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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 armour being worn in Europe from the early, to about the middle of the fourteenth century was of mail reinforced with metal plates especially about the arms and legs. Towards the middle of the fourteenth century the enclosed helm was replaced by a visored version hinged above the eyebrows and was of the “snouted” variety.  In 13182  Robert I decreed what arms and armour were to be carried by all men of various financial standings. This Act stated that persons worth 10 in goods were to have an acton and basinet or a habergeon and hat of iron, with gloves of iron, a spear and a sword. Those having goods to the value of a cow were to have a good spear or a good bow with a sheaf of twenty four arrows. This shows the beginnings of a divergence of Scotland from Europe in terms of the armour worn by the warrior. This difference was to become more acute in later periods. 

The armour of the fifteenth and sixteenth is easier to document due to the quality and quantity of funeral monuments and documentary sources. Mail coat armour was reinforced by a breastplate. A pisane protected the neck and shoulders while the arms and legs were protected by metal plates over the mail habergeon. By the mid fifteenth century the entire leg and arm was encased in plate defences. The hands and feet as in the past being protected by mail or plate gloves. It is probable that mail was still being worn at this time under the plate- an arming jacket would at least be worn to protect those areas not fully encased in plate armour (the upper arms, neck, legs and armpits). 

In Scotland the complete harness of plate or even mail armour would probably have been a rareish sight. This is because of the cost, and the simple fact that it was not needed to any great extent. The terrain in Scotland and the tactics followed by Scottish armies meant that lighter and easily manageable forms of protection were used by all on occasion. This protection was the jack. The jack was a quilted leather or canvas coat reinforced with iron plates riveted together. The jack could be of various lengths and Acts of Parliament3   on various occasions, laid down the standards required for jacks and the lengths to be worn by men of various financial standings. At Pinkie in 1547 most of the Scots there were clad in jacks- some with brass chains about their legs to prevent sword cuts. 

The helmets being worn throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth century varied according to wealth and choice. In Scotland the visored helm was worn but most preferred the lighter basinets, kettle-hats or even the ‘Spanish’4   morion.

The weapons carried by Scottish soldiers from the twelfth to the mid-sixteenth centuries depended on wealth. Knights carried the long-sword, axe, lance and mace. The other weapons carried in Scottish armies varied abundantly with Lochaber axes, Jedwart staffs, spears, pikes, halberds, glaives, gisarmes, bows and arrows and Leith axes featuring at this and most other periods. Acts of Parliament laid down the arms which each man should carry according to wealth but whether and to what extent these were effective is unclear, especially earlier than the late fourteenth century. 

Many of the weapons listed above are of a peculiarly Scottish form, even in those items most likely to be influenced from the continent Scotland was divergent and in many ways more advanced than most of Europe and at an earlier date. The sword is one example here of note. The sword of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was of a similar form and construction across most of Europe, except in Scotland. While the Scottish hilt was of the conventional cross guard style, the pommel was lobated similar to those used by the Vikings. 

During the fourteenth century the Scottish sword underwent tremendous evolution in the hilt area. The quillons on all Scottish medieval swords always slope upwards towards the tip of the sword. The pommels on these swords are either of the ‘wheel’ variety or even occasionally the lobated form. Some have the tang projecting upwards through the top of the pommel. 

Examples of these swords can be seen on the funerary monuments in Scotland and some swords themselves have survived. Many of these examples have been found in Ireland and were presumably taken there by mercenaries from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. 

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