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Not to be confused with a type of Scottish broadsword.
For other uses, see Claymore (disambiguation).
Scottish claymore replica (Albion Chieftain)2.jpg
Claymore replica
Type Sword
Place of origin  Scotland
Service history
In service ca. 1400–1700
Used by Highland Scots
Weight ≈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 type Double-edged
Hilt type Two-handed cruciform, with pommel
Engraving of a claymore and armour at Dunvegan Castle (from Footsteps of Dr. Johnson, 1890).

A claymore (/ˈklmɔər/; from Scottish Gaelic claidheamh-mòr, "great sword")[1] refers either to 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 swords in the 18th century in Scotland and parts of England to refer to basket-hilted swords.[2] This description was maybe not used during the 17th century, when basket hilted swords were the primary military swords across Europe, but these broad-bladed swords remained in service with Scottish regiments for some time longer.[clarification needed] 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. Such swords remained in service with Scottish regiments into the 19th century.


The term claymore is an anglicisation of the Gaelic claidheamh-mór "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] OED observes that the latter 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 & Christopher Thompson argue that the term "claymore" was applied first to the basket-hilted broadsword, and then to all Scottish swords. They provide earlier quotes 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]

Authors arguing that the basket-hilted sword is "incorrectly" called claymore have been known to suggest that claybeg (from a purported Gaelic claidheamh-beag "small sword") should be used instead.[7] This term is not seen in clan-era Gaelic song or poetry, Dwelly's [ibid.], or other authorities, and seems to be a fairly recent invention.[citation needed]

This does not parallel Scottish Gaelic usage. According to the Gaelic Dictionary by R. A. Armstrong (1825), claidheamh-mòr translates to "broadsword", and claidheamh dà làimh to "two-handed sword", while claidheamh-beag is given as a translation of "Bilbo".[8]

The term "claymore" became part of vocabulary of the Victorian era sentimental or Romanticist "retro-Jacobite" literature and poetry such as the Skye Boat Song (1870).

Other contemporary Gaelic descriptives of swords include claidheamh-cùil or back sword, referring to a single-edged sword with a flat "spine" (not one worn on the back, a common misinterpretation), the claidheamh-crom or crooked sword, which could describe either a typical sabre-style blade (such as that worn by Archibald Campbell, 1st Duke of Argyll, in the painting by Medina) or a scimitar style blade known as a "Turcael" ("Turkish" blade) such as that brandished by Alasdair Mòr, the Champion of Clan Grant, in the c. 1715 portrait by Waitt, or the claidheamh-caol or narrow sword, usually describing a rapier or small-sword.[citation needed]

Two-handed (Highland) claymore[edit]

A mid-16th-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[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]

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[edit]


  1. ^ "claymore". Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989. [1] (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 1911, p. 474.
  6. ^ Wagner, Paul & Thompson, Christopher, "The words claymore and broadsword" in Hand, Stephen, Spada II: Anthology of Swordsmanship (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005)
  7. ^ so 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)

References and further reading[edit]

  • Claude Blair, "Claymore" in David H. Caldwell (ed.), Scottish Weapons and Fortifications (Edinburgh 1981), 378–387
  • David H. Caldwell, The Scottish Armoury (Edinburgh 1979), 24–26
  • Fergus Cannan, Scottish Arms and Armour (Oxford 2009), 29–31, 79, 82
  • Tobias Capwell, The Real Fighting Stuff: Arms and Armour at Glasgow Museums (Glasgow 2007), 84
  • Ross Cowan, Halflang and Tua-Handit: Late Medieval Scottish Hand-and-a-Half and Two-Handed Swords. Updated version of two articles originally published in Medieval Warfare 1.2 & 1.3 (2011).
  • Ross Cowan, 'Lairds of Battle', Military History Monthly 32 (2013), 47–48
  • G. A. Hayes-McCoy, 'Sixteenth Century Swords Found in Ireland', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 78 (1948), 38–54
  • J. G. Mann, 'A Late Medieval Sword from Ireland', Antiquaries Journal 24 (1944), 94–99
  • John Wallace, Scottish Swords and Dirks: An Illustrated Reference to Scottish Edged Weapons (London 1970), 10-17
  • Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary (Gairm Publications, Glasgow, 1988, p. 202)
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Claymore". Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 474. 

External links[edit]