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

ULRIKE MORÉT


29. Some Scottish Humanists’ Views on the
Highlanders

To put the attitudes of the Scottish humanist historians towards the Gaelic Scots of their own times in context, we should perhaps remind ourselves briefly of what other people in Scotland tended to think of the Highlands then, and of the relationship between Highlands and Lowlands from the later Middle Ages onwards.

We know that relations between the Gaelic-speaking and the Scots-speaking parts of the country had deteriorated. Even if we dismiss the older notion of a clear-cut so-called ‘Highland line’ where nobody that lived on one side of it was able or even willing to speak with anybody that lived on the other side, we still have to state a certain degree of alienation. There is ample evidence that from the later fourteenth century onwards, Scotland saw itself as divided into two different languages and cultures, and that this linguistic and cultural division corresponded to a geographic division between Highlands and Lowlands.

This feeling of being a divided nation is one that did not arise in Scotland until after the Wars of Independence. But then, in the course of the fourteenth century, mutual prejudice seems to have built up quickly, probably going along with various historical and linguistic developments. By the middle of the fourteenth century the Gaelic language on the mainland had retreated to the less accessible, mountainous parts of Scotland. The terms ‘Highlander’ (in a literal sense) and ‘Gaelic speaker’ at this time began to be used interchangeably. The cultural and linguistic division became even more significant after the Scottish court ceased to use French as its official language and began to use Scots rather than going back to Gaelic. In the 1370s the royal court moved its main seat from Perth to Edinburgh. This meant that the centre of government moved decidedly away from the Highland population into an area where no Gaelic was spoken.

On the other hand, many Gaelic Scots, especially those of the western Highlands and Islands, might not have considered this an overly great loss. Their interests lay to the west anyway where they maintained strong links with Ireland which shared their language and culture. Also in the fourteenth century, the powerful Lordship of the Isles emerged which by 1376 held nearly all the Western Isles as well as Lochaber. It formed a growing, self-contained and consciously Gaelic institution that showed a certain aloofness in attitude towards the Scottish government. When it came to royal writs or demands, for example, the Gaels tended to be evasive and often altogether ignored the Scottish king and his attempts to rule the Highlands more effectively. This again was typical of the Celtic approach to kingship in general. The Gaels still to some extent adhered to a system which contained different grades of kingship, and although they

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