King & Simpkin — England and Scotland at War (Nakashian)

Andy King and David Simpkin  (eds.)

England and Scotland at War, c. 1296-c.1513

History of Warfare 78. Leiden: Brill, 2012.  ISBN. 9789004229822.  $220.00.  409 pp.

34289Volume 78, England and Scotland at War c.1296-1513, of Brill’s History of Warfare series continues the generally excellent coverage of warfare in the Middle Ages typical of the series.  Editors Andy King and David Simpkin have assembled articles covering a wide array of aspects of Anglo-Scottish warfare during the later middle ages, though there is a greater focus on the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ elements of warfare (leadership, institutions, government structures) rather than on broader cultural issues.  Nevertheless, those interested in understanding medieval warfare, frontier identity and society, Anglo-Scottish relations, and the development of royal governance will be exceedingly pleased with this volume.

The articles, covering a formative period for both the English and Scottish monarchies and nations, seek to fill a historiographical gap due to the loss of interest in military history among prior generations of historians, as well as a tendency to focus on Anglo-French, rather than Anglo-Scottish, relations during the period in question.  Furthermore, with the increase of interest in frontier societies, and the relative richness of the English records, the Anglo-Scottish border provides historians with a particularly rich opportunity for study.

The articles are arranged in a broadly chronological fashion, and they begin with Thea Summerfield’s examination of how the Anglo-Scottish wars were portrayed in the fourteenth century accounts of the chroniclers.  Her article primarily focuses on the writings of Pierre de Langtoft and Robert Mannyng, and she argues that many other writers either ignored the conflict, or saw it as merely tangential to the legacy of Edward I.  Her conclusion that the Scottish conflict had ceased to be a source of great anxiety and concern for chroniclers in discussing Edward I’s reign is interesting and compelling.

Andrew Spencer seeks to rehabilitate the military reputation of John de Warenne, the English commander at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.  Arguing that historians have unfairly and anachronistically maligned Warenne, Spencer instead places the majority of the blame for the English defeat at the feet of Edward I, whom he sees as single-mindedly focused on the wars in France, and thus distracted from the Scottish conflict. This left Warenne with not enough troops, and not enough support from the royal administration.  His arguments are well-presented and defended, and taken together with Summerfield’s evidence reinforce the notion that English focus had shifted to France by the end of the thirteenth century.

Like Spencer, Amanda Beam has chosen to focus on one of the major figures of the Scottish wars, Ingram de Umfraville, and she effectively reconstructs his complex series of interactions with notions of nationalism, political expediency, familial obligation, and ambition.  Her essay is wide-ranging, and while interesting, the broad approach does serve to take the focus a bit too much off of Umfraville himself.  Her image of Umfraville is fascinating, though it could have been strengthened with some comparison to other constructed exemplars of chivalry, even figures from previous generations such as William Marshal.

The following two articles by the editors- David Simpkin’s look at the English sergeants-at-arms and Andy King’s examination of the recruitment practices for English armies early in Edward III’s reign- allow us to re-examine the mechanisms of warfare and governance in the English approach to the wars.  Simpkin mines the evidence to build a compelling image of the sergeants, and he concludes that they formed a battle-hardened core of royal shock troops that could be used by English kings to lead larger retinues or inject solidity to threatened areas.  Andy King wants to see how the onset of the wars in France affected recruitment for English armies in Scotland beginning in 1337, and whether there is evidence for a “military revolution”, as seen by authors such as Clifford Rogers.  He concludes that regardless of the royal innovations, the core of the northern armies was still raised by the northern magnates, and that the ad hoc and time-consuming nature of these arrays makes any discussion of a “revolution” somewhat moot.  The most important result of these developments, King argues, was that the formerly “national” approach to the Scottish problem was reduced to a largely “regional” one, which played into the growing strengths the Percy and Neville families.

Jonathan Gledhill’s examination of English Lothian from 1296-1318 and Iain MacInnes’s look at the English occupation of southern Scotland from 1334-1337 raise fascinating questions of local identity, political allegiance, colonialism, and local/regional governance.  Gledhill sets out to see the effects of English “colonial” attitudes on the local Scottish society, and not surprisingly, he sees it engendering a nationalism backlash.  His focus on Lothian is helpful due to its proximity to England, though it raises questions as to the general applicability of his conclusions throughout Scotland.  MacInnes’s examination is based more on the physical impact on the countryside of the English invasions of southern Scotland, and how it affected political allegiance in the Bruce/Balliol contest for the Scottish crown.  He avoids making sweeping conclusions, but rather uses the opportunity to raise important areas of new research, including a call for comparison between the societal effects of the English invasions in Scotland with those in France.

The next four articles all raise questions regarding the military realities of the wars in Scotland over the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  Michael Brown compares the English and Scottish wardenships, and demonstrates that while the England had reasonably permanent, paid Warden positions, the Scots still relied on unpaid magnate to fill these roles.  While this made defending the border relatively cheaper for the Scottish king, it also reduced the Scottish king’s power and clout, since the self-entitled nobles did not owe the same level of deference for their positions.  Steven Boardman’s article on the role of the Highland Scots in warfare aims to demonstrate the value of these troops to Scottish armies, but also to redress English and Lowland Scots biases against them.  While he effectively demonstrates the latter, the nature of that evidence makes showing the former more difficult.  Alistair Macdonald’s wide-ranging article on Scottish military leadership in the later Middle ages does an excellent job reinforcing the importance of the cultural context of warfare, though his overall conclusion, that the military experiences of these generals were very varied, seems self-evident.  Finally, David Grummitt’s look at the impact of gunpowder weapons on the Anglo-Scottish marches in the fifteenth century concludes that gunpowder weapons did not revolutionize the nature of the northern defenses, nor the power of the northern magnates, though they might have changed the nature of warfare by the middle part of the century.

The next two articles both argue that Henry VII used the Scottish marches to reinforce his own power and secure himself on the newly-won throne of England.  Sean Cunningham sees in Henry VII’s consolidation of military power into his own hands an attempt to undermine future military opposition to his rule, while Claire Etty’s fascinating examination of the royal administration of the marches during his reign concludes that Henry VII was following in the footsteps of Richard III in ending the centuries-old system of reliance on northern magnate to secure the marches, and instead instituted a system of more direct royal control.

Finally, the compilation concludes with an attempt to examine the cultural memory of the battle of Flodden, fought in 1513, up to the present day.  Katie Stevenson and Gordon Pentland seek to apply the reasonably new approaches of memory studies to this oft-forgotten, but crucially important battle, and they do so in a wide-ranging and highly interesting fashion.  They show how Flodden was used by historians and antiquarians to comment on events in their own periods, and how the example of Flodden’s commemoration reinforces the idea that neo-medieval romanticism was truly killed off by World War Two, rather than World War One.

Overall, this compilation of essays is exceedingly strong, and the articles range from the good to the fantastic.  Historians of a variety of stripes will find materials of interest, as the book is not merely limited in appeal to military historians or historians of the British Isles.  While the editors have done a fine job of balancing articles from a variety of approaches, if there is any criticism to be had, it is that the book could have included broader perspectives on the Anglo-Scottish conflict.  The articles are heavily focused on questions of the “doing” of war and governance, rather than on the cultural effects of warfare.

Craig M Nakashian, Ph.D.

Texas A&M University-Texarkana (

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