British 1803 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword
Curved blade with single fuller and hatchet point, 29½ inches (~75cm) in length, 35 inches (~89cm) overall. Gilt brass hilt with sword knot slit, pierced decoration and fluting, cast with the crown and cypher of King George III in the knucklebow, gilt brass ferrule, gilt brass one-piece backstrap and lion’s head pommel. Ribbed wooden grip bound with wire. Black leather scabbard with gilt brass throat, middle and chape pieces, hanging rings at the throat and middle pieces.
The blade is engraved on one side with the crown and cypher of George III, a stand of arms with spears and foliate motifs. It is engraved on the other side with the royal coat of arms of the form used 1801-1816, a further stand of arms with one spear carrying the Union Flag, and a further foliate motif. There appears to be gilding in the recesses of the engraving. If this is the case, it suggests that this sword was at one time decorated with blue-and-gilt, which was common for the pattern, but if this was the case the blueing has been completely lost in cleaning/polishing.
On the introduction of standardized Patterns for swords in 1788 the infantry blade was fixed as the ‘spadroon’ type – straight, flat backed with a single fuller running almost all the way to the spear point, standardized in 1786 to be 32 inches in length and 1 inch wide at the shoulder, paired with a light guard of either stirrup or twin-shell form, with the twin-shell incorporated into the following 1796 Pattern. An elegant design in appearance, the 1796 seems to have been disliked as a fighting sword and considered an ‘encumbrance’, perhaps due to its length. As early as 1792 some officers of the 60th Foot were noted by inspectors to have carried shorter, curved non-regulation swords in the style of the light cavalry – i.e. sabres - instead of the infantry spadroon, and by 1796 the carrying of sabres was a fixture in the light infantry despite any regulations to the contrary.
This was probably due to two factors: first, the light infantry’s experiences fighting in the woods of North America between 1775 and 1783 may have proven in their minds the inferiority of the spadroon. It is no surprise to see the 60th Foot, or Royal American Regiment (later the King’s Royal Rifle Corps) breaking ranks first on this point – a pioneering light infantry unit in many ways, created specifically for unconventional warfare, it was noted for freely deviating from regulations where this increased combat effectiveness.
Second, the sabre became particularly popular in the 1790s by association with the cavalry, specifically the glamorous and exotic Hussars whose exploits inspired light cavalry tactics and equipment all over Europe. Any infantry unit wishing to distinguish itself as elite, such as grenadier companies, tended to adopt elements of the costume and equipment of the glamourous light cavalry – and this was as much a matter of fashion as of usefulness. When the new rifle regiments began to appear (the 60th being the first in 1794), it is telling not just that they carried sabres, but that they also clothed themselves in the frogged jacket and pelisse of Hussars.
In 1799 this widespread practice gained first official recognition with an order for flank company officers to carry curved swords, of no specified pattern. In 1803, coinciding with an expansion in the light infantry, the curved saber was formally adopted with a new Pattern – although once again multiple regiments opted to be different, and used designs that were even closer to the light cavalry type in their hilt construction.
The 1803 Pattern remained in use throughout the Napoleonic Wars, and was replaced in 1822. This example is that for regular infantry – the Grenadiers and Light Infantry were distinguished with their flaming bomb and bugle motifs added to the hilt, respectively.
Mottled patination to the blade and cleaned pitting in places, some small nicks to the edge towards the end of the fuller, slight rounding to the tip. The grip wires are all present but loose in places allowing slight movement. Some sideways movement to the hilt and ferrule. The chape piece of the scabbard has some small dents. The scabbard leather has some flaking between the middle and end pieces where it can flex most – as the leather remains flexible for its age care should be taken to support the scabbard when the blade is withdrawn. No visible maker’s or retailer’s marks on blade or scabbard.