Prints and drawings by Albrecht Durer, £9.99
Length: 107.700 cm
Bequeathed by Mrs H.E. Tilling
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Sword of Justice
Germany, dated AD 1693
Just as swords have come to stand as symbols of power, majesty, justice and honour, so a 'Sword of Justice' symbolizes the power of the law, and ultimately, the power over life and death. The sword would traditionally be carried upright in procession before a prince or lord, and was usually highly decorated. Many are engraved with appropriate mottoes, whose message is often reinforced by etched scenes of torture or allegorical figures. Here the inscription reads 'Wan ich das schwert Ihre Aufheben Wünsche Ich dem Sünder dass Ewige Leben / Die Herren Steüren unheil Ich Exquire Ihr Uhrtheil. Anno 1693', which can be translated as: 'When I raise this sword I wish the sinner eternal life / The Sires punish mischief: I execute their judgement'. The figure of Prudence is shown, and Justice with her scales and sword.
In England the axe was widely used for executions: swords were more common in continental Europe for beheading. As the executioner's swords were used primarily as cutting tools and not thrusting weapons, the broad, flat two-edged blade is straight or rounded at the tip rather than pointed. The pear-shaped pommel on this example is lobed, and the hilt is etched with foliate ornament. The original velvet covering the wooden grip is now frayed and worn.
, Torture and Punishment (Royal Armouries, London, 1997)
A.R. Dufty, European swords and daggers in (London, HMSO, 1974)
H. Engell, Lord High Executioner: an unas (London, Robson, 1997)
G. Abbot, Lords of the scaffold: a histo (London, Hale, 1991)