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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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Tuesday 1 August 2023

The Men of Warre

 This is Jenn Scott's study of the clothes, weapons and accoutrements of the Scots at war between 1460 and 1600. This was period of battles against England at Pinkie and Flodden, as well as civil wars and clan warfare.

After an introduction to the period, the largest chapter is devoted to the weapons of war in the period. This was a period of transition, with gunpowder weapons becoming established. The earliest gun casting in Scotland was in 1470, although bombards and expertise were imported. The most famous is Mons Meg, given to James II as a wedding present. The traditional Scottish spear was still important, although getting longer than in medieval times. A law was passed forbidding the sale of spears shorter than 5.5 metres, which is a pike to most of us. This rather destroys the myth that the failure at Flodden was due to unfamiliarity with the pike.

The naval chapter reminds us of the importance of shipping routes in the period and the retention of Birlinns (small Viking-style galleys) on the West Highland coast. They were not much use as fighting ships by this period but were excellent for raiding. I imagined that Birlinns were quite cheap, but the total cost of just one ship cost around one-third of the annual income of one Campbell laird from his estate. The Earl of Argyle could move 3,000 men in his fleet, and the last uprising to restore the Lordship of the isles involved 180 galleys and 4,100 men. The King had large ships that could fight at sea, supplemented by armed merchant ships. These did not come cheap. The Michael (250ft long) took five years to build and cost 30,000 pounds, an amount equal to the Kings annual income. 

This was also the period of the border reivers. This chapter will be of particular interest to those of us playing Border Wars (from Flags of War). Scottish mounted troops were recruited from the Borders and sought after by the French as well. Border reivers used firearms but retained light crossbows, which were more reliable than pistols.  

The chapter on Highland warfare tackles some more myths. We tend to paint up our Highland units ready for a mass charge. However, Scott points to the bows carried by these troops as providing the greatest clue to their battlefield tactics. Sadly, it also appears that bagpipes only appeared on the battlefield in the 16th century. And the earliest mention of tartan is in 1532; whatever Mel Gibson thought!

This is a thoroughly well-researched book on a subject that needed a detailed look to address the many myths. And some lovely colour plates.

Lets have some 28mm Lord of the Isles troops anyway!

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