The Scottish Targe
While visiting Glenlaurel Scottish Inn for our anniversary in December, I noted a Scottish targe used in the Christmas décor on the mantel in the manor house. I would love to own one myself and there are a number of targe makers who are willing to make a targe to your specifications. But until that day, here are some facts about targes that may interest you.
The typical Scottish targe date from 16th.century (although there’s an act of the Scottish Parliament from mid 15th.c which does mention of the ‘round leather target’ ‘eythir of ledder or of a firme borde wi twa bands on the bak’) until the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Scottish Highlander’s main means of defense in battle was his targe. After the disastrous defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, the carrying of the targe would have been banned, many would have been destroyed. Those which do remain appear to be of quite intricate patterns, and are well decorated, indicating that they would have originally belonged to important people.
The term “targe” refers to various types of shields used by infantry troops from the 13th to 16th centuries. More specifically, a targe was a concave shield fitted with
On the inside, one adjustable by a buckle, to be attached to the forearm, and the other fixed as a grip for the left hand. These shields were mostly made of iron or iron-plated wood.
After the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden, the carrying of the targe was banned. Those that remain have intricate patterns, and are decorated in a number of Celtic designs.
Targes are generally, but not always, round, between 18 in and 21 in diameter. The inside of the targe was formed from two very thin layers of flat wooden boards, with the grain of each layer at right angles to the other. The front was covered with a tough cowhide, which was often decorated with embossed Celtic style patterns. This was fixed to the wood with many brass, or in some cases, silver, nails, and occasionally brass plates were also fixed to the face for strength and decoration.
Some targes have long steel spike, which screwed into a small “puddle” of lead that was fixed to the wood, under the boss. When not in use, the spike could be unscrewed and placed in a sheath on the back of the targe. A Highlander was usually armed with a claymore broadsword, a dagger or dirk in one hand and a spiked targe on his other arm for close combat.
The back of the targe was commonly covered in deerskin. Some targes, usually those actually used in battle, had their backs covered in a piece of red cloth taken from the uniform of a government soldier (a “Redcoat”) that the owner had killed in battle.
There is very little to indicate that there ever were “clan” designs. The nearest that one might come to finding a “clan” design is four identical targes from the family armory at Castle Grant. It appears more likely that targe designs were individual to their owner.