Case Study: Warfare and the making of the modern person

Warfare, and it most obvious manifestation as battle, is an aspect of the human experience which requires the individual to act as part of a greater whole. It is only recently that historical approaches to what might loosely be called military history have begun to focus on the individual rather than the mass – the regiments and armies which fight wars. The archaeology of battle is an effective way of countering the ‘big man’ approach to history, which focuses on the Kings, Queens and generals. The majority of the artefacts recovered from Scottish battlefields relate to the activities of individuals from the lower levels of the social strata – ‘the poor bloody infantry’ as the soldier has been described.

A great number of battles in Scotland were fought during the early modern period (16th-18th centuries), with Culloden (1746) being the last battle fought in the British Isles. They involved groups not only from Scotland but from all over Europe, with Danes, Germans, Swiss, Dutch, Italian and French, to name just some of them, taking part. These conflicts also saw various ethnic groups from Scotland participate, notably those from the highlands and those from the lowlands, though another distinction might be made between those from urban and rural locations. Given the phenomenon of camp followers, this requires dealing with more than just men here (also including people from wide age range – from what would today be classed as children to people of advanced age).

Battlefields represent unique contexts of deposition which are not confined to those items related to the fighting. Examples of objects which have not been found on traditional archaeological sites include a pewter cross from Culloden – based on a stone round bossed cross of the type found in SW or W Scotland and Isles. This talisman was worn around the neck, probably by a Jacobite (it was recovered from the line of the Jacobite charge). It reminds researchers that the people involved in the bloody event had a different world view to the contemporary one (these men believed that if they were killed in battle then they would go to heaven – something which many people would not believe today).  Another example, now known from several conflict sites, is the silver William III shilling, which appears to have been given to soldiers at recruitment (the famous king’s shilling). Until their discovery in archaeological contexts, nothing was known about the circulation of these artefacts once they had become ‘King’s shillings’ – it is now clear from the heavy rubbing and old age of these coins (although issued in the 1690s they have been recovered from battlefields from 1715 and 1746) that they were retained by soldiers and functioned as charms or worry pieces (in a way they are a manifestation of the archaeology of fear).

Perhaps key to any attempt to understand the idea of the modern person within the context of warfare and conflict is the concept of willingness not only to risk one’s life for any number of causes (be that religious freedom, economic and social advancement, loyalty to the crown or at the other end of the scale to one’s clan chief or obligation to a landlord). How do these mindsets work and how do they change over time (it has already been noted that for much of the period in question people believed in an afterlife). How are these deeply rooted concepts manifested in the archaeological record? There is certainly plenty of evidence for fighting, killing and dying but given the humanistic nature of archaeological practice more than the just the material character of these violent actions needs looked at. What evidence is there for the association of the church, prayer, contemplation, compassion and mercy or lack it, the tending of wounds, the treatment of prisoners (an interesting comparison might be made here between the Killing Times and the Jacobite conflicts)? Consideration should also be given to how soldiers were treated and regarded – an important differentiation between the professional soldier (the Civil War being an important turning point in the organisation of the military in Britain, seeing the emergence of tightly regulated professional soldiers in Cromwell’s New Model Army etc.) and the levy (be they clansmen from the Highlands or agricultural labourers from the Lowlands). Barracks, forts and other installations devoted to military occupation represent an important aspect of Scotland’s military heritage but have yet to be subject to detailed analysis which would permit questions such as those posed here to be answered. Additionally how does the soldier relate to the domestic space – in his own locality and those places occupied by him and camp followers on campaign (places where he may be perceived by the local population as friend or foe, or perhaps an uncomfortable and shifting amalgam of the two)?

Archaeology may provide a means of more fully understanding the role of women in warfare, which certainly extends well beyond the concept of the camp follower. During the Jacobite wars women played a key role in motivating and provisioning the armies. One need only cite the example of Lady Mackintosh, who raised a Jacobite regiment despite her husband being a government supporter during the ’45 to see how prominent these roles might be. Lady Grange however was denied a voice by her Jacobite supporting husband when he had her kidnapped and shipped off to St Kilda where she was to spend years in exile as a guest of the Islanders (a cleit on the Island is to this day known as Lady Grange’s House).

Highlanders earned elite status during the Jacobite wars (with the clans fighting on both sides) and were later to form the vital component of the British Army during the period of Imperial conquest which extended from the mid 18th century until the late 19th century. This transformation is one which accompanies increasing urbanisation, industrialisation and the depopulation of the Highlands; the manifestations and implications of the Highlander soldier need further examination.


Return to Section 4.4 The Social Person

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