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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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Sunday 17 March 2024

Scottish Covenanters and Irish Confederates

 My library pick this month was David Stevenson's book Scottish Covenanters and Irish Confederates, first published in 1981 (still in print) and relevant to my current project. David has written several books on this period, and another is on my reading pile. There are countless books on the English Civil War and more than a few on Montrose in Scotland, but relatively few on the Irish element of the War of the Three Kingdoms.

Scottish interest was focused on Ulster due to the plantation of Scots in the first couple of decades of the 17th century. In 1625, around 8,000 Scots in Ulster were capable of bearing arms. By 1638, this had increased to around 10,000, probably due to poor harvests in Scotland encouraging migration. These settlers maintained close links with Scotland, as did the earlier Irish Scots like the MacDonnells, whose links were with the islands and the western Highlands. 

When King Charles I sought support against the Scots who resisted his religious reforms, he looked to Ireland for military support. This was political folly, one of many that unfortunate monarch made. It damaged his position in Ireland and Scotland, pushing the powerful Campbell clan into the Covenanter cause. The attacks on Scotland first brought Alasdair MacColla into the story, who would play an important role later in the wars with Montrose.

Later Irish rebellions (1641) saw a Scottish army being sent to Ulster at the King's urging and paid for (sporadically) by the English parliament. Eight regiments (10,000 men), including 2,500 Highlanders, were initially prepared. MacColla fought for the rebels in this campaign, and the Battle of the Laney was the first occasion he used the tactic later known as the Highland charge - one volley, then a charge. There are special rules for this in the FK&P supplement The Celtic Fringe. MacColla raided Scotland well before joining Montrose, often in pursuit of this feud with the Campbells.

The book covers the campaigns in considerable detail, focusing on the New Scots army led by Major General Munro. His force consisted of Scots regiments, and troops raised locally, sometimes supplemented by English soldiers. A further complication was that the English commander, Ormond, was a king's man and was distrusted by the English Parliament. The story has many other interesting personalities, along with shifting allegiances. 

The Montrose campaigns are touched on, although not in any detail, other than the involvement of the Irish Brigade. While his campaigns were unsuccessful, they led to regiments being removed from England and some troops from Ulster. Munro's army was very weak at the conclusion of this period when Cromwell invaded Ireland. They also lost against the Irish under Owen Roe at the Battle of Benburb, in June 1646. However, even with just a few thousand troops, the Ulster-Scots hung on, forming the basis of today's community.

This is a complex story and a challenging read. However, it thoroughly examines the period for those who want more detail than the FK&P supplements offer.

I have been re-fighting scenarios from the Bishops' Wars with my new Covenanter army. They even won on their first table top outing. A very rare occurrence. Even though Razzy, who is Scottish, turned traitor and sat on the Scottish horse!


  1. So, a book worth buying then? I must admit a preference for the more unusual, off-the-beaten-track wars & campaigns (rather than, say, yet another book about Waterloo or Gettysburg).

  2. Not sure I would have bought it to be honest. I probably would if I came across it second-hand but it was a good library pick.