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Very Rare Scottish Basket Hilted Broad Sword Dating to the late 16th Century

A very rare example of one of the earliest forms of Scottish basket hilted sword dating to circa 1575 to 1610. The distinctive hilt style further evolved into the better known later 17th century type of “Ribbon-Hilted” Scottish sword (sometimes called “West Highland Ribbon Hilt”). The significance of the sword to collectors is that it is distinctly Scottish and represents the beginning of the development of the Scottish basket hilted sword proper.  The smooth oval shape of the hilt was a consistent feature maintained in future developments and variations of Scottish basket hilt types.                                                        

Fig 1: The hilt Left Side

The sword dates to the time when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England and added the English Crown to his domain to become the undisputed ruler of England, Scotland and Ireland upon the death of the childless Queen Elizabeth of England in 1603. This accelerated a process of social and military change in Scotland, part of which was the replacement of the more massive two-handed sword which from the late 15th to the late 16th centuries had been the weapon of choice in Scotland.  Only a handful of swords of this type are known to have survived and they comprise a remarkably homogeneous whilst small group. 

Fig 2: Full length Right Side
Fig 3: Full length Left Side

The hilt is formed from flattened bars of forged iron. The cross-guard to the hilt is pronounced and terminates each end with vertically counter-curved flattened quillon terminals, that at the front curls upwards and that at the rear curls downwards. The three main structural guard bars, the knuckle bow to the front and the vertical bars to each side rise in line with the centre of the blade and curve upwards towards the pommel and form the structural strength of the hilt. The globular pommel has a short neck beneath and a pronounced integral button on top with three rectangular apertures cut into it just below the middle at the front and both sides into which the terminals of the vertical guard bars are securely tucked. On later examples of basket hilted swords from the early 17th century onward these slots are replaced with a hemispherical groove into which the arms are fixed.

Fig 4: Oblique angle Left Side
Fig 5: Frontal view of the Basket Guard

The spaces between each side of the knuckle bow and the vertical side guard bars are infilled with a saltire of two diagonal bars with a “penny” guard plate at the intersection. Above and below these on each side a guard extension of rudimentary diamond shape extends above and below each penny plate then curves inwards to form additional protection for the hand. These bars extend past the penny plates to join the main guard bars and give additional strength to the hilt. In so doing a pattern of four apertures around each penny plate is created to give the distinctive appearance of this hilt type. 

Fig 6: Fig 4: Oblique angle Right Side
Fig 7: The hilt Right Side

To the rear, a curved convex rear guard bar emanates from near to the top of each side guard bar to join the rear quillon near its terminal. The space between is strengthened each side with three further curved guard bars, the bottom-most additionally equipped with downward facing lobes which give further protection to the hand of the user. The baluster shaped grip is covered with old shagreen and an old leather liner is also present.

Fig 8: The hilt from above
Fig 9: Reverse of the hilt from above

Below the cross guard a pronounced pointed langet extends down the middle of the blade each side. This is reminiscent of the more pronounced langets that extended down the blades of the earlier “Lowland” and “Highland” two handed swords that these basket hilted swords replaced. A further reminder of this evolution lies with the blade itself. Of stiff lenticular section the blade tapers gently to its point. It has a ricasso which extends 1.5 inches (4 cm) from the hilt where the blade is of squared off in blunted section at each edge.

Fig 10: Close-up of Ricasso with a single fuller
Fig 11: Reverse close-up of the Ricasso with no fullers

The remnants of only one side fuller to the back of one side of the ricasso survives. Most likely there was originally four, one near each blunt edge in similar manner. The disappearance of the other three fullers is almost certainly not a result of excessive cleaning but due to the blade being ground down and re-fashioned from a larger two-handed sword blade. As two-handed swords went out of fashion the blades were remodelled in a process that would often remove features such as armourers marks and fullers as the  blades were slimmed down to more manageable sizes for single-handed use.

Fig 12: The underside of the hilt
Fig 13: The grip and liner

The sword is in firm, solid, russet condition. The basket is complete, in its attractive rounded original shape. The is a crack to one of the saltire bars and there are minor losses in places. However, these factors are somewhat insignificant for a sword of this scarcity.

Fig 14: Reverse of the underside of the hilt
Fig 15: Rear view of pommel, grip and liner

An extensive work by the Baron of Earlshall “The Scottish Basket Hilted Sword Volume I Circa 1450 to 1600”, 2016, Earlshall Publications, documents the development of this sword type in pages 190 to 202 with  six very similar swords and two with variant, possibly replaced, pommels. Also see Cyril Mazansky, “British Basket Hilted Swords”, Boydell Press, 2005, page 57 and 58 for three further examples. The blade is 33 inches (84 cm) long and overall the sword is 38.5 inches (98 cm) long.

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