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SCOTTISH FOOT-SOLDIER, 14th CENTURY

An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, volume 1
by Ian Heath


25.      SCOTTISH FOOT-SOLDIER, 14th CENTURY

Although many Scottish men-at-arms were equipped identically to their English counterparts, it is evident from the sources that most Scottish troops were poorly provided with armour. At both Dupplin Muir and Halidon Hill, for example, they are described as badly armoured in unvisored helmets, and there is the well-known episode in Froissart’s chronicles where, during the 1385 expedition, their French allies brought over for them 1,200 armours (captured from the Maillotins 2 years earlier) ‘which were distributed among the Scots knights to the great delight of the recipients, who were otherwise ill-equipped.’

It was in an attempt to rectify this dolorous situation that various Statutes of Arms were issued during the 14th and 15th centuries, the man depicted here being equipped in accordance with the first, that of Robert Bruce in 1318 which basically remained effective for the rest of the century. This statute required that a man with £10 of movable property should equip himself with an ‘acton’ (aketon), bascinet, gauntlets, sword and spear, or at slightly greater expense he could have a hooded ‘iron jack’ (i.e. a mail corselet), plate gauntlets, an iron ‘knapscall’ and so on. This statute would therefore seem to have basically confirmed current practice, since we know from the accounts of English chroniclers that the Scottish foot at Bannockburn were equipped with helmets, shields and ‘light but sword-proof armour, axe at side and spear in hand’. Statutes of the 15th century were slightly more demanding, expecting a higher proportion of plate armour.

The spear was probably about 12-14 feet in length throughout this era. Parliamentary edicts of 1471 and 1481 recommended respectively the adoption of 6 ells (18½ feet, the Scottish ell being 37") or a minimum of 5 ells (15½ feet) as a standard for Scottish spears, but presumably unsuccessfully, spears of this length seemingly only being introduced in the form of imported Swiss pikes at the time of the Flodden campaign in 1513.

For recognition purposes Scottish soldiers were expected to wear a white cross of St Andrew before and behind, this requirement being first recorded in connection with the 1385 expedition, when their French allies under Jean de Vienne were also expected to comply.

The horn at his side is best explained in Froissart’s own words: ‘when they be thus assembled together in arms the foot-men beareth about their necks a horn in the manner of a hunter, some great, some big, some small, and of all sorts.’ When blown upon all at the same time these made a noise that could be heard 4 miles away by day and 6 miles by night, with a noticeably detrimental effect to English morale!



Next: 26. SCOTTISH RIBAULD, 14th CENTURY in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 1 by Ian Heath