From the early 17th century until the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the Scottish Highlander’s main means of defense in battle was his targe. After the disastrous defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden the carrying of the targe would have been banned and many would have been destroyed, or put to other uses. Those that remain have intricate patterns and are well decorated, indicating that they could have originally belonged to important people.
Targes were generally, but not always round shields between 18 inches and 21 inches (45–55 cm) in diameter. The inside of the targe was formed from two very thin flat wooden boards, layered, with the grain of each layer at right angles to the former. They were fixed together with small wooden pegs, creating a form of plywood. The front was covered with a tough cowhide which was often decorated with embossed celtic-style patterns. This was affixed to the wood with many brass (or in some cases silver) nails. Occasionally, brass plates were also fixed to the face for strength as well as decoration. Some targes had center bosses of brass and a few of these could accept a long steel spike which screwed into a small “puddle” of lead that was fixed into the wood under the boss. When not in use, the spike could be unscrewed and placed in a sheath on the back of the targe. A Highlander armed with a broadsword in one hand, dagger in the other and a spiked targe on his arm would have been a formidable enemy in close combat.