Here we discuss most of the early Scottish weapons referred to
in contemporary literature.
Some of the names are in old Scots or English and further
research is underway to identify them.
We are indebted to Master Armourer Thomas Yeudall of the famous
Claymore Armoury in Ayrshire for help with this section.
Bowis and dorlochis ~ bows and arrows.
These were in use in Scotland up until the end of the 17th century
and were used for hunting and in battles. Bowis is the old spelling
of bows and dorlochis means quivers.
Brigantiflis ~ light armour.
This is a corruption of brigantine which was a kind of
armour used in the 15th & 16th centuries. Also called
jack, it looked a bit like a modern flak jacket and was
lined with metal plates. Any lead ball that penetrated it would be
flattened like a dumdum bullet and was less likely to cause
Broadsword. From the mid 16th century, basket
hilt swords were in common use in Scotland. The idea of a basket to
protect the hand first came to England and then Scotland from
Scandinavian and German sword makers. By the mid 17th century,
ribbon baskets were being made in large quantities and by the turn
of the 18th century, the Highland basket was reaching its full
pattern. With the addition of the final rear wrist guard at the
time of Culloden, it had fully matured. All basket hilt swords
after 1746 were of military pattern. These were essential weapons
for the Highlanders and the favourite fighting method was with a
broadsword in one hand and a targe (shield) on the other arm.
The 1881 Ancient Scottish Weapons had this to say: The
broadsword first appears in formal record in Scotland in 1643,
when, along with the Lochaber axe and the Jedburgh staff, it
constitutes part of the equipment of the levies then called out by
the Convention of Estates, From 1582 to 1649 a "ribbit gaird" often
appears as the " essay" of the armourers of Edinburgh, but in 1649
it was changed to " ane mounted sword, with a new scabbard and an
Many of the Scottish basket-hilted swords have Ferara blades,
but this does not necessarily imply that they are older than the
period indicated. Nothing is certainly known of the swordsmith
originally using the designation of Andrea Ferara, beyond the
excellence of the blades that bear his mark by right. He is said to
have been an Italian armourer of the last quarter of the sixteenth
century, and to have also established an armoury in Spain. But this
is probably a mere inference, from the fact that the cognomen of
the artificer is by some supposed to have been derived from the
town of Ferrara in Italy, and by others from the town of Feraria in
the north of Spain.
It may be of some significance that the name of Ferreira is
still common in Spain, and that, while Ferara sword-blades are
almost unknown in Italy, the largest and finest collection of them
in existence is to be found in the Royal Arsenal at Madrid. The
name " Andrea Ferara em Lisboa " occurs on a sword in the
possession of Brodie of Brodie and there is a sword stamped with
the words " O. Cromwell L. Prokter," which also bears the
armourer's mark "Andrea Ferara," and the name of the German town
The date usually attributed to the original Andrea is too early
for the majority of the sword-blades bearing the designation, and
the probability is, that the " Ferara " blade was manufactured by
various armourers in different places to supply the demand created,
in the first instance, by their superior excellence. Picro Ferara,
Cosmo Ferara, and Giovanni Fuerara, are signatures occasionally
found on sword-blades, and it is quite in accordance with what is
known, in other cases, that the original name Andrea should have
been continued through several generations of armourers after it
had become famous.
Culveringis ~ type of cannon.
This is the old plural for culverin which was a piece of artillery
that had the same calibre and fired the same size shot as cannons
but was a quarter to a third longer than a cannon. The rate of fire
of such guns was very slow, possibly about 10 shots an hour and the
gunnery was frequently inaccurate. It's reported that in the
English Civil War, a small culverin blasted away "most of the night
and day . . . the greatest execution it did . . . was a bullet shot
out of it entered into a house and burst the bottom of a fryen
pan." After which the Royalists withdrew "that they might eate
their Christmas pyes at home . . ." The calibre of a culverin - the
internal diameter of its barrel - would be about 13cm and it would
weigh a massive 1800 kgs. The weight of the shot - iron or even
stone balls - was just under 7 kgs and the weight of the powder
needed to propel it was just over 8 kgs. Each cannon needed a team
of horses and men to get it into position and operate it and the
culverin needed eight horses and up to 50 men.
Biodag ~ Dirk.
The Biodag (pr: beedak ) or dirk was a long stabbing knife up to
50cms long which was ideal for close quarter fighting and would be
held behind the targe as mentioned above. The more affluent
Highlanders would keep the dirk in a sheath often with one or more
smaller knives or a knife and fork held by smaller sheathes. After
the 1745 uprising, many broadswords were cut down and made into
dirks. The sheath would often be hung round the Highlander's waist
or attached to a special dirk belt - the criosan biodag (pr:
The 1881 Ancient Scottish Weapons had this to say: The
Highland Dirk is distinguished from all other weapons of the same
kind by its long triangular blade, single-edged and thick-barked;
and by its peculiar handle, cylindrical, without a guard, but
shouldered at the junction with the blade, the grip swelling in the
middle, and the pommel circular and flat-topped.
The fashion of carrying a knife and fork in the side sheaths is
at least as old as the time of Charles I. Mr Boutell instances "a
beautiful dagger, now the property of Mr Kerstake, that appears to
have been worn by King Charles I. when he was Prince of Wales; the
hilt has the plume of three ostrich feathers, and a knife and fork
are inserted in the sheath."
The earliest mention of the dirk as a customary part of the
Highland equipment, occurs in John Major's notice of the dress and
armour of the Highlanders, written in 1512, in which he says that
they carry a large dagger, sharpened on one side only, but very
sharp, under the belt. In the previous century Blind Harry refers
to the custom of carrying a Scots Whittle under the belt.
Describing the meeting of Wallace with the son of the English
Constable of Dundee, he makes the Englishman address him thus:-
" He callyt on him and said Thou Scot abyde
Quha dewill the grathis in so gay a gyde
Ane Ersche manttll it war the kynd to wer
A Scottis thewtill undyr the belt to ber
Houch rewlyngis upon the harlot fete."
General Wade mentions the custom of swearing on the dirk, which
came to his notice among the Clan Cameron and others who followed
their example in putting down the practice of taking Tascall money,
or a reward given in secret for information regarding stolen
cattle. " To put a stop to this practice which they thought an
injury to the tribe, the whole clan of the Camerons (and others
since by their example) bound themselves by oath never to take
Tascall money. This oath they take upon a drawn dagger, which they
kiss in a solemn manner, and the penalty declared to be due to the
breach of the said oath is to be stabbed with the same dagger; this
manner of swearing is much in practice on all other occasions to
bind themselves to one another."
The halberd or battle-axe was a Swiss invention which was a
combination of spear and axe on a long handle. It was a direct
descendant of the old Gallowglass two-handed, 12 inch bladed axe
and was particularly effective against horsemen since the foot
soldier could cut and thrust with it.
The 1881 Ancient Scottish Weapons had this to say on axes: The
Axe is one of the earliest of weapons. The war-axe of iron, in its
earlier forms, differed in no respect from the same implement used
as a tool. The earliest form of the weapon-tool is a common
axe-head longer and narrower in the shank than those now in use.
Such axes are depicted as weapons in the Bayeux tapestry. War-axes
of a later time were furnished with prolongations in the line of
the shaft and hammers or spikes on the hack of the blade. The
Jedhurgh Staff was a long-handled axe with a curved or crescentic
blade, with or without a back-spike. The Lochaber Axe had an
elongated blade usually rounded at the upper end, and the staff was
furnished with a hook on the end.
The axe and "broggit staff" appeared in 1425 as the equipment of
those who were not archers. In the weaponshaws of 1535 halberts
appear along with two-handed swords. The Lochaber Axe and the
Jeddard Staff appear in 1643 in company with the broadsword. In
1647 it was appointed that seventy-two men in each regiment should
carry halbards, and in 1650 Lord Lorne requests a supply of
partisans, from the store at Aberdeen, for the equipment of his
regiment of Life Guards.
Dag ~ Pistol.
Pistol - dag (pr: daag) - was much handier than the long flintlock
musket of the time which was too large and cumbersome for war.
Scottish flintlock pistols were unique in that they were all steel
and they were very popular weapons with the Highlanders. Many
drawings of Highlanders show a couple of pistols tucked into their
belt and a powder horn hanging round their neck. They also carried
a leather pouch which contained the lead shot. With the old pistols
you could only fire one shot and then the gun had to be reloaded.
If you were in a battle, you couldn't ask your enemy to hang on
whilst you reloaded, so the Highlanders would throw them away as
soon as they'd fired them and then charged with their other weapons
- broadsword, dirk and targe. Their reasons for throwing them away
rather then tucking them back in their belts were very practical -
if they won the battle they could always come back and find them.
If they lost the battle, they could run away a lot quicker without
being weighed down by them.
1881 Ancient Scottish Weapons: Highland Pistols are
wholly formed of metal, usually of steel, sometimes of brass, and
occasionally in part of both these metals. Like most other portions
of the Highland equipment they arc always remarkable for the
excellence of their manufacture and the beauty of their
A Mr Glen has a wheel-lock pistol of the time of Charles I on
which the armourer's mark is a pair of bagpipes and the initials C.
Logan states that the manufacture of pistols was commenced at
Doune about 1646 by Thomas Guide who had learned his trade at
Muthil. One of his apprentices, John Campbell, also became a famous
maker. John Murdoch succeeded him. Campbell's and Murdoch's pistols
are more common than Caddell's. Bissett occurs frequently on
Highland pistols in the Tower Armoury. A less known maker is Jo.
A brace of his pistols are in the collection of Sir J. Noel Paton,
U.S.A. They have ram's horn butts, and are of such extraordinary
beauty of design, delicacy of workmanship, and perfection of
condition, that Sir Noel says of them in his " Private Catalogue "
(so often quoted in the pages of this work), " I have nowhere seen
pistols more, or indeed so, beautiful as these." Another maker
whose work is not widely known is Alexander Shireff, or Shiress of
In 1650 the horseman's equipment consisted of pistols, lance,
broadsword, and steel cap, and the price of a pair of pistols with
holster and spanner was fixed at £14, The price of a pair of Doune
pistols according to Logan, varied from four to twenty-four
Slevis of plate or mailye ~ Armoured sleeves of steel
plate or chain mail.
Speris of sex elnis land. Spears of six elns long. Eln was another
name for the old measurement an ell. An English ell was 45" long
(1.1m) whereas the Scottish ell was four fifths of that - 91cm.
That makes the spears almost 5½ m long.
Powder horns (from the 1881 Ancient Scotish
The Highland Powder Horn is distinguished from all others by its
peculiarities of form and ornament. It is made from a neat's horn,
flattened, and fitted with a wooden bottom, and a plug for the
mouth, which is frequently also encircled with a mounting of
lead. No portion of the Highlander's equipment appears to
have been more prized or more beautifully decorated, and no example
of the beauty and grace of the prevailing style of decoration is
more effective than that of King Charles's " Master of the
Game," shown below.
The estimation in which these highly decorated objects of home
manufacture, - the designing and engraving of which was wholly of
individual effort - may be inferred from the mottoes they bear, if
not from the careful work and original character of the designs.
One commemorates a friendly gift, another records the owner's
" I love the As my Wyfle
I'll keip the As my Lyffe."
and adds the sententious motto:-
" A man his mynd should never sett
Wpon A thing he can not gett."
Tua handit swerdis ~ the
The famous two-handed sword, the Claymore,
(claidheamohmor - great sword) first made its appearance
around 1490 and was developed by the Hebridean Gallowglass
warriors. This early Highland version measured between 53 and 60
inches overall. About 90 years later came a new version with a
slightly shorter blade of between 51 and 57 inches. This was
developed by the Redshanke mercenaries who fought throughout
Europe, but by then, musket power was becoming the new weapon of
war. The overall length of the Lowland two-handed sword was between
53 and a massive 75 inches . This sword was developed by
Gallowglass and Lowland mercenaries serving in Europe with the
Swiss and Landsknechts mercenaries of the 15th & 16th
The Life of a Long Sword: the blade would be commissioned from
Solingen in Germany by a particular Gallowglass warrior. Solingen
blades were very expensive but a blade of such quality could last
250 years. After its arrival in Scotland, the blade would be given
to one of the many sword cutlers of The Isles and assembled with a
Scottish made hilt to the old specification. After its use as a
long sword, probably by about the mid 17th century, it would have
been ground down and fitted with a basket. When its life as a broad
sword was over it would have been further modified and would
probably have ended up as a dirk. The blade lengths would have been
as follows: Long sword - 40 inches. Broad sword - 32". Dirk -
From the 1881 Ancient Scottish Weapons: The
great two-handed swords of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
also appear to have been popular in the Highlands and it is these
swords, and not the basket-hilted broadswords, that are the true
Highland swords to which the poetical name of claymore may be fitly
Gordon of Rothiemay refers to them in the middle of the
seventeenth century, as still used by some of the Highlanders of
Aberdeenshire, while others used the broadsword. The pictures of
the Campbells of Glenurchy in the " Black Book of Taymouth," drawn
about the end of the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth
century, represent them and their followers with two-handed swords.
In the inventory of the "geir" left by Sir Colin Campbell at
Balloch and Finlarig in 1640, there is :-
"Ane two-bandit sword, the hand quhairof is overlaycd with
velvet. "Ane uther two-handit sword with ane loose hand to be eikit
And in another inventory of 1605 there is a two-handed sword
specified as "gilt with gold," The swords represented in the
pictures of the " Black Book" were probably drawn from the
originals in the armoury at the time. They all have straight guards
except the two which the artist has placed in the hands of the
first Colin of Glenurchy and the first Earl of Argyle, which have
the guards curved towards the point. The two-handed sword first
appears in the weapon-shaws of the first-half of the sixteenth
Black in name and black in purpose, the sghian dubh (pr: skeean
dew) was a killing knife secreted in a small holster up a sleeve or
near an oxter (armpit). Four to six inches in length, this
close-quarter knife was for use when no other weapons were to hand
and it is believed that it became more commonly used in the late
18th century between 1746 and 1782 when the Hanoverian Government
banned weapons throughout Scotland.
If a Highlander felt in danger in the company he was in, he would
sit with his arms folded with one hand on the sghian dubh so that
he could pull it out in a flash Dubh is the Gaelic for black and
traditionally the handle and scabbard were made from dark coloured
woods and leather. After the raising of the proscription (the ban)
on weapons and Highland Dress, the sghian dubh came out of hiding
as it were and was then worn mainly in the stocking, right or left
side, depending on the individual's preference. In the 19th century
when the wearing of the sghian dubh became more decorative and less
functional, the hilt for daytime would be made from stag horn and
the one worn in the evening from ebony and decorated with
Muskets though exhibiting less of the peculiar decoration of the
dirk, the powder-horn, and the pistol, are nevertheless
distinguished by their ornate character. They are fewer in number
because they were more costly weapons, and their use was confined
to the comparatively wealthy. The inventories of the Houses of
Balloch and Finlarig show that they were made in Dundee, and that
their ornamentation consisted of engraved work and inlaid work in
bone and mother-of-pearl. The details of the ornamentation of the
three specimens figured on Plate XXX. will show how rich and
beautiful the decoration occasionally was. The inscription on the
barrel of one shows that it was made in Germany to the order of
John Grant, Sheriff of Inverness, but the date, 1434, is much too
early for the piece as it now exists.
The Highland Targe or Target (Shield) (from the 1881
Ancient Scotish Weapons)
The form of the Highland Target is round, usually from 19 to 21
inches diameter. It is constructed of two layers of some light
wood, often of fir, the grain of the one layer crossing that of the
other angularly, and the pieces dowelled together. Over the wood, a
covering of leather is lightly stretched for the front of the
target, and a piece of hide, often of calf-skin, with a stuffing
for the back. A handle, sometimes of leather or iron and an
arm-strap were fixed at the back, near the opposite sides of the
circumference of the target. Occasionally there were two arm-straps
and sometimes instead of arm-straps, a sleeve of leather was
fastened to the back of the target.
A boss of brass usually occupies the centre of the front of the
target. The boss was occasionally pierced for a spike which screwed
into a socket at the base of the boss. When not in use the spike
was carried in a sheath at the back of the target.
The ornamentation of these targets is peculiar and highly
effective. The central boss is frequently surrounded by other
bosses placed in the centres of contiguous circles defined by rows
of nail-heads. The spaces between the circles are decorated by
studs, or by segmental plates of brass, fastened with studs in the
centre, and with nails round the borders, and ornamented with
pierced or engraved work.
These plates, when of pierced work, were placed over a lining of
scarlet cloth, which showed through the openings and sometimes the
bosses themselves were thus pierced and lined. Occasionally the
decoration is confined to the formation of simple geometric
patterns, on the face of the target, by the disposition of the
studs and nail-heads. Sometimes this simple form of decoration is
conjoined with the use of nails and studs but more frequently, the
surface of the leather covering is tooled with a variety of
patterns, disposed in symmetrical spaces.
The style of this ornament corresponds to that engraved on the
Powder Horns and Brooches; and the designs in general have a close
affinity with those of the later stone and metal work of the Celtic
school of art, as exemplified in the West Highland Crosses, the
Crosier of St Fillan, and the Bell-shrine of Kirkmichael
The use of the target in Scotland was not confined to the
Highlands. The statutory equipment appointed by the Act of 1425,
for such yeomen or burgesses as were not archers, was "sword and
buckler, and a good axe or broggit staff;" and in 1481 the axemen
who had neither spear nor bow were required to provide themselves
with targes "of tree "or leather, according to patterns which were
sent to each of the sheriffs. The watchers of the burgh of Peebles,
in 1569, were armed with jack and spear, sword and buckler. In an
account of Queen Mary's journey to Inverness in 1562, the English
Ambassador, Randolph, writing to Cecil * describes her cheerful
behaviour in the midst of troubles, and says that " she repented
nothing but (when the lords and others at Inverness came in the
morning from the watch) that she was not a man to know what life it
was to lie all night in the fields, or to walk on the causeway with
a jack and knapschalle, a Glasgow buckler and a broadsword." It may
be inferred from this incidental expression that such bucklers as
were then used at Inverness, by the " lords and others," were
manufactured in Glasgow. But the probability is, that the
manufacture of the Highland targets, as we now know them, was not
confined to any particular locality.
That they were made in large numbers, on short notice, in 1745,
is shown by the following entries in the accounts of Laurence
Oliphant of Gask as paymaster for Prince Charles at Perth :-
1745 Nov. 15. To Wmn. Lindsay, wright, for six score targets,
£30.14.6 1746. Jan. 16. To Win. Lindsay for 242 targets-
To 24 Hyds leather from the tannage, £16.16.0
To Goat skins, wood, nails, &c,, , £15.10.0
To two Officers targets pr. order, ... £1
Feb. 3. To Wm. Lindsay for paying leather of 200 targes,
It appears from this that the cost of two officer's targets,
made to order, was but 10 shillings each and the cost of the others
about 5 shillings each. It appears also that targets were made in
Edinburgh in 1745. In the orders for the Highland Army of l0th and
11h October 1745, given at Holyrood House, Colonel Lord Ogilvy
orders that all the officers of his regiment shall " provide
themselves in targes from the armourers in Edinburgh."* These,
however, were probably made to order like those at Perth. The older
targets fared badly after the Disarming Acts, Boswell, describing
the weapons in Dunvegan Castle in 1773, says there is hardly a
target now to be found in the Highlands; after the Disarming Acts
they made them serve as covers to their buttermilk barrels. In the
case of two of the finest of those figured by Mr Drummond only the
ornamented leather remained. Another of the finer specimens was
rescued from a coal-cellar in 1870.
Targets were carried by some of the men of the Black Watch when
first embodied in 1740, and Grose mentions that he remembered "many
private men of the old Highland Regiment in Flanders, in the years
1747 and 1748, armed with targets which, though no part of their
uniform, they were permitted to carry."