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Old 6th January 2022, 10:22 AM   #1
Triarii
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Default Mortuary Sword - first use of the term?

Hello,

I've searched about and not found any sort of answer.

It's widely accepted that the name 'Mortuary Sword' is a misnomer as the faces found on some hilts don't commemorate Charles I (or Henrietta Maria for that matter) and that it's a 'Victorian' term.
Of course some of the hilts don't feature faces at all or faces that even vaguely resemble Charles I, and that there is an example with the Commonwealth arms on the blade and a couple of examples that are purported to have belonged to Cromwell.

Does anyone know who first coined the phrase, or when the name first appeared, or who popularised it?

Thanks.
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Old 6th January 2022, 02:05 PM   #2
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This is a very good question, and while the term 'mortuary' sword has been is general use since the Victorian era, when it was coined, I'm not sure if anyone can exact the first date of its use or who was responsible.

Looking through old entries in catalogs and early writings might help secure its use in period but various sources would differ. I'm not sure if anyone has done primary research on this, but not aware of anything but continued use in works by many authors.

Ewart Oakeshott notes the Victorian romanticism which likely brought this term into use, and its misperception to having the death mask of Charles I , who was excecuted in 1649. As hilts with these types of faces existed much earlier this is of course incorrect. It is generally held that these hilts were in use as early as 1631 and fell out of general use by 1670.

The development seems to derive from the English 'cavalier' hilt, an evolution from dish guard thrusting swords and possibly earlier walloon type hilts with loop guards and secondary knuckle guards.

The association with Charles I may derive from a cavalier hilt with decoration with him and his queen Henrietta Marie which dates from c. 1630s.

These collectors terms, most of which seem to derive from the Victorian period, have become so firmly entrenched in the literature that they continue being used for expedience in discussion as so well known semantically.
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Old 6th January 2022, 03:38 PM   #3
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Thanks for the reply. I'm discussing this with some C17th history enthusiasts - we all know the story as per my OP, but were all wondering at the first instance of its use.

Very much like when was the term ' apostles' used to describe a collar of bandoliers. The Victorians loved it but no contemporary use during the English Civil War, so its got to be 100% Victorian. However, turns out that it's used in a play dating from 1664, so there is the possibility that it pre-dates this.
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Old 7th January 2022, 08:12 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Triarii View Post
Thanks for the reply. I'm discussing this with some C17th history enthusiasts - we all know the story as per my OP, but were all wondering at the first instance of its use.

Very much like when was the term ' apostles' used to describe a collar of bandoliers. The Victorians loved it but no contemporary use during the English Civil War, so its got to be 100% Victorian. However, turns out that it's used in a play dating from 1664, so there is the possibility that it pre-dates this.
This is a most interesting topic, and one that could be broadened into a book quite frankly (maybe even a movie!)
That is, that of collectors terms for the weapons of history. I had heard of the 'apostles' term before sometime years ago in some now forgotten research, and as with most of these kinds of terms, thought it quaint and intriguing.

By way of analogy I could test the band width of this forum with examples of these terms, but briefly I can note a few.

Weapons that become well known among fighting men almost inevitably are given nicknames or colloquial terms, pretty much everything from swords and guns to tanks, planes etc. Most of these never make it into literary parlance, but as pointed out, some do.

I am curious about what play this term 'mortuary' appeared in.

The only instances I know of at this point of such terms used figuratively in literature prevalent enough to come to mind are:

FOX: This term figuratively describing a good sword was used by Shakespeare in "Henry V" , Act 4, Scene IV (1599),
the character Pistol to a French opponent, " O signieur Dew, thou diest on point of FOX".
The term, rather than referring to a specific type of sword, is believed to pertain to perhaps the 'running wolf' mark on German sword blades of the time, and taken to represent a fox.

BILBO:
In Shakespeare's "Merry Wives of Windsor" (1602),
" to be compressed, like a good BILBO, in the circumference of a peck, hilt to point, heel to head" , 3.5.43
The 'compressed' term means the blade can be bent around and contained in a confined area.
The term bilbo represents fine swords made in the Spanish town of Bilbao, who shipped swords to the British Isles. The term later became used colloquially for a Spanish military sword of the latter 17th century, and lost its association in English parlance.

There are other terms for daggers such 'dudgeon' and 'bodkin' which are among some of these kinds of terms.
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Old 8th January 2022, 08:36 AM   #5
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I have what I think is a "mortuary sword" in my collection with a portrait at its blade. I have no idea for which purpose this sword has been made. Length is 880 mm, blade 725 mm, width 30 mm. The former owner told me that it could have been made for the funeral of king Louis XV.
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Old 8th January 2022, 08:25 PM   #6
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Udo, very interesting example of what was deemed a 'mourning sword' in the 18th c. These are discussed briefly in "The Smallsword in England" (J.Aylward, 1945, p.54-55), noting these arose probably c. 1740 and with blackened steel and grip wire. While the thought was for mourning of funerary purpose, Aylward suggests they were worn with any somber dress, and were essentially a town weapon.

I do not know much on Louis XV (d. 1774), but it seems feasible this could have been such a sword with the interesting likeness on the blade. I would also note the rebated point on the blade, which would seem to render the blade inert for thrusting as would be sharply pointed on regular small swords.

While this digresses from the figurative term for the 'mortuary' hilts, I wanted to add this to the theme. It is what is termed a 'corpse carriers' sword from East Europe, believed Austria, 19th c. and worn by pall bearers in the funerary process. Frankly this is a pretty obscure form and I would have to dig a bit to find the reference in which it is noted.

Returning to the 'mortuary' hilt, I went through " The Rapier and Smallsword 1400-1820" by the late AVB Norman (1980), where the hilt form and its variants are discussed in various entries. He suggests, based on examples and some portraiture that the form likely did not exist prior to 1630s.
Unfortunately, as often the case, no mention of the origin of the term 'mortuary' is noted, though it is used in at least 7 references in the text.

Still curious about the play mentioned in which the term 'mortuary' was used for presumably one of these type swords.
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Old 9th January 2022, 08:55 AM   #7
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Many thanks Jim for your answer and interesting contribution. I checked the type of my sword with help of the book of A.V.B. Norman and found the pommel of my sword on page 243 as "pommel 14", dated to the third quater of the 17th century. This dating would very well fit to the portrait on the blade of a uniform bearer with allonge wig. This type of wig certainly was out of fashion at the time of the funeral of the French king Louis XV. in 1774. The equivalent hilt is shown on page 199, drawing 112 dated from the 1640s or even earlier. As Norman writes "their presence in many English country houses, armouries, and some churches as well as the similarity of their decoration to that found on what collectors call "mortuary swords" which appear to be exclusively English, suggest their country of origin".
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Old 9th January 2022, 05:12 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by corrado26 View Post
Many thanks Jim for your answer and interesting contribution. I checked the type of my sword with help of the book of A.V.B. Norman and found the pommel of my sword on page 243 as "pommel 14", dated to the third quater of the 17th century. This dating would very well fit to the portrait on the blade of a uniform bearer with allonge wig. This type of wig certainly was out of fashion at the time of the funeral of the French king Louis XV. in 1774. The equivalent hilt is shown on page 199, drawing 112 dated from the 1640s or even earlier. As Norman writes "their presence in many English country houses, armouries, and some churches as well as the similarity of their decoration to that found on what collectors call "mortuary swords" which appear to be exclusively English, suggest their country of origin".
Very well noted Udo. With small swords, as we are aware, while they were around through 17th c. with their use extending through the 18th, but by the time of the funeral of Louis XV their character had changed.

Note the full pas d'ane rings, by 1770s these had become more vestigial and flatter, virtually eliminating the original purpose. The blade on this seems of early form but the rebated blade tip is curious.

With blade engravings of course, they are most often commemorative with these kinds of figures such as the wigged head. I think of the hussar figures with panoplies of arms etc. are just a popular theme on many saber blades. Many of these (as well as on plug bayonets) have the 'viva pandour' phrase.

In Norman's quote (as cited) he is referring to the range of variations of the so called mortuary hilts we are discussing, which of course are unrelated to these 'mourning' small swords' , and reiterating that they were in fact used by both sides in the English Civil wars and related campaigns.

Your comparison in well placed however in noting the somber tone in the sobriquets of these swords

I would add here that the evolution of the 'mortuary' sword corresponds with the early development of the Hounslow sword phenomenon in England in which German smiths were established in the outskirts of London in the 1630s.Here they were fabricating various swords which apparently included these 'mortuary' swords.

Here is one I think may be from Hounslow before the shops were taken over by Cromwell.

This has a typical ANDREA FERARA blade from Solingen, revealing that not ALL such blades went to Scotland, but indeed reached England and Hounslow where a notable number of Solingen blades augmented those produced by the German smiths in those shops.
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Old 13th January 2022, 01:15 PM   #9
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Jim,

Apologies for any confusion - I was referring to the bandoliers being commonly used by Victorians but rarely in the mid C17th, the one example excepted.
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Old 13th January 2022, 06:12 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Triarii View Post
Jim,

Apologies for any confusion - I was referring to the bandoliers being commonly used by Victorians but rarely in the mid C17th, the one example excepted.
No problem, thank you for the correction.
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Old 20th March 2022, 10:07 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Jim McDougall View Post
Very well noted Udo. With small swords, as we are aware, while they were around through 17th c. with their use extending through the 18th, but by the time of the funeral of Louis XV their character had changed.

Note the full pas d'ane rings, by 1770s these had become more vestigial and flatter, virtually eliminating the original purpose. The blade on this seems of early form but the rebated blade tip is curious.

With blade engravings of course, they are most often commemorative with these kinds of figures such as the wigged head. I think of the hussar figures with panoplies of arms etc. are just a popular theme on many saber blades. Many of these (as well as on plug bayonets) have the 'viva pandour' phrase.

In Norman's quote (as cited) he is referring to the range of variations of the so called mortuary hilts we are discussing, which of course are unrelated to these 'mourning' small swords' , and reiterating that they were in fact used by both sides in the English Civil wars and related campaigns.

Your comparison in well placed however in noting the somber tone in the sobriquets of these swords

I would add here that the evolution of the 'mortuary' sword corresponds with the early development of the Hounslow sword phenomenon in England in which German smiths were established in the outskirts of London in the 1630s.Here they were fabricating various swords which apparently included these 'mortuary' swords.

Here is one I think may be from Hounslow before the shops were taken over by Cromwell.

This has a typical ANDREA FERARA blade from Solingen, revealing that not ALL such blades went to Scotland, but indeed reached England and Hounslow where a notable number of Solingen blades augmented those produced by the German smiths in those shops.
Apologies for resurrecting this after such a long gap, but is there any evidence that there were two side guards on this? I can't see a screw hole on the pommel or signs of the recurved bars sitting on the inner side of the guard. To me that one, with its very fine boat shape gives the impression of a kind of evolution from the AVB Norman Type 91 hilts.
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