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

By Dauvit Broun | Go to book overview

2

Ancient Kingdoms and Island Histories

The Historiographical Portrayal of Ultimate Secular Authority
from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Centuries

By the end of the thirteenth century it was the firm conviction of Scottish leaders that their kingdom could boast as long a history of freedom as any other kingdom. It was assumed that if a kingdom was independent within the memory of most people this automatically meant that it must have been an independent kingdom in the deep past. This was explained with striking candour by Scottish procurators at the papal Curia in 1301 while engaged in a war of words with Edward I's representatives:1

It is certain that, just as the kingdom of Scotland has recently been shown to
have been free when its last king died [Alexander III in 1286], so it is pre-
sumed to have been free from antiquity if we make an assumption from the
recent past and apply it to the more remote past before then, just as the laws
dictate.

This principle was given substance not only in the statement in the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) that Robert I was the 113th in an unbroken succession of Scottish kings without a single foreigner intervening, but by a similar claim to institutional longevity in an account of the kingship's history written during King John's reign (1292–1304). There John appeared as the latest in a list of more than 110 kings, and it was calculated that the kingdom was 1,976 years, 9 months and 8 days old on the day of John's inauguration on 30 November 1292.2 Another account, datable to sometime between 1296 and 1306, was less ambitious, making John merely the fifty-second king of Scots, but it shared the Declaration of Arbroath's insistence that every king had been a Scot.3

There are other examples of kingdoms at this time which sported a long history. The Irish Remonstrance of 1317 proclaimed that Ireland had an even more impressive record of freedom, stretching back for 197 kings until, it was stated, the English Pope Hadrian IV (1154–9) ‘improperly conferred de facto lordship’ on Henry II of England in 1170.4 The English themselves regarded Geoffrey of Monmouth's vivid account of over 100 British kings spanning about 1,800 years up to the seventh

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