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A lovely, well balanced and imposing Scottish basket hilted sword, almost certainly from the workshop of Walter Allan of Stirling. The hilt is robustly constructed from a frame of thick, flattened and well-worked structural bars, similar in form to the highest quality “Glasgow” style hilts of the first half of the 18th century. The bars are fluted to the outside, consisting of a wide central groove flanked by narrow incised lines either side.
This hilt is an imaginative variation from the “Glasgow” style which like other hilts by Walter Allan is probably unique. The more usual square section main frontal guard plates are replaced with fluted diamond shaped panels with saltires inside, intersected with a diamond shaped aperture top and bottom, and diamond shapes to the sides, incompletely cut to leave inward facing merlons from the middles.
The secondary side guard plates are formed as fluted bars in two diamond shapes, one on top of another, with horizontal bars cut with further merlons at the ends applied to support the intersection of the diamond shapes in the middle. The frontal guard plate is formed as a further fluted diamond shape above a circle containing a vertical bar slotted as a keyhole.
The pommel is cone-shaped with four sets of fluted lines radiating from the pommel button, with the central groove in each case formed wider than those on its flanks, in the same style as the flutes applied to the main structural bars. The pommel button is of an upturned urn shape. Just beneath its middle the pommel is cut with a groove into which the upper terminals of the main guard bars are secured. The upper parts of the guard arms are delicately fretted with merlons. The original spirally grooved wooden grip is covered with shagreen and mounted with ferrules top and bottom and bound with wire. The hilt retains its leather liner which is stitched with red velvet to the outside and applied with a blue silken hem.
The hilt of this sword displays a level of innovation which typifies the unique work of Walter Allan Stirling (working circa 1730 to 1760) and although it does not bear his signature initials, it is most certainly one of his designs and from his workshop.
This type of hilt, and its many related imaginative variants created by Walter Allan, have become known as hilts of “Stirling” type. Many of the survivors that have come down to us are housed in various public collections and are well publicised.
These hilts are generally regarded as of the highest quality and represent the last flourish of traditional Scottish sword making in the middle to third quarter of the 18th century. One of Walter’s apprentices, James Grant, continued to manufacture hilts which copied a narrow range of Walter’s designs into the 1770’s, but generally are less robust and of lesser quality. Only a few of his swords have survived which may indicate not many were made in the first place, the decline in traditional Scottish weapons production being well underway by the early part of his career.
This hilt is most like a sword signed by Walter Allan housed in the National Museums of Scotland (Ref: LA126) with diamond shaped front panels (For side view photo see “Scottish Swords and Dirks”, John Wallace, Arms and Armour Press, 1970, fig 37 page 48, and for frontal view see Cyril Mazansky, “British Basket Hilted Swords”, Boydell Press, 2005, fig G3a(WA) page 143. The similarity between this sword and ours is obvious, with one minor difference being that the tops of the guard arms of the Museum sword are forged onto an iron ring which extends around the base of the pommel inside which the stem of the pommel sits. This is a later feature on Walter Allan’s swords reflecting military hilt design in England. As our sword is cut with a groove around the pommel into which the arms fit, the feature is earlier and corresponds to a date of circa 1740.
The single edged tapering blade has a short ricasso with a short fuller on the sharp-edged side which terminates where the cutting edge begins. A second broad fuller extends from the hilt underneath the spine of the blade to a point 7 inches from the tip after which the blade is double edged. The blade is of second quarter 18th century date and of high quality befitting the hilt. Below the fuller near the hilt on one side is an inscription, with each word separated by quatrefoils of dots “GOTT BEWAR DE”, and on the other side in the same place “— ICHTT SCHOTEN”. This is a known Jacobite slogan in German and in complete form the translation reads: “GOD PRESERVE THE UPRIGHT SCOTS”. Although the spellings vary this inscription was applied by German armourers to a number of blades destined for hilt mounting in Scotland in the first half of the 18th century, some of which still survive in public and private collections.
The blades fall into two camps. The first group dates to the early part of the 18th century and the union of Scottish and English Parliaments in the 1707 Act of Union. Jacobite propaganda targeted Anti-Union Nationalistic sentiment in Scotland and communicated intentions to repeal the Act once James the 8th was on the throne. Anti-Unionism generally became synonymous with Jacobitism in the run-up to the failed 1715 Rebellion.
The second group of blades are a generation later and date to the period before the 1745 Rebellion. The engraving on some of these blades can be quite flamboyant with busts of James the 8th of Scotland becoming James III of Great Britain. Variations in the quality and extent of the inscriptions are apparent. The plain inscription on our sword seems to be a diluted form of the so-called Jacobite “Rhyming” blades produced in the run-up to the ’45, reinforcing a circa 1740 date for our sword.
The sword was presumably manufactured for a wealthy Scottish Jacobite due to the undoubted expense involved in commissioning a unique sword hilt of this nature. Few swords, and indeed other objects, particularly weapons, which indicated the Jacobite leanings of the owner, survived the period after the failed ‘45 Rebellion and this sword is a rare survivor.
Blade length 32.5 inches (82.5 cm and overall length 38.25 inches (97 cm)