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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 29 March 2014

Islesmen at Bannockburn

The latest unit to join my Scots army for Bannockburn is a unit of isles men led by Angus Og MacDonald. 

We are pretty sure that islesmen and highlanders from the west coast fought at Bannockburn in Robert the Bruce’s division. However, we have little idea if they fought with their traditional weapons or were trained to fight with the spear like the lowland Scots. So I have compromised with spears in the front ranks and the two-handed Lochaber axe in the back rows. The figures are from Claymore Castings range and the flag is produced by Flags of War.

The Kingdom of the Isles during this period had been brought into the mainstream realm of Scotland well before Bannockburn. However, they were far from united in the Bruce cause. In broad terms the MacDonalds supported Bruce, while the MacDougalls supported Baliol. I stress in broad terms because there is strong evidence that members of both clans fought on both sides. 

Angus Og himself was, like Bruce, an adherent of Edward !st. until 1206. It is likely that his shift in allegiance had more to do with the traditional feud with the MacDougalls, than the patriotic motives ascribed in the poems of the period. Angus Og gained from the alliance as the tide swung in favour of Bruce, including his Argyll campaign that shattered the power of the MacDougalls in 1307. He was rewarded with grants of land in Lochaber, Morvern and Ardnamurchan in 1314. His son and successor also gained Mull and Tiree. 

Andrew McDonald’s ‘The Kingdom of the Isles’ is a good read if you want to know more about the western seaboard of Scotland during this period.

It certainly made a change from painting lowland spearmen!


  1. Great looking unit, a very nice work!

  2. Angus Og Macdonald, Lord of the Isles, would have trained with his father's galloglass. Thus, many of Angus Og's thousands of Islesmen who came to Bannockburn to support his friend, Robert I, would have fought with the long-handled sparth axe as well as a sword and dirk. In all the historical accounts I have read in my research, the Islesmen were not a part of a schiltron. They were in King Robert's own division, his "last resource" that he unleashed on the English toward the end. The accounts suggest they fought like mad men, which is consistent with the galloglass reputation as "shock troops". Angus Og's loyalties were with the Bruce from the Turnberry Band in 1296. His loyalties and his families shifted with the Bruce's. (The MacDougalls and Comyns were not just Angus Og's enemies; they were the Bruce's enemies, too.) Once Robert was made king in 1306, Angus Og loyally served him, fighting in many of the battles that led to Bannockburn.