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Claymore replica
Type Sword
Place of origin  Scotland
Service history
In service ca. 1400—1700
Used by Highlanders
Weight ≈2.2–2.8 kg (4.9–6.2 lb)
Length ≈120–140 cm (47–55 in)
Blade length ≈100–120 cm (39–47 in)

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 (; from Scottish Gaelic claidheamh-mòr, "great sword")[1] is the Scottish variant of the late medieval two-handed longsword. It is characterised as having a cross hilt of forward-sloping quillons with quatrefoil terminations. It was in use from the 15th to 17th centuries. The claymore is famous for being used by William Wallace, a Scottish knight during the First War of Scottish Independence.


  • Terminology 1
  • Two-handed (Highland) claymore 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References and further reading 5
  • External links 6


The term claymore is an anglicisation of the Gaelic claidheamh-mòr "great sword", first attested in 1772 (as Cly-more) with the gloss "great two-handed sword".[2] The sense "basket-hilted sword" is contemporaneous, attested in 1773 as "The broad-sword now used [...] called the Claymore, (i.e. the great sword)."[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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".[6]

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.

The term claybeg, purportedly from Scots Gaelic claidheamh-beag meaning "little sword" is not seen in clan-era Gaelic song or poetry, 'Dwelly's' [ibid.], or other authorities, and seems to be a fairly recent invention.

Two-handed (Highland) claymore

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.[7] 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).[8] The last known battle in which it is considered to have been used in a significant number was the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. It was somewhat longer than other two-handed swords of the era. 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.[9]

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).

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. 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.

The largest claymore on record is a sword measuring 7 feet 6 inches (2.24 m) and weighing 23 pounds (10 kg).[10]

See also


  1. ^ "claymore". Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989. [1] (subscription required)
  2. ^ Thomas Pennant, A map of Scotland, the Hebrides, and part of England, cited after  
  3. ^ James Boswell, The journal of a tour to the Hebrides, with Samuel Johnson, cited after OED.
  4. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 474.
  5. ^ 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".
  6. ^ A Gaelic Dictionary, p. 120. see also Wagner, Paul; Christopher Thompson (2005). "The words "claymore" and "broadsword"". SPADA (Highland Village, Texas:  . 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).
  7. ^ swords and sabres harvey J S withers
  8. ^ Ewart Oakeshott= Records of the Medieval Sword pg.117 BOYDELL&BREWER Ltd
  9. ^ Highland grave slab national museum of Scotland.
  10. ^

References and further reading

  • Claude Blair, 'The Word 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, 'Weapon of Deeds: The Two-Handed Scottish Highland Sword', Medieval Warfare 1.3 (2011), 24–25
  • 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
  • Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary (Gairm Publications, Glasgow, 1988, p. 202)

External links

  • Scottish hand-and-a-half and two-handed swords
  • Two-handed Highland swords in the collections of Glasgow Museums, the National Museum of Scotland, and the British Museum.
  • Scottish two-handed swords with clam shell guards in Kelvingrove, the National Museum of Scotland and Dean Castle (Kilmarnock).
  • Scottish swords image resource
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