Nationalist historiography and the English and Gaelic worlds in the late middle ages

Nationalist historiography and the English and Gaelic worlds in the late middle ages

By Steven G. Ellis

Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 35 No. 97 (1986)

Introduction: Much more so than in modern times, sharp cultural and social differences distinguished the various peoples inhabiting the British Isles in the later middle ages. Not surprisingly these differences and the interaction between medieval forms of culture and society have attracted considerable attention by historians. By comparison with other fields of research, we know much about the impact of the Westminster government on the various regions of the English polity, about the interaction between highland and lowland Scotland and about the similarities and differences between English and Gaelic Ireland. Yet the historical coverage of these questions has been uneven, and what at first glance might appear obvious and promising lines of inquiry have been largely neglected for example the relationship between Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland, or between Wales, the north of England and the lordship of Ireland as borderlands of the English polity. No doubt the nature and extent of the surviving evidence is an important factor in explaining this unevenness, but in fact studies of interaction between different cultures seem to reflect not so much their intrinsic importance for our understanding of different late medieval societies as their perceived significance for the future development of movements culminating in the present. In sum the historiography of these societies is whig in emphasis: historians have been preoccupied not so much with what appeared important to contemporaries as with the emergence of modern political entities England or Britain or Ireland out of the medieval states and societies which preceded them.

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