Politics and the feud in late mediaeval Scotland
By Stephen Boardman
PhD Dissertation, University of St Andrews, 1990
Abstract: From the mid-fifteenth century onwards, the Scottish aristocratic community made increasing use of formal bonds of lordship, service and friendship. The first section of this thesis examines the relationship between formal bonding and the pursuit of feud and tenurial disputes.
Written witnessed, bonds, particularly bonds of mutual friendship or defence, seem to have acquired a specific and, partly, symbolic role in the amicable arbitration of feud outwith formal courts of law. The bond was employed as a pledge for the good behaviour of previously hostile parties towards one another, guaranteeing the material terms of any settlement between them, and bolstering the newly-established state of non-aggression. Bonds used in this context were not primarily, designed to initiate long-term social and political cooperation between the contracting parties. The proliferation of bonds of friendship used in this way during the fifteenth century may perhaps be linked to the demands of royal courts for documentary evidence of amicable settlement.
Bonds of maintenance, and bonds of manrent or retinue, were also used extensively in the settlement of feud, and in consolidating strained, or new, tenurial relationships. Bonds of service given in return for grants of lands, were often connected to attempts to keep the tenure of disputed lands highly conditional, and were typically linked to liferent and/or reversionary grants. The linking of tenure with formal bonds of service also occurred in areas, and periods, where the granter of land had cause to seek assurances of political loyalty and support which were more binding than the oaths and ceremonies associated with routine acts of feudal conveyancing. The general pattern suggests that, although all bonds of service appear to offer undefined open-ended service, the tenurial and political context in which these bonds were given did, on many occasions, define and limit the way in which maintenance or service was to be discharged. Bonds of all types were also used to obtain immediate political or military support in specific disputes.
The remainder of the thesis deals with the interaction between local feud and ‘national’ politics. An analysis of the rebellion of Prince James (later James IV) against his father, James III, during 1488, indicates that many individual noblemen and prelates committed themselves to the rebellion in pursuit of local feuds and ambitions. After James III’s death at Sauchieburn, the ascendancy of Prince James’ supporters within their own localities was confirmed by individual acts of royal patronage and by parliamentary legislation, a process which generated more feuds. The behaviour of the new regime, and its persecution of men who had remained loyal to James III during 1488, resulted in a major rebellion during 1489. The rebellion was eventually ended by negotiation, and by the new regime making several important concession to rebel demands. Apparently incomprehensible changes of allegiance by major noblemen during the period 1487-9 can be shown to have been perfectly consistent in terms of the smaller disputes in which they were directly involved. An examination of the political career of James, Earl of Buchan suggests that violence remained a viable political tool for the fifteenth century nobility at both the local and national level, and, indeed, that the division between local and national politics was, in many cases, non-existent.
The final three chapters exhibit the effect of changes in royal policy and patronage in generating violence and feud within the localities, and the part this could play in provoking direct opposition to the crown. The importance of these tensions may have grown during the course of the fifteenth century as the amount of land, and the number of offices, under direct royal control grew through the forfeiture of several major landowning families and the annexation of their estates to the royal patrimony.