William Wallace Sword
(About): Wield the Wallace Sword, Re-Forged Anew
Before the 1995 historical-epic blockbuster Braveheart, William Wallace was only what one might describe as a cult figure of Scottish nationalism – a well-known figure in the UK, but certainly not a global ‘brand’. Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the 13th-century Scottish knight changed all of that, almost overnight, catapulting the legendary figure into the popular imagination, with the phrase, “They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!”. Stirling Castle, site of the film’s most spectacular battle scene, say its visitor numbers triple from the previous year, and some argue it had a non-zero impact on the domestic politics of Scotland in the late 1990s. Any public image of Wallace would no longer be complete without his enormous great-sword: a fearsome Scottish claymore, an enormous two-handed sword, over four feet long, that is shown scything through the ranks of his English foes. Here, we are honoured to present Darksword Armory’s faithful replication of this spectacular weapon, designed and built in their artisan workshop in St-Laurent, Quebec. Look ye no further, traveller, for you have found the sword you seek.
A Brutal Blade for a Rebel Guardian
The blade of our William Wallace Sword is a monster, in every proportion. From tip to guard, it is an enormous 39” in length – although some enormous ceremonial claymores have been found which have blades up to an unusable 51” in length, our William Wallace Sword would be amongst the largest swords on any contemporary battlefield. Its characteristics are immediately recognisable as Hollywood’s Braveheart sword. It conforms to Oakeshott’s Type XIIIa in type – amongst the “Grans espées d’Allemagne” (literally, ‘large German swords’) which emerged from the middle of the 13th-century CE amidst increasing availability of chainmail armor amongst the mass of the soldiery, and the emergence of ‘transitional’ forms of armor which were a precursor to plate. Our William Wallace Sword has a long blade with significantly tapered edges, reaching a sharp point. The blade is somewhat flexible, with a hexagonal cross-section, and is unfullered. This combination of blade geometry tells us at a glance what kind of sword this is: it is designed to be a smashing, slashing weapon that can cleave through mail (and its wearer) with enormous wide swings. A subtle weapon it is not! The lack of a fuller distributes the weight of this sword closer to the tip, an effect partially offset by the taper of the sword – but nevertheless, it remains a brutal weapon which will can chop with staggering force. The flexibility of the blade afforded by its hexagonal cross-section is an absolute requirement; a stiff blade of this configuration would likely shatter from the enormous forces involved. The most striking feature of our William Wallace Sword is its leather-wrapped ricasso, a feature known as a ‘demi-scabbard’. This is a feature occasionally seen in the Swiss and German swords which were the direct ancestor of the Scottish claymore – although it is unclear historically whether these were worn into battle as a grippable sub-hilt, or if they were only worn during transport to protect weapons that were too large to be sheathed in a full scabbard. Regardless, no Braveheart sword replica would be complete without it!
A Functional Sword, Built for Roleplayers and Re-Enactors
The master smiths at Darksword Armory have hand-forged the blade of our William Wallace Sword from stainless 5160 carbon steel. This is the perfect modern analogue to the high-quality steels that were beginning to become commonplace in the late 13th-century. A consistent theme amongst medieval sword manufacture is that the highest-quality blades were only made in a handful of highly-concentrated specialised areas, like the Upper Rhine valley, Passau on the Austrian border, and Toledo in Spain; these fine blades were then exported all over Europe and fitted with hilts of domestic manufacture and artistic style. These artisans in these areas were comparatively extremely advanced in their metallurgical knowledge, and the best swords made in the Middle Ages would be the equal of any forged by a skilled modern smith. A wealthy Scottish knight such as William Wallace would have had every opportunity to purchase or commission a sword with such a fine blade from one of these European master artisans. The main difference between medieval steels and modern steel is consistency: better understanding of the chemistry involved in the refinement of metals, plus enormously more controlled smelting processes, means that Darksword Armory’s master smiths have the perfect steel at their fingertips every time. As well, the William Wallace Sword’s blade is differential-tempered – this is Darksword’s signature tempering technique, which results in the blade hardening to 60 HRc at the edge, and 48-50 HRc at the core. This is a secret weapon in sword design, since it gives unparalleled edge-retention, ruggedness and cutting power, as well as the right amount of flex to permit the blade to spring back and absorb heavy blows. The result is a blade that is fully battle-ready, able to be used safely in light combat with other blades of similar hardness (if you’re going to use our William Wallace Sword for contact combat make sure to match the hardness of your blade to that of your opponent, otherwise the softer one will end up damaged, notched, or may even break on contact – this is, needless to say, very dangerous! Always practise safe seax.).
An Iconic Historical Hilt
The hilt of our William Wallace Sword, like all Scottish claymores, bears the birthmarks of its heritage as a greatsword of Swiss descent – but with uniquely Scottish features included by the Braveheart sword’s historical designers. It is made from mild steel, the gold-standard in medieval hilt swords, being tough and resistant to damage from rough handling in re-enactment and roleplay. The cross-guard of our William Wallace Sword is a brute bar of lightly tapered steel, providing absolute protection from interlocking swords for your hands. Its quillons are terminated in a pair of quatrefoils; this ‘four-leaf clover’ design appears on a large number of surviving examples of the Scottish claymore, and is most likely taken from Christian Gothic architecture, becoming associated with Scottish royalty from the period of the Wars of Scottish Independence onwards and thereby incorporated into sword design. The quillon block is a sturdy anvil, extending up the blade to a stepped point. The handgrip of our William Wallace sword is a generous two-handed grip of 9” – it is squared in profile and wrapped in handsome brown leather, giving an excellent grip surface that won’t turn in your hand, be it bare, gloved or gauntleted. The pommel is an enormous scent-stopper shape, conforming to Oakeshott Type T2 – it has been carefully weighted to bring the point of balance closer down the blade, giving it a surprising turn of speed in the hand. The sword has been constructed with a full tang and is hot-peened, meaning that all of the hilt components have been threaded onto the keyed tang of the blade, with its protruding tail peened flat to lock everything securely into place. This is a prerequisite for battle-ready swords; it is secure and safe.
Nevertheless, this sword is an unapologetic beast: weighing in at 4 lbs. 5 oz. (2 kg), it is amongst the heaviest in Darksword’s arsenal. In the medieval period, only the largest and strongest (and least concerned for their personal safety) would forsake the safety of a shield for a two-handed greatsword such as this – but that describes precisely the legendary stature of William Wallace, surely! The beauty of Darksword Armory’s William Wallace Sword is that, unlike many of the dozens of Braveheart swords for sale, our Braveheart sword replica is fully-functional, battle-ready and will stand up to the knocks and scrapes of re-enactment and roleplay use. With our William Wallace Sword, you do not have to compromise – combining the prestige-grade smithing and construction of North America’s finest artisan swordsmiths with the unmistakable design belonging to Scotland’s quintessential blue-faced rebel.
(History): William Wallace: The Sword, The Man and the Myth
There can be no doubt that Braveheart is one of the great historical films of the modern era. It has it all – ferocious battles, victory against hopeless odds, love, betrayal, big hairy blokes, the works. There is only one small issue – it, tragically, is mostly rubbish. When sticklers for historical accuracy – like we at Medieval Ware – watch it, it’s hard to ignore the ‘liberties’ taken by the film’s creators. Wallace wears a great kilt, which would not have been worn by Scottish clansmen until 300 years after his death. His warriors paint their faces with blue woad, which had ceased to be done by the Pictish peoples hundreds of years before the Wars of Scottish Independence. His depicted affair with Isabelle of France would have been impossible, since she was four years of age at the time of the events depicted. Even Mel Gibson’s iconic William Wallace Sword itself is far closer in design and use to the Scottish claymores that emerged two centuries after the Battle of Stirling Bridge! (Phew, we feel much better after that.) Whilst these historical fudges and conflations doubtless make for a rip-roaring tale, they don’t half obscure the true fascinating character of Sir William Wallace himself. We’ll take a peek behind the curtain of history and try to divine the real Braveheart – via a mysterious sword, a very poor statue and a rather grisly piece of personal attire.
Books have been filled with analysis of Wallace’s life and times, so we won’t give a blow-by-blow account of his life – but very briefly: Wallace was born in relative obscurity to a minor noble family around 1270 CE, likely in Elderslie, Renfrewshire, although there is little known about his early life. However, when Wallace was still young, Scotland was thrown into a period of strife that would last throughout his lifetime and well beyond it. The King of Scotland, Alexander III died after a riding accident with no immediate heir; his grand-daughter, still an infant herself, died soon after. Without a clear heir, and ruled by an unstable council of ‘Guardians’, Scotland teetered on the brink of civil strife as pretenders to the throne sharpened their swords. Into this power-vacuum strode the King of England, Edward I Longshanks. He declared himself the Lord Paramount of Scotland, and place his own King, John Balliol, onto the Scottish throne. Whilst this might have produced at least stability, Edward acted with arrogance towards the Scots, treating Balliol as a mere vassal, summoning him at whims and insulting him in front of his courtiers. Eventually, Balliol (and the Scottish nobility more generally) had had enough, and the Scots signed an alliance with France in 1296 in defiance of England. In response, Edward swiftly invaded Scotland, sacking Berwick-Upon-Tweed and starting a series of Wars of Scottish Independence which would last for more than half a century.
Guardian of Scotland
The bearer of the William Wallace Sword was not a woad-wearing Celt; rather as a scion of a noble house he would have been cultured, wealthy and aristocratic. Nevertheless, he raised his flag in rebellion against the English – it appears from his immediate string of victories that he must have been an experienced military commander; historians speculate that opportunities to sell one’s sword as a mercenary on the Continent would have been rife for a younger son from minor nobility. Wallace was one of the few Scottish nobles who fought on against English occupation after John Balliol’s forced abdication 1296. His prestige shot from a local rebel leader onto the national stage co-leading the Scots rebel army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, a military disaster for the English, who were trapped either side of the narrow river crossing and mown down by a much smaller Scottish force. This victory demonstrated the superiority of Scottish tactics in the face of the enemy: not only did they use the terrain of battle to rout a much larger force, their divisional drill was also far superior to the English. Far from a mass of partially-armed Celts, as depicted in Braveheart – rather, the Scots were an organised force bound together by clan loyalties and personal familiarities. The supreme Scottish tactic was the ‘schiltron’. Hundreds of Scots soldiers each armed with pikes around 15 feet (4m) long would form into a close-order phalanx, putting dozens of points toward the enemy, with the flexibility to ‘round’ the formation into an impenetrable circle of sharp spears, near-impregnable to the crack English heavy cavalry. Meaning ‘shield-troop’, this tactic may well have been inspired by Anglo-Saxon shield-wall, or perhaps by Norse shield-circle tactics developed as anti-cavalry measures – but either way, the Scots were some of the most effective early adopters of the pike tactics which would come to dominate warfare in the subsequent centuries. In the swirling melee, King Edward’s treasurer Sir High Cressingham was cut down – and (gross bits incoming!) the hated taxman’s body was stripped of its flesh, some of which was even made into a baldric for the famous William Wallace sword! At least, that is what the English sources say – there is little independent verification of this claim; one might wonder whether this gets at the truth of Wallace as a bloodthirsty barbarian, or whether it was a vicious calumny put about by English propagandists… In the aftermath of the battle, Wallace was knighted, becoming Sir William Wallace in the service of the Scottish crown, and he was promoted to Guardian of Scotland, meaning that he held almost all of Scotland in his demesne.
Downfall and Betrayal
Sadly, this glory was not to last. English tacticians had grown wise to the Scots’ extremely successful deployment of pike schiltrons in the early phases of the war, and at the Battle of Falkirk the following year, they broke up the static emplacements of circled pikemen with devastating volleys from the notorious Welsh longbow before the crushing charge of English mounted knights. Although Wallace escaped, his military reputation took a beating, and he resigned from his position as Guardian of Scotland. Wallace fades into the background of history for a while, but there is little doubt that he remained a significant figure in the resistance to English occupation. He may have travelled to France to seek the aid of King Phillip IV, but the next firm point we have for him is, unfortunately, his betrayal and capture in 1305. Wallace was handed over to the English by his fellow knight, John de Menteith, whose cursed name was forever immortalised by his contemporaries: Fause Menteith (‘false/treacherous Menteith’). He was taken to London, and tried for his war crimes, “sparing neither age nor sex, monk nor nun”, and for treason against King Edward. Famously, he responded to the charges of treason: “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject”. Unrepentant to the last, Wallace was tortured and executed in short order, and his head put on a pike atop London Bridge.
But if Edward was hoping to kill the rebellion by making a gruesome example of Wallace, his hope was in vain. In 1306, Robert the Bruce claimed the Scottish throne left vacant by John Balliol’s abdication a decade earlier, and waged an eight-year campaign to evict the English, finally making their defeat inevitable at the climatic Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, where, in an eerie repeat of Stirling Bridge almost a decade before, Scottish pike schiltrons exploited a river crossing to defeat a much larger English army. Auld Willie Wallace would have been proud.
Looming Large in Scottish Memory
You may have noticed something conspicuously absent from this story: the William Wallace sword! Frustratingly, there is absolutely no contemporary reference to Wallace as wielding a two-handed weapon, like the Braveheart sword. It is likely something that would elicit comment, as in the period almost all knights would have fought on horseback with a single-handed arming-sword and shield – yet no mention has survived. There is in fact a sword which purports to be ‘the’ William Wallace sword, known, helpfully, as ‘the Wallace sword’, which resides at the Wallace Monument near the battlefield of Stirling Bridge. This sword conforms much more closely to what we may think of as Wallace’s weapon: an enormous broad-bladed two-handed sword. But all is perhaps a little murkier than we might wish. No mention of the whereabouts of Wallace’s sword appears until two centuries after his death, in 1505, when its fittings were apparently replaced and a new scabbard made (if old Sir Hugh was still binding the old blade, it doesn’t bear thinking about!). The sword has a broken history, popping up here and there, at the ‘Wallace Tower’ of Dumbarton Castle in 1644, and in Wordsworth’s travel notes in 1808, before being transferred to the Wallace Monument in 1888. And there are other worrying qualities too – the sword does not have the geometry of an Oakeshott Type XIIIa, lacking any fuller, and its hilt is clearly of 16th-century origin. Historians disagree fiercely about the William Wallace sword’s historicity. Some, like Elspeth King, Director of the Smith Art Gallery in Stirling, argue that it could well be Wallace’s sword, since he was imprisoned in Dumbarton Rock after his capture by the English. Others, like Dr David Caldwell, see the sword as a more ambiguous object – Caldwall contends that the sword is a composite of at least three pieces of metal, the forge-welds of which are still faintly visible, one of which could well date back to the 13th-century. This would imply that the Wallace sword might be a ceremonial greatsword, constructed several hundred years after Wallace’s death, but potentially including the blade of Wallace’s own arming sword.
One thing is for certain, the Wallace sword is a potent image of Scottish nationalism. Its case was smashed in 1912 by suffragette Ethel Moorhead, as part of their campaign of property damage to force the government to give women the vote, and it has been stolen at least twice by Scottish nationalists (in 1936 and 1972). It remains, at least, a more well-loved symbol than the extremely unfortunate statue of Wallace-as-Mel-Gibson, replete with Braveheart sword, erected at the Wallace Monument in 1997 but subsequently the target of local opprobrium and vandalism before its removal in 2008. Our William Wallace Sword will suffer no such outrageous slings and arrows: it is a timeless design from an iconic film that would grace any sword collection.
If you’re a Scottish Swords fan like ourselves you’re gonna want to check out this beauty!
- Total length: 50 inches
- Blade length: 39 inches
- Blade width: 2 inches
- Blade material: 5160 carbon steel
- Blade hardness: 60 HRc at edge ; 48-50 HRc at core
- Guard and pommel material: Mild steel
- Grip material: Leather
- Weight: 4 lbs. 5 oz.