Albion Armorers Next Generation Chieftain Sword
A hands-on review by Steve Maly
Albion Armorers's Next Generation Chieftain is a recreation of an early Scottish Claymore. The earliest type of this sword is known to date to the early 15th century, as depicted on the tombstone of Gilbert de Greenlaw, who fell at Harlaw in 1411.1 These early examples are noted to have spatulate ends to the downward sloping quillons. The earliest dated slab with the form of a recognizable Highland claymore is found in the Kirkapoll burial grounds in Tiree, carved on Iona, and dated to 1495.2 In this early instance, we find small, indented quatrefoil terminals that evolved into the pierced quatrefoils of later examples in the early 16th century through the mid 17th century. The quatrefoil, which resembles a four leaf clover, was a common form in gothic and renaissance architecture popular at the time. In the Chieftain's design, we also see the development of a langet down the center of the blade from the cross. This is most likely a modification of the peaked cross of the Oakeshott Type 8, Type 9, and Type 10 styles, and a feature that is more pronounced in later examples as the Claymore became longer in both grip and blade. The Albion Chieftain is based on an Oronsay Priory engraving on a Highland tombstone dated to 1539. The engraving depicts a two-handed sword over a ship with the inscription, Hic jacet Malcoumbus MacDuffie de Collonsay ("Here lies Malcolm MacDuffie of Collonsay").
The term claymore is derived from the Gaelic claidheamh mòr, meaning "great sword". Claude Blair notes in Scottish Weapons and Fortifications, 1100-1800, that the word claymore was used in 18th Century literature to describe the later basket-hilted broadswords, with claymore being used interchangeably to identify the Highland broadsword as well as the Highland two-handed sword.3 The literature of this era clearly denotes that the claymore was worn at the side along with the pistol and dirk, and Blair notes finding no indication that the large two-handed swords were ever worn at the side. In a postscript to Blair's chapter in Scottish Weapons and Fortifications, 1100-1800, Stuart Maxwell notes that in all pre-1715 literature, there is a clear delineation between "swords" and twa-handit swords. Maxwell contends that the word claymore was not used until 1715, and was used to describe the basket-hilted broadswords. However, Blair notes one reference to the term "clymore" in a text from a 1678 (The Memoirs of William Vetch [1640-1722] quoted in J.R. Elder's The Highland Host of 1678, Glasgow, 1914), though its usage was as a war cry and the "broadswords" carried by the plundering Highlanders were mentioned separately. In 1825, Robert Archibald Armstrong published A Gaelic Dictionary in Two Parts, listing the following terms with their English translations:
Claidheamh mòr or Claidheamh leathann: Broadsword
Claidheamh cuìl: Backsword
Claidheamh da làimh: Two-handed sword
Claidheamh da fhaoshain: Two-edged sword
Duibheagan: Short sword
Dòrn-chur: Basket-hilt; hilt of a sword; the haft or handle of any bladed weapon4
At any rate, the term claymore was apparently used generically in the English-speaking world of the 17th through 21st centuries to mean any Highland sword. It is clear, however, that the term was not used at the time these two-handed swords were actually in use. It is noted in A Tour of Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides 1772 that Thomas Pennant refers to a claidheamh da làimh being buried along with a hero. He also refers to the same sword as a claymore, long sword and great broadsword, but clearly shows use of the term claidheamh da làimh by the Scottish Highlanders, at least in the 18th century, thereby suggesting that claidheamh da làimh is at least one of the correct terms for this type of sword.5 It can be argued that claidheamh da làimh should be reserved exclusively for the late 16th/early 17th century version of this sword with blades averaging 42 inches.
Also of note with the Albion Chieftain is use of the Oakeshott Type XIIIa blade, the hand-and-a-half "Grete War Sword" that was commonly in use from circa 1250-1370. Oakeshott notes that the Type XIIIa is typically attributed to being of German origin, as noted with the great frequency in which they appear on German tomb effigies of the 14th century. He also notes that even the French of the 13th and 14th centuries referred to them as "big German Swords".6 German blades were imported to Scotland for hilting, so it possible that the Type XIIIa examples in use in Scotland in the 16th century also originated in Germany. The usage of the Type XIIIa blade on a 15-16th century weapon is representative of the revival of the popular usage of this type beginning at the end of the 15th century (see XIIIa.6 in Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword). The Type XIIIa appears to have remained in use later on Scottish swords than Continental swords of that era. It is unclear if the Highlanders of the time would have considered the Albion Chieftain a "sword" or a twa-handit sword, though Oakeshott noted that there was a differentiation made between the Type XIIIa "Swords of War" and the twahandswerdes of the 13-14th centuries.7 Based on this information, the Chieftain may more appropriately be considered a hand-and-a-half sword and not a claidheamh da làimh.
Albion Armorers introduced the Next Generation line in 2003, and with the assistance of Peter Johnsson, sought to produce swords with handling characteristics of the originals. While the Next Generation swords are not necessarily a reproduction of a particular sword, they are intended to be a true representation of the type of sword, often integrating features of several individual specimens.
The Chieftain is a fine representation of the early claymores found on grave-slabs from the early 16th century in western Scotland. Since surviving examples of these swords from this era are rare indeed, Albion took clues from the engravings and decided to build the Chieftain around the same Type XIIIa blade that is used on their Duke Type XIIIa sword.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
The Type XIIIa blade is a pure cutter meant for powerful cleaving blows. This is evident when handling the sword as it has a discernible blade presence that aids in acceleration thorough the cut. However, even though the Chieftain is a big sword, it is not an unwieldy one, and with the point of balance at 4 1/2 inches the blade presence is not overpowering.
The grip is slightly longer than the Duke's, by 1/4 inch, though the overall difference in weight is where the difference in handling comes into play. The Chieftain outweighs the Duke by 9 ounces with the all of the additional weight distributed in the hilt furniture. The slightly longer grip paired with the added weight is pulls the balance point back to 4 1/2 inches in the Chieftain compared with 5 3/4 inches in the Duke. This makes for a very responsive sword particularly in two hands. The long grip makes use in two hands natural, though the balance is such that the Chieftain can be used in one hand. It may be more useful in one hand when used as a cavalry weapon, using the momentum of the steed to aid in dealing powerful blows.
While not intended for quick directional changes or sudden stops, I found the Chieftain to be more agile when using two hands rather than one. The Chieftain certainly builds momentum in the swing that aids in tracking. Looping a finger over the cross aids somewhat in tip control, but since this is not a cut and thrust weapon, tip control is not much of an issue and this detracts somewhat from the power of the cut.
I found it comfortable to grip the sword with both hands on the grip or alternately with one hand on the pommel. The Chieftain performed well against the light targets with which I tested it (milk jugs and pumpkins), being effortless through the cut, with no vibration at impactliterally slicing through light targets as if through air.
Fit and Finish
Albion hits another one out of the park with the Chieftain. The pommel and cross are investment cast in mild steel with a satin finish. The fittings are tightly fitted to the tang, typical of other Albion offerings.
The grip is of the Albion campaign-worn light brown leather over a cylindrical core of stabilized birch. It has risers spaced every inch, which makes for a very comfortable grip. This allows for a very stable grip, whether holding tightly next to the cross, at the midpoint, or next to the pommel. This stable grip aids in handling, as there is less chance of slippage during maneuvers with one hand or two.
The Albion Armorers Chieftain is a great addition to my collection and is an excellent reproduction of an early Scottish hand-and-a-half claymore. It is a lively and strong dedicated cutter, capable of powerful cleaving blows. The sword is very maneuverable and agile, especially when used in two hands. It is a fine offering to the world of production swords, and one of the few quality 16th century Scottish reproductions available this side of a custom bladesmith.
About the Author
Steve Maly is a Physical Therapist in Oklahoma City. He has been a fan of "sword movies" all of his life and began actively collecting in 2001. He enjoys and collects swords of all eras, but primarily focuses on European examples from the 11-14th centuries.
1. Norman, AVB. "Scottish Swords and the '45" in Culloden: The Swords and the Sorrows. The National Trust for Scotland Trading Company Ltd.: Glasgow, 1996, p. 22.
2. Willis, Tony, "Scottish 'twa handit Swerdis'", in Park Lane Arms Fair Catalogue 13 (1996), pp. 12-25.
3. Blair, Claude. "The Word Claymore" in Caldwell, David H (ed.) Scottish Weapons and Fortifications, 1100-1800, John Donald Publishers, Ltd.: Edinburgh, 1981, pp. 378-384.
4. Blair, Claude, "Claymore and Other Gaelic Sword Terms," Journal of the Arms and Armour Society (Great Britain) XVI-1 (September 1998), p. 12 - 13.
5. Wagner, Paul & Thompson, Christopher. "The Words 'Claymore' and 'Broadsword'" in Hand, Stephen (ed.) Spada 2 Anthology of Swordsmanship. Chivalry Bookshelf: Highland Village, TX, 2005, pp. 111-118.
6. Oakeshott, Ewart. Records of the Medieval Swords. The Boydell Press: Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1991, p. 95.
7. Oakeshott, Ewart. The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. The Boydell Press: Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1997, p. 42.
Culloden The swords and the sorrows: An exhibition to commemorate the Jacobite rising of 1745 and the Battle of Culloden 1746, by National Trust For Scotland
Highland Host of 1678, The , by John R Elder
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Scottish weapons and fortifications, 1100-1800
SPADA II: An Anthology of Swordsmanship, by Stephen Hand (Editor)
Sword in the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Thirteenth Park Lane Arms Fair, The, by David A. Oliver, editor
Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides 1772, A, by Thomas Pennant
Photographer: Steve Maly