A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Armour Class Mortuary Hilt Sword
A hands-on review by William "Bill" Goodwin
In the early to mid 1600s, England found itself at war again. It started with the Bishop's Wars of 1639 and 1640 between the Scots and the English, followed by the English Civil Wars starting in 1642. The exact cause of the English Civil Wars is hard to pinpoint. Basically, Royalists (supporters of King Charles I) feared the views of the protestant Puritans, who in turn were upset with having a Roman Catholic queen. Also, Parliament wanted more control of the country's affairs while Charles wished to be supreme ruler, answering only to God for his actions. A failed attempt by Charles to have five members of Parliament arrested set off rebellions, and the opposing sides started gathering men and stockpiling arms. In 1642, Charles raised his standard at Nottingham and within two months met the Parliamentary forces at Edgehill in the first major battle. In 1649 the defeated Charles was led to the executioner's block.
Changes in arms and armour in the era of the English Civil Wars included more widespread use of firearms and changes in sword design. One of these swords is the Mortuary sword, named for the chiseled likeness of what some believed to be the martyred Charles I found on some surviving hilts of this type. According to Ewart Oakeshott in his book European Weapons and Armour, this label is an invention of 19th century collectors. The earliest examples of the weapon date to around 1635, thus dispelling the myth of any assocation with Charles's death.
The mortuary sword, which fell out of use around 1670, has very close ties to the English Basket-hilt and is sometimes referred to as the English half-basket. This type was mainly a cavalry-issued weapon of both Royalist and Parliamentarian forces. In fact, it may be looked at as the great grandfather of 18th and 19th century cavalry sabers. Surviving examples are found both with broadsword blades and with single edged blades with part of the back edged sharpened to aid in thrusting. One of the best originals of this type of sword is one believed to have been owned by Oliver CromwellGeneral of the Parliamentarian forcesand which now resides in the Royal Armouries, London.
Armour Class of Scotland has long been known for producing quality swords at a decent price. The bulk of their products are re-enactment blades for the time period of the 17th century to early 18th century. Making a purchase from Armour Class is a pleasant experience. All of my questions were answered quickly and honestly. Owner and operator Allan Clark has received many awards and special commissions for the outstanding workmanship they do. The Mortuary sword reviewed here ($377 US plus freight and 16-20 week completion time) is no exception to that craftsmanship.
Measurements and Specifications of the replica sword:
Replica created by Armour Class of Scotland.
The Armour Class sword is not based on any particular original, and direct comparison to a randomly selected original is of limited value. However, E.B. Erickson has supplied statistics for one orginal Mortuary sword with a backsword blade, double fuller, and short third fuller at the ricasso.
Measurements and Specifications of an original Mortuary sword:
The first thing I noticed about this sword when held was how well-balanced and agile it is. The blade tracks well in dry and test-cutting swings. I ordered it sharp and sharp it is. Cutting milk jugs is done with little effort or power needed. Thrusts are easily executed with the help of the sharpened 5" of the back-edge. Allan Clark explained that most of the original pieces he's seen and held were made this way. Even though the Armour Class piece weighs in about a half pound more than the CAS Iberia Hanwei Mortuary Sword I own, it feels lighter because of the great balance. This sword is a pure joy in the hand.
Fit and Finish
All in all, I couldn't be happier with this sword. It had been on the top of my wish list for some time and is now a wonderful reality. A much prized addition to my collection of 17th century swords, it will serve me well for a long time. Armour Class has again proved to be one of the top makers of this sword style and in this price range and quality. I'm sure to be a repeat customer.
About the Author
Bill Goodwin has been interested in swords for well over 15 years. He became a more serious collector of 17th century swords sometime in 2002, gathering data primarily on mortuary swords and other sword types used during the English Civil War period. He is also strongly interested in the art of historical European swordsmanship, especially German longsword.
Special thanks goes out to antique collector, cutler, and restorer E.B. Erickson for his contributions.
Photographer: Bron Duncan