire, today referred to as the Commonwealth. That honour
would doubtless go to the 1897 Pattern Infantry Officer's sword, in practice worn by more
than just infantry officers (such as the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the
Medical Corps and the Royal Engineers to name but a few other branches of service).
Note should be made of the fact that the 1828/65/68
Pattern Basket Hilted Broadsword is also worn occasionally by Drum Majors of Scottish Pipe
Bands, whether military, civil or police (whether this is actually regulation, the author
The Calgary Highlanders do permit the Pipe Major and Drum
Major to wear the broadsword in full dress. All Pipers wear a sword belt when in
uniform, but do not wear swords. The Regimental Sergeant Major is also permitted a
sword in full dress (in practice, this is the DEU), but is not permitted to draw it, with
the exception of a Trooping of the Colour.
The British Army was slow to standardize military patterns of
swords in the 1700s, not producing a formal pattern until 1788. Prussia, for
example, had standardized a sword for Cuirassiers in 1732, and another for Dragoons in the
same year. The first Scottish units of the British Army included the 42nd Regiment
(Black Watch) raised in 1739, followed by six other Highland regiments and three Lowland
regiments by 1788.
LCol Tom Manley and LCol Lee Villiger, prior to
the ceremonial passing of the Claymore from the outgoing Commanding Officer to the new CO;
April 2005. Photo courtesy Cindy Desilets
Busch explains the history of the sword:
Scotland had long had a love affair with the Basket -
hilted broadsword which began as early as the 17th. century. One sword raised from the
Mary Rose provides a clue as to the early appearance of the basket hilt on the British
mainland, an example of which has been reproduced in limited number by the Wilkinson Sword
Company. Note should be made of the fact that the blades originally used in the swords
were however typically of German manufacture being normally produced at that famous centre
of edged weapon manufacture, Solingen. Indeed the Solingen cutlers even had a term for
blades produced for the Scottish market, namely "Grosse Schotten" (i.e.
Great/Large/Broad Scots), on account of the blade breadth typically preferred by the
The reason for the adoption of patterns in 1788 was
largely one of efficiency. The system up until then as so admirably explained by Robson in
his landmark texts (1975, 1996), was that of one where the Colonel in charge of each
regiment would simply choose the most appealing sword, based on principles of aesthetics
and of course economics. With such a system in place one can only too easily comprehend
the disparities that would have been prevalent in the quality of swords from one regiment
to the next, not to mention the logistical problems of re-supply when baskets and blades
While Proscription prohibited civilians from carrying
weapons, wearing the kilt, or playing bagpipes after the 1746 rebellion, Highland Officers
and NCOs still carried the basket hilted sword in the new units of the British Army.
These swords would have had gilded copper or steel hilts. In 1798, the
official pattern for officers in Highland units was finally standardized, being a gilt
brass basket with a black leather scabbard and gilt brass fittings.
The Year 1822
After the Napoleonic wars, King George IV, in part, initiated
a major overhaul of British swords and other military implements. One of the results
was that Highland Officers were to take into use the "gothic hilted" sabre,
making them conform to the rest of the British Army's infantry regiments. However,
the 92nd Regiment was soon made an exception to this, and the other Highland regiments
also continued to use the basket-hilted broadsword.
B. Robson, in Swords of the British Army: The Regulation
Patterns 1788 - 1914 (Arms and Armour Press, London, U, 1975) wrote that by this
period, the sword was:
"... as [being of] Highland pattern with gilt basket
hilt and scabbard mounts and a straight cut and thrust blade 33 inches long and 1 inch
wide at the shoulder. The scabbard was to be of black leather and the gilt mounts were to
have loose rings as well as a frog catch since the sword was intended to be used with
either slings or a frog (:126 - 127)."
1828 Pattern and 1828/65/68 Pattern
In 1828, the pattern was changed to incorporate a steel
basket hilt; Busch surmises that this was done for uniformity, greater strength, and
reduced cost. Officers were, however, permitted to wear out the older pattern gilt
brass basket-hilted swords. The scabbard remained black leather, but with steel
mounts, and ending in a ball chape. By 1834, field grade officers (as today, this
term described those ranked major or higher) as well as adjutants were permitted to wear a
scabbard of steel (with ball chape).
In 1868, the combined steel basket hilt from 1828 and the
full steel scabbard from 1834 was confirmed as the standard pattern for all Highland
officers, (not just simply those of field rank), and it is this pattern that has is still
in use today.
Busch described the construction of the modern broadsword as
Although not necessarily part of regulation, certain
differences exist in 1828/65/68 pattern swords found today (of modern manufacture or
otherwise). Due to the arising of certain distinct centres of manufacture in the 17th. and
18th. centuries, it is not surprising that different 'styles' of basket hilts came about
over the years. Such styles were labelled 'Stirling', or 'Glasgow' or 'Edinburgh' after
the place of manufacture. Stirling hilts for example were typically considered to be very
In terms of the construction of the baskets, the initial
method seems initially to have pointed bars protruding into the pommel. Later on this
method evolved into what all basket hilts have today, namely a "pommel ring"
onto which the bars of the basket are brazed. The pommel ring simply slipping onto the
tang of the blade, the whole assembly being fastened by a tang nut.
The passing of the Claymore, April 2005.
Captain Mike Owens, visible behind LCol Manley, demonstrates the position of
when swords are drawn. Photo courtesy Cindy Desilets
Today baskets may be encountered of essentially three
1. What can perhaps be called the most traditional style
insofar as the hilt is concerned, is that constructed of 'bars' and steel 'plate' being
forge welded together.
2. Another style also seen, is that of a cast iron basket
that is typically nickel plated.
3. What seems to be most commonly manufactured today
however is the style encountered in examples by the Wilkinson Sword Company (Wilkinson
Basket Hilt), and wonderfully shown in a film shot by them in 1967 (Swordcraft), whereby
the 'basket' is formed 'in the flat' as a sheet by way of a mould and then hammered into
shape over an appropriately shaped wooden or metal block, then being brazed together.
Perhaps this is just a 20th century rendition of the ribbon - hilted broadswords popular
in the 18th century.
In the late 19th century, most notably from about the
1880s through to about 1914, a number of the highland regiments adopted a cruciform hilt,
which could be affixed to the blade. At about this time the full basket hilt was
understandably made to be taken off the blade to allow the fitting of the cruciform hilt,
for which the nut on top of the pommel may be noted. Each of the highland regiments that
briefly adopted this cruciform hilt had quillons ending in differently shaped knobs
(Robson 1975). Oddly enough the reason given by Robson for the adoption of this hilt was
that the basket was too constrictive for the hand to allow "proper" combat,
although understandably of course the cruciform hilt would have provided far less
protection for the hand.
Finally of course it may be noted that all of the baskets
appear to incorporate a lining. This lining is typically of thin buff leather, covered
with British scarlet baize (a woollen cloth), edged with blue silk ribbon, and topped off
with a red silk tassel. The reason for this lining was presumably to keep the hand warm,
protect the fingers from thrusts, and of course for reasons of attractiveness. The reason
for the tassel however, was originally at least to prevent chafing according to J. Wallace
(Scottish Swords and Dirks: An Illustrated Reference Guide to Scottish Edged Weapons,
Arms and Armour Press, London U.K., 1970):
"Late in the seventeenth century a short, thick
woollen fringe, fitted inside the guard just below the pommel, was introduced - presumably
to prevent chafing of the skin. As a probable consequence, it became the practice to leave
the lower half of the pommel rough and unpolished, since it was almost entirely concealed
by the fringe. This fringe was enlarged during the eighteenth century to the inordinate
length it is now, and moved to outside the hilt."
The blade of the 1828/65/68 pattern was originally
manufactured with more than one fuller, typically two as indicated in the following
pictures, and occasionally more than two. However as of about the 1880s, the fuller
changed to a single one, which is still the case today.
Nevertheless note should be made of the short double
fullers found in the ricasso, which have been a characteristic of the pattern, and indeed
Scottish Basket hilts from the beginning and may be noted in the hilt pictures above. The
circular brass proof mark was a Wilkinson invention of about the 1860s, which other sword
cutlers were only to keen to copy.
The manufacture of the steel scabbard is quite explicitly
described by Wilkinson-Latham (1966) whereby the sheet steel comprising the body is shaped
over a mandrel and then brazed together. The ball chape, throat and carrying rings are
then added, the scabbard then finally being nickel plated.
While many people seem to refer to this pattern as the
1865, Robson (1996) notes that this is really an 1828 pattern sword (in other words when
the brass hilt changed to steel), and it was only in 1868 when all highland officers began
wearing the steel scabbard with the 1828 pattern sword. A considerable number of authors
have actually been used to referring to this sword as the 1865 pattern, and it is partly
for this reason, that the writer is still using this date so that readers in general may
be more easily able to identify with the sword in question. In any case, it is a popular
sword, while the complexity of its hilt typically ensures that it is not only relatively
highly sought after, but also not the cheapest in the Wilkinson line up for that matter