By Caitlin Taylor Holton
Master’s Thesis, University of Guelph, 2011
Introduction: When the subject of men in medieval Scotland is mentioned, it often conjures up images of muscular, kilted, claymore-wielding warriors intent on national independence, an image informed more by Mel Gibson’s 1995 Braveheart than by historical fact. Regardless, the romantic pictures conveyed in period dramas, Hollywood films, and modern popular culture are not, in fact, entirely dissimilar to the ideals outlined in medieval texts. Medieval poems, such as John Barbour’s The Bruce, emphasize and idealize ‘masculine’ qualities including military prowess, courage, and loyalty. These texts suggest that the ideal medieval Scotsman shared characteristics like these that are today often considered hyper-masculine. Through an analysis of literary texts and documentary records it is possible to begin to understand normative expectations of masculinity in light of the interactions between men, both factual and fictional, and the personal obligations implied by a range of homosocial bonds that are both specifically medieval and Scottish.
This thesis, “‘With a Vertu and Leawté’: Masculine Relationships in Medieval Scotland,” takes a cultural approach to the question of masculinities, analysing the representations of manhood and maleness in the Middle Ages. The primary temporal focus of this work is the period of the Wars of Independence, 1296 to 1357. To date, historians have thoroughly treated the martial culture and political ramifications of the Wars of Independence, but few works of social or cultural history appear for this period. This study investigates how the identities claimed by aristocratic men and the obligations of their social roles affected medieval Scottish conceptions of an elite normative masculinity. A variety of sources, both documentary and literary, in particular romances and chronicles, portray men’s efforts to claim, enforce, and deny personal obligations arising from formal and informal bonds. This provides evidence of normative masculinised behaviour.