|Posted: Tue 07 Dec, 2004 4:11 pm Post subject: Lowland Scots Ballock Dagger, 1610
|A Fine and Important Lowland Scots
Ballock Dagger, made for Patrick Leslie of Pitcairly, circa 1610
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With a haft of polished ebony terminating at its upper end in a domed and radially-fluted pommel, and at its lower end in a pair of broad lobes, each carved en suite with the spirally-grooved grip of octagonal section; a thick, curved washer at the base of the lobes decorated with triple incised lines; and a sharply tapering hollow-ground blade of pronounced diamond section, inlaid in copper on each face with a maker's mark, probably the crowned letter B, and etched in line and richly gilt over most of its length unth panels of scrolling foliage and line ornament against a hatched ground, involving on one side of the forte the owner’s initials PL, and on the other, his arms, quarterly, first and fourth, a bend with a chain of three links, and second and third, a lion rampant.
Overall length: 14 1/4 in; Blade length: 10 in
This fine dagger forms a welcome and important new member of a notable group of such weapons that the late Sir Guy Laking, who was the first to recognize their distinctive character, believed to have been made in England in the mid-16th century; this in spite of having personally owned an example bearing the date 1616. In due course, a further eight dated examples have come to light; all made within the first quarter of the 17th century. The earliest of these, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Ace. No. M59-1959), is dated 1605, while the latest, formerly in the Harding Collection (Inv. No. 1535), and now belonging to the Art Institute of Chicago, is dated 1624.
The first intimation that these daggers might be of Lowland Scots, rather than English origin, came from the character and content of the inscriptions found on many of their blades. For example, the motto GOD GYDE THE HAND THAT I INSTAND, etched on a dagger in the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, Vienna, also occurs on a typically Scottish gun-barrel in the Tullie House Museum, Carlisle. Similarly, the motto ASK ME NOT FOR SCHAME DRINK LIS AND BY ANE, etched on the dagger in the Victoria and Albert Museum, relates to the inscriptions found on two Scottish powder horns, respectively dated 1693 and 1694, in the Royal Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. The motto MY HOPE AND TREIST is IN YE LORD, and variants of it, occurring on two daggers in the Musee de l'Armee, Paris, and two more in a private collection, is a common one in Scotland, found, for example, on many houses of the 16th and 17th century in the old part of Edinburgh. Likewise, the motto BE MY DEFENS GOD ME DEFEND FOREVER MORE, and variants of it, occurring on the dagger in the Art Institute of Chicago and two more in private collections, has a long history in Scotland. By the early 17th century IN DEFENCE had become part of the Royal arms of Scotland. Two of the group of daggers under discussion include in the decoration of their blades, the Scottish lion rampant. In the case of the first of them, in the Bargello Museum, Florence, the arms are accompanied by the cipher I.R.6 of James VI of Scotland, while in the case of the second, in the Howard de Walden Collection at Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, they are accompanied by a further coat of arms, possibly of the Fenwick family. The arms on a blade in the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, may be that of Montgomerie. More certainly, the arms and initials RmH occurring on a dagger in the Royal Museum of Scotland can be seen as relating to a member of the Home family.
The case for the Scottish origin of the group of daggers under discussion is greatly strengthened by the vital new evidence provided by the example shown here. The arms and initials PL, forming a part of the finely preserved decoration of its blade, can be identified as those of the Honorable Patrick Leslie of Pitcairly, Commendator of Lindores. The second son of Andrew, 5th Earl of Rothes, he was held in high regard by King James VI (1567-1625) who conferred upon him the honor of Knighthood and appointed him one of his Gentlemen of the Bedchamber. The dagger is therefore important as it is one of only two so far recorded that can be securely ascribed to the ownership of a particular Scotsman. The copper-inlaid mark on its blade, as is typical for the group as a whole, takes the form of a crowned initial, probably the letter B, also recorded on a dagger formerly in the Gwynn Collection, bearing the date 1607. The fine ebony haft is notable for being decorated with a spiral groove, but otherwise compares closely in form with other examples of its kind. The radially-fluted pommel is very similar to that of a dagger in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. Although the chronology of this distinctive group of ballock daggers has yet to be established in detail, the present example, with its relatively broad lobes, can perhaps be seen as among the earliest of its kind. It is certainly one of the finest and most important.
Copyright © 2001 Peter Finer
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