Jan 15, 2013

Weapons & Warriors: The Claymore of the Scottish

Art by Steven DeVon Jones
Most people these days think of William Wallace and the movie Braveheart when they hear the word Claymore. The sword that William Wallace used was not actually a Claymore, but was similar. His sword was of the heavy two handed variety and may have been related to the Claymore along some sword family tree of some kind, but it wasn’t a Claymore.

William Wallace’s sword has been rebuilt and preserved over the years. It is on display in Scotland, but some historians believe only part of the sword’s blade was the original sword of Wallace. A few hundred years can be hard on a sword. The hilt and crossguard on William Wallace’s sword is different from the Claymore, but that could be from its reconstruction. The part of the weapon believed as being the original is a portion of the blade, which also verifies that it was never a Claymore. The tip of the blade narrows towards the end to a point. The Claymore does not narrow a whole lot until its triangular tip.

The name Claymore comes from the Gaelic word "claidheamh mòr," which means Great-Sword. One thing that made the Claymore stand out in comparison to other swords, including the other types of two handed swords, was the leather wrapped ricasso that was between the blade and the crossguard. The entire sword was long enough that the average man could place the tip on the ground and the hilt would reach his armpit, which is about four and a half feet.

The blade itself averaged a length of about three and half feet. The hilt was slightly longer than a typical broadsword to allow more comfort and control when using two hands to wield it. The guard protecting the hilt was at an angle that pointed away from the hilt. This was used for more than protection for the hands on the hilt. The hilt was designed with smooth wood in the earlier years of the Claymore, while a twisted wooden hilt with a more firm grip was introduced later on. The pommel of the Claymore was most often a large steel ring. The leather wrapped ricasso was about four to six inches and was used for a better grip to control the long blade in case an enemy moved inside the long ranged arc of the standard two hand grip. The wielder simply had to move one hand to the ricasso for better control. This ricasso is not present on Wallace’s sword, which could have been lost in its restoration or it may never have existed, since his sword isn’t a Claymore.

The crossguard for the Claymore is a little unusual compared to other two handed swords. The two guards were angled towards the tip away from the hilt and were about as long as the ricasso. At some point they were tipped with a quatrefoil design. The crossguard had a bonus intention in its design. Most crossguards on a sword are merely to protect the hands of the wielder. On the Claymore, the crossguard could also be used to hook an opponent’s weapon and with a twist of the sword they could disarm their opponent.

The average Claymore had a shorter blade than other two handed swords, but it was still heavy enough to break a wooden shield or take down the horse of a charging knight. It wasn’t as devastating as the Norsemen Daneaxe, but it was still heavy enough, and more durable than the axe. Most Claymores weighed between 5 and 6 lbs, or 2.5 kg. It took serious training to use the Claymore effectively. The best stance was to hold the hilt at the waist with two hands and raise the blade up and towards the opponent. This allowed the wielder to keep some distance between them and the enemy and made it easier to deflect attacks and strike.

The Claymore’s weight was enough to make it difficult to return to a safe stance. The concept of “a great defense is a great offense” works in the case of the Claymore. The Highlanders were the most known for using this and were crazy enough to charge into a battle with a giant sword and try smashing through armor and shields before waiting for the enemy to come to them on an open field. One negative issue with the Claymore is that it is bulky enough that most men, who carried one, did not have room to carry a shield, so were vulnerable to arrows.

Picture via Wikipedia
Wallace’s blade looks as if it would have been lighter. Wallace would have the same reach as a Claymore, but the lighter blade would allow him to recover it quicker than a man hold a Claymore by the hilt, and in the hands of a trained warrior it would have been just as dangerous. The ricasso in a way makes the Claymore more versatile and therefore in my book, more useful than the sword of Wallace.

I don’t have any evidence, but I’m thinking William Wallace had a special made Claymore with a thinner blade to keep all the advantages of a huge sword that could be used in close quarter fighting but with lighter weight to strike and recover faster than his other Claymore wielding friends. Most of the sword on display was rebuilt from parts of other swords, so it is always possible he had improved on the design of the Claymore, but it was lost with him in battle. We’ll just never know.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. It was really intresting to read about Claymore swords. recently I collect nice info about medieval armory for my project. You helped a lot! thanks!

    1. You're very welcome. I'm glad you found some use from this.Thank you for the kind words.

  2. The claymore sword is the most famous swords in terms of military and medieval swords.