Sgian Dubh

Many people who visit Scotland love discovering more about the traditional Highland dress and part of that is the Sgian Dubh.

Today the Sgian Dubh (pronounced ‘skian doo) is a small single edged blade worn at the calf, tucked into your sock. The Gaelic roughly translates as ‘black dagger’, sgian meaning dagger or knife and dubh meaning black.  The reason for the term black has had some theories over the years. Some feel it represents the most common colour of the hilt of the blade whereas others feel it has a meaning of secrecy and symbolises that the blade was hidden away as a secret weapon.

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Example of a Sgian Dubh (museumreplicas.com)

 

It is not entirely clear where the blade originated from. Some believe it was developed from an old dagger that men used to conceal in the upper sleeves of their jacket, known as the ‘armpit dagger’ or sgian achlais. Women may also have kept a similar blade tucked in the folds of their skirt. Others believe it evolved from a simple small skinning knife that was then utilised as a hidden weapon.

Regardless the sgian dubh as we know it was probably around from the early to mid 18th Century and there are some great portraits in the national Portrait gallery of clan chiefs with the sgian dubh being worn. Early blades were quite simple with hilts made from antler and simple leather sheaths. However, as time moved on and they became more widely used, along side the highland dirk, the work became more elaborate, especially for those wealthy enough to afford quality weapons. The handles were, as we said, often black and shaped to rest beside the leg, they became more intricately carved with celtic designs or clan motifs and some even had stones set into the top of the handle.

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Sgian Dubh (thekiltstore.com)

 

Today the sgian dubh are typically shorter than they would have been during the 18th Century, maybe an inch or so less on the blade. Also the modern blades made today are unsurprisingly used for ceremonial purposes rather than skinning animals and threatening enemies. Many are made with blunted edges and there are even ‘safe’ sgian dubh made from plastic so that children can wear them and for travelling.

We hope you enjoyed the insight into part of the Scottish dress and as always please share, like, comment and tweet and feel free to share your stories with us.

All the best, K & D

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.