Revolting, sharp sticks and clan pride – SAGA Scots on the rise

A new saga begins!
After having painted and played a few games with my Norman/Crusader warband for SAGA, I’ve found myself gazing sideways for new ideas and playstyles to take on. The Crusaders are a lot of fun and can switch between both strong offensive and defensive (well, mostly offensive) abilities to tackle different situations. However, seeing how my mates push around their Anglo-Danes and Byzantines I’m really longing for an army heavily based around infantry, with abilities that require a sense for synergy and tactics to survive the grind of battle. Out of a handful of choices the Scots really stood out as a challenging yet rock hard force to master. Let me introduce you to my new force of choice: the revolting clan Meic Uilleim! In this article I will introduce you to my thoughts on starting a Scots warband for SAGA, and give a brief historical account on the setting in which my warband will carve out their adventures.

Between scots and scots
Before we kick off there are a couple of things that needs to be addressed. Lots of medieval Scots miniatures seems to be either early Pictish warriors stemming from the ancient kingdoms of Dál Riata or Pictland (now modern day Scotland), or warriors representative of the time of the first kings of Alba. Two of these, Cináed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin) and Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (Macbeth MacFinley), are playable as Heroes of the Viking Age within the SAGA ruleset. Although I have no personal issues with either of these historical periods, my main interest has always been the high and late middle ages. I will therefore tweak the narrative a bit as an excuse for me to buy other miniatures of my taste. 

An early map of Scotland, Matthew Paris, c. 1250.

Claymore Castings is currently making a wonderful range of 14th century (English, French,) Scots, as well as Islemen. I know what you’re saying: 14th century is waaay to late for SAGA, but stay with me on this it will be good! Advances in armor smithing, the development of new weapons such as blackpowder, together with the social impacts of the black plague changed the arts of war during the thirteen hundreds in ways that doesn’t translate to the battlefields of the SAGA setting very well. However medieval Scotland, much like the kingdom of Sweden, was not a very rich nation thanks to it’s demographic situation and geographical location. Being a somewhat old-fangled kingdom geographically remote from the rest of the European continent, many historians claim that medieval Sweden was lagging behind about 100 years in terms of both arms and armor culture. The most tragical evidence of this is perhaps the remains of some 25 coat-of-plates, about 100 maille coifs, and various parts of gauntles found in the mass graves outside Visby, where an army of peasants and lesser nobles were slaughtered by an army of veteran mercenaries in 1361 – who either didn’t care or saw any value in looting the bodies before burrying them. I’m no expert on Scottish history, but after digging into the litterature on medieval Scottish society I think it is at least somewhat plausible to make the same claim for parts of medieval Scotland. In conclusion, if I stick to the Claymore Castings miniatures that doesn’t scream late 14th century with full plate leg armor or visored bacinets, some models should fit the warriors of the early twelve hundreds, namely around the time of the Scottish kings William I “the Lion” and Alexander II. Plus, Claymore Castings’ Ribaulds (effectively meaning ‘scoundrels’ or highwaymen) will make awesome Scottish Warriors and Levy with their bare feet, hoods, and spears! Together with some minor headswaps and clever shield conversions this project is manageable…

Political context: cultural “Normanization” and the native discontent
Throughout the reign of king David I (1124-1153) the region of Scotia underwent several reforms that would reshape Scottish society and and bring it more in line with it’s neighbouring medieval states. This period is called the ‘Davidian revolution‘ which, aside from religous reforms, the founding of towns and castles, in practice meant a redistribution of land in favour of Anglo-Norman knights that had settled in the north after the Norman conquest. Feudalism and the notion that the king not only acted as lord and lawmaker, but also had divine claims to the ownership of the whole land through his Frankish kinship and a noble upbringing (in more regio – in royal manner), wasn’t always greeted with open arms by the native nobility. Revolts and armed conflicts within the nobility were recurrent as some of the native clans were very unhappy (to say the least) with the loss of (and redistribution of) land ownership, resulting in a series of uprisings that plagued the north. Since it it possible to field the Islamic caliph of Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn  (Saladdin) from the mid eleven hundreds in the Crescent & the Cross-Rulebook, I find it more that fitting to also field characters from the Scottish nobility around the year 1200 without contributing to too much of a push of anachronistic encounters. Enter the Meic Uilleim or MacWilliams. 

The seal of king David I as a warrior knight in Norman fashioned armor.

The MacWilliams first revolted in 1181 during the rule of William I “the Lion” as a certain Domnall Meic Uilleim claimed his right to the ancient northern region of Mormaerdom (or Kingdom of Moray). It took the Scottish king some 21 years and a series of costly campaigns to fully quell the MacWilliam rebellions as both the son Adam, and the grandson Goffraid Meic Uilleim continued their family quest. Furthermore, as William I’s son Alexander II inherrited the throne in 1214 the MacWilliam bloodline once again gathered strength to take up arms and start what is known as “the great northern rising” in Scottish history. We get a first hand glimpse of these events through the Chronicle of Melrose (c. 1270) whose authors describe how Domnall Bán MacUilleim (Donald MacWilliam) together with his allies Kenneth MacHeth and “a certain king of Ireland” as well as a “band of malignants” had invaded the region of Moray. The chronicle is however short on the matter, and who this mysterious Irish king was is a mystery still not known to historians. Nevertheless it seems that the MacWilliams had a network of powerful men that either supported their claim to the righteous ownership of the Moray region, or at least had personal interests in the rebellion. The invasion was quickly disrupted as the revolteurs were defeated in battle and executed for treason. It is said that the heads of the MacWilliam clansmen were sent to king Alexander II as a token of the rebellion’s defeat. The last heir of the MacWilliam bloodline, an infant daughter, was also executed in public at the Burgh of Forfar in 1229 or 1230.

In the next article, I will do a product review of the Claymore Castings miniatures that I intend to use for my Scots warband as well as talk about the equipment that would (or would not) have been used by the rebels around the end of the 12th century.

If you have any comments or questions regarding this article please don’t hesitate to leave a little comment below! Cheers!

The following litterature have been used as references to this article:

Barrow, G.W.S, Scotland and its Neighbours in the Middle Ages, The Hambledon Press, 1992.

Broun, Dauvit, Scottish Independence and the Idea of Britain, EU Press, 2007.

Oram, Richard, Alexander II: King of Scots 1214-1249, Birlinn Limited, 2012.


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