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A scarce example of a Scottish made basket hilted sword dating to circa 1740 mounted with a French blade. The sword was most likely made for a Scot in French military service. Historically there has been a long relationship between Scotland and France. By the mid-18th century many sons of Scottish gentry had followed family traditions and served as mercenaries with the French army, disregarding whether France was at war with England at the time, for hundreds of years. The most prestigious honour for a Scot in French service was to be selected to become a member of one of the French King’s elite Scots Guard Regiments. During the 18th century after the failure of the Jacobite rebellions, many fugitive Scots found a home in the French army fighting for the French crown. This sword was probably made for a member of a French Scots Guard regiment.
The blade is of excellent quality. It has a short ricasso above which on both sides is the name “Solingen” indicating that the blade was made in this German town on order from France, probably as a batch, and made in the French taste. The blade is heavy and long at 36.5 inches (92.5 cm). It is of hollow ground tapering diamond section with a flattened spine running down the centre to the tip. On one side of the blade near the hilt, a panel inset amongst incised scrolls and foliage, contains the French phrase “VIVE LE ROY” (long live the king). On the other is an armorial with French fleur de lys depicted panels amongst scrolls, lattices and foliage. An eight pointed star is depicted below this then the word “Cavalier” below this.
Given that the word “Cavalier” in French means “Horseman”, this, combined with the length and weight of the blade, clearly indicates that the blade was made for a Dragoon or similar mounted soldier. The hilt is also of “Horseman” type. It is mounted with the British Horseman’s oval ring which replaces one of two main frontal guard panels which are more usually found on Scottish hilts. The basket guard is heavy, to balance the heavy blade, and large, in order to accommodate the gloved hand of the user.
The basket is made in the traditional Scottish manner with a large scrolled wrist guard. The guard plates are pierced with heart and circle patterns and further decorated with incised vertical and horizontal lines. The arms of the guard are secured in a groove chiselled around the pommel just below its middle. The cone shaped pommel has a button on top from which three sets of triple lines radiate to the edge. The grip has iron ferrules top and bottom, is made from a baluster shaped spirally grooved hardwood core, covered with shagreen and bound with now blackened twisted silver wire. The hilt also retains its liner. The pommel has the store keeper or unit number of 2/61 engraved upon it.
French armourers attempt to accommodate for the tastes of Scottish soldiers serving their armies in that they did try to manufacture basket hilted swords in the Scottish manner. However, they are almost all of much poorer quality than Scottish made hilts. Despite this they were serviceable swords, were used and many survive today. However, it is of no surprise that Scots would take their own hilts to France or perhaps even the French army would purchase them from Scottish armourers.
In his book “The Auld Alliance – Scotland and France: The Military Connection, Mainstream Publishing 1989, Stephen Wood chronicles the history of Scots military service for the French. He comments on these sword types with illustrations. The sword is in robust and solid condition.