16th Century Shields

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16th Century Shields

Postby Stephen Curtin on Sat Jun 25, 2011 1:29 am

Hi lads, heres a couple of questions for ye on 16th century Irish shields.

Are there any literal descriptions from this period of shields carried by Irish cavalry? Those from John Derricke's Image Of Irelande (not the most accurate source, I know) appear to be armed with steel target type shields, is there any other evidence for this?

The only two surviving shields that I know of from this period are both of the same type as 17th and 18th century Scottish targes, but I doubt that these shields were used by cavalry. The reason for this is that their small size just doesn't seem practical for a cavalry shield. It is for the same reason, I think that these targes were not used by kern, they are just too small to provide a good enough defense against the javelins of other kern.

In Edmund Spenser's A View To The Present State Of Ireland he mentions Irish kerns as being armed with "round leather targets, coloured after the spanish fashion", he also states the men of Ulster, as well as Scots mercenaries, used large shield made of wicker. Now to me a wicker shield definately makes sense for a javelin armed kern, it would be a useful defense against the missiles of other kern, but are their any other references to this type of shield? As for these round leather targets, is it possible that these might have been like the shield from the portrait of Sir Neil O'Neill, painted in 1680, but the shield might have been belonged to an ancestor? Of course it's also possible that Sir Neil's shield was meant to be used by a cavalryman, what do the rest of you guys think about all of this?
Last edited by Stephen Curtin on Sun Jun 26, 2011 1:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby finnobreanan on Sat Jun 25, 2011 6:17 pm

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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby Stephen Curtin on Tue Jun 28, 2011 5:24 pm

Hi guys, I'm not really sure if I should post this here or not but here goes anyway.

Recently on a couple other forums I've been asking alot of questions (similar to this one) regarding shields used in Ireland and the Scottish highlands. Well yesterday on one of these forums, someone questioned me on this, saying that he, and others, suspected that I was writing some kind thesis, and that I was trying to get others to do my research for me. I dont know if anyone here has had similar thoughts about me, but let me just say that it is not at all true. I'm not writing anything about this, even if wanted to, I'm not in any sort of position to do so at the moment. The reason that I've been asking so many questions is that, other than the internet, I dont have access to any other sources of information. Anyway I'd really like to leave this whole mess behind us, and move on. If anyone here has any question about this for me, I'd be more than happy to answer them.
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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby the_power on Sat Jul 02, 2011 6:07 pm

Cavalry and infantry shields are quite different. Cavalry ones are light and often pointed - to cover the lower leg, and to lower the center of gravity so it stays still when moving. The heater and kite shields suit cavalry well, but are expensive to make. If you can a afford a horse, you can afford a shaped and glued shield.

Infantry ones are simpler...spear fighting Zulus used wicker shields against spears and javelins quite effectively, but they won't stop or even deflect a lance. But you can run great distances with them. Big Viking round ship shields are a pain to travel with...small targes can stay on your arm, or slung behind.

If you need a large shield to catch a javelin, you are doing it wrong. You can catch it single handed reasonably easily, but in combat, if there are a few coming in, you can bat them away with a small shield.

To answer your original question, by 1600 shields were of limited use against muskets or cavalry. I'd say they were often for decoration, or carried by light infantry
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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby the_power on Sat Jul 02, 2011 6:09 pm

..that didn't intend coming across anything other than light infantry.there is very little primary source material around this time indicating shield us, that I know of.
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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby Stephen Curtin on Sat Jul 02, 2011 10:35 pm

Hi John thanks for the reply

the_power wrote:Infantry ones are simpler...spear fighting Zulus used wicker shields against spears and javelins quite effectively, but they won't stop or even deflect a lance. But you can run great distances with them. Big Viking round ship shields are a pain to travel with...small targes can stay on your arm, or slung behind.


Weren't Zulu shields were made rawhide? They would have probably have stood up to spear thrust a litte better than wicker shields, and still do a good job of stopping javelins. In Edmund Spenser's "A view to the present state of Ireland", he mentions, both wicker and leather shields as used by Irish kern.

the_power wrote:If you need a large shield to catch a javelin, you are doing it wrong. You can catch it single handed reasonably easily, but in combat, if there are a few coming in, you can bat them away with a small shield.


I'm not sure what you'r saying here, but I think that you'r saying that a kern would be better off without a shield, and try to either avoid an incoming javelin or catch it, is this right?

the_power wrote:To answer your original question, by 1600 shields were of limited use against muskets or cavalry. I'd say they were often for decoration, or carried by light infantry


I was actually looking for info on shields prior to 1600.
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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby Stephen Curtin on Sat Jul 02, 2011 10:56 pm

Oh I almost forgot. As far as cavalry shields used by the Irish, I dont know of a single literal or pictural piece of evidence for them, other John Derricke's "Image of Irelande" and this might not be the most accurate source. The shields shown in this book appear to be steel targets, and are used by both Irish and English cavalry, thing is that I don't know of any other piece of evidence for English light cavalry using shields like this, or any other country for that matter. This probably means that they weren't used. I'm still not sure if shields like the one from the portrait of Sir Neil O'Neill would have been used (or even practical) from horseback.
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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby the_power on Sun Jul 03, 2011 8:18 am

And remember, native Irish cavalry were still avoiding stirrups in the late 1400s, making heavy shields impractical.

When I talk about 'wicker' shields, I would mean wicker & thin raw hide; yes. I don't know enough about the Irish wicker ones to know if they were faced single-weave wicker, or some sort of multi-weave wicker that could keep out a spear, without facing.

I've never seen a full leather shield, other than the bronze-age ones in the museum, which weren't just leather faced, but made completely out of leather. So, when the Irish talk about leather, I'm not sure are the leather fronted wood, or all leather. But I'd guess they are talking all-leather, for weight reasons. If you are making a wooden shield, leather only adds weight, and doesn't add much protection. (Despite the fact that my main 15thC Irish shield is a giant coffee table-top made out of applewood, that's then leather-faced).

I don't think a Kern would be better off "without" a shield - if it's small numbers of large projectiles you are concerned by, a small shield is as good as a large one. But larger ones are nice against a rain of arrows. Given that there were few 'roads' for troops to use, smaller shields would be easier to move than large ones. Oh, one last though; for the same weight, a small shield can be thicker/stronger than a large one. So a steel target, or a thick wooden one, would be more effective at turning javelins than one designed to protect from arrows.

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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby Stephen Curtin on Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:14 pm

the_power wrote:And remember, native Irish cavalry were still avoiding stirrups in the late 1400s, making heavy shields impractical.


Good point John.

the_power wrote:When I talk about 'wicker' shields, I would mean wicker & thin raw hide; yes. I don't know enough about the Irish wicker ones to know if they were faced single-weave wicker, or some sort of multi-weave wicker that could keep out a spear, without facing.


As far as I've read these wicker shields were faced with rawhide, and daubed with pitch or tar, similar to how corraghs were made.

the_power wrote:I've never seen a full leather shield, other than the bronze-age ones in the museum, which weren't just leather faced, but made completely out of leather. So, when the Irish talk about leather, I'm not sure are the leather fronted wood, or all leather. But I'd guess they are talking all-leather, for weight reasons. If you are making a wooden shield, leather only adds weight, and doesn't add much protection. (Despite the fact that my main 15thC Irish shield is a giant coffee table-top made out of applewood, that's then leather-faced).


Yes I have also been combidering the possibility of an all leather shield, but I'd have to disagree with you about leather not adding much protection to a wooden shield, from what I know it added quite a bit of durability.

the_power wrote:if it's small numbers of large projectiles you are concerned by, a small shield is as good as a large one.


Well this is pretty much the exact opposite to what I had originally thought, but I'm open to the possibility.
Last edited by Stephen Curtin on Mon Jul 04, 2011 12:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 16th Century Shields

Postby kevin714 on Mon Jul 04, 2011 12:15 am

Correct me if I am wrong but wasn't there a difference between Irish Horseman/Cavalry and Kern. I seem to remember that the Horseman were usually of noble rank and were more heavily armored similar to gallowglass. They also frequently would dismount and fight as infantry, this might explain there use of shields which I firmly believe that they carried and used. The fact that one of the surviving shields is from Irish Nobility(O'Donovan) would also seem to back this up.
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