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Put to the sword 

Detail of mortuary sword, 1631-1670, IX.1096. Royal Armouries, CC BY 4.0

Mortuary sword (IX.1096)

This mortuary sword is interesting in that it has been, at least since 1848, linked to a very contentious person and event. These types of military swords were unique to the British Isles in the mid-17th century and were popular during the British Civil Wars (1639 - 53). This one is reputed to have belonged to none other than Oliver Cromwell who may have used it during the storming and sacking of Drogheda in 1649. This was perhaps Cromwell's most infamous action of the Parliamentarian reconquest of Ireland, what is arguably his most brutal campaign. However, the decoration on the sword does cast some doubt on its history. The Union Flag decorations on the hilt are problematic. They were only widely used after the Act of the Union in 1707 so it is unlikely they were already applied on the sword at the time of Drogheda. It could be that the, otherwise rather plain sword was decorated after 1707 to highlight the significance of its use by Cromwell at Drogheda. Or, perhaps the decorations and story were both added at a later date to give the sword a false, yet interesting, provenance.

View the Mortuary Sword in our collection