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Bastard Sword vs Claymore: Design, History, and Combat Use

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: February 9, 2024
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The bastard sword and claymore are famous European swords.  The claymore is known for its sheer size and powerful slashes. The bastard sword’s unique name adds to its mystique. Both swords are popular in anime and games like Dark Souls and Elden Ring.

This article will compare the bastard sword and the claymore. We will examine their designs, explore their history, and discuss a battle between them.  

Bastard Sword - Comparison
Bastard Sword
Claymore - Comparison
Claymore
Origin
Bastard Sword
13th century Europe
Claymore
16th century Scotland
Use
Bastard Sword
Sidearm, Slashing, Thrusting, Half-Swording
Claymore
Primary Weapon, Slashing, Thrusting, Impact
Average Length
Bastard Sword
43.3 – 53.1 (110 – 135 cm)
Claymore
51 to 71 inches (130 to 180 cm)
Weight
Bastard Sword
2.42 – 3.1 lbs (1.2 to 1.4 kg)
Claymore
5.5 to 7.7 lbs (2.5 to 3.5 kg)
Blade Type
Bastard Sword
Straight, Double-Edged
Claymore
Straight, Double-Edged
Handle
Bastard Sword
One/Two-Handed
Claymore
Two-Handed
Construction
Bastard Sword
High-Carbon Steel
Claymore
High-Carbon Steel

Terms, Characteristics, and Design Differences

Bastard Sword vs Claymore Characteristics and Design
The major differences between a Bastard Sword and a Claymore

The bastard sword is often called the hand-and-a-half sword because it can be used with one or two hands. The word “bastard” comes from the French term épée bâtarde. This name may be because of the sword’s disputed origin or because it doesn’t fit into a sword category like a longsword or arming sword. 

Claymore comes from the Scottish claidheamh mòr, meaning “great sword.” This term is used for various Scottish blades, such as the basket-hilted broadsword.

Today, claymore refers to the large two-handed sword from Scotland during the Renaissance in the 16th century. 

Blade

1 Battle of Bosworth Field Tudor Classic Bastard Sword
Battle of Bosworth Field Bastard Sword” features a 15th-century design with a broadened handle

Both blades are straight with two sharp edges.  They are made of high-carbon steel, making them flexible and easily bendable. 

The bastard sword’s blade varies in shape and size. Earlier designs had a broader blade that was good for cutting. Later versions were more tapered and designed to penetrate gaps in armor. The bastard sword also had a straight blade with either a fuller (groove) to lessen its weight or a reinforced diamond section for stronger thrusts. 

Most claymores have a groove (fuller) in its center. Some have a blunt ricasso near the guard, often covered with leather for better gripping.

The evolution of European bastard swords and claymores is well explained in Oakeshott’s Typology, an analysis of medieval swords and their traits.

Hilt

Types of Claymore
Different types of Claymore based on their hilts – Credits: Tony Willis

Both swords have straight hilts with a wooden core, usually wrapped in leather. This sits on top of the blade’s tang and is secured by a metal pommel at the bottom.

The bastard sword has a grip made for one hand, but its shape and length, along with the pommel, also allow for two-handed use. Some handles have a middle ridge for a stronger grip or may taper. 

Bastard swords usually have a straight crossguard in a cruciform shape, which often narrows near the blade or has broad and rounded ends (quillon tips). 

The claymore’s hilt design varies. The clamshell has a closed guard shaped like a clam. The lowland claymore features a long, straight crossguard, usually known as the highland claymore.  

The highland claymore’s crossguard narrows toward the blade, ending in traditional quatrefoils at the quillon tips. It also has an unsharpened part (langet) for a more flexible grip.

Scabbard

Main Hand and a Half Italian LongSword Medieval Sword Model 5
Hand and a Half Italian Sword” with a wooden scabbard and a fish-tail pommel

The bastard sword was practical and adaptable due to its size. It was carried in a leather-wrapped scabbard, hung from the user’s left side.  

The claymore was a large sword, often sheathed for protection against rust and other damage. 

Due to its large size, it was usually carried over the shoulder.  A cover was not used in battle.

Size and Weight

Main 16th Century Scottish Claymore Brown Handle
16th century Scottish Claymore” featuring a massive size of 55 inches (140 cm) with a wrapped ricasso

The main difference between the claymore and the bastard sword is the size and weight. The bastard sword is shorter and lighter. It is usually about 47 inches (120 cm) long and weighs around 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg).

The claymore is a type of greatsword. It is a massive sword, but not as big as television depicts. It can be between 51 and 71 inches (130 to 180 cm) long and weighs between 5.5 and 7.7 lbs (2.5 to 3.5 kg).

In some video games, like Elden Ring, the claymore is shown as weighing around 22 lbs (10 kg). However, in reality, this would be too heavy to use.

Historical Significance

William Wallace
William Wallace depicted with Scotland’s national sword – the Claymore – Credits: Aberdeen Statue

The bastard sword started in Europe during the 13th century. It was based on the shorter arming sword used by knights during the Crusades.  

Bastard swords originally had the same blade length as an arming sword, with a slightly larger handle for using two hands. These were called longswords as they were larger than the swords used at the time. 

These swords were replaced with proper two-handed handles and larger blades, leading to the 15th-century European longsword.

The longsword evolved into bigger, two-handed swords during the 16th century, such as the Italian spadone, Iberian montante, German zweihander, and the larger arsenal of Scottish swords, including the claymore.

The claymore was popular from the 16th through the 18th century and was associated with Scottish Highlanders and nobility. The claymore is often linked with Scotland’s national hero, William Wallace. However, this is incorrect. Today, the claymore is seen as Scotland’s national sword. 

Summary
The bastard sword emerged in the 13th century from the earlier arming sword. It developed into the longsword and then greatswords such as the spadone, montante, zweihander, and the Scottish claymore. The claymore was used from the 16th to the 18th century and is now Scotland’s national sword.

Combat Preference

Bastard Sword vs Claymore Combat Preference
The War of the Roses (15th century) saw the use of Bastard Swords and early Claymores – Credits: Britanica

The bastard sword is versatile, used with one or both hands for slashing and thrusting. It is a great sword for fighting on foot or while on horseback. It works well with a shield or a larger two-handed weapon. It can also be half-gripped like a dagger.

Both foot soldiers and knights used the bastard sword alongside a spear or polearm. It was a reliable choice as either a main or secondary weapon.

The claymore was a main weapon of war due to its large size alone. Despite its portrayal in media as a heavy, slow weapon, it is quite fast and relies on the strength and skill of the user. 

The claymore’s design allows quick, impactful strikes but takes longer to recover after impact. The wrapped ricasso (handle) adds versatility. 

The weapon was used mainly by Scottish warriors for slashing, guerrilla warfare against unarmored opponents, or to take down calvary and break through enemy formations.

Claymore vs Bastard Sword (Duel Winner)
The bastard sword is a reliable sidearm for slashing, thrusting, and piercing while on foot or horseback. The claymore was a main weapon used for slashing attacks and would have the upper hand in an unarmored battle because of its longer reach, making it the victor in a duel.
Sources Cited
  1. Woosnam-Savage, R. C. (2017, January 1). Arms and Armour of Late Medieval Europe
  2. Oakeshott, E. (2001, January 1). Sword in Hand
  3. Oakeshott, E. (1991, January 1). Records of the Medieval Sword
  4. Oakeshott, E. (2012, January 1). European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Boydell Press. 
  5. Peers, C. (2023, August 30). Clan Battles. Pen and Sword Military. 
  6. England and Scotland at War, c.1296-c.1513. (2012, June 22). BRILL.
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