Friday 8 March 2013

Objects in Focus: Targe

Targe, West Highland Museum

The targe, or target [targaid], is a circular wooden shield that was popular in the 17th and 18th century Highlands. It was held with the left arm and a sword, spear or dagger would be carried in the right hand. The targe's primary use was to fend off blows from oncoming attackers, and often the back side was padded to deaden the impact therefore protecting the arm. 

The weapon was constructed from wood boards, typically oak or pine, fastened together and covered with embossed and tooled leather. Brass or nickel studs were added in a circular pattern to the front and a hand grip or two grips were fastened to the back. A common addition was an arm strap to ensure a firm hold on the shield. Occasionally targes were highly ornamented with silver or brass mounts and heraldic representations. 

Targe, West Highland Museum
The targe could likewise serve as a weapon as the centre brass boss, generally the larger boss, could accommodate a spike being attached to it. This was surely a contributing factors to its popularity; the defensive and offensive benefit.

The Highland Charge was a military tactic involving the targe that was successful at battles including Killiecrankie and Prestonpans.  It involved the soldiers discharging their muskets at close range and then charging ahead through the smoke with their targe and broadsword. This tactic was last used at Culloden in 1746 but unfortunately the effect was greatly lessened. Major Mackay Scobie maintained that the soldiers discarded their targes due to their inability, through exhaustion, to carry them.

A Highland Outpost by John Pettie (1839 - 1893)
After Culloden the use of targes went into decline, and the 1746 Act of Proscription  (enforced 1 August 1747) banned the weapon along with all other weapons associated with the Highlands: ‘to have in his or their custody, use, or bear, broad sword or target, poignard, whinger, or durk, side pistol, gun, or other warlike weapon’. This same act restrained the wearing of “Highland Garb”, but was repealed over thirty years later in 1782. A famous quote by Boswell, 1773, reads:

There is hardly a target now to be found in the Highlands. After the disarming act they made them serve as covers to their buttermilk barrels.

This example of a targe is from the late 18th to early 19th century and shows no sign of use in combat which could be due to the lack of hand grip or arm strap on the back. It was possibly made to coincide with the visit of King George IV in August 1822. This visit was orchestrated by Walter Scott who encouraged Scots to wear their tartan proudly for the monumental visit, as a British monarch had not been to Scotland since 1651.

The Carmichael collection at the West Highland Museum has a vast range of objects, a number of which have been presented in blog entries over the past months. The full catalogue of objects is due online via the Carmichael Watson Project website at the end of April 2013.

Drummond, J. Highland Targets and Other Shields (Neill and Company, Edinburgh: 1873)
Telfer Dunbar, J. History of Highland Dress (Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh and London: 1962)

Targe © Carsten Flieger
Portrait: ©Dundee City Council - Arts and Heritage.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]