The Wars of the Bruces: Scotland, England and Ireland, 1306-1328, by Colm McNamee, Tuckwell Press, Scotland, 1997, $17.95.
This new interpretation of the Scottish War of Independence grew out of author Colm McNamee’s dissertation for the University of Oxford on the social and economic impact of the Scottish incursions into the north of England, especially after their stunning victory at Bannockburn in 1314. McNamee revised and expanded his work to encompass the wider scope of the war, including Scotland, Ireland and the maritime world of the North Sea.
McNamee tries, with some success, to use a dispassionate approach that places people and events in their proper historical context. His impressive bibliography includes primary sources such as contemporary chronicles and account books.
The author raises some interesting issues. Among them is the persistence of the deposed Balliol faction in opposing the Bruce monarchy. He also comments on the Scots’ lack of engineering resources; such resources would have enabled them to capture cities such as York or Dublin to use as bargaining chips. The author does not neglect the role of Flemish and Baltic traders and pirates who greatly assisted the Scottish war effort. McNamee argues that Edward Bruce’s intervention in Ireland would have been much more effective had he appealed to King Edward II’s disaffected Anglo-Irish barons instead of promoting an impractical pan-Celtic alliance of Scots, Irish and Welsh against their English neighbors. He also examines the sometimes adversarial relationship between Robert the Bruce and his brother Edward.
Primarily a thematic study with some meager attempts at providing a narrative thread, The Wars of the Bruces is a valuable adjunct to the existing historiography and a credible corrective to some of the Bruce panegyrists. However, it does not supersede great narrative histories such as Evan Barron’s The Scottish War of Independence (1914, 1997), Thomas Costain’s The Three Edwards (1958), nor Ronald McNair Scott’s masterful biography, Robert the Bruce, King of Scots (1982, 1996).
William John Shepherd