Saturday, 11 December 2021

Ethnic Warfare

 Unfortunately, we have heard far, far, too much about ethnicity-based warfare of late. Most notoriously there have been ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns in the Balkans, let alone the Holocaust and various warfare massacres in Africa. If I could bear to think a little more widely, I am sure that plenty more instances would occur to me.

There is, of course, nothing much new under the sun. Sometimes, however, a new angle opens on something I thought I knew a little about, and reading this book:

Cramsie, J. (2015). British Travellers and the Encounter with Britain 1450 - 1700. Woodbridge: Boydell.

This was an unexpectedly hefty tome but fascinating and, while not obviously related to wargaming, bought the mentioned unexpected light to bear on the subject.

In all honesty, I should have known something about the ethnic relations around the English Civil Wars. I have, after all, read this:

Stoyle, M. (2000). Caricaturing Cymru: Images of the Welsh in the London Press 1642 - 46. In D. Dunn (Ed.), War and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Britain (pp. 162-179). Liverpool: Liverpool University.

Sometimes, however, the connections are just not made in my mind.

Still, Cramsie’s book is fascinating. Actually, he starts with Gerald of Wales, upon which all other ethnographers of the early modern world built, I think. In the time frame, he can survey changing attitudes of differing Britons to themselves and their neighbours. The result is an interesting, although rather alarming, picture.

Various viewpoints were carried over, of course. Classical authors regarded the Welsh, Scots, and Irish as being barbarians. Originally, the term meant only that they did not speak Greek, but it did come to be understood as uncivilised, and so it was. Various authors saw other parts of Britain through this lens. Scottish women hitching their skirts up to tread their washing were regarded with derision, for example, although Cramsie suggests that this became something of a literary trope, and its reality is a little vague.

Things changed, of course, during the period of the study. Wales was incorporated into England by Henry VIII. The view of the English of the Welsh changed, as did the Welsh view of themselves. This was particularly true (and not a little confusing) in Pembrokeshire, which was regarded as England beyond Wales; the writers and travellers knew that the Flemings had been settled there (and elsewhere) after the Norman Conquest and believed that made a difference.

As Stoyle’s chapter suggests, the outbreak of the English Civil War also changed the representations of the peoples of the archipelago in the press as in other writings. The Welsh, insofar as any had an opinion, were largely Royalist in sentiment, and this brought an outpouring of anti-Welsh satire and vituperation in the media. From being proto-English, the Welsh became English haters, papists, looters, impoverished thieves, and so on.

It would seem from another of Stoyle’s articles that the Cornish were treated in a similar way. The wargame representation of Cornish foot, is of course, as superior pikemen, A more contemporary view would place them as warrior paragons (if you were a Royalist) or as pagan thugs if you were Parliamentarian. As with so many things, wargamers have picked up on one or the other, usually the paragon side (a victory for Royalist propaganda, it seems). The Welsh, who probably provided more royal foot than Cornwall, do not get the same sort of appreciative treatment by wargamers.

Newcastle’s army was officered by Catholics, at least in part, and this led to animosities between them and the army of the Fairfaxes and the Eastern Association. Also, of course, the Scottish army came with issues of its own, both against the Catholic officered army and also, fairly quickly, with the Independents of the Eastern Association and Cromwell. These issues could be characterised as religious in nature, but there were also ethnic divisions both between English and Scots and within England – the north-south divide goes back many centuries.

The Irish, of course, suffered from both ethnic and religious animosity. The revolt of 1641 was whipped up into a massacre of immense proportions – far more Protestants were reported as being murdered than had actually been in Ireland at the time. The animosities continued, of course, and were used by Cromwell as the reasons for the massacres of Drogheda and Wexford. There were other issues naturally which interwove with this – the rules of war, for one, and setting an example of what would happen if other garrisons did not surrender was another. Still, ethnic and religious issues were a significant part of the whole.

I noted before that the New Model Army attacked camp follower women in the royalist camp after Naseby. These were probably Welsh but were claimed to be Irish. In Hutton’s book on Cromwell (discussed here recently) he argues that after this the New Model Army, or at least its commanders, Fairfax and Cromwell, became much more willing to negotiate. The invasion of Cornwall in early 1646 was, at least in part, a charm offensive, albeit with teeth. That is not to say that ethnic tensions had declined, but that the army leadership was starting to take a more pragmatic approach to end the fighting.

There were other issues and tensions within the British archipelago, naturally. The obvious one missing so far is between the highland and lowland Scots, which was noted in Cramsie’s book and exploited by Montrose and his cronies. This can also be viewed as an inter-highland clan war and had religious overtones of course. But the point is that these issues added to the tensions and potential for violence and massacre. These, sadly, ensued.

So, there you are. An extra string to our views of the English Civil War and strife in early modern Britain. Nothing is ever simple, and the causes of the English Civil War continue to be argued over, but ethnic tensions are nothing new. The early modern writers understood that the British, in their most general sense, were a mongrel race. As Cramsie notes, this does not sit well with modern nationalism any more than it did in the Seventeenth Century.


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