Peter Finer

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A Distinguished English Deluxe Quality Cavalry Sword, that of Colonel (Later General) Charles Stanhope, the Rt. Hon. 3RD Earl of Harrington, Colonel of the 1ST Life Guards, Almost Certainly by John Bland of London, c. 1782-87/88

Item Ref: 2393 Price on application

2393 1
2393 13
2393 16

England. Steel, burnished steel, wood, copper ribband, rayskin.


Charles Stanhope, the Rt. Hon.3rd Earl of Harrington (1753-1829), by royal appointment Colonel of the 1st Life Guards, December 1792. Appointed General September 1803; subsequently Captain, Governor and Constable of Windsor Castle, March 1812, and bearer of the Great Standard of England at the coronation of George IV in 1821.
The blade most probably a family trophy of the War of the Austrian Succession, during which, William Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Harrington, had campaigned with the 2nd Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards. The 2nd earl fought at the Battles of Dettingen and of Fontenoy, 27th June 1743 and 11 May 1745 respectively. The 2nd earl had been wounded at Fontenoy and on 5th June of that year was appointed Colonel of the 2nd Troop of Horse Grenadiers, a substantive position held until his death in 1779.
The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Harrington, Sotheby & Co., 4th May 1964, lot 160 (illustrated)
Private collection, Great Britain

A.V.B. Norman, ‘The Dating and Identification of Some Swords in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle’, Journal of the Arms & Armour Society, Vol. IX, No. 6, December, 1979

The hilt of this sword belongs to a series of hilts for English cavalry officers, all characterised by their very distinctive pierced scalework ornament. The evidence of contemporary portraiture strongly suggests that these were intended exclusively for officers of the 1st and 2nd Horse Guards, the amalgamation of which in 1788, together with two Troops of the Horse Grenadier Guards, formed the 1st and 2nd Life Guards regiments. In regard to the provenance of the present sword, it is very notable that the 1st and 2nd Earls of Harrington had successively commanded the 2nd Troop the Horse Grenadiers, and that the 3rd earl had followed this family line of command with his appointment as Colonel of the 1st Life Guards at the formation of that regiment in 1792.

The hilts mentioned above in turn belong to a wider group, all cut with a very similar scale pattern and made up of a range of imaginative designs for hilts, for the most part with half-basket guards: see Mazansky 2005, nos. IIIB1 (Royal Collection Windsor), IVA2 (ditto), VC1 (ditto), VIIC2 (ditto), VIIE1 (Drummond Castle, Perthshire), and VIIE2 (Queen’s Own Highlanders collection, Fort George). At least two further closely related hilts are known in private ownership, and a small number of London cut steel small-swords of the 1780’s also involve elements of the same scalework; see for example, a superb sword by Bland, presented by General the Earl Cornwallis to Captain Moncrief: see Norman 1980, p.392, plate 147. 

Of the known surviving hilts of this group, an example in the Royal Collection at Windsor (Laking 760) is virtually identical to the present one. The Windsor sword was almost doubtless made for the Prince of Wales and its scabbard locket is signed ‘BLAND, SWORD CUTLER TO THE KING AND PRINCE OF WALES’: see Mazansky 2005, p.224, fig. VIIC2, p.192, fig.6; Norman 1979, pp. 236-7, pl. LXXIIB; and Southwick 2004, p. 124, fig. 4.

Norman (1979 op.cit.) observes that hilts of this type are found in the following portraits of late 18th century cavalry officers. 1) That of Captain George Porter in the uniform of the 1st Troop of Horse Guards, in which he served from 1781-March 1783. 2) That of an unknown officer of the 1st Troop of Horse Guards, painted by Frederick George Byron in 1788. 3) That of John Arabin, Supernumerary Lt. Col. of the 2nd Life Guards, by A. Morris, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1791. Arabin had previously served in the 2nd Troop of Horse Guards, 1773-88. 

Norman additionally remarks on the very close similarity between the (present) Harrington sword-hilt and that of the Windsor sword (Laking 760) signed by John Bland. He further notes that Charles, the 3rd earl, was appointed Colonel of the 1st Life Guards in 1792, and that this regiment and the 2nd Life Guards having been formed from the amalgamation of the 1st and 2nd Horse Guards in 1788; his omission of the Troops of Horse Grenadiers in that amalgamation must have been pure oversight: see Norman 1979, pp. 236-7, pl. LXXIIA.

The blade of the Harrington sword is of Solingen manufacture exported to France. The form of the blade and the etched motifs on it all conform to blades used by the French Heavy Cavalry in the 1740’s. It appears to have been not uncommon for British officers of the period to mount their own hilts with the blades of swords which would have been taken as souvenirs on campaign, or perhaps even received in surrender. Trophy blades naturally also descended in military families from father to son, and it is, therefore, entirely plausible that this blade would later be mounted with a hilt of circa 1782-87. In the light of the 3rd earl’s appointment as Colonel of the Life Guards in 1792, it is also likely the blade and cavalry hilt were put together then, in apt commemoration of continuance of the long and glorious family tie. 

Charles Stanhope was styled Viscount Petersham until his succession as 3rd Earl of Harrington upon the death of his father in 1779. He achieved a brilliant career, much decorated as a soldier, statesman and courtier. Commissioned aged 16 into the Coldstream Guards in 1769, he rose in the army and also served as a Member of Parliament 1774-79. In 1776 he embarked for Canada with the Grenadiers of the 29th of Foot, and was involved in the victory over the American revolutionaries at the Heights of Abraham, Quebec. From July 1777 Stanhope served under General Burgoyne, acting as his supernumerary aide-de-camp. He was included in the British surrender at Saratoga but escaped captivity, having been entrusted with dispatches for Lord Germaine, the Colonial Secretary, authorised under the terms of surrender.

Army service in England and Jamaica led to the rank of Lt. Colonel, and on 20 November 1782 the Earl of Harrington was appointed aide-de-camp to George III. In 1788 Lord Harrington was appointed Colonel of the 29th of Foot, and on 5th December 1792, the king appointed him Colonel of the 1st Life Guards.

Lord Harrington received promotion to Lt. General in January 1798 and in the same year was appointed Privy Councillor of England and of Ireland. His promotion to General in 1803 was followed in 1805 by an appointment as Ambassador Extraordinary to the Emperor of Germany, and the appointment Commander-in-Chief of Forces in Ireland came in the following year.

On 17th March 1812 the Earl of Harrington was appointed Captain, Governor and Constable of Windsor Castle. At the coronation of George IV in 1821 Lord Harrington was honoured as the bearer of the Great Standard of England. He died in Brighton in 1829 and is buried at Elvaston Castle, the then family seat in Derbyshire.   

The sword cutler, John Bland (died 1791) was appointed Beltmaker and Sword Cutler-in-Ordinary to George III, on 26 February 1782; Bland worked at 68 St.James’s Street, London. He had established a partnership with Robert Foster by 1787, or possibly a little earlier, and their joint names are recorded on an invoice dated 25th March 1787 for work undertaken for the Prince of Wales between January and March of that year. The sword in Windsor (Laking 760), the hilt of which is almost identical to this, the Harrington one, does not include Foster’s name with Bland’s on the scabbard locket. This would suggest that both of these swords were produced just prior to March 1787, although it should be noted that only Bland is listed in the rate books until 1789: see Southwick  2001, pp. 51-2; also see Southwick 2004, pp.123-6. 

James Haddon, with subsequent additions by Horatio Roberts, Haddon’s Journal and Orderly Books, a Journal Kept in Canada and Upon Burgoyne’s Campaign, Albany NY 1884
Sir Guy Francis Laking, The Armoury at Windsor Castle, European Section, London 1904
Cyril Mazansky, British Basket-hilted Swords, Woodbridge 2005
A.V.B. Norman, ‘The Dating and Identification of Some Swords in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle’, Journal of the Arms & Armour Society, Vol. IX, No. 6, December, 1979
A.V.B. Norman, The Rapier and Small-Sword, 1460-1820, London 1980
Leslie Southwick, London Silver-hilted Swords. Their makers, suppliers & allied traders, with directory, Leeds 2001
Leslie Southwick, ‘The royal sword-cutlers of 68 St James’s Street and some notes on the London retail trade’, Arms & Armour, Vol. I, No. 2, The Royal Armouries, Leeds 2004

The hilt of burnished steel decorated with a predominant and highly distinctive pattern of   overlapping scales arranged as a series of panels, partly in low relief. Comprising neo-classical urn pommel drawn up to a tall acorn button over the blade tang, half-basket guard formed of a single flat piece decorated with pierced scalework, the rear portion of the base (or stool) formed as a segment pierced with a fan-shaped arrangement of tapering slots and drooping at its end, and the front drawn-up to form a tapering knuckle-guard, in turn developing above its median into a fluted slender bar fitted into the pommel. The outer guard formed as two diagonals constructed of strongly pronounced C-scrolls of differing sizes and cut with small flourishes of foliage, each diagonal suspending at its centre an engraved oval frame filled with pierced scalework, and the inner guard formed of a matching single diagonal. Retaining its original spirally moulded wooden grip bound with copper ribband over rayskin. Mounted with a French regimental trophy blade of circa 1740-45, of cavalry type, straight, flat and with a long double-edged point. The leading edge with evidence of heavy use, the back-edge with the cutler’s inscription ‘J. A. HK SOHLINGEN’ (sic), the outer face etched with rococo flourishes enclosing a sun-in-splendour and the figure of the Archangel Michael, a trophy of war at the base. The inner face etched with formal scrollwork designs enclosing the figure of Fortune over the inscription ‘A LA VORTUNE’, and with a basket of flowers towards the base.

Size: Blade 93 cm / 36.6 in, Overall Length 111.8 cm / 44 in