17th Century

The Cutting Edge

As a weapon of choice the broadsword was fiercesome. Wielded by an artisan it could penetrate from the top of the skull to the midriff, or used horizontally, could sever a head in less than two seconds. Many people carried them for self protection until 1746, and there was a certain prestige associated with their use. It was not uncommon for some aficionado to enter a town or small village and challenge any of the town heroes to a duel. Some, in their arrogance, would hurl down the gauntlet and wait around till some local picked it up. A good swordsman was considered to be as, or more, celebrated than a counsellor or pleader. Kings had their champions and so did those of the landed estates and when offence was offered, which was fairly frequent, and exception taken, also fairly often, champion swordsmen were quickly appointed and dates set. The rules were at best basic and simple. The exponent who unsworded, wounded, or killed his opponent was lauded as the bravest man, and fawned upon by his fan club.

On one such occasion a champion swordsman entered Crieff and marched through the town challenging all comers and boasting of his prowess. He said he would fight anyone from the town or the surrounding countryside for any sum which was offered. It was the custom of the times that if no one showed up to face the braggart then the town had to pay him out of fear, and at the same time hopefully persuade him to move on. Proclamations were issued and on this occasion the response was slow as no local appeared to want to tangle with this particular person. After a bit of negotiation a man from Lawers called Stewart, a servant of Colonel Campbell, came forward. He had been trained in France and was generally considered to be quite good.

A stage was set up at the back of the Tolbooth and a great crowd appeared, complimented by the local gentry who naturally sat at the back! The two gladiators mounted the stage to the encouragement of the spectators. The crowd hushed as the rules of combat were read and established and a handkerchief dropped to signify the start of the combat. After a few feints and thrusts with the odd overhead flash of the blades contact was made and steel clashed. This continued for a while as each measured the other looking for advantage and when that occurred close play began and one could hear a (steel) pin drop!

Stewart managed to cut the ribbon of the sword arm of the bully and inflicted several wounds on him and blood started to flow in a serious way. It began to flow from his face and arms, and became such a torrent that Stewart told him that he would kill him, and asking at the same time if he had had enough. The bully then suggested that instead of swords they should use poles. These were readily produced. Once again the action was joined and battle recommenced and, for a considerable time, they battered away at each other. Eventually Stewart broke the bully’s pole, and once this occurred, the affair was declared over. The crowd cheered and rallied round Stewart who passed his hat around to find it returned with gold and silver coins. He was carried shoulder high down the High Street to the Drummond Arms hotel and given a lavish meal and the royal treatment. The bully was forgotten and crept out of the town unnoticed.

Map of Crieff (circa 1750)