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An English Basket Hilted Sword dating to the third quarter of the 17th century

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Price: £2,850

Ref: AA.087.22

Item Description

An English munitions grade basket hilted sword dating to during, or just after, the English Civil War periods. The inside of one of the frontal guard plates is stamped “R S”, almost certainly for Robert Stedman, recorded as a supplier of swords to the Board of Ordnance from 1637 to 1663.

The guard is a fully developed early English basket hilt consisting of square structural bars with rounded corners, two square frontal guard plates and a flat stretched oval shaped knuckle bow and side guard bars with wide rounded terminals at the base, plus forward loop guards.  The hilt structure has clearly evolved from English and Scottish hilts of “Irish” type but has not yet evolved the secondary rear guard bar, wrist guard or iron ring which surrounds the base of the pommel and onto which the top terminals of the guard arms are forged. Instead, the arms are tucked into a groove cut around most of the pommel. This generally ceased to be an English method of securing the guard arm tops by the end of the 17th / early 18th centuries, but continued to be the preferred method adopted by traditional hilt-makers in Scotland until the mid-18th century *.

The hilt is clearly the production of a skilled armourer tasked with producing a minimalist hilt, with low cost of production, whilst maintaining a pleasing standard, high operational functionality, and sturdiness. The blade is typical of a type of munitions grade produced in German workshops and exported to many different countries including England during the 17th century. The tapering blade is of infantry length, has a short ricasso and is of hollow ground flattened diamond section, lacking embellishments such as engraved devices or armourers’ marks. It is feasible that the sword was produced at the height of the Civil War period when demand from both sides for weapons was at its highest. Swords like these were probably made for pikemen and arquebusiers.

A very similar hilt is mounted on a sword featured in Robert Brooker, “British Military Pistols And Associated Edged Weapons”, Colorcraft Ltd, 2016, page 40, Fig 44, described as being in the author’s collection and as “an English basket hilt, allegedly from Apenthorpe House, Peterborough, Northamptonshire. Apenthorpe House was a Civil War arms depot, 1642-1651. The sword is dated by Brooker to 1650-1690.

The grip of our sword is of spirally grooved patinated hardwood bound with brass twisted wire. The grip may have had a shagreen cover at some time which is now lost. The original thick leather liner remains.

The blade is 33.25 inches (84.5 cm) long and the full length of the sword is 38.75 inches (98.5 cm).

*Note: An English exception to this was the sword type produced for enlisted men in Scottish Highland infantry regiments in the third quarter of the 18th century. The style was first developed in Scotland then adopted in England for mass production by makers such as Jefferys and Drury. See Anthony Darling, Swords for the Highland Regiments 1757-1784, Mowbray Incorporated, 1988.

Robert Stedman is recorded as a Gun maker and sword maker in London of the Parish of St Katherine who supplied swords to the Board of Ordnance from 1627 to 1663 and repaired the same. He was a refurbisher of weapons at the Tower of London from 1654 to 1664, and in 1663 is recorded with Joseph Hadley and Samuel Low as having repaired and cleaned 500 short swords and bayonets for the Board of Ordnance.

For further reference on the Stedman family of armourers see Richard H Bezdek, Swords and Sword Makers of England and Scotland, Paladin Press, page 157.

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