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Border Reivers
Clothing, Types of Weaponry, and Armour
Kindly contributed by Linda Bruce Caron

A Reiver's choice of weapons, clothing and horses allowed him to move with speed. The elements of surprise, boldness, cunning and speed, were necessary for a successful raid. Great importance was placed on a Reiver's mount. They chose horses for agility and stamina. The horses used were called hobblers and were shaggy little ponies, but very sure footed and did not have to be shod. In Scotland this pony was called a galloway and in Northumberland a nagg or a bog trotter. These ponies did not need much care. Grooming was not something that they enjoyed.

Armor was really too cumbersome to wear. Besides most of the men riding were poor men and their equipment had either been handed down or stolen. Any armor worn would be back and breast plates. They preferred a jack or jak of plaite. This was sleeveless and sometimes worn over a shirt of mail and was two or three layers of quilted cloth with small iron plates overlapping each other stitched between the layers of cloth. During the Battle of Pinkie in 1547 the men were clad all alike. Since there was no way to identify the rich from the poor, many were killed instead of being captured for ransom.

Chains were drawn 4 or 5 times around the thighs of the horses which helped deflect spear thrusts. A scarf was wrapped around and around the neck for protection against getting one's throat cut. There was no leg armor but thigh-high thick leather riding boots worn with spurs. Sometimes small shields called bucklers were carried. In the early 1500s helmets were worn for protection of the upper part of the face and neck. In the 16th century, these were replaced with light, open helmets called burgonets -- the steill bonnets. These provided protection without a loss of vision. They were peaked on top with protective cheek plates and a flared rim to protect the neck. They were padded inside with leather.

Border Laws required that all men must appear at Muster Days with all arms and armor. The Borderer probably did not show the government on these days all the weapons he had. The lance or the lang spear was the most common weapon and was about 8 to 12 feet in length. Basket hilted broad swords were predominately used among the less wealthy at the end of the 16th century. The nobility wore rapiers and parrying daggers. Dirks, which were long narrow daggers, were carried by everyone, including the clergy.

Longbows and arrows were used even as late as 1580. The Scots also used the bow but not as effectively as the English and preferred a small light crossbow known as the latch.

Scots on foot carried 16 foot pikes. A Jeddart Staff was a 4 foot blade of steel and was slim, providing a long cutting edge with a spike at the bottom for piercing.

Pistols were carried by the Border men but with some trepidation since these weapons were tedious to load and reload and if not in good condition could result in losing a good hand. Also they were not particularly accurate unless at a very close range.

Bishop Leslie writes: 'They sally out of their own Borders in the night in troops, through unfrequented byways and many intricate windings. All the daytime they refresh themselves and their horses in lurking places they have pitched upon before, till they arrive in the dark at those places they have a design upon. As soon as they have seized upon the booty, they in like manner, return home in the night through blind ways, fetching many a compass. The more skillful any captain is to pass through those wild deserts, crooked turnings, and deep precipices, in the thickest mists and darkness, his reputation is the greater and he is looked upon as a man of excellent head.'

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