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Old 4th October 2021, 06:58 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Decoration and styling in Scottish Basket Hilts

In the recent thread posted by Mark Eley of a fantastic Jacobite basket hilt of late 17th early 18th period, thoughts came to mind of the symbolism or aesthetics of the piercings and structural elements that may be at hand.

While most references acknowledge, term, and categorize the variations of these, there is virtually no attempt to acknowledge what these features might represent. Years ago in my efforts to delve into this, most of the authorities and reference authors I queried informed me that their avoidance of these kinds of matters was obviously because of the subjectivity.

The exceptions were in the case of the more artistic Stirling type hilts, the symbols were clearly formed and incorporated into hilt themes.
On a side note here, it has been agreed that the 'S' in basket hilts was not intended to mean 'Stirling' or 'Scotland' or 'Stuart", but was simply a structural aesthetic joining shields and saltires.

The 'Glasgow' form hilts are more the subject here, with the pierced designs in the shields being the primary focus. Also the designs along the edges of these and saltires often seem to have nominal symbolic potential.

What brought me to bring this up, is finding examples of certain markings on early German weapons of c.16th century inlaid in latten, but resembling some designs. Some of these almost resemble the devices used in card suits, as Mazansky tacitly noted.

However, in many cases these may be highly stylized Jacobite symbols, of which there are a good number.

I am hoping others out there with interests in Scottish basket hilts, or simply in symbolic designs and markings on them might join in here.
I did not wish to detract further on the other thread as this is a much broader topic.

The first two hilts are 'Glasgow', while the more decorative one is Stirling. It has been suggested that the wavy designs represent 'the waves of the sea' across which the Stuart king waits to return to his throne, the hearts the devotion to him. Perhaps fanciful, but there is a degree of viability, but who knows?
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Old 6th October 2021, 03:44 AM   #2
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Default Here are some notes from Whitelaw 1934/1977

p.304:
"...here it may be remarked that the introduction of Jacobite emblems in the design of sword hilts described above shows the difference between the Scottish and English Jacobite. The former put these emblems ON HIS SWORD while the latter was satisfied to put them on his drinking glass."

p.310 (plate V, fig.6) "...the decoration bears a strong similarity to what is found on the best quality of iron pistols made in Doune and Stirling during the second quarter and early third quarter of 18th c. that it may safely assumed to be the work of one of the Stirling armourers. "

It is interesting to note that often clues to decoration and markings is often found on firearms, something that seems to be overlooked in many cases.
As a collector of edged weapons I did not have much in the way of firearm resources, so did not realize this importance for quite some time.

p.309:
"...the oak leaf was the badge of the Stuarts and one of the secret emblems of the Jacobites".

While these symbols seem to be properly depicted mostly in the Stirling hilts, the Glasgow as I have mentioned, tend to be highly stylized or perhaps represent other marks known on German blades or other.

These are the areas I'd like to look further into, and I hope others interested in Scottish arms and material culture might join in.
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Old 7th October 2021, 06:49 AM   #3
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[QUOTE=Jim McDougall;266703]p.304:
"...here it may be remarked that the introduction of Jacobite emblems in the design of sword hilts described above shows the difference between the Scottish and English Jacobite. The former put these emblems ON HIS SWORD while the latter was satisfied to put them on his drinking glass."

This is a fascinating topic, Jim, and I wondered about the decorations on these for years. I was hesitant to say much, because although I suspect these symbols did represent more than decoration, I'm a beginner in this area. This quote you posted is amazing, though, because it does seem to at least possibly show some proof. I have definitely seen baskets with much of the above decoration with the popular motto "Schotland and No Union", indicating an obvious Jacobite sentiment. Likewise, after the '45 when the basket hilts began to be outlawed, Scottish regiments loyal to the King could still arm themselves, but their baskets no longer bore the hearts, triangles, merlons, etc. It would make sense that they lacked these details because these features indicated a Jacobite connection and thus, off limits.
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Old 7th October 2021, 08:37 AM   #4
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Thank you Capn!
In "Myth of the Jacobite Clans" Murray Pittock, 2009, p.165
"...one thing we can notice about these swords is the international nature of the trade. The legends 'GOD SAVE/KING JAMES/THEE 8' and 'Prosperity /to Scotland/and/no Union' are found on some blades: whether or not this is the exact legend (for example James III blades were produced for the English market), the spelling 'Schotland' or 'Schotlandt' indicates the German origin of both blade and legend.
The survival of these and many other swords is surely indicative of the broad accuracy of the traditional picture, reinforced as it is by Gaelic poetry".

Here we note that King James III (the Old Pretender) was the father of Prince Charles Stuart, and was held King James VIII of Scotland, the Jacobite king.
The prosperity and no union refers to the abhorred union of Scotland and England in 1707, one of the primary causes of the '15 and '45 risings.

p.164, "...Lochiels own sword had FIGURE EIGHT guards, NO DOUBT SYMBOLIZING KING JAMES VIII".

This sword is included in "The Swords and the Sorrows" (1996) p.33
It is the sword of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, the clans' 19th Chief, and who led his men out in the '45. He was carried off the field with both ankles shattered by grapeshot. The sword remains with the clan.

As noted previously, these Stirling hilts (this one by Walter Allen of Stirling, and the hilt by Colin Mitchell at Canongate). ...carried more artistically designed symbolism.

Glasgow's more fundamentally styled hilts had more subtle and stylized features pierced in the shields and guards.

The mention of the Highland broadsword in Gaelic poetry well describes the passion and symbolically imbued swords, and this entry from "Culloden" (John Prebble, 1961.p.237) says,
"...Reverend Allan MacDonald, at Prestonpans and Falkirk rode along the line of his tribe blessing their broadswords".

After the '45 and the proscriptions of weapons, ESPECIALLY the broadsword, led to the continued production of traditionally formed hilts in the garrison towns (i.e. Glasgow) still having some degree of stylized piercing. However the English produced hilts commonly had the structure but shields and guards were blank without piercings. The exceptions were the well known hilts produced in London c. late 1750s-60s for Black Watch and other units.

This is one of these, rehilted after 1784 when Black Watch ceased carrying these, this one remounted with M1788 Lt. cavalry blade.
Note the stark rudimentary piercings after the Scottish style.
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Old 7th October 2021, 09:09 PM   #5
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Jim, that's an interesting hilt. I notice that the side bars have been lowered to the underside of the pommel to allow better wrist extension in the thrust.

Does anyone know just how early this feature came in? I have heard it referred to as a primarily 19th centaury innovation when British Military Swordsmanship became one discipline encompassing broadsword, spadroon and sabre under a single system as championed by Rowath etc.

Robert
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Old 8th October 2021, 04:47 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toaster5sqn View Post
Jim, that's an interesting hilt. I notice that the side bars have been lowered to the underside of the pommel to allow better wrist extension in the thrust.

Does anyone know just how early this feature came in? I have heard it referred to as a primarily 19th centaury innovation when British Military Swordsmanship became one discipline encompassing broadsword, spadroon and sabre under a single system as championed by Rowath etc.

Robert
Hi Robert,
Thank you for coming in. I am not sure what you mean about the side bars being lowered , for wrist extension for thrust? I'm afraid I am not aware of any such intention, nor any deliberate adjustment of the guard system for this purpose or other.

It is unclear exactly when these hilts came into use, but we know they were produced in London notably by Jeffries and Drury primarily. These are described by Anthony Darling ("Swords for the Highland Regiments 1757-1784", 1988, p.16)"
stating they represented "...a degeneracy in manufacture". and that,"...the guard is fabricated of thin sheet metal and devoid of line engraving. The triangular perforations are exactly that: triangles".

While most of these seem to be from 1770s, there are possibilities these or forms of them were around earlier. Clearly they sought to follow the 'Glasgow' styling in rudimentary form, and mostly seem destined for fencible and foot regiments, most notably the 42nd Highlanders, "Black Watch".

Most of them were turned in c. 1784 as these regiments ceased the carry of swords.

As I earlier noted, my example and several others I have seen were apparently mounted with M1788 cavalry saber blades.

I am unfamiliar with this 19th century swordsmanship discipline or Rowath, can you elaborate where this data is from?

Returning to hilt features of these 18th century military examples, it seems there were slight variations in certain elements, but none of these as far as I have known are for specific purpose in use of the sword.
Thank you for the interesting observations and for joining us here!

Jim
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Old 8th October 2021, 08:46 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toaster5sqn View Post
Jim, that's an interesting hilt. I notice that the side bars have been lowered to the underside of the pommel to allow better wrist extension in the thrust.

Does anyone know just how early this feature came in? I have heard it referred to as a primarily 19th centaury innovation when British Military Swordsmanship became one discipline encompassing broadsword, spadroon and sabre under a single system as championed by Rowath etc.

Robert

Ive been trying to determine more on these fencing circumstances, and while I was aware of the sword exercises for the cavalry of 1790, I had thought these carried well into the 19th c. These were of course based on 'cuts' and numbered.
Egerton (1885) notes that all sabre, spadroon or rapier play obviously being cut and thrust derives from the principles of small sword fencing, but that his investigations only carried to the last years of the 18th c. when most of the traditions of the fencing art were 'forever abandoned'.
He notes that 'some' improvement in theory at least, had been made in this (19th) century however.

From what I could find on Roworth, this name is believed to be C. Roworth who was associated with John Taylor, who was the purported author of "The Art of Defence on Foot with the Broadsword and Saber".(1804)
It is said he was the printer , but some think he was the author.

"...the Taylor-Roworth manual includes a special CUTTING method not found in other broadsword manuals. This method invlolves moulineting from one cut to another in a continuous pattern. However the Taylor-Roworth manual is NOT strictly intended for use with the basket hilted broadsword and its primary purpose was really to apply the traditional broadsword method to the newer military saber. This cutting method is easier and less awkward with a saber rather than a basket hilt. According to the author, this method was ' not practiced or taught as a necessary part of the science of broadsword".
"Lessons of the Broadsword Masters"
Christopher Scott Thompson , 2016, p.197

These basket hilts ceased use ostensibly by 1790, and mine and several others did seem to have been refitted with 1788 sabre blades. It seems certain that these would not have been for use with cavalry units, but does seem possible for NCO's or officers in flank companies.

It is interesting that broadsword methods were apparently being regarded as applicable to use of the saber, perhaps here we are seeing the two brought together ?
It does seem however that the systems focused on cutting, so I would expect that provisions for thrusting were not included, at least as far as I can determine at this point.
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Old 8th October 2021, 10:30 PM   #8
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Jim,
I'm referring to how the side bars meet the pommel so as not to conflict with the wrist as seen in the attached photo. Traditionally they came in horizontally as per the left hand sketch but the basket I was commenting on they were dropped below the horizontal as per the right hand sketch. Hope this makes it clearer.

Yes I was refering to Charles Roworth's "Art of Defence" and John Taylor and Henery Angelo(senior)'s work from the end of the 18thC and start of the 19th sorry for contracting it all to Rowarth etc. The 'a' was a simple spelling oops and their work is such a baseline in the HEMA community that it's easy to forget that it's virtually unknown once you move beyond it.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my query.

Robert
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Old 8th October 2021, 11:40 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by toaster5sqn View Post
Jim,
I'm referring to how the side bars meet the pommel so as not to conflict with the wrist as seen in the attached photo. Traditionally they came in horizontally as per the left hand sketch but the basket I was commenting on they were dropped below the horizontal as per the right hand sketch. Hope this makes it clearer.

Yes I was refering to Charles Roworth's "Art of Defence" and John Taylor and Henery Angelo(senior)'s work from the end of the 18thC and start of the 19th sorry for contracting it all to Rowarth etc. The 'a' was a simple spelling oops and their work is such a baseline in the HEMA community that it's easy to forget that it's virtually unknown once you move beyond it.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my query.

Robert
Thank you Robert, and for the additional explanation. Quite honestly the swordsmanship and HEMA factors are quite unknown to me overall, though I have a degree of familiarity. I find it all quite fascinating of course, so by looking further into this myself I wanted to understand more to continue at least somewhat lucid questions

While I have, as noted, never thought of any basket hilt in a thrusting capacity, it seems certainly there were such occasions. In the case of Rob Roy, in this time in Scotland (early 18th c) there was a popularity in dueling events, and surely a more refined system and style of fencing was in place.
In battle, the broadsword was of course, much more free style, actually probably pretty wild.

Your question though brought to mind the fact, as noted, these basket hilts were remounted with curved blades. Though I am not sure of the structural element as far as fencing.............what I do find interesting is that at this time (1804) when this work was presented, they were trying to join the fencing methods with broadswords into use of the saber.

I have always wondering WHY would they put a curved cavalry blade on this basket hilt......as noted mine is not the only example..
But this perspective seems to suggest a possible physical aspect of this period and employing these theories.
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Old 9th October 2021, 12:51 AM   #10
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I have always wondering WHY would they put a curved cavalry blade on this basket hilt......as noted mine is not the only example..
But this perspective seems to suggest a possible physical aspect of this period and employing these theories.
Curved blades on basket hilts go back at least to the German Dussak (spelling?) which is outside my area of interest so I can't put a date to that without doing some research. Basically there is no hard rule that a particular hilt type must go with a particular blade type and someone somewhere has attempted at least one example of every possible combination. Sabres were favored for their cutting power and basket hilts were favored for both protection and for moving the point of balance back enough to allow a relatively heavy sword to still be somewhat nimble in the point.

Robert
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Old 9th October 2021, 01:55 AM   #11
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The dusagge, or often termed 'Sinclair saber' of North Europe was indeed the inspiration for the basket hilt which apparently actually came into Britain, before evolving into the Scottish basket forms (in early times termed 'Irish hilts').
These stout bladed early sabers were also seen as cutlasses, most typically with shell guards.
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