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  The Strategy and Tactics of the Scottish Armies 1296-1314  

The Strategy and Tactics of the Scottish Armies 1296-1314

Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot


Synopsis:  This essay describes the strategy and tactics used by the commanders of the Scottish armies during the period 1296 to 1314.

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A major consequence of the invasion of Scotland by the army of Edward I in 1296, was the necessity for a radical review and revision by the Scots of their military tactics. Prior to the invasion, the Scots had, to a certain extent, obeyed the chivalrous rules of engagement used throughout the Christian world. These rules were that when armies met, any battle which took place would normally be between the opposing heavy cavalry who would charge each other, the foot being relatively redundant.

This however proved inadequate against the well trained, well led, well armed and experienced English heavy cavalry and foot, including contingents of Welsh archers and spearmen.

Thus, the Scottish leaders developed the strategy of trying, wherever possible, to pick the site and make the ground fight for them. The superior numbers which the English invariably had would thus be negated and the Scots would have a better chance of success. This policy of quasi-guerrilla warfare adapted to the Scottish needs was only introduced after Dunbar and the ensuing military disasters.1

Developed alongside this was a new tactic, the use of light horse or hobelar. The use of light horse seems to have been brought over from Ireland in the first instance by Edward I as a means of bringing the Scots to battle. His heavy feudal army could not follow a mobile army which retired to the hills and marshes when confronted, as the armies under Wallace and Bruce habitually did.2 The hobelar was used by the Scots as a means of gaining the element of speed and surprise, essential for success, thus allowing them to engage the enemy at times and places of their choosing. The light horse were used as raiding parties under Bruce, but Wallace also employed bodies of foot soldiers.

The Scots developed a distinctive tactic in the deployment of this type of army. Whereas the English nobility scorned the value of the footsoldier in favour of heavily armed, mailclad, knights, the Scottish leaders placed greater emphasis on well trained, mobile, lightly armed footsoldiers and light horsemen.

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