Wednesday 14 April 2021

The World of the Galloglass

 Next up (or down) in my book pile is this one:

Duffy, S. (Ed.) (2007). The World of the Galloglass: Kings, Warlords and Warriors in Ireland and Scotland 1200 - 1600. Dublin: Four Courts.

This is an edited book of conference proceedings, the first conference of the series of which The English Isles was the second. This conference perhaps had a bit of a narrower scope than the later one, encompassing mostly Ireland and Scotland; England and Wales only get walk-on parts.

Still, it is a worthwhile text for those of us interested in the outer reaches of the (aspirational) first English Empire. The editor, Sean Duffy kicks off the book by examining the ‘prehistory’ of the galloglass – the first mention of the word in an Irish annal is from 1290, where it means ‘warrior from Innse Gall’, the place being the Hebrides. More usually, the term means ‘foreign warrior’, or at least it is interpreted as such. They were almost certainly around before 1290.

The point Duffy makes is that there were strong political and military links between Ireland and the Hebrides and West Highlands at least a century before 1290. Often these were sea-bourne raids, using ships from the west of Scotland, Dublin or the Isle of Man. The often fragmentary and confusing (if not downright contradictory) reports in annals and the like give a few glimpses of the military aid, raids and alliances (often with marriages to boot) between various war-lords, kings, and families of the north-western seaboard of the British Isles.

Another fascinating wargamer-related article is on the Manx navy between 1079 and 1265. The Manx fleet was a substantial navy and could (and did) dominate the Irish Sea coasts and the rulers held a substantial far-flung maritime empire across Ireland (at times), the Isle of Man and the Scottish Isles. This is a rather neglected area of medieval history, often falling between the cracks of British, Irish and Scandinavian history. For that matter, it is a highly neglected wargaming era; so far as I know no manufacturer, in any scale makes a Manx or West Highland galley, which were fairly idiosyncratic, so far as can be inferred from the rather thin evidence.

Nevertheless, Manx naval activity spread from Anglesey to Caithness, and military aid could flow along the sea lanes to the allies and kinsmen of the Manx kings. The size of the navy is also fairly impressive – 80 ships and 53 ships are fairly reliably attested. There are, of course, plenty of unanswered (and, given the sources, probably unanswerable) questions, along the lines of the construction and manning of the vessels. The Isle of Man was fairly well populated and wealthy, but even so, a fleet of 100 – 200 vessels would drain a considerable chunk of manpower from any medieval polity, at least of a moderate size.

Still, the Manx navy was a force to be reckoned with. English kings negotiated with the Kings of Man and the Isles, at least from 1205, presumably to gain access to the naval resources of the kingdom, and they were used for coastguard activities. It should be noted that the English were heavily involved in Ireland by this time, and so would need at least the acquiescence of the Manx king to move troops and supplies from Pembroke and Chester to Ireland.

Two other essays are of note to me. The first is about James V of Scotland and Ireland. As is well known, Henry VIII of England led an early form of Brexit from the Roman Catholic world in the 1530s. The reasons for this are complicated, but James V, his nephew, remained a loyal son of the Church, and conditions on the Anglo-Scottish border deteriorated. As the Scots looked to France for aid, the relations between the two countries fluctuated as European war and diplomacy varied.

In the meantime, James started to improve relations with the Scottish lords (at least nominally) in the Western Isles and hence in the northern part of Ireland. Scots started to settle there, a move which was not welcomed by the English King, who was trying to reach a compromise with the native Irish rather than conquer them (a probably impossible task). Manipulations and attempts to curb the power of semi-autonomous Irish lords led to rebellion; pleas for aid from Scotland and Europe did not produce any result and the revolt was crushed. The complications of Irish affairs, the links with Scotland, England and Europe should give any wargame with an imagination plenty of scope for mini-campaigns and general skulduggery.

There are other interesting essays in the collection, ranging from bardic poetry to the arms and armour of West Highland warriors, but the last one I want to mention is the final essay, which focuses on the succession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne. Mostly we think, I suspect, that it was pretty well a done deal ahead of schedule and that, if not, Elizabeth stated before her death that her successor should be James. This, indeed, seems to be something of a fabrication by the Jacobite party at the English court. Indeed, Edwards suggests that the ailing queen was basically left alone to die while her councilors sorted out the succession.

Looking behind the propaganda of the ‘Happy Union’ of the crowns, however, a different tale emerges. There were around a dozen potential claimants to the throne, four of whom were possibly genuine contenders. Lady Arabella Stuart had as good a claim as James (although she was female), and was English born and bred. An alternative was Archduchess Isabella, co-ruler of the Low Countries who was descended from a John of Gaunt. If Phillip II of Spain had pushed her case and united with the hard-line English Catholics things could have been different. Isabella was personally disinterested in the cause, but when did that stop international politics?

There were a number of English noble contenders as well. Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, son and heir of the Earl of Hertford and Katharine Grey, sister of Lady Jane. According to Henry VIII’s will he should have succeeded, although the English government had declared him illegitimate in 1561.

The list of possible contenders goes on. The Earl of Derby was another possibility but had a poorer claim than Arabella Stuart or Beauchamp. Finally, there was the de la Pole claim. The Earl of Huntingdon, George Hastings, had arranged the marriage of his grandson and heir to a daughter of the Derby family. There were plenty of possibilities.

As Elizabeth lay dying, James assembled forces on the frontier. He received assurances from London and pleas not to invade as it would provoke resistance. The English council supported his claims and, along with 26000 trained bands, were able to eliminate any resistance themselves. The other issue, of course, was the English army in Ireland, recently victorious. This remained loyal to the crown (and was being disbanded in part), but could have been a problem. As it was, the succession evolved as planned. But it was not quite as straightforward as history would have us believe, and could be an interesting set of scenarios for a campaign.

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