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Part 12: The Scots

by George Gush

LIKE THE SWISS, the Scots provided a steady flow of mercenaries to richer nations, serving with distinction, most notably in French, Dutch and Swedish armies, where they provided both complete regiments (including part of the French Royal Household) and many distinguished commanders. However, we are here concerned with actual Scottish armies of the period, and their service was confined to the British Isles. In the 16th Century there was a continuous conflict of raid, counter-raid and minor battle on the Border, punctuated by the great clashes of Flodden (1514) and Pinkie (1547), both Scots defeats, plus internal conflict in the later part of the century, involving the expulsion of French forces with English aid; in the 17th Century the Scots played a notable part in the Civil Wars, producing both the grimly efficient armies of the Covenant, which fought in all three Kingdoms, and the dashing Royalist army of Montrose (in whom Scotland produced arguably the greatest general of the period).

The Lowland pikemen

    The spear was the traditional weapon of the Scots, suited to a poor land with little cash or metal to spare and dependent on an armed peasantry for defence; the solid blocks of spearmen, 'schiltrons', which met the English on many a medieval battlefield, had a long history behind them, back possibly to the ancient Picts.
    For the Flodden campaign, James IV replaced spears with imported 'Swiss Pikes', 15 feet long, accompanied by 40 French captains to instruct the levies in Continental tactics. Scots pikemen formed shoulder to shoulder in columns at least as deep, and often deeper, than they were wide; in defence the front rank crouched so low that they almost knelt, with the pike-points of the rear ranks crossing those of the front, as easy to encounter as 'an angrie Hedgehog'; in attack they came on, at Flodden, 'Almayne (German) fashion, very orderly and with no shouting', but it is reasonable to suppose that their levies, though very brave, were less well drilled and disciplined than Swiss or German professionals. Earlier they had been formed into units of about 500, and these may have remained but the tactical columns were much larger; at Pinkie basically three huge 'battles' which must have been at least 7,000 strong, at Flodden these were, perhaps with French advice, divided into about eight smaller columns, mostly around 5,000 strong.
    Scots forces were still essentially feudal, based on local gentry who appeared with their contingents for the Sheriff's inspection at biannual 'Wappinshaws' (perhaps lured by the free drinks sometimes provided!). The weapons listed as acceptable at Wappinshaws of the 16th Century included spears and pikes, longbows, crossbows, two-handed swords, halberds, Leith axes and Jedwart Staves (the latter two were long, broad-bladed two-handed axes, similar to a halberd without its spike). hand guns were also to be provided, and by 1535 landed men were ordered to equip themselves with an arquebus-a-croc, but at Pinkie the Scots had few firearms - in fact lack of missile power was a major weakness of their 16th Century armies.
    Mid-century Scots pikemen mostly wore a simple iron helmet, a jack (long leather jerkin with iron reinforcement) and white doublet and hose, the sleeves and thighs of the latter being guarded against sword-cuts by four or five rows of brass chain. A large kerchief was wound several times round the neck, 'Not for cold, but for cutting', and further protection was provided by a round buckler held in the left hand, even when grasping the pike; secondary weapons were broadsword and dagger. Lowlanders of the 16th Century commonly wore the 'blue bonnet', and other usual clothing colours were grey and light blue.
    Pikemen formed 70 per cent or more of Scottish armies at the larger battles of the period.

Highlanders

    Found in all Scottish armies of the period; usually about 15 per cent of the larger ones.
    Their arms, even in the l7th Century, were, firstly, the bow: Highland archers in Leslie's army in 1644 were said to be able 'To kill a Deere in his Speed' and there is no reason to believe English strictures on Scottish shooting: Secondly, the claymore, which throughout our period was a two-handed sword. Dirk, and a flat round 'targe', usually leather-covered and decorated with embossing and metal nails and boss, would also be carried, while in the 17th Century some would have firearms, particularly the characteristic Scottish all-steel fishtailed pistols.
    In the 16th Century the Highlander, if not equipped with a helmet, would be bareheaded, but in the l7th Century they adopted the blue bonnet from the lowlanders. Basic costume also changed around the turn of the century; 16th Century Highland dress consisted of the 'leine croich', a linen knee length shirt, usually dyed yellow with saffron, and worn with a voluminous mantle or plaid secured with a brooch. After 1600 the leine disappeared and was replaced by the 'belted plaid' which gave an appearance similar to that of the later kilt and plaid. Stockings were also adopted for the first time, footwear remaining slashed rawhide brogues.
    In both centuries short coats and trews could also be worn, the latter being in the 16th Century sometimes knee-length, in the 17th sometimes baggy to the knee'.
    The only protection commonly worn by 16th Century highlanders was a tar-stiffened leine covered with deerskin, but in any case they often stripped for battle, though sometimes retaining the shirt, the tails of which they tied between their legs or tucked into a belt; an Englishman described some in 1640 as 'the nakedest fellows I ever saw' and they were on parade!
    Plaids, often trews, and sometimes jackets were chequered, striped or particoloured, frequently in early tartan patterns which were simple and with a large set'; as yet they did not identify clans, and a simple black and red 'Rob Roy' style seems to have been popular.
    Highlanders were ferocious but unreliable, relying either on skirmishing or a single volley followed by a wild charge; they hated, and would not stand up to, cannon, which they called 'The mother of muskets'.

Cavalry

    A very small component of most Scots armies, at least in the 16th Century (about five per cent at Pinkie). Even in the 17th Century the Scots suffered by being lightly-mounted, on 'small, scrubby nags' better suited to Border skirmishes than a stand-up fight. Wappinshaws suggest that the ordinary gentry would wear corselet, jack or brigantine, bascinet helmet, gorget, 'splints' for arms and upper legs, and mail hand and knee protection. Greater nobles could have full plate armour though even King James IV is mentioned as clad in a sallet with hauberk and jack under his silk emblasoned surcoat. Basic weapon would be the lance but at both the great 16th Century battles the King and nobles dismounted and fought in the front rank of the pike columns (incidentally rendering them practically invulnerable to English archery).
    Usually the chief mounted troops of Scots armies were 'Border Horse' armed with light lance, sword, and, by 1600 one pistol, with 'steel bonnet' - often covered by a cap - and corselet, mail or jack as protection; leather breeches and boots. They were distinguishable (if at all) from their English counterparts only by chequered plaids and the saltire of St Andrew on breast and back.

Artillery

    Usually a strong point with Scots armies, though not always very effectively used. The train as ordered for the Pinkie campaign was of: 2 Cannon, 1 Culverin Bastard, 2 other Culverins, 1 Pas Volant, and 20 small pieces mounted in twos or threes in light carts; and for Flodden: 5 Cannon, 2 Culverins, 4 Culverin Pykmayne and 6 Culverin Moyane.
    Scottish cannon were nearly all brass, and largely ox-drawn, a cannon needing a team of 36, Culverin Pykmayne 16 and a horse, Culverin Moyane 8 and a horse. The Pinkie train was of 500 men including pioneers, a drummer, and their own standard-bearer.

17th Century Covenant Armies

    The force sent under Leslie to aid Parliament in 1643 consisted of 21 Infantry Regiments, one Regiment of Dragoons, nine Regiments and two Troops of Horse, and, as usual, a powerful artillery train. (A second army of nine Infantry regiments and three Regiments and nine Troops of Horse was despatched in 1644).
    The infantry regiments were raised and named on a territorial basis, including the regiments of Galloway, Fife, Angus, Midlothian, Perth, Stirling, and Mearns and Aberdeen. Highland archers in native dress were included, but the infantry were predominantly pikemen and musketeers, in the proportion of 2:3. Lowland infantry would appear similar to English troops of the period, though some probably wore bonnets. The regiments were not generally uniformed though the Mearns and Aberdeen men were probably red-coats, as were those of at least one of the six Covenanting Regiments serving in Ireland over this period (Colonel Hume's). Pikemen are said to have lacked armour but probably had jacks or buff-coats.
    By 1644 they had from five to ten companies and the stronger ones were of about 450-500 men.
    The cavalry had helmets and sleeveless buff coats and were supposed to carry either pistols and broadsword, or light lance, the latter being apparently carried by a great many, including the Commander-in-Chief's own regiment. Lances were somewhat anachronistic by this time, but seemingly effective, breaking a Royalist foot regiment at Marston Moor and causing some trouble to the Ironsides at Dunbar.
    The regiments of Horse were supposed to be of eight, 60-man, Troops (the C-in-C's of ten).
    The Train in 1644 had: 6 Demicannon, 1 Culverin, 3 Quarte cannon, 54 Demiculverin, 3 Iron pieces, and 88 'Frames' (these were very light guns for infantry support, possibly on multiple mountings, the brainchildren of the famous Scots artillerist 'Sandy' Hamilton).
    In 1647 the Scots recast their forces into a 'New Modelled Army' of seven Infantry Regiments, each of 800 men in six companies, 15 Troops of Cavalry (80 each), and two 100-man companies of Dragoons.

Montrose's Army

    Montrose won fine victories for the King over greatly superior Covenant forces (they were second-line, most of the best troops being in England), with a tiny and improvised force never over 3,000 strong. The heart of his force was an 'Irish Brigade' of three regiments, about 1100-1500 strong in all, under the giant Alastair MacDonald ('Colkitto'). 'Irish' was also used to describe West Highland Scots in this period and the Brigade were probably a mixture; they seem to have mainly been experienced soldiers, presumably from the European wars. Primarily musketeers, they used the 'new' three rank deep volley-firing tactics, but also acquired targe and sword and could follow their volley with a devastating charge; against cavalry they compensated for their lack of pikes by opening ranks and letting the horsemen through, then firing into them as they passed. They wore bonnet, coat and trews, as did Montrose himself, who carried sword, shield and half-pike. The rest of the army consisted of Highlanders with traditional dress and weapons (though they probably obtained forearms, etc, from the defeated enemy), and about 300 Gordon Horse, who were armed with pistols, Artillery from one to nine pieces according to captures and transport difficulties.

Flags

    The national flag, in use long before this time, was the 'auld blue blanket' with the white saltire of St Andrew; Scots 16th Century armies would also display the banners and guidons of the nobility, some of which are shown. At Pinkie, one Scots Flag bore the Church personified, kneeling before Christ, and the motto 'Ne Obliviscaris Domine Sponsae Afflictae'.
    The Royal banner - yellow with a red lion and red trellissed border, would be flown by the King, but could also be used by his Lieutenants, such as Montrose.
    In Montrose's separate and doomed campaign of 1650, his own flag was white, showing a lion about to leap a river between two rocks and the motto 'Nil Medium" the horse and foot had black flags, bearing, respectively three pairs of clasped hands holding swords and the motto 'Quos Pietas Virtus et Honor fecit Amicos', and the severed head of Charles I, with the motto 'Deo et Victricibus Armis'.

Illustrations


Carberry Hill (1560s).
Above: forces of the Scots Confederate Lords. Note baronial banners, arquebusiers and archers.
Below: Mary Queen of Scots' troops, with royal and national standards and artillery (by kind permission of the National Army Museum).



Left to right: 17th Century Highland mercenary with arquebus. Wears bonnet, baggy trews and a coat. Note short, broad single-edged sword. [Possibly based on Irish mercenaries in Stettin during the Thirty Years War]
16th Century Highlander with 'skull', bow, large and claymore, wearing leine.
16th Century Scots pikeman in jack. Note chain protection and shield.
Mid-17th Century Highland chief. Belted plaid. Closely resembles later Highland costume.
Highland archer in belted plaid and blue bonnet, 1630s.


Guidon of David Boswell of Balmuto, captured at Pinkie.


Standard of the Earl Marshal of Scotland, carried at Flodden.


Late 15th Century horse trappings of the King of Scots. Yellow, red lions and bordering, olive lining. (James V had a set of black armour. His stirrups were covered with satin, spurs and fittings gilt, harness crimson velvet.)

18th Century targe - 16/17th Century ones would be similar (Tower of London Armouries).

16th Century claymores (Tower of London Armouries).

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See also:
Clothing of the Ancient Celts: A Guide to Celtic Costume by M. E. Riley
French woodcuts of 1562 representing Scotsmen
Scotsmen Hunting, from Holinshed's Chronicle, 1577