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.
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The late fifteenth
century saw a growth throughout Europe in the production of huge two handed swords. The
reason for this was the changing format of warfare in Europe. The art of war was changing
to facilitate combat between dismounted knights fighting it out at close quarters and
consequently larger heavier swords were needed to do the damage required.
these swords were being encouraged as early as 1513. The Scottish two handed swords were
of two types, the Lowland and the Highland. The Lowland type had
simple bar quillons with side rings on each side of the hilt. The quillons turn abruptly
up at the ends and end in knobs. The Highland variety is the true claidheamh mòr or
claymore. These seem to appear at the beginning of the sixteenth century but may have been
around slightly earlier. Again the quillons point up towards the tip of the blade and
terminate in quatrefoils of hollow ringed metal. They have long tapering langets with
varying shapes of pommels. The Lowland sword was generally the larger of the two swords
but both remained in use into the seventeenth century and beyond.
The other weapons all
have European cousins. The Lochaber axe, Jedwart staff and Leith axe can
all be compared to continental long shafted weapons, usually they are forms of the glaive or halberd.
Interestingly the Lochaber axe may take its name from the area the staff came from rather
than its earliest usage.
The arms and armour of the Highlands during the four and a half
centuries detailed here varied in many ways little from that of the lowlands. What is
interesting, although not altogether surprising, is that the complete harness of
plate does not come in. In the Highlands we have a huge mixture of armour of various
periods and types. We have aketons being worn with
protective mail sleeves and plate greaves. Mail is documented as being worn over the aketons which were of linen daubed with pitch. (Plate
no.7 shows an early example of this. Note also the form of the sword and in particular the
shape of the pommel.) The reason for this variety in armour and weaponry is to do with the
conservatism of the Highlands and also the fact that they did not need to update their
armoury. Everyone else was armed the same, so the expense was unjustifiable. The weapons
that they had would do the job against the armour they were faced with. This was indeed
the case in the rest of Scotland at the time. In Scotland swords were used for
cutting while in Europe it was the norm by the late fifteenth century to have swords of a
stiffer section and designed to thrust and find gaps in plate armour.
century brought about a change in Scotlands readiness and her quantity of weapons
and armour, so much so, that at Flodden the English remarked on how well the Scots were
equipped. Development in Scottish arms and armour was facilitated by Royal patronage not
just of Scottish armourers but also in the settling of foreign -particularly French-
armourers. For example5 we have in the records
for the years 1502-5, details about the setting up of a harness mill in Edinburgh by a
Frenchman named Pasing and his colleagues. What is clear however, is that in all of the
burghs and towns there were large numbers of indigenous armourers who supplied a large
part of Scotlands needs.
Scotland imported huge numbers of halberds, glaives,
spears, pikes and sword blades from the continent. The dwindling areas of suitable forest
over the sixteenth century perhaps made it a necessity to stockpile suitable quantities of
seasoned timber of the correct type and size for arms manufacture. Merchants were
being told to bring back quantities of weapons, especially firearms or the metal to
manufacture them6 .
It is illuminating to comb through all
of the many hundreds of Scottish arms makers to be found in Whitelaws book and to
see just how many arms makers are of, or would appear to be of, indigenous Scottish
descent. Between the dates of c. 1270 and 1555, I could find only a small handful who
could be classed as being of foreign descent. How then does this relate to a European
influence on Scottish arms makers under Royal patronage?
I think that the simplest answer
to this is that large numbers of foreign craftsmen were employed in the kings service, but
under a Scottish master craftsman and therefore they did not receive an individual note in
the records. Moreover the influence of foreign craftsmen did not always mean the craftsmen
staying in Scotland. As we have seen, Acts of Parliament from 1318 onwards made constant
references to Scottish merchants being required to bring home items of military hardware
or the materials to make them.
Royal patronage to the arms craftsmen is famously reflected
in firearms and bombards. Scottish kings long had a fascination with artillery, from its
first appearance in about 1380 or possibly earlier. The early James had a huge
fascination with these pieces, inefficient and dangerous as they were. Both James I and
James II, acquired ever more larger and powerful bombards. They were used to suppress
factions in Scotland-notably the Black Douglases in the 1450s. Development in
artillery was progressing at a tremendous rate with bronze artillery pieces began to come
in about the 1470s. These pieces were much better than their wrought iron
counterparts, being both lighter and safer. At a very early date, these pieces were
founded mostly in Stirling, By 1511 however, the foundry had been moved to Edinburgh
Castle. The foundry was under the command of Robert Borthwick, a Scotsman, although it is
known that he had foreigners working under him.7 The
guns which Borthwick and his comrades made were exclusively for the use of Royal
household. However many nobles also made use of gun-founders, at home and abroad, to avail
themselves of light pieces for the protection of their homes.
The contact which Scotland
had with the continent through trade and the mercenary troops which Scotland supplied to
the many wars on the continent, led I would suggest to a large degree of influence on arms
and armour manufacturing processes. Scotlands place on the outer fringes of the
European stage also meant however, that she lagged behind in many ways while Europe
was striding forward in the art of war. However one or two Scots were at the forefront of
that military evolution, how far this got back to Scotland remains unclear.
then, the continental and domestic influences on Scottish arms and armour are instigated
by the crown for the purposes of providing a strong defence to the realm and the crown
itself. This is something that is not really surprising given the high cost of providing
for the large quantities of munitions. We can see this in the legislation for
wappinschawingis from the 1350s onwards. The similarity of arms and the land value
put on them is a striking fact.
What is also true is that Scotland with her distinctive
form of warfare- fast surprise attacks- would tend to evolve a distinctive and different
style of armament. If she looks backward compared to the fantastic armour produced on the
continent it is simply because in the Scottish context this extravagance was unnecessary
and indeed financially impracticable.
The craftsmen involved in the production of arms and
armour, the cutlers, bowers, lorimers, armourers, founders, jackmakers, etc. and the
different guilds to which they belonged, were a skilled and essential group in Scotland.
The help and encouragement which the crown gave to them and the close eye which the crown
kept on them ensured that a high quality product was produced.
The massive importation of
arms from the continent shows not only the weaknesses of the domestic Scottish arms supply
but also how seriously the Scots took the English threat and the extent to which they were
prepared to go to ensure the best protection available.
Ewan Innes, January 10 1993
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