The origins of this book may be traced to the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Baronial Research Group held under the auspices of Dr Grant Simpson in the Clerk Register's Room, HM General Register House, Edinburgh, on 9 March 1969. At that time a small body of established scholars and young research students, then representing the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne, Oxford and St Andrews, were brought together by a common interest in the nobility of medieval Scotland and by a desire to pool knowledge through the reading of discussion papers or more informal exchanges. It was felt that the men and families whose territorial power and local leadership made them a cardinal force in medieval Scottish society had been very much neglected by other historians. Most of all, the nobles appeared to have suffered as, to borrow the words of K.B. McFarlane, 'the victims of a strong prejudice in favour of the Crown'. Thus there was an unwillingness to discuss individual barons save from the viewpoint of the king, and there was a marked tendency to malign the nobility for a chronic turbulence and a natural antagonism towards the monarchy. The Group was founded partly in reaction to these trends, in the belief that studies of the nobility from within its own milieu would contribute usefully to a fuller understanding of Scotland's medieval past. It has continued to meet on a yearly basis, and new members have occasionally been added to the existing nucleus. Nevertheless, the present-day followers of the Scottish baronage scarcely form a large company. In 1985, as in 1969, the fact is that despite its seminal importance the medieval Scottish nobility has yet to attract the same degree of attention by. historians as its counterpart in England. What has changed in the intervening years is that scholars have increasingly begun to grapple with the problems, to suggest possible answers, and to identify lines of fruitful further inquiry. It is therefore timely that this volume should appear, to indicate what has been done and also to point to what can and should be done.
Thirteen essays by eleven different authors have been selected to illuminate the nobility's main activities, preoccupations and aspirations. There are certain obvious relationships between chapters. These concern, among other issues, the strong influence of Anglo-Norman England upon earlier medieval Scotland, patterns of land accumulation by the aristocracy, noble residences, the legal and administrative aspects of baronial lordship, clientage networks, and dealings between the magnates and the Church. Several essays drive home the importance of recognising that, prior to the wars of independence, the nobility in Scotland was closely bound by ties of kinship and property with the nobility in England; and others serve to emphasise the inherent worthlessness of any interpretation which subscribes to, in Sir Frank Stenton's phrase, 'the myth of a perpetual opposition between the baronage and the Crown'. But the principal purpose of this book lies not so much in the interconnected discussion of historical themes, which given the current state of knowledge would without doubt be premature, as in the illustration of the main possibilities, and limitations, of the available sources: most notably, charters . . .