Wiedmaier, Helen
#Brown, Michael
#Political History
#Alexander II.
#Alexander III.
#Robert Bruce
#High Middle Ages
Brown, The Wars of Scotland 1214–1371
Annotation author: Wiedmaier, Helen
Book author: Brown, Michael

Michael Brown, The Wars of Scotland 1214–1371 (New Edinburgh History of Scotland), Edinburgh 2004

Browns’ book about medieval Scotland is an excellent introduction to the history of Scotland and a good complement to the existing research. The book utilizes a different period classification than other books in the field. This enables the author to analyse events that are usually separated from each other in a new way and to unearth unexpected connections.

The book is structured into two parts, ‘The Scottish Realm (1214–86)’ and ‘War and the Reshaping of Scotland (1286–1371)’, and follows the political life of the various Scottish kings in chronological order, beginning with the coronation of Alexander II (p. 7). Although the title suggests a book on military history or the history of wars, Brown mainly focuses on political developments and the society on the territory of what later came to be known as Scotland In the first chapter, dedicated to the rule of Alexander II, the author discusses how this monarch worked towards creating a feeling of unity amongst his subjects and towards a common realm in spite of a great language diversity and substantial geographical barriers throughout his dominion (p. 8–43).

After explaining how Alexander II managed to enlarge and stabilize the kingdom, Brown focusses on Alexander III (p. 44–67) and gives detailed information on the problematic start of his rule because of his minor age and the interference of King Henry III of England (p. 44–55). The chapter shows how Alexander III on the one hand successfully overcame those obstacles but at the same time failed to leave an heir to his throne. After dedicating a chapter to the so-called ‘Sea Kings’ (p.68-88) Brown goes on to explain in detail how the Scottish society functioned during this historical period and which respective roles lords and communities (p. 89–113), the Church (p. 114–134) and the surrounding empires (p. 135–154) played in its life.

The second part of the book starts with a recapitulation of the third chapter and analyses the problems that occurred after Alexander III died without heirs (p. 157-168). The ensuing crisis was followed by a war and frequent changes of power, which Brown explains and visualizes through maps and information boxes commenting for example on the most significant battles (p. 157–209). The following chapter deals with Robert I, whose person is surrounded by myths until today and represents one of the central figures in the history of Scotland’s fight for independence. Brown analyses the facts behind the myths and examines Robert’s rule, and among other things the actual influence of the battle of Bannockburn (p. 210–231).

After a chapter on the troublesome years (between) 1332–1357 (p. 232–254), Brown lays focus on the isles (p. 255–273), an aspect otherwise not often considered, the relationships between Europe and Scotland (p. 274–290) and the question of a united Scottish identity (p. 291–315). The book concludes with an outlook on the 1360s and an overview of the problems appearing during those years (p. 316–341). Very helpful is the table of events given at the end of the book that helps (to) locate historical figures and events in the correct time period.

Overall, this book represents a summary of this era and offers a good introduction to the history of Scotland. The maps and family trees deserve a special notice, as they make it much easier to follow Brown’s analysis and the historical developments. Another helpful supplement is provided by the info boxes that contain background information on certain events, personalities, or laws (such as the development of legal structures in the 13th century Scotland) (p. 34).

It appears problematic that Brown sometimes cites certain researchers in extenso, without providing alternative scholarly opinions, mentioning research controversies, or quoting any relevant historical sources. Here it would have been interesting to know if there are other opinions regarding the narrated events. Further, Brown cites whole chapters from works of other researchers, but not the pages (themselves) which makes it harder to find the cited information in the given books. This approach is understandable given the fact that it is a book that allows easy access to the topic and addresses a broader readership, but it would have been more helpful if Brown had quoted secondary literature with greater precision.


The book might be interesting for the GRK because it deals not only with cultures of war in a given region, but also discusses the concept of victoriousness. What makes a ruler victorious? Is the support of the nobility more important than victories in battles? What role does the court and the authors writing about it play? Those are universal questions, which possess an interest for all GRK members, and the book by Brown offers a number of ideas on how to approach them.