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.***