Last updated

Type Sword
Place of origin Scotland
Service history
In servicec.1400–1700
Used by Highland Scots
Mass≈2.2–2.8 kg (4.9–6.2 lb)[ citation needed ]
Length≈120–140 cm (47–55 in)[ citation needed ]
Blade length≈100–120 cm (39–47 in)[ citation needed ]

Blade  typeDouble-edged
Hilt  typeTwo-handed cruciform, with pommel
Engraving of a claymore and armour at Dunvegan Castle (from Footsteps of Dr. Johnson, 1890). Claymore and armour from Dunvegan Castle (engraving, sometime before 1890).jpg
Engraving of a claymore and armour at Dunvegan Castle (from Footsteps of Dr. Johnson, 1890).

A claymore ( /ˈklmɔːr/ ; from Scottish Gaelic : claidheamh-mòr , "great sword") [1] 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.


The word claymore was first used in reference to basket-hilted swords during the 18th century in Scotland and parts of England. [2] This description was maybe not used during the 17th century, when basket-hilted swords were the primary military swords across Europe, but these basket-hilted, broad-bladed, swords remained in service with officers of Scottish regiments into the 21st century. After the Acts of Union in 1707 when Scottish and English regiments were integrated together, the swords were seen as a mark of distinction by Scottish officers over the more slender sabres used by their English contemporaries: a symbol of physical strength and prowess, and a link to the historic Highland way of life.


The term claymore is an anglicisation of the Gaelic claidheamh mór "big/great sword", attested in 1772 (as Cly-more) with the gloss "great two-handed sword". [3] The sense "basket-hilted sword" is contemporaneous, attested in 1773 as "the broad-sword now used ... called the Claymore, (i.e., the great sword)", [4] although OED observes that this usage is "inexact, but very common". The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica likewise judged that the term is "wrongly" applied to the basket-hilted sword. [5]

Countering this view, Paul Wagner and Christopher Thompson argue that the term "claymore" was applied first to the basket-hilted broadsword, and then to all Scottish swords. They provide quotations that are earlier than those given above in support of its use to refer to a basket-hilted broadsword and targe: "a strong handsome target, with a sharp pointed steel, of above half an ell in length, screw'd into the navel of it, on his left arm, a sturdy claymore by his side" (1715 pamphlet). They also note its use as a battle-cry as early as 1678. [6] Some authors suggest that claybeg should be used instead, from a purported Gaelic claidheamh beag "small sword". [7] This does not parallel Scottish Gaelic usage. According to the Gaelic Dictionary by R. A. Armstrong (1825), claidheamh mòr "big/great sword" translates to "broadsword", and claidheamh dà làimh to "two-handed sword", while claidheamh beag "small sword" is given as a translation of "Bilbo". [8]

Two-handed (Highland) claymore

The seal of John Balliol John Scotland.jpg
The seal of John Balliol
A mid-sixteenth-century tomb effigy from Finlaggan Graveslab of Donald MacGill'easbuig, National Museum of Scotland.jpg
A mid-sixteenth-century tomb effigy from Finlaggan

The two-handed claymore was a large sword used in the late Medieval and early modern periods. It was used in the constant clan warfare and border fights with the English from circa 1400 to 1700. [9] Although claymores existed as far back as the Wars of Scottish Independence they were smaller and few had the typical quatrefoil design (as can be seen on the Great Seal of John Balliol King of Scots). [10] The last known battle in which it is considered to have been used in a significant number was the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689.[ citation needed ] It was somewhat longer than other two-handed swords of the era. The English did use swords similar to the Claymore during the renaissance called a greatsword.[ citation needed ] The two-handed claymore seems to be an offshoot of early Scottish medieval longswords (similar to the espee de guerre or grete war sword) which had developed a distinctive style of a cross-hilt with forward-angled arms that ended in spatulate swellings. The lobed pommels on earlier swords were inspired by the Viking style. The spatulate swellings were later frequently made in a quatrefoil design. [11]

The average claymore ran about 140 cm (55 in) in overall length, with a 33 cm (13 in) grip, 107 cm (42 in) blade, and a weight of approximately 5.5 lb (2.5 kg). For instance, in 1772 Thomas Pennant described a sword seen on his visit to Raasay as: "an unwieldy weapon, two inches broad, doubly edged; the length of the blade three feet seven inches; of the handle, fourteen inches; of a plain transverse guard, one foot; the weight six pounds and a half." [12] The largest claymore on record; known as Fuilteach Mhuirt "blooded/bloody one of murder/killing", weighs 10 kilograms and measures 2.24 metres in length. It is believed to have been wielded by a member of Clan Maxwell circa the 15th century. The sword is currently in the possession of the National War Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland. [13]

Fairly uniform in style, the sword was set with a wheel pommel often capped by a crescent-shaped nut and a guard with straight, forward-sloping arms ending in quatrefoils, and langets running down the centre of the blade from the guard.[ citation needed ] Another common style of two-handed claymore (though lesser known today) was the "clamshell hilted" claymore. It had a crossguard that consisted of two downward-curving arms and two large, round, concave plates that protected the foregrip. It was so named because the round guards resembled an open clam.[ citation needed ]

See also


  1. "claymore". Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989. (subscription required)
  2. Blair, Claude (1981). The Word Claymore. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers. p. 378.
  3. Thomas Pennant, A map of Scotland, the Hebrides, and part of England, cited after OED. See also Alexander Robert Ulysses Lockmore (1778). Annual Register Vol. 23. London.[ clarification needed ]
  4. James Boswell, The journal of a tour to the Hebrides, with Samuel Johnson, cited after OED.
  5. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Claymore"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 474.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  6. Wagner, Paul and Christopher Thompson, "The words claymore and broadsword" in Stephen Hand, Spada II: Anthology of Swordsmanship (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005)
  7. Nick Evangelista, The Encyclopedia of the Sword, 1995, ISBN   978-0-313-27896-9, p. 113. The suggestion appears as early as 1835 in a letter to the editor of The United service magazine p. 109: "the claybeg or Andrew Ferrara, now worn by the officers and sergeants of the Highland corps, and which has usurped the venerable name of the ancient Scottish weapon".
  8. A Gaelic Dictionary, p. 120. see also Wagner, Paul; Christopher Thompson (2005). "The words "claymore" and "broadsword"". SPADA. Highland Village, Texas: The Chivalry Bookshelf. 2: 111–117.. Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary (Gairm Publications, Glasgow, 1988, p. 202); Culloden – The Swords and the Sorrows (The National Trust for Scotland, Glasgow, 1996).
  9. Swords and Sabres, Harvey J S Withers
  10. Ewart Oakeshott, Records of the Medieval Sword pg.117 BOYDELL&BREWER Ltd
  11. Highland grave slab national museum of Scotland.
  12. Wagner, Paul & Thompson, Christopher, "The words claymore and broadsword" in Hand, Stephen, Spada II: Anthology of Swordsmanship (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005)
  13. MacLean, Fitzroy (1 September 1995). Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. ISBN   978-0670866441.

References and further reading

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.

Rapier Slender, sharply pointed sword

A rapier or espada ropera is a type of sword with a slender and sharply-pointed two-edged blade that was popular in Western Europe, both for civilian use and as a military side arm, throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

A backsword is a type of sword characterised by having a single-edged blade and a hilt with a single-handed grip. It is so called because the triangular cross section gives a flat back edge opposite the cutting edge. Later examples often have a "false edge" on the back near the tip, which was in many cases sharpened to make an actual edge and facilitate thrusting attacks. From around the early 14th century the backsword became the first type of European sword to be fitted with a knuckle guard.

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.

Small sword Light one-handed sword designed for thrusting

The small sword or smallsword is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. The height of the small sword's popularity was between mid 17th and late 18th century, when any man, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis.

Historical European martial arts

Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) are martial arts of European origin, particularly using arts formerly practised, but having since died out or evolved into very different forms.

Martial arts manuals are instructions, with or without illustrations, specifically designed to be learnt from a book. Many books detailing specific techniques of martial arts are often erroneously called manuals but were written as treatises.

Classification of swords

The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.

A dirk is a long bladed thrusting dagger. Historically, it was a personal weapon of officers engaged in naval hand-to-hand combat during the Age of Sail as well as the personal sidearm of Highlanders. It was also used by the officers, pipers, and drummers of Scottish Highland regiments around 1800 and by Japanese naval officers.

Highland charge

The Highland charge was a battlefield shock tactic used by the clans of the Scottish Highlands which incorporated the use of firearms.

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.

Gaelic warfare

Gaelic warfare was the type of warfare practised by the Gaelic peoples, that is the Irish, Scottish, and Manx, in the pre-modern period.

Scottish sword dances Dancing around two crossed swords

Performance of sword dances in the folklore of Scotland is recorded from as early as the 15th century.

A claymore is a two-handed sword.


Chape has had various meanings in English, but the predominant one is a protective fitting at the bottom of a scabbard or sheath for a sword or dagger. Historic blade weapons often had leather scabbards with metal fittings at either end, sometimes decorated. These are generally either in some sort of U shape, protecting the edges only, or a pocket shape covering the sides of the scabbard as well. The reinforced end of a single-piece metal scabbard can also be called the chape.

Wallace Sword Sword supposedly owned by William Wallace

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).

Andrew Ferrara or Andrea Ferrara, was a type of sword-blade that was highly esteemed in Scotland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sir Walter Scott notes that the name of Andrea de Ferrara was inscribed "on all the Scottish broadswords that are accounted of peculiar excellence".

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.

There is some evidence on historical fencing as practiced in Scotland in the Early Modern Era, especially fencing with the Scottish basket-hilted broadsword during the 17th to 18th centuries.

Brian R. Price is an American university professor, author, editor, publisher, martial arts instructor of the Italian school of swordsmanship, reconstructive armorer, and member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. He is Associate Professor of History at Hawai'i Pacific University, where he offers courses in the history of warfare, in counterinsurgency, and in strategy at the graduate and undergraduate levels. He speaks regularly at conferences both for his current field on counterinsurgency and in his earlier, and now secondary field, on chivalric topics. His page at lists his current and recent research projects. He began his studies of medieval history in 1990, but began to shift his interests as the Afghan and Iraq wars progressed, increasingly emphasizing aspects of modern military theory, especially ways through which culture, doctrine and military practice interweave. These modern topics have been a prominent part of his work since his graduation from the University of North Texas and deployment to Afghanistan as part of the Human Terrain System in 2011-2012. He has spoken at the UK Ministry of Defence, at the Society for Military History, the World History Conference, several academic martial arts symposia, and appeared on television to discuss the situation in Ukraine.