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Tartan Ferret

Ancient Weapons

Highland Targets (Targes)

The form of the Highland Target or shield, 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 Glassary.

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, £16.16.0

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."


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 Highland guard."

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 Solingen.

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.


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 applied.

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 thairto."

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 century.

Highland Dirk

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."

© Scottish Tartans Authority
Scottish Tartans Authority (Scottish limited company no. 162386), c/o J & H Mitchell, 51 Atholl Road, Pitlochry, PH16 5BU
Scottish Charity Number SCO24310

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