Albion Armorers Next Generation Caithness Sword
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow

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The British Isles have long had a link to the Scandinavian countries. In fact, England, Denmark, and Norway were united (albeit briefly) under the reign of King Canute in the early 11th century. Scotland in particular maintained close ties politically and commercially with Denmark and Norway throughout the Middle Ages; Scottish nobility even married their children off to royalty in those countries. The most famous case of this, in which the granddaughter of the Scottish King (and daughter of Eric II of Norway), Margaret of Norway, died before claiming her throne, led Edward I of England to seize power over Scotland. This began the long conflict for Scotland's independence. These intermarriages have also resulted in common genetic links between the nations that are currently the subject of much research and debate.

The cultural ties between Scotland and Scandinavia resulted in weapons unique to the region. Viking-influenced swords continued in England and Scotland long after they had gone out of fashion on the continent. Surviving swords dated to the 12th and 13th centuries and depictions on carved grave markers show weapons with blades updated from the old Viking forms, but with older-style lobed pommels and a vestigial upper guard. The crosses are usually down-curved, as we often find on Viking and Anglo-Saxon swords, but are wider like other swords fashionable at the time. Some possess runic inscriptions more typical of Viking-era weapons.

The Next Generation lineup by Albion Armorers has been a boon for the modern collector. This widely varied line contains many unique examples that were previously absent in the market or were poorly done. To help create variety in their lineup, Albion has taken some components and shared them between models. The Caithness reviewed here shares a Type XII blade with another Scottish-influenced sword, the Laird, and a sword of more classic cruciform design, the Knight.

Albion's Peter Johnsson based the pommel of this sword off of one shown in an effigy housed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:2 pounds, 9.75 ounces
Overall length:38 inches
Blade length:31 inches
Blade width:2 inches at base, tapering to 7/8 inches
Grip length:3 5/8 inches
Guard width:7 5/8 inches
Point of Balance:4 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~20 1/4 inches from guard
Oakeshott typology:Type XII blade, Type M pommel (variant)

Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.

Handling Characteristics
While this sword shares a blade with two other swords, it handles differently than its siblings. It's nice to see that Albion has made sure the performance of these swords varies as much as their looks do. Having handled all three swords, they each have their own character in cutting. While I may prefer the handling qualities of the Knight just a little more, the Caithness was still impressive.

The Caithness has a pleasing amount of blade presence, which gives it authority in the cut without making it blade-heavy. This quality should make the sword work effectively from horseback or afoot. The Type XII blade showed a great deal of proficiency in cuts against light targets, both at the Center of Percussion and in tip slices. Keeping the edge aligned was easy and it was not difficult to make the sword go exactly where I wanted it to. Thrusts were also not too difficult and would be effective against lightly armoured targets.

I found the grip to be comfortable. The pommel did not seem to get in the way during any swings. There was plenty of room for my large, gloved hands on the grip. There seems to be just a touch of extra room on the grip, which allowed me to choke up on the grip (toward the part of the guard that flows into the grip) or to switch to a comfortable handshake grip.

Fit and Finish
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Pommel Detail

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This sword's fittings are fairly complex, and overall, nicely finished. The unique pommel is well-shaped. The grooves separating the lobes and the groove delineating the vestigial upper guard from the lobed section are narrow and therefore naturally show a slightly lower level of finish than the easily accessible surfaces on the rest of the sword. They are darker than the rest of the surfaces and showcase some very minor casting flaws that could not be reached and polished out. I don't consider this a negative quality, though, as a cutler of those days would have had the same issues, if not more, polishing those tight spaces. The slightly darker grooves actually help show the shapes of the pommel more clearly. The exaggerated middle lobe is surmounted by the peened tang, ground down to follow the shape of the pommel. On this example, it has not been ground entirely flush; a close examination shows where the lobe ends and the peened tang begins.

The grip's cord riser at its center adds a bit of security and visual interest, though it would be fine without it. There is a tiny spot on this grip, near the riser, where the seam of the leather cover is not flush with the rest of the grip. It's possible that, over time, this could catch on gloves or hands, causing the leather cover to gradually come apart. It could probably be fixed with a well-placed dab of glue, with a careful slice of a razor blade, or by using Albion's stellar customer service for a quick fix at the shop. In all, it is quite minor and likely wouldn't be a problem any time soon, and only is worth mentioning because it is the first time I've seen this issue on any of the dozens of Albion grips I've owned or handled.

The faceted guard is well-formed and evenly polished. The lines are crisp and the guard flows nicely into the shape of the grip.

The blade is nicely shaped and evenly polished. The fullers are consistent in width and depth, apart from a very slight divot toward the end of the fuller on one side. The tip has a nice flat lenticular cross-section, helping to give the cutting results discussed above.

Quality swords of this style have been largely absent from the production market. The Caithness by Albion Armorers is a welcome addition to the market for lovers of Scottish weaponry. It would be at home in a collection of Scottish-themed weapons, or as a developmental link between Viking swords and cruciform knightly swords, or simply on its own merit as an attractive, well-constructed, unique, and good-performing sword.

About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.

Photographer: Chad Arnow

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