Ross Crawford of the University of Glasgow will present ‘James VI, The Earl of Argyll, and the end of the Irish mercenary trade in the Western Isles, 1594-5’.

The personal views of King James VI towards the Highlands and Islands of Scotland preserved within Basilikon Doron have long overshadowed royal government policy towards the Gàidhealtachd during his reign. There is a tendency to read all government interactions with the region from the vantage point of his 1599 treatise, in which mainland Gaels are described as ‘barbarous for the most part, and yet mixed with some shewe of civilitie’, while the Gaels of the islands are ‘alluterly barbares’. Few have recognised that these unkind words were the culmination of fourteen years of personal rule, rather than foundational statements expressed by a young king come of age in 1585.

Focusing on the final years of the Irish mercenary trade in the Western Isles in 1594-5, this will assess the dynamics between James and his Gaelic magnates some four years before Basilikon Doron was written. Preventing the seasonal flow of ‘redshanks’ or Scottish Gaelic mercenaries into Ulster became a matter of urgency for the Elizabethan government in the waning years of the sixteenth century as the conquest of Ireland was hindered by resurgent resistance. From 1594 onward, the English queen put increasing pressure on the Scottish king to deploy Gilleasbuig Campbell, Earl of Argyll, to ‘stay’ these mercenaries. Relations between Argyll and the king were consistently strained, yet James relied heavily upon the Campbell chief to control the island clans. The king’s inability to prevent the sailing of the redshanks was a potential source of embarrassment as he aimed to prove his worthiness to succeed Elizabeth to the throne of England.


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