Scots at War: Guest Post by the author of Devil’s Bible Series, Michael Bolan

Today, I have a guest blog from Michael Bolan, author off  ‘Devil’s Bible Series’. Let me mention that the opinions are his. 

“Of all the small nations of this earth,
perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to
mankind.” Winston Churchill

To hear such the quintessential Englishman so
eloquently and enthusiastically praising the Scots is perhaps surprising, but
one must consider the curious relationship that the Scots have with their big
brother south of the border. Centuries of rivalry, royal disputes and
land-grabbing have left their mark on the pair, from the heated enmity of Robert
the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie, to the less violent, but equally bitter fighting
between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon.

Churchill was right. The Scots have
traditionally punched above their weight, providing the world with poets,
playwrights, engineers and scientists, to name but a few. They even produced
the world’s current number one tennis player. Per capita, they enjoy more Nobel
laureates than any country outside the Nordic region. Unlike most countries,
however, most of Scotland’s finest have risen to fame outside their native
land.

This phenomenon is nothing new, and starts
way before the infamous clearings of the mid-18th century, where
hundreds of thousands were effectively forced from the land of their birth. The
truth of the matter is that Scotland is like many other small countries which
find themselves on the periphery of Europe – there’s a desire to be closer to
the action, a curiosity about what lies beyond the hill/ valley/ river. So the
Scots have found themselves exercising their innate wanderlust for millennia – even
Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set one thousand years ago, makes mention of mercenaries
travelling from the Western Isles to fight in foreign wars.

After having lived in Russia for some
years, I noticed that the flag of the Russian Navy was a saltire – just like
the Scottish flag, but reversed – a blue cross on a white background. When I
commented on the similarity, I was told that a Scot had founded the Russian
Navy. It turns out that the Scottish naval officer Samuel Grieg didn’t quite
found the Russian navy, but he did make it professional for the times, earning
several major victories on behalf of his adopted nation. One of a dozen
officers selected by the Royal Navy to support the Russians, his rash courage
set him apart and led to his swift promotion to Admiral.

Perhaps it’s the whisky, but the Scots
throughout history have always enjoyed a good fight. It’s natural that the
British Army would be full of Scottish regiments, but their Celtic wanderlust
could never be completely satisfied by remaining in Britain, so thousands took
ship for wherever they could. In later centuries, this meant the New World –
especially Canada and New Zealand, but in the 17th century, the time
in which The Devil’s Bible Series is set, this meant mainland Europe.
Europe was fractured beyond current
recognition during the 1600s. There was no Germany, no Italy, no Belgium.
Instead there were dozens of duchies, principalities and tin-pot city-states,
whose borders shifted on an almost daily basis. This was also the time of the
birth of international commerce, as the Dutch East Indies Company and other
multinationals became more powerful than many kingdoms.

This was a world of opportunity, and the
Scots seized that opportunity with both hands. Between 1620 and 1640, some
forty thousand Scottish men served in European armies, over 15% of the adult
male population. I knew that Scotland’s history was littered with emigration,
but I had no idea of the scale.

And these men were no mere squaddies, either.
Many of them rose to fame and prominence in their adopted nations. My favourite
success story is that of Alexander Leslie. Born on the wrong side of the
sheets, Leslie ploughed all his energy into fighting, first in Scotland, then
in the Netherlands and finally in Sweden, where he was knighted and rose to the
rank of Field Marshal. When he finally left Swedish service, he returned to his
native Scotland where he became Lord Balgonie, Earl of Leven, and captain of
Edinburgh Castle. Not bad for the son of “a wench in Rannoch”.

Churchill might have overstated the case of
Scotland’s contribution to civilisation, but in one respect, the northerly
nation is beyond compare. Be it the Picts that forced Hadrian to build his
wall, the gallowglasses that held the Vikings at bay for centuries, Alexander
Leslie and his European armies, the kilted regiments that travelled to the
farthest reaches of the British Empire – the Scots have raised fighting to an
art form.


And if you don’t believe me, just walk down
Edinburgh’s Rose Street at closing time.

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