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Ceremonial Swords of Britain

Lt Col (Retd) Edward Barrett MBE
State and Civic Swords. This is a very niche book but an extremely interesting one. Many cities in Britain have swords which precede the Mayor in formal processions; The Sword represents the Crown. This book has a section for every sword still in existence, State and Civic, some going back to the 14th Century.

The book is very well illustrated with photographs of the Swords, and also the processions they are used in showing the livery or uniform of the Bearer. There is a general history of the ceremonial sword and how they came into being, explaining that the Sword represents the Sovereign and was often used to show loyalty to the Crown. Most swords therefore have been donated by a King or Queen. There are detailed descriptions of the parts of each sword and scabbard, often down into minute detail, especially of the decoration of the blade or of the various parts.

Barrett gives a glossary of terms and it is worth getting a working knowledge of these as the terms such as Curtana, Baldric, Gadroon etc are used throughout the book when talking about that particular part of the sword. The book does descend into detailed descriptions which the layman would normally by-pass, but after all that is the nature of the book and to be expected.

Another aspect of the book is the uniform worn by the bearer and if it has any significance to the sword or is just a local adaptation. Some are very detailed and fancy while others are more practical and modern. Many bearers also wear a Caps of Maintenance. These Caps are normally presented along with the Sword so become part of the Royal ‘gift’. The Caps currently in use are photographed and detailed explanation given.

It is difficult to review this in the normal way as this book, in effect, is a scholarly look at State and Civic Swords and will be extremely useful to historians with an interest in this. There are many interesting wee asides explaining the usage of these swords and why they came into being. They are the embodiment of the Crown, in the same way as the Mace in the House of Commons is and are carried, unsheathed, with the point uppermost; however, when Royalty is present, the sword is still carried but with the point downwards as the Monarch is present therefore does not require such a symbol.

At the end of the book are Appendices giving lists of swords by date, sovereign presented the sword etc; and the final chapter covers the swords held by some cities but which are not borne in procession, with the reason but which are as detailed and in design as the Procession Swords. These swords were often presented not by the Sovereign but by individuals and/or corporations to their local mayor.

For the enthusiast, this book would be a 5 plus, many pluses, but as a niche book I can only give it 2.5 for our readership. The detailed work put in by the author though has to be acknowledged, and the book itself with wonderfully presented, well illustrated and written in a clear way so the layman, such as myself, can understand easily what is being described (with the help of the Glossary!)

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