The phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" can seldom have been more apt. The front cover of "Crown Covenant and Cromwell: The Civil Wars in Scotland 1639 - 1651" by Stuart Reid shows part of a painting by the artist Andrew C. Gow entitled "Cromwell Prepares to Fight the Scots at Dunbar". It is, therefore highly relevant to the subject, as the Battle of Dunbar is given detailed treatment within the book. Unfortunately the end result is a truly dreary cover, and there is a danger that readers might conclude that what they have in their hands, and are about to replace on the shelf in the bookshop as a result, is a truly dreary book.
Stop right there, and look again: only a little more carefully this time. What Stuart Reid has produced is a wonderfully researched, highly authoritative and extremely well written account of the military side of the conflict that swept across Scotland, and involved Scots troops in England, in the years between 1639 and 1651: a conflict the author refers to as the Great Civil War, and which formed part of what are sometimes called the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Many books have been written about the story of this extraordinarily complex period from the point of view of the political or religious issues that arose. Stuart Reid makes reference to this background, but his focus is very explicitly on the conduct of the battles themselves, and the actions of those directly involved. This book should be considered essential reading for anyone with an interest in the history of the period, and in particular anyone with any interest in Scottish or Civil War military history.
The opening chapter sets the scene, and many readers who only know the political background might be surprised to find that as late as the middle of the 1600s battles could be, and sometimes were, won or lost on the outcome of a sort of "push of war" between bodies of men carrying pikes. We then move on, briefly, to the origins and causes of the conflict before settling down to the real core of this book, detailed accounts of battles fought either in Scotland or involving Scots armies in England.
Much of the early action is on England, and the early battles are described without the benefit of maps of what took place. When the reader finds, on page 47, that the deployment of one of the armies at the Battle of Marston Moor "is usefully recorded in a plan sketched out by Sir James Lumsden", the natural reaction is "why not show it to us then?" Never fear, the action soon moves back to Scotland, and from the chapter on the 1644 Battle of Aberdeen onwards, the detailed analysis of each battle comes complete with one or more maps helping the reader visualise what took place and tie events to a modern map.