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What is a Claymore?

A Claymore is a powerful, two-handed sword originating from Scotland, renowned for its distinctive cross-hilt and large size. Used in medieval combat, its formidable reach and strength made it a fearsome weapon on the battlefield. Its legacy endures in history and popular culture. How has the Claymore's design influenced modern weaponry and artistic depictions? Join us to explore its enduring impact.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term “claymore” is used to describe two different types of weapons: a type of double-edged sword and an antipersonnel mine. Given that these two weapons were used in different eras and in different contexts, the type of claymore under discussion is usually obvious from the context of the conversation.

In the first sense, the claymore was a type of broadsword which was used historically in the Scottish Highlands. It has become closely associated with Scottish heritage and culture, due to the romanticization of the Highland Scots by the British and later generations of Scottish. This claymore was one among a family of weapons available to the Highland Scots, and it shared many characteristics with swords used in other regions of the world, suggesting that the basic design was universally useful.

A Claymore is a sword associated with the Scottish Highlands.
A Claymore is a sword associated with the Scottish Highlands.

A typical Scottish claymore was very heavy, with a long double edged blade. There were actually two versions of this sword; one had a hilt which was designed for two-handed use, and the other had a basket hilt, intended for one-handed use. Two-handed claymores were used through the 17th century, until they began to be supplanted by the one-handed basket hilt. Basket hilts carry a distinct advantage, since they protect the hand of the warrior; many one-handed claymores had hilts lined with velvet and other soft materials, and they were decorated with tassels and other ornaments on occasion as well.

The word “claymore” is derived from the Gaelic claidheamh, which means “sword.” A claidheamh mòr was a “great sword,” while a claidheamh de lamh was a “two handed sword.” Numerous examples of Scottish claymores can be seen in museums, and some are also included on military uniforms. Should you ever have an opportunity to wield a claymore yourself, you can see why the Highland Scottish warriors were famous, as the swords require immense strength and skill to be wielded effectively.

In the second sense, a claymore is a fragmentation mine which is designed to disable approaching enemy personnel. Claymores classically spit out ball bearings, although other types of shrapnel may be used as well. The mine was named for the Scottish sword by its inventor, who happened to be a Scot. Claymores can help to break up advancing enemy lines, and also as tools in ambushes; much like the Highland warriors of old, one does not generally want to encounter them with hostile intent.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a claymore, and how was it used historically?

A claymore is a type of large, two-handed sword that was used in Scotland from the late medieval period through the Renaissance. It is characterized by its distinctive forward-sloping crossguard and large size, typically around 55 inches in length. Historically, claymores were wielded by Scottish Highland warriors and were effective for both cutting and thrusting in battle, often used to break enemy lines or engage in close combat.

What distinguishes a claymore from other swords?

The claymore is distinguished by its size, with a blade that can reach up to 48 inches in length, and its unique crossguard design, which features downward-angled quillons with quatrefoils. Unlike one-handed swords, the claymore's long grip accommodates two hands for greater control and power. Its design is a symbol of Scottish heritage and differs from other European two-handed swords with its specific cultural and historical significance.

When was the claymore most commonly used?

The claymore saw widespread use from the 15th to the 17th centuries, particularly during the Scottish clan wars, the Wars of Scottish Independence, and other conflicts involving Scotland. It became a symbol of Scottish resistance against English invasion and was a prominent weapon in significant battles such as the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547.

Are claymores still used today?

While claymores are no longer used in combat, they remain an important cultural icon in Scotland. They are often featured in ceremonial events, historical reenactments, and are collected by enthusiasts of historical weaponry. Modern reproductions are also popular among practitioners of Western martial arts who study historical European swordsmanship techniques.

How did the claymore influence popular culture?

The claymore has had a significant impact on popular culture, often being portrayed in films, literature, and video games that feature Scottish history or fantasy themes. Its imposing size and association with Scottish warriors have made it an iconic symbol of strength and bravery. The claymore has been popularized in media such as the "Highlander" film and television series, contributing to its legendary status beyond historical circles.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • A Claymore is a sword associated with the Scottish Highlands.
      By: adrian fortune
      A Claymore is a sword associated with the Scottish Highlands.