Sunday, 29 April 2018

Scottish Bastards

Long-time readers of this blog will be aware that I am ploughing - slowly but surely - through the first draft of a book on Scottish history. And the more I research, the more I am coming to the conclusion that the Scots down through the ages have been - how can I put it? Complete bastards.

This jars with the popular narrative of Scottish history, that tells of:
  • against-the-odds plucky resistance to Roman and English domination;
  • a political union with England arranged through bribery of the nobility;
  • the forced emigrations of the Highland Clearances;
  • famous losers like Mary Queen of Scots or Bonnie Prince Charlie;
  • Scotland itself disappearing into a twilight of Celtic mysticism, leaving behind tight-fisted alcoholics with massive chips on their shoulders against the English and their avatars (Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher!)
The Scotland I am discovering instead is one that invaded and wasted England as much as the reverse, failing to conquer Northumberland only through the greater resources of the English crown, rather than for any want of trying.

Area of Northern England under Scottish control, 1138-1157:

  A nation anciently reviled across England, Poland, the Holy Roman Empire and France as poor yet infuriatingly self-entitled: her people haughty, saucy, grasping, dirty and disputatious... though useful mercenaries in Europe's endless rounds of war.

A country that enthusiastically participated in the British Empire, whose entrepreneurs ran slave plantations in the Caribbean and fought the Qing Emperor over the right to sell opium to the Chinese people; entrepreneurs whose extortion of debt from impecunious American colonists was one of the contributing factors to the American War of Independence.

Ruins of the Chinese Emperor's Old Summer Palace, looted & burned by British forces in 1860:

A people whose anti-Catholic prejudices and Hibernophobia long predate the Union, the roots of which prejudice have never properly been tackled. A people whose once stolid unionism has recently fractured into Scottish and British nationalism, waking who knows what sleeping monsters.

Personally I find that a much more interesting story than the standard narrative. Celtic twilight? Meet Bastard dawn.


Anonymous said...

Alistair Moffat's History seems good to this non-historian. If I am to buy another book on the subject, it will need a different approach and you may have found it.

Speaking as a non-historian, the names can be over-whelming. Timelines would be helpful, particularly if they link with events elsewhere in the world and their impact on Scotland.

It's going to be very hardwork doing anything worthwhile.

Best wishes.

Robert Craig said...

Thanks for that anon, a good point about names. It is one of the things I will need to look out for at the edit stages. And I am especially interested in context and connections - the challenge is working out the key trends and ignoring all the other interesting stuff. Because it is all interesting!

I recently got my hands on the Moffat book and am looking forward to reading it. My fear is he may have already written the book I want to write.