Monday, 5 November 2012

The Border Reivers: Part Two

According to George Gush:

‘Englishmen had been compelled to keep arms according to their wealth … since the Assize of Arms of 1181.’
(1982: 33)

This was true throughout most of England and Scotland, but on the borders, even the highest ranking borderers went to war with equipment similar to their riders; to be identified as a high-ranking clan member could easily have seen a target singled out for capture.  The standard equipment of any border Reiver was apparently a lance, a pistol, a round or oval shield, an open helmet, a mail shirt or leather jack, leather breeches and leather boots.

In Scotland, the local militias were inspected at bi-annual Wappinshaws; a surviving list of weapons acceptable to present at a Wappinshaw includes spears, pikes, longbows, crossbows, halberds, two handed swords, Jeddart staves, Leith axes, and (after 1535) landed men were expected to bring firearms.

It must also be noted that much of the information we have for weapons and armour in this era reflect those of military forces – national armies raised for large scale wars.  Most Reiver actions were essentially ‘civil disturbances’ rather than ‘military actions’, and many Reivers would not have possessed the most up to date equipment. Indeed, as becomes apparent through research, the borderers on the whole appear to have preferred older, better understood weapons and armour – crossbows, chainmail, longbows and shields were still in common use on the mid-sixteenth century borders, where as both English and Scottish military forces were pushing towards the use of firearms and the decline of armour.

The clothes of the border Reiver were the same as the clothes of the border cottager – after all, the two were one and the same. However, Gush (1982) lists the clothing worn by a number of English militias, including that of the Lancashire militia:

1560s Archers wore blue cassock with double white guard, a red cap and a buckskin jack.
1576 White cassock with one red and one green lace.
1577 Pale blue coat, double yellow or red guard, white doublet, pale blue breeches with red or yellow stripe or seam, and white stockings.

At the Battle of Flodden, the Earl of Surrey brought 500 men to the battle, dressed in green and white. In the early sixteenth century, white and green were popular clothing colours; the later century saw red becoming popular in fashion. Blue was also widely worn.

As ambush and stealth were important crafts in reiving, dull colours which blended into the countryside would have been more useful than garish clothes. Light blue, grey, browns and greens and plaid were all worn on the borders. White was also common:

‘Border horse usually wore white and could wear blue bonnet like the Scots.’
(Gush, 1982: 38)

Archers often wore red or blue caps, and on active duty in wartime, borderers were supposed to wear the red Cross of St George or white Cross of St Andrew to show their allegiance. Whether they actually did so seems to have been a matter of debate at the time, for the borderers were considered untrustworthy and apt to change sides as suited their situation – sometimes they would be Scots and at other times English borderers.