Military Power and the Scottish Burghs, 1625-1651

In: Journal of Early Modern History
Laura A. M. StewartBirkbeck, University of London

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Historians are generally agreed that Scotland’s limited military capability was transformed after 1639, when expatriate mercenaries, with experience of Continental European conflicts, returned home to take part in the wars against Charles I. There has been less interest in how the creation of centrally-coordinated standing forces affected Scottish society. This article focuses on the experiences of Scotland’s burghs, where traditional military practices remained a feature of civic life, at least in the larger urban centers, during the early decades of the seventeenth century. These practices informed the way in which burghs responded to the call to arms from 1639. Despite tensions with landed neighbors, burghs were not wholly subsumed into the shires and they retained a measure of their distinctiveness as military units. Burghal autonomy was severely tested from the mid-sixteen-forties, not only by the demands of central government but also by the physical presence of soldiers in the midst of the urban community. This essay will explore the strategies employed by civic leaders to protect the community from violence and exploitation, while also maintaining their own authority and status. It will be tentatively suggested here that the social and political structures of civic life proved surprisingly resilient under the unprecedented pressures placed upon them during the sixteen-forties.

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