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.
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