Perceiving the Scottish self: the emergence of national identity in mediaeval Scotland

Perceiving the Scottish self: the emergence of national identity in mediaeval Scotland

Perceiving the Scottish self: the emergence of national identity in mediaeval Scotland

By John Falconer

M.A. Thesis, University of Alberta, 1999

Abstract: During the twelfth century Scotland underwent a significant transformation in terms of its geographical, political, cultural and social alignment. Significantly, how external and internal viewers perceived the image and identity of the Scottish nation became bound up in these changes. This thesis is an examination of three main areas which underscored the presence of a national identity in Scotland between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries: namely, political thought and geographical awareness; images of kingship and the institution of the Scottish monarchy; and land tenure and Scots nationality.

Other elements vital to the emergence of national identity in mediaeval Scotland, such as the Scottish Church, Anglo-Scottish relations, feudalism, language and race, are also examined in connection to these main areas. The focus of this thesis is a past-centred analysis of how Scots and non-Scots perceived Scotland and Scottishness during this period. By using various royal ‘acta’, chronicles, contemporary poetry and other published primary and secondary sources, I have highlighted the chimerical nature of national identities, as well as, those characteristics which contemporaries readily identified with nation.

Not only should this study reveal what to contemporaries must have been obvious, namely a sense of national self, it should also contribute to the ongoing scholarly debate on nationhood and national identities.

Between August 1300 and July 1305 Scotland and England drew Pope Boniface VIII and the Papal Curia into a war of propaganda and history. While there is no reason to see the inclusion of Rome in Anglo-Scottish relations as innovative –as early as the first quarter of the twelfth century the Papal Curia had intervened to protect the ‘ancient liberties’ of the Scottish nation – the use of history to support the claims of either side became more pronounced in the lead up to the Scottish and English ‘missions’ to Boniface VIII in 1301. Ten years earlier, during the negotiation of the Treaty of Norham Edward I put forth his claims to overlordship in Scotland on the basis of history. After Boniface VIII issued the bull Scimus Fili (1299-1300) refuting the English king’s ‘right’ to Scotland, Edward based his appeal to the Pope for recognition of his claims to overlordship in Scotland on the ‘historical’ relationship between the two kingdoms. Beginning with the Brutus legend, well developed in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Britonum, Edward’s reply to Boniface recounted the various occasions when kings of Scotland rendered homage to the kings of England specifically for Scotland. The reply ended with an account of the more recent events surrounding John Balliol’s election and deposition. One line in particular stands out for its reflection of Edward’s historical perception of a subjugated Scotland and for its revelation of a thirteenth-century mentalité at work:

Arthur, king of the Britons, a prince most renowned, subjected to himself a rebellious Scotland.

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