Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Getting it to look right

The photo shoot I discussed in my last post was a somewhat rushed affair. I did not have time to get alot of the kit right, I also did not have time to truly apply myself to the physicality of the impression.
 I had been planning a shoot of some description for some time and had an idea of getting myself into the physical shape of a medieval Gael in addition to putting on the clothing. In fact this is one of those things that bugs me most about re-enactor impressions. Often we an see stunning attention to detail and no expense spared on kit, yet all hanging on a frame that would have been rare to non-existent in history.

Tough looking Irish tenants.
 The girl on the right looks just like my mum.
Most warriors until very recently were part timers who attended to other tasks on the off season, even full timers often came from a farming background. Only the very rich could have made it through to adulthood without building a frame capable of physical labour, the very rich would of course have had to have built a frame capable of fighting.  That said people would not have the bulk of modern populations, whether muscular or otherwise.
 Fortunately we can use photos from the 19th century of both Scotland and Ireland to get an impression of
Peat cutters
what people living and working in remote communities looked like. Of course the culture and conditions had changed enormously. New foods had been introduced and the communities of rural Scotland and Ireland were essentially colonies of the British state, the warrior tradition and its training had long gone as had many traditional aspects of society such as shielings and transhumance. We can surmise that the reliance on potatoes and more localised agriculture had effects on the populations as would have widespread emigration.
 Walter Raleigh,failed planter and the friend of Edmund Spencer (who hated the native Irish with genocidal passion) gifted the potato to Ireland saying it would solve the Irish problem. No one in the British state has ever really cared about gifting the native Irish with a nutritious food so we should assume the "solution" might well be more like a 20th century "solution:
by the sworde; for all those evilles must first be cutt awaye with a stronge hande, before any good cann bee planted; like as the corrupt branches and unwholsome lawes are first to bee pruned, and the fowle mosse clensed or scraped awaye, before the tree cann bringe forth any good fruicte. (Spencer)

Skye crofter.
 The Irish and Scots (on both sides of the highland line ate a far healthier native diet of oats/corn,  sheep and cattle with a great deal of fish and shellfish in coastal areas. You can read more here. Islanders eating a native diet were found by Weston Price to be in superb health (Chapter 4). I notice comparing photos that the Scottish islanders  eating a traditional diet look a bit "lighter" than the crofters of the 19th century.  Diet controls about 80% of body composition but we can't discount the slightly greater amount of muscle power used in the 19th century. 
Glib haircut
 Anyhow these sources give us a rough idea of the shape of medieval Gaels. For the impression I wanted a gaunt hungry look, a bit like I had been living of oats and blood up in the hills for a week. I had planned on going on quite a severe diet before the shoot but the scheduling rushed things along so that wasn't possible. I am in pretty good condition anyway but probably carry a bit more body fat than was the norm in history. 
 I had originally thought that I am too bulky for historical standards though going through the images of Irish crofters I'm not too sure this is the case. Breugels pictures of low country peasants also show similar "lusty" physiques.  Images of historical Gaels show pretty robust looking characters as well as the lithe,
dancer-like form of Deheere's redshank.  I had assumed that historical peoples would be rather more lean and smaller framed  than moderns. This is based on experiences with extant clothing post 18th century. Images, photos and archaeological reports don't confirm this assumption.  

Unlike the modern world of the puny and fat we would find historical communities full of strong, lean individuals. The incredible changes to body composition over the past thirty years are without parallel and completely extraordinary in the wider context of humanity.

 With a healthy dose of R1b and and I1 genetics I can assume that the general colouration and facial structure are about right though in honesty I don't think I look  terribly "Celtic/Gaelic" at all. It is however a look I can pull off more than say, a conquistador. The hair and beard are completely fine for Highland  Scots up to the 18th Century when beards became less fashionable. Even for the 17th century I would prefer to see a more manicured type of beard. The Irish famously wore a hair style called a glib which I have no intention of getting, though long hair is definitely portrayed too.  While many medieval impressions feature wild hair and beards, such a look was quite unusual in history, in fact much of the  medieval period was  clean shaven.
Medieval tough guys.
Even more so than today people cared about and fussed over their appearance. Fine mustaches, goatees and neat hair were all the rage at different periods. The modern wild barbarian look was very unusual in history, happily for me the Gaelic Scots also hated combs and scissors!

 Given another photo shoot I may well try to get the gaunt, hunted look and would do well to get much more dirt involved.......much more dirt!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Wearing the Rogart shirt.

I had an article on Gaelic archery accepted by a U.S. publisher. The publisher asked for some photos to illustrate the article. This led to me speeding up my impression somewhat, so the accompanying photos do not necessarily reflect historical accuracy but do give something of historical flavour without any overt or egregious errors.

 I borrowed some weapons and an ionar and leine from my friend and fencing instructor Lyell Drummond and found a nearby heath that looked suitably Scottish. I went for a general Gaelic 15th-16th century look. The only glaring inaccuracy was the dirk which is very much a 17th century design, however I tucked the handle away so it just looks like a generic big dagger. I would like to have a bit more in the way of scabbards and baldrics but am still working on getting something made. I would also have liked to have got the clothing to look a bit more lived in (dirty!). The photo shoot itself was rather rushed and full credit to my wife who managed to take great pictures while holding a baby in one hand and dealing with a pesky three year old too!

 Shoes:I opted for bare feet as I dislike the brogan I own, the evidence suggest that barefeet were extremely common in both Scotland and Ireland, and before modern manufacturing methods going barefoot was probably far more practical. Even Anglo Saxon art portrays men going barefoot and this may have been a widespread feature in history.  Wet turn shoes are very slippy while not offering much in the way of protection. How far up the social scale one had to move before shoes were encountered is something of a question. I suspect that the more senior figures and mercenary troops wore shoes of some description much of the time, certainly this is what period art portrays. With more time I would have tried to acquire or commission shoes in the manner of Deheeres redshank. I go barefoot a lot of the time and even though the heath we shot on looks like upland Britain it is actually quite dry, with a number of spiky plants not commonly seen in wetter environments. I was pulling gorse spines out of my feet for about a week afterwards though at the time had no problems running and leaping about. 
 Yes this is where I took quite a major liberty. There is an Angus McBride illustration of Flodden which portrays highlanders in sleeveless jacks. It is a look I quite like, I removed the sleeves of this jack for another project and didn't have time to repair and replace them. Needless to say arms are quite important and protecting them is a good idea. By itself the leine does not look quite right and the sleeveless jack filled the need for some kind of upper body garment. The Ballymote coat reproduction that David Swift uses would be far more appropriate. I doubt you would see a gaelic warrior of any century wearing an armoured garment that I am in these pictures.The Ionar I had  was too 16th century for the 15th century sword so I went for inaccuracy over anachronism.
 The ionar is a padded fencing jacket owned by Lyell Drummond, he is quite a lithe man so I was pleased (and surprised) to be able to do it up. While the form is as generally depicted I am not sure about the colour though it was  perfectly achievable in period. This is a tailor made garment so was actually quite uncomfortable for me to wear. I could see that made for me it would be a pretty practical proposition especially if made of wool.
 I opted to go with my Rogart shirt rather than with the 16th Century leine I had borrowed, this was more due to time constraints. Again with the undershirt I was suprised by just how warm this combination of clothing actually is. I suspect the original owner of the Rogart shirt was smaller than I am, I was quite frustrated that I couldn't roll up the sleeves. I should disclose that I am one of those freaks who is too hot in January it would be interesting to try the shirt out in the highlands. The shirt lends itself to dynamism with great freedom of movement. Despite its apparent flimsiness it does see quite a practical option for Scottish weather, especially if made from wool as was the original. Midges however would be another thing, though in fairness I doubt they were quite the problem they are now.
 I opted for a non-clan tartan plaid, though this is a full size plaid it looks a wee bit small compared to contemporary images. The plaid was a huge pain and would clearly have been discarded before any kind of action though with a high value they would probably only be dropped if there would be a good chance of getting it back. The plaid kept unravelling and trailing and basically being a huge nuisance though it was well behaved in general movement. I think like a lot of people who have worn them I appreciate the practicality and comfort of cloaks/plaids and sort f regret that they aren't still worn, they look dashing too but aren't much good when activity goes beyond walking or general milling about. Wrapping the plaid around the arm was quite a nice may of dealing with the garment and would be quite protective as is attested to a number of times in history. Lyell Drummond hypothesises that the voluminous leine would provide at least some protection from cutting attacks which would be a nice thing to test out.

 In conclusion I think we achieved a good impression that while it is in no way wholly accurate is accurate in spirit. Not bad for a rushed job. The clothing was practical and while quite outlandish to modern eyes manages to effect practicality with showiness within the fairly limited means of people in the Gaelic areas.

Leather work: http://www.foxblade.co.uk/
Swords: http://www.armourclass.co.uk/
Please contact me for further information about the bow.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Videos and pictures

 The bow is here. I am trying to negotiate the time to wrote a longer piece on the bow but have been swamped over the summer, which is traditionally my busier time. It's nice to be busy!