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The Continental and Domestic influences on Scottish Arms and Armour from c.1100-1550.

Incorporating an investigation into the craftsmen and the influence of the Crown in arms manufacturing and importation.

Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot


Synopsis:  This essay describes the various influences on domestically produced arms and armour in Scotland and in particular the role that foreign craftsmen recruited by the crown played.

Please see my copyright policy if you wish to cite any part of this essay.

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The history, and the evolution of arms and weapons in Scotland is not generally known and little, in comparison to other nations, has been written about in detail. This is quite surprising, as Scotland was in many ways at the forefront of European arms development, in particular with firearms. The simple lack of interest in Scottish arms and armour would appear to be the main reason for this. The interest of most early arms historiographers was in the clear trends in the evolution of arms and armour in Europe and their influences on England. The first appearance of particular types of armour or new weapons and techniques of warfare for example, was the particular interest of large numbers of historians. In this climate, Scottish arms and armour did not have such a high profile or interest value. Therefore, in this essay, I will be trying  to draw together the strands of modern thinking on arms and armour, with reference to Scotland, and to take a fairly fresh look at the developments over the period as a whole. 

At the beginning of the twelfth century, Scotland was just beginning to feel the fresh winds of feudalism. The granting of land under feudal tenure by David I meant that for the first time, Scotland had to supply quality arms and armour in quantity. The introduction of foreign knights to a great extent facilitated this as they brought with them some of the continental craftsmen who could supply the arms and armour for themselves. However, a wide ranging system would have to be instituted to fill the gap in Scotland of trained and skilled armourers. It was here that the crown stepped in and through its patronage and assistance, Scotland began to catch Europe up in terms of manufacturing her weapons. 

As elsewhere in Europe at this time, the armour in Scotland consisted of a short, wide sleeved hauberk reaching to the knees. This had a coif to cover the head and was slit up the front and back to enable the wearer to ride easily. On the head was worn a conical iron helm with a protective nasal piece. The arms carried by the twelfth century knight, were the large triangular shield, a spear held firmly between the arm and body and a double edged sword used to cut rather than thrust. The use of stirrups quite possibly  came into widespread use in Scotland at this time as well. 

The armour of the twelfth century continued in style with mainly small “fashionable” modifications until well into the thirteenth century. During the later thirteenth century the simple mail hauberk was being added to and reinforced with the addition of chausses to protect the legs and feet. This meant that movement was restricted about the knee and the mail was later to be stopped short of the knee and begin again just below it connected by a reinforced plate of leather, thereby facilitating movement. 

Later in the thirteenth century ailettes were added to the shoulders to protect them from downward strokes of the sword or axe. These were quite simplistic forms of the passe-gardes of the fifteenth century or epaulets of the Napoleonic era. These were not in widespread use during this period in Britain or the continent and their use in Scotland up to the fourteenth century can only be guessed at from the evidence of surviving seals etc. The early form of these was of leather covered with cloth or silk. They first appear in English records in 1278 when they are described in the roll of purchases for the Windsor tournament1

The one significant change in armour was in the helm. Early in the thirteenth century, conical helms began to be phased out and were replaced by pot shaped helms entirely enclosing the head. At first, these had flat tops and left the neck unprotected. Later development saw the helm become rounded on top and incorporate flared sides. They were also being made to rest on the shoulders rather than on the crown of the head. These helmets were in use until the mid fourteenth century, although curiously they are depicted on the great seals of Scotland until the end of James V’s reign.  

The shield, is an interesting item of equipment to look at in a Scottish context here. For much of the middle ages the shield was of the “heater” shape, i.e. having a straight or slightly concave top edge and curving to a point. The medieval shield rarely had a boss on the front as it tended to be used to display the heraldic symbols of the knight. In Scotland this type of shield was used alongside the targe. This was not a purely Highland phenomenon, although it was later to become associated exclusively with this area. 

All shields were constructed more or less the same. Two pieces of wood were glued together with the grain running in opposite directions to give strength. Inside this was then covered in  deer skin or wool and two or three straps were fitted to enable the wearer to grasp the shield during battle. A baldric strap was also fitted to enable the wearer to sling the shield on the back when not in use. 

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