Sword of Henry, Prince of Wales (+1612)
  • Sword
  • Sword of Henry, Prince of Wales (+1612)
  • Clement Horn (born 1580)
  • Possibly Robert South, (hilt)
  • Blade- Solingen, Germany; hilt- London, England
  • Date: c. 1610 - 1612
  • Medium: Steel, silver, wood and gold, blackened or russeted ground
  • Length: 82.3 cm, blade
  • Width: 2.7 cm, blade at guard
  • Weight: 1 kg
  • Length: 99.9 cm
  • Width: 17.7 cm, guard
  • Balance point: 5.6 cm, forward of the guard block
  • Inv: A511
  • Location: European Armoury II
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Further Reading
  • The use of silver encrusting as a method of sword hilt decoration, while not unique to England in the early seventeenth century, is certainly characteristic of Jacobean taste. London hilt-makers, the most prominent of whom was Robert South, became adept at chiselling fine relief ornament into the steel of their pieces, which they then overlaid with silver foil, creating a very stark contrast between the raised and encrusted areas of the hilt and the background steel, usually blackened. This particular sword was actually an exception to this practice, since very close inspection reveals that the entire ground to the decoration, all the areas which are now black, were once fire-gilt. This was therefore once an even more impressive work than it is today, the silvered relief standing out from a background of matte-gold. Only faint traces of the gold remain, around the base of the pommel and the guard.

    The richness of this royal sword is further enhanced by the decoration on the blade, the forte of which has been blackened and counterfeit-damascened in gold with the prince’s ‘HP’ monogram and the feathers and crown device of the Prince of Wales, both framed by twisting laurel branches. Although the blade is German, signed by the Solingen blade-smith Clement Horn, the decoration is undoubtedly English, executed to make the blade a more suitable mate for the hilt. The branches of the true laurel or bay tree, with their obvious associations with Roman emperors and heroes, unite the blade with the hilt, which itself features Roman profile heads crowned with laurel wreaths. A fine basket-hilted sword in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Inv. M.54-1947), said to have belonged to Prince Henry’s father, King James I, is composed of a silver-encrusted hilt decorated in the same way and married to a Clemens Horn blade.

    Swords of this simple cruciform design seem for a short time (c. 1610-20) to have supplanted rapiers as the dress sword of choice in fashionable circles in England. They appear in several portraits of well-dressed Jacobean gentlemen, including Sir William Playters, Vice Admiral of Suffolk (dated 1615; Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, Inv. R.1951-269).

    Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales (1594-1612) was the eldest son of King James I of England and VI of Scotland, the successor of Queen Elizabeth I. As a boy he already showed great promise, being intelligent and physically active, widely read, an enthusiastic art collector, curious about military and political matters, and an excellent horseman and martial artist. Showing all the qualities valued by the nobility at the time, Henry was seen as promising England a bright, heroic future, a return to the muscular, triumphal days of Henry VIII. A whole literary and artistic cult grew up around Prince Henry; allegorical portraits represented him as the perfect prince, waiting to take up the reins of power, poems extolled his virtues, and elaborate courtly festivals were organised to glorify him and the promise of a new chivalric golden age which he was seen to represent. His early death at the age of just eighteen led to his younger brother Charles eventually succeeding as King Charles I.