Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Was war paint worn in battle in Scotland?

In June of this year, I went to Michigan for a Writer's Weekend with my two critique partners. We spent a week writing, editing, plotting, and having fun too! While we were there, we went to the St. Andrews Society of Detriot's Kilgour Scottish Center. They were very generous with their time and knowledge. One of the things they gave to us was a pamphlet of their upcoming Scottish Highland Games. On the cover was a man's face painted white and blue to look like the Scottish flag. This got me to thinking.

When we think of Scotland, many images come to our minds and one of those images is the man with the blue face. Mel Gibson brought to life the painted face in the movie Braveheart and even thought the movie was historically incorrect on somethings, was it incorrect on the face painting? The blue man in synonymous with Scotland, but when men went to war, did they wear war paint?

In researching, it was discovered that war paint was not used in the High Middle Ages (1000-1300) or in the Late Middle Ages (1300-1500). The Wallace/Murray uprisings took place during the Wars of Independence (1290s). At that time, the Anglo-Normans formed a very powerful part of the aristocracy of not only England, but also Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Their manners of dressing and their armour, weapons, and war tactics were the norm for this period. So, there would have been no war paint.

No poetry that had been read mentioned war paint, though they did mention the naming of their weapons and the bravery of their people. Now, if we are talking about the Picts, than this could be a different scenario. The Picts are a historical people recorded from A.D. 300-900, the Early Middle Ages. It is believed they were separated from the British speaking people since 2nd century A.D. They may have been tattooed or painted blue.

We have to remember that legends are built off of some facts. So, even though I don't believe that men in Scotland wore war paint into battle, I do think there could be something to this story. Tell me what you think of this idea.

With war comes injuries, and we know that they would have had some sort of medical supplies with them, even if they were homemade. We know that Indigo was used as a blue dye and an antiseptic. Blueberries or blaeberries (aka bilberries) also have antiseptic properties because of their tannins. So, I think it is safe to say that if a man had had an injury, they may have used one one these items to sop infection and therefore giving the man the appearance of wearing war paint.

And, when one day in the future, a Grandpa is sitting in front of the fire with his grandson on his knee telling a story of his days in the wars, he may have said something like this.  "And there I am, creeping up the hill on my belly and just as I am peeking over the top, I come face to face with a man who had blue paint on his face. Nearly scared me to death!"

***I would like to thank Sharon Gunn for her help in the research of this subject.***


  1. I had no idea. I just assumed they had it accurate in the movie, but they had bigger things wrong.
    Thank you for the education.
    A terrific post!

  2. Your speculations led to one interesting post, Sarah, and a bit of information I'd never heard before regarding the face paint in relation to only the Early Middle Ages. Thanks for an informative post!

  3. Thank you ladies for stopping by and I an glad to hear you enjoyed this post.

  4. Great infor, Sarah. The history of Scotland is a constant sense of learning new things. These ancestors of mine definitely were fighters and had to be tough to live on rocks. I had no idea how much 'rock' was in Scotland until we went there. Reading Scottish historicals for years, I had read about their hard life and can certainly understand it now. Thanks for sharing the info - and yes, Sharon Gunn is fantastic with all her knowledge. :)

  5. Very interesting. Guess Julie Garwood had it wrong in her book too. But, the story is so awesome, I'll cut her the slack. Thanks!!

  6. Very interesting post, Sarah. I'm glad you followed up your speculation with some research and then shared it on your blog. I enjoy reading informative blogs like yours.

    thanks again for sharing :-)

  7. Fascinating topic, Sarah. Anyone can see how a writer's imagination might be fueled by a few good "blueberry" images. What's a few hundred years, give or take? :-) Wonderful post, great food for thought.

  8. Thanks ladies.
    MARILYN- I had to figure this out. Just too curious about it.

    MICHELLE- I think Julie Garwood is fine. That's the liberty we get as being a writers.

  9. I remember the day we went to the Scottish Society. They were so helpful and had loads of information to share. Their pride beaming forth as they shared their stories.

    Just to let you know, if you go to he Celtic festival in Bethlehem, PA ( you will see tons of vendors selling videos stating: 'THE REAL WILLIAM WALLACE DIDN'T WEAR PAINT'.

    'The Scottish Version of William Wallace-this ain't Hollywood'.

    I thought some of these titles were hilarious but very true. The Hollywood version really stretched things that happened historically during that period. It was the extreme of artistic licence.

    Great post Sister Sue!