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100 CHAPTER FIVE Historiography in Highlands and Lowlands Ulrike Hogg and Martin MacGregor In Scotland between 1100 and 1400, Gaelic speech retreated significantly on the ground as English – that in time came to be called Scots – advanced in the south and east, eventually resulting in the creation of linguistic zones that corresponded roughly to the physical realities of Highlands and Lowlands.1 This hugely important but poorly understood phenomenon carried consequences for the historiography of the Scots, as for much else. Down to the later thirteenth century, Scottish historiography continued to operate within a milieu that was significantly Gaelic. The key prose texts that defined the kingdom’s history – royal genealogy, king lists and origin legend – largely derived from Gaelic originals, even if their written expression was increasingly orientated towards Latin. The texts themselves pointed unequivocally to a Gaelic template for Scottish origins. The preservation and promulgation of these texts was primarily the responsibility of a Gaelic scholarly caste at whose apex was the king’s poet.2 After 1300, and particularly once we reach John of Fordun in the later fourteenth century, mainstream presentations of the history of the Scots passed to overwhelmingly non-Gaelic historians based in non-Gaelic speaking Scotland, and working in another genre, the continuous narrative chronicle, usually in prose. The most momentous of these changes was in personnel. An argument for continuity in this respect can hardly be sustained on the basis of the unknown historian active in the later thirteenth century who seems to have known Gaelic, and to have been responsible for an intermediate stage in the evolution of the chronicle to which John of Fordun gave final form;3 or of George Buchanan, whose Rerum Scoticarum Historia was published in 1582, and who knew Gaelic, but who would surely have baulked at any attempt to claim him as a Gaelic historian, given his own highly negative comments on the Gaelic approach to history.4 In other respects, the continuities were significant. These prose chronicles were 101 Latin works, although sometimes accompanied, come the sixteenth century, by parallel versions in Scots, while Scots was also the language of composition of a number of shorter independent chronicles. They incorporated the substance of the texts of the middle ages, sometimes verbatim. As this implies, and even if much of the detail was rejected by Buchanan and his predecessor John Mair, the late medieval national chronicle tradition remained wedded to the Gaelic version of Scottish origins, and to belief in the Gaels as the prisci Scoti or aboriginal Scots. In Mair’s words, ‘we trace our descent from the Irish […] at the present day almost the half of Scotland speaks the Irish [i.e. Gaelic] tongue, and not so long ago it was spoken by the majority of us’.5 The same mindset explains why Bishop William Elphinstone and his protégé Hector Boece saw the likeliest repository of sources upon which to base their patriotic explorations of the Scottish past as the Gaelic west, and specifically Iona, ‘where also are preserved the sepulchres of our ancient kings and the ancient monuments of our race’.6 However, this did not preclude – indeed, it may have encouraged – a diametrically opposed attitude towards the more recent Scottish past. The Gaelic contribution was to have provided deep roots and antiquity to the Scots as a people, and to their monarchy in particular – and, thus, to the kingdom as a whole. In subsequent history, insofar as they featured at all, the role of Gaelic-speaking Scots became that of inveterate troublemakers or enemies of a realm whose political centre of gravity had come to be located in non-Gaelic or Lowland Scotland. The Gaels had become a stereotype inhabiting the margins of the history of the kingdom to which, so that history still asserted, they had given birth and autonomous existence – the very history that they themselves had once authored and nurtured.7 From the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries onwards, written accounts of the past became increasingly accessible in Scotland, leading to a gradual increase in historical awareness among the people. Building on the king-lists that were first composed in the ninth century, and the annalistic entries kept in religious houses by anonymous scribes, the later Middle Ages in the Lowlands saw the development of Scottish historical writing into coherent and creative narrative. Historiography in Latin, although predominant in this period, was complemented by histories written in the Scots vernacular. Histories in both languages, just as...


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