The Conyers Falchion

Traditionally presented to each new Bishop of Durham, the Conyers Falchion is steeped in history and legend. A rare example of this kind of sword, it is also said to have been used to slay the fearsome Sockburn Worm.

What is a falchion?

A falchion is a type of medieval sword with a large, curved blade. Once very common, pictures of them often appear in medieval manuscripts and paintings. Early designs, like ours, are known as ‘cleaver’ falchions. Today, only three other examples of this type of sword are known to exist, in collections in Germany, Poland and France. From the 1300s onwards falchions become straighter and thinner, eventually developing into what was called the ‘cusped’ falchion, of which many more examples survive.

Who were the Conyers?

The Conyers family probably came from France to England around the time of the Norman Conquest (1066). They were granted the manor of Sockburn-on-Tees in County Durham in the 1100s. According to legend, this was because in 1063 the head of the family, Sir John Conyers, had killed a fearsome dragon which had been terrorising the area, known as the Sockburn Worm.

"My Lord Bishop. I hereby present you with the falchion wherewith the champion Conyers slew the worm, dragon or fiery flying serpent which destroyed man, woman and child; in memory of which the king then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn, to hold by this tenure, that upon the first entrance of every bishop into the county the falchion should be presented."

A 'Vorpal Blade'?

The story of the Sockburn Worm was almost certainly the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s famous nonsense poem ‘Jabberwocky’. Carroll lived in nearby Croft-on-Tees as a boy and would have known the story well. In the poem, the hero wields a ‘vorpal blade’ to kill the monster, a weapon probably based on the falchion.

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky