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The Claymore
(1828/65/68 Pattern Highland Officers Basket Hilted Broadsword)

This article is based on research by Peter Busch, a Ph.D. student at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and Sword Forum Magazine Online Staff Writer.

The sword carried on parade by Highland officers throughout Canada is universally, and erroneously, referred to as a "Claymore" - and in fact, the word of command "Draw Claymores" often punctuates Regimental parades of the Calgary Highlanders.

The Claymore has been a part of the Highland officers' full kit, regardless of whether he served in the British Army, the Canadian Army, or one of the other Commonwealth countries which boasted Highland or Scottish regiments, throughout the 20th Century.  By the 1990s, the erroneous term "Claymore" was partially replaced with the more proper "Basket - hilted Broadsword."  So called because the hilt is defined as being a full basket (as opposed to a  quarter, half or three quarter hilt), and because the blade is typically double edged, as opposed to a single edged straight blade (which would be a "Backsword").   (Peter Busch notes that "broadsword" was a Victorian (1837 - 1901) addition to the English language) .

Busch goes on to say:

The Highland Officers Basket Hilted Broadsword is one of the "regulation patterns" worn by commissioned officers, although admittedly another version exists for senior Non - Commissioned Officers (NCOs), as illustrated in Dufty (1974), Enfield having been a manufacturer.

The 1828/65/68 pattern is by no means the most commonly worn by Britain and its former Empire, today referred to as the Commonwealth. That honour would doubtless go to the 1897 Pattern Infantry Officer's sword, in practice worn by more than just infantry officers (such as the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Medical Corps and the Royal Engineers to name but a few other branches of service).

Note should be made of the fact that the 1828/65/68 Pattern Basket Hilted Broadsword is also worn occasionally by Drum Majors of Scottish Pipe Bands, whether military, civil or police (whether this is actually regulation, the author is unsure).

The Calgary Highlanders do permit the Pipe Major and Drum Major to wear the broadsword in full dress.  All Pipers wear a sword belt when in uniform, but do not wear swords.  The Regimental Sergeant Major is also permitted a sword in full dress (in practice, this is the DEU), but is not permitted to draw it, with the exception of a Trooping of the Colour.

Historical Background

The British Army was slow to standardize military patterns of swords in the 1700s, not producing a formal pattern until 1788.  Prussia, for example, had standardized a sword for Cuirassiers in 1732, and another for Dragoons in the same year.  The first Scottish units of the British Army included the 42nd Regiment (Black Watch) raised in 1739, followed by six other Highland regiments and three Lowland regiments by 1788.

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LCol Tom Manley and LCol Lee Villiger, prior to the ceremonial passing of the Claymore from the outgoing Commanding Officer to the new CO; April 2005.  Photo courtesy Cindy Desilets

Busch explains the history of the sword:

Scotland had long had a love affair with the Basket - hilted broadsword which began as early as the 17th. century. One sword raised from the Mary Rose provides a clue as to the early appearance of the basket hilt on the British mainland, an example of which has been reproduced in limited number by the Wilkinson Sword Company. Note should be made of the fact that the blades originally used in the swords were however typically of German manufacture being normally produced at that famous centre of edged weapon manufacture, Solingen. Indeed the Solingen cutlers even had a term for blades produced for the Scottish market, namely "Grosse Schotten" (i.e. Great/Large/Broad Scots), on account of the blade breadth typically preferred by the Scots.

The reason for the adoption of patterns in 1788 was largely one of efficiency. The system up until then as so admirably explained by Robson in his landmark texts (1975, 1996), was that of one where the Colonel in charge of each regiment would simply choose the most appealing sword, based on principles of aesthetics and of course economics. With such a system in place one can only too easily comprehend the disparities that would have been prevalent in the quality of swords from one regiment to the next, not to mention the logistical problems of re-supply when baskets and blades would break.

1798 Pattern

While Proscription prohibited civilians from carrying weapons, wearing the kilt, or playing bagpipes after the 1746 rebellion, Highland Officers and NCOs still carried the basket hilted sword in the new units of the British Army.   These swords would have had gilded copper or steel hilts.  In 1798, the official pattern for officers in Highland units was finally standardized, being a gilt brass basket with a black leather scabbard and gilt brass fittings.

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The Year 1822

After the Napoleonic wars, King George IV, in part, initiated a major overhaul of British swords and other military implements.  One of the results was that Highland Officers were to take into use the "gothic hilted" sabre, making them conform to the rest of the British Army's infantry regiments.  However, the 92nd Regiment was soon made an exception to this, and the other Highland regiments also continued to use the basket-hilted broadsword.

B. Robson, in Swords of the British Army: The Regulation Patterns 1788 - 1914 (Arms and Armour Press, London, U, 1975) wrote that by this period, the sword was:

"... as [being of] Highland pattern with gilt basket hilt and scabbard mounts and a straight cut and thrust blade 33 inches long and 1 inch wide at the shoulder. The scabbard was to be of black leather and the gilt mounts were to have loose rings as well as a frog catch since the sword was intended to be used with either slings or a frog (:126 - 127)."

1828 Pattern
and 1828/65/68 Pattern

In 1828, the pattern was changed to incorporate a steel basket hilt; Busch surmises that this was done for uniformity, greater strength, and reduced cost.  Officers were, however, permitted to wear out the older pattern gilt brass basket-hilted swords.  The scabbard remained black leather, but with steel mounts, and ending in a ball chape.  By 1834, field grade officers (as today, this term described those ranked major or higher) as well as adjutants were permitted to wear a scabbard of steel (with ball chape).

In 1868, the combined steel basket hilt from 1828 and the full steel scabbard from 1834 was confirmed as the standard pattern for all Highland officers, (not just simply those of field rank), and it is this pattern that has is still in use today.

Busch described the construction of the modern broadsword as such:

The Hilt

Although not necessarily part of regulation, certain differences exist in 1828/65/68 pattern swords found today (of modern manufacture or otherwise). Due to the arising of certain distinct centres of manufacture in the 17th. and 18th. centuries, it is not surprising that different 'styles' of basket hilts came about over the years. Such styles were labelled 'Stirling', or 'Glasgow' or 'Edinburgh' after the place of manufacture. Stirling hilts for example were typically considered to be very well made.

In terms of the construction of the baskets, the initial method seems initially to have pointed bars protruding into the pommel. Later on this method evolved into what all basket hilts have today, namely a "pommel ring" onto which the bars of the basket are brazed. The pommel ring simply slipping onto the tang of the blade, the whole assembly being fastened by a tang nut.

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The passing of the Claymore, April 2005.   Captain Mike Owens, visible behind LCol Manley, demonstrates the position of "Stand Easy"
when swords are drawn. Photo courtesy Cindy Desilets

Basket Construction

Today baskets may be encountered of essentially three main types.

1. What can perhaps be called the most traditional style insofar as the hilt is concerned, is that constructed of 'bars' and steel 'plate' being forge welded together.

2. Another style also seen, is that of a cast iron basket that is typically nickel plated.

3. What seems to be most commonly manufactured today however is the style encountered in examples by the Wilkinson Sword Company (Wilkinson Basket Hilt), and wonderfully shown in a film shot by them in 1967 (Swordcraft), whereby the 'basket' is formed 'in the flat' as a sheet by way of a mould and then hammered into shape over an appropriately shaped wooden or metal block, then being brazed together. Perhaps this is just a 20th century rendition of the ribbon - hilted broadswords popular in the 18th century.

In the late 19th century, most notably from about the 1880s through to about 1914, a number of the highland regiments adopted a cruciform hilt, which could be affixed to the blade. At about this time the full basket hilt was understandably made to be taken off the blade to allow the fitting of the cruciform hilt, for which the nut on top of the pommel may be noted. Each of the highland regiments that briefly adopted this cruciform hilt had quillons ending in differently shaped knobs (Robson 1975). Oddly enough the reason given by Robson for the adoption of this hilt was that the basket was too constrictive for the hand to allow "proper" combat, although understandably of course the cruciform hilt would have provided far less protection for the hand.

Finally of course it may be noted that all of the baskets appear to incorporate a lining. This lining is typically of thin buff leather, covered with British scarlet baize (a woollen cloth), edged with blue silk ribbon, and topped off with a red silk tassel. The reason for this lining was presumably to keep the hand warm, protect the fingers from thrusts, and of course for reasons of attractiveness. The reason for the tassel however, was originally at least to prevent chafing according to J. Wallace (Scottish Swords and Dirks: An Illustrated Reference Guide to Scottish Edged Weapons, Arms and Armour Press, London U.K., 1970):

"Late in the seventeenth century a short, thick woollen fringe, fitted inside the guard just below the pommel, was introduced - presumably to prevent chafing of the skin. As a probable consequence, it became the practice to leave the lower half of the pommel rough and unpolished, since it was almost entirely concealed by the fringe. This fringe was enlarged during the eighteenth century to the inordinate length it is now, and moved to outside the hilt."

The Blade

The blade of the 1828/65/68 pattern was originally manufactured with more than one fuller, typically two as indicated in the following pictures, and occasionally more than two. However as of about the 1880s, the fuller changed to a single one, which is still the case today.

Nevertheless note should be made of the short double fullers found in the ricasso, which have been a characteristic of the pattern, and indeed Scottish Basket hilts from the beginning and may be noted in the hilt pictures above. The circular brass proof mark was a Wilkinson invention of about the 1860s, which other sword cutlers were only to keen to copy.

The Scabbard

The manufacture of the steel scabbard is quite explicitly described by Wilkinson-Latham (1966) whereby the sheet steel comprising the body is shaped over a mandrel and then brazed together. The ball chape, throat and carrying rings are then added, the scabbard then finally being nickel plated.


While many people seem to refer to this pattern as the 1865, Robson (1996) notes that this is really an 1828 pattern sword (in other words when the brass hilt changed to steel), and it was only in 1868 when all highland officers began wearing the steel scabbard with the 1828 pattern sword. A considerable number of authors have actually been used to referring to this sword as the 1865 pattern, and it is partly for this reason, that the writer is still using this date so that readers in general may be more easily able to identify with the sword in question. In any case, it is a popular sword, while the complexity of its hilt typically ensures that it is not only relatively highly sought after, but also not the cheapest in the Wilkinson line up for that matter either.

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