Craig Conner

Research title

Scottish Military Culture and Highland and Lowland Elites: A Comparative Study, 1493-1625

Research summary

My research examines the Scottish nobility against the cultural framework of Gaelic and Lowland Scotland in the sphere of military culture and ethos. The Highland/Lowland dichotomy persists in the Scottish cultural lexicon, and has exerted great influence on the writing of its history. Even modern academics balance any historical analysis by including both geographic spheres distinctly in their discussions, or by focussing on one cultural grouping exclusively, rather than devising a unified approach. Too often, the labels of ‘Highland/Lowland’ are applied without clarification of what differences these distinctions denote, out-with language and ethnicity. This lack of clarity and inclusiveness hampers our gaining a fuller understanding of historic Scottish culture. As leadership in war was considered an elite prerogative by the Scottish nobility as a whole, analysis of how these noblemen approached martial affairs will allow us to distinguish the relative similarity and distinctiveness of their ethos and methods in a prominent shared sphere of interest.

My thesis will weave together isolated strands of research into a unified study of Scottish elite military culture. I have adopted a thematic approach to the various aspects of the topic, each being explored chronologically. Firstly I will consider the military ethos and values of the Scottish noble cultures to compare and contrast them, to reveal how distinctive Lowland and Gaelic conceptions of honour and ethics in warfare were from one another. Likewise, further aspects of martial activity including equipment, knighthood, heraldry, hunting, tournaments etc., will be examined with the same approach. My primary evidence will be drawn from a variety of sources comprising three broad categories. Firstly literature, including Gaelic heroic poetry, the Scots verse and Latin chronicle traditions of Fordun, Bower, Boece, et.al, clan histories and the chivalric literature of late medieval Scotland. Secondly I will examine official state sources, including parliamentary legislation, the register of the Privy Council, fiscal/legal records, charters and personal letters. Thirdly, surviving physical evidence of the elite material culture, particularly of grave effigies, arms and armour, architecture, heraldry and seals will also be considered.