Scottish Independence and the Idea of Britain: From the Picts to Alexander III

By Dauvit Broun | Go to book overview

7

From Client King to Sovereign

Royal Charters and the Status of Scottish Kingship in the Reigns of
William I (1165–1214) and Alexander II (1214–49)

The inauguration of Alexander III was the first occasion when Scottish leaders as a group would, by their participation in the ritual, have identified themselves explicitly with the idea of sovereign kingship. It was also, presumably, the first opportunity for this to have been communicated to a large audience. The symbolism of enthronement at the cross and the casting of garments at the new king's feet would doubtless have been explained to all and sundry, perhaps in a homily during a postinaugural mass,1 and those who performed these acts would presumably have been briefed about their significance. The ability of those at the heart of the kingship to respond so quickly and imaginatively to the sudden and unexpected opportunity of a royal inauguration in 1249 is impressive: Alexander II died on 8 July on the island of Kerrera, just under a hundred miles from Scone, and the inauguration of his sevenyear-old son and heir took place on 13 July. We may guess that Scottish sovereignty was already well established in their minds for them to have agreed so swiftly on the innovative features in the inauguration.

Is it possible to say when this idea began to take root among those closest to the king, and to see whether it grew gradually, or if it was first espoused in response to a particular event? A contrast has been drawn between the Quitclaim of Canterbury (1189), in which King William's position as a client king in unfettered control of his own realm was restored, and the idea enacted at Alexander III's inauguration of Scotland as a realm of equal status with any other kingdom. How had Scottish thinking about their kingship changed so fundamentally in sixty years? The Quitclaim and the inauguration were each provoked by the accident of events, and offer only a rough guide to when and how the attitudes and aspirations they articulated had evolved. If the question is to be answered, then some other kind of source-material will have to be used which goes beyond the carefully chosen words of formal documents or

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