Bloodfeud in Scotland, 1573-1625: Violence, Justice and Politics in an Early Modern Society

Bloodfeud in Scotland, 1573-1625: Violence, Justice and Politics in an Early Modern Society

Bloodfeud in Scotland, 1573-1625: Violence, Justice and Politics in an Early Modern Society

Bloodfeud in Scotland, 1573-1625: Violence, Justice and Politics in an Early Modern Society

Excerpt

In that famous book on kingcraft, Basilikon Doron, James VI wrote of his subjects:

and for anie displeasure, that they apprehend to be done unto them by their
neighbours, [they] tak up a plaine feid against him, and (without respect to God,
King or commonweale) bang it out bravely, hee and all his kinne, against him and all
his.

Feud was a subject on which James considered himself to be something of an expert, and his expert definition is as good a place as any to begin an analysis of the Scottish feud during his reign. Today the word 'feud' is liberally used to describe rivalries in sport, in politics, in academic competition, and in any area of human activity where confrontation can be identified. Such a wide application is not only a modern phenomenon; in the sixteenth century one also finds it in unexpected contexts. Yet it was not just a heightened sense of rivalry James had in mind when he wrote his book in 1599, but a relationship which had deeper and more complex implications than any of our modern usages of the word. As to what it did mean, the king remained uncertain, in spite of all his linguistic skills. He excused himself by writing that 'if this Treatise were written in French or Latin, I could not get them named unto you but by circomlocution' because 'their barbarous name is unknawen in anie other nation'. However, only a few years before, an Elizabethan border official had suggested of the etymology of the word that' I knowe not where better to fetch then from Spiegelius in his Lexicon, Juris, in verbo 'feydam': he saith it is an old Teutch word whereof is derived by Hermanus Nironanus, faydosum, Hostis publicus: 'foed' enim, Bellum significat'. 'Feud', therefore, has an etymological history of some antiquity, there being variants of the spelling in late Latin 'faida', old French 'faide', old High German 'fechida', Middle English 'fede', and a number of Scottish spellings, one of which provides us with its modern English spelling.

That feud, or bloodfeud, was written about in Scotland when it was still a contemporary issue is of enormous importance. Scotland is not unique in this, but the late survival of the feud there has ensured that it is better documented than in many other European societies where it disappeared at an earlier stage in the development of literacy. Partly because of this, and because it has never been a very fashionable topic, the bloodfeud has been subject to more research from anthropologists than historians, and consequently more is known about feuding among the tribes of twentieth-century Sudan than about feuding in pre-modern Europe. Of course for the historian there is a value in such work which ought not to be overlooked, and it was Max Gluckman who, when writing about the feud, advised historians to turn to the social sciences in order to better understand the historical European feud. A great deal of current thinking about feud has been shaped by the conclusion of E. E. Evans-Pritchard and Gluckman about its place . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.