What is a Claymore? – An Introduction to Scottish Swords



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This time I wanted to clear up the confusion around the term “claymore”, which is most often incorrectly applied to two-handed swords with the characteristic quatrefoil tipped quillons. The word more accurately refers to the basket-hilted broadsword (or backsword in case of a single-edged blade) which became popular later in Scotland’s history.

So next time someone calls something a “claymore” that is not a baskethilt sword you can go full nerd and be like “akshually…”. 😉

Sources:

Henry Walker, The Broadsword: A Curatorial Discussion (2016)

Cyril Mazansky, British Basket-Hilted Swords: A Typology of Basket-Type Sword Hilts (2005)

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#Claymore #Historical #Scotland

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47 thoughts on “What is a Claymore? – An Introduction to Scottish Swords

  1. Re: the 'claymore' terminology

    As far as I'm aware, I do not think historians or others know what the Scottish Highlanders called their two-handed greatswords. "Claymore", as Skallagrim points out, was a generic term referring to the 'larger' swords of the era — anything that wasn't a smallsword.

    There are several theories from historians about the historical terminology of the two-handed Scottish Highland sword. 1) "Claymore" was a term applied to the basket-hilted swords first and then migrated to other swords (this theory is supported by some quotations but isn't conclusive), 2) "Claymore" was an English-language gloss of the Gaelic word 'claidheamh mór' which implied two-handed swords. The idea behind this theory is that the English wouldn't have applied the term "claymore" to two-handed swords if the Scottish weren't already doing it. This is also essentially the reverse of the previous theory where the term 'claymore' was applied historically to two-handed swords first and then migrated to other broad (read: "great") swords. This would mean that the term is wrongly attributed to the basket-hilt swords by way of over-generalization.

    Regardless, both the two-handed 'claymores' and the basket-hilted claymores were roughly contemporaneously so the term could have been applied to both types of swords in the 15th-17th century. This is plausible by the fact that, historically, there were often no concise definitions between swords (there doesn't seem to be for the two-handed sword or the basket-hilted one). A backsword could be a broadsword, a broadsword could be a backsword, a broadsword could be a hand-and-a-half sword (hence the idea of two-handed swords), broad swords could also be one-handed (as in the case of the basket-hilted claymore), greatswords could also sometimes refer to war swords, or war swords could be referred to as greatswords by the mere fact that you could wield them in one-or-two handed. Greatswords could also be the two-handed flamberge and the aforementioned two-handed Scottish Highland sword. It seems that the Scottish of the 15th-17th century only really differentiated between small swords and big ones. Each respective category kinda lumped together all sorts of sword sizes and types.

    To top it off, most of the current terminology of swords was invented in the 19th and 20th centuries in order to categorize and be precise. Many times, medieval or Renaissance people didn't differentiate between sword types except in very generalized ways. Kinda like how modern people don't often distinguish between 'long guns'. A long gun could be an assault rifle, a hunting rifle, a carbine, a short rifle, a shotgun, or an 1860 Henry… almost any gun with a long barrel. Oftentimes, swords were just 'big' or 'small'.

    So, I wouldn't say calling a two-handed Scottish Highland sword a 'claymore' as being a misnomer. It may be, but we don't know that for sure. In fact, since we don't know for sure, it could be true that two-handed Scottish Highland swords were also called 'claymores'.

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  2. From what I know, all evidence points to Scottish Gaelic for "greatsword" being used for the war sword and then, later, the broadsword. However, regardless, the main reason I call the war sword a claymore instead of the broadsword is simple. "Claymore", "Broadsword", "Schiavona". No 1 type of sword needs 3 unique names.

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  3. Good God almighty!
    I cannot believe your arrogance a man who cannot even pronounce Scots Gaidhlig properly lecturing us on how Gaels speak
    Sort yourself out mate. Stick to your own culture and stop helping the anti Scots unionists to destroy Highland identity and culture .
    Edit
    Having now heard your insults to the Pipes, I be a bit more accurate
    You are an ignorant prick.

    Reply
  4. So… I'm no professional linguist, but, if we were to make a name for the Scottish two-handed sword that is more accurate, would it be a Claydalive (if we apply the same rules of linguistic weardown that made Claidheamh Mór into Claymore)?

    Reply
  5. I knew kilts were more modern… tartans are sort of more modern I think. The medieval scots would have worn chainmail as did the english, welsh, irish, franks etc… of those periods. It is known that the celtic speaking peoples may have used some type of plaid design for cloaks and maybe trousers but the kilt is more modern thing. I think the only accurate movie I see with the appearance of scots in the 13th century or 14th century was that recent movie about Robert the Bruce… which was not a bad film (Out Law King)

    Reply
  6. Not gonna lie, I like the modern definition of claymore better. Not a fan of the crazy looking basket hilts or clam shell hilts personally. Super awesome to see all the different designs and types of “claymore” tho, historical weapon classification is cool but wack

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  7. I knew it man I knew it I keep seeing that sort of all over the place it's too small to be a great sword it's definitely a battlefield weapon and it's definitely on the larger end of the longsword and it's good against light armor

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  8. It's written Spada da due Mani but it would be said Spada due Mani. Some speaker's will even argue Spada…. da….due Mani….But I'd bet if you listened to a native speaker. You'll rarely hear that Da. Awesome! Video!!!!!! Clay-da-live Cool always wondered about that pronunciations.

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  9. Actually the actual existence of the short kilts or half kilt is still disputed. There’s claim to be evidence that well before the 17th century the half kilt or short kilt was worn, not just the full kilt or great plaid.
    Unfortunately at the moment nobody can 100% agree. There are also paintings that were made before the modern version of the kilt became popularized that depict 15th and 16th century life with people in half or short kilts. They were usually take a wrap or plaid with them And these are also depicted. So the truth is, nobody really knows for sure. Right now we can only make assumptions.

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