Peter Finer

A German Gold-Hilted Small-Sword Set with Diamonds and Enamels, with its Scabbard, Presented in 1762 by Generalfeldmarschall Prince Ferdinand Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel to Lieutenant-General Sir George Howard, c. 1745-55

Item Ref: 2253 Price on application

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Germany. Gold, diamonds, enamel, steel, lizard skin, wood and brass.


Field Marshal Sir George Howard K.B. (1718-1796) To his grandson, Richard William Vyse (1784-1853), later a general in the army also and who in 1812 changed his name by royal sign-manual to Howard-Vyse Thence by descent to Richard Howard-Vyse, Esq The National Army Museum, London (Acc. No. 6311-186), prior to its sale by Richard Howard-Vyse in 2011

C.  Blair, “An unrecorded diamond-hilted small-sword”, Connoisseur, CLX, 1965, pp. 77-8                           
A.V.B. Norman, The Rapier and Small-Sword 1460-1820, London 1980, p.192, plate 123 

In addition to its unmissable intrinsic splendour, this sword is made the more compelling as a very rare memento of the significant British role in the military campaign in Germany which shaped Northern Europe in the mid-18th century. The surviving jewelled swords of the mid-18th century are today almost exclusively those of royal provenance and these are preserved appropriately within the historic collections of great institutions, namely Windsor Castle, Rosenborg Castle in Denmark, The Louvre in Paris, the Moscow Kremlin, the Swedish Royal Armoury in Stockholm, and the State Art Collections in Dresden. It is therefore further remarkable that this prized possession of a distinguished British senior officer, a noted participant in the North German campaign of the Seven Years War, should have remained unrecorded until its eventual publication in 1965 in Connoisseur magazine.

The author of the article, Claude Blair, makes the point that by the mid-18th century the small-sword had in one hundred years evolved from a true fighting weapon to become, in reality, an item of masculine jewellery. Never was this more obviously the case than with the sword hilts and scabbard mounts constructed of precious metals and encrusted with brilliant gemstones, the fashionable province of the extremely wealthy. The passage of years and the passing of the fashion for wearing a sword saw the general destruction of these magnificent swords for their melt value and stones. Of those very few which have survived the majority have done so because they formed a part of royal regalia.

This sword was not made for presentation, a fact strengthened by the necessity for it to have been flawlessly altered to fit the hand of Lt. General Sir George Howard, but it was instead almost certainly one of Prince Ferdinand’s personal swords (a portrait shows him wearing another, presumably of gold but with considerably fewer diamonds), quite likely made for him in Dresden. In terms of its quality, the Howard sword most closely resembles another encrusted with diamonds and emeralds, made in 1737 for the Saxon Elector Friedrich August II, by his court jeweller Johann Friedrich Dinglinger (1702-67); Blair remarks that it is not improbable to suggest that the Howard sword is a later product of the same workshop. This being so, the Howard sword would almost certainly have been made within the period during which Prussia and Saxony were not at war with one another, that is 1745-55.  

With the outbreak of the Seven Years War (1756-63) against France and its allies Prince Ferdinand again entered the Prussian service under Frederick ‘The Great’. In that year Ferdinand commanded one of three Prussian columns converging on Dresden and was at the vanguard of the Prussian operations which culminated in the surrender of the Saxon armies at Pirna. Ferdinand subsequently distinguished himself again at the battle of Prague and in November 1757 took over command of the Hanoverian forces, now with sole accountability to George II, the Hanoverian King of England.

Ferdinand’s new command comprised 50,000 men (the Hanoverian Army of Observation) which had been raised and funded by Britain. Their previous commander, the Duke of Cumberland, had failed to prevent the French from invading Hanover and had left a demoralised army behind him. Ferdinand took his army on the offensive almost immediately and by the end of March 1758 had achieved significant territorial gains, driving the enemy back over the Rhine. There followed his victorious battles at Krefeld and at Minden, the latter victory being achieved with the addition of 8,000 British troops. The French were forced to abandon all of their territorial gains of the previous year and as reward for this George II invested Ferdinand with the Knighthood of the Garter. The ongoing German campaign included further Hanoverian victories at Vellinghausen in July 1761 and at Wilhelmstal in June 1762, each against an enemy of great numerical superiority.

George Howard (1718 c.-1796) received his commission as ensign in the 24th Regiment of Foot, his father’s regiment, in 1725, at about the age of 7; he did not, however, join his regiment until 1736. As Lieutenant-Colonel, Howard commanded the 3rd of Foot, or the Buffs, at the battles of Fontenoy (1745), Falkirk Muir and Culloden (1746) under the Duke of Cumberland, and Lauffeldt during the War of Austrian Succession (1742-48). In the Seven Years War Howard was engaged in the aborted amphibious raid on Rochefort in 1757, and as Major-General he commanded a brigade at the battle of Warburg (July 1760) under Lt. General Manners, Marquis of Granby. Towards the latter stages of the war Howard, now Lieutenant-General, was appointed Intendant-General to co-ordinate the entire administration of the army.

It was in May 1762 that Lt. General Howard (now also a Member of Parliament) was deputed by the Duke of Newcastle to confer with Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick on the subject of the expenses of the allied troops. It was probably on or about the occasion of their conference that Ferdinand presented Howard with the sword under discussion, presumably in recognition of Howard’s services at Warburg and as an able administrator of the allied army.

In 1793 Sir George Howard was appointed Field Marshal. It was said of him that he was a highly bred and gallant officer, universally esteemed: this, however, was not the view held by the rebel Jacobite survivors of Culloden, for whose treatment Howard achieved lasting infamy.   

A portrait of Lieutenant-General George Howard, circa 1770, painted by James Northcote (1746-1831), a copy of Howard’s portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is in the National Army Museum study collection (NAM. 1963-11-188-1).

Returning to details of the provenance of this sword, Sir George Howard’s heir was his grandson, Richard William Vyse (1784-1853). The boy was the only son of Howard’s surviving daughter, Anne, who in 1780 had married Richard Vyse (1746-1825), only to die soon after giving birth to her son. Richard William Vyse went on to become a general in the army also. He changed his name by royal sign-manual to Howard-Vyse upon inheriting estates at Boughton and Pitsford in Northamptonshire in 1812.

Among the bequests to this child mentioned in Sir George Howard’s will is the following:

“I give to my said Grandson at his Age of twenty-one years my Sword set with Diamonds given to me by the late Duke fferdinand of Brunswick when I took my last leave of him at the end of the German War in one thousand seven hundred and sixty two.”

Thereafter the sword descended without interruption through the Howard-Vyse family line, until its sale in 2011.

The hilt of extremely fine quality, in the German rococo taste of the Royal Hanoverian court, possibly a Dresden workshop. Formed entirely of gold engraved with a basketwork pattern and encrusted with a profusion of nearly four-hundred diamonds, the predominant number arranged as multi-petalled flowerheads born within a design of delicate running foliage in translucent green enamel. With solid grip extended flawlessly at both ends, and the base of the knuckle-guard fitted at its front with a loop-guard attached by rivets, the guard extending unusually at its rear to the base of the quillon terminal. The button on the top of the pommel set with a single large diamond encircled by smaller diamonds. Mounted with a slender tapering blade of flattened hexagonal section changing to diamond section at the median, the forte etched and gilt with the Spanish patriotic inscription “VN DIOS - VNA LEI (sic) - Y - VNA REI” punctuated by a series of decorative marks. The scabbard covered in fine white lizard skin over a wooden core, with gilt-brass mounts including the original chape engraved and enriched with green enamel en suite with the hilt.

Size: Length including scabbard 95 cm / 37.4 in