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Army Notes


Feudal Castings 25mm Scots Pikemen

Scots Common (1124-1512)
DBA IV/16

by Roy Beers

This list begins appropriately at the start of the reign of King David I, a highly successful monarch who extended a measure of control over what had tended to be independent regions by imposing a Normano-Scottish feudalism on the disparate parts of the realm - partly through land grants to imported Anglo-French nobles and partly by formalising in feudal form the provincial rule of strong existing hereditary rulers. The great territories controlled by the Mormaers of earlier times transmuted to Earldoms - for example of Ross or Moray - combining local continuity of power with at least technical royal control under a "modern" mainstream European system. It was fundamentally at odds with Gaelic culture, however, and would exacerbate the friction between Gaeldom and the Lowland Scots in years to follow.

David I lost the battle of Northallerton in pursuance of his own feudal right to Northumbria - but kept the territory anyway as England, wracked by the Stephen and Matilda war (Matilda was his niece) could not afford another Scottish invasion.

The division between Scotland and England was far less distinct than today, since great nobles would continue to own huge estates on both sides of the border - for example the de Brus family owned large tracts of Northern England, by feudal right - and by Bruce's time the Borders lands in particular would become in effect a militarised zone, in which local magnates would pursue their almost private wars. At the start of the Wars of Independence the entire population of Berwick upon Tweed was massacred by Edward I, and control of the town would ultimately pass between England and Scotland 14 times. Towards the end of the Middle Ages Northumberland and Cumberland became specifically "English" as the "real" Border settled on the Tyne - Solway line.

David's successor Malcolm IV brought the south-western region of Galloway under control after three separate military expeditions, and repulsed a Gaelic-Norse descent on the Lowlands (1160) very probably killing in the process Somerled, progenitor of the Lords of the Isles. But Scotland, whose royal focus was then around the coronation place of Scone in Perthshire - the heart of ancestral Pictland - still had the Vikings to contend with. Norse suzerainty over Scotland's west coast and isles had been broken by Somerled, and the Hebridean west was now (and despite Somerled's demise) effectively an independent isles "kingdom" - and at its height the Lordship of the Isles would also control the mainland Earldom of Ross, and other territories. Although technically subject to the Scottish crown Somerled's successors often argued the old western territories had been held by their ancestors for the King of Norway, not that of Scotland. They exercised power through fast-travelling fleets of Highland galleys.

But the northern isles, and the northernmost mainland territory of Caithness, remained Norse - and Norwegian claims on land won in Scotland by their ancestors only ceased after the Battle of Largs in 1263 - which was really just a postscript to a naval invasion which had been hopelessly scattered by a storm. Two years later Scottish troops at Helms dale in Sutherland repelled with great slaughter what may have been the last serious Norse attempt to regain its former influence in the far north of the country.

Attempts by the Scottish crown to control or even keep in check the chieftains of the Isles and Highlands were to be a dominant theme of the whole period, often involving dangerous interaction with Scotland's increasingly fraught relations with England - which, with the end of the Simon de Montford rebellion, was now for a time free of baronial strife and set for aggressive expansion under the formidable Edward I. In the Wars of Independence from 1286 through to the 1340's the Plantagenet kings repeatedly tried to annexe and rule Scotland, but despite temporary successes in the years following Bannockburn had effectively lost the struggle at that decisive battle - it was a moral as well as physical triumph after which there could be no further doubt that Scotland was a legitimate independent country under its own monarch. At Bannockburn in particular the Clan Domnhaill (or Donald) adherents of Angus Og, Lord of the Isles, of the line of Somerled, had backed the Bruce cause - in part because of dynastic links with Bruce's ancestral Celtic feudal subjects and kinsmen in Galloway and Northern Ireland (the original de Brus was gifted his south-west lands by David I) and his family alliance with the powerful Hebridean line of MacRuari.

Just as importantly Bruce had, during the precarious early years of the bid for kingship, been given him safe haven in territory where he could never be pursued effectively. Nevertheless the would-be King Robert I had no shortage of home-spun enemies in the Highlands, among them the MacDougall John of Lorne, who acted as an English "admiral" and who, after battles by land and sea, ended up very much on the losing side.

By the turn of the 15th century the struggle for effective control of the Western Isles and Highlands - between the Gaelic Lords of the Isles and the Scottish crown or its appointees - more often resembled open war between rival states. Control of the wealthy Earldom of Ross was the standard bone of contention, and led directly to the desperate battle of Harlaw in 1411, in which the Crown forces were able to claim they had held the field - but at the cost of perhaps half their entire force, and the loss of senior nobles in the numbers usually associated with a major defeat. Further major clashes occurred at Inverlochy (1439), Langerbrad, in Ross (1480) and Bloody Bay (1481).

When not looking anxiously to the real or perceived Gaelic menace in the North and West, or towards fresh threats from England - which, in Henry VIII, was still intriguing with would-be Lords of the Isles right into the 16th century! - Scotland and her doom-laden Stuart monarchs had their own baronial wars to worry about: at the battle of Arkinholme one faction of the house of Douglas was used by the Crown to suppress the other in what amounted to a dynastic family civil war.

English embroilment in first the Hundred Years War and then the Wars of the Roses naturally reduced the threat from the south for lengthy periods - and in fact the 15th century saw the Earls of Douglas and Buchan leading their private armies to join France against England (for which contribution the Scots archers were ever after the most elite guard company of the French Crown) - but as late as 1462 a Scottish king could still have to deal with a major threat such as the so-called Treaty of Westminster-Ardhornish, in which the Lord of the Isles, Henry IV of England and an exiled Earl of Douglas aimed to split control of Scotland three ways. Instead the Isles chieftains became involved in a destructive struggle for power among themselves and, in a series of forfeitures, lost control first of the Earldom of Ross, then Knapdale and Kintyre. The last Lord of the Isles acquiesced to the abolition of the title and its rights altogether in 1493 (he was not executed, as erroneously claimed in one well-known reference book); and retired to monastic obscurity on a pension - as had Fergus of Galloway in the days of Malcolm IV - although in years to follow the standard of revolt would still be raised on occasion by new challengers for the title.

By 1512, when this list ends, the supremely capable but ultimately unlucky monarch James IV would still have to look carefully over his shoulder at the Gaelic west as he prepared to lead his army over the border into the North of England as an ally of France .in the 1513 campaign which ended in disaster at Flodden Field.

Throughout all of this period the Scots Common army - essentially a provincial levy - remained essentially the same. Quick to raise it was also too often inexperienced - and when it did field experienced (and more or less permanently militarised) levies, from great lords such as the Douglasses, these could be potentially more of a threat to royal power than the English The army was at its most impressive and professional under Robert I (the Bruce), as seven years of continuous campaigning under a ruthless and gifted commander had forged an unusually disciplined and totally committed instrument of war - one able to undertake previously impossible manoeuvres, and at Bannockburn to advance boldly directly against the dreaded heavy cavalry of England. In future the schiltron spearmen of the Common army would lose a string of defeats to English armies or their dissident Scots allies, at Dupplin, Halidon Hill, Neville's Cross and Homildon Hill, but would also launch devastating raids into England under border lords who were on a permanent war footing.

The cost of these large-scale Scottish chevauchees on occasion came close to bankrupting England, and while battles might be won or lost the sheer expense and unpopularity of Scottish wars - which typically saw the Scots wearing the starving invaders out by endless marches across barren terrain - kept Scotland independent. For several years after Bannockburn the Scots levied = massive sums in blackmail from England's effectively defenceless northern counties, replenishing in part the depradations committed by Edward I and his lieutenants. Besides Plantagenet armies and those of northern barons the forces of the Scots Crown would also fight the army of the Disinherited - Scots who had been in English pay; adherents of the ousted Balliol faction, and assorted freebooters: Andrew Murray, son of the co-victor (with William Wallace) of Stirling Brig, defeated David de Strathbogie, a leading member of the Disinherited, at Culblean on Deeside in 1335 - and followed through with a successful guerrilla war reminiscent of his father's brilliant North Rising whirlwind campaign in 1297.

As a whimsical and more or less accurate guide to what a fight with the Scots might have been like here is a quote from the novel Sir Nigel by (a great Scotsman) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame:

"And the Scotch?" asked Nigel. "You have made war upon them also, as I understand."

"The Scotch knights have no masters in the world, and he who can hold his own with the best of them, be it a Douglas, a Murray or a Seaton, has nothing more to learn. Though you be a hard man, you will always meet as hard a one if you ride northward. If the Welsh be like the furze fire, then, padieu! the Scotch are the peat, for they will smolder and you will never come to the end of them. I have had many happy hours on the marches of Scotland, for even if there be no war the Percies of Alnwick or the Governor of Carlisle can still raise a little bickering with the border clans."

"I bear in mind that my father was wont to say that they were very stout spearmen."

"No better in the world, for the spears are twelve foot long and they hold them in very thick array; but their archers are weak, save only the men of Ettrick and Selkirk who come from the forest."

The Scots Common Army

The DBA Scots Common army is comprised of Knights (General), Pike, Warband (3Wb or 5Wb options), Bow and Psiloi, and can be fielded with three Knight figures, 40 pikemen, 8 highlanders or ribaulds/rabble for warband, and 5 archers for bow and psiloi.

The average Schiltron man spoke the old-Scots tongue, a Germanic-derived language related to Northumbrian (both are roots of modern English) - the word schiltron translates as "shield troop" - although those from north of areas like the Lennox and Lothian would speak Gaelic, as would the native Gallovidians in the south-west. He would on set dates attend a wapenshaw - another old-Scots term, literally "show of weapons" - bringing with him the basic equipment decreed by statute. The Lords would speak their local language and, of course, French - at least in "polite society."

The long-spearmen of the schiltron levies in a "typical" Scots army of the period were a reminder of the dense shieldwall of earlier times, when we are told the Scots and their then Scandinavian allies fought in the same manner. The schiltron was intended both for frontal combat and for all-round defence, and seems to have been an oval-to-circular formation. Details of low-level drill are lacking, but it's likely men from villages, towns, parishes and burghs would have formed units ranging from a five-man squad to multiples of 10, up to 1,000. "Company" sized units probably gathered around a local standard and local leader. Densely arrayed and capable of only limited manoeuvre as were the raw forces raised for emergencies, frequent service on occasion created a far more disciplined force - never more so than in 1314. Here we find the schiltrons arrayed "deployment distance" apart and, as in Randolph's rapid blocking movement against a cavalry flanking move on the Scottish left, evidently capable of adroit and efficient changes of position: certainly the tactical dexterity of the Scots at Bannockburn was greatly superior to that of the cobbled-together feudal array of England. When Bruce was told that a vast English army was approaching, its rear elements straggling all the way to the horizon, he ordered that his men be told they were coming on in great disorder - which, despite the high quality of many individual English contingents, was probably completely true. Conversely at Falkirk in 1298 the schiltrons were arrayed in passive defence, front ranks kneeling, for despite the troops' fighting spirit it may not have been practical to do much else.

We may imagine the spear grew to its 12 (or more) feet length at least partly to counter the threat of new heavy cavalry enemies following the Norman Conquest of England. The schiltron was generally an oval formation, at the front of which many well-armoured lords would fight alongside their men, and the bulk of the army was generally mustered in three or four such provincial schiltrons.

The army was "local" in character, much as had been the Saxon fyrd - and many Lowland Scottish levies were probably very similar to their northern English counterparts - and it was expected to serve for 40 days. The infantry was usually poorly equipped and armoured - a padded jacket and simple skull helmet would be typical, together with either a targe or "heater" shield: not all would have swords but many would carry axes instead. Many also carried hunting horns of various sizes and when trying to create an effect the whole army would sound them at once - a din which could be heard four miles away, or six at night, according to Froissart - who notes the consequent effect on enemy morale.

To the spearmen of David I's time had been added "levies" of feudal Normanic knights, who were granted land specifically in return for maintaining heavy cavalry on standard West European lines: this feudal array was completely effective at Northallerton, where it smashed clean through the Anglo-Norman line (but was unable to win the battle through lack of support) but was uncoordinated and out-classed at Dunbar in 1296. A delivery of French armour harnesses was very warmly received on one occasion, which may indicate Scottish chivalry was sometimes poorly equipped by mainstream European standards.

From 1300 onwards the line between ordinary call-up infantry and land-granted feudal cavalry became blurred, as the cavalry quotient increasingly devolved on the Borders lords, who naturally favoured a lighter and more flexible style of fighting: it was these lighter cavalry (who are not second class Knights but rather first class "Cavalry") who rode down the English archers in a flank charge at Bannockburn. It's also worth noting that Bruce, armed with a small axe and mounted on "ane small grey palfrey" neatly sidestepped a charge by the heavily armoured English glory-seeker Humphrey de Bohun before "cleaving him to the brisket" in front of both armies - which perhaps neatly illustrates the adage "horses for courses."

A Scots army could also have with it (as noted) a quota of experienced archers from the Borders Forests areas around Selkirk (e.g. the Ettrick Forest archers); and also from the Isles, and the islands of the Firth of Clyde, where the bow was an important legacy of former Norse rule. They were individual "snipers" - huntsmen and forest gamekeepers - and in no sense the equivalent of England's massed Welsh archers.

It might also contain ferocious Gallovidian warbands from the south-west, both in defence of the Lowlands and in raids upon England. Their heartland was, in the Middle Ages, a deeply frightening place - and on campaign the locals may still have practised head-hunting. In the late 15th century a military expedition had to be dispatched from Edinburgh to clear our an extended family of cannibals . because emissaries from down south, and other travellers, kept going missing.

In the wars in the Highlands and the Gaelic west the Scots Common army could have as allies both Highland warbands and the heavily-armed axemen of the Hebridean chiefs - and these seasoned professional warriors, with their Hebridean-derived galloglaich cousins in Ireland, would also join the invasion of Ireland in 1316.

Finally all Scots armies would have their quotas of "ribauds" or "sma' folk" - levies of small social standing - who could nevertheless be (as at Bannockburn, and as described by Froissart, after Jacques Le Bel) - highly effective light infantry.

Allies and Enemies

With Arable home terrain (very often burned before the advancing English) the Scots Aggression of 3 gives them plenty of scope for waging war on the Auld Enemy.

But it has plenty of other enemies too - III 40(b) Vikings; III 46 Norse Irish (eg when repelling the Dublin Vikings in 1160); and 77 Scots Isles and Highlands - right through the whole period. In book IV it meets IV 3 Anglo-Norman (eg Northallerton); fights itself (eg Bruce v the Comyn faction in the North; or the Red Douglas faction against the Black); fights all three of 21 a,b,c Anglo-Irish; 23 Feudal English (e.g. Bannockburn); 58 Medieval Irish; 62 English 100YW and 83a Wars of the Roses English.

To these you might add a speculative list, Galwegians or Gallovidians in the 12th century - who could be I X 3Bd (King Fergus and Retinue) 10 X 3WB; 1 X 2PS or LH.

In a Douglas army there ought to be a Cv contingent, as these were the staple ingredient of well-equipped raids over the Border - and in classic encounters between the Douglasses and their counterparts the Percies of Northumberland it's not hard to imagine the Percy forces might contain very similar - maybe even related! - mounted troops. Experiences of Irish warfare may have influenced the Douglas tactic of "plashing" woods and launching forest ambuscades, but of course Bruce - perhaps inspired by reports of a major anti-cavalry success by Low Countries pikemen at Courtrai in 1302 - also made extensive use of ditches, caltrops, concealed pits and so on.

From 1304 or thereabouts I think the compulsory Kn element can often be switched for a Cv element; in France I'd argue the Earl of Douglas must have taken a contingent of Border horse - which would be Cv. The command element should usually be Pk, not Kn, (with the prospect of one very powerful attack factor for a supported Pk element fighting in ideal circumstances); meanwhile the Wb representing Islesmen are the selfsame 3Bd troops we find dominating the Scots Isles and Highlands list and I don't see why they should now be different. You might find Wb clansmen in the Highlands proper - I am sure these were the men who, under Douglas, outflanked a mountain ambush from upslope in the battle at the Pass of Brander during the Bruce wars - but if serving in the Lowlands I think well-armed galloglaich equivalents are more likely (and it was a specifically Isles contingent which served in 1314).

At Bannockburn they were "brigaded" with Bruce's own reserve schiltron, and were probably "sprung" at the decisive moment, when the English were embattled and thoroughly disordered. Well-equipped in nasal helms and sword-proof ahketons, wielding two-handed axes and led in person by Angus Og, the most powerful man in the Western Isles, they would have been a terrifying foe: their cousin galloglaich in Ireland had over the last fifty years inflicted a series of crushing defeats on the Anglo-Norman lords and had spearheaded a major Irish-Gaelic resurgence. It is unclear whether some or all were trained as schiltron troops before the battle, but on the first day of action they had to be "called back" from an impetuous charge when the Duke of Gloucester's cavalry probe on the Scottish right had come to grief - these were no half-hearted caterans. Hebridean expeditionary forces historically went with only two thirds of the men who wished to go on campaign, and inevitably the most seasoned and best-equipped contingents would be included.

It's a minor shock to find the Scots apparently have no friends: in fact you have to deduce who these are for yourself, and find the Scots are indeed listed as Allies when you look at the right armies - 100 Years War France (which also includes a Scots Pk contingent option for an army not acting in alliance with a complete Scots DBA army).

A sizeable French army under Jean de Vienne also campaigned in Scotland in the late 14th century; Allies also include Medieval Ireland (e.g. during the 1316 Edward Bruce invasion); and Wars of the Roses English (e.g. James II in alliance with Edward IV).

When fighting in France I suggest dropping the Wb options and counting maximum Pk, and just possibly adding a Cv element to the existing Kn in place of a Ps element, to represent the numerous (and useful) light Borders horse available to the Earl of Douglas. From at least 1450 Scottish kings were artillery trendsetters and could field an impressive train, but primarily for siege use - I don't have a reference for first use in the field. Of course if you have a 15th century battle featuring a substantial BUA you could always field an Art element and allow it to attack only the BUA.

If you paint a double-DBA army as 15th century Douglases you can field it the way it is in in France of the 100YW or split it into Red and Black factions for the showdown at home with 12 elements a side!

For more unofficial Allies I might also suggest both Anglo-Norman and Feudal English: David I allied with Matilda in the Matilda v Stephen war (and by extension with Feudal French); and De Brus and others fought as dissident barons (with massive estates on both sides of the Border) for Simon de Montfort; and there may be other examples - Sir William Douglas, captured by Henry Percy (Hotspur) joined and fought alongside him when his fate as a captive became the cause of an open rift between Percy and the English Crown! It could be he was joined by enough of his own men to count as an Allied army: and it would certainly be novel to see the normally arch-rival Douglas and Percy colours borne side by side!

BUA Ideas

A BUA could obviously be either a castle or walled town. Fergus of Galloway reputedly lived in a lakeland dwelling which sounds like it could have been a large and probably stockaded version of the ancient crannog style (reached by a submerged walkway whose exact course was known only to the inhabitants).

Otterburn, 1388, was fought over an ancient Roman or Romano-British camp - which may have been large and intact enough to count as a BUA.

Bruce and James Douglas had a fearsome reputation for storming enemy-held castles in person in daring night escalades, or through such expedients as jamming a Trojan horse "supply cart" in an open gateway. Larger castles, notably Stirling, usually had to fall through starvation - it was the lengthy siege of Stirling Castle which led directly to the battle of Bannockburn.

Useful links

This is an excellent site dealing with Douglas history, worth looking at for its colour plate of the Battle of Arkinholme as well as all the historical detail

And this website deals with Fergus and the history of Galloway.

The Electric Scotland site has masses of historical detail on every aspect of Scottish history.

Exactly how Scotland's most famous victory was fought remains a fiercely-debated topic, and everyone has their favourite pet theory and favoured battle map: this is one of the better attempts.

Here is an atmospheric print of the Battle of Largs, 1263 AD - it could be Andrew Marsden's version of a Battle of Renfrew between the Scots and the Islesmen and Dublin Norse a century earlier would have looked broadly similar -

And here's a link back to Albanach, a DBA 1.1 variant armies article I wrote on Scottish irregular warfare from the Middle Ages onwards.

This is a fascinating illustrated article on funerary effigies near the site of the Battle of Harlaw, 1411, with copious notes on arms, armour and heraldry - and perhaps definitive proof that two-handed swords were in regular use by at least some Scottish warriors long before the usual claimed c16 date.

Six Player Campaigns

Here are two ideas for six player campaigns:

The Forging of Scotland (c.1128 - 1160)

  • Scots Common
  • Norse Irish (Dublin Vikings)
  • Feudal English
  • Scots Isles and Highlands (Somerled)
  • Feudal French
  • Medieval Ireland or Anglo-Irish or Gallovidian (1 X 3b ("King" Fergus and retinue); 10 X 3Wb; 1 X 2Ps or 2LH)

This simulates the period when Scotland was contending with Celtic, Norse and English enemies more or less simultaneously. An alternative might be to subtract the Irish list and add another English one, simulating the Stephen and Matilda war.

These options could also be radically repointed to focus on "The Forging of Gaeldom", concentrating instead on the Gaelic resurgence led by Somerled. In this case leave out the English (who are just an occasional distraction) and of course French, and add two Viking armies for Orkney and Man.

Freedom's Sword (The Wars of Independence, Late 13th-Early 14th Century)

  • Scots Common
  • Scots Common (From 1304: Comyn/Balliol faction or The Disinherited)
  • Scots Isles and Highlands
  • Feudal English
  • Anglo-Irish
  • Medieval Irish

This also builds in Edward Bruce's bid to become High King of all Ireland, which began with a string of Scots victories but ended with Edward's death at Faughart, near Dundalk, in 1318. Scottish involvement in Ireland nevertheless remained strong, particularly in the North where Hebridean-derived Galloglaich families had settled over the previous few decades; in one post-1318 incident Robert I was able to levy blackmail on the English rulers of Wales by arriving with a galley fleet of 800 galloglaich at Carrickfergus in Antrim - an excellent staging post for a descent on a poorly protected enemy coastline.

In both the above examples you would have to note alliance tendencies. For example Medieval Irish can ally to any other but the Disinherited are obviously out to get "regular Scots Common."

Figures

There is a gratifying selection of suitable Scottish figures available, in a variety of scales, but Feudal Castings is worth a special mention: it offers a complete range for the period in 15mm, featuring for example spearmen typical of King David's time; men more suitable for the Bannockburn era; and also better-equipped men of the sort who would have been found in France during the 15th century. The same firm also has a complete range of Islesmen and Galloglaich; Irish etc. Meanwhile it has a set of 24 Bannockburn-style spearmen which can form the basis of a 25mm army.

Others worth a special mention include Irregular Miniatures, whose ranges include Scots spearmen in both 6mm and 10mm. Wargames Foundry used to have a superb dismounted Scottish knight figure, in ahketon and wielding an axe; and also a range of ribaud light infantry.

Naturally many standard medieval troops can also be pressed into service - because of the selection available it's worth having a long look at the manufacturers' lists in the Bazaar to sort out which ranges are best and which odd figures can be chosen from others.

Further Reading

There are many books on the Bannockburn period, obviously, but information on the murky campaigns between the Scots Common armies and the Gaels are much harder to come by - while Malcolm's campaigns against the Gallovidians are about as obscure as they get (but interesting, all the same). This is just a short selection of the books I've found most interesting or useful:- Tuckwell Press is one particularly good source of Scottish military history.

Battles in Britain, William Seymour - well-written account of major battles and their background, from Northallerton onwards. Some of the detail is outdated - for example he assumes, with many writers that the "pooles" at Bannockburn are large tidal ponds, whereas the word is old-Scots for a burn, or rivulet . which somewhat changes the context.

Bannockburn, Peter Reese - recent attempt to explore what Bannockburn was all about. Intelligent. lucid and closely-argued, and probably as good an introduction as you might find.

Battlefields Review Issue no 12: contains two articles, one by Peter Reese; the other by Dr Fiona Watson, arguing their respective corners in the debate on exactly where and how Bannockburn was fought.

A History of Scotland, J D Mackie (Pelican) - Lucid overview of Scottish history which puts events in their proper context.

Grampian Battles, Peter Marron, Mercat Press, Edinburgh - excellent analysis of key Highland and North-East battles from Mons Graupius onwards, and including details of Bruce era battles where no, or very few, English get a look-in! Also contain a good chapter on Harlaw, 1411, the bloodiest northern battle of the period.

Armies of Medieval Europe, WRG, Ian Heath - contains some good Scottish info and, for example, drawings of ribauds from a charter of 1316 (on which the Foundry figures must have been based). The only "uniform" book I am aware of which is much use. I haven't seem the WRG Armies of Feudal Europe but it probably includes useful Scottish information too.

Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, W G S Barrow, University of Edinburgh. Regarded as the definitive academic work on the subject but highly readable. Cogently explains Bruce's Celtic connections and how they were crucial to his ultimate victory.

Chronicles of Froissart (Penguin Classics edition) - Highly readable in translation, this includes a section on a Plantagenet campaign in Scotland, and has a superb account of a Douglas warlord in action.

Somerled and the Resurgence of Gaelic Scotland, Andrew Marsden, Tuckwell Press - first class study of a too often sidelined area of Scottish history, which puts the importance of Gaeldom in Scottish history firmly in perspective.

The Wars of The Bruces; MacNamee: Standard and very good general guide to the Wars of Independence.

The Lords of the Isles, Ronald Williams: Highly readable account of Western Isles history.

The Oxford Companion to Scottish History, Michael Lynch - recently published and excellent general reference work with masses of info on many aspects of the period.

Novels: Besides the works of Sir Walter Scott (for example Quentin Durward, the adventures of a dashing Scottish knight in the France of the 100YW) the most accessible books are the voluminous and enthralling works of the late Sir Nigel Tranter. He should on no account be taken literally on minutiae like numbers or exact tactical details (in one book he has longbowmen at Nothallerton), but as an easy way in to the less well publicised aspects of Scottish history he has no equal; and his books read like thrillers. Anything by Sir Nigel with a picture of a knight on the front is bound to be a good night's read!

Braveheart

No article on the Scots Army would be complete without reference to Mel "Mad Mac" Gibson and Braveheart - the frequently-derided Hollywood epic about The Wallace.

Given previous Hollywood form the major surprise was to find Merlin and Robin Hood hadn't been added for extra colour - but of course it is a farrago of untruths and misrepresentations (for example Wallace didn't sack York!). However in defence it has to be said the original script by Randall Wallace is based on the epic poem by the minstrel Blind Harry (available via the Luath Press, Scotland) which is in the tradition of heroic myths - like Arthur or the Icelandic sagas - not meant to be taken as literal truth. If you were to ask whether the classic 40's movie of Shakespeare's Henry V were a reasonable account of Agincouirt you would have to say no - it is outrageous propaganda (and, screened at the height of WW2, was intended as such): the altogether darker and more menacing recent Kenneth Branagh Henry V is infinitely more "real".

Is there anything good about Braveheart at all? Well, overlooking Patrick McGoohan's should have been Oscar winning performance as Edward I (as with Gladiator, the "baddy" seldom gets proper recognition), it has to be said Mel's crew, give or take some blue paint, make fairly convincing Islesmen or Gallovidians; the scene where the English heavy cavalry ride on to the spearpoints, probably inspired by Alexander Nevsky, is pretty convincing; that English stockaded fort in the early part of the film is a nice piece of work; the film score is quite superb - at least as good as Last of the Mohicans - and the battle-scenes are realistically gutsy, even if there's no brig at Stirling Brig (and in fact all the battles seem to be fought on somebody's municipal golf course). The Scottish cavalry are "Cv", too, and downright shifty at Falkirk, as per the real thing. My one major gripe with the film is Bruce, who just doesn't convince, but the essential thread of the story - free-spirited and loyal man keeping the flame of independence alive while duplicitous nobles squabble - is completely true . and to the film's credit there's no attempt to whitewash Wallace's merciless guerrilla war against the invaders. But historians really hate it. We can live in hope that somebody will one day do a "Bannockburn" on a more true--to-life basis.


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Last Updated: March 12, 2002