- The Government of Scotland 1560-1625
Books on administrative history usually fall into one of two categories, either weighty tomes heavy on minutiae which only a few specialists could possibly understand, or else thin, spare overviews containing more theory than original material of any real value. Julian Goodare has produced something different, a uniquely readable survey of government, which will interest the more general reader while at the same time satisfying the hunger of scholars who appreciate studies with more meat on their bones. The book is not merely an examination of the mechanisms of Scottish government during the time of Mary Queen of Scots and her son James VI, although the operations of governmental institutions are explained in brief. Rather, Goodare is interested in showing the processes that grow [End Page 615] up around both national institutions, such as Parliament, the Privy Council, and the Court of Sessions, and local ones, like the baronial, burgh, and birlaw courts, and he demonstrates how the larger political community interacted with these. His main purpose is to show how Scotland was transformed during the period from a kingdom buffeted by the whims and desires of noble families who used private warfare to forward their ambitions to a strong, centralized state which brought the nobility to bay by forcing them to obey national standards of behavior. Changes in the central government are the key.
To Goodare two developments are at the heart of this transformation. The first is the rise of a sovereign legislature, Parliament, with the corresponding acceptance of parliamentary statute as the primary law of the land. The second is the creation of an executive Privy Council to formulate domestic policy and run the daily affairs of government. In legislation, he argues that the conflict, which arose between the traditional but unworkable "old laws" of Scotland and statute made in Parliament was ultimately won by the latter, after numerous codification projects of the former failed. This wrought a change in attitude toward law; the newest statutes were seen as superior to the oldest laws. As a result, "acts of Parliament, made by the crown and estates, were the only ultimate 'commanders' recognized in the government" (86). Consequently, in the 1580s there was an explosion of parliamentary legislation as interest groups, such as the nobility, the burghs, the kirk, and even the monarch, saw Parliament as a way of gaining advantages over rivals. Another result was the rise of the Privy Council as the main executive authority in government. Made up primarily of the great officers of state, and thus the greatest magnates, the council became a way for nobles to regularly partake in the patronage of an increasingly personal monarchy and to exercise power legitimately. One of its main duties was to enforce the new statute laws. As its volume of business rose and as more legal expertise was required in the administration of that business, the Privy Council became increasingly more professional, more legitimate in its calls for obedience, and more integral to the smooth running of the kingdom on a daily basis. Although it first worked in tandem with the monarch, after King James left in 1603 to rule England the council gained new powers and ruled Scotland largely on its own, merely keeping the king informed of its decisions and regularly "requesting" his royal advice.
The executive Privy Council made its authority felt throughout Scotland. It ended the blood feuds of the nobility by backing lords who supported the central government. It worked with the kirk to enforce new moral legislation that was aimed at undesirable individuals and groups, such as Catholics, presbyteries, witches, and gypsies, but could have a significant impact on common people, especially women. It also interfered with many of the special trading privileges of the burghs by granting such things as monopolies. It established temporary fact-finding commissions, which could investigate all regions of the kingdom. Consequently the Council's arm was long and even reached into the Highlands, where it co-opted Highland lords...