12th Century Inscribed Sword Found on English Golf Course is Remnant of a Deadly Battle
A digger team dredging a pond on the golf course where the bloody Battle of Fornham took place in England, discovered an old sword engraved with words, birds and animals inlaid in silver. It is believed that the Medieval sword is a remnant of the deadly battle where forces loyal to Henry II drove the rebel Earl of Leicester’s mercenaries into a marsh and slaughtered them.
Newly Found Sword Sticking Up Just Like Excalibur
The site where the Battle of Fornham took place back in 1173 is nowadays a golf course at All Saints in Fornham St Genevieve, a village and civil parish in the St Edmundsbury district of Suffolk in eastern England. So, it came as a pleasant surprise to the diggers who were working in the area to bring up a bucket from the pond they were dredging and see an ancient sword sticking up just like Excalibur. “It was sticking out of the digger bucket with the cross handle upwards – it was weird, really,” Mr. Weakes told Bury Free Press. David Weakes of Weakes Construction was the banksman to digger driver Dominic Corcoran when they found the sword and couldn’t hide his excitement for being part of such a historic discovery, “It’s lucky the digger bucket didn’t break it. I’ve found coins, old bottles, things like that, before but nothing like this. It’s very rare for something that old to be in that condition after all those years,” he said.
The sword was found sticking out of the digger bucket with cross handle upwards, like King Arthur’s legendary Excalibur sword (parsons.peggy / flickr)
The Bloody Battle of Fornham
The Battle of Fornham took place during the Revolt of 1173–74, a rebellion against King Henry II of England by three of his sons, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their rebel supporters, after the king attempted to conquer new lands for his youngest son, Prince John. John's three older brothers, obviously insulted by their father’s act, fled to the court of King Louis VII of France, where they raised a rebellion. The rebelling sons and the French king gathered a respectable amount of allies and invaded Normandy, while the Scottish king invaded England. These invasions didn’t go well and negotiations between the rebels and the English king didn’t produce any peace. In the autumn of 1173 a third battle took place when the Earl of Leicester landed a large Flemish mercenary force at Walton near Felixstowe, quickly uniting with troops under the Earl of Norwich to push inland after resting at Framlingham .
That combined force mainly comprised foot-soldiers. When the rebels reached Fornham about three miles north of Bury St Edmunds, a small royalist force led by the man Henry left in charge of England in his absence, Richard de Lucy, along with the Royal Constable Humphrey de Bohun, seized the opportunity to attack them in the flank. This was a bold move given the loyalists fielded perhaps fewer than a thousand men, but those men included around four hundred trained cavalry against some eighty mounted warriors on the rebel side.
Action on the initial field of battle may have been brief, the Earl of Leicester was rapidly captured and the loyalist cavalry charges dispersed the inexperienced foot-soldiers. The small groups of Flemish fighters fleeing the fight were easy prey for the local peasantry whose motivation must have been in part a desire to rob those who had come to plunder them, and in part a furious drive to prevent a return to the anarchy of Stephen’s reign just a generation earlier. The invaders were slaughtered in droves.
Sword Has Stunning Silver Engravings
Fast forward to 2017, David Harris, who is in charge of the work at the hotel, said that the sword was sent to a conservator for further examination. During its cleaning, the conservator found engravings of words, birds and animals inlaid in silver. That means the sword, complete with parts of its scabbard, will now go through the Treasure Act process and will be subject of an inquest, while it is currently held by Suffolk County Council’s Archaeological Service.
Inscribed words in inlaid silver. Credit: Suffolk County Council
“It’s wonderful – you can see all the silver emblems over it,” Harris told Bury Free Press. He added, “We would like to retain the sword on the premises. Our restaurant, The View, looks out over the battlefield so people could see it and look out over where it was found while they drink their coffee. Museums are great but it would be nice to have it here on the site where it was found.”
According to Bury Free Press, if an inquest concludes that the sword was riches hidden by someone intending to reclaim it, then it automatically becomes Crown property. However, the finders and land owner of the land are entitled to a reward based on a British Museum valuation.
This is the second 12th century sword to have been found from the Battle of Fornham. The first one, called ‘The Fornham Sword’. It was found in 1933 in mud at the bottom of a ditch in Fornham Park. The Fornham Sword is also engraved with inlaid silver and translates to ‘Be thou blessed’ on one side and ‘In the name of the Lord’ on the other.
The Fornham sword discovered in 1933, currently displayed in Moyse’s Hall Museum.
Top image: Main: The Fornham All Saints golf course. Inset: The newly-discovered Medieval sword. Credit: Suffolk County Council.