I am excited to offer for sale an extremely rare, English ‘Mortuary’ hilted Backsword circa 1640, which is in superb overall condition for it’s age.
The so called ‘Mortuary sword’ is the most distinctive edged weapon of the English Civil Wars (1642 to 1651) and is a cavalry trooper’s basket-hilted sword, uniquely hilted and very British in design, and this hilt form is surnominous with that particular period. The Mortuary name is thought to have come about by the fact that following the conflict and the subsequent deaths of the combatants their swords and armour were often painted black and hung above their tombs in the churches in which they had previously prayed. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the face decoration on the chiselled steel hilts looking like the image of the beheaded king Charles I of England (I can think of only one such example where the bearded king is seen wearing his crown). These ‘mortuary’ swords were used by both Royalist and Parliamentary cavalry troopers and the king himself was present at some of the battles in which they were used.
They are very characteristic in that they have large basket-hilts, with crude chiselled decoration to the underside of the boat shaped steel guards, which often depict male faces having long wavy hair and sometimes a van dyke beard as was fashionable then. The three vertical guard bars on the hilt are usually connected with one; two or three symmetrical and parallel running horizontal bars. The blades can be either broad-sword (double edged), or like this sword, single edged back-sword type. And so to this weapon:
The chiselled decoration to the iron boat-hilted dish guard is way above munitions grade and almost identical to that seen on the Mortuary sword (inventory number CA 763) on display in the York Castle Museum, England (photos attached).
The blade could very well be the original or it may be from a few decades after the English Civil War period ended, as a full body Unicorn cutler stamp is seen on one side of the blade, and that mark “by tradition” is thought to have been used by a Solingen, German sword cutler – Hindrich Schwartz active in the early(?) 1700’s. However, the blade also contains other Solingen sickle stamps and marks that would date this blade from 1560 to 1600 latest (Wallace Collection A.535), so this sword may have been refurbished during it’s long military lifetime as so many were, or it may be from the English Civil War period exactly. We will almost certainly never know for sure.
Other Solingen cutlers such as – Clemens Horn (active 1586 – 1631); Arnold Baverdt (active 1560 – 1600) and Johann Henckels (around 1600) also used unicorn motifs, but only showed the heads or partial bodies of the mysterious creature, so far as I can establish. In conclusion, on inspection of the tang peen it does not appear to have been disturbed during it’s lifetime.
The blade is single edged and tapering, measuring approx. 33cms in length by 3cms across at the blade forte, and is cut with a deep fuller running along the back edge for the entire length of the blade. A much shorter fuller is seen immediately below, very much in the expected style of these back-sword blades.
Apart from the unicorn blade stamp at the forte, there are seen Solingen blade smiths marks as previously described. The blade retains a fine cutting edge with only a few sword to sword impact nicks to the edge. The blade is in very good condition, with hardly any corrosion. The blade is nice and tight in the hilt, no movement whatsoever.
The steel boat-hilt dish guard bears pierced and chiselled decoration with scrolling foliage and masks of two men, the knuckle bow and the side guards are decorated en-suite. There are two connecting guard bars joining the vertical guard bars on this sword. The pommel is bud shaped. The quillon is of a typical scrolling fold. The grip wire is remarkable and entirely original in my belief, including two Turks head knots top and bottom.