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A Late 17th Century Highland Scottish Dirk

A very rare Scottish dirk dating to the second half of the 17th century. The grip is deeply carved with Celtic interlace in the Highland manner and is mounted with a cut-down broad sword blade. The dirk dates to the period when the Catholic James II & VII was deposed as King of England, Scotland and Ireland, and replaced by his daughter Mary II and his Dutch nephew William III of Orange who was also Mary’s husband, in an event known as the Glorious Revolution. British subjects that remained loyal to James (Jacobus in Latin) became known as Jacobites, a movement which developed particular associations with some Scottish Highland Clans and reached its hiatus in the last Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The length and pronounced taper of the blade indicate that whilst the dirk may have had some utility use it was primarily intended as a thrusting weapon.

Fig 1: The grip profile of the Dirk

The grip is fashioned from bog oak and has a rich, deep, dark patina all over. It consists of a baluster shaped middle section which is carved with two bands of interlaced Celtic reeded rope work with raised studs at the intersections.

Fig 2: Full length image of the Dirk
Fig 3: Reverse view of the grip

The pronounced haunches are also carved with interlace and reeded outer edges. The broad pommel is carved underneath with a foliate pattern of arches which radiate from the top of the grip.

Fig 4: Reverse full length image of the Dirk
Fig 5: Detailed image of the finely carved interlace of the grip

The pommel cap is formed from a beaten circular plate of brass and the whole is held together with a dome-shaped pommel button of separate manufacture.

Fig 6: Side view of the grip
Fig 7: Reverse side view of the grip

The double-edged blade tapers acutely to is point to create an elegant profile. It has been fashioned from a sword blade of the type produced in German blade-making centres such as Solingen at the time. It has a ricasso with blunt squared off edges. From the end of the ricasso a series of four worn illegible stamps extend along the middle of the blade on each side between worn narrow fullers. Between the stamps are the remains of letters which once constituted an armourers or blademaker’s name.  Similar full length blades are often seen mounted on contemporary Scottish basket hilted swords. 

Fig 8: Image of the interlace and haunches
Fig 9: Reverse image of the interlace and haunches

The stamps are most likely the remains of Kings Head marks which were a common feature on late 17th century blades but in this example appear to have been purposely defaced and “X” marks cut into some. The reason for this is unknown but the action most likely had some symbolic meaning to the owner in defacing a Kings Head image.

Fig 10: Markings on the blade
Fig 11: Close-up of blade markings

The defined taper of the blade indicates the evolution of this early dirk from earlier Scottish Balloch and Dudgeon Daggers. Two contemporary  examples of dirks with similar profiles, design and deeply cut interlace are illustrated in John Wallace, “Scottish Swords and Dirks”, Arms and Armour Press, 1970, Figs 51 & 52, both in the National Museums of Scotland (collection references LC 14 and LC 59).     

Fig 12: The brass pommel cap
Fig 13: Reverse view of the brass pommel cap   

The grip is in excellent condition considering the age and scarcity of this dirk type. The brass pommel cap has been damaged in one place along its edge during its working life which has left a corresponding dent in the wooden pommel rim below.

The overall length of the dirk is 19.75 inches (47.5 cm) and the blade is 14 inches (35.5 cm) long.

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