The Terror of the Seas?: Scottish Maritime Warfare 1513-1713

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BRILL, 2010 - Technology & Engineering - 444 pages
2 Reviews
This important new book provides the first detailed and clear analysis of the Scots involvement in naval warfare during the early modern period. The lazy use by both contemporaries and some modern authors of the word piracy as a catch-all for all sorts of maritime activity obscures a complex picture of Scottish maritime warfare. Through the use of letters of marque and reprisal (rightly distinguished in this analysis) as well as dedicated Crown fleets, Scottish warfare against against a wide range of enemies are scrutinised. This is an impressive book that makes and important contribution to our knowledge of European naval warfare. Its formidably broad range of sources sheds light on many previously little known, or unknown, aspects of naval history. It also provides many valuable new perspectives on the importance of the sea to the Scots, and of the Scots to the naval history of the British Isles.

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This concisely describes the maritime history of Europe, with a focus on the Scots, during the 16th through 18th centuries (+/-) and conjunctively explains how the ships and their owners had a profound affect on the history of the era. Being a student of the Jacobites, I was so interested to learn of the trade routes.
This is an invaluable source of information for any scholar or for we history lovers. Amazing! And I thank you.

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Steve Murdoch
The Terror of the Seas? Scottish Maritime Warfare 1513-1713. Brill, Leiden, 2010. 444p (History of warfare, 58);
ISBN 9789004185685
“… [Murdoch] himself is an expert in Scottish connections with Scandinavia who has drawn a great deal of new evidence from Swedish and Danish archives; and Scotland is a prime example of a country whose maritime history has been ignored or slighted because it did not fit the “nation state” and “national navy” model. Apart from the impressive but brief early effort of James IV, no king of Scots possessed a considerable “royal navy”, but as Murdoch shows, there was a great deal of Scottish naval warfare. Throughout this period Scottish ships cruised with letters of marque or reprisal – Murdoch is one of the few scholars who fully understands the difference between the two – variously issued in response to private grievances, private ambitions and public policy. There were also some real Scottish pirates, and real piracy against Scottish merchantmen by English and other ships. Scottish ships fought foreign enemies, but also played a large part in the civil wars of Scotland and the Three Kingdoms. Murdoch does not neglect the galleys of the Western Isles which continued to play a prominent part in Scottish warfare throughout most of this period. His extensive use of foreign sources allows him to give proper account of the many Scottish ships which operated out of foreign ports or with foreign assistance. Not least of his services has been to print lists of Scottish warships, privateers, prizes and losses, which for the first time give a proper sense of the scale of Scottish maritime effort. It was undoubtedly smaller than the English, as one would expect of a smaller and poorer kingdom, but was much more considerable than any previous historian has been able to show.
Murdoch offers two main conclusions about Scotland’s contribution to maritime war. In the absence of any permanent navy or naval organisation, the authority governing warships was the Lord High Admiral – an hereditary office frequently in dispute, and only occasionally in this period held for any length of time by an intelligent adult who was interested in the subject. This, Murdoch considers, crippled the development of anything like a national naval policy. On the other hand he is able to demonstrate the very notable contributions to maritime law made by the Scottish High Court of Admiralty, which seems to have been well in advance of foreign courts, in both the chronology and the quality of its decisions. It played a leading part in defining and distinguishing letters of marque and reprisal, and it is the source of the modern doctrines of territorial waters and fishing rights. Murdoch implies that the respect in which the court was held abroad went some way to make up for the weakness or non-existence of Scottish naval policy and governmental institutions. It also left a legacy of legal principles which continues to influence international law today. This excellent study is a model of how maritime and naval history ought to be written, from the sources of all the relevant countries, without any anachronistic assumptions of how naval warfare ought to be fought. It is important not only for Scottish history but for the maritime history of all northern Europe, to which the Scottish contribution can no longer be neglected.
N.A.M. Roger
International Journal of Maritime History, XXIII, no.1, June 2011


Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Seven

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About the author (2010)

Steve Murdoch, PhD. (1998) is Reader in History at the University of St Andrews. He has published extensively on Scotland and the Wider World and his major publications include "Network North: Scottish Kin Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746" (Leiden, 2006) and with Alexia Grosjean, "Scottish Communities Abroad in the Early Modern Period" (Leiden, 2005).

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