rd’s background, arguing that while the descendants of Brutus once ruled the island of Britain, the Britons were later conquered by the Saxons, who in turn fell before the Danes. When the Saxons finally overcame the Scandinavians they were to be conquered once again by the Normans. Edward’s use of British history therefore becomes irrelevant since Edward “has not succeeded the Britons but the Normans…
From this it is clear that as regards those matters which prevailed in antiquity, many changes happened by the very nature of things, which is unable to remain in the same state. “9 These arguments would certainly seem to undermine those in Edward’s letter, though it is essential not to lapse into an overly modern reading of this medieval text. Origin myths, as they are commonly described, played an important part in the understanding of nationality as it existed in the middle ages and Bisset is certainly not dismissing them as meaningless fictions.
Nonetheless, to a sharp legal mind, it was obviously apparent that disputes over kingship ought to be derived from first principles. This can be seen in his concern to concentrate instead on authentically signed treaties and papal bulls, and in particular the Treaty of Birgham that guaranteed Scotland’s independence. It is perhaps paradoxical, then, that he goes on to offer contrary evidence to Edward’s claims, by offering a “head on confrontation with the cult of Trojano-British mythology,”10 thus descending to Edward’s level of argument.
Goldstein sees this as “a form of gamesmanship rather than as a serious betrayal of principles. “11 This is one aspect of what would seem to be Goldstein’s overly sympathetic view of the Scots cause during the ‘war of historiography’ and with Master Bisset’s arguments in particular. Perhaps it is the case that Bisset’s theoretical objection to the English version of history, based on the instability of human institutions, is not one that he himself considers entirely convincing, or perhaps simply not one that he felt would win much favour at the papal court.
The importance of origin myths to national identity in the middle ages has already been suggested, yet the account the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter Scota, and her marriage to the Athenian Gathelus and the subsequent voyage of their followers, the Scots, to Iberia, Hibernia and then Scotland, is perhaps even detrimental to Bisset’s argument. Not only does it serve to undermine his previous argument based on changes in governments and monarchies over time, but it also introduces a different problem, elucidated by Goldstein.
He points out that Edward presented himself as a conqueror in the tradition of Aeneas, Brutus, Arthur and William, and that he had undeniably altered the political and social order of the island. Yet if the Scots themselves had gained a homeland through conquest, “how could Bisset be sure that Edward’s achievement was any less significant to the larger pattern of history?
“12 This is perhaps a valid point, though if it is considered alongside the aforementioned opinions expressed in the processus concerning the instability of institutions over time, it could fairly be concluded that although the Scots were descendents of those who conquered the land by force, their situation had now changed over such an extended period of time that although it may have been unlawful to invade a land in the first place, it had now come to be their own.
Regardless of this problem presented by the alternative origin myth provided by the Scots, the ideas expressed by the legal-minded Bisset surely undermined a substantial part of Edward’s claim. The arguments dealt with at most length in both competing documents, is that of the examples of Scottish kings swearing fealty to Edward for not only their lands in Scotland, but for the very kingdom itself.
It must be conceded that this is the most powerful section of Edward’s letter, and that Bisset is deserving of criticism for some parts of his response. He maintained that “the kings of Scotland and its inhabitants have done homage to him [Edward] for lands which they held in the kingdom of England, of the king of England, but never for the kingdom of Scotland, nor for their lands in Scotland. “13 He adds that on those occasions when fealty was given, it was because of “oppression, force and fear,” and was therefore invalid as not given freely.
14 This was doubtlessly true on some occasions, but Bisset weakens his argument here as it becomes clear that the accounts he provides in retaliation to Edward’s, are not entirely fair, whole or even-handed. This becomes most apparent in his generous description of the motives behind William the Lion’s invasion of England and his misleading comments concerning the English king Henry III’s seeming acceptance of Alexander’s refusal to swear homage for Scotland.
Bisset also loses some of the potency of his claims when he exaggerates Scotland’s special place as a province under direct papal authority. He does this to prove that the Scottish throne had never been the right of the English, and also to win the favour of the papacy since Edward had infringed on the rights of the mother church. He writes that “indeed, the king and inhabitants of the kingdom of Scotland, having undertaken the faith of the Roman Church, recognised the suzerainty of its lord, in temporal as in spiritual affairs.
“15 This was a supremely bold statement for the representative of a feudal monarchy to make, and in so doing, he was actually volunteering the subjection of his king, as long as it was not to the English. This is in stark contrast to his claims for a distinguished autonomy of the Scottish nation, based on the common law whereby “one consulship is not subject to another, nor one bishopric to another, nor one kingdom to another, nor one king to another. “16
Bisset’s intentions may have been well conceived then, but due to his slighted history and his apparent sacrifice of principles in order to win over the papacy, the potency of his argument is subdued. Nonetheless, it must be noted that Edward’s argument over this matter was neither fairly presented nor concerned with integrity. It would seem that Bisset’s account is the most successful here mainly because of the opportunity afforded him by the imbalanced relation of events in Edward’s appeal.
There are two glaring omissions from Edward’s history that required Bisset to simply note their absence and in so doing they would become most notable by their absence. The first example is that it describes William’s homage to the English king John in 1199, but makes no reference to the fact that this fealty was made saving William’s right to Scotland. 17 The most significant omission however, is made in the description of king William the Lion’s homage to the English king in the 1174 Treaty of Falaise, after his invasion of England had been emphatically defeated.
While this was conceded to be true by Bisset, though the Scottish king was coerced into it, he could object to the fact that Edward’s account deliberately fails to mention the Treaty of Canterbury of 1189, and what is known as the ‘quit claim. ‘ Edward’s letter merely states that William “came to king Richard and did him homage. “18 This ignores the fact that at Canterbury the king of Scots “did homage for the holding of his dignities in England,” but that King Richard… quit claimed him [the Scottish king] and all his heirs for ever … from all allegiance and subjection for the kingdom of Scotland.
“19 The opportunity therefore existed for Bisset to simply set out the terms of Canterbury and its quit claim, appeal again to a notion of natural law and Edward’s might seeking to construct his ‘right,’ and to stress the unique position of Scotland as the ‘special daughter’ of the papacy, and to therefore provide an extremely effective response to Edward’s arguments for superiority over Scotland. Those documents created after 1306 are certainly due consideration, though they often appear far more like government sponsored endeavours to justify the legitimacy of Bruce’s rule to all those that questioned it.
The Declaration of the Clergy of 1309 and the much maligned Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 make little attempt to justify their claims with appeals to common law or derive their conclusions from first principles, and are empowered far more by their rhetoric. It is perhaps because of this that the Declaration of Arbroath can be seen to have exerted such influence as it has, becoming inextricably linked with the idea of Scottish identity.
Much has been made of the concept of libertas or freedom in these documents and it has been argued by Cowan and others that there are to be found in these writings, some of the first refinements of an idea of popular sovereignty to be found in medieval writings. It does seem that much of the Declaration of Arbroath has been taken out of its historical context, however, and surely Fiona Watson is correct in saying that such a notion as that of popular sovereignty from an early period in Scotland, “would have been greeted with complete incomprehension by Bruce, not to mention his Stewart descendants.
“20 Watson also goes on to illustrate the Declaration was not particularly effective since only months after it’s composition, Bruce faced rebellion from many of the ‘signatories’ of the Declaration, “perhaps galled by the obvious discrepancy between the version of events portrayed there and their own memories.
“21 The efficacy of most of the writings from Bruce’s time therefore, came from their attempt, and ultimately their considerable success, in justifying the Bruce claim to the throne and in turn to have a unifying effect on what was a trenchantly divided kingdom, and played a significant role in the creation of a new sense of Scottish nationhood.
Perhaps the key outcome of Scotland’s struggle to preserve its independence from England, then, was the accelerated growth of national consciousness among many different groups within Scottish society during the latter thirteenth century and beyond, and the real efficacy of the Scottish writings of the time were to this end. Both the ruling classes, comprising all secular and church government, and the vast majority of the Scottish people, whose resources were essential to the success of the prolonged Wars of Independence, together arrived at a “fuller conception of the Scottish nation, its history, and its traditional forms of government.
“22 The production of historiography played a constitutive role in the development of national consciousness in Scotland. Master Bisset and later those who wrote to justify the reign of the Bruce’s reproduced the larger political conflict in another form and through their appeals to history, as has been shown, were able to render illegitimate Edward’s claims to English superiority of Scotland. While not creating a sense of Scottish identity, as this was necessarily present before their writings, they served to galvanise this idea and so played a crucial role in the continuing independence of Scotland.
Bibliography Bower, Scotichronicon, Watt, D. E. R. (ed. ), Volume 6, Aberdeen University Press, 1991. Broun, Finlay, Lynch, Image and Identity: The Making and Re-making of Scotland Through the Ages, John Donald Publishers, 1998. Duncan, Archibald A. M. , The Nation of Scots and the Declaration of Arbroath, Historical Association, 1970. Duncan, Archibald A. M. , Scotland: The Making of a Kingdom, Oliver & Boyd, 1975 Ferguson, William, The Identity of the Scottish Nation: an Historic Quest, Edinburgh University Press, 1998. Goldstein, R. J.
, ‘The Matter of Scotland:’Historiography and Historical Verse in Medieval Scotland, UMI Dissertation Information Service, 1987. Matthews, William, ‘The Egyptians in Scotland: The Political History of a Myth,’ Viator, Vol. 1, 1970. Stones, E. L. G. , Anglo-Scottish Relations 1174-1328, Some Selected Documents, Nelson, 1965. Stones, E. L. G. & Simpson, Grant, Edward I and the throne of Scotland, 1290-1296 : an edition of the record sources for the Great Cause, Oxford University Press, 1978. 1 Stones, E. L. G. , Anglo-Scottish Relations 1174-1328, Some Selected Documents, Nelson, 1965, p.
81. 2 Stones, Documents, 1965, p. 96. 3 Stones, Documents, 1965, p. 99. 4 Stones, Documents, 1965, p. 107. 5 Cowan, Edward J. , ‘Identity, Freedom and the Declaration of Arbroath,’ in Broun, Finlay and Lynch (ed. ), Image and Identity: The Making and Re-making of Scotland Through the Ages, John Donald, 1998, p. 39. 6 Bower, Scotichronicon, Watt, D. E. R. (ed. ), Volume 6, Aberdeen University Press, 1991, p. 171. 7 Ibid. , p. 185. 8 Bower, Scotichronicon, Watt (ed. ), 1991, p. 185. 9 Ibid, p. 185. 10 Goldstein, R. J.
, ‘The Matter of Scotland:’Historiography and Historical Verse in Medieval Scotland, UMI Dissertation Information Service, 1987, p. 187. 11 Ibid. , p. 187. 12 Goldstein, The Matter of Scotland, 1987, p. 190. 13 Bower, Scotichronicon, Watt (ed. ), 1991, p. 187. 14 Ibid. , p. 187. 15 Bower, Scotichronicon, Watt (ed. ), 1991, p. 173. 16 Ibid. , p. 171. 17 Stones, Documents, 1965, p. 103. 18 Stones, E. L. G. & Simpson, Grant, Edward I and the throne of Scotland, 1290-1296 : an edition of the record sources for the Great Cause, Oxford University Press, 1978, Volume 2, p.305. 19.
Duncan, Archibald A. M. , Scotland: The Making of a Kingdom, Oliver & Boyd, 1975, p. 238. 20 Watson, Fiona, ‘The Enigmatic Lion: Scotland, Kingship, and National Identity in the Wars of Independence’, in Broun, Finlay and Lynch (ed. ), Image and Identity, 1998, p. 30. 21 Ibid. , p. 30. 22 Goldstein, The Matter of Scotland, 1987, p. 1. 1 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Richard III section.