The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

K. D. FARROW


28. Scottish Historiographical Writing: The
Evolution of Tradition

At the outset, it would perhaps be useful to develop some elementary analytical tools. Let me begin by defining my terms. ‘Historiographical’, the adjectival form of ‘historiography’, is considerably less daunting than it sounds, and easier to define than it is to say! It denotes simply ‘written history’ as a literary genre. By ‘evolution’ I mean ‘redaction’: that specific process whereby written material undergoes purposive, often systematic and continual reshaping as it spirals from text to text and is restructured from author to author.1 ‘Tradition’ refers to the basic material which has initially undergone a conversion or reification process from pre-existing oral narrative to written account, and also represents a hardcore of material usually common to all the various redactions of a narrative, no matter how highly developed from their original versions. In the process of narrative transmission, however, ‘tradition’ too is an everevolving factor.

Having defined my terms, it remains for me to outline my subject matter. Of course, Scottish historiographical writing is, with regard to its word-bulk, an enormous field, encompassing works such as John Barbour’s Bruce, John Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum and Walter Bower’s continuation Scotichronicon, right through to the ecclesiastical histories of David Calderwood and John Spottiswoode. Therefore, given the short time available to me, I intend to confine this paper to a discussion of only a few authors: Fordun, Bower and Hector Boece initially, before further analysis of a Boecian narrative, as it is presented by one of his less well-known translators, William Stewart. Other verse histories, for example Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynal Chronykil of Scotland, and Barbour’s work, have regrettably been excluded. For readers who are not as familiar with my chosen topic as they might wish, I shall say a little about the authors themselves and comment generally on their works.

Rather less, perhaps, can be said of John Fordun than the other writers within my sphere of investigation. His date of birth is unknown and the date of his death (ca. 1384) can be determined only as the result of informed speculation. He has always been associated geographically with Fordun, following the medieval custom with names, but there is no hard evidence to tie him to the ascription. He was a secular priest and, in all probability, chaplain at Aberdeen Cathedral. His chronicle holds a unique place in the canon of Scottish literature as the

1 ‘Redaction’, of course, is a term more closely associated with biblical scholarship than mainstream literary criticism, but it is essentially a literary tool, and ought to be more commonly used. J.A. Cuddon’s one line definition in his comprehensive Dictionary of Literary Terms, Harmondsworth, 1976, p. 558, is hardly adequate.

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