Matrimonial politics and core-periphery interactions in twelfth- and early thirteenth-century Scotland

Matrimonial politics and core-periphery interactions in twelfth- and early thirteenth-century Scotland

R. Andrew McDonald (Department of History, Trent University)

Journal of Medieval History, 21 (1995) 227-247


The medieval kingdom of Scotland was an amalgam of diverse ethnic elements which included Gaels, Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians and Normans. This paper explores one mechanism which is generally considered to have been of tremendous importance in fostering accommodation and understanding between cultures in medieval society: matrimony. An examination of the marriage alliances of prominent members of the native nobility of eastern Scotland demonstrates that matrimony played a crucial role in binding Scottish families to Anglo-Norman newcomers, to the Normanophile Scottish monarchs, and to one another.However, the marriage alliances of the powerful west-coast princes contrast sharply to those of the eastern nobility and demonstrate how matrimonial alliances also served another purpose: namely, building up and maintaining an alliance of princes in the upland margins of the kingdom who opposed Anglo-Norman ways and the extension of feudalism into these regions.

This in turn suggests that there existed a fundamental dichotomy in Scottish society between the feudal kingdom of Scotland and those regions ringing the Irish Sea. Close examination of the matrimonial patterns of the twelfth-century Scottish nobility therefore reinforces some long-held convictions about the fabric of Scottish society, while calling others into question.

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