Cromwell against the Scots – The Last Anglo-Scottish Wars 1650-1652 (revised edition), John D Grainger

Cromwell against the Scots – The Last Anglo-Scottish Wars 1650-1652 (revised edition), John D Grainger

The Anglo-Scottish War of 1650-52 was a clash between former allies. During the earlier stages of the Civil Wars the Scots had come to the aid of the hard press Parlimentarians, and the experienced Scottish army had played a major part in the Parliamentarian victory. They had then handed Charles I over to Parliament after he attempted to seek refuge with the Scottish army operating in England. However there were always tensions between the two sides. The most serious was probably over religion, with the Scottish Presbyterians wanting the English to adopt that form of religion, while many Parliamentary leaders, including Cromwell, were Independents, with no interest in accepting Presbyterian rule. The execution of Charles I, done without any consultation with the Scots, widened the gap, especially after the Scottish Parliament decided to accept his son as Charles II. The English leaders were afraid that the Scots would invade England in an attempt to impose both Presbyterianism and Charles II, and decided (not without some controversy) to launch a pre-emptive invasion of Scotland.

The author makes a solid argument for this being the last true Anglo-Scottish War. His view is this is the last time the two nations went to war against each other as independent countries, with the war effort on each side being controlled by the two countries respective governments. Of the three main Jacobite revolts, the 1688-89 fighting in Scotland was clearly between Scottish rebels and the Scottish government (with both sides claiming to be the legitimate government). The 1715 revolt was very clearly a civil war, with both armies in Scotland led by Scottish aristocrats and the Jacobite forces at the battle of Preston a mix of English and Scots. The 1745 revolt certainly resembles an Anglo-Scottish war but in reality was no such thing, with Scots fighting on both sides and the Stuarts determined to claim their throne in London. Since then there has been two and a half centuries without any conflicts that could be seen as Anglo-Scottish Wars, by far the longest period without such a conflict.

The brief new introduction to the second edition and the conclusion are sure to annoy some, looking at current politics through the prism of this seventeenth century war. I must admit I’m not keen on this sort of thing – quite apart from running the needless risk of alienating part of your readership, they can very quickly become dated. That isn’t to say that I disagree with some of his points, but I know how annoying I find this sort of thing when I disagree with the author’s views!

We start with a look at the political background to the war, including the debates in England about the probity of launching an invasion of a country that was still officially an Ally, and which saw Fairfax resign from his position as commander of Parliament’s army. We then move onto the English invasion of Scotland, a campaign that was conducted skilfully by both commanders – Cromwell and Leslie – although the Scottish position was sometimes underminded by the religious extremism of the Kirk led government, which at one key point decided to purge the army of any ‘ungodly’ elements! Although the English won a major victory at Dunbar, and soon occupied Edinburgh and large parts of Scotland, the Scots were able to recover, and continued to resist. We get a detailed account of Dunbar, and of the war of maneuver that followed, showing a good understanding of Cromwell’s way of making war and of Leslie’s ability to take advantage of it (in particular of Cromwell’s reluctance to attack strongly held fortified positions if at all possible). Most of the political material for this period focuses on Scotland, where the Kirk party slowly lost control to the Royalists, despite their best efforts to keep control of Charles II. As a result when the Scots finally invaded England, Charles was in effective command of the army, and it was clearly seen as a Royalist invasion. In general Graiger’s tone is pretty well balanced, but he clearly doesn’t have much time for the religious leadership of Scotland (admittedly they do come across as a pretty unsympathetic bunch!). This section demonstrates just how hard it was to place restrictions of the powers of a crowned monarch in this period, and does make the early English fears of invasion feel more convincing than before the war broke out!

This is a solid, well researched account of this relatively little known Anglo-Scottish conflict, with good accounts of the fighting and of the political background on both sides. We don’t just get accounts of the major battles at Dunbar and Worcester, but also the larger number of minor clashes and sieges that dominated most of the war, and which saw heavy siege mortars used to great effect by the English to force the surrender of many of the strong fortifications of Scotland.

1 – Garmouth and Whitehall
2 – The Invasion of Scotland
3 – Dunbar
4 – A Rearrangement of Parties
5 – The Scottish Recovery
6 – Torwood and Inverkeithing
7 – The Invasion of England
8 – Worcester
9 – Stirling and Dundee
10 – The Final Conquest

Author: John D Grainger
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2021 edition of 1997 original

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