15.03.03, Neville and Simpson, eds., The Acts of Alexander III

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Elizabeth Ewan

The Medieval Review 15.03.03

Neville, Cynthia J., and Grant G. Simpson. Regesta Regum Scottorum IV, Pt 1: The Acts of Alexander III. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 275. ISBN: 9780748627325 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Ewan
University of Guelph

The Regesta Regum Scottorum series was planned over five decades ago to provide scholars with modern editions of all acts of medieval Scottish kings from David I (1124-1153) until James I's return from captivity in England in 1424. The first volume, covering the acts of Malcolm IV (1153-1165) appeared in 1960. In the same year, a typescript handlist of the acts of 1249-1306, which included those of Alexander III, the Guardians, and John Balliol, was produced by Grant Simpson, one of the editors of this volume. The handlist has long been indispensable to historians of Scotland in this period, and it is the base on which the present volume is built, although acts discovered since 1960 are also included. The period 1249-1306 has been divided between two volumes. Part 1, reviewed here, gives full editions of all surviving royal acts of the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286), as well as descriptions of lost acts. The forthcoming Part 2 will provide the acts for the troubled years following the king's death, which led to the outbreak of the First War of Independence in 1296, until the accession of Robert I.

From its inception, the series has provided scholars with reference works of the highest quality and editorial practice. The loss of many records, including those removed by Edward I in 1296, has meant that compiling the acts of individual Scottish kings is a painstaking and lengthy process, involving scouring the archives of England and Europe and even North America as well as Scotland. The present volume is a worthy successor to its predecessors which covered the reigns of Malcolm IV, William I, Robert I and David II. A fifth volume, on the acts of David I, was published outside the series as G.W.S. Barrow (ed.), The Charters of David I (Boydell Press, 2008). Regesta Regum Scottorum IV, Pt 1 provides full editions of all 175 known complete acts of Alexander III as well as details of another 165 lost acts which are known from other sources and eleven unattributable acts which could have been issued by either Alexander III or his father Alexander II. These last acts will also be included in the forthcoming volume on Alexander II.

An excellent editorial introduction (thankfully considerably shorter than the 288-page introduction in the 1988 volume for Robert I) provides the context for the documents. Section I includes a diplomatic analysis of the documents. As the editors point out, here and elsewhere in the introduction, clerks during this period experimented with many different forms, some borrowed from English or Continental models, and adopted or adapted those most useful in the Scottish context. This is indeed one of the features of Alexander's reign which makes the period of such interest to scholars of diplomatic and the chancery. Some rules were influenced by customs, such as the reluctance to record women in witness lists, which might obscure the participation of other parties, such as the king's consort, Margaret, in the proceedings. (Document no. 32, cited for this point in endnote 4, actually involves another woman named Margaret, not the queen, but there are other acts which support the argument.)

Section II on classification and subject matter examines charters, grants and confirmations, brieves (writs), letters, letters patent, notifications, and treaties, as well as those documents such as hybrid writ-charters which are less easily classified. Particularly interesting is the discussion of the relatively new practice, developing out of work on the Paradox of Medieval Scotland project, of distinguishing grants, charters and confirmations by the use or absence of dare in the clause of disposition. The editors discuss the subject matter of the acts, noting that the dominance of grants to the church, characteristic of the twelfth century, diminished, with a growing proportion of grants involving secular beneficiaries. Section II also examines spurious acts and unattributables. The discussion of spurious acts is especially valuable for scholars suspicious of the authenticity of documents purporting to originate from Alexander's reign.

The third section looks at the hands of the scribes. The editors have identified 21 different hands among the 96 surviving originals. This section also examines changing practice in chancery over the king's reign. Section IV, building on the editors' expertise in sigillography, provides a fascinating analysis of the king's seals and how their images used on them developed over time, showing, for example, a change from the period of minority to that of personal rule. The place dates of the acts and the conclusions which can be drawn from these are the subject of Section V; these are also shown in a map at the end of the book. An appendix to the introduction discusses the inventory of royal records which was ordered by the king in 1282; the editors advance an interesting argument that the suppression of sensitive documents relating to William I's submission to King John of England in 1209 and 1212 may have taken place at this time rather than, as previously suggested, shortly after the treaty of 1237 when they were returned to Scotland.

Editorial practice is discussed on pp. 40-43. The 175 full acts, many of which are published here for the first time, are each presented with an English summary followed by the full Latin (or, for a few documents, French) text, with differences between existing versions noted below. The manuscript sources are given in full, and printed versions, both full and calendared, are noted. Detailed comments on context are also given for many of the documents. The lost and unattributable acts are presented in English summary, with sources noted and detailed comments on those sources. Where mistakes have been made in language or date in previous printed versions of both the full acts and lost acts, including in the 1960 handlist, these are noted. Misattributions to Alexander II in the handlist of that king's acts are also noted. All historians who use the acts of Alexander III, and indeed of Alexander II, should consult the published versions presented here.

The subject matter of the acts provides a window onto the many responsibilities and tasks associated with royal rule, as well as the king's relations with his subjects and other rulers. A large proportion of acts are grants to the church (Melrose was particularly assiduous in seeking confirmations of its privileges) and to secular parties. Correspondence with other rulers such as Henry III of England, who involved himself in the affairs of minority after the marriage of his daughter Margaret to the king, and with Henry's son Edward I, ranged from political affairs to more personal expressions of friendship and thanks as well as of tensions and disagreements. Alexander held lands in England and several of his letters involved requests to the king to look favourably on petitions by the tenants of these lands, particularly in Northumberland and Cumberland. The affairs of the Isle of Man, ceded to Alexander by the Norwegian crown in 1266, figure in many acts, as do negotiations for the marriage of the king's daughter Margaret to King Eric of Norway, and the marriage of Prince Alexander to Marguerite of Flanders. A discussion of the practice of royal succession, circa December 1281 (no. 133), may have been particularly pertinent in light of the forthcoming marriage of the heir to the throne. The careers of several individuals, including lords and churchmen of considerable political significance and men such as the upwardly mobile knight David Graham, lord of Dundaff (no. 19), are illuminated in these acts. Glimpses of others at the lower end of the social scale include the neyfs and their families who were granted along with the lands on which they resided (nos. 41 and 60) and the cottars' tofts next to the nunnery of Haddington (no. 12). For urban historians, there are several documents relating to the king's transactions with individual burghs, some with corrected dates. In no. 69, for example, the editors redate the grant of a merchant guild to Elgin from the reign of Alexander II to 1268.

Shortly after the book was originally published in 2012, it was noticed that one act, no. 156 in this volume, was missing. The book was recalled and a new corrected edition issued in 2013, but for the benefit of those who may still have the original version, the English summary is as follows: "Grant to John de Lindsay, knight, that he and his heirs should have their lands of Wauchope (Roxburghshire) and Staplegordon (Dumfriesshire), in free forest. Strictly prohibits anyone from felling timber or hunting there without John's license, on pain of his full forfeiture of £10. Scone, 30 April a.r. 36 [1285]" (187). Perhaps because of its late inclusion, the place names in this document are not indexed, while Lindsay is described erroneously as a witness.

The index is the only part of the book which has some weaknesses, particularly for those interested in women's history. Some individuals are missing, including both husband and wife in no. 32, and Mariam wife of Aymer de Maxwell in no. 22. Margaret, Alexander III's aunt, appears as two separate individuals, one the sister of Alexander II, the other the widow of Hubert de Burgh, as does her daughter Margaret (Megotta). There is a lack of consistency in indexing women identified as wives and daughters. Of the three married women in no. 76, Forveleth appears under both her forename and as the unidentified wife of Norrin de Monorgan, Elena is indexed under her forename only, and Mary appears under her own name and under her husband's name as "wife of, see Mary." The name Cristiana is indexed as both Christine and Cristiana. Emma Smeaton is indexed under Emma for document no. 18 and under Smeaton for no. 182, obscuring the fact that she appears in both documents. While some of these problems are minor, the index should be used with caution when identifying every act to which an individual was a party.

This one shortcoming, however, does not detract from the fact that this volume will take its place as an indispensable tool for all historians interested in medieval Scotland and in its international relations in the thirteenth century. The editors are to be congratulated for maintaining the very high standard of preceding books in the series. It has been twenty-four years since the last volume appeared, but the present work has been well worth the wait.

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Author Biography

Elizabeth Ewan

University of Guelph