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Spenser T.




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Jun, 2013 10:19 pm    Post subject: Opening a can of worms: Claymore terminology         Reply with quote

Hello,

I want to discuss the terminology of the scottish basket hilted broadsword and the two handed claymore. I have seen in my travels around the internet the two handed variant being referred to as 'claidheamh d limh' and I have also read that some people think calling the basket hilted variety a claymore is incorrect.
I study scottish gaelic as a hobby and at this point in my studies I have encountered a decent number of people are fluent speakers of the language. Being a sword geek, I have asked a couple of these people about this terminology issue when it comes to these swords and I have recieved this answer:

I was told that both swords were called claidheamh mr. The reason for this that I was given is that Scottish gaelic is heavily rooted in Irish thought, (please dont kill me Scottish people) and in the pre-viking days apparently the Irish swords were very small (The size of a roman gladius at their largest.. most being smaller; hopefully someone more knowledgeable about ancient Irish swords will add insight on this). Therefore, in comparison to these small irish swords, even the basket hilt would be considered a big sword, and hence, a claymore.

However, there might be good reason to think that the basket hilts were not called claymores, and that claidheamh d limh was actually the name for the two hander? There must be good arguments for other sides of this story as well, and I would like to hear them. There's also the possibility that what I was told was incorrect, or that I am missing something.

What do you guys think? / D ur beachd?
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Michael Curl




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jun, 2013 7:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Out of interest could you break down what that term means in english?
E Pluribus Unum
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jun, 2013 8:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have also been interested in the Gaelic language. I think a lot of it has to do with what particular dialect of the language you hear or speak, and when and where. As I understand it, there are many different dialect of Gaelic. Kinda like someone from Texas talking to someone from Wisconsin. Both are speaking English, but the meanings of some words can get a bit muddled. (I know this for a fact, as I constantly ask my Wisconsin wife--"What did you just say?".) Laughing Out Loud The Gaelic word 'mor' or 'mohr' simply means 'great', 'big', or 'large'. The word 'claidheamh-mohr' just means 'big sword', but if the term is understood as 'great sword', then it could be interperated as what we understand as a two hander. That's my thinking anyway. I may be way off also. Then again, a 'sgian dubh' is a 'black-or hidden- knife'......Why is a dirk not a 'sgian-mohr'? Gaelic is a truly unusual language. Laughing Out Loud ....Just my rambling two cents...........McM
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jun, 2013 10:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the book Scottish Weapons and Fortifications by David Caldwell, there is a chapter discussing this issue which was written by the late Claude Blair, with a contribution by Stuart Maxwell. This book, by the way, is a compilation of numerous works on the subject matter of the title. I suggest you try to find a copy of the book, which I believe may be out of print but available through Amazon.

To summarize what the article says, it basically opines that the term "Claymore" from 1715 onward - as far as known documentation goes - referred to the basket hilt sword. Certainly there is considerable documentation during the late Jacobite era in which these swords are referred to as claymores. In post-Jacobite Britain the usage is universal. There is a tradition that two-handed swords were in use as late at 1745 but this has not been supported by documentation and I personally consider that to be extremely unlikely.

Thomas Pennant wrote, in 1772, a piece on his visit to Talisker on Raasay in which he describes a two-handed sword owned by a Mr. Macleod, referring to it as a "Cly-more"(sic). As an example of Mr. Pennant's grasp of the history of these weapons, he considers that these types of swords were used in Scotland from Roman times to Culloden, which is of course incorrect and wildly speculative on his part.

When Boswell and Johnson took their tour of the Highlands in 1773 they visited Dunvegan where they viewed a two-handed sword which had belonged to Sir Roderick Macleod and wrote that it was called a Glaymore "(sic). They also mentioned the basket hilt broadsword which "though called the Glaymore, (i.e.the great sword.) is much smaller than that used in Rorie More's time."

Stuart Maxwell's part of the article supports the Boswell and Johnson point of view.

The article covers some more areas but in essence supports the application of "claymore" to the basket hilt sword. I have not personally run across any contemporary reference referring to the two-handed sword as a claymore but if there is one out there, someone will surely produce it for us. For me, the correct term will be for either sword. The use of claymore to refer to the two-handed sword, rightly or wrongly, has become universal and to try to change it now would create mass confusion!

Hope this has helped.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Spenser T.




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jun, 2013 11:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Curl wrote:
Out of interest could you break down what that term means in english?


claidheamh d limh = two handed sword.
claidheamh mr = great sword or big sword

@ Mark Moore,
I have read a dirk being called a "sgian dearg", red knife, which makes sense. I think it must mean battle knife, knife that gets blood on it.
However, this is only a term I have read and I have never heard used. "Biodag" is apparently what people actually referred to dirks as.. and I have no idea what it means or where it came from.

@Lin Robinson
Thank you for bringing that article to the discussion, it was both interesting and helpful.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Jun, 2013 9:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I suspect that in their day, the Highland Scottish two hander was mostly just referred to as claidheamh. People in the past rarely seem to make distinctons between the different shapes and sizes of sword in their terminology, for instance the modern mind has a very clear idea of what a gladius looks like, but to an ancient Roman it simply meant sword.
irinn go Brch
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Christopher Lee




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PostPosted: Sun 23 Jun, 2013 2:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't think there will be a simple or straightforward answer to the question of what a claymore is or isn't. As has been seen frequently the ancestors didn't really bother with categories that much. Also given the sometimes slow rate of cultural dissemination, regional cultural variations, dialects, etc, I suspect the same thing could be called different names at the same time in different regions.

I wouldn't ascribe to the idea that Irish perceptions of sword sizes influenced the naming of the Scottish 'claymore' or 'big sword'. The Irish may well have had smaller swords than some other continental cultures at a certain point in time but there are examples of quite respectably sized iron age swords found in Ireland. Also, it is believed that not long after encountering the vikings, the Irish adopted the hiberno-norse style of swords commonly used throughout the region and of similar size to those used by the vikings themselves. Also, prior to their contact with the vikings the Irish had contact with the Saxons and other proto-english kingdoms and would have been well aware of sword sizes across the Irish Sea. Lets also not forget that some Irish kingdoms would regularly raid the British coastline, no doubt coming into contact with the sharp pointy end of the local militias.

Also, the Scottish claymore didn't appear until the late 16thC, almost 500 years after the Irish began encountering swords larger (in theory) than their own, and well after the Irish had already been engaged in battles against the English, Scottish, Welsh, etc, etc .. My feeling is that the term 'claidheamh mr', was, like the sword, a Scottish invention. The confusion seemingly stems from the term being applied to two different swords from two different eras.

"The first type is the weapon called in Scotland the claidheamh mor, or claymore, that is, the weapon properly so called. It was the custom in the last century to refer to the Scottish variety of the basket hilted broad sword of the 18th century as a claymore. If that name was ever applied to it in the period of its use, it was as a name transferred from the original weapon which it had superseded as the characteristic Highland arm.
From: "Sixteenth Century Swords Found in Ireland" by G. A. Hayes-McCoy

Hayes-McCoy also suggests a relationship between the characteristics of the two handed swords and the Scottish single handed swords of the 16thC; downward sloping quilions, decorative terminals and other similarities, even going to far as to refer to 'single handed claymores' as opposed to the 'two handed claymores'.

"The anglecised version of the of the word 'claymore' was first used in the seventeenth century but at the time meant a basket-hilted broadsword. Only later did 'claymore' come to mean a two handed sword."
From: Scottish Arms and Armour by Fergis Cannan

I would take the above to suggest that the misapplication of the term 'claymore' could possibly be a Victorian invention, a bit of misplaced romantic antiquarianism.

But to muddy the waters even further there are the 'halflang' swords or what we would refer as hand and a half, 'clam shellit' two hander, broadsword, 'backed' sword and so on. Interestingly from a muster role in 1638, there is mention of men armed with the 'tua handit swird', not a 'claymore' but specifically a two handed sword. If the term was in common use then I would have expected it to be used in contemporary documents. Similarly the 'clam shellit' swords, even though they are two handers of similar dimensions to that of claymores are not described as such. Also they do not share the classic downward sloping quillons or decorated terminals.

Anyway, consider the can of worms well and truly open Happy
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Sun 23 Jun, 2013 6:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is something I left out of my post of yesterday, which was included in Stuart Maxwell's postscript to Blair's piece in the Caldwell book.

Mr. Maxwell had sent a query to Kenneth MacDonald, who was the editor of The Historical Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic. The query regarded the use of the Gaelic word claidheamh mor prior to its anglicized translation to "claymore". Mr. MacDonald reported they could not find it in use in Gaelic until 1880 when it was found in Gaelic poetry by Mary MacKellar. That is interesting and I would like to get a copy of the Dictionary to see if they uncovered any more usages because, as I wrote earlier, I have personally never encountered it being used for a two-handed sword in any contemporary lit. However, after nearly fifty years the Dictionary is still a work in progress and not available, apparently, to the general public.

Maxwell actually lays the use of Claymore to describe a two-hander at the feet of Pennant and Boswell.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Spenser T.




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Jun, 2013 6:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting!
I never once considered that the term would have been applied to the basket-hilt and then the two hander. The idea that it wouldn't have been in use until well after the jacobite uprising is equally mind-blowing.

Thank you all for the info on this subject; I swear I learn more at myArmoury than I do at university.
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Sam Barris




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Jun, 2013 4:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

FWIW, I heard the same story Christopher did (or at least that Fergis Cannan did), that the term applied to the basket-hilted variety before the two-handers and was then retroactively applied to those too. I don't remember where I heard that, but I want to say it was in something Hank Reinhardt wrote. Something along the lines of, "the Scots can call two different weapons by the same name if they want to and there isn't any use quibbling over it." That's at best a loose paraphrasing, not a quote.

To address your original question, I've never heard anyone suggest that the term did not refer to the Scottish basket-hilt.

Pax,
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." Thucydides
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P. Schontzler




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Jun, 2013 4:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Spenser T. wrote:
Interesting!
I never once considered that the term would have been applied to the basket-hilt and then the two hander. The idea that it wouldn't have been in use until well after the jacobite uprising is equally mind-blowing.

Thank you all for the info on this subject; I swear I learn more at myArmoury than I do at university.


It helps that some of the folks here are published and/or are professors/instructors themselves. Lucky for us they post here! Happy
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Wed 26 Jun, 2013 10:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam Barris wrote:
FWIW, I heard the same story Christopher did (or at least that Fergis Cannan did), that the term applied to the basket-hilted variety before the two-handers and was then retroactively applied to those too. I don't remember where I heard that, but I want to say it was in something Hank Reinhardt wrote. Something along the lines of, "the Scots can call two different weapons by the same name if they want to and there isn't any use quibbling over it." That's at best a loose paraphrasing, not a quote.

To address your original question, I've never heard anyone suggest that the term did not refer to the Scottish basket-hilt.


Hank had a section on "Claymores" in The Book of Swords. He applies the term strictly to the two-hander although he also references Blair's contribution to Scottish Weapons and Fortifications so he undoubtedly knew about the opinions of Mr. Maxwell and Blair concerning the naming of the two swords in question. Even so, he states that "both weapons were referred to as 'claymores' by the Scots themselves. Since it is a Scottish sword , and it is their language, I will abide by it. However, I will try to make it clear when I use the word 'claymore' to which sword I am referring."

Hank lived and breathed swords and I believe was a very good researcher. I have never had any reason to challenge anything he said about swords but in this case I think he just dodged the question, and I mean that with the utmost respect for his knowledge. What to call what sword was really not in the scope of the article he wrote any way.

Fergus Cannan, in Scottish Arms and Armour doesn't mention Caldwell's book but in the bibliography he lists a piece by Claude Blair which appeared in The Journal of the Arms and Armour Society in September, 1998, entitled "The Word Claymore and Other Gaelic Sword Terms". Mr. Blair was certainly consistent in his published work so I suspect that what he wrote there was also reflected in Caldwell's book.

It seems to me with so many quoting the Blair/Maxwell piece that there has to be something to it.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Ste Kenwright




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Jul, 2013 3:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just to try to keep myself from rambling, I'll try to address Spenser's original post and defer to several excellent points which have come up and give an essential reference:

Quote:
some people think calling the basket hilted variety a claymore is incorrect

Indeed and quite a few state it, several authors assume it without comment and others denounce it as one of the common faults of man and I've found a few people hiding under the bridges of the Internet who positively take offence if one disagrees.

I disagree for the same reasons expressed above by Lin, Stephen & Christopher.

The article recommended by Lin:
Blair, C. (1981) "The Word Claymore" in Caldwell, D. H. (ed.) Scottish Weapons and Fortifications 1100-1800. Edinburgh: John Donald. pp. 378-384.
is now unfortunately hard to source, as the volume commands a value on the second-hand book market driven by its frequently referenced status, but I believe in this instance Wagner & Thompson, 2005 has it fully superseded.

For the last word on the actual evidence for contemporary usage, touching on all of the above points (apart from the small Irish sword idea, which I also associate with the Medieval period) and laying all of these points to rest, including the first and similarly late appearance of "claidheamh d limh" as well as giving an elegant suggestion for the origin of "claidheamh mr" and sorting out that "broadsword" business into the bargain, I can commend in the strongest possible terms:
Wagner, P. and Thompson, C. (2005) The words Claymore and Broadsword. in Hand, S. (ed.) SPADA, An Anthology of Swordsmanship Vol 2. Highland Village, Texas: The Chivalry Bookshelf, pp 111-217

I hope that's of some help.

Ste ~ Salvianus ~ Stenolfr

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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Jul, 2013 5:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ste Kenwright wrote:
Just to try to keep myself from rambling, I'll try to address Spenser's original post and defer to several excellent points which have come up and give an essential reference:


The article recommended by Lin:
Blair, C. (1981) "The Word Claymore" in Caldwell, D. H. (ed.) Scottish Weapons and Fortifications 1100-1800. Edinburgh: John Donald. pp. 378-384.
is now unfortunately hard to source, as the volume commands a value on the second-hand book market driven by its frequently referenced status, but I believe in this instance Wagner & Thompson, 2005 has it fully superseded.


When I first got into the "Business of Being Scottish" 30 plus years ago, I bought quite a few books that are now out of print. After posting some of the comments above I checked Amazon for a copy of Caldwell's book and found it for almost $80! I think I may have paid $20 for mine which was a tidy sum at the time. If I ever retire from reading and writing about Scottish subjects, my book collection will have been a good investment and may bring a bit of cash. But, I suspect that retirement from those pleasant past times will be the result of my departure for Tir Nan Og so my wife and son will be the ones to prosper from my good sense to acquire as many great references as I did.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Ste Kenwright




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PostPosted: Thu 04 Jul, 2013 1:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lin Robinson wrote:
If I ever retire from reading and writing about Scottish subjects, my book collection will have been a good investment and may bring a bit of cash. But, I suspect that retirement from those pleasant past times will be the result of my departure for Tir Nan Og so my wife and son will be the ones to prosper from my good sense to acquire as many great references as I did.


Truly books are a great treasure in both senses. My house is a groaning library to the point that we have had to make a pact to get electronic versions of books which are merely to read rather than to enjoy for themselves. I constantly reach for and re-read old texts partly because I find myself understanding the new ones all the better and partly because they are old friends and one of my few remaining vices is a second hand bookshop - "Don't you already have a book with that title?" "Yes, but this one has a much better chapter on..."

:-)

Ste ~ Salvianus ~ Stenolfr

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~ Never give a sword to a man who can't dance ~
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Tue 09 Jul, 2013 9:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well-said Ste...

I have obtained a copy of SPADA 2 which arrived in yesterday's mail (had to clear another space on one of the many book shelves in my office). The article on "Claymore" was interesting but I did not feel that it broke any new ground, supporting, instead, the statements which have been made in the various posts in this forum. They do opine that the term "broadsword" is a Scottish word for the basket hilt and certainly the terms are used interchangibly. I do it all the time but I am not certain, although I have never thought of it before, that the word was actually coined to describe that particular weapon.

I guess this is a subject for more discussion

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Mark Moore




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PostPosted: Tue 09 Jul, 2013 10:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is just the reoccurring 'chicken or the egg' question. I honestly don't know a good answer. I guess, if you hear someone say the word 'claymore' regarding a Scottish sword.......just ask 'em........basket-hilt or two-hand?...........They're all Scot. I personally refer to them as basket-hilted broadsword and two-handed claymore, to avoid confusion. Even though many folk do, I have never referred to my basket-hilt as a 'claymore'...........only my two-hander. WTF?! .............McM
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