The Basket-Hilt - Parts of a European Sword

The Basket-Hilt - Parts of a European Sword

The basket-hilt of a European sword, particularly noted in its development during the early modern era, is characterized by its distinctive basket-shaped guard that protects the hand. This feature evolved from the quillons, or crossguards, that have been part of sword design since the Late Middle Ages.

Basket-hilted swords first appeared in Europe in the 15th century, marking a shift from symmetrical to asymmetric guards. This design evolution rendered the two-edged blade somewhat redundant because the hand was now better protected, allowing for a different fighting style.

The basket-hilt is notably pronounced, forming a metallic basket on the hilt that is closely associated with dueling and the renowned broadsword of the Scottish Highlands. Although often linked with Scotland, the traditional basket-hilt design developed from an English basket hilt in use as early as the 1560s.

Andrea Ferara Claymore

These swords were not only weapons of war but also symbols of status and style among civilians, particularly in Scotland where they were a common sight among the gentry and military officers, signifying power and prestige. The basket-hilted swords were most popular in Britain from the mid-sixteenth century, although by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they began to fall out of fashion in favor of lighter, faster swords. However, during this time, they remained highly sought after by Scottish highlanders, partly due to the innovations of legendary sword maker Andrea Ferrara.

A typical basket-hilted sword would have a straight, double-edged blade with a single fuller at the forte and a basket hilt consisting of a large number of bars encircling the hand. These bars would often include decorative panels, sometimes fretted with designs like hearts and circles. The pommel would usually be rounded and conical with radial flutes, and the grip bound with wire, adding to the overall aesthetic and function of the sword.

Types of Basket Hilted Swords

  1. Scottish Broadsword: This sword is characterized by a wide blade and a basket hilt that offers extensive protection to the hand. It's one of the most iconic basket-hilted swords, often associated with the Scottish Highlands. The design often features intricate patterns and was a symbol of status.
  2. English Mortuary Sword: Named for its use during the English Civil War period, this type of sword features a basket hilt with a characteristic skull or head-shaped design on the guard. It was used by cavalry officers and is distinguishable by its elaborate basket and symbolic motifs.
  3. Schlager: A sword used predominantly in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in academic fencing. It has a simpler basket hilt that is designed to protect the fencer’s hand during practice bouts. The blade is usually slender and straight.
  4. Walloon Sword: Originating from the region of Wallonia, these swords have a basket hilt that is somewhat simpler than that of the Scottish Broadsword and often includes thumb rings. They were used by both infantry and cavalry units.
  5. Cavalry Saber: A type of sword with a curved blade and a basket hilt, designed for use on horseback. The hilt’s basket could vary in complexity, from simple bars to full enclosures, depending on the era and region of use.
  6. Small Sword: While not traditionally associated with a full basket hilt, some small swords (particularly those used in the military) featured a partial basket or elaborate guard designs that provided more protection than the typical knuckle bow of civilian small swords.
  7. Shell Guard Rapier: An evolution of the rapier that incorporates a shell guard, which can sometimes be as protective as a basket hilt. This guard provided better hand protection for the fencer and was often used in civilian dueling.
  8. Hunting Hanger: A short, single-edged sword used for hunting, sometimes featuring a basket hilt. The design was practical, offering protection during the vigorous activity of hunting in forested or brush-filled areas.
  9. Spadroon: A straight-bladed sword with a basket hilt, popular in the 18th century. It was a hybrid between a small sword and a broadsword, designed to be light enough for thrusting but sturdy enough for cutting.

Basket-Hilt Photos

These are some photo's of several different Basket-Hilt found on the European swords that we offer.

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