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Reviewed by:
  • Fighting for Identity: Scottish Military Experience c. 1550–1990
  • Mark C. Fissel
Fighting for Identity: Scottish Military Experience c. 1550–1990. Edited by Steve Murdoch and A. Mackillop. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002. ISBN 90-04-12823-9. Illustrations. Glossary. Notes. Index. Pp. xliii, 303. $130.00.

The military conflict that began in 1642 and ended with the decapitation of Charles I in 1649 is the cockpit of British historiography. The label for these campaigns changes nearly every decade. The Great Rebellion became the Puritan Revolution, which begat the English Revolution, then the English Civil War, and then the British Civil Wars. Today the era is known most widely as the War of the Three Kingdoms. The conscious rejection of an Anglo-centric interpretation of these wars reflects the growing national self-consciousness of Scots, Welsh, and Irish. Interestingly, though, the United Kingdom's military forces, though often organized into national regiments, are an integrated British army, and have been for the most part since at least the 1600s.

Bundelskoenig Steve Murdoch and Andrew Mackillop have fashioned a book that contributes to the raging debate over "Britishness." This volume also sheds light on the nature of nationalism. In particular, the authors take aim at the "currently fashionable postures of romantic nationalism" (p. xx). The broad chronological scope of this work enables these more macrocosmic questions to be tackled.

As for the contributors, we hear new and intriguing voices such as Heather Streets, Aonghas MacCoinnich, Alison Cathcart, and Joachim Migglebrink. The editors season their roster with distinguished scholars such as Arthur Williamson (who sets this tome squarely in the middle of the "British" debate), Alexia Grosjean, Edward Furgol, Dauvit Horsbroch, and Alasdair Mann. And the editors should be commended for crossing the Tweed and recruiting the foremost historian of logistics in the Civil War period, Peter Edwards.

Two themes dominate: the dynamics of the society of Scottish soldiers over nearly a half millennium, and the forging of their identity at home and abroad. Murdoch salvages James VI and I's military reputation. Furgol provides an insightful and well-informed account of the campaign that for all intents and purposes made Scottish ascendancy in the 1640s a reality. Grosjean reveals the significance of the shifting allegiance (and hence self-identity) of Cranstoun's regiment in the Interregnum period. The Scots-Dutch brigade's demise is explored by Migglebrink.

The Gaelic and Highlander "military consciousness" makes up the second section of the book with essays from McCoinnich, Cathcart, Mackillop, and Streets, carrying the analysis through the Victorian era. The volume concludes with essays on equipping and arming the Covenanters, and the use of the printing press by the latter forces. Horsbroch's essay is particularly suggestive because it bridges the self-consciousness of the Covenanter with the perceptions held by the Scot fighting in the service of the British Empire. [End Page 224]

Once London had tamed the British Isles, an integrated Britain looked abroad to manifest its power, in overseas adventures and Empire. The center then disengaged "from any further, systematic attempt to generate an uniform British military identity" (p. xlii). Fighting for Identity is a step forward in the methodology of writing military history because it applies the theory of disengagement to military consciousness and the identity of the warrior.

Mark C. Fissel
Augusta, Georgia


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pp. 224-225
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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