An Targaid ~ the Targe (round shield) by Joe Lindsay, The
From the 1500s until the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Scottish
Highlander's main means of defence in battle was his targe.
This was a circular shield, ranging from 18" to 21" in diameter.
It was made by pegging together two very thin layers of wooden
boards, with their grains at right angles, and covering the front
face with tough cow-hide. This leather face was nailed to the
boards with up to a thousand brass ( or sometimes silver ) dome
headed nails in various patterns. Occasionally, brass plates would
also be nailed on for strength and decoration. Often the leather
would be embossed or scored in intricate "Celtic style"
About a quarter of the surviving targes show signs that they
would have had a removable spike screwed into the centre boss. This
would have converted the targe from defensive to offensive mode!
The spike could be unscrewed and kept in a leather sheath on the
back of the targe when not in use.
I am only aware of one spike, which I would say is genuinely
original. It is with a targe, dating from the 1640s , which
belonged to a Major James Stewart. This spike is of square section,
very thin and sharp, and about 12" long!
The backs of targes were usually covered in deerskin, or
similar, and some, ( in Inverary Castle ) have straw padding behind
this to cushion the blows.
Handles and arm-straps vary from metal drawer-type handles and
adjustable leather-belt arm-straps, to two simple straps of
leather. It can be seen that throughout the years, some targes have
had many replacement handles.
In 1745, William Lindsay, a wright from Perth made hundreds of
targes for Bonnie Prince Charlie's army. He charged five shillings
for an ordinary targe, and ten shillings for an officer's
Many people imagine that targes were made to "clan" designs, but
this is unlikely, although there were certainly some popular basic
patterns, The nearest I know to a " clan" design would be four
identical targes which came from the family armoury of Castle
Grant. They are now in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Many of the targes which remain in museums and private
collections, are very intricate, and would have been preserved
because they had belonged to important persons. A few of the most
intricate have a special feature - a removable centre boss, which
is lined with deer horn, and can be used as a drinking cup !
In the early days, a well made targe would have offered good
protection from sword and bayonet thrusts, and maybe even the
occasional musket ball ! A full clan of Highlanders charging with
broadswords, targes and dirks would have been an awesome sight.
It is thought by some that the clansman would put his left hand
completely through the handle and grip his dirk in this hand in
order to use it on his foe. This is very unlikely as it would
render the targe virtually useless for defence. This
misunderstanding stems from a painting by David Morier, which he
painted shortly after Culloden. The painting contains various
doubtful details relating to the use of targes, and unfortunately
these have been copied down the years.
It is much more likely that the clansman would have simply held
his dirk and the targe handle both in his left hand, in order to
instantly access the dirk should he lose or break his sword.
By the time of the Battle of Culloden, targes were virtually
obsolete for the purpose of massed battles, as they were ranged
against cannon, and ranks of muskets, which by that time were
relatively powerful and accurate.
I show on this page, six reproduction targes from my range. Each
design is closely based on an actual existing original targe.
The GORDON targe which belonged to the Duke of Gordon, in 1715
when he was Marquis of Huntly, and raised his clan in the Jacobite
cause. Now in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
JOE LINDSAY, TARGEMAKER, NORTH KESSOCK, INVERNESS