Object Advent Calendar Day 9

Basket Hilted Broadsword of General Sir John Chetham McLeod


Today’s object is a basket hilted broadsword belonging to General Sir John Chetham McLeod. This type of weapon has its origins in the 16th century. It used to be thought that the earliest examples dated from the English Civil War period but one was found on the wreck of the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545. This put the origins of the weapon back another century. The basket hilted broadsword was usually a military weapon, unlike for example, the rapier which tended to be carried by civilians, however this was not a hard and fast rule in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Basket hilted broadswords are broadly separated into two classes, one that carried a double-edged blade, called a broadsword, and one that carried a single edged blade, known as a backsword. Used as a cut and thrust weapon, the weapon proved to be very popular and as a result there are at least 5 different types, known as variations. These are:

The Schiavona, found in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries and distinguished by a pommel in the shape of a cats head, as well as the handguard, which was attached to the handle, as opposed to the pommel.

The Mortuary Sword, with a half basket made in the likeness of the slain King Charles I, this was the favoured weapon of Oliver Cromwell, and fell out of favour around 1670.

The Sinclair Hilt, which is one of the earliest examples of a basket hilt known, and originated in Germany. It is highly likely that swords of this type were carried by Scottish mercenaries, who then brought them back to Scotland at the beginning of the 17th century, and influenced native designs of broadswords.

The Walloon Sword; this weapon differed in that it could be used in either hand, and could well have been English in design, but became popular in the Germanic states in the late 17th century.

The Scottish Broadsword, which was usually paired with a targe. The combination of this heavy sword, with the protection of a shield, proved to be extremely effective, especially when used in a Highland Charge.

The example that we are showing today has a blade which is inscribed Andrew Ferrara. Not much is known about him, and it is even debated as to whether or not he even existed. The general opinion though is that his real name was Andrea Ferrara and that he was born in Fonzaso, Italy sometime in the middle to late 15th century. Sir Walter Scott tells us that he was associated with the manufacturing of particularly fine blades, known for their strength and flexibility. According to legend he would carry one of his blades wrapped around his bonnet. Sometime in the early 16th century he was brought to Scotland, either by King James IV or V, to show Scottish manufacturers how to create high quality steel blades. The ruins of his original workshop are said to be in the town of Busighel, on the River Ardo. Just how he manufactured weapons that were both flexible and strong is a mystery, but current thinking is that he used the process known as interlamination whereby a blade is made by welding alternating bars of iron and steel.

It was all very well having an ornate Basket Hilted Broadsword with a Ferrara blade, but if you did not know how to use the weapon then it was as good as useless. As a result the first Scottish fencing manuals began to appear in the very late 16th century onwards. George Silver , produced his first manual in 1599, but perfected the art of broadsword facing in two later manuals, Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence, and Rules of Defence to be observed in Open Fight etc.

In essence he devised a set of stances which should be adopted by any Scottish Fencer using a broadsword, an over the head one, where the hilt of the weapon was over the fencers head with the blade pointed towards his knee; a chest stance where the hilt was held at chest level with the blade pointed down towards the mans left foot; a low stance with the hilt held low and the blade of the weapon held upright.

Following the defeat of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising the use of the Scottish Broadsword was banned in Scotland, and many of the weapons hidden in barns and heath. This has caused a number of interesting discoveries made by hill walkers over the years. However for those still interested in wielding the weapon an option was to join the newly created Black Watch, who used the sword as their principal close combat weapon, for at least the first thirty years of their existence.


About blackwatchmuseum

The Museum of The Black Watch offers an insight into one of the British Army's if not the world's most famous fighting units. Scotland's Black Watch is an elite military regiment whose history stretches back almost three centuries.
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