[From Proc IoMNHAS vol 1]



One of the first objects of an antiquarian nature which presented itself to me on my initial visit to the Isle of Man in the spring of last year was the Sword of State, about which I am offering some remarks this afternoon. My first duty to-day is to apologise for my presence, for I feel that I must be the least qualified of anyone in this Society to address you on any subject connected with the ancient history of the Isle of Man. However, the remarks which I propose to make are based on broad lines ; they are not confined to the Isle of Man or to any one country. I do not attempt even to suggest the name of the King of Man for whom the weapon under discussion was made or procured ; I merely attribute a date to it. The subject of arms has interested me for the last twelve years, and it is with this excuse, and this only, that I can justify my presence before you to-day in the capacity of a lecturer on a most interesting subject for all Manxmen.

The Quillions and Pommel - Sword of State
The Quillions and Pommel - Sword of State
(photograph by Mr. D. Fleming)

Before I proceed further, it will be as well for me to give you a brief description of the Sword of State as I find it to-day :-Blade, unsigned and without a mark, 29 inches in length, slightly more than 1½ inches wide at the quillons, tapering to the point, grooved on either side for a distance of 6½ inches from the quillons. Handle, 9 inches in length, composed of hardwood, terminating in a large worked pommel bearing on either side the design of three legs spurred (as those in the Arms of Man). The pommel, which is of steel, is circular, but flattened on the two sides bearing the designs already mentioned. It is some two inches in diameter. The quillons, which are almost straight, but curled at the extremities, are eleven inches across ; at their function with the blade is seen on either side a shield bearing the same design as is exhibited on the pommel. The scabbard is of black leather, with steel-coated extremities, and one locket. The steel-piece at the mouth bears an engraved design "a ship with furled sail " underneath " Rex Manninæ et insularum." On the reverse side "three legs" practically as represented on the Manx Arms to-day, within the words " Quo cunque jeceris stabit." Similar designs are borne on the locket, but in reverse order to those already described. That is to say, where the ship appears on the mouth-plate, the three legs are seen on the locket.

In the Records of the Tynwald and St. John's Chapels, by William Harrison, published in 1871, appears the following :-" The Sword of State is still borne before the Governor on his attendance at St. John's on the promulgation of the laws. In the Rolls Office is still preserved the old Sword of State which was borne before Sir John Stanley, the King, at his first Tynwald, in 1422. It has lately been sent to London to be cleaned, by order of Henry Brougham Loch, Esq., the Lieutenant-Governor, it having become foul by misusage. It is a curious and beautiful specimen, and evidently of ancient date. On showing it to the authorities in the British Museum, they thought it might belong to the thirteenth century, but were of opinion it belonged to the twelfth." On what authority Harrison states that the sword was carried in 1422 I am unable to say.

 The Pommel - Sword of State
The Pommel - Sword of State. Photograph by Mr. D. Fleming.

With the above particulars in view, I now proceed to embark on my observations. The first point to be borne in mind concerning all swords is, that the weapon in its infancy was purely an offensive one for cutting only ; the use of the point was only suggested with the advance of civilisation and progress in the art of war. For this reason all the earlier weapons possessed two sharpened edges; such blades were seen down to the seventeenth century, when the ordinary backsword gradually crept into use. The custom of engraving the blade with monograms, signatures, or armourers' marks, in Europe at any rate, probably does not date back further than the thirteenth century. It is known that the armourers of Passau had a badge in the form of a wolf during that century. It must not be concluded, however, that all blades from that time were signed or marked.

The pommel was an early invention, it not only acts on the balance of the sword, but influences the point of percussion. The size is, therefore, regulated by the blade. It is that part of the weapon which particularly lent itself to artistic skill. Thus, as early as the eighth century we find the armourer's dexterity displayed in this direction, as illustrated by the sword of Charlemagne in the Louvre. As the sword developed in size, so the pommel increased in proportion. Thus, in the Musee d'Artillerie, at Paris, is a sword of the end of the eleventh century, 38 inches in length, with a large pommel of copper. In the Royal United Service Museum, at Whitehall, is a weapon possessing a pommel three inches in diameter. The sword was discovered in the Thames in 1739, when excavating for the foundations of Westminster Bridge; it is one of the fifteenth century. The Sword of State of Edward V., in the British Museum, has a handle and pommel enriched with polychrome enamels,

With the introduction of the pas d'Ane, late in the fifteenth century, the large circular pommel practically disappeared on single-handed swords, and other shapes were adopted. The influence of the pas d'Ane attachment seems to have been the cause of the modification in the dimensions of the pommel. It may, therefore, be concluded that the circular pommel, such as that on our Sword of State, as a general rule, did not exist on single-handed weapons manufactured after 1470.

Quillons were doubtless originally attached from religious motives. It was customary to kiss the cross-piece in lieu of a crucifix, and, consequently, the portion of the blade near it was not infrequently decorated with the engravings of saints. The attachment gradually developed, and, in course of time, it was regarded as a means of protection from a cut, and the religious association disappeared. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries the cross-piece was short and straight, but in the thirteenth the quillons began to slightly incline towards the point of the sword. In the fourteenth century the curvature was quite pronounced, and it ultimately reached its most exaggerated form between the years 1400 and 1490. With the sixteenth century appeared the pas d'Ane already alluded to. It was a form of guard which was thrown out from the quillons over the edge of the blade. It has been asserted that it originated from the fact that at this period swords were frequently made with handles so short, that it was impossible to grip them with the whole hand, consequently the thumb and forefinger had to be protected by this contrivance. Personally, I am inclined to think that it was found that the pas d'Ane was a most admirable agent in minimising a blow on the hilt, the protection affording a certain amount of elasticity against the shock.

The grooving of blades is found in many forms. As to two-edged weapons, it was applied downwards from the hilt in a broad single groove, as early as the tenth century, and it was known in this form in the sixteenth century. Double and treble grooving, though indulged in in Europe, was more particularly confined to weapons of Oriental manufacture, and it is freely found on Damascus blades and weapons belonging to India. In the fifteenth century, in lieu of the groove, a rib is frequently found, a notable characteristic of that period.

The two-handed sword it seems came into existence towards the end of the reign of Henry V., and was not in general use until the commencement of the sixteenth century. Pietro Monti, in 1509, speaks highly of these weapons; and Giacomo di Grassi of Modena, in his "True Art of Defence," translated by an English gentleman, and edited by Churchyard in 1594, says :-" Because one may with it, as a galleon amongst many -allies, resist many swordes or other weapons ; therefore, in the warres, it is used to be placed neere unto the Enseigne or Auncient for the defence thereof, because being of itselfe liable to contend with many, it may the better safeguard the same, and because its waight and bignes requires great strength, therefore, those onlie are allotted to the handling thereof which are mightie and bigge to behould, great and strong in bodie, and of stout and valiant courage." (Page 10).

Two-handed swords were extensively used by the Germans and Swiss, but their employment in England was limited. Their special features are the immense size of the pommel, the excessive length of the handle and of the blade, which latter is seldom marked in any way. I have known one of these weapons with a blade of four feet possess a handle eighteen inches in length. Another peculiarity of these two-handed swords, or espadons, is to be seen in the two lateral projections on the blade, fixed usually at a distance of about nine inches from the quillons, and, no doubt, instituted as an additional medium for warding off blows. The blades of two-handed swords not infrequently possess serrated edges, and are thick and flat and devoid of groove or ridge. Owing to the period when these monster weapons were in use, we are not surprised to find them with quillons. in most instances, curving towards the point, a true indication of that time.

We will now apply the information I have already mentioned to our State sword. The weapon bears no mark on the blade of any kind, which, though not an infallible test by any means, points to its manufacture being previous to the year 1250. The pommel, being large and circular, is not likely to have existed on a sword made later than 1470. The slight curve of the quillons, and the curl at the extremities, are distinct indications of the thirteenth century. The grooving of the blade is in accordance with the custom of that century. In fact the "tout ensemble" of this weapon leaves no doubt in my mind that its manufacture was in the early part of the thirteenth century.

Before concluding, I would like to observe that, in my opinion, the handle has been added during comparatively recent times, I have had no opportunity of inspecting the tang since such could not be done without removing either the handle or the pommel ; and to remove the handle without the pommel would necessitate splitting the former, By the handle, of course, I mean the wooden part or the " grip," through which the tang penetrates to the pommel. With regard to the blade itself, I am informed that at one time its life was a rougher one than it is now, and that it was even used to poke the fire at Castle Rushen. It has been suggested that, as a result of this fact, the blade was probably at one time considerably longer ; but on this point I do not think it possible to express an opinion. It is unquestionably shorter than it was originally, but how much shorter I cannot say. Swords of this type seem to have been made with longest blades during the fourteenth century, but the blades of those of the thirteenth appear to have ranged on the average from 27 to 33 inches ; therefore, it is quite likely, especially having regard to the present balance, that the sword at its birth may have been two or even three inches longer in the blade than it is now. The scabbard, of course, requires no comment. Such a contrivance was unknown in the thirteenth century, and the one in question has every indication of manufacture during very recent times.


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