‘The Great Montrose’; The Targe; and Cloth working in Paisley.

Parts I and II are intended to provide a background to the principal Essay in Part III which will discuss the history, dating and background of a group of three reliquary plaid brooches that provide a context for a gift of a Broach of Burning Gold by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria in 1842.

These three Jacobite brooches may or may not have contained the bones of the Great Montrose as an amulet or talisman encased within them as a holy relic. In shape they are based on the general form of the Scottish Target shield or Targe and they may have been made in either Naples or Rome during a period of Jacobite unrest and exile between 1715 and 1745.

The Paisley weaving businesses making tartan plaids and cloaks played an important part in the reestablishment of the plaid brooch in the nineteenth century as the pin that held them in place when worn by either men or women.

‘The Great Montrose’

Tomb of the Scottish Martyr, 1st Marquess of Montrose

 in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh


In Scotland a Bidding Stick (Scottish Gaeliccrann-tara, translated as ‘fiery cross’ or ‘cross of shame’) was used to rally clan members to arms. The practice is described in the novels and poetry of Sir Walter Scott. A small burning cross or charred piece of wood, it would be carried from town to town, a system much used during the Jacobite uprising of 1745.

‘A Broach of Burning Gold’ may have had a similar effect when worn by the wife of a Highland Chief as a reliquary, especially if it contained the bones of a Scottish martyr.

James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose (1612-21 May 1650), was a Scottish nobleman, poet and soldier who joined the Covenanters in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, but subsequently changed sides and supported King Charles I as the English Civil War developed fighting Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. From 1644 to 1646, and again in 1650, Montrose fought in the Civil War in Scotland for Charles I. He is referred to in Scotland as ‘The Great Montrose’.

Montrose knew that many of the West Highland clans detested the Earl of Argyll and his Campbell clansmen, and none more so than the West Coast MacDonalds who, with other clans, rallied to his summons. The Royalists joined up with Irish Confederates who sent 2000 seasoned troops under Alasdair MacColla across the Irish Sea. They proved to be formidable fighters and Montrose relied on their allegiance.

In two campaigns Montrose and his West Highlanders fought and defeated his opponents in six battles. At Tippermuir and Aberdeen he routed the Covenanting levies; at Inverlochy he crushed the Campbells, at Auldearn, Alford and Kilsyth he gained victories over well-led and disciplined armies.

As a result, in 1644 Charles I appointed Montrose Lord Lieutenant of Scotland and captain general a year later. King Charles was defeated at the Battle of Naseby on 14 June 1645 and Montrose had to go to his aid if there was still to be a king to proclaim. David Leslie, the best of the Scottish generals on the Parliamentary side, was promptly dispatched against Montrose to forestall the invasion. On 12 September at Philiphaugh he came upon Montrose, who had been deserted by his Highlanders and was guarded only by a small group of followers. Leslie won an easy victory and in September 1646 Montrose escaped to Norway.

Montrose made one more appearance on the stage of Scottish history. In June 1649, eager to avenge the death of King Charles I, he was restored by the exiled Charles II to the now nominal Lieutenancy of Scotland. However soon afterwards, Charles II did not hesitate to disown one of his most staunch supporters in order to become King on the terms dictated by Argyll and his followers.

In March 1650 Montrose landed in Orkney to take command of a small force which he had sent on before him with George Hay, 3rd Earl of Kinnoull. Crossing to the mainland, he tried in vain to raise the clans, and on 27 April was surprised and routed at the Battle of Carbisdale in Ross-shire. His forces were defeated but he escaped. After wandering for some time he was surrendered by Neil MacLeod of Assynt at Ardvreck Castle, to whose protection, in ignorance of MacLeod’s political enmity, he had entrusted himself.

He was brought to Edinburgh as a prisoner and on 20 May sentenced to death by the parliament. He was hanged on the 21 May, with Wishart’s laudatory biography of him around his neck. He protested to the last that he was in truth a Covenanter and a loyal subject.

His head was removed and placed on the ‘prick on the highest stone’ of the Old Tollbooth outside St Giles’ Cathedral from 1650 until its burial in 1661.

On 7 January 1661 Montrose’s mangled torso was disinterred from the gallows ground on the Burgh Muir and carried under a velvet canopy to the Tollbooth, where his head was reverently removed from the spike, before the procession continued on its way to Holyrood Abbey. The remaining parts of Montrose’s exhumed body were buried inside St. Giles’ Cathedral on 11 May 1661.

His tomb is inscribed with lines from one of his poems, “Scatter my ashes, strew them in the air/Lord, since thou knowest where all these atoms are…”

A relic of Montrose’s hanging, his right arm (seen front and back) and his sword remained unburied as evidenced by this old photograph.

A summary of the history of the right arm is given by Rachel Bennett in her chapter “A Candidate for Immortality”: Martyrdom, Memory and the Marquis of Montrose in Shane McCorristine (ed), When is Death?: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Death and its Timings (Palgrave, 2016)  and I quote:

In his biography of Montrose, Wishart called him a “candidate for Immortality,” and provided one of the earliest examples in which Montrose’s death was held up as iconic in the Royalist cause. Because of its political currency, Montrose’s story was told and retold by Scottish Royalists into the eighteenth century and beyond. Montrose’s attainment for treason in 1644 was intended to attach shame to his family’s name and contribute to his social death in the eyes of the Covenant. However, in 1661, this social death was undone. Those “nearest in blood” to Montrose, including members of the Graham and Napier families, became a focal part of the funeral proceedings with one contemporary pamphlet commenting that the event marked a restoration of the good name of the Graham family.

There were various ways to think about, and be affected by, dead bodies in seventeenth-century Britain. These included: debates about when a person was medically dead; debates about the religious importance, or power of corpses; and beliefs about the potency of the dead and the healing properties of certain body parts. Popular ideas about dead bodies were frequently noted at public executions, where people showed a desire to possess mementos, such as the blood, hair, clothing, and personal possessions of the executed person. As was customary, the silk stockings worn by Montrose for his execution were claimed by the executioner. He had taken care not to cut them when severing the limbs, and after the event, they were purchased by Montrose’s niece Elizabeth Erskine, Lady Napier. In 1856, a descendent of Lady Napier mentioned that the family was still in possession of the stockings, along with other relics of Montrose. While this was an example of the repatriation of Montrose’s possessions and memory by his family, Royalists were also concerned to “re-member” his body by tracing down his missing arm and heart.

It appears that the left arm sent to Aberdeen was the only one of the four distributed limbs to be collected in 1661. The right arm sent to Dundee to be nailed up above the principal town gate was subsequently carried to England by a Cromwellian officer named Pickering. When one of Pickering’s descendants left England for Spain in 1704, he placed the arm into Ralph Thoresby’s antiquarian collection in Leeds. Upon Thoresby’s death in 1725, the arm was purchased by Thomas Graham of Woodhall in Yorkshire. It remained in the Graham family for decades and one his descendants, John Graham, wrote about the arm in 1752, stating its journey thus far and attesting to its authenticity. By 1834, Mr. C. Reeves of Woodhall, perhaps a descendent of the Graham family of Yorkshire, was in possession of the arm, and he provided details about its current condition. It was a mummified limb, he said, that had been cut off at the elbow and was in an excellent state of preservation In 1891, the arm was purchased by Mr. J.W. Morkill , along with a written statement of authenticity, and in 1925 Morkill attempted to sell it at Sotheby’s. At the time, one newspaper stated that the arm was more than a gruesome relic because it offered a very definitive indication of the character of Montrose: “for understanding eyes it is an historical document, in addition to being a relic coveted by all who have fallen under the spell of a very gallant gentleman. However, Morkill’s notice of sale caused a public outcry and he withdrew the arm from Sotheby’s.

While awaiting his execution in the condemned cell of the Old Tolbooth, Montrose remarked to the guard “even after I am dead I will be continually present…and become more formidable to them [the Committee of Estates] than while I was alive”. Despite making this statement, Montrose could not have foreseen how both his body and his legacy would be utilised by both the Covenanting and the Royalist causes to propagate entirely different values. His three-day execution spectacle was replete with the hallmarks attached to the punishment for offences against the state, from the ignominious public procession to the multiple stages of the execution itself. Furthermore, the displaying of his corpse to indefinitely mark out his criminality was intended to prolong his legal death beyond the extinction of life. However, in conducting a public funeral, the Restoration regime changed Montrose’s identity from that of an executed traitor to that of a murdered martyr and reconciled him religiously and legally.

Will Montrose ever die? This chapter has shown that, even after the honourable reparation afforded to Montrose in 1661, he was not, and perhaps is not yet, truly dead. Some of his body parts, once the dismembered remains of a traitor, were refashioned into coveted relics and instead of marking out his criminality, they attested to his gallantry and loyalty to the king. Spanning four centuries, the journeys of Montrose’s arm and heart drew forth beliefs about body parts as signs of punishment, curious relics, icons of political memory, and curated exhibits. For the Covenant, Montrose’s execution in 1650 marked the end of his life, but for Royalists it was the honourable funeral of 1661 that marked his legal death and repatriation into a political community. Montrose remains an iconic figure in Scottish history.’

The Targe

The general form of the Lorne brooch is based on the Highland Targe or Target shield, a crucial item of a Highland soldier’s equipment. Joseph Anderson and James Drummond in their book Ancient Scottish Weapons, published in 1881, provide the first accurate history of the targe:

The form of the Highland Target is round, usually from 19 to 21 inches diameter. It is constructed of two layers of some light wood, often of fir, the grain of the one layer crossing that of the other angularly, and the pieces dowelled together. Over the wood, a covering of leather is lightly stretched for the front of the target, and a piece of hide, often of calf-skin, with a stuffing for the back. A handle, sometimes of leather or iron and an arm-strap were fixed at the back, near the opposite sides of the circumference of the target. Occasionally there were two arm-straps and sometimes instead of arm-straps, a sleeve of leather was fastened to the back of the target.

A boss of brass usually occupies the centre of the front of the target. The boss was occasionally pierced for a spike which screwed into a socket at the base of the boss. When not in use the spike was carried in a sheath at the back of the target.

The ornamentation of these targets is peculiar and highly effective. The central boss is frequently surrounded by other bosses placed in the centres of contiguous circles defined by rows of nail-heads. The spaces between the circles are decorated by studs, or by segmental plates of brass, fastened with studs in the centre, and with nails round the borders, and ornamented with pierced or engraved work.

These plates, when of pierced work, were placed over a lining of scarlet cloth, which showed through the openings and sometimes the bosses themselves were thus pierced and lined. Occasionally the decoration is confined to the formation of simple geometric patterns, on the face of the target, by the disposition of the studs and nail-heads. Sometimes this simple form of decoration is conjoined with the use of nails and studs but more frequently, the surface of the leather covering is tooled with a variety of patterns, disposed in symmetrical spaces…

That they were made in large numbers [for the newly formed Catholic army], on short notice, in 1745, is shown by the following entries in the accounts of Laurence Oliphant of Gask as paymaster for Prince Charles at Perth:-

1745 Nov. 15. To Wmn. Lindsay, wright, for six score targets, £30.14.6 1746. Jan. 16. To Win. Lindsay for 242 targets-
To 24 Hyds leather from the tannage, £16.16.0
To Goat skins, wood, nails, &c,, , £15.10.0
To two Officers targets pr. order, … £1
Feb. 3. To Wm. Lindsay for paying leather of 200 targes, £16.16.0

It appears from this that the cost of two officer’s targets, made to order, was but 10 shillings each and the cost of the others about 5 shillings each. It appears also that targets were made in Edinburgh in 1745. In the orders for the Highland Army of l0th and 11h October 1745, given at Holyrood House, Colonel Lord Ogilvy orders that all the officers of his regiment shall “provide themselves in targes from the armourers in Edinburgh.” These, however, were probably made to order like those at Perth. The older targets fared badly after the Disarming Acts, Boswell, describing the weapons in Dunvegan Castle in 1773, says there is hardly a target now to be found in the Highlands; after the Disarming Acts they made them serve as covers to their buttermilk barrels. In the case of two of the finest of those figured by Mr Drummond only the ornamented leather remained. Another of the finer specimens was rescued from a coal-cellar in 1870.

Targets were carried by some of the men of the Black Watch when first embodied in 1740, and Grose mentions that he remembered “many private men of the old Highland Regiment in Flanders, in the years 1747 and 1748, armed with targets which, though no part of their uniform, they were permitted to carry.

Detail of 18th century targe, collection Glasgow Museums

Few authentic targes are known to survive. That in the collection of the Glasgow Museums is described as follows:

The intricate decoration of tooled leather and brass studs reflects the distinct craftsmanship of the area of production – the Highlands of Scotland…This fine targe is a very rare surviving example with a central boss that unscrews in order to fit a spike. The diarist James Boswell explained in 1773 why, because of government legislation following the 1745 uprising, this type of shield had become so rare: “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.”

Cloth Working in Paisley

With the banning of the tartan in 1746 plaids had to be of a different form. Paisley was important as a weaving town from Stewart times, and had profited from the teaching of Flemish weavers to become one of the leading producers of cloth in Scotland. In the eighteenth century its silks and gauzes eclipsed Spitalfields for a time; it was also well known for the production of fine lawn and damask.

Paisley shawls have been long regarded as masterpieces of design and weaving, worthy to rank with the best tapestries, and sometimes greater than the finest brocades. The production of shawls in Paisley lasted only seventy years, but the industry had its origins much further back than the weaving of the first shawl about 1800.Shawls may be seen in some of Henry Raeburn’s portraits painted about 1815, and these styles were fashionable until about 1830, with minor variations. In the latter part of the period wool was introduced as a weft, and darker colours were incorporated. The white long shawl retained its popularity throughout the whole seventy years of the shawl trade, the beautiful white-centred plaids of the eighteen-fifties and sixties being their logical evolution.

From 1840 the shawls became more and more elaborate in design. The long shawl grew in size to cover the fashionable crinoline, and became known as a plaid. Queen Victoria purchased several shawls in 1842. She preferred long shawls to square ones, and so set a fashion which endured until plaids, in their turn, went out of favour. It is the productions of this later period (1840-70) which are typically Paisley shawls. Their appearance is too well known to need description. It will suffice to say that designs became more and more elaborate, tending at last to a stiffness never found in the Indian originals. At the same time the white-centred long shawl with its delicately coloured borders of simple pines, which came to be known as the ‘pale-end’ plaid, maintained its popularity and in its cashmere version formed part of the trousseau of every well-to-do bride. It was worn to church after the honeymoon and at christenings, and so was sometimes called a ‘kirking shawl’.

The two varieties of shawls we have discussed, although known as ‘Paisley’, were not the only types of shawls made in Paisley. Queen Victoria’s selections in 1842 included velvet, satin, and tartan shawls. Tartan had been woven before the Indian imitations were thought of, and tartan shawls and plaids were continuously made in Paisley up to 1941.

This account is taken from one of a series of fascinating articles written in 1949 by Edward Harrison who ran Johnstons of Elgin for 46 years from 1920 to 1966 and published by the Scottish Tartans Authority.

John Hawkins was born and educated in England. He has lived in Tasmania for 16 years. He is the author of “Australian Silver 1800–1900” and “Thomas Cole and Victorian Clockmaking” and “The Hawkins Zoomorphic Collection” as well as “The Al Tajir Collection of Silver and Gold” and over 100 articles on British and Australian Decorative Arts. He is a Past President and Life Member of The Australian Art & Antique Dealers Association. John has lived in Australia for 50 years and is 76 this year. In two of the world’s longest endurance marathons and in the only teams to ever complete these two events, he drove his four-in-hand team from Melbourne to Sydney in 1985 and from Sydney to Brisbane in 1988.