Claymore Sword: A Guide to Popular Scottish Weapon (2024)

Claymore Sword: A Guide to Popular Scottish Weapon (1)

One of the deadliest swords in history, the Scottish claymore sword emerged during the period of clan feuds and border wars with the English. The Scottish Highlanders and Lowlanders relied on their swords for protection and as a weapon for warfare.

Let’s explore the history of the Scottish two-handed sword and how it evolved into the different types we know today.

Different Types of the Claymore Sword

The Scots had three distinct types of the 16th-century two-handed sword: the Highland Claymore, the Lowland Claymore, and the Clamshell Claymore. The term claymore was later used to refer to the 18th-century Scottish basket-hilted broadsword.

1. Highland Claymore

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Regarded as the true Scottish claymore, the Highland claymore was the two-handed sword the Scottish Highlanders used from the 15th to the early 17th century. It has an overall length ranging from 120 to 138 centimeters. The Highland claymore is most distinguished for its quatrefoils at the end of quillons. It has a wheel-shaped pommel, a crossguard angled towards the blade, and long langets or strips of metal extending down the sword blade.

2. Lowland Claymore

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Lowland swords are the largest and heaviest among the Scottish claymore swords. Most surviving examples are over five feet in length, between 150 and 190 centimeters.

As a two-hander the Lowland sword features a long hilt in proportion to its massive blade and a knob-shaped pommel. The crossguard is also slender and straight. It also features flat ring guards on the sides and langets down the sword blade.

3. Clamshell Claymore

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Lesser-known today, the clamshell-hilted claymore has round guards that resemble an open clam. It has similar proportions to the Highland claymore, measuring between 120 to 138 centimeters long. It features a gently sloping crossguard and knob-shaped pommel. The shell-like guards were designed for deflection as opposed to blocking.

4. Basket-Hilted Broadsword

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Often called the Highland or Scottish broadsword, the basket-hilted swords were not uncommon throughout Europe from the mid-16th century. It was known as a small sword, and historians debate whether it should be called a claymore. Still, it remains closely associated with the 18th-century Highland warriors.

The basket-hilted broadswords are shorter and lighter than the 16th-century claymore swords. Some examples have an overall length of about 100 centimeters and a blade length of less than 90 centimeters. Instead of the traditional crossguard, it features a basket guard designed to protect the swordsman’s hand. Some Scottish broadswords also feature intricately decorated pommel.

Characteristics of the Claymore Sword

In modern times, claymore may imply either a two-handed Highlander sword or a basket-hilted broadsword. Here are the characteristics of the Scottish sword:

Type of Metal

The Scottish blades of the late 17th and 18th centuries were almost always imported, mainly from Passau and Solingen in Germany. Claymore swords featured high-quality German steel blades which underwent extreme forging and temper. Even though Scottish smiths and armorers had imported blades, they mounted them locally. Today, claymore replicas often feature high carbon steel blades.

Blade Appearance

The Scottish two-handed swords are long, broad, and double-edged, making them capable of delivering much heavier blows. The sword blades often feature rounded tips. Most Scottish broadswords have fullers to lighten the blade without compromising its strength.

Size and Length

An average Highland claymore may have a total length of about 140 centimeters and a blade length of around 107 centimeters. As a two-handed sword, it has a grip length of about 33 centimeters. On the other hand, the single-handed Scottish broadsword measures about 100 centimeters long, with its blade usually less than 90 centimeters.

Sword Mounting

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The Highland claymore features its iconic crossguard with forward-angled arms ending in quatrefoils. It traditionally had a wooden handle and wheel-shaped pommel, though modern replicas use non-traditional materials. Most pictorial depictions of claymore swords have plain, black scabbards.

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On the other hand, the Scottish broadsword boasts its basket-hilt and chrome-plated scabbards. It also features a pommel on the base of the basket and a leather-wrapped handle.

Facts About the Scottish Claymore Swords

The term claymore became a generic name for different types of Scottish swords—the older two-handed types and the basket-hilted broadsword. Historians and sword enthusiasts debate about which type should be called a claymore, but here are the things you need to know about them.

The name claymore means a great sword.

The term claymore derives from the Scottish Gaelic claidheamh mòr, which translates as great sword. Due to the term great, many believe that it must have originally applied to the heavier and longer two-handed swords. Some also call the two-handed claymores the Scottish long swords.

The basket-hilted broadsword was originally called a small sword.

In Scottish Gaelic, the broadsword was called claidheamh beag or claybeg, which means small sword. Hence, historians argue that the basket-hilted broadsword is incorrectly called a claymore, which implies a great sword.

Smiths converted many old-style claymore blades to basket-hilted swords.

By the 18th century, two-handed swords became impractical to use. Some believe that the adoption of the name claymore to the Scottish broadswords occurred because many old sword blades were shortened and converted to basket-hilted weapons. Also, when the Scots abandoned using the two-handed claymores, the distinction between them ceased.

The basket-hilted broadsword may not be of Scottish origin.

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Some historians believe that the Scottish broadsword was derived from the Venetian schiavona, which features a complex barred guard. However, there were basket-hilted swords commonly known in the Scottish Highlands during the late 16th century. It may imply that the basket hilts in various styles originated not only in Venice but also in Scotland, England, and Germany.

The Highlands and Lowlands smiths probably manufactured the earlier Highland basket-hilt.

The first Scottish basket-hilts were referred to as Highland basket-hilts. One example appears in the portrait of Michael Wright, a Highland chieftain during the 17th century. Referred to as the beak nose or ribbon hilt, it featured flat strips of steel welded together but lacked other features of the later basket hilt swords.

Scotland imported German steel for their sword blades.

Claymore blades came from the blade-making centers in Germany, particularly in Passau and Solingen. The Scottish smiths were not able to produce sword blades, yet they were skilled hilt-makers. Hence, they assembled almost all claymore swords locally. Also, the Scots were always thrifty, so local armorers often repaired or re-bladed their broken swords.

History of the Scottish Claymore Sword

In the 16th century, clan feuds were not uncommon throughout Scotland, making claymore swords the preferred weapons for personal defense and warfare.

Evolution of the Two-Handed Claymore

The Scottish two-handed sword evolved from one-handed Scandinavian swords used in Scotland from the late Viking age. Towards the beginning of the 14th century, the first distinctive Scottish sword type emerged. It dates back to the time of the Wars of Scottish Independence, from 1286 to 1329.

Regional Variations of the Claymore Swords

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Scotland has three culturally different geographic regions: the Lowlands, the East or Central Highlands, and the West Highlands. These regions influenced the development and use of the two-handed claymore swords.

In the Lowlands

The capital cities of Scotland—Stirling and Edinburgh—were in the Lowlands. It meant that the king, his nobles, and the national military organization were also in the region. The Lowland claymore served as the weapon of high-status men that represented royal authority.

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Another Lowland sword, the Clamshell claymore served as an all-around weapon throughout the region, mostly in places distant from the capital city. The so-called Border Reivers populated the lawless lands in the south near the border of England and constantly feuded with each other.

In the East Highlands

The region was somewhat feudal, so the society was organized on a clan basis. Most of the clans had Gaelic and Anglo-Norman origins. People of the East Highlands interacted with the northern Lowland people, so they also used the Clamshell claymore in the region.

In the West Highlands

Divided by natural barriers, the West Highlanders did not mix with the East Highlanders. Some parts of the region had been a sub-kingdom of Norway, so several clans had Norse origins. Hence, the West Highlands was also a post-Viking era sea-based culture. The Scots even used Scandinavian-influenced swords. Eventually, the West Highland claymore emerged in the region and served as an all-around weapon.

Evolution of the Basket-Hilted Broadsword

At the beginning of the 17th century, the two-handed European swords began to decline due to the changing battle tactics of the armies. When warriors abandoned their armors and gauntlet, the basket-hilted broadswords provided protection. However, basket-hilts were not just manufactured in Scotland, as smiths in England and Germany also made them.

Eventually, the Scottish armory also included a unique range of arms like pistols and long guns. Hence, the claymore swords as a fighting weapon had largely disappeared, though their use in ceremonies continued.

The Claymore Sword in Pop Culture

In modern times, the Scottish claymore sword appears in various films, capturing the interest in Scottish history and weapons. Probably the most popular is the Braveheart film based on the story of William Wallace, one of Scotland’s national heroes. However, it also features several historical inaccuracies about the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Conclusion

The Scots used the two-handed claymore swords during the clan warfare between 1400 and 1700. Today, the most commonly known claymore is the 18th-century basket-hilted type broadsword. There remains a debate about which type should be rightly called a claymore, but both of them are significant to Scotland’s military history.

Claymore Sword: A Guide to Popular Scottish Weapon (2024)
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