Claymore Sword: History and Use

The Claymore is a Scottish two-handed longsword used from the late Medieval Period (1300s) to the 1700s. It was an elongation of the common Irish/Scot one-handed sword used throughout much of the Middle Ages. It was marked by a forward-swept crossguard designed not only to protect the hands of the user, but could also be used to catch the opponent's weapon. The crossguard was generally capped at each end by a quatrefoil design. The claymore had a long leather-wrapped ricasso that allowed a fighter to grip the sword more near the balance point of the sword to allow for close-in fighting. The pommel was often shaped like a wheel.


The Scot word for the sword is claidheamh mor meaning "great-sword" in Gaelic. There is a misconception that William Wallace, Braveheart, used a claymore. The sword he used, which is still preserved, was not, strictly speaking, a claymore. Wallace's sword had a more narrow point than was standard for this weapon and did not have a leather-wrapped ricasso.

With a length reaching as much as sixty inches the claymore was brutal when it struck. When properly wielded could outreach more modestly armed opponents. The danger of a longsword is that when an opponent gets inside the effective arc of the sword, the wielder is vulnerable to shorter weapons. Once swung the sword's 5.5 or more pounds would not be easy to stop and swing back. To compensate for this, the ricasso allowed the sword to be gripped closer to the point. Even using the ricasso the claymore could be unwieldy in unskilled hands. Its great length would also have made it difficult to use in coordination with other soldiers fighting in a unit. Thus, the claymore was used primarily in clan warfare among the Scots and in border wars with the English.

Because it was wielded with two hands, the Claymore would seldom have been used by cavalry and the bearer normally did not defend with a shield. This meant that the user had to rely on the old adage that the best defence is a good offense. It also meant that the user was more susceptible to attacks by archers. Also, in a hasty retreat the weapon was more likely to be discarded. Often as long as the wielder, the weapon was not easy to transport when not in use.

The idea behind any great-sword is that its size and weight should overcome all of the enemy's defenses with a single bold attack. The claymore could break through English armor and some shields. A parry with a light sword would likely be ineffective against a strong swing backed up by the momentum of the attackers body movement. The claymore could be used to defend against thrusting or chopping attacks from opponents. The ready stance for a claymore requires a two hand grip strong hand forward. The sword was held at waist height until the opponent came into range. The user could then thrust, swing, or raise the sword to hack downward.

The claymore was most often carried on the back or by the horse of the clansman.

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Interesting Fact:

Claymore is also a fantasy series made in Japan. In the series Claymore is the name for a group of sword-wielding women who are only half-human. They wield a sword very similar to the Scottish claymore.

M18A1 anti-personnel mines are also called Claymores. They were given the name because of their unusual reach. Loaded with metal balls they are activated by remote through wires and can be positioned to fire directionally.

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