‘According to the custom used in French and Scottish wars’: prisoners and casualties on the Scottish Marches in the fourteenth century
Journal of Medieval History, 28, (3), . (doi:10.1016/S0048-721X(02)00057-X).
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John Balliol’s defiance of Edward I in 1296 saw the beginning of a century of intermittent warfare and raiding on the Anglo-Scottish borders. It might be expected that this would have led to a heavy casualty rate amongst the border gentry, but, in fact, the conventions of fourteenth-century chivalry and the nature of the war worked to keep fatalities to a surprisingly low level. The chivalric ethos and the customs of war ensured that prisoners were well treated, and that ransoms were not too exorbitant, while the practice of allowing prisoners to substitute hostages ensured that their captivity was frequently only of short duration; furthermore, English prisoners were often able to solicit aid from the king in paying their ransoms. As a result, the risks inherent in a military career in the Scottish marches were not actually all that great, and very few of the marcher gentry were either killed or ruined by ransom demands. This, along with the benefits of royal wages for military service, goes a long way towards explaining why the marchers remained committed to the Scottish wars, despite the devastation that was wrought within the border counties.
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