John D. Grainger, Cromwell against the Scots [Revised] (Pen & Sword, 2021)
The subtitle for John Grainger’s Cromwell against the Scots is ‘The Last Anglo-Scottish War 1650-1652’. Followers of the Jacobites might contest that, but Grainger holds his ground. He notes that there has been no narrative military history of this important conflict in modern times. Grainger fixed that in the first edition of this book in 1997 but has now updated it with a revised structure and to incorporate new material.
Grainger gets off to an unfortunate start when he argues that Scots suffer from “the usual inferiority complex”, thus indicating a subtle bias that underlies his analysis all the way through to his unfortunate conclusion. The military history that forms the bulk of his book tells the story of Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland in 1650, which both sides viewed as inevitable once Charles II arrived in Scotland to claim his thrones. The Scots gathered their army under Leslie and stayed on the defensive, hoping for an opportunity while wearing down the English invaders. He thought he had that at Dunbar in September, but brilliant generalship by Cromwell, argues Grainger, led to a Scottish rout and retreat to Stirling. After various manoeuvres, Cromwell dislodged the Scots who then marched into England to arouse the Royalist supporters into joining a grand army with Charles at its head. But as much as the Scots resented an English invasion, the English equally scorned the Scottish adventure – this is a central point in Grainger’s argument. The English support the Scots required proved significantly reluctant to come forward, though some did, and the army became entrapped by Cromwell in Worcester. A year to the day after Dunbar, Cromwell attacked and routed the Scots again, but this time with no chance of redemption as almost none of the Scots made it home to fight again. In the meantime, Monck, left behind by Cromwell, captured Stirling and pulled off what amounted to something of a bluff with his stretched forces in capturing Scottish towns while fostering political discontent amongst the Scottish hierarchy. Grainger notes that Scottish resistance imploded under English pressure and their incessant squabbling. Their defeat was total, and they remained under the English yoke until 1660 and the Restoration of Charles II.
Grainger’s narrative is engaging and rattles along; his description of the Battle of Dunbar is particularly good. His analysis of the fractured Scottish political scene is also insightful, though he rarely lingers on any similar problems in England with just a few forays into why some in England would not fight the Scots who had backed them in the English Civil War. Grainger’s text is well-supported by maps and monochrome photographs of interesting artefacts and place, and portraits of the main players. It is unfortunate that he concludes with an appeal to the British union that is mired in antiquated thinking, but that aside, the narrative elements are well worth reading for students of warfare in the British Isles in the Early Modern Period.