Tag Archives: battle

Medieval Scottish sword

I have a new sword, which I acquired secondhand. It was made in Czechoslovakia by Nielo – there seems to be a number of very good bladesmith craftsmen in Eastern Europe. It is nicely made and seems a quality piece of work. Though it is over 10 years since I last did any historical fencing this seems a very good sword.

I have been looking for a long time for a sword of this type. The drooping quillons with broad ends are the really distinctive thing here and these differentiate this “Scottish style”, and they are what develop to give the classic “claymore” or “twa-handit sword” of the 15th to 17th century.

The West Highland grave slabs, such as the ones at Keills, show similar swords but with viking style lobed pommels. Was there a real difference between the designs of the West and the East in the 14th and 15th century? Or were the late medieval West coast stone carvers deliberately showing an archaic design? I don’t think there are any extant examples of the lobed-pommel type whereas there are a number of this wheel-pommel type surviving. Here is an excellent example in Kelvingrove museum, Glasgow.

I could have done with this in 2011, when I ran my Battle of Harlaw music workshops. We spent part of one of the sessions looking at the effigy of Gilbert de Greenlaw, and discussing his arms and armour. He is carrying exactly this kind of sword – again in an East coast context. We also looked at some of the West highland effigies.

The sword does not have a scabbard, so making one is my next project. I need to look at more of the effigies and stone slabs to get a better idea of how they work.

Harlaw: 3rd session

For the third in my series of Saturday afternoon music workshops in Dundee’s Wighton Centre, we looked at the ceòl mór or pìobaireachd of “the Battle of Harlaw”. This is a complex and disputed area of study, with many scholars not noticing the connections and relationships between various source notations, or being misled by variant titles or historical claims. We looked at and sung through five different versions, starting with the ballad text in the Scots Musical Museum, and then looking at Danial Dow’s 1796 fiddle pibroch variation set, the lute version from the Rowallan manuscript (c.1620), the version published by Stenhouse in the 19th century copied by him from a now lost “manuscript… of considerable antiquity” and finally looking at a standard pìobaireachd setting, “The Desperate Battle of the Birds”.

Links to these items will be found on my Harlaw web page. Next week we will consider the English masque tune, as well as revisiting the Gaelic Brosnachadh. 2pm in the Wighton Centre, DD1 1DB.

Lachlan Mór MacMhuirich and the Battle of Harlaw

On Friday, July 22nd, and Saturday July 23rd, I am taking part in interesting and important events in Edinburgh, organised by the Clan Currie Society.

On Friday 22nd, at 11am, a stone will be unveiled in the Makar’s Court, outside the Writers Museum just off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The court is paved with stone slabs, each commemorating an important Scottish writer, and the latest stone is for Lachlan Mór MacMhuirich, and will be engraved with the first two lines of his famous brosnachadh, or incitement to Clan Donald before the battle of Harlaw in July 1411:
A Chlanna Cuinn, cuimhnichibh
Cruas an am na h-iorghaile

On Saturday 23rd, starting at 10am, in the Royal Scots Club on Abercrombie Place, Edinburgh, there will be a symposium on Lachlan Mór MacMhuirich and the Battle of Harlaw, with a good selection of speakers.

You can find out more details on the Clan Currie event website.

See also my Harlaw music pages.

Cathedral recital

The next Cathedral recital is tomorrow, Tuesday 5th July, at 12.45pm

Medieval battle music in the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

The programme will be centred around the grand formal ceremonial tune, ‘The Battle of Harlaw’, celebrating the bloody fighting in Aberdeenshire six hundred years ago this month, in July 1411. Other highlights of the programme will be ‘Hei Tuti Teti’, reputedly Robert the Bruce’s march, and later used by Robert Burns for his song ‘Scots Wha Hae’. I will also recite some verses from the Gododdin, “Scotland’s oldest poem”, which describes the defeat of the men of Edinburgh in a battle in around 600AD – over one thousand four hundred years ago.

This event is part of my summer series of medieval harp concerts in the cathedral. Performed in the Priors House, a medieval vaulted chamber set within the ruins of the Cathedral in St Andrews, this series brings to life different aspects of ancient and historical Scottish music.

The last concert, in June, focussed on medieval church music and included pieces from the ‘St Andrews Music Book’ – a medieval manuscript compiled and written in St Andrews in the 13th century, which is now preserved in a library in Germany. For August, I will play grand Gaelic laments, weeping for the fallen and commemorating great chieftains and warriors. But this next recital on 5th July will draw together tunes from very disparate sources to paint a picture of the ceremonial and martial music of court and castle in medieval Scotland.

The harp I use is a unique replica of the clarsach of Mary Queen of Scots. The 500-year-old original is preserved in a glass case in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I commissioned my replica from Irish harp maker Davy Patton in 2006-7. With its amazing soundbox carved out of a single huge willow log, and its intricate carved and painted decoration, the replica harp is a precious medieval art object that fits very well into the ancient ambience of the cathedral.

Admission is free. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling the Cathedral visitor centre on 01334 472563.

Harlaw: 1st session

Yesterday was the first in my series of Saturday afternoon workshops on the music associated with the Battle of Harlaw. In the pleasant and airy surroundings of the Wighton Centre in Dundee, a mixed group of singers and instrumentalists came together to explore the traditions. In this first session, we started with an overview of the battle, looking at a map of the area north-east of Aberdeen, and discussing 15th century Scottish politics.

Then, using the tombstone of Gilbert de Greenlaw as an example, we discussed the military technology of the time, and the nature of the fighting and preparations. Everyone was interested to handle the replica 15th century arms and armour!

Finally, we studied the Scots ballad. Working from Child’s version, and listening to Jeannie Robertson, we discussed the tune, as well as the subtext behind the story, and sung and played through the entire ballad.

Next week, we will be considering the story from the other side, looking at the Gaelic incitement to battle, or brosnachadh. Saturday 9th July, 2pm, Wighton Centre, Dundee. See you there!

Blind and partially sighted

Today I presented a lunchtime talk for the Museum of the University of St Andrews, in their medieval gallery. The talk was to present and describe and demonstrate the replica Queen Mary harp. The medieval gallery of the museum holds some very interesting early treasures of the university, including its three exquisite silver-gilt 15th century maces. However these were not in their display case today, as they are being paraded up and down the streets of St Andrews during the Graduation processions.

Before the talk proper, there was a special session for blind and partially sighted people. The museum staff had prepared a special “audio description” of the harp, and embossed line drawings of it, and the blind and partially sighted attendees also had lots of opportunity to touch and feel the carving and decoration on the harp.

For the talk itself I concentrated on the ceremonial music of the old harp traditions. I tried to tie the discussion in with the objects on display; “Gosteg yr Halen” from the Robert ap Huw manuscript went with a 16th century silver salt cellar; I read a translation from George Buchanan’s history of Scotland, a first edition of which is on display in the gallery; and we compared both the decoration on the harp as well as the structure of the music with a carved Pictish cross slab that stands in the museum.

Finally, to tie in with the 600th anniversary of the founding of the University, in 1411, I played a piece of music for another 600th anniversary: “the Battle of Harlaw”, which commemorates and describes this famous and bloody battle which was fought in Aberdeenshire in July 1411.

The Battle of Strathcarron, AD642

This stanza is preserved in the Book of Aneirin, as part of The Gododdin, a cycle of early medieval poetry from Edinburgh and the South of Scotland. This stanza is actually quite seperate from the rest of the poem, and is about a battle that was fought near Glasgow in the year 642. The poem is in the Old Welsh language of the Strathclyde Britons, who were the victors. Domnall Brecc was leader of the South Argyll Gaels, and he was killed by Eugein, grandson of Neithon, king of Strathclyde. This is a highly experimental performance and I apologise for my poor pronunciation and erratic lyre playing.

St Andrews Cathedral Recital

On Tuesday 6th July at 12.45pm, historical harp specialist Simon Chadwick will be playing medieval battle music in the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.

Using his decorated replica of the medieval Scottish ‘Queen Mary’ harp with gold and silver wire strings, Simon will play Scottish music from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century.

The programme will include ‘The Battle of Harlaw’, celebrating the bloody fighting in Aberdeenshire in 1411, and ‘Hei Tuti Teti’, reputedly Robert the Bruce’s march, and later used by Robert Burns for his song ‘Scots Wha Hae’.

This event is part of Simon’s summer series of medieval harp concerts in the cathedral. Performed in the Priors House, a medieval vaulted chamber set within the ruins of the Cathedral in St Andrews, this series brings to life different aspects of ancient and historical Scottish music.

The last concert, in June, focussed on medieval church music and included pieces from the ‘St Andrews Music Book’ – a medieval manuscript compiled and written in St Andrews in the 13th century, which is now preserved in a library in Germany. For August, Simon will play grand Gaelic laments, weeping for the fallen and commemorating great cheiftains and warriors. But this next recital on 6th July will draw together tunes from very disparate sources to paint a picture of the ceremonial and martial music of court and castle in medieval Scotland.

The harp Simon uses is a unique replica of the clarsach of Mary Queen of Scots. The 500-year-old original is preserved in a glass case in the National Museum in Edinburgh, as featured on the BBC’s “Reporting Scotland” last week, with Simon providing musical accompaniment! Simon commissioned his replica from Irish harp maker Davy Patton in 2006-7. With its amazing soundbox carved out of a single huge willow log, and its intricate carved and painted decoration, the replica harp is a precious medieval art object that fits very well into the ancient ambience of the cathedral.

Admission is free. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling the Cathedral visitor centre on 01334 472563.