A little change of pace . . .

(Published in European Warfare, 1453-1815, edited by Jeremy Black, London 1999)




Scottish and Irish warfare from the mid-fifteenth to the early eighteenth century has largely been neglected by European military historians. One reason for such neglect is that both Scotland and Ireland are sparsely populated and lie on the fringes of Europe, far out of the main current of historical development. Another is because the Gaels practiced a non-traditional, alternative style of warfare that contrasted markedly with the traditional, uniform model represented by the ‘Great Powers’ of the early modern era: the Spanish, French, English, Dutch, and Swedes, among others. The Scots and Irish combined mobility with devastating offensive shock power, thus falling outside Michael Roberts’s ‘military revolution’ paradigm.1

The arrival of the galloglaigh, a professional Scottish military class, in Ireland in the thirteenth century heralded a martial counterweight to the Anglo-Norman gendarmes. Thenceforth, Gaelic warfare relied on attack tactics designed to destroy the opposition in one terrible blow. By the late sixteenth century, however, Shane O’Neill and his nephew Hugh O’Neill, second earl of Tyrone, combined traditional Scottish galloglaigh heavy infantry tactics with a novel type of warfare based mainly on the use of gunpowder weapons in guerrilla-style operations. This combination of blade and gunpowder weaponry, superior mobility, surprise, and an effective use of rugged terrain fused the best elements of the traditional and the new warfare by 1600.2

In his wars against the English in the 1590s, Hugh O’Neill enjoyed a good deal of success by combining formational flexibility, firepower, and heavy infantry shock tactics against English armies unaccustomed to such irregular warfare. But when he threw off this manner of fighting at Kinsale in 1601 in favour of the unfamiliar intricacies of the Spanish tercio formation, O’Neill suffered defeat at the hands of a competent English army under command of Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy. It was not until the mid-seventeenth century that the Gaelic Scots and Irish began to develop a style of war that allowed them to win frequently against professional armies. The Gaels had been reluctant to adopt the military technologies and theories so often used in England and on the continent among the larger dynastic states; however, by employing the musket, the Scots and Irish were able to unleash the fearsome ‘Highland (or, properly speaking, Irish) charge.’3

The Irish charge, which originated in the last third of the sixteenth century, allowed the Gaels to solve Michael Roberts’s dilemma of combining ‘hitting power [and] mobility.’ Unlike conventional armies, the Gaels’ use of firearms did not sacrifice offensive striking power and mobility for static defensive firepower. Although the Irish charge depended for its success primarily on the one-handed broadsword and target (a round, leather-covered shield), it effectively used the musket (without the cumbersome fork-rest that limited the attack capabilities of both Maurice of Nassau’s and Gustav Adolph’s armies) as an offensive weapon.4

The Irish charge employed both the new linear and the old columnar attack formations, thus giving it a tactical flexibility absent in most other European armies of the day. At the start of battle, the Gaels would array themselves on a piece of high ground from which they advanced against the enemy. When within some forty yards of the opposing line, they fired a wild musket volley in order to cause confusion from flying shot and powder smoke. Then they threw aside their firearms, formed up into wedges or columns twelve to fifteen men wide, drew broadswords, and continued toward the adversary. Usually, the enemy could fire only one potentially deadly volley before close-quarter combat became the order of the day. Armies lacking sufficient firepower, hand-to-hand combat skills, and defence in depth frequently were overwhelmed by the Irish charge. This blending of old tactics and new technology led to a decisive and distinctive type of offensive warfare unique in Western Europe for over a century. The Irish charge, evolving as it did from 1642 to 1746, became the centerpiece of Gaelic tactical doctrine during what was called their ‘Golden Age’ of warfare.5

During this era, Scottish and Irish armies won eight major battles by utilising offensive tactics on harsh terrain with the broadsword rather than the musket as the principal weapon. Unlike most other European armies, Gaelic forces were not hampered by the trappings of modern warfare. They were not restricted to defensive operations, the conduct of sieges, or massive frontal assaults due to immobility or inflexibility. Rather, they were flexible enough to attack from the front or the flank, the latter option depending initially upon superior mobility instead of sheer striking power. The Scots and Irish often used mobility and shock power in deadly combination, as demonstrated at Auldearn and Kilsyth (1645), Killiecrankie (1689), and Prestonpans (1745). At other times, they sought (with varying degrees of success) to simply overwhelm the enemy: Tippermuir and Aberdeen (1644), Inverlochy (1645), Sheriffmuir (1715), and Falkirk and Culloden (1746).6

After 1689, Celtic offensive tactics were first blunted and then broken by tactical and technological improvements worked out on European battlefields. The introduction of the socket bayonet, the more efficient flintlock musket, and mobile field artillery firing grapeshot and cannister permitted the defence to develop better close-quarter tactics and to generate more firepower. Moreover, that the British during the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745-6 fielded armies comprised of coordinated infantry. cavalry, and artillery arms meant the Gaels could no longer expect to triumph by their customary methods of fighting. Indeed, the duke of Cumberland’s destruction of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Highland army on the open ground of Culloden Moor was the death knell to an alternative style of warfare that had dominated British battlefields for a century. From 1746 to 1815, certain elements of the Gaelic way of war would be introduced on the battlefields of Europe and abroad in the armies of the great colonial powers.7


The Swiss pikemen’s defeat of the Burgundian heavy cavalry in the 1470s marked the end of an era in European warfare. Since the Welsh wars of independence in the mid-thirteenth century, the footsoldier had shown his ability (when properly armed, well led, and operating on favourable terrain) to defeat levies of feudal horsemen. The effectiveness of infantry against heavy cavalry was further manifested by the intrepid Swiss when they dealt severe blows to the Austrian chivalry at Morgarten and Laupen (1315) and Sempach (1386). And every English schoolboy knows of the glory of the English longbowmen at Crecy in 1346. Thus, the diminished role of feudal cavalry and the increased importance of infantry marked a revolutionary turn in the mainstream of European warfare by making possible a dramatic increase in the size of armies. The approaching ‘gunpowder revolution’ would give the wheel yet another turn.8

But in the Gaelic world of the late Middle Ages no such revolution was necessary, for the Scots and Irish had always employed infantry as the backbone of their military forces. The most important Gaelic infantry of this era were the galloglaigh–west Highland and Hebridean mercenaries who settled in Ireland from the mid-thirteenth through the sixteenth century. One contemporary observer described the galloglaigh as

picked and select men of great and mighty bodies and cruel without compassion.

Their order of fight is much like the Suizes [Swiss], for the greatest force of the

battle consisteth upon them choosing rather to do than to yield, so that when it

cometh to handy blows they are either quickly slain or win the field. They are

armed with a shirt of mail, a skull [helmet] and a skayne [knife]. The weapon

which they most use is a battleaxe or halbert five foot long, the blade whereof

is somewhat like a shoemaker’s knife, but broader and longer without pike,

the stroke whereof is deadly where it lighteth. And being in this sort armed

reckoning also to him a man for his arms bearer and a boy to carry his

provision, he is named a sparre as his weapon or axe is so termed, 80 of

which sparres make a battle of galloglas.9

The term galloglaigh (anglicised as ‘gallowglass’ or ‘galloglas’) literally means ‘foreign’ (gall) ‘warrior’ (oglaigh). Galloglaigh first appeared in the Irish annals in 1290, but they had been employed by Irish chiefs since mid-century. A fierce admixture of Gaelic and Norse blood descended from the line of the great twelfth-century warrior-chief, Somerled MacGillebride, the galloglaigh under the leadership of Angus Oge of the Isles had introduced into Ireland a style of warfare that revolutionised the island’s military system. Whereas before, the native Irish chiefs had depended on a general levy, not unlike the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, to raise troops, the coming of the galloglaigh gave them a permanent force of professional soldiers.10

Because Ireland in the late Middle Ages had no permanent military establishment, the Irish fought few formal, pitched battles on open terrain. Instead, they preferred various forms of guerrilla war using the nimble and lightly accoutered catharn (kerne). When Edward Bruce invaded Ireland in the early fourteenth century, he found that the native chiefs favoured running skirmishes with missile weapons (mainly bows and spears) instead of set-piece battles that called for the use of close-quarter blade weapons. Such fighting techniques brought fewer casualties; thus this was a type of warfare conducive to the chiefs’ main objective of acquiring tenants rather than wantonly destroying life and property.11

But guerrilla warfare was of little use against the Normans, who in Ireland practiced war by encastellation. The old Irish proverb, ‘better a castle of bones [i.e. a large, well-organised field army] than a castle of stones,’ had little relevance for a force of light infantry that was capable of nothing more than the ambush and the skirmish.12 But this was not so with the galloglaigh, whose objective it was to engage the enemy in the open and destroy him with the use of blade weapons at close quarters. Indeed, the arrival of the galloglaigh in Ireland precipitated what might be termed a Gaelic ‘military revolution’ in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Commonly, the galloglaigh units in Ireland received their compensation in the form of land grants and buannadha, a payment system similar to coyne and livery wherein troops were billeted upon the population of a lordship (tuath). Other bands–freelance mercenaries–roamed the countryside, hiring themselves out to the highest bidder. This system undoubtedly increased the level of chaos in Ireland, but the services of the redoubtable galloglaigh were indispensable in driving out the Normans.13

The battlefield tactics of the galloglaigh can perhaps be best illustrated by examining the battle of Knockdoe (meaning ‘the hill of the axes’) in 1504. Arraying on open ground, the galloglaigh under Ulick Burke deployed on either wing to profit from their superior mobility, and in the centre so that they could either deliver or absorb a shock assault. Even at this relatively late date, the tactics of the Scots mercenaries had changed little from those of the past two centuries. Each warrior, or, to be precise, each sparre, combined the use of both missile and close-quarter blade weaponry. Since bows were absent from the ranks of the galloglaigh, the opening missile volley consisted of light spears and javelins, designed to disorder the enemy rather than cause severe casualties. In place of an initial volley of heavy missiles, the Scots troops delivered a powerful shock attack. Lacking reserves, the Scots obviously risked all on carrying the enemy position with the first assault. This plan demanded that each warrior be resolute in pressing home the charge, because disaster would likely befall the army should they be repulsed by the defenders. As late as 1543, the Irish Lord Deputy, Sir Anthony St Leger, informed Henry VIII that the galloglaigh swore an oath before battle not to abandon the field; therefore, they remained ‘the one part of an Irish army that could be entrusted to stand its ground to the end.’14


G. A. Hayes-McCoy did not compare the galloglaigh tradition with contemporaneous European military institutions. Before 1500, only among the Italian condottieri and the roving ‘Great Companies’ and the Swiss were there similar military organisations. However, the respective societies that fostered the galloglaigh and the condottieri could not have been more dissimilar . The Celtic world, on the one hand, was arguably Europe’s most pastoral, non-commercial region; northern Italy, on the other, was its most urbane and commercially advanced. Yet both areas gave rise to small, elite professional infantry forces, some of which were as competent as any in Europe until the close of the fifteenth century.15

Celtic and most pre-1500 European infantry forces differed primarily in weaponry, tactics, and the role of the individual soldier on the battlefield. The Scots and Irish had no chivalric tradition, as such (though they did have the inspiring Red Branch and Fenian cycle tales); thus cavalry played only a minor role in their military system. Most of Scotland’s and Ireland’s harsh and rugged terrain was unsuited for cavalry tactics, and this, along with the lack of adequate mounts, most certainly deterred the Gaels from becoming expert horsemen. Instead, they preferred to fight on foot, amid bog, mountain, and glen. Scottish and Irish ‘irregulars’ were proficient with the bow, but, with occasional exceptions, they relegated it to a secondary status behind blade weapons. In Gaelic society, the individual footsoldier became a self-contained fighting unit. Armed with sword or axe, he acted under the inducements of personal honour and fiery impetuosity rather than of collective discipline. On the continent and in English armies, conversely, an increased tactical use of the pike resulted in an emphasis on the disciplined body of the whole rather than on the individual warrior. Standard European warfare, in which men ‘would act as cogs in a machine,’ was becoming a science. In the Gaelic world, it remained a proud art.16

In order to better understand post-1500 Celtic military developments, perhaps we should look briefly at the type of warfare that played itself out among the Great Powers of Europe. When Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in the last decade of the fifteenth century, his armies brought about some salient changes in the way European wars were fought. Between the battles of Fornovo (1494) and Pavia (1525), combat became uncharacteristically costly and decisive. Larger armies began to appear on the field of battle, and they tended to suffer more casualties because of the dominance of infantry utilising gunpowder weapons. But these factors alone did not ensure the increased level of carnage during this quarter century. Rather, combat had become so destructive because tactics had yet to adapt to new technologies. The shock of the pikemen’s charge, which had dominated attack tactics for well over a generation, no longer won the day on a battlefield studded with field fortifications and swept by fire from personal firearms and artillery. These defensively-orientated tactical innovations, first employed by the great Spanish general, Gonzalo de Cordoba, allowed his troops to win at Cerignola (1503). Moreover, the same method of fighting resulted in a French victory at Marignano (1515) and a Spanish triumph again at Bicocca (1522). All three of these engagements witness the victors employing superior firepower from behind strong field fortifications to break the backs of attacking infantry and cavalry forces. The decline of the pike as an effective offensive weapon and the concurrent rise in the defensive use of gunpowder weapons initiated an era in which mainstream European warfare would be dominated by defensive tactics.17

If we exempt such battles as Muhlberg (1547), Zutphen (1586), White Mountain (1620), and the First and Second Polish-Swedish wars (1600-11 and 1617-29, respectively), the decisive battle all but disappeared in Western and Central Europe from Pavia (1525) to Breitenfeld (1631). A number of general military developments account for this change: the defensive superiority of combining firearms and elaborate field entrenchments; the innovative military architecture of the trace italienne–a novel style of low, thick walls that neutralised siege artillery; and the spread of military entreprenuership from northern Italy beyond the Alps. Joined with the increased financial costs of war because of the sixteenth-century price revolution, these factors caused kings and commanders across Europe to seek means other than battle to attain their political and military objectives. Battle, some observers now believed, was the resort of the incompetent captain.18

Tactical employment of the two standard infantry weapons–pikes and personal firearms–caused the century between Pavia and Breitenfeld to be marked, with some important exceptions, by the indecisive battle. The Spanish tercio, common to battlefields in the first half of the sixteenth century, ‘so far from producing a fruitful collaboration between [shot and pikes] . . . , succeeded only in inhibiting the characteristic qualities of each.’ The complex tactical nature of the tercio and other formations discouraged infantry from engaging in close-quarter combat. Conversely, it encouraged ineffective long-range musket duels. Few battles were either won or lost with such tactics. The initial stage of the battle of Ceresole (1544) demonstrated the indecisiveness of long-range fire fights. There, the French and Imperial armies spent much of the day engaged in an exchange of ineffectual fire; hence, nothing of import was decided.19

Personal firearms–the arquebus, caliver, and matchlock musket–because of their short range, slow rate of fire, inaccuracy, and cumbersome nature, proved inadequate for offensive tactics in the hands of most European soldiers. The musket, most powerful of the three weapons, was able to penetrate the heaviest armour, but could not be fired without a fork-rest; this precluded its use except for defensive purposes. In the sixteenth century, firearms assumed the role of disorganising the enemy ranks in preparation for a pike assault. J. R. Hale, undoubtedly aware of the musket’s limited and passive role, contends that firearms ‘raised problems of tactics, equipment, and supply . . . , but they had little effect on the fortunes of campaigns. . . .’ Hale is correct, but only from an offensive standpoint. The problems of logistics and immobility rendered firearms virtually useless as weapons of attack. Thus, as musketeers displaced pikemen in European armies, the roles of the weapons underwent salient changes. Firepower became the main responsibility of both infantry and cavalry, the latter being ‘transformed . . . from an instrument of shock into one of mobile firepower,’ while the pikemen now were employed to form a barrier behind which the musketeers could safely reload. Barring small numbers of mounted arquebusiers and pistoleers, Spanish sword and buckler troops, and German landsknecht pikemen, conventional European armies enjoyed little mobility or striking power during this century.20

The artillery also was virtually useless for offensive war in the sixteenth century. Charles VIII of France employed the first mobile field guns during his 1494 invasion of Italy. Fornovo (1494), a French victory over the Italian alliance, was the first battle in which artillery played a significant role, but Ravenna (1512) was the first engagement actually decided by artillery. At Ravenna, some fifty French pieces bombarded the Spanish fortified lines, forcing them into a desperate attack in which they were destroyed by superior French firepower. French field guns also annihilated the attacking Swiss pikemen on the second day at Marignano (1515). Century’s end saw the advent of lighter, more mobile artillery pieces. Maurice of Nassau improved the Dutch artillery arm by standardising types (twenty-four, twelve-, and six-pounders) and by using limbers to increase mobility.21 But once his guns were put into position on the battlefield, he found it difficult to move them in support of an infantry advance. In pre-1600 field operations, artillery was useful only for softening up an enemy position prior to attack or for defending a position against assault.


The defensive use of personal firearms and artillery by most European powers after 1500 contrasted sharply with the continued offensive use of blade weapons by the Gaels. Firearms and pikes, so important in Continental military developments, did not come into common use among the Highland Scots and Irish until the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Even then, both musket and pike were of secondary import compared to the broadsword and target (a small, round, leather-covered shield). Since introduced onto European battlefields, firearms had been condemned by some as the weapons of cowards; however, they were eventually accepted even by the most honourable of soldiers. In the Gaelic world, firearms were never given equal weight with the fearsome claymore or the broadsword, weapons, that if dexterously wielded, earned eloquent praise from the aes dana (the learned classes that transmitted the histories and genealogies from generation to generation). The armies of the Tudor and early Stuart dynasties lagged behind their Continental counterparts, but even the best-trained and armed troops from England, Lowland Scotland, and the Irish Pale were virtually powerless to stand against the Gaels’ cold steel at close quarters. In fact, until the advent of a reliable bayonet in the late seventeenth century, successful offensive and defensive tactics throughout Europe was predicated on the attacking infantryman’s competence with the sword or other hand-held blade weapons and the defender’s ability to counter him with a combination of shot and pike.22

The changing roles of gunpowder weaponry and the pike and the new science of military fortification wrought a re-examination of European tactics between Pavia and Breitenfeld. During this century, however, the Highland Scots, and particularly the redshanks, continued to use the heavy infantry tactics of the galloglaigh. At the same time, the Irish were developing a new style of warfare predicated on superior mobility, stealth, and the employment of firearms in guerrilla-type ambushes. The blending of shock power and finesse, together with the individual prowess of their warriors, allowed Gaelic military leaders an offensive capability unmatched on the European continent from about 1550 to 1640. Perhaps the only exceptions were certain elements in the Spanish and Swedish armies, the latter under the great military reformer Gustavus Adolphus.

Shane O’Neill demonstrated the effective nature of this new style of Gaelic warfare by forcing the English out of Ulster in the early 1560s and then by defeating his old allies, the MacDonnells of Antrim, at Glentaisie (Glenshesk) in 1565. The Scottish redshank army under brothers James and Sorley Boy (Somhairle Buidhe) MacDonnell fought at Glentaisie in the traditional galloglaigh fashion, drawn up in formal alignment and using the Lochaber axe and the two-handed claymore. O’Neill’s troops–both heavy infantry and light skirmishers (kerne)–combined blade weapons and gunpowder weapons with mobility, the element of surprise, and a judicious use of the surrounding terrain, thus pulling together the best offensive tactics of the traditional and the new Gaelic warfare. While there were many similarities between the weaponry and tactics of the two armies at Glentaisie, there were enough marked differences to support the claim that Shane O’Neill had begun to revolutionise the Irish military system. But when he abandoned his new formula, he was roundly defeated by the Tyrconnell O’Donnells at Farsetmore in 1567. Hugh O’Neill, Shane’s nephew and the second earl of Tyrone, built on his kinsman’s success in the 1590s. At Clontibret, the Yellow Ford, and the Moyry Pass, the younger O’Neill more than held his own against the best commanders England could put in the field by blending stealth, speed, formational flexibility. firepower, and, above all, shock tactics. O’Neill suffered defeat only when he fought the English at Kinsale in 1601 on open ground and under conventional circumstances. His futile attempt to employ the complicated tercio formation threw his troops into confusion and permitted Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy’s men to assume the tactical offensive against the disordered Irish. As a result, O’Neill’s army was routed by a combination of Mountjoy’s infantry and cavalry. The Irish loss at Kinsale undermined their entire campaign to rid Ireland of Elizabethan dominance in the last decade of the sixteenth century.23

From the advent of the galloglaigh until the middle of the seventeenth century, the Gaels has searched for the most useful combination of tactics and weaponry to suit their particular military organisation. In three and one-half centuries their methods of war had evolved quite differently from those of the Continental powers. The Highland Scots and Irish, as a rule, eschewed most of the ideas and technologies upon which Roberts’s ‘military revolution’ had been founded. Unlike most their Continental counterparts, for example, Gaelic armies did not grow in size and complexity as a result of Europe’s general economic prosperity. Nor did they reorder their military strategies based on such factors as the defensive innovations of Maurice of Nassau. However, there were some fundamental changes in Gaelic tactics that resulted from their adoption of new gunpowder technologies. When the Gaels ultimately did embrace gunpowder weaponry as an important element of their tactics, it was in a fashion uniquely their own. The Scots and Irish, better than any other forces in Europe, solved what Roberts defines as the tactical problem ‘of how to combine missile weapons with close-action; how to unite hitting-power, mobility and defensive strength.’ Their use of personal firearms did not undermine offensive shock power and mobility, and it mattered little to the Gaels whether they had to sacrifice modern defensive- and siege-orientated military practices to conduct offensive warfare. By effectively blending old tactics and new technology, the Scots and Irish created a type of war distinct from any other practised in Western Europe.24

Maurice of Nassau’s and Gustavus Adolphus’s military reforms in the last years of the sixteenth century and the first one-third of the seventeenth had little effect on the development of warfare in the Gaelic world. While Maurice’s introduction of a smaller, more manageable infantry unit–the 550-man battalion–paralleled the standard tactical organisation of the old clan regiment, this was one of the few similarities between modern military units and those of the Gaels. Both drew up their forces in wide, shallow formations, but the Maurician battle-line, according to Roberts, ‘was essentially passive . . . [and] not apt for the offensive. . . . Of an offensive tactic he had little idea; of a campaign culminating in annihilating victory, none at all.’ Because Gustavus Adolphus is his champion, Roberts posits that Maurice failed to solve the pressing military problems of his day, and thus left the great Swede ‘to restore, both to horse and foot, the capacity for the battle-winning tactical offensive. . . .’25

Gustavus increased the percentage of blade (pikes) to missile (muskets) weapons among his infantry ‘squadrons’ (units of comparable size to Maurice’s battalions) and introduced the ‘salvo’ for greater missile shock power. He also increased the effectiveness of his footsoldiers by arming them with shorter, lighter matchlock muskets, but did not introduce the more advanced wheel-lock or snaphance musket. He also continued to use the cumbersome fork-rest. Gustavus initiated the employment of mobile field artillery–two- and three-pounder ‘leather guns,’ and restored the striking power of the cavalry arm (which by the early 1630s made up nearly one-third of his forces). The advance of Swedish musketeers, pikemen, and mobile field guns firing pre-loaded cartridges of ‘hail shot’ (cannister) gave Gustavus a ‘fire-shock’ which he tried to exploit with his pikemen (standing at a 2:3 ration to muskets, as compared to the standard seventeenth-century ratio of 1:2 pikes to muskets, who were trained to charge the enemy after a salvo rather than to stand passively and defend the musketeers. But personal firearms, including those borne by cavalry, and artillery made up his main capability. The concerted salvo of Gustavus’s musketeers alone, for example, threw out such a heavy weight of fire at Breitenfeld that they broke the attack of the Imperial cavalry. When the squadron artillery was included, the Swedes possessed greater firepower than any previous European army. Gustavus’s reforms did not result in an increase in his infantry’s speed, mobility, and close-combat shock power; rather, they led to increased firepower, hardly a revolution in offensive tactics. His heavily-laden footsoldiers found it impossible to keep pace with the cavalry moving ahead at a trot. It was necessary, therefore, for the horse to advance at a snail’s pace, thus greatly reducing mobility and hitting power. Nor could the leather guns, not to mention heavier pieces, keep up with the infantry, except over smooth terrain for limited distances. Roberts, then, is forced to concede that under Gustavus Adolphus ‘the dilemma–speed or firepower–remained unresolved. . . .”26

If we credit Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus with restoring organisational flexibility, offensive tactics, and the decisive battle to European warfare, we thereby ignore contemporaneous developments in Gaelic warfare, however outside the mainstream such developments might have been. As Gustavus lay dying at Lutzen (1632), the Scots and Irish were undertaking a series of tactical innovations that would usher in their military “Golden Age” (1644-1746). Scottish historian David Stevenson, in his Alasdair MacColla and the Highland Problem in the Seventeenth Century (1980), posits that the “Highland charge” was first employed in Ireland at the battle of the Laney (1642) by the intrepid military adventurer, Alasdair MacColla. A decade later, Stuart Reid challenged this assertion by dismissing the Highland charge as insignificant when compared to conventional seventeenth-century tactics and by calling the Highlanders ‘a half-armed, undisciplined mob.’27

Though both Stevenson and Reid make some provocative arguments, further explanation of this tactical innovation is needed if we are to properly understand the origins and development of warfare in the Celtic fringe. MacColla indeed introduced a dynamic new tactical configuration from Ireland into Scotland in the 1640s and won at least five major victories–Tippermuir (1644), Aberdeen (1644), Inverlochy (1645), Auldearn (1645) and Kilsyth (1645)–for the Royalist cause. His tactical development should not, however, be called the ‘Highland’ but the ‘Irish’ charge. This matter of nomenclature leads quite naturally into the second issue: Mr Reid’s claim that the Highlanders themselves were not proper instruments to carry out the charge. Up to a point, he is correct; it was MacColla’s Irish veterans (mainly men from Clan Donald’s Irish branch, the Antrim MacDonnells) who usually executed the tactics in question in 1644-5. However, Reid is mistaken in his implication that the Highland clans thereafter did not successfully adopt the charge from Killiecrankie (1689) to Culloden (1746).28

Upon thorough study, it is clear that an evolving Irish charge (in several variations) had become the centerpiece of Gaelic tactical warfare by the 1640s. Thus the charge antedates the battle of the Laney in 1642. In fact, certain important tactical elements of the ‘Highland charge’ had already been developed in Gaelic Ulster and the Hebrides from c. 1560 to 1600. Moreover, the charge’s tactical principles and its execution underwent some important changes during the 1640s. It may be argued that the Irish charge had its immediate origins in the latter half of the sixteenth century after the introduction of firearms into the Gaelic periphery of the British Isles. As we have seen, firearms were first employed in Irish warfare at the battle of Knockdoe in 1504, and a Galway ordinance of 1517 prohibited the sale of guns, ammunition, and powder to the native Irish, a sure indication that there already was a thriving market for firearms in the island. The use of personal firearms became commonplace in Irish military units after 1550, and from there spread to Scottish ‘redshanks’ in the 1560s.29

Though firearms were indispensable to the Irish charge, the single-handed broadsword and target were its primary instruments of destruction. Unlike their Scottish cousins, the Irish had seldom used the great two-handed swords of the middle ages, and by the 1560s Scottish redshanks had begun to abandon the traditional claymore in favour of the single-handed broadsword and target. This effective combination of missile and blade weaponry as early as the 1560s was evidenced by Shane O’Neill’s victory over the MacDonnells of Antrim at Glentaisie (1565).

If there was a revolution in Gaelic warfare in the seventeenth century, it hinged on the use of personal firearms as offensive weapons. Other European military establishments would not begin to consider firearms as offensive weapons until the advent of a reliable socket bayonet near the end of the century. Even then, the musket-bayonet combination had more use as a blade rather than a missile weapon. Until the eighteenth century, hand-held firearms continued to be primarily defensive missile weaponry employed en masse by well-drilled soldiers drawn up in linear formations and devoid of any sort of expertise in close-quarter combat. This tactical shortcoming was evinced, for example, by the government armies (though they were not so well drilled) at MacColla’s and Montrose’s triumphs at Tippermuir, Aberdeen, and Inverlochy. The Irish charge further distinguished itself from Continental tactics by stressing both the new linear and the old columnar attack formations, a flexibility that eluded most European tacticians until the eighteenth century.30


From 1644 to 1746, the Gaelic Scots and Irish won eight major battles by using variations of the Irish charge, thereby disproving Roberts’s assertion that after Gustavus Adolphus’s death the ‘careful combination of firepower and shock became rarer. . . .’ The Gaels practiced their novel tactics with terrific effect on adversaries unused to such fury. Arrayed in line formation, usually on a stand of high ground, the Celtic warriors advanced quickly with broadsword, target, and musket. When between sixty and twenty yards distant from their foes, the Gaels fired a wild musket volley designed to confuse the defenders with lead and smoke. They then cast away their firearms, formed wedges or rough columns twelve to fifteen men wide, and drew broadswords for hand-to-hand combat. The musket volley, when followed rapidly by the impact of the charge at several selected Schwerpunkten along the enemy line, most often routed numerically-superior government armies that lacked defence in depth, skill with blade weapons, and sufficient time to reload their muskets. The tactics of the Irish charge frequently resulted in the normally elusive ‘decisive battle’ so desired (but so often unattained) by generations of European commanders, especially when the enemy attempted to fight without benefit of field fortifications or well-served artillery.31

Gaelic warfare in the period 1644-1746 emphasised the frontal shock attack across rugged terrain , with the broadsword–and not the musket–as the primary weapon. The combined use of blade and missile weapons in executing this sort of offensive tactics distinguished the Gaels from most other European armies as late as the mid-eighteenth century. Moreover, while other armies were weighed down by sheer size and complicated logistical requirements, the Highland Scots and Irish kept great freedom of manoeuvre, speed, and range. The Gaels were not limited to siege warfare or frontal assaults because of a lack of mobility. Rather, they possessed the tactical flexibility that permitted them to choose their method of attack–frontal or flank. Frontal attacks depended upon shock power, flank attacks initially upon superior mobility. Often, however, the Scots and Irish combined the two capabilities, using mobility to enhance their shock power by forcing an adversary to turn ‘front to flank,’ thereby disrupting his formation and creating confusion in his ranks. Highland armies indeed could be an efficient melding of regular line troops and light ‘rangers.’ This type of tactical flexibility was used successfully at Auldearn (1645), Kilsyth (1645), Killiecrankie (1689), and Prestonpans (1745). In the remaining six major engagements during the 1644-1746 period–Tippermuir (1644), Aberdeen (1644), Inverlochy (1645), Sheriffmuir (1715), Falkirk (1746), and Culloden (1746)–the Gaels chose, for better or worse, the hard-charging frontal assault.32

A number of eighteenth-century French commanders–the Chevalier de Folard, the Comte de Guibert, and Marshal de Saxe–realised that most ancien regime armies lacked the Gaels’ mobility that forced an opponent to give battle under unfavourable circumstances and their offensive shock power that finished him off. Folard was disappointed with the results of linear warfare and attempted to ‘devise tactical changes . . . to add flexibility and shock to the line’s firepower.’ He advocated massive assault columns with half the troops armed with pikes.33 Guibert advocated use of both line and column assault tactics, but understood that the column had restricted shock power because it was comprised of individual soldiers and thus was not a solid, cohesive mass.34 Indeed, the massive columns envisioned by Folard and Guibert were never widely used in the eighteenth century. They were seen as being deficient in firepower (which should not be the ultima ratio for a column assault anyway), vulnerable to crossfire, and difficult to maintain in proper order once an attack was begun. And in most cases, the formation and maintenance of attacking columns were matters of sheer chance rather than of sagacious leadership, as exemplified by the English at Fontenoy (1745).35

Marshal Saxe’s opinions were more in line with Gaelic tactical doctrine and practice. He attempted to enhance mobility, flexibility, and shock power by organising mixed ‘legions’ of four or five regular and light regiments. As opposed to Folard’s attack with massed columns, Saxe’s assault was initiated by light skirmishers, who drew the opponent’s fire, forcing them to reload in the face of a brutal bayonet charge by heavy infantry. The Marshal downplayed the effects of musketry against an attacking force, except at very close range. Which army wins the day, he asked, ‘the one that gives its fire in advancing, or the other than reserves it? Men of any experience . . . give it in favour of the latter. . . .’ He wrote of having

seen whole volleys fire without even killing four men, . . . and if any single

discharge was ever so violent as to disable an enemy from advancing

afterward, to take ample revenge by pouring in his fire, and at the same

instant rushing in with fixed bayonets, it is by this method only that

numbers are to be destroyed and victories obtained.36

Saxe’s tactics closely resembled the Irish charge. However, his dismissal of the horrid effects of musketry and grape shot and cannister levelled at an attacker within a range of thirty to fifty yards was rather foolhardy (as it was with the Jacobite commanders at Culloden). Despite Saxe’s advocacy of the bayonet charge in the teeth of enemy fire, evidence suggests that close-quarter combat with swords and musket-butts was unusual in eighteenth-century European warfare. A contemporary British observer noted that ‘There is not probably an instance of modern troops being engaged in close combat; our tactics, produced by the introduction of firearms, are opposed to such a mode of action. . . . ‘ A French authority believed that ‘firearms are the most destructive category of weapon, and now [1749] more than ever. If you need convincing, just go to the hospital and you will see how few men have been wounded by cold steel as opposed to firearms.’37


A crisis beset Gaelic warfare in the late seventeenth century, brought on by tactical and technological innovations on the battlefields of Europe. The invention of the socket bayonet gave infantry troops a close-quarter, defensive blade weapon and thus eliminated the need for massed pike deployments. Moreover, the advent of the flintlock musket, lighter and more reliable than its predecessors, permitted infantry to virtually double its rate of fire. This change allowed a decrease in the number of firing ranks from five to three, thus more men could fire at once than before. Because of light field artillery, commonly firing grapeshot and cannister, the basic European infantry battalion enjoyed much greater defensive capabilities by the onset of the Nine Years’ War (1688-97). The increased effect of missile weapons enhanced the infantry’s role as a provider of static firepower. Hand-to-hand combat between footsoldiers remained a rare occurrence on European battlefields, even during the large-scale campaigns of the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-14). Historian David Chandler noted that during that war, despite the emerging importance of infantry, ‘most of the great engagements . . . were won, in the last analysis, by the cavalry, closely supported by the foot.’38

Because the Scots and Irish nearly always assumed the tactical offensive on foot, and because a vastly improved British army had learnt, especially after 1688, to coordinate infantry, cavalry, and artillery forces, the Irish charge no longer destroyed opposing armies the way it had done since the 1640s. The battle of Killiecrankie (1689), though a stunning Gaelic tactical success, cost the Highland regiments a thirty percent casualty rate (600 of 1900 men engaged). When this figure is compared with their lowest casualty rate during the campaigns of MacColla and Montrose a half century earlier (e.g. at Inverlochy the Royalist clans lost only 200 of 1500 men engaged), clan losses at Killiecrankie demonstrated that general improvements in defensive-orientated warfare could blunt–and eventually break–the most ferocious offensive tactics.39

Most European infantry commanders continued to stress static firepower over the attack between 1688 and 1750; however, a succession of Gaelic captains, along with Charles XII of Sweden, continued to prefer the assault. But all proponents of offensive warfare now faced opposition much worse than that faced by John Graham, Viscount Dundee, at Killecrankie. There was little headway to be made by attacking an adversary armed with improved muskets, bayonets, and artillery and who practiced rigorous methods of fire-control. Though Charles XII succeeded against a much larger Russian army at Narva (1700) with tactics similar to the Irish charge, he was defeated by static Russian firepower and strong field fortifications at Poltava (1709). Fortunately for the Gaels, their British opponents from 1689 to 1746 never once sought to mimic the Russians by erecting field fortifications to absorb the shock of the Irish charge. Thus it remained for the British to devise another means of dealing with Gaelic offensive tactics.40

Formal combat in eighteenth-century Europe was relatively indecisive largely because of the complexities and ritualistic nature of warfare. Barring such conclusive contests such as Steenkerke (1692), Almanza (1707), and Malplaquet (1709), as well as the battles of the Gaels and Swedes, war tended to be a slow, cautious, and indecisive affair even under the most favourable conditions. This is evidenced by an examination of the career of John Churchill, duke of Marlborough. Marlborough, unlike most of his contemporaries, disapproved of siege warfare and elaborate manoeuvre and sought to fight decisive battles whenever possible. Moreover, he often used mobile tactics on the flanks or wings of his opponent to achieve, or at least to set up, his victories. The coup de grace usually came with a massed frontal cavalry attack because infantry assaults were difficult to execute (since the attackers normally lacked hand-to-hand combat skills) and because fire control was all but impossible to maintain. A British military authority wrote of this problem in 1727:

In advancing towards the enemy, it is with great difficulty that the officers

can prevent the men (but more particularly when they are fired at) from

taking their arms, without orders, off from their shoulders, and firing at

too great a distance. How much more difficult must it be to prevent their

firing, then they have their arms in their hands already cocked, and their

fingers on the triggers? I won’t say it is impossible though I look upon it

to be almost so.

In the early eighteenth century, Marlborough favoured the use of superior mobility and infantry shock power, but often found it difficult, or impossible, to loose the shackles of defensively-orientated warfare.41

Marlborough, like his Continental counterparts, had at his disposal the resources of the modern nation-state. According to historian Geoffrey Parker, the

foundation of the Bank of England [in 1694], Parliament’s guarantee of all

government loans, and the organization of a sophisticated money market in

London made it possible for a British army of unprecedented size–90,000

men–to fight overseas for years [during the War of the Spanish Succession]

. . . .42

But such seeming benefits also had their shortcomings, and the frequent result was a logistical nightmare; those abundant resources made war a rather ponderous undertaking. A typical eighteenth-century infantryman carried well over sixty pounds of equipment (including weapons), which meant that he could carry virtually no rations. Such a burden limited an average day’s march to no more than fifteen miles over hospitable terrain in good weather. This limitation, in turn, created the need for larger and larger numbers of transport vehicles which further slowed movement, and tons of forage for the draught animals further exacerbated the problem. If armies, replete with large contingents of cavalry and artillery, became too large to be supported by pack trains, logistics dictated that they either live off the land or establish supply depots and magazines. The former alternative certainly was impracticable for large forces excepts for brief periods in productive regions such as the Netherlands, Picardy, or northern Italy. The latter alternative surely made more sense, but sharply reduced an army’s range of operations. War, then, with all its trappings of modernity, was conducted ‘with . . . deadening slowness and lack of decisiveness.’ Only a Marlborough or a Frederick the Great ‘proved occasionally capable of transcending these . . . limitations, and thus returned something of pace, colour, and decisiveness to the conduct of warfare.’43

When the Continental powers’ ability to conduct war was impaired by the sheer size and complexity of their military forces after 1700, the Scots and Irish continued to fight much the same as always. Some similarities there were between the Gaelic and various other military systems, but it must be admitted that even greater differences separated them. The Gaels did not have the modern nation-state from which to draw organisational, economic, or technological benefit. These fundamental shortcomings precluded the establishment of any sort of long-term strategies by Gaelic chiefs and commanders. Therefore, the Highland Scots and Irish concerned themselves more with the short-term tactical aspects of war. This allowed them to win most of the battles and still lose the wars. When the Gaels did secure access to modern implements of war, such as firearms and artillery, they either relegated them to places of secondary import (as with firearms in the Irish charge) or neglected them altogether. But by eschewing then engines and theories of modern warfare, they were able to field highly mobile, though small armies usually commanded by men who led by example rather than from a secure post in the rear. The Gaels, then, were little concerned with logistics because they had need of but limited quantities of shot and powder, fodder, or other necessities and niceties so common among conventional armies. The resulting increase in mobility allowed them to range far and wide in nearly any season and to traverse the rugged, boggy terrain of their homelands. Because of their mobility and ability to surprise the enemy, the Gaels’ battles usually were short, but decisive. At Prestonpans (1745), for instance, the Highlanders needed only some fifteen minutes to destroy Sir John Cope’s army. And because of the short duration of their battles, the Gaels, at least before 1689, suffered relatively light casualties. But perhaps most importantly, they enjoyed the option of choosing the sort of battle they fought: flank attack or frontal assault.44

The British solution to the Irish charge arose from improvements in eighteenth-century warfare that before had restricted the scope of offensive tactics and strategy on the Continent. In the end, it took a force of well-trained, steady British regulars, armed with the socket bayonet and “Brown Bess’ musket, supported by mobile field artillery and cavalry, to break the shock power of the intrepid Gaelic offensive. The Gaels, however, contributed to their own defeat in no small manner. Despite superb mobility, rather primitive weaponry, and small armies, they choose variations of the frontal assault time and again against an opponent who already was quantitatively superior and rapidly was becoming qualitatively competitive. Even under the most astute commanders, few eighteenth-century armies won victories with the frontal assault and close-quarter tactics.

Under such circumstances, it is remarkable that between 1689 and 1746 the Scots and Irish normally won on the tactical level. But the headlong frontal attack was finally and completely smashed on the open killing ground of Culloden Moor by a combination of the duke of Cumberland’s infantry, cavalry, and artillery fighting under conventional dictates with methodical defensive tactics. Unlike at Falkirk some months earlier in 1746, the Highlanders at Culloden did not possess suitable ground over which to execute their traditional attack tactics. But even at Falkirk, where they ‘held almost every conceivable tactical advantage, . . . [the Gaels] did not destroy the enemy as their forebears had done in earlier campaigns.’ The British army by mid-century could no longer be overwhelmed by the Irish charge. At Culloden, Lord George Murray, Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s most able commander, realised that if the Gaels were forced to fight on the open moor they would be quickly slaughtered. Murray, a widely-travelled professional soldier, knew that modern weaponry (the Brown Bess, socket or sleeve bayonet, and grape- and cannister-firing field artillery) gave defensive tactics almost every advantage over offensive tactics on a formal, conventional battlefield. Because the Prince ignored Murray’s pleas to move the Highland army from the open moor, the Jacobites were left to do the only thing they knew: attack, sword in hand. The subsequent carnage testified to the superiority of hot lead and British discipline over cold steel and Gaelic impetuosity, at least for the time being.45

Those who write of a ‘military revolution’ in early modern Europe (c. 1400-1750) generally omit developments in Gaelic warfare. This is unfortunate, but understandable, especially when one considers that most contemporary observers showed little interest in the Scottish Highlands and Ireland. The Gaelic system, because it did not fit the mould set by major Continental powers, offers a unique perspective for the study of the conduct of war in the early modern era. The uniqueness of Gaelic tactical warfare until its demise at Culloden–and its temporary resurrection as part of post-1750 British tactics in the Seven Years’ War, the War for American Independence, and the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon–lay in its stubborn insistence on offensive combat. The Frenchman Guibert might just as well have been referring to the Highlanders and the dredfullness of their attack when he penned the following a generation after Culloden: ‘The closer you approach the enemy the more fearsome you become, and a coward, who will fire at a brave man at one hundred paces, will not dare to so much as aim at him at close range.’46 When attacking not cowards but steady regulars, the Scots and Irish faced seemingly insurmountable defensive odds brought on by technological and organisational innovations that fundamentally altered the nature of European conflict until the age of Napoleon. And it took no less a man than the Corsican to revitalise and reintroduce a style of tactical offensive war based on mobility, flexibility, and shock power that the Gaels, in their simple but effective manner, had never forsaken.


1. Michael Roberts, The Military Revolution, 1560-1660 (Belfast, 1956), passim; Geoffrey Parker, ‘The “Military Revolution,” 1560-1660–A Myth?’, Journal of Modern History, vol. 48 (June 1976): 195-214.

2. James Michael Hill, Celtic Warfare, 1595-1763 (Edinburgh, 1986), passim; James Michael Hill, ‘The Distinctiveness of Gaelic Warfare, 1400-1750,’ European History Quarterly, vol. 22 (1992): 323-345; G. A. Hayes-McCoy, Scots Mercenary Forces in Ireland, 1565-1603 (Dublin, 1937), passim; Andrew McKerral, ‘West Highland Mercenaries in Ireland,’ Scottish Historical Review, vol. 30 (1951): 1-14.

3. Hill, Celtic Warfare, 22-44; J. Michael Hill, ‘The Origins and Development of the “Highland Charge” c. 1560 to 1646,’ Militargeschichtliche Mitteilungen, vol. 53 (1994): 295-307.

4. Hill, ‘Distinctiveness of Gaelic Warfare;’ Hill, ‘Origins and Development of the “Highland Charge”.’

5. Ibid.

6. Hill, Celtic Warfare, 45-156; Hill, ‘Origins and Development of the “Highland Charge”.’

7. Hill, ‘Distinctiveness of Gaelic Warfare;’ Hill, Celtic Warfare, 64-181.

8. Michael Howard, War in European History (Oxford, 1976), 3-15; Sir Charles Oman, The Art of War in the Middle Ages, revised and edited by John H. Beeler (Ithaca and London, 1953), 128-9.

9. John Dymmok’s description of the Gallowglass, Dublin, National Library of Ireland, MS 669. f. 11 (hereafter cited as NLI).

10. Hayes-McCoy, Scots Mercenary Forces, 5-8, 12-17; McKerral, ‘West Highland Mercenaries;’ Hill, ‘Distinctiveness of Gaelic Warfare.’

11. J. F. Lydon, ‘The Bruce Invasion of Ireland,’ Historical Studies, vol. 4 (1963): 111-25; Katherine Simms, ‘Warfare in the Medieval Gaelic Lordships,’ Irish Sword, vol. 12 (1975-6): 98-108.

12. Eoin MacNeill, Phases of Irish History (Dublin, 1937), 324-5.

13. G. A. Hayes-McCoy, Irish Battles (London, 1969), 48-53; Hayes-McCoy, Scots Mercenary Forces, 23-5, 58, 73.

14. Hayes-McCoy, Irish Battles, 48-67; John Dymmok, A Treatice of Ireland, edited by Rev. Richard Butler (Dublin, 1842), 7; London, Public Record Office, State Papers, Ireland, St Leger to the king, 6 April 1543, SP 60/11/2 (hereafter cited as SP).

15. Hayes-McCoy, Scots Mercenary Forces, passim; Michael Mallett, Mercenaries and Their Masters: Warfare in Renaissance Italy (Totowa, NJ 1974), 25-50; William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A. D. 1000 (Chicago 1982), 77.

16. London, Lambeth Palace Library, Carew MSS, Sir Henry Sidney to Sir Francis Walsingham., 1 March 1583, vol. 601, f. 89; Parker, ‘Myth?,’ 196.

17. Sir Charles Oman, A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century (New York 1937, 105-207; Howard, War in European History, 26-8, 33; Parker, ‘Myth?,’ 207; J. R. Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe, 1450-1620 (London and New York 1985), 46-74; Gerald de Gaury, The Grand Captain, Gonzalo de Cordoba (London 1955), 83-6.

18. Howard, War in European History, 26-7, 34, 37; J. R. Hale, ‘The Early Development of the Bastion: An Italian Chronology, c. 1450-c. 1534,’ in J. R. Hale, et al, eds. Europe in the Late Middle Ages (Evanston IN 1965), 466-94; Michael Roberts, ‘Gustav Adolf and the Art of War,’ in Michael Roberts, ed., Essays in Swedish History (Minneapolis 1967), 56-81.

19. Roberts, ‘Gustav Adolf,’ 59; Oman, Art of War in the Sixteenth Century, 229-43.

20. H. C. B. Rogers, Weapons of the British Soldier (London 1960), 45-53; Gush, Renaissance Armies, 11-12; J. R. Hale, ‘Gunpowder and the Renaissance: An Essay in the History of Ideas,’ in C. H. Carter, ed., From the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation: Essays in the Honor of Garrett Mattingly (New York 1965), 114; Roberts, ‘Gustav Adolf,’ 59; Howard, War in European History, 34; Theodore Ropp, War in the Modern World (New York, 1962), 27.

21. Gush, Renaissance Armies, 109.

22. Hill, Celtic Warfare, passim; Hale, ‘Gunpowder,’ 120-1; C. G. Cruickshank, Elizabeth’s Army, 2nd edn. (Oxford 1966), 1.

23. Cyril Falls, Elizabeth’s Irish Wars (London 1950; reprint edn., New York 1970), passim; Hayes-McCoy, Irish Battles, passim; Rev. George Hill, An Historical Account of the MacDonnells of Antrim (Belfast, 1873), 132-40; J. Michael Hill, Fire and Sword: Sorley Boy MacDonnell and the Rise of Clan Ian Mor, 1538-1590 (London, 1993), 77-122; Shane O’Neill to Lord Justice, 2 May 1565, SP 63/13/34; Sir William Fitzwilliam to Cecil, 16 May 1565, SP 63/13/38; Shane O’Neill to Sir Thomas Cusake, 22 May 1565, SP 63/13/48; Captain Power to Cecil, 27 December 1601, SP 63/210/260; Lord Mountjoy and Council to Lord Chancellor and Council, 1 January 1602, SP 63/210/1,I; Captain Wynfield to Cecil, 25 December 1601, SP 63/209/255; NLI, MS 669, f. 11.

24. Parker, ‘Myth?’, 206-07; Michael Roberts, ‘The Military Revolution, 1560-1660,’ in Roberts, ed., Essays in Swedish History, 196; Gush, Renaissance Armies, 106-10.

25. Parker, Military Revolution, 33-4; Roberts, ‘Gustav Adolf,’ 52.

26. Roberts, ‘Gustav Adolf,’ 60-2, 65-70; Parker, Military Revolution, 33-4; Gush, Renaissance Armies, 113; Theodore A. Dodge, Great Captains, Gustavus Adolphus (Boston and New York 1895), 42-4.

27. David Stevenson, Alasdair MacColla and the Highland Problem in the Seventeenth Century (Edinburgh 1980), passim; Roberts, ‘Gustav Adolf,’ 74; Stuart Reid, The Campaigns of Montrose: A Military History of the Civil War in Scotland, 1639 to 1646 (Edinburgh 1990), 58 and passim.

28. Hill, ‘Origins and Development of the “Highland Charge”.’

29. Ibid.

30. Stevenson, Alasdair MacColla, passim; Hill, ‘Origins and Development of the “Highland Charge”.’

31. Roberts, ‘Gustav Adolf,’ 75; Hill, Celtic Warfare, 45-150; Major-General Hugh Mackay, Memoirs of the War Carried on in Scotland and Ireland, 1689-1691, edited by Maitland Club (Edinburgh 1833), 51-2. A well-trained soldier in the mid-eighteenth century could carry out the complicated tasks of priming, loading, and firing his flintlock musket two or three times a minute under optimum battlefield conditions. H. L. Blackmore, British Military Firearms, 1650-1850 (London 1961), 277; H. Bland, A Treatise of Military Discipline (London 1727), 19-34.

32. Hill, Celtic Warfare, 45-150. A description of the brutal effect of the Irish charge at Killiecrankie can be found in Henry Jenner, ed., Memoirs of the Lord Viscount Dundee, the Highland Clans, and the Massacre of Glenco, and etc. (London 1908), 20: ‘Many . . . officers and soldiers were cut down through the skull and neck, to the very breasts; others had skulls cut off above the ears. . . . Some had both their bodies and cross belts cut through at one blow; pikes and small swords were cut like willows. . . .’ For a recent and thorough study of the Scottish theatre during the War of the Three Kingdoms, see Reid, Campaigns of Montrose, passim.

33. Steven Ross, From Flintlock to Rifle:Infantry Tactics, 1740-1866 (London 1979), 33. For the Chevalier de Folard’s ideas concerning columns, see J. Colin, L’ Infantrie au XVIIIe siecle: la tactique (Paris 1907), 36-8.

34. J. A. H. Guibert, Defense du systeme de guerre moderne ou refutation complette du systeme de M. . . . D. . . . , (Neuchatel 1779), I: 169-71.

35. Christopher Duffy, The Military Experience in the Age of Reason (London and New York 1987), 199.

36. Herman Maurice de Saxe, Reveries or Memoirs upon the Art of War, translated by W. Faucett (London 1757), quoted from Geoffrey Simcox, ed., War, Diplomacy, and Imperialism 1618-1763 (New York and London 1973), 187-8.

37. W. Dalrymple, Tacticks (Dublin 1782), 113, translated from J. F. Puysegur, Art de guerre par principes et par regles, 2 vols. (Paris 1749), I: 227.

38. Roberts, ‘Gustav Adolf,’ 75; B. P. Hughes, Firepower: Weapons Effectiveness on the Battlefield, 1630-1850 (London 1974), 10-11; David Chandler, The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough (New York 1976), 115; For a close examination of the development of the British Army under William III, see John Childs, The British Army of William III, 1689-1702 (Manchester 1987).

39. Hill, Celtic Warfare, 54, 64-79; Paul Hopkins, Glencoe and the End of the Highland War (Edinburgh 1986), 157-61; The Marchioness of Tullibardine, ed., A Military History of Perthshire, 2 vols. (Perth 1908), I: 266; John Spalding, Memorialls of the Trubles in Scotland and in England, A. D. 1624-A. D. 1645, edited by Spalding Club, 2 vols. (Aberdeen 1850-1), II: 444-5; George Wishart, The Memoirs of James, Marquis of Montrose, 1639-1650, edited by A. B. Murdoch and H. F. M. Simpson (London 1893), 85; Patrick Gordon, A Short Abridgement of Britane’s Distemper, from the yeare of God 1639 to 1649, edited by Spalding Club (Aberdeen 1844), 101-2.

40. Chandler, Art of War, 127-8; F. G. Bengtsson, Charles XII (London 1960), 85-90.

41. R. Ernest DuPuy and Trevor N. DuPuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B. C. to the Present, 2nd revised edn. (New York 1986), 608-12; David Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander (new York 1973), passim; C. T. Atkinson, Marlborough and the Rise of the British Army (New York and London 1921), 222-36, 285-97, 339-44, 398-406; Bland, Treatise of Military Discipline, 80.

42. Parker, ‘Myth?’, 213.

43. Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 168; M. S. Anderson, War and Society in Europe of the Old Regime 1618-1789 (Leicester and New York 1988), 36-45; Ropp, War in the Modern World, 30-1; Chandler, Art of Warfare, 14-15.

44. Hill, Celtic Warfare, 2-4, 17, 22-44, 45-63, 64-79, 80-99, 127-56; Katherine Tomasson and Francis Buist, Battles of the ’45 (London 1962), 67-9.

45. Hughes, Firepower, 10-11, 26, 35-6, 81-5; Hill, Celtic Warfare, 140-50; Jeremy Black, Culloden and the ’45 (London and New York 1990), passim.

46. Translated from J. A. H. Guibert, Essai general de tactique, 2 vols. (Paris 1772), I: 216.

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About Author

Michael Hill

Dr Michael Hill is President of the League of the South. He is a retired university professor of history and author of two books on Celtic warfare.