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 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.
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.
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 .
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 Vs 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.
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
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 Spanish4
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.
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.
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
- Ashdown C.H. British and Foreign Arms & Armour pp103.
- Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland.Vol. I, c.27, 473
- For example A.P.S. Vol. II, c.3 p45;
- Many morions were actually of Italian manufacture. The Spanish epithet comes from their conspicuous use amongst the Spanish military.
- Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland Vol. II (STA)
- A.P.S Vol. II c.6, pp100; Vol. II c.20, pp345; Vol. II c.21, pp346; Vol. II c.11, pp371; Vol. II c.12, pp372;
- STA IV Entries from 1511 to 1526. Described as umquhile 30 April 1532. Register of the Privy Seal Vol. II 1213.
Quilted coat, worn either by itself or under armour.
Padded jacket sometimes reinforced with mail. Worn as protection under armour.
Conical shaped helmet, often fitted with visor and bevor.
Jacket reinforced with riveted metal plates.
Leggings of mail
Mail hood worn under helmet
Long shafted weapon with a broad axe blade.
Long shafted weapon with a long narrow blade.
Plate shin defence.
Mail coat although lighter than a hauberk.
Long shafted weapon with a spear and axe blade.
The correct term for the complete "suit of armour".
Jacket reinforced with metal plates.
Long shafted weapon similar to a glaive with a long narrow cutting edge tapering to a point.
Basin shaped iron hat usually with a narrow brim and similar to British WWI & II "tin hats".
Metal tongue extended from the hilt up the blade to strengthen it.
A type of long shafted weapon.
Long shafted weapon usually with a broad cutting blade and a bill hook.
Metal cap of semi-oval outline with a flat rim.
Mail defence for either the neck and shoulders or head and shoulders.
The cross guard seperating hilt from blade.
The piece of metal which passes through the hilt from the blade into the pommel.
|Acts of the Parliament of Scotland Vols I & II
|Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland 1473-1566 Vols I-IX
|Ashdown, Charles Henry British and
Foreign Arms and Armour (London 1909) (Reprinted as European Arms & Armour)
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|Bull Stephen. An historical guide to arms and armour (Cassell 1991)
|Caldwell David. The Scottish Armoury (Wm Blackwood 1979)
|Caldwell David. Scottish Weapons and Fortifications 1100-1800 (John Donald 1981)
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|Drummond J & Anderson J Ancient Scottish Weapons (Edinburgh & London 1881)
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|Laing H Descriptive catalogue of impressions from ancient Scottish seals (Maitland Club #68 Edinburgh 1850)
|Oakeshott R.E. The Archaeology of Weapons, Arms and Armour from prehistory to the age of Chivalry (London 1960)
|Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland 1488-1580 Vols I-VII
Review Scottish Weapons (Special Number Vol 9 1963)
|Steer K & Bannerman J Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands (Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1977)
|Wallace J Scottish Swords and dirks. A reference guide to Scottish edged weapons. (Arms and Armour Press 1970)
|Whitelaw C.E. Scottish Arms Makers (Arms and Armour Press 1977)