Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Border Reivers: Part Six

A Reiver had to keep a firm balance between manoeuvrability and protective value when it came to choosing his armour. Although suits of pistol-proof armour did exist, they were not ideal for raiding the rugged Anglo-Scottish border in, and would on have been worn in set piece battles. Breastplates were used, however, and often covered in black paint to prevent corrosion and stop the armour glinting in sunlight.

Plenty of choice of armour was available to the Tudor and Elizabethan warrior. From the heaviest suit of plate armour, through outdated chainmail, to leather or padded jerkins.  Chainmail was still in use on the borders long after it began to decline on the ‘modern’ battlefield, partly due to the borderer’s reliance on low technology weapons such as lances and bows.

The most common form of protection for common footmen (notably bowmen and billmen) throughout the sixteenth century was a waist length leather jack; padded jackets were an alternative, and many of both types had metal plates sewn in – allowing the jacket to remain flexible yet protective. The second half of the century saw corselets becoming popular.

Gush records the military dress of a lowland Scot – who would have been similarly equipped to many borderers regardless of their national affiliation:

‘Mid-century Scots pikemen mostly wore a simple iron helmet, a jack, 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.’
(1982: 43)

The upper classes’ equipment varied from this slightly:

‘… the ordinary gentry would wear corselet, jack or brigantine, bascinet helmet, gorget, ‘splints’ for arms and upper legs, and mail hand and knee protection.’
(Gush, 1982: 45)

Outside of the borders, and on the border during wartime, three-quarter armour was still worn by cavalry, although this did mostly disappear as the century progressed.

Many types of helmet could have been worn. Rounded skull caps and sallets were popular early in the century, and the morion became popular in the 1550s and beyond. Many Reivers would have been equally comfortable wearing a bonnet or cap, however, which would have been less cumbersome in a fast moving encounter. Scarves were also worn around the neck for added protection (presumably, these must have been pretty thick, and folded over many times to be effective).


Although gradually phased out through the sixteenth century, shields were still common with the Reivers.  A Reiver’s basic equipment was described as including a round or oval shield, even at as late a date as when he would have been carrying a pistol.

A number of English horsemen illustrated as serving in Ireland in the mid-sixteenth century were depicted carrying white shields with a red Cross of St George on them. However, given that on their home borderland at least, the Reivers had a military reputation for switching allegiance between the warring crowns, such a bold statement of loyalty would probably have been out of place.

The classic Scottish ‘target’ shield was a circular 20-30” wide wooden shield and was commonly used by pikemen; metal construction also existed, but would probably have been less common amongst the borderers. Outside of reiving, the shield came into it’s own in siege warfare in the hands of skilled sword and bucklermen.