15.08.45, Boardman and Goodare, eds., Kings, Lords, and Men in Scotland and Britain, 1300-1625

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Christine McGladdery

The Medieval Review 15.08.45

Boardman, Steve and Julian Goodare, eds. Kings, Lords, and Men in Scotland and Britain, 1300-1625: Essays in Honour of Jenny Wormald. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014. pp. xiv, 362. ISBN: 9780748691500 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Christine McGladdery
University of St Andrews

This Festschrift, produced in honour of Jenny Wormald, contains essays that range widely from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century in order to offer some reflection of the scope of Jenny's research interests pursued in the course of her distinguished academic career. As befits her own robust and engaging attitude to academic debate, the contributors to this volume do not shy away from challenging some of her interpretations, although this serves simply to underline the clear affection and respect in which this great champion of the study of Scottish history is held. It can be difficult to achieve cohesion in a collection of essays which deal with so many disparate elements of research, but the broad theme of the exercise of power within a late mediaeval and early modern kingdom links the contributions and stimulates the reader to engage with shifting concepts and practice in the articulation and presentation of authority.

One of the first issues to be tackled by the editors is the problem created by the period demarcations used by historians, which often have served to create false barriers in understanding longer term developments. It is fitting that this volume seeks to meet this problem head-on, reflecting the fact that Jenny is one of the few scholars who refuses to be bound by such classifications and has bulldozed repeatedly the late mediaeval and early modern fences that separate the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The barrier of national demarcation was similarly swept aside as Jenny, and those inspired by her, forced the realisation that historians of this period need to understand the complex interplay of ideas, not just between Scotland and England, but also within a much wider European context. This collection of essays seeks to emulate that broader view in order to assess the connections, continuities, and contrasts inherent in the workings of elite society.

Keith Brown opens the volume with a chapter that offers a personal tribute based on his experience of studying under and being challenged by this enthusiastic and inspiring teacher. He considers the intellectual impact of Jenny's work in the consideration of early modern Scotland, including his own research into the blood-feud. He offers a reminder of the prevailing assumptions concerning early modern Scotland before the 1970s: a broadly unruly and self-interested nobility which the crown was struggling to keep in check, aided by court bureaucracy and the civilising godliness of the new Protestant Church. In much English historiography, King James is simply James I, with little or no reference to his many years' experience as James VI. The fact that it is more common now to find him referred to as James VI and I is due in no small part to Jenny's insistence that his exercise of kingship after 1603 may not be understood adequately without considering the experience, influences, and personal attitudes held before his succession to the English throne. This is not simply a matter of the Scots feeling prickly about dismissive attitudes to their own history, but points out a serious flaw in seeking to provide a truly rigorous analysis of this period without careful consideration of all relevant evidence (and this argument could be extrapolated further than the reign of James VI and I). As Keith Brown points out, the re-ignited focus on primary sources and their critical evaluation has done much to clear the mist away and challenge accepted assumptions, and Jenny's research into the actual workings of noble society and the role of conflict and its resolution has inspired most of the essays in this volume.

The essays are divided into two main sections, with Part I: Lords and Men, and Part II: Kings and Lords. Both sections focus on particular aspects of noble society from the fourteenth to the late sixteenth century, with particular reference to the structures and practices that allowed it to function. Steve Boardman assesses the nature of noble power and ambition vested in female hands in his study of Margaret Stewart, Countess of Angus and Mar, examining the complex matters of kinship and inheritance and assessing the influence that could be acquired through sheer strength of personality and carefully constructed networks of support. The extent to which acceptance of a negative reputation may obscure grounds for some rehabilitation is considered by Alasdair MacDonald in his argument that James III may have had a greater interest in equitable justice and personal piety than has been supposed. He considers the king's foundation of a chapel at Restalrig over the shrine of St Triduana, a local saint with great contemporary resonance, and assesses the architectural and symbolic influences inherent in the unusual hexagonal shape of the chapel, suggesting that its intended use may have been as a mortuary chapel for the king and his queen, although both came to be interred at Cambuskenneth. In his use of architecture in the presentation of Stewart power, he posits that James III demonstrated an interest in cultural expression that, although developed much further under his son, was not solely the preserve of James IV.

As befits Jenny's cross-border interest, Christine Carpenter offers analysis of the experience of English noble society in the fourteenth century, considering the administration of justice in the localities with particular reference to the argument that there was tension between crown-favoured centralised commissions and locally constituted commissions of the peace, and the role, negative or otherwise, of the practice of indentures. Within this study, she argues that developments occurred in response to particular pressures and requirements, such as the ongoing need for military recruitment and delegation of the management of law and order at a local level to trusted officers with the experience, ability, and status (or patronage) to make it effective. Hector MacQueen continues the focus on administration of justice in his assessment of the role of justiciars in late mediaeval Scotland. Traditionally, this was a dual office, held by men who exercised judicial authority on behalf of the crown both north and south of the River Forth, and he provides a meticulous examination of those who held office from c.1306 to 1513, providing an appendix for ease of reference. He analyses thoughtfully the changing nature of the office and the extent to which, in addition to the undoubted element of favour and patronage such an office denoted, personal competence and ability to deliver effective justice during peripatetic ayres is suggested by the evidence.

Mark Godfrey provides a considered analysis of Jenny's own demarcation between public and private justice when considering the manner in which disputes could be pursued and, more significantly, settled. He addresses the undoubted prevalence of the feud during the sixteenth century and the extent to which the Court of Session was emerging as a central tribunal for crown-sponsored 'public' justice. He discusses the premise of the 'justice of the feud', suggesting a more nuanced impression of dispute resolution encompassing redress and settlement with or without the element of violence. Anna Groundwater considers the issue of private obligations and public justice in her examination of a particular bond made in 1559 between Elliot of Redheugh and Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, which illuminates the importance of personal connections in a border region notorious for its unruliness and perceived as having little regard for crown justice. She uses this case study to examine the importance to the king of securing local men to promote crown interests even when serving their own.

Jane Dawson's chapter considers Jenny's work on 'religious bonds' within the context of Reformation attitudes, exploring the significance of bonds of maintenance drawn up to support the burgeoning Protestant cause in Scotland, including that sealed on 3 December 1557 in which named nobles offered open support to hitherto disparate and threatened Protestant preachers and sympathisers without any reciprocal obligation on the part of the latter. By the time that another bond was made on 13 July 1559, signatories had expanded beyond the nobility and its terms encompassed identification of religious purpose as a national cause, feeding in to the 'last bond' of the Congregation on 27 April 1560; a general religious bond that drew on the language of established bonds of maintenance. Dawson provides a fascinating discussion of the extent to which such justification rhetoric and the 'visual language of ritual and gesture' developed into the Confession of Faith and, subsequently, the National Covenant of 1638. Alexander Grant provides a thorough discussion of perceptions of feuding and responses to it, using impressively wide comparative analysis from other disciplines, cultures, and societies. He goes on to focus on mediaeval Scottish perceptions of violent crime and royal remissions, including a discussion of contemporary attitudes to murder, challenging the reviewer's own use of this term to describe the killing of William, eighth earl of Douglas, by James II in 1452. One element of this attack by the king on his most powerful subject was a contentious bond made between Douglas and the earls of Ross and Crawford, and Michael Brown explores the context of tension between the king and the slain earl's successor, James, ninth earl of Douglas, by paying homage to Jenny's pivotal work on written bonds to consider one particular example, the Lanark bond of 1453. He offers a compelling exploration of the context and content of this bond between Douglas and the king, including a full reproduction of its terms from a seventeenth-century transcript.

Another specific bond to be considered for the light it casts on pivotal events is the Ainslie bond, for which Julian Goodare offers a discursive and powerful analysis, examining the evidence it provides for a deeper understanding of the events that led to Mary Queen of Scots' fateful marriage to James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell, in 1567. The original bond has not survived, and Goodare considers the problems posed by the various copies and the names associated with the bond, giving apparent agreement by a wide range of Scottish nobles and churchmen to a proposed marriage alliance between Bothwell and the queen. Goodare argues that subsequent events, such as Mary's refusal to accept Bothwell's plan, revealed the weakness of Bothwell's position and led to an act of coercion that precipitated the political downfall of both the earl and the queen.

From specific bonds, Roger Mason broadens the debate to examine the principles of counsel and consent expressed by sixteenth-century writers such as Mair, Boece, and Buchanan, debunking the myth that the letter to the pope dated 6 April 1320, and known later as the Declaration of Arbroath, played a pivotal role in forming developing concepts of a distinctive and patriotic Scottish attitude to government, pointing out that it remained virtually unknown until its publication in 1689 in an English translation. Instead, Mason considers the traditions and discourse that impacted demonstrably on developing ideas of kingship, counsel, and consent. He analyses the extent to which James VI's own concepts of sovereignty, although recognising the necessity of consultation, challenged the more republican principles of his erstwhile tutor, Buchanan, and were expressed in his own writings in more absolutist terms.

The importance of literature and material evidence in deepening understanding of cultural attitudes prevalent during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries is assessed in three chapters, including Felicity Heal's discussion of the importance of gift exchanges made between Scotland and England in the sixteenth century, particularly between monarchs and those engaged in diplomatic service. She uses specific examples to demonstrate the symbolic importance of gifting and the meticulously ordered protocols that ensured adequate reflection of honour, largesse, and status of the giver in relation to the recipient. Wider political attitudes were inherent in gifts, and Heal explores the significance of gifting in the context of Anglo-Scottish politics in a period of tense expectation that there could be a Scottish successor to Elizabeth on the English throne. Discussion of literature is provided by John Watts, who offers a response to Jenny's characterisation of a Scottish Renaissance encompassing court culture, by considering the somewhat neglected poetry of the English poet John Skelton and the insights that his work offers into attitudes to noble society in England at a time of cultural and political transformation. Jamie Reid-Baxter's contribution ends the volume with an essay that considers the poetry of Thomas Murray, who acted as tutor and then secretary to Prince Charles, and whose work provides a link between James VI as a Scottish king and the British monarch of post-1603, presented as a staunch and armoured crusader in defence of universal Protestantism.

Each essay contributes an examination of particular events, documents, personalities, and themes, which work together to provide a pleasing and informative view of developments in the exercise of power and lordship experienced by the Scots before and after the union of the crowns. Although disparate in content and period, contemporary and subsequent perceptions of the manner in which political and social structures actually worked (or did not) provide a thematic thread, and this Festschrift is an excellent contribution to the ongoing debates of the period and a worthy tribute to the historian whom it honours.

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