A claymore (/ˈklmɔːr/; from Scottish Gaelic: claidheamh-mòr, "great sword")[1] is either the Scottish variant of the late medieval two-handed sword or the Scottish variant of the basket-hilted sword. The former is characterised as having a cross hilt of forward-sloping quillons with quatrefoil terminations and was in use from the 15th to 17th centuries.

Claymore replica
Place of originScotland
Service history
In servicec.1400–1700
Used byHighland Scots
Mass≈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 typeDouble-edged
Hilt typeTwo-handed cruciform, with pommel

The word claymore was first used in reference to swords in the 18th century in Scotland and parts of England to refer to basket-hilted swords.[2] This description was maybe not used during the 17th century, when basket-hilted swords were the primary military swords across Europe, but these broad-bladed swords remained in service with Scottish regiments for some time longer. After the Acts of Union in 1707 when Scottish and English regiments were integrated together, the swords were seen as a mark of distinction by Scottish officers over the more slender sabres used by their English contemporaries: a symbol of physical strength and prowess, and a link to the historic Highland way of life. Such swords remain in service with officers of Scottish regiments in Great Britain and various Commonwealth countries today.


The term claymore is an anglicisation of the Gaelic claidheamh mór "big/great sword", attested in 1772 (as Cly-more) with the gloss "great two-handed sword".[3] The sense "basket-hilted sword" is contemporaneous, attested in 1773 as "the broad-sword now used ... called the Claymore, (i.e., the great sword)",[4] although OED observes that this usage is "inexact, but very common". The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica likewise judged that the term is "wrongly" applied to the basket-hilted sword.[5]

Countering this view, Paul Wagner and Christopher Thompson argue that the term "claymore" was applied first to the basket-hilted broadsword, and then to all Scottish swords. They provide quotations that are earlier than those given above in support of its use to refer to a basket-hilted broadsword and targe: "a strong handsome target, with a sharp pointed steel, of above half an ell in length, screw'd into the navel of it, on his left arm, a sturdy claymore by his side" (1715 pamphlet). They also note its use as a battle-cry as early as 1678.[6] Some authors suggest that claybeg should be used instead, from a purported Gaelic claidheamh beag "small sword".[7] This does not parallel Scottish Gaelic usage. According to the Gaelic Dictionary by R. A. Armstrong (1825), claidheamh mòr "big/great sword" translates to "broadsword", and claidheamh dà làimh to "two-handed sword", while claidheamh beag "small sword" is given as a translation of "Bilbo".[8]

Two-handed (Highland) claymore

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.[9] 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).[10] 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 English did use swords similar to the Claymore during the renaissance called a greatsword. 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.[11]

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). For instance, in 1772 Thomas Pennant described a sword seen on his visit to Raasay as: "an unwieldy weapon, two inches broad, doubly edged; the length of the blade three feet seven inches; of the handle, fourteen inches; of a plain transverse guard, one foot; the weight six pounds and a half."[12] The largest claymore on record; known as Fuilteach Mhuirt "blooded/bloody one of murder/killing", weighs 10 kilograms and measures 2.24 metres in length. It is believed to have been wielded by a member of Clan Maxwell circa the 15th century. The sword is currently in the possession of the National War Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland.[13]

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.

See also


  1. "claymore". Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., 1989. (subscription required)
  2. Blair, Claude (1981). The Word Claymore. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers. p. 378.
  3. Thomas Pennant, A map of Scotland, the Hebrides, and part of England, cited after OED. See also Alexander Robert Ulysses Lockmore (1778). Annual Register Vol. 23. London.
  4. James Boswell, The journal of a tour to the Hebrides, with Samuel Johnson, cited after OED.
  5. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Claymore" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 474.
  6. Wagner, Paul and Christopher Thompson, "The words claymore and broadsword" in Stephen Hand, Spada II: Anthology of Swordsmanship (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005)
  7. 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".
  8. A Gaelic Dictionary, p. 120. see also Wagner, Paul; Christopher Thompson (2005). "The words "claymore" and "broadsword"". SPADA. Highland Village, Texas: The Chivalry Bookshelf. 2: 111–117.. 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).
  9. Swords and Sabres, Harvey J S Withers
  10. Ewart Oakeshott, Records of the Medieval Sword pg.117 BOYDELL&BREWER Ltd
  11. Highland grave slab national museum of Scotland.
  12. Wagner, Paul & Thompson, Christopher, "The words claymore and broadsword" in Hand, Stephen, Spada II: Anthology of Swordsmanship (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005)
  13. MacLean, Fitzroy (1 September 1995). Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. ISBN 978-0670866441.

References and further reading

  • Claude Blair, "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, Halflang and Tua-Handit: Late Medieval Scottish Hand-and-a-Half and Two-Handed Swords. Updated version of two articles originally published in Medieval Warfare 1.2 & 1.3 (2011).
  • 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
  • John Wallace, Scottish Swords and Dirks: An Illustrated Reference to Scottish Edged Weapons (London 1970), 10-17
  • Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary (Gairm Publications, Glasgow, 1988, p. 202)
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