Shock and Awe: The use of terror as a psychological weapon during the Bruce-Balliol Civil War, 1332-38

Shock and Awe: The use of terror as a psychological weapon during the Bruce-Balliol Civil War, 1332-38

By Iain MacInnes

England and Scotland in the Fourteenth Century: New Perspectives, eds. Andy King and Michael Penman (Boydell and Brewer, 2007)

Introduction: Ravaging land, burning crops, stealing livestock and killing peasants: this is how war was fought in the middle ages. These tactics constituted a form of warfare that minimised the dangers of meeting an enemy in battle, while maximising the destruction that could be inflicted upon the opposition. They also enabled the seizure of booty, the acquisition of which was important in keeping an army in the field since armed forces of the time were often unpaid. English armies in Scotland had employed destructive tactics from the beginning of the Wars of Independence, while the Scots had behaved similarly when pursuing attacks upon northern England.

The psychological impact of these attacks, whether submission of an overawed population or payment of protection money from terrified inhabitants, was essentially a by-product of the type of war being fought. Although the terrorising of a particular area was useful, it was nevertheless not the principle aim of armies in the Anglo-Scottish conflict.

The use of terror as a targeted form of war, as a weapon in and of itself, was more applicable to the conditions of the Bruce-Balliol civil conflict. Robert I had employed terror in the form of targeted violence in his herschip of Comyn lands in 1307-8, as he attempted to establish hegemony over a unified Scotland. This was the means the Bruce partisans chose to adopt in order to maintain a grip on the allegiance of the Scottish people against the Balliol threat during the renewed fighting of the 1330s.

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Top Image: Edward III invades Scotland, from an edition of Froissart’s Chronicles

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