Gifted to James IV by Pope Julius II in 1507, the Sword of State was made by Italian craftsman Domenico da Sutri. It is part of the Honours of Scotland – Scotland’s Crown jewels – on display at Edinburgh Castle. The other priceless pieces are the Crown of Scotland and the Sceptre. All are objects of immense significance. The Honours of Scotland are the oldest Crown jewels in Britain and among the oldest in Europe.
The Sword of State represents an exceptionally high quality of decoration. Da Sutri took the arms of Pope Julius as the theme for the sword handle design. Oak trees and acorns symbolise the risen Christ and dolphins signify Christ’s Church. The base of the blade is etched on both faces with the figures of St Peter and St Paul. Inlaid gold lettering reads: “JULIUS II PONT MAX” (‘Julius II Supreme Pontiff’).
The wooden scabbard is covered in dark red velvet and mounted with silver-gilt metalwork. An enamelled panel features the arms of Pope Julius II and a symbol of the papacy. The rest of the scabbard is richly decorated with oak leaves, acorns, dolphins and grotesque masks.
The belt, woven in silk and gold thread, again bears the arms of the pope. A massive silver-gilt buckle with hinged prongs is used to fasten it.
The ornate style of all three items reflects the High Renaissance period in which they were made. The Sword of State has since been present at many of the major royal ceremonial events over the past five centuries.
But the Honours of Scotland have also had a turbulent time. In 1650 they were removed for safekeeping (possibly at Stirling Castle) ahead of Oliver Cromwell’s siege of Edinburgh Castle. Following the Scottish coronation of Charles II in 1651, unable to return them to Edinburgh Castle, the Honours were taken to Dunnottar Castle before being smuggled out during a siege and hidden at Kinneff Kirk. It is thought that the blade of the Sword of State was broken during these events, though the Sword and the Scabbard were reportedly already in a poor state of repair in 1633. Only with the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 could the Honours be returned to Edinburgh Castle.
In 1707, following the Act of Union between England and Scotland, they were locked in a chest and sealed away. In 1818 Sir Walter Scott, the famous novelist, rediscovered the Honours.
The Sword of State is on loan from the Commissioners for the Keeping of the Regalia.