FOR a land with an almost incessant series of battles both against England and because of internal strife such as civil wars and clan wars, Scotland enjoyed a fairly trouble-free period in the early 17th century.

After the battles of Morar and Glen Fruin in 1602 and 1603 respectively, and with the end of the ruinous feud between the clans MacDonald and MacLeod, there was no major battle other than clan skirmishes for more than 30 years.

From around 1603 for more than three decades, and especially from 1618 to 1638, there was no major pitched battle worth recording in history. Instead, Scots went to the Continent and did their fighting there.

The reason for the peace back home is very simple – there was no reduction whatsoever in the willingness of Scottish men to fight for a cause, but from the early 17th century that cause was increasingly money, though Scots also went to fight for religious causes, or sometimes both. Their services were much in demand across Europe, especially after the Defenestration of Prague.

It’s one of those phrases loved by historians and history teachers, and woe betide any university history student who doesn’t know about it.

The Defenestration of Prague took place 300 years ago next month, and is a huge lesson from history for those people who think that strange events in countries far away can’t have dreadful effects on us. Theresa May, Emanuel Macron and Donald Trump might want to check it out.

It was actually the second defenestration in Prague, the first having happened in 1419. Latin scholars among you will know what the word defenestration means, and there’s a guid Scots’ translation – “oot the windae”.

For in the first Defenestration of Prague, the burgomaster or mayor of Prague, a judge and several members of the town council were flung to their deaths from a high window by a mob who were angry when the city refused to release Hussite prisoners. Hussites were an early form of protestants who followed the teachings of Jan Hus, and the Hussite mob’s window action helped spark the Hussite Wars between the mainly Czech Hussite peoples in the Kingdom of Bohemia against the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church and its allies on the other side.

That Hussite War lasted for 15 years, but the second Defenestration of Prague in 1618 led directly to a massively destructive war that lasted twice as long and changed the face of Europe – the Thirty Years War.

It is important to realise that not a single battle in the Thirty Years War was fought on British or Irish soil, but people from these islands – tens of thousands of them – were involved almost from the start until the War of the Three Kingdoms began with the Bishops Wars in 1638.

The Defenestration of Prague on May 22-23 1638 happened because the Reformation in Bohemia had been successful in establishing the rights of Protestants to worship. The anti-Protestant King Ferdinand II took the throne of Bohemia in 1617 – he would later become Holy Roman Emperor – and devout Catholic that he was, Ferdinand wanted to stop the building of Protestant churches.

He sent four Catholic lords regent to Prague to tell the Protestant authorities there that their lives were forfeit, and led by Count von Thurn, the Protestants exonerated two of the regents but flung the other two regents and their secretary out of a window some 70 feet above the ground.

Miraculously – so the Catholics claimed – all three survived, though the Protestants claimed it was because they fell on a dung heap. No matter how they survived, the incident led directly to the Thirty Years War.

The Protestant estates and minor kingdoms began to band together against the Catholic Hapsburg monarchy. Eventually the Protestant nations of Sweden, the Dutch Republic, Saxony and Bohemia were united against the Holy Roman Empire – German states and Austria – plus the Spanish Empire and Hungary. Allegiances would change over the next 30 years, but Scotland and England’s participants were mainly on the Protestant side, though it is not entirely correct to say that this was a Protestant versus Catholic war as latterly it became more about who controlled Continental Europe than just religious adherence.

At the start, however, it was a religious war. Ferdinand was deposed as King of Bohemia and replaced by the good Protestant Frederick V, the Elector Palatine.

Which is where Scotland and England come in. For Frederick was married to Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James VI and I and second in line to the throne of James’s United Kingdom, known as the Winter Queen due to her husband’s short reign. She was also called the Jewel of Europe and James was so determined to back his daughter and son-in-law that he issued royal warrants allowing the recruitment of Protestant Scottish and English soldiers to fight on the Continent – the former outnumbered the latter.

THERE were already mercenaries from all over Scotland serving in Scottish brigades in Sweden and the Dutch Republic, and their reputation for fierce “fighting and feasting” was well-established. Now came a flood of Scottish recruits to back the “Jewel” and her husband.

Over the course of the war some 50,000 Scots rallied to the anti-Hapsburg cause, brought to the Continent by colonels who had commissions from one Protestant ruler or other. The soldiers were mostly poorly paid, if paid at all, and without a doubt Protestant religious zeal was the main inspiration to most of these Scottish combatants.

Other Scots fought for the Hapsburgs, either because they were Catholic or because the Imperial force paid more, while some such as Field Marshal Walter Leslie from Aberdeenshire managed to fight on both sides.

It is often thought that the Scots were just plain mercenaries from the poorer classes, but a long list of Scottish generals and colonels in various armies show that the fighters were recruited from various ranks of society.

As the war progressed and the two sides became more entrenched – the Scottish Parliament declared war on Spain in 1625 and France two years later, despite the Auld Alliance – Scottish soldiers and military expertise came to the fore.

Right at the start, a Dutch-Scottish brigade under Colonel John Seton moved to Bohemia and survived a long siege at the town of Trebon

Even though Elizabeth Stuart had to flee from Bohemia with her husband after the disastrous – for the Protestants – Battle of the White Mountain near Prague in November 1620, her cause was still used to attract Scots to the war.

They came in droves. The Swedish forces in particular relied heavily on Scots. Their king, Gustavus Adolphus, is known as the father of modern warfare and was a great fighting general who made Sweden a major power in Europe, but he was busy with other wars in the 1620s such as his battles with Poland and that was when generals and colonels like Alexander Leslie, Patrick Ruthven, David Drummond and John Hepburn proved their worth. They were all knighted personally by Gustavus, and the large numbers of Scottish troops in their regiments swung many a battle in Sweden’s favour.

Leslie and Ruthven in particular were successful commanders when Sweden entered the Thirty Years War, and both won battle honours.

That they would fight on different sides in the War of the Three Kingdoms a decade later shows the complexity of loyalties at that time.

THE biggest single Scottish intervention in the war was that of James, Marquis and later Duke, of Hamilton who had no military training but did have 12,000 men when he landed in Germany in 1631 to back Gustavus Adolphus. Alexander Leslie took charge of the “British” army and his genius at training raw recruits saw them become an important part of the Swedish forces.

They played a vital role in the Battle of Lutzen in 1632 which was a strategic win for the Swedes but was also a pyrrhic victory as Gustavus Adolphus was killed. Hundreds of Scots are thought to have died in that battle alone and it is thought they lie in a mass grave under a car park.

Another Scottish force was raised by Robert Maxwell, Earl of Nithsdale, to fight for the Protestant side in Denmark, despite the fact that Maxwell was a Catholic who would later fight for Charles I against the Parliamentary forces. He commanded 3,000 troops all drawn from the Scottish Borders.

Hugh Hamilton, also known as Hugo, was such a successful general that he was eventually made a Swedish nobleman, while there were up to 27 Munros serving as officers in the Swedish army, though Robert Monro eventually served in the Danish army and became famous for leading his Scottish troops through several sieges – particularly Stralsund (now in Germany) in 1628 when Alexander Leslie took over as town governor and led a Highland charge to smash the besieging forces.

Monro kept a diary and wrote of this event: “Sir Alexander Leslie being made governour, he resolved for the credit of his countrymen to make an out-fall upon the Enemy, and desirous to conferre the credit on his own Nation alone, being his first Essay in that Citie.”

Leslie’s greatest victory was also the worst in terms of casualties. He led the Swedish Army of the Weser at the Battle of Wittstock on October 4 1636, alongside Swedish general Johan Baner who modestly gave the credit to Leslie.

The Scots held the vital left wing of the army under General James King, and faced the Imperial-Saxony forces until Leslie sent the Scots on a long march around the right flank of his opponents to shore up the Swedish contingents who had been badly mauled and were retreating. Leslie’s generalship won the day but he was sickened at losing so many men.

France having entered the war against the Holy Roman Empire in 1636, its intervention eventually proved decisive, and yet again Scots were to the fore in the French armies, including Colonel Andrew Rutherford, 1st Earl of Teviot, who served in the royal bodyguard, the legendary Garde Ecossaise.

The war cost many Scots their lives. No one knows the number but it was in the thousands and possibly the tens of thousands.

Those losses were as nothing compared to the slaughter and devastation over a vast area that included most of modern Germany where ordinary people died in their millions. Yet even among those hard-pressed people there was mostly admiration for the Scottish troops, not least because it was said of the Scots that they died facing the enemy.

Actually, most died of diseases such as the plague, and rudimentary medical treatment for wounds saw many taken by infection. Only a few became wealthy because of their efforts in the war that devastated the Continent.

Some soldiers from Scotland stayed to the bitter end of the war which formally ceased with the Treaty of Westphalia. Most of those serving on either side had come back to Scotland and England a decade earlier to fight for or against Charles I in the War of the Three Kingdoms that started in Scotland with the Bishops War of 1638, the Continental veterans doing great service particularly for the Covenanters. But that’s a story we’ve already told.