Essays on the Nobility of Medieval Scotland

By K. J. Stringer | Go to book overview

1
CHARTER EVIDENCE AND THE DISTRIBUTION OF
MOTTES IN SCOTLAND

Grant G Simpson and Bruce Webster

Our intention in this essay is to bring together evidence mainly from twelfth- and thirteenth-century Scottish charters and the archaeological evidence for the distribution of mottes in Scotland, and to discuss some of the implications which follow from this.

Until the twelfth century Scotland was on the fringes of European civilisation and there was hardly any trace of the type of central government which already existed, for instance, in England or Germany. There were kings of the Scots; but their authority was more akin to the sway of a 'high king' over a series of tribes. In the later eleventh and the twelfth centuries, however, a line of kings who had very close connexions with England, especially David I (1124–53), began to establish centralised authority of a more developed kind.1 The way in which they did this was very much determined by geography. Scotland is divided by mountains into a series of coastal regions and river valleys; and the direct power of the kings was for long limited to the east-central and south-eastern regions, to Angus, Fife, Lothian and the Tweed valley. They managed during the twelfth century to extend their direct authority to the north of the ridge of mountains called the Mounth into the lands along the Moray Firth; but in the centre and in the south-west, from Atholl down to Annandale, Nithsdale and Galloway, they had to rely on various forms of more or less indirect rule. Across the Great Glen, the highlands and islands of the western seaboard remained remote from them. Royal authority just extended into Ross and there were occasional expeditions further north, but most of the far west was Celtic in culture and at this period was under the authority, direct or indirect, of the kings of Norway. There are some early castles in this western seaboard region, but they are a separate and interesting problem.2 There are hardly any mottes in the area and we have therefore not considered it in this chapter.

In the twelfth century the kings were trying to bring the government of Scotland into line with what was then normal practice in more developed states; but Scotland was a small country, and in scale at least the closest parallels for her institutions are to be found not in the large states of England, France or Germany, but in some of the great fiefs of France, such as Normandy or Flanders. In this process the monarchs from David I onwards encouraged the settlement of barons from England and even some directly from France and Flanders.3 Most of these settlers were established in small fiefs of one knight's feu or thereabouts, but in the areas which the king could not rule directly some great feudal estates were created. The bestknown early ones are those of the Stewarts in Renfrewshire and Ayrshire, the

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