The Basket Hilted Broadsword

Unsurprisingly one of the highlights of visitors time here at Culloden is attending the workshops that volunteers come and run in the exhibition looking at weapons of the ’45 Rising. The chance to see and touch replicas of the real items on display in the cases helps bring the story to life.

In particular people are interested about the swords that we have on display. It is not unusual for guests to enquire about the famous large Scottish two handed sword of ‘Braveheart’ fame but during Culloden and the ’45 weaponry had moved on to the sleeker and more refined basket hilted broadsword.

25613 Culloden 256
Example of the broadswords with targes

 

For those who get to feel the weight of the sword it is often lighter than they expect and is easily wielded by one hand leaving the other free for the targe and dirk. The Scottish version of the sword was typically broader than other swords around at the time. It’s Gaelic name would have been claidheamh-mór which translates as ‘great sword’ in reference to this larger size.

Despite us referring to its special Scottish nature most swords were originally made in Europe with German steel often creating the main blade of the sword. There were also basket hilted swords in England as early as the 1500’s so Scotland was not exactly the pioneers of this new style of weapon.

brodiesword
Basket hilted sword possibly belonging to Prince Charles Edward Stuart

 

Eventually though there were Scottish sword makers and the hilts made in Scotland began to form their own style with wider coverings around the hand than the thin bars of English hilts. Some hilt makers, or ‘hammermen’, became quite renowned in Scotland producing intricate works. We are lucky enough to have on display the ‘Brodie Sword’ which is believed to have belonged to Prince Charles Edward Stuart. It is a decorative piece rather than a fighting weapon and its hilt is elaborately decorated with the head of medusa with her snakes curling around the hilt and is a great example of 18th Century workmanship.

DSCN4443
Basket Hilted Broadsword

 

The style of the sword was not just for decoration. The hilt itself helped form a protective guard around the soldiers hand and a weight at the base of the hilt would be used to pommel enemies in close quarter combat. Those that were well made would form a perfect balance with the sword blade which would help make the soldiers slicing actions smooth but powerful. Combined with the targe and dirk in the other hand, basket hilted broadswords made the Jacobites a formidable opponent even against the Governments muskets and bayonets during the ’45 Rising.

We hope you enjoyed this short insight into the broadsword. As always please like, share, comment, tweet and if you want to know feel free to come along and see the broadswords on display for yourself.

All the best, K & D

 

 

 

Weapons of the ’45

One of the things that people seem to really enjoy discovering more about here at Culloden is the weapons. Mainly, I think because you get to handle replica weapons. So, we thought we’d attempt a short post on the most common weapons used in the ’45.

DSCN5121
Some 18th Century weapons

Firstly, the broadsword. Basket-hilted swords would have been in use in Scotland from about the mid 16th century. The design came first from Scandinavian and German sword makers before making it across to England and Scotland. Throughout the 17th Century ribbon baskets were being made in large quantities and as we reached the 18th Century and the main Jacobite risings the Highland basket was an intricate piece. The broadsword was an essential weapon for the Jacobties with broadsword in one hand and targe in the other. They were ideal for the favoured tactic of the Highland Charge with sweeping deadly motions and a heavy pommel weight at the base to deal with enemies close at hand.

DSCN5123
Close up of the basket of a replica broadsword

Since we have already mentioned the targe it’s only fair it should be next on the list.

The targe or ‘shield’ was traditionally round from 19 to 21 inches in diameter and made from two layers of wood positioned together with the grains at right angles. Often they were made of fir but most light woods would do the job. Targes were often decorated across the front with a central boss of brass, from which a spike could be screwed in, and this was surrounded by geometric patterns in the leather and studs of brass.

DSCN5122
Scottish Targe or Shield

With the broadsword and targe you may think there would be no room for any other weapons but often the Jacobites would carry a dirk as well. This stabbing knife, sometimes up to 50cms long would be held behind the targe largely hidden from sight and would be ideal for close quarter fighting. The Highland dirk was usually distinguished from other similar weapons of the time by its long triangular and single edged blade and by its handle which was traditionally cylindrical with no guard. It would be shouldered at the junction of the blade, the grip swellin gin the middle and the pommel circular and flat topped.

DSCN5125
Typical 18th Century Style Dirk

Similar to the dirk was the Sghian Dubh. This was a smaller knife only four to six inches in length that was often hidden in a small holster up a sleeve. It would have been used when no other weapon was available and it is believed it was more common in the late 18th Century following the ban of weapons of Scotland. Dubh is Gaelic for black and traditionally the handle and scabbard of the sghian dubh were made from dark coloured woods and leather to keep it out of clear sight.

When the Act of Proscription was lifted the sghian dubh came out of hiding and was then worn mainly in the stocking. In the 19th century when the wearing of the sghian dubh became less functional and more fashionable the hilt would often been made from stag horn or ebony and even decorated with jewels.

Obviously there were more weapons in use and we haven’t touch on guns and cannons but hopefully this has given a little insight into some traditional weapons. As always please share, comment, like, tweet and feel free to come along to Culloden to get a closer look and the weapons of the ’45.

All the best, K & D.