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23.05.13 Boardman/Ditchburn (eds.), Kingship, Lordship and Sanctity in Medieval Britain

23.05.13 Boardman/Ditchburn (eds.), Kingship, Lordship and Sanctity in Medieval Britain

Historians of all periods and disciplines are interested in networks. The men and women with whom our historical subjects interacted help us to understand better their actions, motivations, and personalities. Historians, of course, are no less affected by these networks than those whom we study, as is evident from the acknowledgments section of any monograph. A festschrift allows us to see the influence a historian has had on other historians and on their area of history as well as the way in which others have influenced them. Alexander (“Sandy”) Grant’s festschrift is a window into the profound influence he has had on Scottish history over four decades. As a Scotsman whose professional life was spent mainly in England, however, he was able to remind his English colleagues not to forget the significance of Scotland on events in the southern kingdom, while being able to avoid the desire of some nativist Scottish historians to emphasise Scotland’s difference from England. As the fine and affectionate portrait of Grant and his work in the chapter “Views from Lancaster and Beyond” emphasises, Grant sought in his work to find out how the Scottish kingdom really worked. In doing so, he helped to establish a new orthodoxy, not unlike that which emerged in England, which illustrated the way in which the nobility were part of the fabric of the kingdom rather than constantly tearing it up through their self-interested feuding. The extent of his influence is evident in the range and quality of the contributions to his festschrift.

The book is split into three sections, each of which mirrors an interest in Grant’s own work, the two largest being those on kingship and lordship, with a third looking at the late medieval influence of two early medieval Scottish saints, Ninian and Margaret. While two of the most impressive essays, Judith Green’s on Alexander I and Keith Stringer’s on the transnational interests of the Normanville family, focus heavily on the twelfth century, reflecting the range of Grant’s interest, most of the contributions, like Grant himself, centre on the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Importantly, the book maintains a strongly British, indeed a “north British” identity where the border between the two kingdoms poses no barrier to historical enquiry or understanding. In this, Boardman’s study of a Ninian who was prepared to work miracles for English penitents as well as Scots, and Ditchburn’s which highlights the Anglo-Saxon origins of Scotland’s royal saint, chime well with their approach as editors and this leads to a book which will be of profound interest to historians of both kingdoms.

While a few of the essays are a little functional and incremental in their contribution to scholarship, several seem genuinely to move the historical debate into new areas. Michael Brown’s essay, which takes as its focus the attack by the men of Perth on the Oliphants’ tower house at Dupplin in the early 1450s, is an important effort to understand the role of burghs in Scottish politics in the fifteenth century, an area largely unexplored with the exception of Aberdeen, and adds a new dimension to our understanding of the period. Judith Green attempts to fill the lacuna in the historical imagination between the time of the saintly Margaret at the end of the eleventh century and the emergence of David I in the 1120s by looking at the reign of Alexander I (1107-1124). Early Scottish history is notoriously shadowy but what emerges is a portrait of a king who, though lacking legitimate children of his own, focused on the promotion of his dynasty and of his kingdom. Alexander was aware of the role of the Norman dynasty to his south in securing his throne, emphasised in his own marriage to one of Henry I’s illegitimate daughters and the integration of his brother David into the Anglo-Norman polity, but did not seek to promote Normans in his own realm and sought to distance the Scottish church from claims on overlordship from York or Canterbury. Keith Stringer’s essay, on the other hand, illustrates the extent to which by the late twelfth century one family was embedded in Scotland, England and Normandy. The Normanvilles were not unknown to English or Scottish historians before but, through a classical piece of empirical research into previously unpublished and largely uncatalogued material in Rouen, Stringer tells their story in a new way. Their “remarkable ability to transcend state-defined notions of allegiance, loyalty and identity” (102) has important implications for our understanding of both the nature of transnational landholding at the gentry level and of how a family might seek successfully to maintain those links longer than we might imagine after the sundering points of 1204 and 1296.

In his chapter, Alastair Macdonald tackles the reputation of Henry V, the English king who, briefly, reunited England and Normandy. Macdonald provocatively titles his essay on Henry V and the Scots a “study in failure” but his argument is carefully and convincingly made. Scotland is largely absent from the historiography of Henry’s diplomacy but when it does appear, the king is generally praised for keeping the northern border quiet. Macdonald takes the king to task for squandering a “uniquely favourable set of circumstances for any English king” (53) on his succession in 1413. With both the king of Scots and the heir of the governor of the realm in custody, Henry “faced a cowed and quiescent northern neighbour...with no interest in driving aggressive foreign policies” (54) but overplayed his hand in pressing English assertions of sovereignty. This, combined with Henry’s determination to stake all on his French claims, led Albany to fear that Scottish independence would not long survive an English victory in France. Border war erupted in 1415 and again in 1417 before Scottish contingents began to arrive in France itself from 1418 onwards. It could be argued that any English king when placed in such an advantageous position as Henry was in 1413 would seek to press home that advantage (as, say, Henry II, Edward I and Edward III had done) and that English success in France was likely to provoke a Scottish reaction. Moreover, the role of the Scots in France is, of course, well known as is the psychological effect on both sides of the Scottish defeat of the duke of Clarence at Baugé in 1421. By providing the earlier context, especially the outbreak of hostilities in 1415, however, Macdonald succeeds in his aim in demonstrating that Henry himself was primarily responsible for the transposition of Anglo-Scottish hostilities to the fields and town of France to the detriment of his own efforts there.

These essays, and others, offer the reader a sense that Grant’s legacy will continue in the exploration of new areas of research and that English and Scottish historiography will remain in productive and illuminating conversation with each other.