Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Most Unlucky Sword

A very unique weapon came up for auction recently, one that holds a personal interest for me.  It did not meet its reserve and thus did not sell.  I'm happy for that, as there is now more chance that it will be purchased by a museum, where it can be seen by all.  I believe much of the "history" of this sword as provided by the auction house is speculation or was simply fabricated.  A good story will sell even a wonderful artifact for even more.   I'll let you read the story as presented in a UK Daily Mail article for your self before I offer my comments at the end of the blog.

An unlucky sword used by the losers of the Battles of Stamford Bridge, Hastings, Bannockburn and Boroughbridge over a period of 250 years is expected to reach £120,000 at auction.

It is believed that the 11th century broadsword was originally carried to Britain by Viking raiders when it was captured, only to be lost a few weeks later at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. 

In 1314, the sword was carried to Scotland at the Battle of Bannockburn, where the owner was forced to retreat having witnessed his nephew axed to death. 

However, the cursed sword's bad luck continued at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, when the unfortunate owner was speared in the anus and killed.  Now, the weapon is going to be auctioned by Christie's auction house in London. 

The 27-inch 11th century Viking blade features an iron cross-guard. The sword has the coat of arms of Sir Humphrey de Bohun, whose nephew Henry was killed Bannockburn by Robert the Bruce.

According to Christie's the sword was captured three weeks before the Battle of Hastings after King Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England defeated the Norwegian raider King Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. 

The doomed sword was used at Hastings where King Harold was defeated by William the Conqueror. 

Experts believe that the sword was picked up from the battlefield by Humphrey De Bohun, who was the victorious king's god father.

The blade was remounted with the De Bohan coat of arms, where Sir Humphrey De Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex carried it north to Scotland.  He was killed eight years later at the Battle of Boroughbridge where a patient pikeman speared him in the anus. 

Christie’s spokeswoman Dernagh O’Leary said today: 'Whilst it cannot be proved, it is not at all inconceivable that the blade of the present sword was captured or taken as a trophy by de Bohun at Hastings and was later remounted to become a family sword.

'The present sword, whilst not being a war sword, would have served as a clear badge of identity with its gold and enamelled coat of arms on the pommel and eminently more practical as a side arm around camp when not mounted and armed for battle. It is therefore entirely possible that this sword was present at Bannockburn in June 1314 if not actually on the field of battle.

'Sir Humphrey went to meet with a particularly gruesome end at the battle of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire in March 1322.  

'For the last 50 years, the sword has been in the hands of two private collectors, firstly with the Australian-based Corrigan Collection, and latterly with the present, anonymous, vendor.'

Sir Humphrey's unfortunate demise was later celebrated by the children's TV show Horrible Histories. 

A Christie’s expert said: 'The whereabouts of the sword prior to Corrigan’s ownership is not known, but the mention of a family sword bearing the de Bohun arms in Sir Humphrey’s will and the use of a mid-11th century Viking blade makes for an interesting train of thought potentially linking significant events of British history from the Vikings, Hastings and Bannockburn through this object.

'A series of x-rays which accompany the sword support the age of the items and show no modern repairs.”
The sword blade is described as 'an extremely rare late medieval broadsword, with earlier Viking blade, and bearing the arms of the De Bohun family'. 

Celia Harvey, Christie’s Head of Sale, said: 'We are delighted to be offering this extremely rare sword during the year in which the Battle of Bannockburn celebrates its 700th birthday.

'We imagine that the sword will be of broad interest to collectors of historical artefacts or arms and armours as well as to museums and institutions.

'The sword will be on display for a month at our South Kensington saleroom which will allow it the publicity and exposure it deserves.'


The Viking sword arrived in September 1066, where it was captured at the Battle of Stamford Bridge
The Viking sword arrived in September 1066, where it was captured at the Battle of Stamford Bridge

Battle of Stamford Bridge September 1066 

  In September 1066 King Harald of Norway landed in Yorkshire, with Earl Tostig, the brother of the reigning English monarch King Harold.   Harold marched north to challenge the Vikings who had already captured York and were threatening his throne. 
  After freeing York, Harold confronted the Viking invaders at Stamford Bridge where the sword was picked up from the battle field by forces loyal to the English king, who returned south to face the threat posed by the Normans 
One of King Harold's men carried the sword south where it was again on the losing side at Hastings 
One of King Harold's men carried the sword south where it was again on the losing side at Hastings 

 Battle of Hastings, October 14, 1066

   Just three weeks after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, King Harold was again facing a major challenge to his throne.  This time, William the Conqueror, who had been promised the English throne by Edward the Confessor landed on the South Coast. 
   William delayed his invasion until after Harold fought the Vikings at Stamford Bridge so his adversary's forces would be weakened. 
The battle took place on October 14, 1066 when William's cavalry charged the defending English troops. 
   Historians believe the English defenders had an effective shield wall and were able to repel the initial charges until King Harold was killed in battle, reputedly by an arrow in the eye. 

Sir Humphrey de Bohun witnessed his nephew killed by Robert the Bruce  before fleeing with the unlucky sword 
Sir Humphrey de Bohun witnessed his nephew killed by Robert the Bruce  before fleeing with the sword

Battle of Bannockburn, June 1314

  The two-day battle between June 23-24 1314 is one of the major points in Scottish history. 
   Outnumbered by three-to-one, the Scottish army under Robert the Bruce, routed the forces of Edward II. 
    Among those at the battle was Sir Humphrey de Bohun, who was carrying the sword, his ancestor Humphrey de Bohan had picked up from the battle field in Hastings 200 years earlier.
    He witnessed his nephew Henry de Bohun charge Robert the Bruce across the battlefield where the Scottish king struck the English knight in the head. 
   Sir Humphrey fled the scene and was captured - along with his sword.   
Sir Humphrey de Bohan was killed at Boroughbridge 
Sir Humphrey de Bohan was killed at Boroughbridge 

Battle of Boroughbridge March 16, 1322

   Eight years after escaping with his life at Bannockburn, Sir Humphrey de Bohan was marching against troops loyal to Edward II. 
Sir Humphrey tried to charge forces guarding a wooden bridge in Boroughbridge in Yorkshire, with his unlucky sword.
   As he reached the bridge, a man using a pike, stabbed Sir Humphrey from below, reportedly ramming the weapon through his anus. 
   Sir Humphrey was fighting for the Earl of Lancaster, who was contesting the English throne. 
   Following his defeat, the Earl of Lancaster was captured and later executed for treason. 
Historians believe that Edward II's men had learned several of the tactics deployed by the     Scottish at Bannockburn to defeat his rivals. 

This article was reblogged from:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2689177/Is-England-s-unluckiest-sword-Viking-broadsword-losing-four-history-s-greatest-battles-just-120-000.html

I believe that this sword was used by a member of the de Bohun family, as evidenced by the family arms engraved on the pommel.  The pommel and cross guard of the sword also point to the time frame of Sir Humphrey de Bohun.  However the shape of the blade may indicate that it was most likely made long after Stamford Bridge and Hastings.  The claim that the blade is of "Viking" heritage is spurious at best.  I think we can disregard the early history of the sword, as the sword itself disputes it and there is nothing else to verify that aspect of the tale. 

With a 27 inch blade, the sword is rather short for the era, but within the realm of swords of this type.  It is an arming sword, a one handed sword that was for everyday wear.  Sir Humphrey would have owned many swords and may have had a much larger, "Sword of War" that he also took into combat.  

But the fact remains that this sword may have been at Bonockburn and Boroughbridge.  Sir Humphrey met with disaster at Bonockburn and and lost his life at Boroughbridge.  That alone would make this sword quite unlucky.  It also gives the sword a remarkable provenance that few others can match.  And why does it have a personal connection for me?  Sir Humphrey de Bohn, the 4th Earl of Hereford was my 19th Great Grandfather!