‘A nation nobler in blood and in antiquity’: Scottish national identity in Gesta Annalia I and Gesta Annalia II
By Finlay Young
PhD Dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 2018
Abstract: The origins and development of a sense of Scottish national identity have long been a matter of critical importance for historians of medieval Scotland. Indeed, this was also the case for historians in medieval Scotland itself: this period saw the composition of a number of chronicles that sought to describe the history of Scotland and the Scottish people from their earliest origins until the chroniclers’ own time. The dissertation explores ideas of national identity within two medieval Scottish chronicles, known today as Gesta Annalia I and Gesta Annalia II.
Taken together, these two chronicles, one written before the Wars of Independence, the other after, can offer valuable insights into the development of the identity of the Scottish kingdom and its people, and the way in which this was affected by the Wars of Independence, providing evidence both of continuity and of contrast. This is of particular interest with respect to their portrayals of the role of the Scottish king and his relationship with the kingdom, given the way in which Robert I and his supporters later apparently attempted to shape the narrative of Scotland’s past and the position of its king to their own ends.
The dissertation therefore seeks to investigate how such issues of Scotland’s identity are presented in Gesta Annalia I and Gesta Annalia II. The first section of the study discusses the construction of these texts. The second then looks at how terms such as ‘Scotland’ and ‘Scot’ are understood in the two chronicles, and the relationship between these ideas of the Scottish kingdom and the Scottish people. The third section examines the presentation of the crown, church and language in the chronicles, and the role of these elements in uniting the kingdom and fostering this sense of identity, arguing that the continuity of these ideas between the two texts suggests that many elements of Scotland’s national identity were well-established by the later thirteenth century.
Top Image: Herman Moll, The north part of Great Britain called Scotland – originally published 1714