After an exhausting sea crossing from France, Marie arrived on a sandy beach on the Scottish East coast near Crail. She was accompanied by the duke of Guise her father, her sister Louise, her ladies in waiting and many Frenchmen. All disembarked the galleys and moved towards castle Balcomie, probably passing fishermen, villagers and townspeople. How did these Scottish people look, and what did they wear in the summer of 1538?
The nobility of Scotland was well informed of the latest French fashion. James V Stuart, Marie’s royal husband, had seen Renaissance splendour in dress and architecture whilst travelling trough France the previous year. He had brought to Scotland his first wife Madeleine, daughter of the French king, and Scottish noblemen and women likely wore French fashion, probably with a local touch in colours, materials or dress design.
No pictures of any everyday clothes worn in Scotland at the time of Marie’s arrival exist. The earliest images appear in an illustrated book intitled A collection of the various styles of clothing which are presently worn in countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the savage islands, all realistically depicted that was first published in Paris in 1562 by François Deserps. Four of a total of 124 engravings in his book concern Scotland and are divided in Lowland and Highland fashion. It might be surprising to some, but the picture of L’escossois or Scot shows no kilt but baggy pants with tartan-like patterns, possibly made of wool, and a short tunic with very large sleeves. The man is bearded and armed with a spear or stick, a dagger, a long sword worn without scabbard, and a buckler. In his description of the engraving, François Deserps notes disdainfully: « he is not worldly nor refined. » However, the Scots headgear looks rather fancy. It is hard to tell if he wears shoes or some sort of tights. Maybe he is simply barefoot.
The image of the Scottish woman, claims Deserps, “is pictured exactly to the natural« . She wears a dark corseted gown over a striped petticoat or shirt. With her right hand, she exposes the rich fur lining of her gown, and in the left hand she holds an oblong basket. An ample and light coloured cloak or veil covers her figure. Her headdress has a strange elongated shape like a baseball cap. It is probably the « boun-grace » Sir William Brereton (1487-1536) mentioned during his visit to Edinburgh:
Some ancient women and citizens wear satin straight-bodied gowns, short little cloaks with great capes, and a broad boun-grace (a shade in front of the bonnet to protect from the sun) coming over their brows, and going out with a corner behind their heads; and this boun-grace is, as it were, lined with a white stracht [i.e. straight?] cambric [i.e. linen of Cambrai] suitable unto it.
The Scottish townspeople that Marie saw on her way to Saint Andrews in the summer of 1538 might have had the appearance of these two figures.
Later in the 1540s, Marie de Guise was also to discover what François Deserps called ‘the savages’: the Highlanders. Two prints in his book show the ‘savage woman of Scotland’ wearing a large coat made of sheepskin, and the ‘savage captain’, a bearded, long-haired archer carrying under his right arm an unstrung bow, a bunch of arrows – and no bagpipe.
This Scottish archer also has a decorated bag, probably an ancestor of today’s sporran, and a large Irish-style sword in a sheath. He wears his flared high boots and what looks like a tunic, on seemingly bare legs. The herringbone pattern cape is lined with fringes, and on his head sits a helmet with a globe or ring, surmounted by what appears to be feathers. Many Scots came to France to serve the French king as archers and soldiers. Deserps’ Parisian account may therefore represent existing Scottish clothes, even if imaginary elements are possible. But as there are no Scottish sources, these are precious witnesses of Scottish clothing in the mid-16th century.