Crying over spilt Castlemilk: The Tale of Sir William and the Silver Sallet Part 6

In this sixth and final part we discover the fate of both our protagonist and his silver sallet. This, in turn, opens up a wider debate as to the fate of so much of the martial material culture of the period.

A Bloody Red Herring

Sir William would never return to redeem his sallet. He, his big brother Sir John, and the vast majority of his countrymen fell in the sair fecht against the Auld Innemie. At Rouvray on 12 February 1429 a Franco-Scots force sought to cut off a supply train loaded with barrels of herring headed for the invested city of Orléans. The Scots were abandoned by their pusillanimous native allies including Duke Louis of Orléans’ natural son Jean (count of Dunois from 1439) (Figure 1). This Bâtard d’Orléans, however, would prove himself to be a key figure in turning the tide for King Charles. Once trapped in the net of the wily Sir John Fastolf at this Battle of the Herrings, the Scots felt the bitter edge of this English commander’s ‘werre cruelle and sharpe without sparing of any parsone’.[1]

Figure 1: A Knight in Prayer, Stone figure sculpture, French, 15th century, Glasgow Museums, 44.25.

‘white harneys of old facion’

Where then, is Sir William’s sallet now? And indeed the harness of so many of those who fought at this time? Documentary evidence such as indentures, household, business and governmental accounts, and wills attest to the fact that there was a great deal of it.[2] The final act of the Orléans play, alluded to in the first essay, has the defeated English soldiers marched away bareheaded – their sallets in their hands (‘la teste nue […] leurs salades en leurs mains’).[3] Sumptuous artworks depict harness in fine detail (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Ordeal by Fire of St John the Evangelist (detail), stained glass panel, France, c. 1510, Glasgow Museums, 45.390.a.

            Sir John Fastolf, a commander who had grown filthy rich from the wars in France, was dead by 1459. In 1462 an inventory was made of his goods at his house at Southwark. There listed are ‘viij white harneys of old facion […] x peyre breganders, febill […] x basenettes, xxiiij salettes, vj gorgettes […] ij haberions and a barell to skore [t]hem’.[4] On 4 November 1454 two London armourers were tasked with providing a valuation of the stock of Court Pothof, late of Southwark, armourer.[5] Of those classed as an ‘old haubergeon’ (‘vet’ haberion’) three were valued at 20d., one at 16d. and another at 12d. There was one sallet that was black from the hammer, meaning it had not been planished or polished (‘j nigra Salet’) worth 10d., one old basinet (‘j vet’ Basenet’) worth 16d., and one pair of greaves (‘j par’ Greves’) (lower leg defences) worth 8d. These sorry scraps were probably not worth much more than the roll of parchment on which they have been recorded.

Figure 3: Sallet/salade/ barbut, Italy, late 15th century, originally fabric covered, Glasgow Museums, E.1939.65.al.

            The answer, then, to our question is simple: until the Gothic Revival of the eighteenth century, mail and plate armour was considered perfectly reusable iron and steel. A good example is to be found in Glasgow Museums’ collection. A mid-fifteenth-century helmet has had its face opening crudely sheared back, most probably to provide an archer with a better view (Figure 3). Visitors to Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum can gaze in awe at the ‘Avant’ harness (Figure 4). It is a remarkable survival from the fifteenth century. Yet it is also a sight that would have once been commonplace in every town, city, and castle and on every battlefield across Europe.

Figure 4: Milanese Armour by Corio Workshop, Italy, c. 1445, Glasgow Museums, E.1939.65.e.

From the Siege of Orléans to the Soo side

Today Scottish schoolchildren readily recognize the name Lord Darnley as that of the notorious second husband of Mary Queen of Scots (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Portrait of Lord Darnley, Henry Stuart (1545-1567), 16th century, Glasgow Museums, PL.1927.248.

Yet the vital role of his ancestor – and so many of theirs – in weakening the English cause in France is largely forgotten. Darnley is a neighbourhood in, what is now, the Southside of the City of Glasgow very close to Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. In nearby Castlemilk, Sir William’s castle was demolished to make way for an (also demolished) country house, the stables of which have been converted into a community hub. Here can be seen a fantastic nineteenth-century fireplace carved with the dramatic scene of Sir William and his men fighting heroically at the gates of Orléans (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Old fireplace rescued from Castlemilk House depicting Sir William fighting at the siege of Orleans.

[1] Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Wars of the English in France […] Vol. 2, Part 2, ed. by Joseph Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1864, repr. 2012), p. 518.

[2] R. Moffat, ‘Armourers and Armour: Textual Evidence’, in The Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles, c. 450-1450, ed. by Gale Owen-Crocker, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Maria Hayward (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 49-52.

[3] Mistère du siège d’Orléans, ed. Guessard and De Certain, p. 745.

[4] London, British Library, Additional MS 39848, fol. 50r-fol. 53r, printed in Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century, Part I, ed. by Norman Davis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 107-14 (at pp. 113-14).

[5] London, London Metropolitan Archives, Plea and Memoranda Roll A80, membrane 4.


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