The Identity of the Scottish Nation: An Historic Quest

The Identity of the Scottish Nation: An Historic Quest

The Identity of the Scottish Nation: An Historic Quest

The Identity of the Scottish Nation: An Historic Quest


Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of Scottish history, William Ferguson traces the origin of Scottish national identity, and people's perceptions of it, from earliest times to the present day. From the Scottish Origin Legend, expressed in the works of the medieval chroniclers, to the ideas of contemporary historians, Ferguson provides a guide to Gaelic kingship, George Buchanan, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, James Macpherson, Goths versus Gaels, and George Chalmers.


'Who are the Scots?' In the past that question has been much debated, and to some extent it still is. At different times answers have changed as circumstances have altered. This book examines the various views that have been advanced on the origin and development of Scottish identity. The project has entailed research into a wide and disparate range of sources. many of which are difficult to interpret and some of which need the willing, albeit temporary, suspension of disbelief. But, bizarre though some of these views may appear today, they represent what many people once believed. They therefore have a certain importance, for, however erroneous or wild they may now seem, they played their part in shaping Scottish identity and self-perception. Most of them, indeed, have helped, directly or indirectly (and actively or passively), to condition the course of the nation's history.

I have received help in resolving problems from numerous friends and colleagues, particularly those of the Department of Scottish History and of the School of Scottish Studies in the University of Edinburgh. I have no wish, however, to saddle my friends with conclusions which they might find of dubious validity or ill expressed. I do not, therefore, name them here, but they have my deepest thanks for the help they have given me.

It would be very remiss of me, too, were I not to make clear my gratitude for the courteous and helpful service I have had over the years from the staffs of three outstanding libraries -- namely, the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh University Library and Edinburgh Public Library.

I must also thank Mrs Doris Williamson who struggled with my crabbed hand to produce an excellent print-out from her word-processor. My publishers have also been most helpful. Dr Ian D. L. Clark has been a model copy-editor who suggested many improvements of presentation, and Nicola Carr proved to be a very diligent and helpful commissioning editor. Any faults that remain are my responsibility.

To my wife Olga, and our sons and daughters, who have given me unstinting support and encouragement to complete, in Gavin Douglas's phrase, this 'lang desparit work', I owe a greater debt than I can possibly express.

Finally, I must also thank the Leverhulme Trust for a grant which enabled my research to be completed.

William Ferguson March 1998 . . .

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