Cawood sword

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Cawood sword
Cawood sword - diagonal - YORYM 2007 3086.JPG
The Cawood sword
Period/culture Medieval
Discoveredlate 19th century
River Ouse, near Cawood, North Yorkshire
Present locationMedieval Gallery, Yorkshire Museum, York
closeup of the pommel Cawood sword - pommel - YORYM 2007 3086.JPG
closeup of the pommel

The Cawood sword is a medieval sword discovered in the River Ouse near Cawood in North Yorkshire in the late 19th century. The blade is of Oakeshott type XII and has inscriptions on both sides. It most likely dates to the early 12th century.



The sword is notable as the best-preserved specimen of a small group of medieval swords with a type M pommel in the typology of Oakeshott (1964). This type of pommel is an apparently specifically British derivation of the Viking Age multi-lobed pommel. It is often found on tomb effigies of the mid 13th to mid 14th century in southern Scotland and northern England, [1] but it may have been in existence since the 11th century.

A very similar sword, likely from the same workshop, was discovered in Norway in 1888 while railway work was being conducted on farmland at Korsoygaden in Stange municipality, Hedmarken district.


The question of the date of these swords is of some importance for the absolute chronology of the development of sword morphology in medieval Europe. In 1964, Oakeshott stated that while both swords were "long believed" to date to the late 11th or early 12th century, suggested by the "Viking sword"-type pommel and the runic inscription on the Korsoygaden sword, they could not possibly predate the mid 13th century because of the style of the Cawood sword's inscriptions, and because the pommel type was not in fact in "Viking Age" style, but in a "late" British (Danelaw/Northern English) derivation of pommel shapes of the Viking Age. [2] However, in 1991, Oakeshott revisited this opinion based on the style of the runic inscription on the Korsoygaden sword. The 12th-century date for both swords is based on this argument. [3] This, i.e. the combined evidence from the Cawood and the Korsoygaden swords, are of "extreme importance" for the dating of swords and blade inscriptions of the 11th to 12th centuries. Oakeshott (1991) presents a group of eight swords, some of which were previously dated to c. 1300, which based on close morphological parallels to these swords must be reassigned to the period of c. 10001120. Oakeshott's date for the Cawood sword itself is now c. 11001150. This has consequences for the dating of medieval sword blade inscriptions, as the inscriptions on the Cawood blade are very typical of the "garbled" letter-group inscriptions on high medieval blades (tentatively transcribed as ✠NnRDIOnNnR✠ N[RSRDIGATON[I). [4]

Ownership and display

The Cawood sword was kept at the Tower of London until the 1950s and then sold into private hands. It was again on display in The Age of Chivalry exhibition at Burlington House in 1987.

It was acquired by the Yorkshire Museum, York in December 2007. [5] Since 2017 it has featured as one of the key objects in the exhibition 'Medieval York: Capital of the North'. [6]

Related Research Articles

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.

Hilt Handle of a sword or similar weapon

The hilt of a knife, dagger, sword, or bayonet is its handle, consisting of a guard, grip and pommel. The guard may contain a crossguard or quillons. A tassel or sword knot may be attached to the guard or pommel.

A longsword is a type of European sword characterized as having a cruciform hilt with a grip for two-handed use, a straight double-edged blade of around 85 to 110 cm, and weighing approximately 1 to 1.5 kg.

The spatha was a type of straight and long sword, measuring between 0.5 and 1 m, with a handle length between 18 and 20 cm, in use in the territory of the Roman Empire during the 1st to 6th centuries AD. Later swords, from the 7th to 10th centuries, like the Viking swords, are recognizable derivatives and sometimes subsumed under the term spatha.

Joyeuse Sword attributed to Charlemagne

Joyeuse was, in medieval legend, the sword wielded by Charlemagne as his personal weapon. The name means "joyous". A sword identified as Joyeuse was used in French royal coronation ceremonies since the 13th century, and is now kept at the Louvre museum.

Viking sword Type of Sword

The Viking Age sword or Carolingian sword is the type of sword prevalent in Western and Northern Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

Oakeshott typology Medieval sword classification system

The Oakeshott typology is a way to define and catalogue the medieval sword based on physical form. It categorises the swords of the European Middle Ages into 13 main types, labelled X through XXII. The historian and illustrator Ewart Oakeshott introduced it in his 1960 treatise The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry.

Crossguard Type of sword guard made of two quillons

On a sword, the crossguard, or cross-guard, also known as quillon, is a bar of metal at right angles to the blade, placed between the blade and the hilt. The crossguard was developed in the European sword around the 10th century for the protection of the wielder's hand. The earliest forms were the crossguard variant of the Spatha used by the Huns, the so-called Pontic swords. There are many examples of crossguards on Sasanian Persian Swords beginning from the early 3rd century. They might be the oldest examples. The crossguards were not only used to counter enemy attacks, but also to get a better grip on the sword. They were later seen in late Viking swords, and is a standard feature of the Norman sword of the 11th century and of the knightly arming sword throughout the high and late medieval period. Early crossguards were straight metal bars, sometimes tapering towards the outer ends. While this simple type was never discontinued, more elaborate forms developed alongside it in the course of the Middle Ages. The crossguard could be waisted or bent in the 12th and 13th century.

Migration Period sword Type of Sword

The Migration Period sword was a type of sword popular during the Migration Period and the Merovingian period of European history, particularly among the Germanic peoples and was derived from the Roman era spatha. It later gave rise to the Carolingian or Viking sword type of the 8th to 11th centuries AD.

Swords made of iron appear from the Early Iron Age, but do not become widespread before the 8th century BC.

Wallace Sword Type of two-handed sword

The Wallace Sword is an antique two-handed sword purported to have belonged to William Wallace (1270–1305), a Scottish knight who led a resistance to the English occupation of Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence. It is said to have been used by William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and the Battle of Falkirk (1298).

Imperial Sword

The Imperial Sword is one of the four most important parts of the Imperial Regalia (Reichskleinodien) of the Holy Roman Empire. During a coronation, it was given to the emperor along with the Imperial Crown (Reichskrone), Imperial Sceptre (Reichszepter), and the Imperial Orb (Reichsapfel). All four parts of the Imperial Regalia are displayed in the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria.

Claymore Type of Sword

A claymore is either the Scottish variant of the late medieval two-handed sword or the Scottish variant of the basket-hilted sword. The former is characterised as having a cross hilt of forward-sloping quillons with quatrefoil terminations and was in use from the 15th to 17th centuries.

Seax of Beagnoth

The Seax of Beagnoth is a 10th-century Anglo-Saxon seax. It was found in the River Thames in 1857, and is now at the British Museum in London. It is a prestige weapon, decorated with elaborate patterns of inlaid copper, brass and silver wire. On one side of the blade is the only known complete inscription of the twenty-eight letter Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet, as well as the name "Beagnoth" in runic letters. It is thought that the runic alphabet had a magical function, and that the name Beagnoth is that of either the owner of the weapon or the smith who forged it. Although many Anglo-Saxon and Viking swords and knives have inscriptions in the Latin alphabet on their blades, or have runic inscriptions on the hilt or scabbard, the Seax of Beagnoth is one of only a handful of finds with a runic inscription on its blade.

Ulfberht swords Type of medieval European sword

The Ulfberht swords are about 170 medieval swords found in Europe, dated to the 9th to 11th centuries, with blades inlaid with the inscription +VLFBERH+T or +VLFBERHT+. That word is a Frankish personal name that became the basis of a trademark of sorts, used by multiple bladesmiths for several centuries.

Basket-hilted sword Sword with basket-like hand protection

The basket-hilted sword is a sword type of the early modern era characterised by a basket-shaped guard that protects the hand. The basket hilt is a development of the quillons added to swords' crossguards since the Late Middle Ages. In modern times, this variety of sword is also sometimes referred to as the broadsword.

In the European High Middle Ages, the typical sword was a straight, double-edged weapon with a single-handed, cruciform hilt and a blade length of about 70 to 80 centimetres. This type is frequently depicted in period artwork, and numerous examples have been preserved archaeologically.


The Ingelrii group consists of about 20 known medieval swords from the 10th to 12th century with a damascening blade inscription INGELRII, appearing with several slight spelling variations such as INGELRD and INGELRILT. It is comparable to the older, much better documented Ulfberht group.

Bedale Hoard Anglo-Scandinavian treasure hoard

The Bedale Hoard is a hoard of forty-eight silver and gold items dating from the late 9th to early 10th century AD and includes necklaces, arm-bands, a sword pommel, hacksilver and ingots. It was discovered on 22 May 2012 in a field near Bedale, North Yorkshire by metal detectorists, and reported via the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Following a successful public funding campaign, the hoard was acquired by the Yorkshire Museum for £50,000.

Ballinderry Sword Irish Viking-style sword

The Ballinderry Sword is an iron Viking-style weapon found in a bog on the site of a crannog in Ballinderry, in Rosemount, County Westmeath, Ireland in 1928. It is no. 36 in A History of Ireland in 100 Objects. It was found along with other Viking objects: a longbow, two spearheads, an axe head and a gaming board. The settlement dates from between the late 9th and early 11th century and the collection of artifacts uncovered appears to fit the profile of a wealthy Irish farmer or of a local ruler.


  1. Oakeshott (1964:97)
  2. "The Korsoygaden sword, long believed to date to be of late Viking date, is in fact a Type XII. The hilt is almost exactly the same shape as that of the Cawood sword (also a XII), which by the style of the inlaid inscriptions in its blade may be placed with some confidence within a period between perhaps 1240 and 1310. Certainly no earlier than the former. The runes on the Korsoygaden hilt might have been made at any time between 1000 and 1300 (not later). Thus, in spite of being found in a stone coffin with the remains of a circular shield, it seems likely that the Korsoygaden sword must be of c. 1240-1300, not of c. 1000." Oakeshott (1964:98).
  3. "the runes inscribed upon the bronze collars which once held the grip at top and bottom [...] rather roughly incised in a rather 'home-made' style, have been positively dated as being no later than 1150 and unlikely to be much earlier than 1100. These datings have been made by two extremely eminent Runologists, Eric Moltke and O. Rygh, each independently corrobating the other's finding. On stylistic grounds and on the circumstances of its burial, Jan Petersen dated the sword to c. 1050" Oakeshott (1991:76)
  4. previously placed in the 13th century, this type of inscription is now widely recognized as popular throughout the 12th century, seamlessly connecting to the earlier Ulfberht inscriptions. In a single specimen, dated c. 1100, an "early medieval" Ulfberht inscription on one side of the blade has been found to coexist with a "high medieval" letter-group inscription on the other. Herrman, J. and Donat P. (eds.), Corpus archäologischer Quellen zur Frühgeschichte auf dem Gebiet der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (7.-12. Jahrhundert), Akademie-Verlag, Berlin (1985), p. 376.
  5. "Rescued relic". BBC News. 19 December 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  6. "MEDIEVAL YORK: CAPITAL OF THE NORTH". Yorkshire Museum. Retrieved 4 October 2018.