The Origins of Regulation
Up until 1786 there was no regulation sword for British Army Infantry Officers, typically officers instead carried spontoons. These were used as a symbol of authority but were not practical for the style of warfare of the time. Therefore the introduction of a general form of sword was approved by King George III in 1786.
The initial pattern was the 1786 Pattern Spadroon-Hilted Infantry Officer’s Sword, which was quickly replaced. The earlier pattern was replaced by the 1786 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword which had a rigid, double-shell guard, straight-blade and urn shaped pommel. They’re often seen with blue-and-gilt decoration on the blade. The scabbard was generally black patent leather with gilt-brass mounts.
The original sword regulation in 1786 was effectively just a blade regulation, specifying a 32″ straight blade, which is 1″ wide at the shoulder and made to cut and thrust, but the only mention of the hilt is to say that it should match the buttons on the officer’s uniform.
This was itself superseded by the 1796 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword which retained the blade regulation but added a shell-guard, which was odten folding. Additionally, there was an NCOs version of the sword with a much plainer hilt and an undecorated blade. The officer’s version featured silver twist-wire whereas the sergeants had brass twist-wire.
The pattern was eventually replaced with the 1822 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword which had a brass hilt which is often referred to as “gothic” as it is said to resemble gothic building architecture. This pattern initially had a folding section to the hilt, designed to make it more comfortable to wear and to reduce wear on the uniform. This sword had a pipe-back, which is a cylindrical addition to the back of the blade which was slightly curved and had a quill-tip.
The blade was eventually replaced on the 1845 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword which had a fullered blade with a spear-tip, but retained the previous hilt.
A minor modification was made to the hilt for the 1854 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword. The hilt was improved by removing the folding section to make the hilt more solid. However folding hilts were still being manufactured until approximately 1860.
This pattern remained until the 1892 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword came into use which has a dumbbell section, straight blade which is thrust centric. However this pattern retained the old gothic hilt.
Shortly after the hilt was improved with the 1895 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword which had a steel hilt, with a chequered back-strap. The steel hilt had significantly smaller openings, which got smaller over time after the patterns release.
A very minor modification was made for the 1897 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword where the inside edge of the hilt, where it has previously been folding on earlier patterns, was altered to have a very slightly turned up edge.
The 1897 Pattern is the pattern still officially in use by the British Army today. However these days it is usually lighter and narrower than when it was first developed.
The sword is often found with several variations to the scabbard. The early patterns featured a black patent leather scabbard with gilt-brass mounts, however by the 1822 pattern this was replaced by a steel scabbard for most officers, with senior officers having a brass scabbard. A small number of swords can be found with a leather field scabbard, which was developed in India.
- British Military Swords: 1786-1912 The Regulation Patterns by Harvey J. S. Withers