Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Claymore - The Good and The Not Great

Ah, the Claymore: the zenith of metal work in a fantasy writer's cache of weaponry. All is lost until the fateful moment the hero grips the hilt of the mighty weapon. Why? Because it's a Claymore dang it! That's why!

The truth is, the Claymore is in fact a wonderful weapon. It does well what it was designed to do as all weapons should. But, what is also true is that it is horrible at tasks it was never meant to carry out. Every weapon has advantages, the good, as well as disadvantages, the bad. 

The History and Basics

The Claymore's name derives from the Gaelic words "claidheamh mor," which mean, "great sword," in reference to size not its value as a weapon. It is said that the Scottish hero William Wallace carried a Claymore. But, the sword he used, which is still in existence, differs from we know as a Claymore in its point and ricasso.

Historically a Claymore was about 47 - 55 inches (120 - 140 cm). The weight was around five or six pounds (2.2 - 2.8kg). Yes, really. Claymores weren't ten pounds swords. Ten pound swords weren't a "thing."  

The Claymore was a two-handed sword. It had great reach and because of the weight behind its overall mass could create a great amount of force.

The ricasso, an unsharpened portion of the blade where it meets the handle, was often, not always, wrapped in leather. This allowed the wielder to "choke up" on the weapon to not only better guide the tip, but recover after a swing.

Because the Claymore was a double edged blade, one edge could be keen for slicing while the other could be dull for bashing through shields without getting stuck in them. The forward facing trefoils protected the wielder from coming blades and could trap the blades as well. The large pommel could be used as a melee weapon and considering the weight behind it, likely delivered a heck of a blow. 

Just as important as any of its functions, the Claymore had great intimidation factor. The effects of that can't be underestimated. As General Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, it's best to break an enemy before the battle. Seeing a massive claymore coming might be enough to make a warrior rethink the fight.

The Bad

Even with a wrapped ricasso, and skilled hands, the Claymore could be a challenge to wield. It's just plain old physics. Objects want to keep traveling in a straight path. The greater the mass of a thing, the harder it is to disrupt its progress. The harder the swing of the claymore, the more difficult it was to stop. 

If you missed the opponent, the swing could bring your arms away from your body leaving it completely open to attack. For that same reason, it was not a great weapon for infighting. Defensively, one would want to dodge the swing of a Claymore, step in and strike because the wielder had next to no defense. Because of the Claymore's size, it wasn't possible to also carry a shield. So, you really needed to hit your target or you'd be in a pickle

The weight of the sword also created an issue for endurance. Five pounds may not seem like much, but it gets very heavy. You can't compare it to holding a five pound weight in the hand as the weight of a sword extends away from the body. But, even if it were concentrated in the hand like a weight, try swinging that for more than five minutes!

Another disadvantage of the Claymore was that it couldn't be used well in coordination with other warriors. For example, it would be difficult to fight in a group of three for the simple fact the Claymore was big and more difficult to control. You could lop your fellow soldier's arm off! And yes, the Claymore could lop off an arm.

Finally because of its size, the Claymore had to be carried on the back or on one's horse which made it not so easy to draw. 

So, ya gotta ask yourself what it is you want to accomplish. Do you want intimidation, heft and force or the ability to carry a shield and greater dexterity?  

Is the Claymore a great sword? Yes. That's literally the words from whence its name is derived. Is it the be all end all? No. No sword is nor was meant to be.

Here's the Forged in Fire episode all about the Claymore.

Until the next time at, get blood on your pages!