- The "Inevitable" Union and Other Essays on Early Modern Scotland
"Small, unimportant place like that — nothing but golf courses and whisky" (ix) — so Maurice Lee, Jr., relates his usual conversation with which he informs people that he has devoted his life to the study of Scottish history. Of course, it is not just the general public who have thought this way. Until relatively recently the sole contact that many early modern English historians had with Scotland was perusing yet another biography of Mary Queen of Scots in the bookshop before reshelving it and moving on to the English (read: important) history section. But, of course, now we know better, and the new British history will not allow us to ignore the realms of Scotland and Ireland. That we can find material to use on Scotland is in no small part due to the work of pioneering Scottish historians such as Lee. Since his first book on James Stewart, Earl of Moray, in 1953, Lee has written or edited eight more books, most notably two important works on Scotland under James VI and I and Charles I, Government by Pen (1980) and The Road to Revolution (1985), respectively, and a highly influential study of James's political style as the monarch of three kingdoms, Great Britain's Solomon (1990).
Lee has always been an unashamedly highly political historian and this welcome collection of his previously published essays continues that theme. Also welcome is the inclusion of two new pieces specifically written for this volume on Mary Queen of Scots and the Gowrie Conspiracy. The collection ranges from primarily biographical pieces — for example, essays on Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington and the earl of Tweedale — to Lee's influential article on "Scotland and the 'General Crisis' of the Seventeenth Century" and a comprehensive overview of Charles I and the end of conciliar government in Scotland.
One of the interesting questions raised by Lee in his new work on Mary Queen of Scots is that Mary was not really Scottish, but French — a foreigner. Lee is right to highlight this point and it is curious that even in some of the best works on Mary, such as those by Jenny Wormald and Gordon Donaldson, that this aspect has not been explored. After all, one of the major themes of scholarship on her son, James VI and I, is precisely that he was a foreigner — a Scot seeking to rule an alien kingdom (England) which he did not understand. Thus Lee posits an interesting way forward in Marian scholarship, counseling the need to examine the French Court established by the Queen and how she governed as Marie, reine d'Ecosse.
In his treatment of the Gowrie conspiracy and the fall of the aristocratic Ruthven family, Lee tantalizingly highlights links between English policy toward Scotland, probably masterminded by Sir Robert Cecil, and the succession. He suggests that news of the succession was the reason James abandoned his hunting and journeyed to Gowrie House — where he almost met his death — and speculates that a message from Queen Elizabeth awaited him. From Lee's reading, it seems clear that Gowrie was some type of English agent, although to suggest that [End Page 263] Cecil and Elizabeth would have even quietly acquiesced to the Gowrie brothers' plans to kidnap James seems a little far-fetched. Nevertheless, the essay repays close reading on a conspiracy which has received too little scholarly attention in the last fifty years.
For this reviewer, the other stand-out pieces are the exploration of Charles I's annus horribilis in Scotland (1650-51) and a fascinating account of the marriage contract between the Duke of Monmouth and the Countess of Buccleuch in 1663, seemingly everyday business between aristocrats. Lee illustrates how in this episode the Scottish aristocracy was cowed by Charles II — "their utter silence in the face of the assault contained in the ratification on the property rights of one of their number made it perfectly clear that...