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The Formidable Claymore Sword




 
May 26, 2012 - Alison Birkett - Think of Scotland’s ancient, windswept battlefields and the men who fought there for kin and country and you think of the mighty claymore sword. Equally fascinating is the story of how this legendary, double-handed weapon evolved down the centuries.



Visitors to the National Wallace Monument in Stirling gaze in awe at William Wallace’s claymore, a truly formidable weapon. The inscription on the glass case reads, “The sword that seemed fit for archangel to wield was light in his terrible hand.” Memories of the movie ‘Braveheart’ cause them to wonder about the hero who once owned it. At 5ft 6in long and weighing 6lb, it would have required enormous strength to wield it and, as a result, its provenance is doubtful. Wallace, finally defeated by his English enemies, was imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle before being taken to his cruel death in London in 1305. His sword remained in Dumbarton for centuries until it was returned to Stirling. The fact that this, the Wallace sword, has been found to date from a time long after his death, takes nothing away from its romantic associations. It still sets the imagination racing.



Scotland’s ‘Great Sword’


In reality, claymores used in clan and border warfare from the 15th century onwards, were lighter in weight than the one attributed to Wallace but were, nevertheless, fearsome. The word ‘claymore’ is derived from the Gaelic and means ‘great sword’. It was double-edged and, at just over 5lb in weight and around 4ft 6in in length, it was forged to strike terror into the hearts of those who faced it on the battlefield. The kilted Highland clansman who wielded it intended to kill or be killed. These early claymores had cross-shaped hilts with downward-facing arms and were businesslike rather than ornate bearing simple, clover leaf finials. Later versions of the sword were much more lavishly decorated



Later Claymores


From the 17th century, claymores took the form of basket-hilt swords and became one-handed weapons. At just over 2.5lb in weight and around 3ft long, it was a much lighter sword than the ancient version. Most had decorative, basket-shaped hilts, often lined with scarlet velvet. Although some were occasionally carried into battle during the Great War, from the early 20th century, claymores were generally adopted for ceremonial use. These are the swords most closely associated with the ‘sword dance’, designed to show the energy and skill of the kilted soldier performing it. The dancer uses intricate steps in the spaces between two claymores crossed on the ground beneath him and finishes with a spectacular leap.
 
Although the claymore may no longer be used in anger, wherever Scots gather, its colourful heritage will live on in the flamboyant and energetic steps of the sword dance.



Scotland's Flag (Saint Andrew's Cross)

 






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