Scotland and the Early Modern Naval Revolution, 1488-1603

Grant, Sean
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University of Guelph

By re-examining the circumstances surrounding the establishment and disestablishment of the Scots Navy, this thesis challenges existing scholarship which suggests that Scotland was neither an active participant in, or greatly impacted by, the early modern naval revolution. The Scots Navy did not disappear in the middle of the sixteenth century because Scotland no longer had need for a means of conducting maritime warfare, nor was a lack of fiscal capacity on the part of the Scottish state to blame, as has been suggested. In fact, the kingdom faced a constant series of maritime threats throughout the period, and these had compelled the Scots to accept the value of seapower and to embrace the technological innovations of the naval revolution. And as had occurred in other states impacted by the revolution, the Scottish fiscal system went through a structural transition that gave the Crown the capacity to acquire and maintain a permanent fleet. However, by mid-century the need for such a fleet had dissipated due to a shift in strategic focus which merged Crown and mercantile interests. This merger solved the principal-agent problem of military contracting – the dilemma that had led James IV to found the Navy in the first place – and this meant that Scottish maritime warfare could be conducted by privateers alone thereafter. An effective maritime legal regime, which had emerged as a result of Scotland’s participation in the naval revolution, ensured that these privateers did not engage in piracy, and instead conducted their operations in the interests of the kingdom as a whole. This thesis proves that Scotland was an active participant in, and was deeply impacted by, the naval revolution. Such a conclusion suggests not only that Scottish naval history is in need of revision, but also that certain aspects of the history of institutional development in Scotland may need to be reviewed.

Scotland, Scottish History, Naval History, Scots Navy, Scottish Navy, Maritime Law, Privateers, Privateering, Admiralty Court, Piracy, Pirates, Fiscal History, Fiscal Transition, Tax State, Sixteenth Century, Naval Revolution