Subject: 'Ironside' harquebusier
Culture: Stuart, Puritan English
Setting: civil wars, England 17thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Dowen 2019 p21
"Named after the harquebus with which they were originally armed, the harquebusier had become the dominant type of cavalryman in Britain. Unlike the more heavily armoured cuirassier, the harquebusier's equipment was ideally suited to an offensive role requiring increased mobility and tactical flexibility. Indeed, the Parlimentarian officer John Vernon observed that 'The Harbuyusers and Carbines arming is chiefly offensive, his defensive Arms, are only an open Caske or Head-peece, a back and brest with a buffe coat under his armes'."
* Wilkinson 1971 p105
"Cavalry wore somewhat similar breast- and back-plates [as pikemen] over a thick, buff leather coat strong enough to turn aside a sword cut. To guard the vulnerable left hand, which held the bridle, a gauntlet with a cuff to the elbow was worn. A few cuirassiers served in full armor, but they were not a great success: one group of Parliamentarians was called 'a regiment of lobsters'."
* Wilkinson 1971 p108
"A great variety of swords was used during the seventeenth century, including several which had evolved from earlier models. The most common, certainly in Britain, was the cavalry broadsword. Fitted with blades of varying widths, sometimes two or three inches wide, it had several short fullers just below the guard. Hilts were quite elaborate, a series of bars springing from the pommel and ending below the grip to form a basket to protect the hand. Often the bars were chiseled; many had a head believed to be a death mask of Charles I cut into them which gained the swords the title of mortuary swords."
* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/LaRocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p72 (Anthony North, "Seventeenth-century Europe" p72-83)
"The 'mortuary hilt', probably the best known of all English seventeenth-century hilts, was yet another variant of the basket hilt. 'Mortuary' is a nineteenth-century coining and describes the supposed resemblance of the portrait heads chiselled on such hilts to the martyred Charles I. The bowl-shaped guard extending back to the pommel suggests direct descent from the short hangers with double-shell guards and wide knucklebows produced by the Hounslow factory in the 1630s. In fact, the earliest basket-hilted swords of this type have guards decorated with the same scallop shell design as that found on early London hangers.
"The first mortuary-hilted swords appeared in about 1630, and were the standard weapon of both Royalist and Parliamentarian cavalry during the Civil War. They were usually fitted with a long single-edged blade for cutting and thrusting, and like all basket hilts had a leather lining inside the basket. Their quality is variable; some had very crude guards, probably made by local blacksmiths, and others are of very accomplished workmanship. The better hilts are chiselled in relief with equestrian warriors or trophies, sometimes with a crest or coat-of-arms worked into the design. The finest are encrusted with silver or gilded.
"Mortuary hilts underwent minor changes in the century that followed, such as the addition of extra bars linking the bowl to the knuckleguard and the incorporation of small plates which projected down the blade. There was a vogue in the 1640s for chiselled portrait faces on the hilt -- hence the term 'mortuary' -- and in the 1650s and 1660s the guard became much shallower."
* Withers 2010 p47 = Withers/Capwell 2010 p295
"During the English Civil War (1642-51) the so-called 'mortuary sword' was another peculiarly English sword type carried extensively. It was given the erroneous title 'mortuary' by Victorian sword collectors because of the application of decorative work to the hilt that featured a series of engraved human faces, supposedly in memory of the beheaded Charles I (executed in 1649) and his wife, Henrietta Maria. Although there is a mortuary sword in the collection of HM The Queen at Windsor that bears a likeness to Charles I and his queen, mortuary swords with human faces were being carried as early as 1635. Not all of them display human faces as the primary decorative motif. Alternative hilt decoration comprises armed figures, coats of arms and extensive engraving, including both fanciful and geometric designs.
"The main features of the mortuary sword are a dish- or boat-shaped guard with a wide wrist guard and two branched knuckle-bows screwed to the pommel. Shield-shaped langets (to guard the shaft) are found at the top of the blade forte and probably acted to keep the hilt solid into the blade. Blades were normally of backsword type and single or double-edged towards the end of the blade to enable a thrusting capacity.
"The mortuary sword, which fell out of use around 1670, was carried by both Royalist and Parliamentarian cavalry throughout the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell was believed to have carried a mortuary sword during the Battle of Drogheda, in 1649, and an example attributed to him still exists in England."
* Martyn 2004 p14
"The Mortuary sword has received a lot of publicity as a weapon used throughout the Civil War by both sides of the conflict. Deservedly so, as it is peculiar to British weaponry and carried mainly by the officers and gentlemen of the cavalry units, generally recognizable by the formation of the hilt and the mask decoration applied to the surface of the baseguard. The general formation of the mortuary hilt is that of a dished baseguard connected to the pommel by a branched knucklebow and two side branches, generally stiffened by double branches towards the baseguard."
* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/LaRocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p78 (Anthony North, "Seventeenth-century Europe" p72-83)
"These comparatively short swords were very popular for both civilian and military use throughout the seventeenth century. ... The numbers of hangers which survive indicate that this form of short sword was very widely carried, especially in England."
* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/LaRocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p80 (Anthony North, "Seventeenth-century Europe" p72-83)
"Some very exotic and curious swords are shown in a number of seventeenth-century portraits. ... A few portraits show distinctively oriental swords being worn with both civil and military costume. Colonel Alexander Popham of Littlecote in Wiltshire led a contingent of Parliamentary troops in the English Civil War and was afterwards painted wearing short curved sword almost certainly made in Sri Lanka -- the distinctive Sinhalese lion and serendipaya can clearly be seen on the hilt. Another curved sword of exotic origin appears in a portrait of the Salisbury family painted in the 1640s. Sir Thomas Salisbury (d. 1643) is shown wearing a nimcha, a curved sword indigenous to North Africa especially to Morocco."