Review | Scotland: Defending the Nation, Mapping the Military Landscape

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Carolyn Anderson and Christopher Fleet Scotland:  Defending the Nation, Mapping the Military Landscape (Edinburgh: Birlinn for the National Library of Scotland, 2018), pp. vii, 232  ISBN: 9781780274935  £30 (BirlinnAmazon)

Rather than a history of Scottish military maps, this is a comprehensive history of modern Scotland illustrated through such maps.  This might seem a tad perverse, until one realizes that Scotland and England are two nations which were united by conflict long before dynastic concerns brought them together in a united kingdom.  A ‘prevailing ideology of English overlordship of Scotland’ was a prime cause of the persistent violence in the Scottish borderlands for centuries; and, in significant ways, Scotland’s very identity as a nation came to be illustrated via military maps.

The earliest military maps of Scottish territory were those by John Hardyng, originally drafted in the 1450s in support of an English invasion of Scotland.  Hardyng was in service, initially, to the earls of Northumberland, and his map-making efforts (well populated with generic images of castles and walled cities) reflected this long history of warfare in the borderlands. The Romans, when they had colonized most of the island as Britannia, were content with a wall (actually two), leaving those who lived to the north largely to their own devices.  The newly-arrived Angles (destined to become the English) were not.  Their King Ecgfrith sought to extend his kingdom’s control northwards but his massive defeat (and death) at the hands of the Picts in the battle of Nechtansmere in 685 effectively ended Northumbrian hegemony in the region.  Sadly, while we could not expect to come across a map of this decisive battle, its very location remains unknown.   The history of the two nations continued to be one of rivalry and mutual aggression, and even their dynastic union – when the Scottish James VI succeeded Elizabeth to become James I of England – proved the source of future conflicts, particularly in the various Jacobite uprisings following the ouster of James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  A ‘huge militarization’ of Scotland resulted.  All well illustrated, now, in equally glorious maps.

Detail from Hardyng’s map of Scotland showing central Scotland between the Clyde and the Forth, picking out the Pentland Hills and Tinto, and showing elaborate and distinctive architectural sketches of the castles and walled towns of Dumbarton, Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, c. 1470s, the Chronicle of John Hardyng, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.
Detail from Hardyng’s map of Scotland showing central Scotland between the Clyde and the Forth, picking out the Pentland Hills and Tinto, and showing elaborate and distinctive architectural sketches of the castles and walled towns of Dumbarton, Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, c. 1470s, the Chronicle of John Hardyng, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

The book’s six chapters (plus an Introduction) each covers a discrete historical period, the first from 1540 to 1688, the last from World War II to the present day.  Changes, over time, in how war was waged are demonstrated by the changing geography of military activity in Scotland.  In the sixteenth century, for instance, English invasions focused on the Borders and major towns.  During the Jacobite uprisings (largely in the first half of the eighteenth century), the focus shifted to the Highlands, with new military roads and forts. The Napoleonic wars saw new eastern coastal defenses.  During World War II, Scotland’s perceived remoteness from major population centers resulted in its militarization for training purposes.  The Cold War brought major permanent military bases, with the Clyde hosting the largest nuclear submarine base in Britain.

We have noted John Hardyng’s maps as the earliest, the latest military maps included are Soviet products from the Cold War, remarkably detailed, with particular features noted as of clear military value.  There is something chilling in looking at a detailed view of Moray Firth and its surroundings or at a city-plan of Aberdeen with the names all in Cyrillic.  Soviet invaders would not have had to ask a local for directions.  The actual illustration on the last page of the book is a campaigning graphic used by the Scottish CND in 2014.

Soviet military map of Aberdeen, 1981.
Soviet military map of Aberdeen, 1981. Zoomable map

The two authors are both experienced cartographic editors, Anderson at the Ordnance Board and at Oxford University Press, Fleet at the National Library of Scotland with a number of similar book-length cartographic studies of Scotland to his credit.  In selecting their illustrations, they have cast their net widely.  They include representations of not just maps created by military personnel, both Scottish-born and foreigners, intended for military purposes, such as reconnaissance and targeting maps, fortification plans, battle plans, and military roads and route-ways, but also diagrams, charts, bird’s eye view sketches, and aerial photographs, as well as maps and drawings by civilians depicting military themes.  Key, here, is that these are not ‘historical’ maps, but maps contemporary with their times. The accompanying text is a detailed, well-written, and insightful accounting of who did what, when, how, and why – from the ‘Rough Wooing’ of Henry VIII to the choosing of Faslane as the base for Polaris-missile submarines.  Military campaigns (including the gory consequences reported by observers or participants at the time), the development of military engineering and technology, strategic thinking, all are covered comprehensively.  The book concludes with several pages of a ‘Guide to Sources and Further Reading.’

This very well-crafted book embodies a paradox.  The gruesome purpose of maps produced for the waging of war has resulted in a sumptuous-looking book.  Proof, once again, that maps are, quite simply, inherently attractive.

A review copy of this book was received.

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