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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Mon 15 Aug, 2016 7:12 am    Post subject: Highland Clans and Gaelic Culture         Reply with quote

When people talk of medieval and early modern Scotland, they rightly point out that Scotland had (broadly speaking) two distinct cultures. In the Lowlands the culture was similar to that of France and England, while in the Highlands and Isles, the culture was similar to that of the Gaelic Irish.

Now I know that the culture of the west coast and the Isles was definitely Gaelic (albeit heavily influenced by the Norse), but what of the rest of the Highlands. And what about clans such as Campbell, Cameron, Chattan, Gordon, Grant, Fraser etc. Many of these families had Norman roots. Did these families adopt the Gaelic language and culture, similar to some of the Normans in Ireland? Were these families thought of as "wild Irish" the Lowlanders or the English? How did they view themselves? Thanks in advance.

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Gabriele Becattini





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PostPosted: Mon 15 Aug, 2016 3:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

most of the highland clans that you have mentioned are of "norman" roots but this regard only the founder of the chiefly line

as the norman families in ireland, from what i know, once recived a territory in the gaelic speking areas, the magnates in question were readily adopting gaelic customs and languages, and probably in the time frame of a generation the foreign roots were lost forever

i'm pretty sure that they were conscious of their role has highalnd chiefs but great magnates, like the earl of argyll, probaly has a view of himself as much as any other great noble of the age, i doubt he was regarding himself as a "wild irish"
nor it was regarded as such by their fellow noblemen

from what i know clan leaders were fairly educated and even if their way of life was merged with the gaelic customs, they were first and foremost a social elite,
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Tue 16 Aug, 2016 4:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the reply Gabriele. What you say is pretty much what I thought, but it's always nice to hear another opinion.

I'm starting to view many of these Highland Chiefs similarly to how I view Anglo Irish Lords such as the Earls of Desmond and Ormond. For example many of the Highland Chiefs would dress, speak, and act Gaelic while at home, but would dress, speak, act as a Lowlander while at court.

Also their armies seem to use both Highland and Lowland equipment and tactics. In 1552 the Earl of Huntly (a Gordon) was commissioned to raise two Highland regiments and take then to France. His men were to be "Substantiouslie accompturit with jack and plait, steillbonett, sword, hucklair, new hois and new doublett of canvouse at the lest; and slevis of plait or splenttis, and ane spear of sax clue lang or thairby". These arms and clothing were typical Lowland fashion of the time, and not used by Highlanders. An act of parliament from 1574 differentiates between Lowland and Highland arms and armour. Lowlanders were to have "Brigantinis, jakkis, steilbonettis, slevis of plate or mailye, swerdis, pikkis, or speris of sex elnis lang, culveringis, halbertis or tua handit swerdis", while Highlanders were to have "Habirschonis, steilbonettis, hektonis, swerdis, bowls and tiorlochis or culveringis".

I've also seen accounts of Chiefs of Clans Campbell and Gordon using cavalry in battle. Now it is true that the Gaelic Irish used cavalry, but I have yet to see any accounts of men of the western Isles using any. This leads me to believe that the Campbells and Gordons used cavalry due to their Norman roots.

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Gabriele Becattini





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PostPosted: Wed 17 Aug, 2016 4:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

during the civil war, the only substantial and reliable cavalty units were raised by the gordons, i'm under the impression that the noth east of Scotland was the main area for recruting horsed regiments


apart from the border area, the home of the infamous border reivers clan, the main source for light cavalry

always during the civil war a regiment of mounted infantry (dragoons ) were raised in the ross shire area and thus in the highalands, but i believe that gaelic highlanders were primarily footman with a very little propension for cavalry

on the other hands the terrain and the native soil was not ideal for raising horses, apart from the small and sturdy garrons, or shetland ponies.

i think that we have to regard the big highland magnates in the same light of the anglo irish nobles that you have mentioned, but we have Always to remember that the feudal system was a vital part of every gaelic lordship, the ability to raise men from their tenants was the main way to dispaly power and the ability to parcel lands in Exchange for military service has lasted in the highlands until the failing of the last jacobite rising, and so, even if letterate and used to the court, a highland chiefs was also used to deal with their fellow "Wilder" gaelic kins and so a mix of the two worlds
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Wed 17 Aug, 2016 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Again Gabriele all that I've been able to determine so far seems to agree with what you say. In fact it was the Gordons, and their use of cavalry, that got me thinking about this subject in the first place. They seem to be the be the only Highland Clan who used cavalry in relatively large numbers. It got me thinking were there other regional differences among the Highland Clans and how they fought.
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Gabriele Becattini





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PostPosted: Wed 17 Aug, 2016 12:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

of course the gordons were not the only clan able to raise a cavalry levies,

most of my information belong to the civil war period rather than medioeval times, but most of the magnates with estates in the lowlands were basically able to raise cavalry troops

probably the lack of cavalry among the highaland and Island based clans is due to the viking Heritage and thus by the tradition of fighting on foot but can also be attribuited to the lack of good horse breed.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Thu 18 Aug, 2016 5:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree yet again Gabrielle.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 19 Aug, 2016 11:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I also have a sense that the distinction between Highland and Lowland Scottish culture is not so clear as its made out to be in popular literature. For example, my Scottish ancestors immigrated from the Western Highlands (Argyll and thereabouts) in the early 19th century and spoke Gaelic, but all had Lowland or 'Norman' Highland names (Crawford, Graham, Campbell).
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Fri 19 Aug, 2016 11:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks J.D.
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Pedro Paulo Gaião




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PostPosted: Thu 25 Aug, 2016 7:40 pm    Post subject: Re: Highland Clans and Gaelic Culture         Reply with quote

I find this a very relevant topic, as it is in my interest to know more about the culture and militarism of the Highlands (specially in 1200-1500 time frame), although I don't know many people who knows about the subject. I talked with a Scottish guy about it and he said the kilt was already used in the Highlands by the Middle Ages, but it was a different way from what is known today (apparently an invention of an English industrialist). Some of you have pictures of those kilts?

Stephen, could you translate those 16th century's descriptions to more modern english?

How exactly medieval militarism worked there? It was equal to the lowlands noblemen or had a celtic/gaelic style of warfare? Perhaps even something "viking style"?

Are authentic certain representations of highlanders wearing a type of armor composed of a corset with iron rings sewn into its extension (kinda of ring armour):

It might sound like a stereotype, but when someone wants to describe a wealthy highlander warrior, he's usually wearing a hauberk and holding a claymore. But the Highlanders had access to more updated armor rather than simply hauberks? Pieces like coats-of-plates, brigantines, gauntlets and vambraces?
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Gabriele Becattini





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Aug, 2016 2:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

the first recorded form of kilt, similar to the modern form (even if very different in terms of quantity of the material used) is from the 18th century, the legend say that it was invented by a englishman, but we do not have proof of it.

the first written record of the great kilt, basically a blanket like garment belted at the waist, is from the end of the XVIth century and it is better attested in the XVIIth century, before this date, the gaelic highlanders were attired as the gaelic irish, in saffron coloured shirds called Leine, mantels called brat and ionar short jacket, with the optional use of trews,

we do not have proof of the kilt used before the mentioned dates

ring armour is absolutely fanciful, the main types of armour used in galic warfare were mail and aketon, it is well attested in description and tombstones, the two handed claymore were not in use before the beginning of the XVIth century, but there were distinctively forms of scottish one handed and halflang swords.

from the the pictorial sources and the descriptions available, looks like if lighter armour was the preferred choice in traditional clan warfare, but i'm pretty sure that great nobles could have afforded any kind of armour, even the most updated, basically like any other noble of the age.
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Aug, 2016 2:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lots of questions here Pedro. I probably don't know as much as some of the other gents here, but I'll try my best to answer some of your questions.

First the translations you asked Stephen for. The Gordon men in 1552 were to be equipped with jack of plates, helmet, sword, buckler, new hoes and new doublet of at least canvas, sleeves of plate or splints, and a long spear.

The 1574 act of parliament lists Lowland arms as, brigandines, jacks, helmets, sleeves of plate or mail, swords, pikes, long spears, arquebuses, halberds, or two handed swords. Highland arms are listed as, mail shirts, helmets, aketons, swords, bows and quivers or arquebuses.

Jason
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Aug, 2016 3:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As for the kilt. When the Dál Ríada migrated to the isles and west coast of Scotland they brought their Irish style of clothing with them. This clothing consisted (generally speaking) of two items.

First was the léine (linen shirt), which in the early years had narrow sleeves to the wrist, but later had big baggy sleeves. I don't know exactly when the change in sleeve style happened, but the baggy sleeves were definitely in use by the mid 1500s. The léine reached down well pasted the knee, but was usually bloused up by a belt to just above knee height.

Over the léine went a brat (wool cloak). There were two styles of brat, a shaggy one which looked a bit like animal fur, and a tartan one. The shaggy brat was most popular in Ireland and the tartan brat in Scotland, but both types would have been used in both countries. The tartan of this time would have been far simpler that modern tartans, and there was no such thing as Clan tartans at this time.

By the last decade or two of the 16th century. Scottish Gaels started to wear a belt on the outside of their brats. This it the earliest form of kilt. Known today as either a great kilt or belted plaid. This style continued on up until the Jacobite risings of the 18th century, after which it was banned.

The idea that an Englishman took a great kilt and cut it in half to make the small kilt, is a myth. There are portraits of Highland gentleman wearing small kilts before ever this Englishman supposedly "invented" it.

Of course this is just a basic overview. There's lot more to Gaelic clothing than just the léine, brat, and kilt.

Jason


Last edited by Jason O C on Fri 26 Aug, 2016 4:15 am; edited 1 time in total
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Aug, 2016 3:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pedro. Wherever you heard about Highlanders wearing a corslet of "ring armour" is wrong. This is just a misinterpretation of a mail shirt. Plate armour was very rarely used by the Gaels in either Ireland or Scotland. Not that they couldn't afford it, it just wasn't seen as useful to the style of warfare that they engaged in. Perhaps Stephen, you could elaborate on this better than I could?

Even the Lords of the Isles, who were one of the most powerful men in Britain at the height, are described as wearing, aketons, mail shirts, and helmets. A French writer, when describing an Irish King in the late 14th century, said that his horse was worth 400 cows! These lords certainly could have afforded to import state of the art armour if they wanted to, but they didn't.

Jason
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Jason O C





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Aug, 2016 3:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sorry Gabriele, I was posting at the same time as you and didn't notice that you had already answered some of these questions.

Jason


Last edited by Jason O C on Sun 28 Aug, 2016 2:36 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Aug, 2016 7:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pedro. As your other questions have been answered by Gabriele and Jason, I will attempt to answer the question about Gaelic warfare. Now most of my knowledge on this subject has to do with the Gaels of Ireland, as I'm still researching the Gaels of Scotland. Also it will be impossible to thoroughly answer this without writing a doctoral thesis, but I'll try and give you the general idea.

The most common type of conflict amongst the Gaels themselves was the cattle raid, stealing livestock and other goods from a neighbouring Kingdom. Wars over territory, with sieges and pitched battles, were not as common as they were elsewhere in Europe, probably because the Gaelic lands were fairly thinly populated, and the terrain itself (heavily forested and boggy) wasn't well suited to this style of warfare. Conflicts over territory did sometimes happen, though this was often two members of the same family fighting over who would be King (any male relative of the previous King was eligible for election, it didn't necessarily pass from father to eldest son). Cattle raids were essentially surprise attacks, where one King would sneak into another's territory steal as much as he could, and get away as fast as he could. Then the King who was stolen from, would gather his men as fast as he could and give chase. If this King caught up with the raiding party then a running skirmish would ensue,

Of course the Normans changed some of this when they came to Ireland. Their method was to conquer a territory, and then grow wealthy by collecting rents from the common people. Whereas the main way in which Gaelic Kings measured their wealth was in how many cows they owned and how many fighting men they had. Ireland was not a united Kingdom, as was Norman England. It consisted of many small Kingdoms which didn't often get along. Each Kingdom could raise an army, but these were nowhere near there numbers that could be raised from vast territory of the English Crown.

Irish Kings and their nobility usually fought as light cavalry (armed with aketons, mail shirts, helmets, swords, knives, spears, and darts), riding small horses without the use of stirrups or high saddle, to make quickly mounting and dismounting easier. Most also had a small number of household troops of both light infantry (armed mostly with projectile weapons; javelins, darts, bows, and slings) and heavy infantry (armed with aketons, mail shirts, helmets, swords, and two handed axes). A King could call on his common people for military service, but this was rarely done before the second half of the 16th century. The bulk of an Irish King's army came from hiring mercenaries; kerns (armed the same as the light infantry above) and gallowglass (armed the same as the heavy infantry above).

When faced with a far larger English army, the Irish would typically avoid battle and resort to guerrilla style warfare. Night raids, ambushes, and harassing the enemy while they marched, then disappearing back into the woods or bogs, where more heavily armoured troops couldn't chase them. When the English tried to lay siege to an Irish King's home, he would find it empty. The King would have taken his people, and his livestock, and hideout in the woods or up the mountains. Of course the English would burn the King's fields, and his house, but these could be easily replanted and rebuilt. This is how Art MacMurrough Kavanagh (the same King who Jason mentioned, who owned a horse worth 400 cows) fought against King Richard II when he came to Ireland with a huge army.

Of course there's a lot more to all of this than I can write here. For example many Norman Lords who settled in Ireland adopted many Gaelic habits, today they are called Anglo Irish. Also many times an Irish King and a Norman Lord would team up to take on a common foe. Often there was both Gaelic Irish and Anglo Irish on either side of a conflict.

If you think of the developments in armour that started to happen from the late 12th century on, and then you think of why these developments happened, you will see that why these developments never happened in Ireland. It's not that Irish Kings couldn't afford plate armour. Plate armour just wasn't useful for the type of warfare they engaged in. I'll try to write a bit more of the Gaels of Scotland when I get some more time.

Éirinn go Brách


Last edited by Stephen Curtin on Sat 27 Aug, 2016 7:32 am; edited 3 times in total
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Aug, 2016 3:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Now as I said, I don't know nearly as much about the Gaels of Scotland as I'd like, but here goes.

The Western Highlands and Isles produced both light and heavy infantry, usually in a ratio of about 2:1. Just like their Irish counterparts, the light infantry typically used projectile weapons, especially bows. Heavy infantry typically used aketons, mail shirts, helmets, swords, and two handed axes.

A big source of income for these men was the mercenary trade in Ireland, where they were known as gallowglass (foreign warriors).

Of course there was also wars at home to fight. In the late 13th century, early 14th century Highland Clans got involved in the Scottish wars of independence. The MacDonalds sided with The Bruce, and the MacDougalls sided with the John Balliol. This led to conflict between the two Clans. The MacSweeneys even had to relocate their entire Clan to Ireland because they chose the wrong side in the war.

Fighting over territory seems to have been more common amongst the Gaels of Scotland than those of Ireland. I think this is because the Scottish Crown had more control over the Highlanders and Islesmen, than the English Crown had over the Gaelic Irish. For example, many times the King of Scotland took land from one Clan and granted it to another, this led to resentment and bitter feuds. That isn't to say that the Scottish Crown had complete control over his Gaelic subjects. The Lordship of the Isles was essentially a semi independent state, much like the Lordships held by Anglo Irish families like the FitzGeralds.

That's all I can think of right now, but feel free to ask more questions Pedro. I might be forgetting something.

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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Aug, 2016 5:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gabriele. In the late 15th century, members of Clan Keith and Clan Gunn arranged to settle a dispute by way of trial by battle. 12 horsemen from each Clan were meant to meet near a chaple in Caithness and fight it out. Apparently the Keiths cheated seating two men on each horse so that they outnumbered the Gunns 2:1. Caithness is in the north east of Scotland, where the ground is seemingly more suited to cavalry. I'm starting to think that the use of cavalry amongst the Highland Clans was mostly done by those who lived in the east and north east Highlands.
Éirinn go Brách


Last edited by Stephen Curtin on Sat 27 Aug, 2016 7:35 am; edited 1 time in total
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Gabriele Becattini





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PostPosted: Sat 27 Aug, 2016 7:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

yes, the feud Keith vs Gunn! i have completely forgotten it...

i have to look also at my books, but from what i recall also at blar na leine in 1544 the cavalry was used by one side, but now i cannot recall the details using just memory.

for sure caithness is mostly suited for cavalry, i have visited the region during my last trip in scotland and the coastal region is pretty flat,

ps. please guys call me with my proper name, Gabriele, with just one "L", i'm a male Happy
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Aug, 2016 7:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very sorry about that Gabriele. I know that you are male. I use my phone to write on this forum, and the auto-correct function put the second L in without me noticing. I've edited my previous posts to fix the spelling.
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