The Coventry Medieval Ceremonial Sword

This rare ceremonial sword, dating to the beginning of the reign on Edward IV in 1461, was an important symbol of the city’s rights and privileges and formed part of the city regalia along with three maces, mayoral chains and badges. It played a key role in civic processions and ceremonies such as the election of the mayor. It was also a physical representation of the king’s presence in the city.

 

The hilt of the sword is original and would have included the personal badge of Edward IV with the white rose and sun in splendour, together with the royal coat of arms and the arms of the city of Coventry with the Elephant and Castle. The form of the hilt suggests the sword could be older than the badge, although it is also likely that Edward IV gifted a new sword to the city.

 

A ceremonial sword was used by the Lancastrian royal family when Coventry was the headquarters of this royal family and the de facto capital of England. The Leet Book records that in 1457, during the period of Henry’s incapacity, Queen Margaret of Anjou insisted on having the sword carried with her when exiting the city en route to Coleshill, much to the annoyance of the mayor, as it was a privilege reserved for the king.

 

The history of the sword reflects the political turmoil of the period now known as the Wars of the Roses, as the rival houses of Lancaster and York fought for power. In 1471, the sword and liberties were temporarily confiscated by the Yorkist Edward IV because the  city had refused him entry shortly before the Battle of Barnet, a decisive event in the dynastic struggles.

 

The sword was later lost for 400 years before turning up in a rubbish heap in Whitechapel, London, in 1897. It was bought by Sir Guy Laking who, in 1920, sold it to C. H. Mackay. Mackay sold it in 1939 to John Hunt of Bury Street, London. It is now held in the Burrell Collection of Glasgow City Museum.

 

This type of sword with its heart-shaped pommel is rare and is found only in a small number of depictions, including the sword held by St Catherine in the Crucifixion with St Barbara at St Salvator’s Cathedral, Bruges, c.1400–1425.

 

Cov sword 3
Cov sword 1

The  c. 1425 painting of Calvary, St Catherine and Barbara at St Sauveur’s Cathedral, Bruges
© KIK-IRPA, Brussels

Another example can be found in the mid-15th century Beaufort tomb at Canterbury Cathedral, which shows similar swords held by John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, and Thomas, Earl of Clarence and brother of Henry V.

ca. 1439 - 'Lady Margaret Holland ( 1439) met Clarence en Somerset', Canterbury Cathedral 01 (1)
ca. 1439 - 'Lady Margaret Holland ( 1439) met John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset ( 1410)', Canterbury Cathedral 01 (1)

The Beaufort Tomb at Canterbury Cathedral showing John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset and Thomas, Duke of Clarence with their swords.

With kind permission of Roel Renmans
© Roel Renmans on Flickr.com

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