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1 Introduction: Literatures of the Stewart Kingdom1 Nicola Royan The definition of any literary period is always problematic, since cultural endeavour is generally untidy in its relationship to useful dates, events and even historical movements. While the title of this volume sidesteps the problem of labelling by its use of dates, most readers will interpret those dates as representing a meaningful and coherent literary period, as experienced in an agreed geographical location. While the dates are fixed, however, there are nevertheless changes and uncertainties. To begin with, the geographic extent of the Scottish kingdom changes during this period. By 1470, the northern isles, Orkney and Shetland, had become part of the kingdom through the marriage of James III (1452–1488) to Margaret of Denmark (1456/7–1486); after the suppression of the Lordship of the Isles by James IV (1473–1513), the Western Isles too become more politically part of the realm.2 Both James III and James IV present themselves as emperors in their kingdom, an important change in political perception.3 While James V (1512–1542) was famously concerned with pacifying the lawlessness on the Scottish border with England, the assumption of the English throne by his grandson changed the nature of that border and its government.4 On the other hand, the ruling dynasty – in contrast to both England and France – remained constant; the Stuarts would even regain the crown after Charles I’s (1600–1649) execution, and it was the more mundane difficulties of raising children that brought the dynasty to a close.5 An established ruling dynasty, however, did not guarantee stable government. From the beginning of the period until 1625, every Stewart monarch ascended the throne as a minor.6 The chronicler Walter Bower (1385–1449) was not alone in lamenting the effects of minority government and regency, although more recent historians have not seen these periods as entirely disastrous.7 The literary ramifications of such interludes are equally mixed. Where overt royal patronage was absent, magnates 2 nicola royan and other figures stepped in: this is most obviously and consistently true of Gaelic literature, but also pertains to writing in Older Scots and Latin.8 The Campbells, the Douglases and the Sinclairs are perhaps the most obvious noble patrons, but writers like Andrew Wyntoun (c. 1350–c. 1422) and Hary (c. 1440–c. 1492) identify lesser lairds as commissioners of their work, whereas the title of the Book of the Dean of Lismore locates it in a church context.9 The transmission and preservation of much Older Scots material rests in the circles around George Bannatyne (1545–1607/8) and Richard Maitland (1496–1586), and the preferences of an earlier lawyer, John Asloan (fl. 1513–1530).10 The devolution of literary production outwith an only intermittently regal court provokes additional questions about audience and circulation, as well as about the relationship of the regions of Scotland to the centre. A metropolitan model of production and reception, still evident in discussions of early modern English literature, seems far less probable in a realm where there was not always a political centre, and where power was frequently devolved to regional magnates and burghs.11 To the peculiarities of Scottish government might also be attributed the recurrent concern – even an obsession – in Older Scots and Latin writing with advising their princes.12 Political comment can also be found in Gaelic writing, particularly in relation to feud and regional concerns, but, because of the status of Gaelic, royal (in contrast to magnatial) government would be far less likely to encounter literature in that language, let alone pay it due attention.13 Writers in Older Scots and Latin, in contrast, are willing to address both regional and national government, in both specific and general terms. One of the best-known examples is David Lyndsay (c. 1486–1555)’s Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis:14 first performed in its entirety in the minority of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542– 1587), it begins and ends with considerations of government generally relevant to individual and nation, while presenting some quite particular solutions in the middle. The diversity of kinds of performance in Lyndsay’s play, from literary modes such as morality play, farce, and sermon, to public acts like execution and the passing of laws, demonstrates the sophistication of the audience, not least in recognising the Pure [poor] Man as both their representative and also a part of the drama, when he invades the playing area.15 The same sophistication...


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