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  1. #1
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    Two Handed Sword Question

    This is historic, not a practical query.

    I have read that the massive lowland two handed sword, being often in the range of 6+ feet (2 m) was generally carried free over the shoulder rather than in a scabbard on the back. How were the shorter highland and clamshell versions carried? On the back, or also generally carried over / across the shoulder? Free or in a scabbard?

    Thanks,
    Steve

  2. #2
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    I am afraid that I have absolutely no idea how those huge swords were carried.
    " Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of idle minds and minor tyrants". Field Marshal Lord Slim.

  3. #3
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    Probably by someone else. That's what squires were for.

    Disclaimer: not speaking from experience or actual historical knowledge.
    "There is no merit in being wet and/or cold and sartorial elegance take second place to common sense." Jock Scot

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  5. #4
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    The large, heavy swords that require two hands are of German design where they are called Zweihander. These were used by the German Mercenaries called Landsknechter who fought in battle formations called Pike Walls or Pike Squares between the 1400's and the 1600's.
    The lengths ranged between 4'7" and 7 feet with weights between 4.5 pounds and up to 15 pounds. They were used as the front line of a Pike Formation as they could be swung below the level of the pikes at horses legs of an enemy that got past the pikes.

    Pike formations would look to someone today similar to the Schiltron formation of William Wallace almost 200 years previous. Pike formations were usually mobile where Schiltrons were usually stationary. Schiltrons and Pike Square were defensive formations against cavalry that looked like hedgehogs or porcupines. The front line armed with Zweihander would sweep the horses legs, un-horsing the armored knights not speared by the pikes. The armored knights then fell and were mired in the mud where they were like upside down turtles.
    The age of fully plate armored knights pretty much ended in actual combat formations with the battle of Angincourt in 1415. The armor was pierced by longbow points at range and defeated by mud in melee.
    The pike formation evolved into the famous British Musket Square which was also an anti-cavalry defensive formation.

    As the Zweihander sword was twice as long or even three times as long as a man's arm they could not be drawn from a scabbard and could not be carried hung from a Baldrick. Like Pikes and Halberds they were carried over the shoulder.

    The modern, Hollywood representation of man-on-man single combat with Zweihander probably never happened as a 15 pound sword was just too heavy and unwieldy to swing in combat where a single battle could last from before daybreak to sunset.

    Many confuse the Zweihander with the Federscherter which was actually used single or two handed in single combat jousting, sparring and in Judicial duels (trial by combat). The Federscherter was about 2 pounds in weight and up to 4' in length.

    I have actually swung real museum piece Zweihander and its replacement the Kreigsmesser. I could swing a Zweihande in combat conditions for just a couple of minutes before being totally worn out and ineffective. A trained combatant could probably swing one for 15-30 min. effectively. The Kreigsmesser on the other hand at only 2.5 pounds for a 30" to 42" long sword, could effectively be used all day.

    The Basket Hilted Sword, what is often referred to as the Highland Sword or Claymore, was a later development from the 1600's. It was usually carried hung sheathed from a Baldrick over the shoulder or around the waist on frogs from a Sword Belt. The Basket Hilt Sword would later become the broadsword of the Napoleonic era and remains today among mounted units. Characterized by a straight double edged blade v.s. a single edged Backsword or a curved Sabre.
    The Basket Hilted Sword being double edged was almost always carried in a sheath as protection for the person carrying it. You can imagine how dangerous an open, sharp, double edged blade could be hitting against the side of your leg when walking or running. If carried mounted you also needed to use a sheath for the same reason. The sheath did protect the blade to an extent but is primarily to protect the person carrying it.
    Last edited by Steve Ashton; 25th February 24 at 12:24 PM.
    Steve Ashton
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  7. #5
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    Some considerable time ago I read the conjecture that at least some the 'super human' size swords were not meant as weapons but as indicators of status, and they would be sheathed or covered only at the death of their holder, uncovered again once the successor was confirmed.
    The swords would be carried in procession, some even having their own carriage or litter to travel in, and be set up at each stop along the way if the holder travelled for his duties.
    At the recent coronation Penny Mordaunt carried the Sword of State and the Sword of Offering which were important parts of the ceremony and carried deep meaning.
    The Sword of Offering is a normal sized sword, I think kept by Westminster Abby and it is redeemed by the payment of a fee - one hundred silver coins, it that case the new issue of 50pence coins which carry Charles' image. Maybe a reminder of the role of fidei defensor which the monarch holds.

    I have a good but strange memory for information on the most peculiar things
    I presume to dictate to no man what he shall eat or drink or wherewithal he shall be clothed."
    -- The Hon. Stuart Ruaidri Erskine, The Kilt & How to Wear It, 1901.

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  9. #6
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    Steve Ashton, I believe you answered my question and Pleater is interesting as always.

    I was referring to the sword often called a Lowland Claymore. Actually I believe most extant originals are between 5 and 6 feets, so my original description was an exaggeration based on my faulty memory. But they were longer than their highland brothers.

    Something like this:
    https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5888461

    And this:
    https://www.claymore-armoury.co.uk/scottish_swords.html

    I can't find the more academic discussion of them that I was reading last week. My mind wanders and sometimes gets lost for days.

    Thank you for your input!
    Steve

  10. #7
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    Back scabbards aren’t really a historical thing.

    I’m sure that various warriors all over the world, having removed their sword belt may have slung it over their shoulders while walking…but really swords were suspended at the waist by either a belt, baldric, or sash. Giant swords like the Zweihander, Montante, and Claymore were carried (for the same reasons spears were carried…it is the only practical way to move them around).

    Hollywood LOVES back scabbards, but keep an eye out for how many times they actually show someone drawing one (very difficult) or putting one back in the scabbard (REALLY difficult).

    Cheers

    Jamie
    Last edited by Panache; 5th March 24 at 03:23 PM.
    -See it there, a white plume
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