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 quality of the sword’s decoration exceeds that of the other Honours. 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. They were removed from Edinburgh Castle and hidden from 1651 to 1660 to keep them from Oliver Cromwell’s army. In 1707, following the Act of Union between England and Scotland, they were locked in a chest and sealed away. It was only in 1818 that Sir Walter Scott, the famous novelist, rediscovered the Honours.
The sword blade is in a fragile condition. It has been broken and repaired in the past, likely around the time the Honours were hidden from Cromwell. The join is clearly visible on the polished blade.
The Sword of State is on loan from the Commissioners for the Keeping of the Regalia.