Scots Brigade - Service of United Netherlands

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The infantry arm of the Scots Brigade in Holland began, in about 1572 under Colonel Andrew Ormiston and Sir Henry Balfour, by the enlistment of separate companies, each complete under its own captain where they were committed, as part of the Army of the United Netherlands, at the Battle of Haarlem. It was the Scots, in January 1573, under the command of Balfour who cut their way over the frozen lake, with eighty sledges laden with munitions and food. It was John Cuningham, a Scotsman, that commanded the artillery of the garrison. It was Balfour who, on the 15th of April, with his Scots made a 'camisade' or night attack on the Spanish lines at Russemburch, forced them, defeated a large body of troops, and carried back four standards. Scots also took part in the last unsuccessful attempt at relief. The battle cost the Scots dearly.

At what time these were embodied into a distinct regiment it is difficult to say, but in 1586 the Scots companies, then about 10, were divided into two regiments under Colonels Henry Balfour and Patten, and by the time of the Spanish Armada, if not indeed before, the elder regiment seems to have had its complete regimental organisation. The second regiment was brought over complete by Walter Scott, 1st Lord Buccleuch in 1603. The third was formed on a readjustment in 1628, and although from 1655 to 1660 the three were again converted into two, and between 1665 and 1672 the third regiment became completely Hollandised, and its place was taken, in 1673, by a newly raised one, the two older regiments had an unbroken existence from 1588, if not from 1572, and from 1603 respectively, while the third, dating from 1673, substantially represented the one formed in 1628.

But while from 1628 onwards there were substantially three permanent regiments in service, on special occasions the number was increased. Thus in the campaign against Don John of Austria, Stuarts regiment also served, and from the allusion to other colonels, it would seem that there were others in the pay of other provinces. In 1629 the Earl of Morton's regiment, commanded by Lord Hay of Kinfauns, served at the siege of Bois-le-Duc. In 1697-98 three additional Scottish regiments, Ferguson's, Lord Strathnaver, and Hamilton's, were temporarily employed, replacing the English Brigade, and again during the time of Marlborough three regiments (Lord Portmore's, Lord Strathnaver, and Hamilton's) were employed, and reduced after the Peace of Utrecht. Again a fourth regiment, commanded by Henry Douglas, Earl of Drumlanrig, was in service from 1747 to 1753.


During the earlier period there seem to have been at least two companies (squadrons or troops) of Scottish cavalry and sometimes more in the service of the States.

Captain Wishart received a commission as captain of horse-arquebusiers in March 1586, and served until 1615 or 1616, when his company appears to have been transferred to Sir William Balfour, who commanded it till 1628. William Edmond received a commission as captain of lancers in 1588, and led his squadron at least until his succession to the command of the infantry regiment in 1699; and his son Thomas came from the infantry to a cavalry command in 1625. Patrick Bruce was commissioned as captain of a hundred lancers in 1593, and Thomas Erskine and Henry Bruce appear as cavalry captains in 1599. Captain Hamilton, a gallant Scottish cavalry captain, fell in the decisive charge at Nieuport in 1600.


Scots saw active service with the United Netherlands nearly continuously from about 1572 until 1782. Even after this service there were a number of Scots that remained in Dutch service until 1795; these are recorded in this record. The period is generally viewed in eight distinct stages:

The period of the War of Independence from 1572 until 1609.
The period from about 1609 until 1621 which encompassed the Twelve Years War.
The period from 1621 until 1648 which covered actions in the Thirty Years War.
The Period of William of Orange and the British Revolution covering 1649 until 1697. Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678); Nine Years' War (1688-1697)
The period of the War of the Spanish Succession between 1698 and 1712.
The period of the general peace between 1713 and 1742.
The period of the War of the Austrian Succession between 1742 and 1749.
The last days of the Brigade between 1750 and 1782.



Sources for this article include:
•  Papers illustrating the history of the Scots brigade in the service of the United Netherlands, 1572-1782; James Ferguson

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Last modified: Tuesday, 01 February 2022