Highland Broadsword or the Scottish Basket hilt or “claymore” (claidheamh mor/claiomh lietheadach) started as a simple basket design of bars similar to early English backwards but developed into a more complicated and ornate full basket providing protection to the whole hand. The Gaelic preference for elaborate and showy design probably influenced this as much as its functionality in combat. The hilts were produced in Scotland, mainly in Glasgow and Stirling. The blades, commonly of German origin, were broad in width, thin in section and normally between 31 – 34inches in length although longer ones exist 36-38 inches, maybe for taller people or chieftains who rode on horseback.
Primarily a cutting weapon, well balanced and fairly light (2-2.5lbs) this was a fast and formidable weapon in the hands of men trained from an early age in the highland Gaelic warrior tradition. So far, no written manuals exist of the use of this weapon by the clansmen, but early English backward treatises and a few contemporary witness accounts may give a slight insight on the form and methods of use.
The Highland Broadsword was introduced into the British army by the formation of the highland regiments, the first being the ‘Blackwatch’ in 1739. The earliest written treatises date from 1746 and 1790 and may echo the earlier styles. These sword techniques were adapted and developed notably by Angelo into a series of military drills and exercises which became the standard training for the British army infantry, cavalry and Royal Navy (adapted for cutlass). The name Broadsword applied to all early military swords of the late 17th early 18th centuries before these developed into what we now recognise as “sabres”.
The Broadsword as carried by the Highland Regiments, in the Americas, European and Indian wars, retained its full basket hilt and was still issued and used, at least by officers, right up to the First World War.