Jenn Scott, The Men of Warre (Helion, 2023)
That Scottish history is full of wars and warfare should come as no surprise. However, the popular image of wild Scotsmen charging around in kilts while wielding claymores is well wide of the mark, as Jenn Scott demonstrates in this book that surveys Scottish fighting men in the transitional era between the medieval and early modern worlds.
Scott sketches the colourful, warlike nature of the Scots, who when not fighting the English fought among themselves. There was, therefore, enough fighting to discern developments in both weapons, clothing, and accoutrements. Scott begins her survey of those with the evolution of Scottish artillery, including the massive named guns such as Mons Meg, which was serviced by a considerable force of men wearing various livery. The rank and file soldiers fought on foot with spears, axes, and swords, however, accompanied by archers, many of whom, perhaps surprisingly, were west coast highlanders not normally associated with bows in the modern public mind. As you might expect from medieval armies, armour wearing was mostly limited to the wealthy elites, which Scott describes before delving into the clothing and light armour worn by the rest of the men, some of whom also carried small shields.
A short and curious chapter on naval warfare interrupts the general flow of Scott’s survey, but this again is something not usually considered when it comes to Scottish warfare –placement here is more of an issue than the value. Then Scott moves onto the most famous, or infamous, battle of the period, the disaster at Flodden in 1513, and its aftermath. She describes in detail the arms, clothing, and banners of the Scots army, portraying them as more martial than the result suggests. Scott switches her attention to the Borders and its family based retinue warfare. She notes that the reliance on wee, hardy horses from this region proved useful for the main Scots armies, but also that the Borderers fought amongst themselves using unconventional methods for the time. The increasing use of firearms in the 16th Century brings us more into the early modern period, though the Scots seemed to be behind the European curve in deploying those along with adopting heavy cavalry. Scott concludes her survey in the highlands, where amongst other things, she discusses the introduction of bagpipes and tartan. She adds a very useful glossary and bibliography to round things off.
The Men of Warre is a fascinating survey of the Scottish military during this period of transition. Scott depicts a dynamic military, willing to change and adapt to the changing needs of warfare but also describes the restrictions in doing so. Scott writes with authority and is clearly an expert on her subject, though she skips around inside her chapters, which also could have been better packaged more neatly for her readers. Nevertheless, I suspect Scott’s book will be the go-to opening for any student of this period in Scottish military history.