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Early 17th Century English Basket Hilted Sword

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Item Description

A fine functional and robust English basket hilted sword dating to the early 17th century, mounted
with a broad and imposing single edged blade. From circa 1600 onwards English sources refer to this
hilt type as Irish (“Irische”). The sword type was used by the English throughout the 17th century with
slight modifications during this time. The large pommel and early blade of this sword date it to the
earlier period of production.
From the English perspective the term “Irish” relates to the basket hilted sword that was first
developed in the Gaelic speaking regions of Highland Scotland and Ireland. English armourers copied
the style and applied their own modifications to the same hilt structure to create an English variant in
the later 16th century. The sword discussed here is a typical example of this English hilt in early form.
English sources grouped the Gaelic speaking people of Ireland and Scotland together and referred to
them as Irish. The hilt type was referred to as “Irish” to differentiate it from others used in England.
The basket guard is in original solid condition forged from slender flattened bars. It has maintained its
pleasing oval contours. The design consists of a knuckle bow which extends from the cross guard
front and is secured to the front of the pommel with a large pierced headed screw passed through an
angled flattened terminal. The two side guard bars rise from the cross guard to touch the pommel
sides. Below, the frontal loop guard bars are a downward continuation of the side guard bars which
loop forward to join the base of the knuckle bow at the front quillon terminal.
To the front, in the spaces between the knuckle bow and side guard bars, two saltire bars are centred
with small rounded guard plates in the middle. To the rear, two secondary guard bars curve upwards
from the rear quillon to attach to the side guard bars near the pommel. Between these at the base, short
bars have been applied to strengthen the structure with short downward facing posts emanating from
each. The main guard bars are slightly swollen towards the middle. The large, globular, onion shaped
pommel has an integral raised vase shaped button on top. The original wooden grip is of hardwood
which slightly tapers from the pommel to its base. It is mounted with woven brass “Turks’ Heads” top
and bottom and bound with twisted brass wire.
The single edged blade tapers gently and uniformly from the hilt and terminates with a rounded,
slightly spear pointed tip. It has a ricasso which extends for 2.5 inches (5.5 cm) from the hilt. A single
deeply cut narrow fuller of the same length extends along the blunt ricasso edge until the cutting edge
begins. Four further similarly deeply incised and closely aligned fullers extend along the blade from
the hilt to the tip.
Near the hilt in the third fuller down from the back edge on each side the mark “A N D R E A F E R
R A R A” is struck in capital letters flanked by eyelash marks. Further marks are present in the ricasso
consisting on one side of a crown above a device, and on both sides, an irregular rectangular mark
with a circle inside, both marks impressed from the same stamp. A contract dating to 1578 shows the
bladesmiths Zanandrea and Zandona of Ferrara, working in Belunno, Italy, sixty miles north of
Venice, secured a lucrative supply arrangement to manufacture thousands of blades for London based
merchants John Brown and Lancelot Rowlandson, over a period of years before the turn of the
17th century. It seems the blades were of superior quality, hence the variations of the name stamped
onto blades intended for import into Britain for over a century to come by German blademakers as an
intended mark of quality. The blade of our sword could date to that first contract of the late
16th century.
The blade is 32 inches (81 cm) long and the overall length of the sword is 37.5 inches (just over 95
Condition: The sword is in fine clean condition overall. Some of the wire binding on the grip is
missing and what remains is loose but secure. A forged join to one of the rear guard bars has become
separated at some time in the working life of the sword and has been repaired with a small latten
braze. Otherwise the hilt is in fine condition.
For further examples of the Irish hilt sword see Stuart C Mowbray, “British Military swords 1600 to
1660”, Mowbray Publishers, 2013, pages 110 to 126


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