• Wilde Irishe

The Armour of Derricke’s Chieftain

Updated: Oct 28

The Irish chieftain pictured in John Derricke’s Image of Ireland (1581) wears a

helmet and armour that have never been satisfactorily explained. Derricke pictures

this chieftain prominently in plates I, III and IV, without any accompanying written

description. His helmet is a simple skull of spangenhelm type, with a browband and

cross bands of iron, showing clear signs of rivets. These bands frame four panels

that are patterned with a decoration or structure of interwoven, cross-barred straps

intersecting one another at right angles, each square of the fret containing what appears

to be a nail head or rivet. At the apex of the skull, the cross bands are joined

by a ring or knob, to which a crest is affixed. The crest in plate I resembles a fur pom

pom, while in plates III and IV, it has an upright, spreading appearance suggesting

horsehair or possibly feathers.


Detail of Irish horsemen’s helmets, from Plate IX.
Detail of Irish horsemen’s helmets, from Plate IX.

Irish horseman’s skull, from Plate IX, with a detail from Ucello’s Battle of San Romano showing an Italian sallet with a comparable hinged nasal, c. 1435-1460.
Irish horseman’s skull, from Plate IX, with a detail from Ucello’s Battle of San Romano (c. 1435-1460) showing an Italian sallet with a comparable nasal, clearly hinged, and one of two that appear in the painting.

Derricke illustrates this helmet again in the battle depicted in plate IX, where it is worn by the

Iron skull, from Plate IX, clearly showing the upturned nasal and laminated cheek-piece.
Iron skull, from Plate IX, clearly showing the upturned nasal and laminated cheek-piece.

Irish horsemen, and less distinctly, by the galloglasses in the background. The helmets of these horsemen are depicted with cheek-pieces of three overlapping iron lames riveted to the leather chinstrap, a detail not made clear in the depictions of the chieftain. Unlike the chieftain, Derricke's Irish horsemen have a characteristically Irish upturned, possibly hinged nasal. Some of their skulls are of full iron, others are of spangenhelm type like that of the chieftain. Only the spangenhelm types are crested, and here the crests are upright and flowing, suggesting horsehair.



The chieftain’s body armour is a jacket tailored like a doublet, buttoning down the

front with a high collar, shoulder wings, mutton chop arms, a wasp waist and slightly

flared skirt covering the hips. It is patterned like the helmet, with cross-barred

straps intersecting one another at right angles, each square of the fret containing

what appears to be a nail head or rivet. The Irish horsemen in plate IX wear shirts

of mail, exactly like the galloglasses in the background.



left: Derricke’s chieftain prepares for a raid, from Plate I. right: Derricke’s chieftain dining alfresco,from Plate III.
left: Derricke’s chieftain prepares for a raid, from Plate I. right: Derricke’s chieftain dining alfresco,from Plate III.

The helmets of Derricke’s Irish horsemen in plate IX indicate the pattern on

the panels between the spangens by a simple check figure, without the interwoven

detail seen in the helmet of the chieftain. This has caused some to interpret

the panels as being of quilted leather, padded with wool. Alternatively, it has been

suggested that both the helmet and the chieftain’s body armour are constructed like

the contemporary English jack of plate, or that they are of brigandine work. But an

examination of contemporary written sources suggests there was more to it. First,

however, we will look at the record of suggested reconstructions and interpretations

of this armour.



Details from Plate IV showing the chieftain during the course of a raid.
Details from Plate IV showing the chieftain during the course of a raid.

Part 1. Earlier Interpretations


Sir Walter Scott was responsible for bringing Derricke’s lost book back into

public consciousness, republishing it in 1809 as part of Lord Somers’ Tracts. In his

notes to plate IV, Scott describes the chieftain’s “. . . leathern helmet, chequered

with bars of iron, and his large broadsword . . .” and goes on to say “He wears

the helmet formerly mentioned, which resembles a mitre, and his leathern quilted

jacke appears beneath his shaggy mantle.” Scott’s notes on plate IX say of the

Irish horsemen “Their armour is the chequered quilted jacke, which the same poet

[Spencer] likens to a player’s painted coat, and open casques, also of chequered

appearance.” In fact, we have noted that Derricke’s Irish horsemen are wearing

shirts of mail rather than the jack, so Scott’s description here is harking back to the

chieftain in the earlier plates.


Sir William Wilde also notices this helmet of Derricke’s chieftain in his Catalog of

Irish Antiquities (1857), repeating verbatim Scott’s suggestion that it represents “a

leathern helmet, chequered with bars of iron.” The idea of a helmet “chequered with

bars of iron” actually received support with the later discoveries of seventh-century

Vendel helmets north of Uppsala, Sweden. The Ultuna helmet, found in 1889,

in particular bears an uncanny resemblance to the helmet of Derricke’s chieftain.

Among the helmets unearthed at Valsgarde in 1929, the one designated “Valsgarde

5” again has the panels between the spangens “chequered with bars of iron,” so that

we have to admit Scott’s interpretation has some merit. Indeed, the spangenhelm

construction and sometimes upright and bristling crest of Derricke’s helmet lend it

a splendidly “Dark Ages” appearance.



A drawing and reproduction of the Valsgarde 5 helmet, a seventh-century Vendel spangenhelm with panels “chequered with bars of iron.”
A drawing and reproduction of the Valsgarde 5 helmet, a seventh-century Vendel spangenhelm with panels “chequered with bars of iron.”


A drawing and reproduction of the Ultuna helmet, another seventh-century Vendel spangenhelm “chequered with bars of iron.”
A drawing and reproduction of the Ultuna helmet, another seventh-century Vendel spangenhelm “chequered with bars of iron.”

A nineteenth century explanation for the “chequered quilted jacke” of Derricke’s

chieftain is also available to us. There was then a school of thought that created an

elaborate nomenclature based on the varying depictions of earlier medieval armour,

particularly as seen in the Bayeaux Tapestry. In our own time, these are all considered

to have been simply representations of four-in-one ring mail, and the variety

in the depictions is now attributed to the artist’s technical limitations. It could be

argued that this explanation is a little pat, as the various styles of what are all considered

to be simple ring mail can appear side-by-side in a single artist’s work. The

matter is not entirely settled, and a recent paper even suggests that some of the more

unusual armours depicted in the Tapestry are actually representations of fur.(1)

The checked armor of Derricke’s chieftain bears a strong resemblance to the

latticed armour proposed by nineteenth century German arms historian August

Demmin.(2) He cited a chessman and small bronze casting of eleventh century

date, both in the Copenhagen Museum, as well as certain figures from the Bayeaux

Tapestry, all wearing what he described as gridded (treillissée, gegitterter) and

nailed (benagelter) armour. His illustration of latticed armour is very close to that of

Derricke’s chieftain. However, Demmin’s theories would today be dismissed along

with those of his contemporary, Samuel Rush Meyrick. Meyrick similarly proposed

trellised mail, banded mail, mascled mail, etc., all of which would now be considered

nothing more than stylistic conventions that attempted to represent typical

four-in-one mail. These propositions were perpetuated into the twentieth century

by Viollet-le-duc and Charles Henry Ashdown, whose works continue to influence

fantasy role-playing armour.(3)



Demmin’s reconstruction of what he called “gegittert” (gridded) or trellised armour, with his sketches from the Bayeaux Tapestry upon which it was based, 1869.
Demmin’s reconstruction of what he called “gegittert” (gridded) or trellised armour, with his sketches from the Bayeaux Tapestry upon which it was based, 1869.


Irish sixteenth century chieftains imagined in a version of the armour of Derricke’s chief, from Standish O’Grady’s edition of Pacata Hibernia, 1896.
Irish sixteenth century chieftains imagined in a version of the armour of Derricke’s chief, from Standish O’Grady’s edition of Pacata Hibernia, 1896.

Before moving on, we may repeat some citations made by J. R. Planché in his

History of British Costume which do seem to support the idea of armour being

described as trellised.(4) Planché was of the nineteenth century school of arms historians

we have been discussing. From a Norman romance of the thirteenth century,

he cites Roman de Garin: “En son dos vest une broigne trelicé.” i.e., “On his back a

jacket of trellised mail (broigne)”. The French term broigne was defined as a medieval

defensive garment consisting of leather or woven fabric on which were sewed

metal rings or plates. Unlike the coat of four-in-one mail, the rings of the broigne

are sewn on a support. The macles, or meshes, of broignes are by definition fixed on

a garment but they can, however, also be fixed between layers. And Planché further

quotes from the thirteenth century author Roman de Garden: “L’Escu il perce et la

broigne treslit,” i.e., “The shield he pierced, and the trellised broigne.” This term

broigne is used today by the French maker of fantasy armour, Les Comptoir des

Légendes, to describe their jacks, the fabric of which bears a striking resemblance

to the jack worn by Derricke’s chieftain. They expressly state that their designs are

based on the Bayeaux Tapestry, thus carrying on the nineteenth century interpretation.



Left, a “broigne” by the modern French maker, Les Comptoir des Légendes, and right, a depiction of Hastings by the late Ron Embleton, brother of the more well known Gerry, using nineteenth century interpretation.
Left, a “broigne” by the modern French maker, Les Comptoir des Légendes, and right, a depiction of Hastings by the late Ron Embleton, brother of the more well known Gerry, using nineteenth century interpretation.

Part 2. Contemporary Literary Evidence


The Cathbarr

The helmet of Derricke’s chieftain may well be the cathbarr (pron. caffer), which

appears to have been a peculiarly Irish helmet. It means “top of battle,” and was also

a Gaelic personal name, as in Cathbarr O’Donnel, brother of the famous Red Hugh.

It is described in an Irish text of 1419 (Sid na mBan) as a “crested (cír), plated,

four-edged helmet (cathbarr) of beautiful refined gold.”(5) The reference to four

edges sounds like a cross-barred spanglehelm type helmet, and since such helmets

appear in Derricke’s Image of Ireland (1581) they have been equated with the cathbarr.

Other evidence—including these references to gold and a crest—will be seen

to support this identification. (We may note in passing, that in 1788, Joseph Walker

wrote of the armoury of Howth Castle still containing “a bar helmet, which was

worn some ages since by one of the family of St. Lawrence,” which sounds similar

to our cathbarr, though it may simply have been a seventeenth-century horseman’s

secrete.)(6)


While the chieftain’s helmet is not specifically mentioned in Derricke’s text,

his “Description of the Irishman, as well the Lordes, as of the galliglasse . . .,” has

them “With sculles upon their poules, in stead of civill Cappes.”(p. 49, l.25) And

skull is the term used to describe such an Irish helmet in Beware the Cat (1553) by

William Baldwin. Baldwin had knowledge of Ireland, and in the previous year had

written plays for court such as “An Irish Play of the State of Ireland.” In Beware

the Cat, he describes Patrick Apore, “a kern of John Butler” (though he is in fact an

armoured horseman), returning home after a raid on Cahir MacArt Kavanaugh (d.

1554). “When he was come home and had put of his harnes (which was a Corslet

of maile made like a Shirt, and his Scul covered over with gilt lether and crested

with Otterskin), all weary and hungry...” (7)


The practice of covering a helmet with leather is not widespread, but we have

an interesting reference to a bascinet belonging to king Philip de Valois of France

(reigned 1328–50) being covered with white leather. (Bacinet couvert de blanc

cuir.)(8)


The fact that the crest of was otter skin has significance in Gaelic culture. In Roderic

O’Flaherty’s West or H-Iar Connaught (1684), his list of Ireland’s native wildlife

includes “. . . the amphibious otter, of which kind the white-faced otter is very

rare. It is never killed, they say, but with loss of man or dog, and its skin is mighty

precious.” A footnote adds: “White-faced otter.—Called by the Irish Dobhar-chu.

Martin in his interesting description of the Western Islands of Scotland, London,

1703, 8vo. p.159, tells us that in the Isle of Skie, “the hunters say there is a big otter

above the ordinary size, with a white spot on its breast, and this they call the king

of otters; it is rarely seen, and very hard to be killed. Seamen ascribe great virtue to

the skin, for they say that it is fortunate in battle, and that victory is always on its

side.”(9) The helmet crest as depicted in Derricke’s plate could be interpreted as a

fur pom-pom, like that on the skull of the galloglass in the contemporary Charter of

the City of Dublin, which is quite possibly by Derricke’s own hand. In Derricke’s

other depictions of Irish horsemen’s crests they seem to spread and flow, and are

thus interpreted as horsehair, though Wilde thought they might in fact be cock feathers.



Reconstructions of Derricke’s Irish helmet, from the 1966 Disney film, Fighting Prince of Donegal.
Reconstructions of Derricke’s Irish helmet, from the 1966 Disney film, Fighting Prince of Donegal. The high-crowned skull and rivited iron bands are in keeping with Derricke.

Derricke’s chieftain brought to life in a display at Eniskillen castle, interpreting the armour in checkered patterned cloth. Substituting patterned leather for the cloth here is not far from what I am suggesting, and the feather plume is convincingly reminicent of Derricke.
Derricke’s chieftain brought to life in a display at Eniskillen castle, interpreting the armour in checkered patterned cloth. Substituting patterned leather for the cloth here is not far from what I am suggesting, and the feather plume is convincingly reminicent of Derricke.

In Part 1, we saw this helmet of Derricke’s discussed in the nineteenth century

by writers who thought it was “a leathern helmet, chequered with bars of iron.” In

light of Baldwin’s reference to gilt leather covering the skull of his Irishman, we

may consider whether this cross-barring in fact represents a decoration of some

sort, made in gilt leather, rather than the iron bars suggested by Scott and Wilde.

A contemporary Irish bardic poem, written for Cú Connacht Mág Uidhir (lord of

Fermanagh, 1566-1589) says:


The Maguires in the thick of battle are not people who should be tackled;

From your massed warriors there are many gold-lined helmets left

without a wearer in the fight.


The words are: feilm líneadh n-óir—gold-lined helmets. Felim is a loanword

from the English “helm.” The word líne is line, or linear ornamentation, and

líneach means lined, ornamented, as in engraved. This could very well describe the

skull of a cathbarr if it was covered over with tooled gilt leather.(10)



Fretatus de Auro

As it happens, there was precisely such a cross-barred pattern used in gilt leather,

and called fretatus de auro. It means “fretted with gold,” the term fret coming from

heraldry, where it designates an ornament of small slats intersecting each other at

right angles, interlaced like a lattice. It is well illustrated by the striking arms of Sir

Warham St. Leger, accounted the first horseman in Ireland next to Hugh Maguire.

The two slew one another in single combat near Cork in 1600. The arms are azure,

a field fretty argent, a chief or.


This pattern of decoration was noted by John Sobeiski-Stuart in Costume of the

Clans, 1845—“Sandals of purple, fretted with gold ‘Fretatus de Auro,’ are mentioned

among the parts of dress worn by King John; and the Buskins of his son,

Henry III, were checked with gold, and sprinkled with the lions of England.” (Effigy

on the tomb of Henry III in the chapel of Edward the Confessor in Westminster

Abbey.) “...even those of the parish schoolmaster were carved ‘like Paules windows,’

(Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale) that is, ‘fretatus’ or checkered, as far as he could

in imitation of his superiors.”



Left: Boots of Richard III “The boots are, however, exceedingly splendid, illustrating the expression fretatus de oro, and each square of the fret containing a lion or leopard.” Robinson, History of British Costume. Right: Arms of Sir Warham St. Leger.
Left: Boots of Richard III “The boots are, however, exceedingly splendid, illustrating the expression fretatus de oro, and each square of the fret containing a lion or leopard.” Robinson, History of British Costume. Right: Arms of Sir Warham St. Leger.


Gilded Leather

As with many luxury products imported by Gaelic Ireland in the sixteenth century—

saffron, wine, sword blades—gilded leather was a product of Spain, traded

by the vast fleets of Basque fishermen that paid annual visits to the southern and

western coasts. In Spain painted or gilded embossed leather was called guadamecil.

It was critical that two or three-ounce belly leather of skived goatskin be used,

with kidskin being considered a poor substitute. The leather was tawed—a mineral

process using alum and salt, producing a white leather. Cordovan, Spain, was the

center of the art, which had been brought in by the Moors in the ninth century.

“Cordovan” or Spanish leather was famous throughout Europe, and most prized

was the scarlet leather dyed with kermes. This was particularly used by shoemakers,

so much so that they became known in English as “cordwainers,” (from the Old

French cordewan, meaning Cordoba). Edmund Spencer, in his View of the Present

State of Ireland (1596) refers to the Irish horseman as wearing “riding shoes of

costlie cordwaine.” Shoes of such red leather are still to be seen worn by Sir Neil

O’Neill as a part of traditional Irish dress in his portrait painted by Michael Wright

in 1680, now in the Tate Gallery.


When preparing gilded leather, the smooth side of the cordovan leather was sized,

or brushed with glue, and a sheet of silver foil, beaten tissue-thin, was applied.

The changeover to tin foil after the 16th century was considered part of the art’s

decline. The leather was embossed by the imprint of a wooden block, carved in

relief, upon the dampened leather after the silvering was done. Although referred to

as gilded leather, no gold was used in the process. The golden color was imparted

by a “changing” lacquer of linseed oil and resin applied to the foil once it has been

fixed on the leather, the colouring agent of which was saffron. Polychrome decoration

could then be applied in oils. Up to the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish designs were classified as “flat,” as opposed to the “embossed,” or repoussé style of the seventeenth century. Spanish designs were tooled in geometric patterns reflecting Mudejar influence. A sixteenth century Cordova author, Ambrosio de Morales, wrote in 1575, that the gilded leather industry “brings great wealth to the city, and gives to the principal streets a beautiful aspect. As the leathers are exposed to the sun, now gilded, now colored and tooled, and as they are spread on great tables to dry, truly it is a beautiful sight to see the streets thus hung in such splendor and variety.”



Left: Modern gilt leather production by Lutson Goudleder of the Netherlands. Right: Checkered gilt leather drying in the attic at Lutson Goudleder.
Left: Modern gilt leather production by Lutson Goudleder of the Netherlands. Right: Checkered gilt leather drying in the attic at Lutson Goudleder.

Practitioners of this trade were known as guademacileros in Spanish, and the Ordenanzas, or guild rules, required them to be able to design a “brocade” and cut the pattern according to standard. Spain exported large quantities of this leather to its American colonies, and remained preeminent in the trade until the late 17th century, when Holland began to dominate. The Dutch would produce primarily baroque floral designs, and their embossed gilded leather became widely exported in the 17th and 18th centuries. The gilded leather was manufactured in panels. Although primarily intended for wall hangings, it was put to other uses, notably in Japan, where armour and scabbards were covered with it. The Irish also seem to have used it for covering helmets and leather jacks.



Cheklaton

Spencer’s character Irenaeus (View of the Present State of Ireland, 1596) describes those parts of Irish dress that he would permit, as being suited to the conditions of the country “. . . the leather quilted jack in journeying and in camping, for that it is fittest to be under his shirt of mail for any occasion of sudden service, as there happen many, and to cover his thin breech on horseback...for the Quilted leather jacke is Old English; for it was the proper weed of the horsemen, as ye may read in Chaucer, where he describeth Sir Thopas his apparell and armoure, when he went to fight agaynst the Gyant in his robe of shecklaton, which shecklaton is that kind of gilden leather with which they use to embroider theyr Irish jackes,” Spencer’s Irenaeus then recommends limits to the use of the jack; “I would not have it laid away, but the abuse thereof to be put away, for being used to the end that it was framed, that is, to be worn under a shirt of mail, it is allowable, as also the shirt of mail and all his [the Irish horseman’s] other furniture. But to be worn daily at home and in towns and civil places, it is a rude habit and most uncomely, seeming like a player’s painted coat.” Eudoxus notes the Irish footmen also wear a quilted jack, but Irenaeus finds it not unseemly, “...not as used in war, for it is then worn likewise of a footman under a shirt of mail, the which footman they call a galloglass.”


Spencer would return to this article of dress in his Faerie Queen, book vi, canto vii, describing the character Disdayne; “But in a Jacket quilted richly rare, Vpon checklaton he was straungely dight.” This term “checklaton” is reminiscent of the checked appearance of the fretatus de oro design for gilt leather described above, as well as the Irish term feilm lineadh n-oir for gold lined, or engraved, helmets. And we know from Baldwin’s 1553 description that Partrick Apore’s skull was covered with gilded leather and crested with otter skin. All of these seem likely contemporary descriptions of the kind of checked leather helmet and jack seen on Derricke’s Irish chieftain (1581). And they are seconded by the account of an anonymous Spaniard who probably accompanied James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald’s expedition to Ireland 1579 and reported in Latin to the Vatican: “The [Irish] nobility are clothed in garments made of skin and adorned with various colours.” This puts one in mind of Spencer’s description of the Irish quilted leather jack being “like a player’s [actor’s] painted coat.”(11) [A ‘Gilt lether cot.’ is listed in Henslowe’s Diary among horsemen’s coats and cloaks in an inventory of the Lord Admiral’s Men, c. 1600.(17) Extensive searching in Elizabethan theatre sources has not revealed any image of the gilt leather coat in the Lord Admiral’s Men inventory, but as it was listed among horsemen’s coats, it may have been longer than a doublet, perhaps like the “coats” of Sir Henry Sidney’s trumpeters in Derricke’s prints.]


O’Cleary’s Life of Hugh Roe O’Donnell, sub anno 1600, describes Hugh’s brother Manus as wearing an armour of skins, when during a fight at Lifford the traitor Nial Garve O’Donnell gave him a thrust of a long lance under the shoulder blade, piercing the armour and wounding him mortally. O’Cleary distinguishes this from Nial Garve’s coat of mail, on which he was struck three times on this occasion. So the leather jack could be worn alone, without mail covering it, as we see in Derricke. In fact one would think a quilted leather jack embroidered with gilt leather would be rubbed and damaged by having mail worn over it.


We do have references to leather jackets worn by Irishmen without any suggestion of armour. On 12 September 1581, the State Papers describe MacCarthy Mor and Lord Morrys at Dublin, “the best robe or garment that they wore, was a russet Irish mantle, worth about a crown apiece, and they had ech of them a hatt, a lether jerken, a payre of hosen, which they call trowes, and a pair of brogues, but all not worth a noble that eyther of them had.”(12) And from the first half of 17th century, Parliament Chloinne Tomáis describing Gaelic peasants says “your leather coats, your thick bottomed birredhs with crooked ear-pieces, . . . and your stinking trews with flap flies” “bhur gcótuidhe croicinn, agus bhur mbiorraéid bhunramhra chluaschama, . . . agas bhur dtrúisa lobtha lapa.”


Strapwork and Fencing Doublets

It is sometimes suggested that Derricke’s chieftain is wearing a cloth doublet tailored in the strapwork fashion. Alyxx Iannetta has written a bit about Tudor strapwork clothing as seen in Hilliard’s portrait of a young man among roses, and Janet Arnold has analysed the sleeveless black velvet strapwork jerkin (1590-1600) in the Hessian Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. While there is a resemblance to Derricke’s images of the chieftain, I don't think this is the case. The leather element is missing, as well as any pretense to protection as these strapwork garments are always of cloth.


Similarly, Derricke’s chieftain does not appear to be wearing a fencing type doublet. In her book Patterns of Fashion, Arnold analyses some 16th century fencing doublets, which were faced with leather and padded. But they do not have other features of Derricke’s jacket; no interlaced strapwork, no “painted” appearance.


Later Reflections

A slightly garbled memory of this Irish jack of gilt leather survived into the nineteenth century. In 1788, Joseph Walker thought Muirchertach (d. 943), king of Ailech, was called Muirkertach naGeochall Croceann, or “of the leather jackets,” for having supposedly “invented leathern coverings or jackets, impenetrable to the arrows and javelins of the enemy.”(12) But this seems to be a misunderstanding of the word chochall, which means a cowl or hooded garment, and the phrase is now translated as Muirchertach of the Leather Cloaks. Walker’s mistake seems to have given rise to an idea in nineteenth century Irish romantic literature that the gilt leather jack of an Irish chieftain was called a “Geochal, —The jacket made of gilded leather, and which was sometimes embroidered with silk,”(13) resulting in poetic descriptions such as “Bravely his seat that rider holds/In geochal dressed of gold and green.”(14)

No actual jacks of leather seem to have survived, and the use of leather for armor is sometimes questioned since it is quite inferior to layered linen. But there is no doubt that it was used in quilted armour, at least as an outer layer. Holinshed quotes a contemporary of Derricke, William Harrison, who wrote in 1577, “Our armour consisteth of corselets, almaine riverets . . . Jackes quilted ouer wyth leather.”(14) A recent find from Dublin of longitudinally quilted leather is assumed to have been part of a haqueton. It was found at Cornmarket, Bridge Street, dated 1150-1190, and is in the National Museum. The apparent “nails” or metal rivets on both the helmet and jack of Derricke’s chieftain were seemingly alluded to by James Logan, in The Scottish Gael (1831), where he says: “The Irish full armed troops, in the seventeenth century [sic], wore shirts of mail that reached to the calf of the leg, and which were sometimes of leather, stuck with iron nails.” Logan’s footnote cites “d. Spencer. Ware.” but it does not appear in either writer.(15)


Pop culture reflections? Left; MacBeth spoofed in MAD Magazine, with fur pom-pom on spangenhelm a la Derricke, cr. 1970, right; helmet in Scottish childrens book of Gaelic sagas, perhaps based on Ultuna helmet?
Pop culture reflections? Left; MacBeth as spoofed in MAD Magazine, with fur pom-pom on spangenhelm a la Derricke, cr. 1970, right; helmet in Scottish children's book of Gaelic sagas, perhaps based on Ultuna helmet?



My Conclusions on the Chieftain


I think Derricke’s jack and chieftain helmet are defenses being worn in both civil (the feast) and martial (the raid) activities, as Spencer complained of. The chieftain’s skull I believe is covered with gilt leather as Baldwin described in 1553, and that this is the same gilt leather decorating his jack, as Spencer described in 1596 (based on his 15 years experience in country).


The helmet is probably full iron construction at this date, and the gilt leather is merely decoration. Fairly rare (outside the velvet-covered 15th century Italian barbutes), but I described the king of France’s bascinet being covered in white leather above, so it was done.


The Gaelic Irish chieftain class seem to have adopted a leather upper garment in the mid-late 16th century, tailored in an interpretation of English fashion. It is variously described as a “lether jerkin,” “garments of skin adorned with various colours,” or “a quilted leather jack”. . . “like a player’s painted coat.” Spencer could have been clearer, but we do know “jack” could have several meanings, including being synoymous with cotún. The item described by most of these writers, and I think depicted by Derricke, was worn in peace and war. While it had defensive properties, I suspect it may not have been particularly heavy. We nowadays think of a jerkin as being without sleeves, but this was not necessarily the case in the 16th century. Also, jack began to be applied occasionally to non-defensive garments, as in “jackett”--i.e., initially meaning an abbreviated jack.


It seems the cotún or hacqueton could indeed have an outer layer of chamois or stag skin (John Major speaks of Highlander’s “manifoldly sewn” protective garment “covered with deerskin”), and I concur that overall, Spencer seems to describe the “side jack” or long quilted jack, and he does say it is quilted.


I have to believe Derricke’s jack is quilted as well, and the check design does have a very structural look. However, I think the interwoven check design is primarily a known decorative pattern of gilt leather, which was called “fretatus de auro” --fretted with gold. The old Moorish geometric designs are lost mostly, and surviving examples of gilt leather are usually of the 17th century floral style. But the fretatus pattern could well have had origins in the original geometric designs of gilt leather in Spain.


The dots in Derricke’s armour may or may not be nail heads (rivets). It may or may not have jack of plates construction, similar to a brigandine--though I doubt it since it was worn continually. Checklatoun (Spencer’s word) was compared to diaper pattern (see Appendix 3), which has a dot in the squares of the check pattern, so no need for rivets, necessarily. What we are still missing is any English or Continental analogs. Once again, the Irish seem to have been unique in this regard.




Appendix 1


Spencer’s quilted leather jack: a side jack?


The possibility exists that the Irishman’s jack as described by Edmund Spencer is in fact the usual ‘side jack,’ (i.e., long jack) or cotún seen in effigies of galloglass and Highland warriors. These are usually thought of as being of fabric, but a French Ordnance of 1450 says a Jacque is a corselet of 29-30 layers of old linen with an outer covering of deer’s hide. Also see the Dublin Cornmarket finds of tube-quilted leather, probably the outer layer of a haqueton. Spencer’s jack is worn under mail by both horse and galloglass, like a cotún, and Spencer does describe their coat of “mail down to the calf of the leg,” suggesting a knee-length cotún might also be called for. Coquillart (1450-1510), speaks of “a great villanous English jack” calling it a pourpoint made of chamois leather, stuffed with flocks, and reaching to the knees. Spencer is arguing that the Irish horseman’s gear is essentially “Old English”, and evokes 14th century Sir Thopas’ “haqueton and habergeon.” Sir Thopas is depicted in a knee-length aketon in the Ellesmere MS. (right) But it seems unlikely such a haqueton would be covered in gilded leather as Spencer describes.



Appendix 2


An interpretation of Derricke’s chieftain helmet




Crested with a pom-pom of otter fur, per Baldwin. The iron plates in between spangens are covered with gilt leather (which was not full “gilt” but rather polychrome.) I have a hinged nasal (too small here) and overlapping cheek plates (ditto), but must admit, these are not clear in Derricke for the chieftain. And those of his Irish horsemen who wear similar helmets have them invariably crested with what looks like horsehair. They do have nasals, and I think, cheekpieces. I interpreted the dots in the squares as rivets, but they could be an element of design as in the daiper pattern referred to below for checklatoun. I think this “lined” gold design (Irish lineadh in the Maguire poem) is best interpreted as “fretatus de auro” a documented gilt leather design.


Although I have chosen to interpret the upturned nasal as being hinged, it has been pointed out that the De Burgo Genealogy (contemporary to Derricke) illustrates Irish bascinets having nasals without apparent hinges, and Derricke is admittedly unclear on this point. The Lough Henny barbute likewise has a smallish upturned nasal of bronze without hinges. I suggest the possibility of hinges based on Durer’s galloglass with upturned, hinged nasal (1525, right), and on quite a few surviving Italian 15th century barbutes with what I judge to be similarly sized upturned nasals, generally hinged. The Glenarm castle horseman effigy (15th/16th cent.) and the Donat O'Suibne tomb effigy (1577) also show such large upturned nasals, which to my mind would function better if hinged.



Less Than Satisfactory Reconstructions

Less than satisfactory reconstructions of Derricke’s chieftain helmet.  Above, two renditions by the late Angus McBride. Right, two by David Sque.
Less than satisfactory reconstructions of Derricke’s chieftain helmet. Above, two renditions by the late Angus McBride. Right, two by David Sque.

Above: McBride interprets the plates in between the spangens as iron with apparent scoring, as on a fragmentation grenade. His horseman (above left) has the three lames on his cheekpieces, and both have animal hair crests (horse?) His chief lacks cheekpieces and nasal, which Derricke indeed doesn’t really show, for the chief, and both have some evidence of the rivets on the spangens as seen in Derricke.

Sque’s horseman’s helmet (upper right) has hinged nasals front AND back (Derricke only shows them on the front). Sque correctly interprets the lammelar cheek pieces, I think. Apparently, he has the plates in between the spangens in leather, perhaps scored in a check design. He ignores the crest on those of Derricke’s horsemen’s helmets that are not plain skulls. His chieftain, however (right) interprets the helmet and jack as being of the same construction as the contemporary English jack of plates, including a rather unlikely apron of the same construction. I disagree with this interpretation. He does seem to recognize the pom-pom like character of the crest in some of Derricke’s depictions of the chief (rather like the crest on what I think may be Derricke’s own drawing of a galloglass from the Dublin Charter of 1583).





Appendix 3


Checklaton

(from M. E. Haweis, Colors and Cloths of the Middle Ages, The Contemporary Review, Vol. 44, July-December, 1883, p. 425.)

“No word has more excercised antiquaries than this old word ciclatoun—spelt siglaton, checklatoun, &c. &c. This is not a bad instance of the difficulties besetting such studies. Some say the word was first cyclas, a certain round gown. Skeat derives it from the Persian saqalát, scarlet stuff, and saqlatán, a scarlet cloth. Guillaume le Breton says it was a rich silk made in the Cyclades.


At any rate, the East produced a rich stuff suitable for certain garments called cyclas, as we might say coat-cloth. Judith of Bohemia wore a cyclas worked with gold in 1083. The knight’s surcoats were called by the same word in the thirteenth century:


Armez d’un haubergeon

Couvet d’un singlaton.


Some ancient writers seem to use syglaton as an equivalent for any kind of mantle.


Chaucer says Sir Thopas’s robe was made of ciclatoun, or checklatoun, in some MSS.; and checklatoun was early confounded with a certain chequered cloth properly called checkeratus, knotted [i.e., interlaced?] in diaper design. Strutt consideres them identical. Which came first, the place, the garment or the colour?”


An 1834 Glossary of unfamiliar words gives Checklatoun as “(from chequer, variegated,) a stuff made, or the colours disposed in chequers, or squares.” The GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English gives two meanings for checklaton:


noun obsolete Ciclatoun.

noun obsolete Gilded leather.


The latter may be drawn from Spencer’s usage. In Henslowe’s Diary is an inventory of theatrical costumes of the Lord Admiral’s Men, between 1598 and 1602, and we find under “Antik Sutes” —“15. Gilt lether cot.”


The “Iacket quilted richly rare,/Vpon cheklaton” worn by Disdain (FQ, IV.vii.43) is a detail that allows Hieatt to argue that Spencer used an edition of Chaucer from the 1532 to 1561 series, in which the variant “checklatoun” appears in Th, l.734 (in Robinson’s and other editions, “syklatoun”)—see Hieatt, pp. 20-22. [Higgins concludes Spencer’s Childe Thopas echoes Chaucer’s Sir Thopas, including lying on the grass and resting his head on his helmet. He was suppressed in the 1596 edition after appearing the 1590 edition, perhaps to hide the debt to Chaucer. Chaucer was tolerant and skeptical, Spencer appropriates him for his ideological imperialist rantings.]


—Anne Higgins, Spenser Reading Chaucer: Another Look at the “Faerie Queene” Allusions, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology

Vol. 89, No. 1 (Jan., 1990), pp. 17-36 (20 pages) p. 26.


—A. Kent Hieatt, Chaucer’s Cantebury Tales. 1961.



Daiper weave. “Called checkeratus, knotted in diaper design.” Note the rosette at the centre of the diamond shapes.
Daiper weave. “Called checkeratus, knotted in diaper design.” Note the rosette at the centre of the diamond shapes.




Notes

(1) Phoenix, Daniel, “‘Garments so Chequered’: the Bible of Citeaux, and Bayeaux Tapestry and the Vair Pattern”, Antiquaries Journal, Vol. 90, September 2010, pp. 195-210.

(2) Demmin, August, The weapons of war in their historical development from the earliest times to the present day : an encyclopedia of armory, Berlag von E. A. Seemann, Leipzig, 1869.

(3) Howard, Dan, “Mail Unchained”, article published at MyArmoury.com, http://myarmoury.com/feature_mail.html.

(4) J. R. Planché, A History of British Costume, Charles Knight, London, 1836, p. 348.

(5) Harbison, Peter, “Native Irish Arms and Armour in Medieval Gaelic Literature, 1170-1600”, The Irish Sword, 12/48 (Summer, 1976), pp. 173–199. p. 178.

(6) Walker, Joseph, Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish, (1788) p. 105.

(7) Baldwin, William, ed. William A. Ringler, Jr. and Michael Flachman, Beware the Cat, p. Huntington Library Press, San Marino (1988) p. 14

(8) Strutt, Joseph, A complete view of the dress and habits of the people of England, Henry G. Bon, London (1842) p. 60.

(9) O’Flaherty, Roderic, ed. James Hardiman, The Territory of West of H-Iar Connaught, M. H. Gill, Dublin (1876) p. 10.

(10) Green, David (ed.), Dunaire Mheig Uidhir, the Poem Book of Cu Connacht Mag Uidhir, Lord of Fermanagh 1566-1589, Dundalgan (1991) p. 11.

(11) Maxwell, Constancia, Irish History from Contemporary Sources (1509-1610), London, Allen & Unwin, 1923, p. 320.

(12) Cal. S.P.I., 1574-85. McClintock, Old Irish and Highland Dress, p. 65.

(13) Walker, Joseph, Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish, (1788) p. 25.

(14) Walsh, Edward, Ballads of Ireland, (1855) p. 99.

(15) Holinshed, Raphael, the First Volume of the Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, London (1577) f.86v.

(16) Ellis, H., ed., Romances and Ballads of Ireland (1850) p. 96.

(17)) Lublin, Robert I., Costuming the Shakesperean Stage, PhD Thesis, Ohio State University, 2003.

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