The Principal Source used by John of Fordun for
his Chronicle of the Scottish People
What impact did this new sense of Scotland as a sovereign kingdom have on how the kingship's early history was imagined? It was argued in chapter 2 that an important way in which the highest secular authority was given substance in the minds of the learned and their audiences was by the articulation of a sustained narrative of a kingship, rooting it in the deep past, and creating the expectation that it would exist in the future. As long as this was written in a way which was memorable or enjoyable it had the potential to become a key part of the infrastructure of a society's shared imagination. It was argued that Scotland was remarkable in that it lacked a narrative of this kind focused on Scotland, long after this had been provided for the English, Irish and Welsh by their historians in the period between the mid-eleventh and mid-twelfth centuries. When did Scotland finally gain a sustained account of its kingship from ancient times? And what is revealed in it about the way the kingdom was perceived?
Until recently it has seemed natural and wholly unexceptionable to follow W. F. Skene, the only person to attempt an edition of Fordun's Chronicle of the Scottish People, in regarding Fordun's work as ‘the first detailed and systematic history of Scotland’.1 It can be dated to sometime between early 1384 and late August 1387,2 and was certainly very influential. Before the histories of John Mair (1521) and Hector Boece (1527), Fordun's chronicle was the bedrock of all attempts to write a history of Scotland in Latin. But some doubts have recently been aired about Fordun's standing as the ‘father of Scottish history’.3 It has been noted, for example, that Scottish procurators at the papal curia in 1301 appear to have been familiar with a particularly distinctive part of his narrative relating to the beginning of the Scottish kingdom.4 This, at the very least, suggests that an account of the kingship's ancient past (which was more than a mere king-list) already existed before Fordun was born. In the following chapter we will return to discuss what the procurators' source may have been.