Attitudes to nationality in Scottish historical writing from Barbour to Boece
Drexler, Marjorie Jean
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The historical narrative constructed by John of Fordun in the last quarter of the fourteenth century was used as an outline by the majority of Lowland historians for the next century and a half. Only the earliest of the authors studied, John Barbour, can safely be said to have escaped being influenced by Fordun's Chronica; even Andrew of Wyntoun and the other vernacular authors, generally more independent than those who wrote in Latin, took some of Fordun's material. In the sixteenth century, John Major tried to cast aside the traditions inherited from Fordun, but his history was as unpopular as his proposal for union with England. On the other side of the debate which must have flared up after Flodden, Boece turned away from Major's proposals, took up the cherished traditions, and demanded that the Scots defend their independence as they had always done. Although most of their narratives were based on the same material, the authors' reorganization of it, what they chose to add or omit, is a reflection of their attitudes toward their nation or kingdom and of how they saw themselves within it, how they envisaged the relationship between the king and the kingdom, and their opinion of their nation. These attitudes varied from author to author, and there was seldom a neat progression from first to last thanks to the differences in personality, background, and circumstances. One broad change during the period studied was in the attitude toward the king. For Fordun, to be a Scot meant to be loyal to the person of the king, the cornerstone on whom the welfare of the kingdom depended; later authors divorced the person of the king from the crown and thought in terms of loyalty to the kingdom, state or nation. Another striking change came just with the last author to be discussed, Boece. Until his work was published, there had been no mention of a Golden Age or of such a retrogression by the Scottish nation as he harped upon. His sense of insecurity and false bravado had had no place in the earlier narratives whose authors were not only proud of their nation's independence, but were sure the Scots had the strength to maintain it.