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Scottish Halberd 17th or early 18th Century

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Price: £1,950

Ref: 028.18

Item Description

A rare Scottish halberd with a distinctive head of typical Scottish form consisting of a leaf shaped spear point to the top, a small axe blade to the front and a downward facing fluke to the back. This example retains its original hand hewn hardwood haft which tapers into the socket of the head where it is fixed with rivets. The socket is strengthened with a collar at its base. The axe blade and fluke are manufactured as a separate component which is fixed through an aperture in the shaft of the head. Below the collar the haft is strengthened by iron straps either side bedded into the wood and secured with nails.

Scottish halberds were made by blacksmiths mainly as functional objects for use in the field rather than as fancy parade weapons for ceremonial duties, although they were also used for this purpose. This may partly explain their scarcity today, given that in more peaceful times, particularly after the 1745 Rebellion, they do not lend themselves to preservation as items of beauty or exquisite craftsmanship.

The core of a Scottish halberd head is a shafted spear point supported with side straps. In this respect no different to a Scottish pike of the 17th century Civil War years. To create a halberd from such a spear the axe and fluke have simply been made separately and fixed through the shaft just below the spear leaf base. The butt end of the haft, judging by its wear, does not seem to have been manufactured with a shoe, but of course, may also be a cut down pike turned into a halberd. As 17th century battle tactics moved away from pike and shot formations, the redundant pikes, because of their length were rendered virtually useless as individual weapons, and may have been modified into halberds in great numbers.

In a paper entitled “Some Notes on Scottish Axes and Long Shafted Weapons” (published in “Scottish Weapons & Fortifications”, John Donald Publishers Ltd, 1981) Dr David Caldwell comments that although Scottish halberds demonstrate slight individual differences, in general they conform to a distinct type, having “small axe blades, prominent leaf-shaped spear heads and downward curved flukes” and are rarely decorated or pierced.

A number of references to halberds in Scotland  exist in burgh records which  begin in the early 16th century and they appear regularly in records for wapinschawings and hostings. In 1517 the young King James V was given a guard of 12 footmen with halberds. In 1552/3 Edinburgh burgesses with rooms  on the High Street were ordered to have one of a number of different long shafted weapon types available to them, of which one option was a halberd. An Act of Parliament in August 1643 lists halberds, Lochaber Axes and Jedburgh Staves as options for less wealthy individuals to arm themselves with at muster. A halberd was apparently used by a John Reid, a burgh officer in Glasgow, to kill an Alexander Kennedy during a riot in 1670. Although on the whole halberds were manufactured by smiths working all over the country, some craftsmen in Edinburgh and Leith did call themselves “halbertmakers”. Some makers of Scottish halberds, especially in the Highlands, may also have made Lochaber Axes, given the similarity between the fluke on the typical Scottish halberd and the bridle cutter on a typical Lochaber Axe.

Overall the halberd is 85 inches long (216 cm). The head from collar to spear tip measures 15.75 inches (40 cm). The condition is fine overall, the haft in firm and solid shape, with some old and dead worming towards the butt end. The forge lines in the hand forged parts of the head are visible in the photographs below.

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