Basket-hilted backsword, probably English, c.1650s

Basket-hilted backsword with mortuary guard which is reputed to have been used at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

This is an example of mid-1600s 'mortuary' sword, so called as the guard resembles a skeletal rib cage. The blade is worn and pitted and appears to have been reduced in size due to repeatedly being ground to restore a sharp edge. There are some scoring marks on the right hand face of the blade but their random nature would not suggest maker's marks. The spherical pommel is suggestive of the hilt being of English manufacture, with round pommels being of English style as opposed to a more conically-topped Scottish pommel. Given the wars involving English troops in Scotland and vice versa it is quite conceivable this is of English origin ending up in Scottish hands, or was a Scottish blade re-hilted in England.

This is thought to be the Bothwell Brig sword donated to Airdrie Museum in 1897 by a T Aitken of Airdrie. In the 1980s it had a fragment of an old label attached with 'Bothwell' written on it. There is a small oval brass disk tied with wire to the guard, inscribed 'C.E. Whitelaw, Glasgow'. Charles E Whitelaw (1869-1939)was a prolific collector of Scottish material culture, particularly weapons. He donated numerous objects from his collections to Kelvingrove Museum and the National Musuem of Antiquities (now NMS). The disc would indicate that this sword was once part of his collection, and it was perhaps either loaned, donated or bequested to Airdrie Museum by him.

Museum reference:
MLC-1991-685
Date:
1650
On display:
Summerlee Exhibition Hall
Dimensions:
height: 963mm
Materials:
Steel, Iron, Wood
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