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Scottish claymore and heart-shaped cutouts


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Not a Scot nor a Celtic specialist but there don't seem to be really obvious links between Scots and hearts, other than the obvious 'love' symbol common to most of Western Europe from the Middle Ages. A double heart with a crown on top is distictively Scots, as the heart held in 2 hands ('cladah') is Irish but nothing else leaps out when one searches "Scots symbols".

On the other hand, the heart appears in a number of places where it seems to serve no particularly significant purpose other than aesthetics. For example, some uniforms of the British Army from the "Rev. War" period (1770-1790) have heart shaped decorations on the turnbacks of the coats: small patches sewn on, in contrasting colours, to two corners of the 'tail' of the tunic. While these do serve as reinforcements at a stress point, the shape is unrelated to function: a small square or circle would do as well, so my inference is that they simply present a pleasing design given the shape of the coattail and have no other significance.

So, my farthing's worth is that the heart cut-outs probably have no special significance other than as decorative features. Of course, they also lighten the sword hilt but again, so would square, diamond or round cut-outs. Probably, the makers 'just liked hearts'.


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Above: John Campbell, banker, 1740. As you can see, the heart appears both as an ornament on the baldric and as cut-outs on the sword hilt. Many, perhaps most of the basket hilted broadswords I've been able to view have the hearts, but by no means all.

This one, has vaguely heart-shaped openings but not true hearts. Again, My personal theory - and that's all it is - is that the shape was attractive, caught on and is now considered 'standard' mostly because that's what peole saw. The fact that the British Army eventually authorized Basket Hilts for some regiments and that they had heart shapes would of course have influenced people to believe that they were a necessary part of the swords!

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Hello Peter,

Good to hear from you again.

Thanks for your input - it was interesting to learn about the appearance of hearts on the British uniform coat-tails and the repeated heart ornament on that Scotsman's baldric. I am happy with your interpreation of the heart as simply a 'pretty' way of rendering a necessary feature (i.e. if the basket hilt needed perforations to reduce weight, a heart serves both a functional and aesthetic purpose).

I've been reading a lot about the way swords were, in some instances, the historical equivalent of the modern women's handbag - a male accessory subject to the whims of fashion and society! In this vein, I can see why hearts, particularly with the associations of valour, courage, loyalty etc., would have proved a popular motif.

I also submitted this query to the curator or European Edged Weapons at the Royal Armouries so I will let you know if he comes back to me with anything different!

Thanks again,


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