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Title: Strategy and tactics in mediaeval Scotland
Author: Forbes, J. D.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1927
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Offensive operations by the Scots in the Middle Ages were confined to the single sphere of the north of England and can be divided into two chronological periods. In the twelfth century the object of the invasions was the conquest and retentio7 of the northern counties; in the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth, the aim was simply to cause diversions of the strength of England from more vital points at home or abroad. Permanent conquest necessitated the existence of elaborate siege equipment and a disciplined army of occupation at a time when Scotland possessed neither the one nor the other. In occupying a district which is meant to be held indefinitely, care must be taken to secure possession of the fortresses, the fetters of the country, and to conciliate the inhabitants by respecting their lives and property. The armies of David I and of William the Lion could not do these things. Their attempts at sieges were gene rally unsuccessful, and the composition of their bands rendered sporadic plundering inevitable. The leaders were not responsible for this state of affairs; the state of civilisation in Scotland e was not yet far enough advanced to allow of the formation of a wei disciplined host,or, which was more important, of a properly organised system of supply which would have rendered wasteful foraging unnecessary. It may be, however, that the attacks, failures as they were, served the purpose of a true defensive at a time when the lack of unification in Scotland would have made the country a prey to an organised English conquest. The mistaken nature of the policy of running risks on behalf of France has already been commented on. The true military sphere of raids of diversion in the north of England was to draw away the southern forces from an attack on a northern fortress or district or to bring pressure to bear on the southern government and thus secure a favourable peace. Thus the attacks made by Bruce and his lieutenants were truly defined in their scope and resulted in the saving of Berwick and in the extraction of the peace of Northampton from an exhausted enemy. The successful handling of these raids required a high degree of perseverance at a time when things might be going badly elsewhere. When thef qualm ty was lacking disaster followed, as in the battles of Dunbar and Ialidon Hill. On the other hand, even when Walter was hard pressed in Berwick, Bruce steadfastly refused to risk a battle for the town. Pitched battles, as distinct from combats, had to be avoided in these expeditions. Neville's Cross and Flodden were avoidable disasters brought about by violation of this rule. Otterburn was a successful battle, but it brought to the Scots only a gain in prestige. The most disastrous campaign which the English fought in their own country, that of Weardale, did not contain a single open action. In this work, where detailed attention can only be directed to the more outstanding actions, the cumulative effect of raids has not been stressed. No account can be taken of the scores of minor parties which crossed the English border at various periods, but the mass result cf these operations was very great. This system of warfare gradually created a line of defence which was difficult to pass, but it also brought about in a later stage of the country's development as state of anarchy which was with difficulty corrected by the later rulers. In the Middle Ages military power was mostly in the hands of the barons who constituted, as it were, the military aristocracy. This was an inevitable sequel to the feudal system of landholding, which made the tenants-in-chief the king's lieutenants in the national levy. While all men of rank were soldiers, there were practically no professional leaders of armies. From his very nature the soldier of fortune was an adventurer or mandless man. As an adviser or as the leader of a contingent of mercenaries he was welcome, but it was very rarely that he rose to the command of an army. In most cases the barons would not have tolerated such promotion over their heads, though there. is little doubt that such men as Walter Manny had as much military intelligence as most of the barons put together. Occasionally a country, especially England, produced a king who could bring to his natural position of leadership great military intelligence. Generally, however, the multiplicity of the king's duties prevented his becoming proficient as a general and he was dependent upon the advice of a council of barons with no more ability in the matter than himself; this was almost constantly true in the case of France. As a general rule the barons made good fighters, but most indifferent leaders. When the list of English successes gained at the expense of the Scots is examined, it is found that at Dunbar, Falkirk, and Halidon Hill the king led the army and that in the latter two cases he directed its movements in person. At the Standard and at Neville's Cross the northern barons of England did not show any outstanding skill; rather it was the Scottish leaders who showed ineptitude. At Flodden Surrey did not show himself in any way a distinguished master of war. Edward II was the only English king defeated in plain battle by the Scots, and it is out the question to say that he controlled the English army at Bannockburn. In brief the tide of English success rose highest during the reigns of her two general- kings, Edward I and Edward III, and that of Scottish victory during the period of Bruce. The Scottish barons had the melancholy privilege of possessing a long list of such incompetent generals as Archibald Douglas and Donald, Earl of March cannot be plausibly alleged that the failure of the baronial leaders was due to the fact that the successful principles of Scottish war had not been adequately demonstrated. They appeared clearly under Wallace in a defensive sense and developed under Bruce in an offensive direction. Yet after the peace of Northampton there appeared a most unfortunate neglect of the lessons learned at so great a cost, and repeatedly the most elementary rules of Scottish warfare were violated in glaring fashion. It is not easy to find an explanation of this negligent behaviour. English leaders did apply the teaching of Dupplin Moor to some practical purpose, and even the French tried to avoid in later actions the primary error of the Crecy catastrophe. But the Scottish barons, in a fashion almost systematic, forgot the old tricks and failed to produce any new ones. Even in an inbred aristocracy depending on brawn rather than on brains, something better than this was to be expected. Perhaps it was due to the fact that most of the barons were absent from Scotland at the period of the war of Independence. The more probable explanation is, however, that no pains were taken to pass on the fruits of acquired experience from one generation to another. Scotland in the Middle Ages could not foster a Staff College, but it might have possessed a few elementary rules and regulations in written form. Yet the fact remains that, apart from Bruce's testament, there exists nothing approaching a text book on the principles of Scottish warfare. The redeeming feature is the prolific crop of partisan leaders which Scotland invariably produced from the ranks of the knights and of the common people in times of danger. This is a tribute to the undoubted military ability of the commons, which has appeared even more markedly in modern times. It was also the primary explanation of% the fact that Scotland was able to maintain her independence, a performance which, despite the defeats suffered in the process will remain on record as a wonderful effort in the face of natural disadvantages, misdirected leadership, and an exceptionally formidable enemy. Our summing up must be in favour of the people and adverse to their leaders as a whole.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available