Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1596 Border reiver
Subject: reiver
Culture: Anglo-Scots Borderer
Setting: raiding, Border Marches 16th-early 17thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Skelton 2001 p78
"For centuries the borderland for both Scots and English was just as lawless as the Old American West.  The families who lived here generally showed little loyalty to either kingdom -- for instance, when Scottish troops retreated from the debacle of Solway Moss, Borderers swooped down on them to rob and kill.  Family loyalty was the most important thing here.  The Armstrongs, Nixons, Humes, Scotts and all the other families who rampaged round this countryside were as clannish as any Highlander -- and just as bloodthirsty.  The blood feud was a way of life and each family would raid the other, irrespective of which side of the national divide they lived.  Cattle were lifted, homes were burned and people were slaughtered when these bands of raiders (or 'reivers' to give them their proper name) rode down the valleys."

* Durham/Embleton[s] 2011 p6
"[D]uring this bitter war of attrition the Borderland became a buffer zone between the two kingdoms and each government offered its subjects land and low-rent tenancies in return for military service as and when required.  In addition, as a way of fomenting strife in the opposite kingdom, Borderers were actively encouraged to make raids on their erstwhile neighbours across the 'line', burning their homes, rustling their livestock and leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.  Raid begat raid and, by the beginning of the 16th century, for a great many Borderers 'reiving' had become an accepted way of life.  Consequently, even during periods when peace reigned between the two countries, there was little respite for honest Border folk who were forever plagued by incessant raids, murder, theft and arson.  This in turn lead to deadly feuds erupting between many of the great border families and also gave rise to a web of extortion involving crippling payments of 'blackmail' -- all of which 'utterly beggared' the region."

* Durham/McBride 1995 p3-4
"[T]his narrow stretch of land was a medieval frontier of great military importance and has a savage and turbulent history.  For, as the buffer zone between two of history's most fractious neighbours, this land became their battleground and the effect of their constant warring was to leave an indelible mark on the Border folk, creating a society that, by the beginning of the 16th century, had become a dangerous thorn in the side of both nations.
    "For these men belonged to the great riding families; and with 'lang spear' and 'steill bonnet', they 'rode with the moonlight' and plundered the Borderland.  Sporting such names as Nebless Clem, Ill Drooned Geordie, Jok Pott the Bastard, Fyre-the-Braes, Pikehood, Wynking Will and Buggerback, they were Armstrongs, Grahams, Bells, Charltons, Robsons, Nixons, Maxwells, Scotts, Milburns and others -- history remembers them as the Border Reivers."

* Marsden 1990 p13-14
"By the beginning of the sixteenth century raiding was the historical and social dynamic that had shaped the Border way of life. It is said that a resident of Redesdale, close by the frontier crossing-point at the Redeswire, would wake in the morning and first raise his fingertips to his throat to ensure that it had not been slit in the night.  This Border raiding had been long encouraged -- officially and otherwise -- as an important military gambit in Anglo-Scottish warfare.  By the time it had become politically desirable to discourage it, 'reiving' had become a major local industry of the Borders, not just for the criminally inclined individual but for generations of families, both lowly and high-born on both sides of the Border."


* Durham/McBride 1995 p14-15
"In the early 1500s helmets ranged from a simple steel cap or 'skull' to the sallet, which though restricting peripheral vision, gave good protection to the upper part of the face and neck.  By the middle of the 16th century, however, these helmets, though still in service, began to give way to the light open helmet known as burgonet.  Soundly constructed and combining a stylish, elegant appearance with a functional design, these 'steill bonnetts' offered maximum protection to the wearer without any loss of vision.  Usually peaked, with protective cheek plates and a flared rim which protected the neck, the burgonet often incorporated a strengthening comb over the crown.  Some fine examples, made in Germany and northern Italy, found their way into the Border country and most show evidence of a padded lining, usually of leather.  Many of these helmets were 'blackened' or fitted with cloth or leather covers, to protect against inclement weather.
    "Equally fashionable by the 1580s and available in a variety of styles was the morion.  In its most common form the helmet was known as a Spanish morion.  Sitting low on the head, its tall shape and narrow rim earned it the nickname 'pikemen's pot'.  Its use was widespread and it came in a basic munition grade for the common footsoldier but was also available in a lavishly decorated form for the wealthy.  Similar, but lighter and with a wider, flared rim was the 'cabacette' morion, distinguishable by the curious rearward facing steel stalk which crowned it.  The morion was perhaps at its most distinctive in its later 'combed' form.  Often mistakenly called a Spanish morion it is instantly recognisable by its high comb and wide, sloping rim, which dips from front to rear in a sharp, downward curving arc.  Occasionally issued with ear flaps, it was highly protective and like the rest of its family was available in varying degrees of quality and decoration."

* Fraser 2008 p86
"On his head the rider wore the steel bonnet, which in the early part of the [16th] century was usually the salade hat, basically a metal bowl with or without a peak, or the burgonet, a rather more stylish helmet which, in its lightest form, was open and peaked.  These head-pieces, many of which would be home-made by local smiths, were gradually replaced in Elizabethan times by the morion, with its curved brim, comb, and occasional ear pieces."

* Sadler 1996 p97
"The 'steel bonnet' of the Border rider was a close-fitting, peaked helmet of the type described as a burgonet, which covered the cheeks but left the face exposed, thus protecting the rider against a blow delivered to the rear or sides."

* Reese 2003 p78
"The Borderers ... were undoubtedly well protected; many of their helmets gave additional safety by extending backwards by means of articulated neck-pieces" ...


* Durham/McBride 1995 p14
"[...] The reiver's hit-and-run tactics dictated that lightness and flexibility were of the essence and as a consequence, even in the early 16th century when suits of plate armour were still fashionable on the battlefield, he rarely encumbered himself with heavy defensive equipment that would slow him down.  No doubt in times of national conflict, the wealthier Borderer may well have engaged the enemy in armour of quality, but the majority were poor men and much of their equipment would be handed down, stolen, captured or adapted to fit.  As the 16th century wore on, and the use of firearms -- 'gonnes', 'hackbutts' and 'daggs' --- became more prevalent, the emphasis on speed and manoeuvrablility became even more significant and the use of plate armour began to decrease accordingly, shrinking to back-and-breasts with the option of articulated thigh defenses.
    "Most Borderers, rich and poor alike, preferred to protect themselves with a 'jack' or 'jak of plaite'.  First mentioned in the 14th century, the ubiquitous jack was relatively cheap to manufacture and it swiftly became the principal body defence of the common fighting man, retaining its popularity until the end of the 16th century.  Usually sleeveless and worn over a shirt of mail, the jack was constructed from two or three layers of quilted cloth, twill or linen, between which were stitched small overlapping iron plates. ... The jack gave the wearer a combination of lightness and flexibility whilst retaining the ability to turn a sword cut as effectively as any armour.  Jacks were usually faced with a dense, heavy material such as fustian, canvas or stout leather."

* Sadler 1996 p98
"Body armour comprised, for those of rank, a simple breast and back, lesser mortals had to rely on a leather or canvas jack padded for comfort and reinforced with iron plates sewn on.  A more sophisticated version was the brigandine -- defensive plates and chains were sometimes stitched onto doublets or breeches to provide rudimentary protection.  Leg harness was rare, most riders preferring thigh-high leather boots.  The Borderer was essentially businesslike in his appearance -- after all, he rode for plunder not for glory.  Forms of ostentation were shunned and in war the combatants were distinguished by the device sewn on or worn as an armband.  This lack of display had a disadvantage in battle; many a Border laird was slain alonside his tenantry, as at Pinkie where the dead of the Scottish armies proved difficult to distinguish by rank."

* Fraser 2008 p86-87
"Over his shirt the rider might wear a mail shirt, but the more normal garment was the jack, a quilted coat of stout leather sewn with plates of metal or horn for added protection.  It was far lighter than armour, and almost as effective against cuts and thrusts; backs and breasts of steel might be worn by the wealthier Borderers, but for horsemen whose chief aim was to travel light they were a mixed blessing.  The Scots Borderers were officially recognized by the Privy Council as 'licht horsemen' who were not obliged to serve in heavy armour during war; the English Borderers, when employed on campaigns, were similarly used as scouts and 'prickers'.
    "Leather boots and breeches completed the clothing, which was without badges except in war-time, when riders wore kerchiefs tied round their arms as signs of recognition, as well as the crosses of St George or St Andrew, according to their nationality -- or their allegiance.  Embroidered letters attached to their caps were also used for war-time identification.  (There was a suspicion in the English Army in the 1540s that the English March riders used these identifying signs not only to be known to each other, but 'that thei used them for collusion, and rather bycaus thei might be knowen to th'enemie, as the enemie are knowen to them, for thei have their markes too, and so in conflict either each to spare other, or gently each to take other.  Indede the men have been mooved the rather to thinke so, bycaus sum of their crosses -- the English red cross -- were so narrow, and so lightly set on, that a puff of wynde might blowed them from their breastes'.)
    "This light and serviceable costume, so suitable for the cut-and-run activities of its wearer, reflected also the changing military patterns of the day.  The sixteenth century saw a revolution in warfare; it was the bridge between the medieval knights and men-at-arms, with their heavy armour and weapons, and the age of firepower."

* Reese 2003 p78
"[T]their torsos were covered by custom-built jackets with interwoven steel plates; their arms were encased in chain mail and stout leather riding boots stretched up to their thighs."

* Livingstone 2000 p106
"A jacket, or short coat, plaited or institched with small pieces of iron, was usually worn by the peasantry of the Borders in their journeys from place to place, as well as in their occasional skirmishes with the moss-troopers, who were most probably equipped with the same sort of harness."


* Sadler 1996 p73
"Both English and Scots made full use of their own Borderers, the famous, or rather notorious, 'steel bonnets'.  Superb horsemen, they eschewed leg armour, preferring thigh-length boots and wielding lances using their carbines, advancing at the trot, discharging a volley, virtually point-blank, then wheeling around to reload."

* Durham/McBride 1995 p15-16
"The last half of the 16th century saw the growing use of hand-held firearms, mostly in the shape of the 'dagg', a heavy, single shot, wheel-lock pistol, and the 'caliver', a light wheel-lock carbine which could be used by cavalrymen.  Most of these weapons were imported from Germany and, though tedious to reload and maintain, the wheel-lock mechanisms allowed them to be carried safely while primed.  They could also befired immediately, regardless of weather conditions.  Large quantities of these 'gonnes' were available to garrison soldiers at Berwick and Newcastle, but many of them seem to have remained in storage and were allowed to fall into decay.  Whether stolen or legitimately acquired, Borderers certainly carried these weapons, particularly the pistols, but such pieces were used with caution for some of them 'when they were shot in, broke and hurt divers mens hands'.  Unless used at close range, these handguns were not particularly accurate and as they were dangerously slow to reload on the battlefield, it was customary to carry a pair.  Commenting on the erratic marksmanship of his calivermen, a mercenary captain serving in the Scottish Lowlands advised that anyone who knew his men as well as he did 'would hardly choose to march before them!'"

* Durham/Embleton 2011 p36 caption
"Although expensive to manufacture and maintain, the great advantage of the wheel lock pistol was that unlike the matchlock, which required the use of a smouldering match, it could be safely carried loaded and spanned (cocked) and was instantly ready for action.  When discharged at close range, these large-calibre 'daggs' were murderously effective."

* Sadler 1996 p98
"The cumbersome matchlock received little favour as it was essentially unsuited to the cavalry arm.  Wheel-locks, when introduced, proved more practical though expensive and a gentleman might carry a brace of pistols secured in holsters worn each side of the saddle, in addition to sporting a carbine or caliver which, as the sixteenth century wore on, replaced the latch as a missle weapon."


* Sadler 1996 p98
"The horseman's chosen weapon was the lance mounted on an ash shaft some 13 ft in length, used, couched, for thrusting or hurled overarm like a javelin."


* Durham/McBride 1995 p15
"Swords are not as frequently mentioned as might be expected, but Patten informs us that the Scots at Pinkie were equipped with 'swords all notably broad and thin, of exceeding good temper and universally so made to slice that [he] never saw any so good'.  Examples that have survived from the period are well made, usually with German blades and have good barred protection for the knuckles.  Basket hilted broadswords predominated among the less wealthy near the end of the 16th century, while the nobility wore rapiers and parrying daggers."

* Capwell 2007 p64
"The rapier was perhaps the most common civilian sword, but it was not the only one.  In the late 1500s some gentlemen preferred to wear the basket-hilted sword instead.  Englishmen in particular sometimes wore them in order to present themselves as rougher and tougher than the usual rapier-wearing types.
    "The basket-hilted sword was essentially a new form of the ancient broad-bladed cutting sword - a military weapon, but one that met sixteenth-century demands for an enclosed and elaborately decorated hilt.  The cage-like guard and large pommel made thrusting difficult, but the hand position and wide blade were perfectly designed for lethal slashing attacks.  The elegant baskets were often covered in raised designs and encrusted in silver."

* Fraser 2008 p89
"Swords are seldom mentioned in the English muster rolls, but the March riders of both sides certainly carried them, occasionally with small shields."


* Durham/McBride 1995 p15
"Dirks, home-made fighting knives, and long narrow daggers appear to have been carried by all and sundry, including the clergy."

* Durham/Embleton[s] 2011 p33 caption
"Perhaps the commonest weapon carried on the Border Marches was the ballock dagger."


* Durham/Embleton[s] 2011 p29
"[M]any Borderers doubtless sallied for on raids simply wearing their everyday clothing, perhaps with the protection of a stout leather doublet, and armed with no more than a lance, or 'staffe'."

* Durham/Embleton[s] 2011 p43-44
"The Borderer's personal wealth was certainly reflected in his clothing and those with the means attired themselves accordingly.  William anesley of East Shaftoe, a Northumberland gentleman, owned 'twoo jacketes, twoo dubletts, twoo paire of hose, foore shirtes, one hatt and one blake Spanish cappe'.  Others further down the social ladder made do with 'lether jerkyns', 'canevas doblets', 'grograyne briches', 'knyte hoes', a 'payre of bootes' and if they were lucky, 'a best Jackett'."


* Capwell 2007 p61
"Another old fighting style that continued in popularity [in the sixteenth century] was sword and buckler fencing.  The buckler was a small shield used to guard the sword hand, deflect or beat away an attack, or strike an opponent."