The early modern period was to be a period of rapid development in military affairs. The phrase Military Revolution has been coined to describe this period of change. The increasing use of black powder weapons was to user in growing professionalism and thus ever spiralling costs and financial demands on armies and the execution of wars. This was an all embracing movement that affected almost all of Western Europe.
The contribution to military developments made during this period by the Scots is frequently overlooked. During the period in question, one of Scotland’s principal exports was men in the shape of mercenaries to fight in the European wars. In Scotland’s harsh economic environment, the lure of money, adventure and booty drew many to the colours. Many Scots were to achieve fame and high rank overseas; none more so than Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven, who entered Swedish service in 1605. In 1636 he was promoted to Field Marshal.
Yet despite the contribution to military developments made during this period by the Scots, the development of the Scottish regular is all too often overlooked by that of archaic Highland Warrior. This is especially so when reading of Montroses campaign of 1644-45.
The backbone of Montrose’s armies throughout the Civil Wars was to be regular troops. Amongst these regulars were the regiments which formed the ‘Irish Brigade’. They were mostly professionals, described by one contemporary source as, ‘brockt up in West Flanderis, expert souldiouris’. The Brigade was despatched to Scotland by the Earl of Antrim on behalf of the Irish Confederation, and the nature of its composition can be gleaned from the list of officers sent by Antrim other than listing the officers by name also divides these forces into three regiments with companies, various officers, ensigns and non-commissioned officers attached. This structure would seem to fit the model of most infantry formations that were to have been found in Western Europe at this time.
Like their Scottish and English counterparts, the Irish were to be found in the military camps of Europe. As the Thirty Years’ War drew on in Europe, the French in particular were to make extensive use of Irish troops. The French promoted Michael Wall of County Waterford, perhaps echoing David Leslie’s achievement in the Swedish army, to army commander in 1639. The outbreak of the Irish rebellion was to see considerable numbers of Irish troops, experienced in the latest military practices, return to Ireland.
The returning veterans, in addition to bringing military experience, also brought back the latest ideas on how to support armies. After the initial series of uncoordinated attacks, the Catholic rebels had to create administrative structures with which they could support not only their new armies, but also at the same time procure monies and equipment. A supreme council was established, along with an association, which was to resemble the English Parliament’s regionalized war efforts. The rôle of the supreme council was to appoint military commands, build up war materials and create taxes with which to support the war effort. The Confederacy was also able to gain support from abroad. France, Spain and the Papacy were able to contribute significant sums of money to the Catholic cause. However, the bulk of finances would be gathered from home. Using methods that proved to be very similar to the ones used by the warring factions in England, the Confederates cast the net far and wide. Supporters were asked to contribute, whilst merchants provided loans (considered by many to be an essential part of military funding). In addition a mint was established at Waterford. Traditional sources of revenue were used and others developed. Significant percentages of church tithes and freehold taxes were allocated to the support of the army. Excise duties were introduced and placed on liquor, tobacco and cattle.
With the establishment of a financial infrastructure, the Confederates were able to develop a home armaments industry. Apart from over running production centres, such as furnaces and forges at Kilmacoe in County Wexford, they were able to establish their own industrial plant, such as the iron works at Artully in County Kerry. To run the new plants and contribute their experience, foreign arms workers were sought out by the agents of the Confederacy to come to Ireland. Special efforts were made to attract foreign gunsmiths.
The modern nature of the Confederacy administration and war effort was also reflected in the equipping and organisation of its army. The ‘traditionalist’ school is led by writers such as James Hill, who claim that the sword was the principal weapon of the Celts, and that the charge was central to their tactics. Closer examination, however, reveals a far greater degree of change and sophistication in military affairs. By the start of the seventeenth century, the swordsman, whether in Celtic or Western European society, was rapidly becoming an anachronism. In the early sixteenth century European armies, especially the Spanish were to field considerable numbers of sword and buckler men. By the early seventeenth century the swordsman had almost disappeared from the European battlefield. Like the longbow, a skilled swordsman could not have been produced in a matter of weeks and, like the longbow, its demise was hastened by the relative ease by which soldiers could be trained to use either pike or musket. Those Irishmen that flocked to the colours of the Confederacy in 1641 would have been the veterans of pike and shot warfare in Flanders and Germany, or were to be trained by these veterans in these modern methods. Like those veterans returning to Scotland in 1638, many Irish troops were to bring arms and equipment in lieu of pay with them on their return. Owen Roe O’Neill, who returned in 1642, was not only to bring three hundred commissioned and non-commissioned officers, veterans of Spanish service, but also a considerable amount of equipment and monies.
The output of the home industrial base certainly reflects the manner of weaponry made. Immediately after its capture by the Confederates, the ironworks at Lissan were immediately turned over to the production of pike heads. Special emphasis was placed on the home production of musket barrels and locks. The home industry was to become so well established that, after the Cessation of 1643, English Royalists were to place orders with the Irish arms industry.
Export records are also able to build a profile of the equipment ordered by, and issued to, the Confederate armies. Early in the rebellion, contact was made with friendly foreign powers and merchants and, as a result, the import of foreign weapons was soon well established. Shipments began to arrive in January 1642 and, by the end of February, the Venetian ambassador was able to report the large scale of deliveries to Ireland from the continent. A sample delivery from Europe would be that made in October 1644 by Nicholas Everard and Jean de la Villette. Together they were to import: 4,000 muskets, 1,000 pairs of pistols, 1,000 carbines, 20,000 lbs of match and 600 barrels of gunpowder. So lucrative was the export of goods to the Confederacy that France, Spain and the United Provinces all attempted to solicit the business of the Confederates’ agents and representatives.
Various Scottish regular units further supplemented the Irish regulars. Regiments such as the Strathbogie had actually been in existence since the Bishops’ wars. A contingent of this regiment was described at the time as ‘about 60 musketiers and pikoniers, with twa cullouris, ane drum, and ane bag pipe’. They were trained by a professional soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Johnston, and were equipped with both musket and pike that the King had despatched to his Scottish supporters in the Bishops’ Wars. This unit, amongst others (possibly even Highland clan regiments), was to benefit from the capture at Aberdeen in March 1645 of 1,800 muskets and pikes. Montrose’s attempts to raise significant numbers of Scottish regulars met with only limited success. To a greater extent this was his own fault. By failing to foster good relations with various other Royalist rebel factions, such as the Gordons who dominated the north-east of Scotland, he was unable to consolidate control of an area long enough to raise and train viable numbers of regulars. An army of Scottish regulars would have gone a considerable distance to legitimise Montrose’s cause. The use of Irish troops only served to alienate him to potential supporters.
The lack of regular cavalry prevented Montrose from capitalising on his early victories in the autumn of 1644 and establishing himself in a commanding position in the Scottish lowlands a year earlier than he did. The Royalists’ dearth of horse was rapidly transformed by the defection to their cause of a regular cavalry unit led by Lord George Gordon. From the descriptions of contemporary accounts, Gordon’s horse and the other small troops of cavalry raised in support of the King’s cause were seemingly trained and equipped in the orthodox ‘harquebusier’ style. Though not numerically strong, cavalry were to play an increasingly significant role in Montrose’s victories, particularly Auldearn, Alford and Kilsyth.
Montrose’s lack of political tact resulted in the loss of considerable numbers of Gordon’s horse, when after the battle of Kilsyth their use in the invasion of lowland Scotland would have been critical.
Charles Singleton has researched the War of the Three Kingdoms for over twenty five years. He lives in the West Midlands and works within the Museum and Heritage industry. He is the editor of the 2012 edition of the Oxford Guide to Military History, and is the author of “Uncharitable Mischief, barbarity and excess in the British Civil Wars” published by the Pike and Shot Society. His third book, on the battle of Naseby, will be also published by Helion.
His book on Montrose is available from Amazon here