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Issue 12 (2021) - Communities & Margins

Editorial: Recovering the Communities and Margins of Early Modern Scotland

Laura I. Doak and Rebecca Mason

​[1]​ This special issue of the Journal of Northern Renaissance examines the history and cultural production of early modern Scotland through consideration of its ‘communities’ and ‘margins’. These are notions that permeate the literature but have not yet been explored either individually, as analytical categories, or, until now, together as a defined theme. For this period, historians have frequently conceived of unique, Scottish communities, yet marginality is also ever-present. Work on pre-modern Scotland must negotiate unique tensions between communal Lowland identities and a Gaelic-speaking Highland ‘fringe’. Equally, it must also address a longstanding awareness that Scottish events, ideas, and experiences during this period have often been marginalized within ‘British’ and European narratives. The application of a theme specifically addressing community and marginality, therefore, holds obvious significance for early modern Scotland.

​[2]​ Moving past debates on the manifold meanings and theoretical conceptualizations of ‘community’ and ‘marginality’, recent scholarship on early modern Europe has demonstrated the benefits of using these seemingly disparate, but more often interconnected, concepts to examine pre-modern society.​[1]​ The following essays all benefit from these insights and adopt differing approaches to the overall theme. Before moving on to individual contributions, however, it is necessary to establish their historiographic context by synthesizing the most recent literature touching the communities and margins of early modern Scotland.

***

​[3]​ The history of early modern Scotland has often been told via the study of its regional, geographic communities. Often, this approach has been employed to frame socio-economic investigations of a particular burgh or region, such as Allan Kennedy’s recent study of the urban community in late seventeenth-century Inverness (2014).​[2]​ But local communities have also been used to examine broader concerns. Kirsteen MacKenzie, for example, has used a study of one particular burgh, Glasgow, to reflect upon ‘the politics of transnational authority’ (2016: quotation taken from title). J.R.D. Falconer has also examined the role that misbehavior played in defining social space in late sixteenth-century Aberdeen by focusing on the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion in the burgh’s community (2013: 3). Increasingly attention is turning to analysis of multiple localities to better understand the history of Scotland as a whole. Chris Langley has used what he termed to be the ‘different rhythms and necessities of Scottish communities’ as a lens to study the interaction of conflict and nation-wide religious practice between 1638 and 1660 (2016: 1). Most recently, Alasdair Raffe has made extensive use of regional archival material to place local communities at the heart of a bigger, political narrative of Scotland’s experience during the 1688 – 1690 revolution (2018: especially 106-130). Research on the Scottish diaspora and the creation of communities of Scots abroad has also highlighted Scotland’s bleak involvement in the transatlantic slave trade (Devine 2015; McCarthy and Mackenzie 2016). The importance of Scotland’s communities to an understanding of its pre-modern history is thus a well-established concept.

​[4]​ The Scottish Highlands is a region that has been conventionally considered as both geographically distant and culturally distinct. As Alison Cathcart has noted, Gaelic-speaking areas, the Gàidhealtachd, in particular are discussed as ‘a realm apart’ (2006: 1). Such conceptualizations imagine the Highlands to be both internally cohesive and universally marginalized within a bigger Scottish polity, perfectly illustrating Scotland’s contradictory relationships with the notions of community and communal boundaries.​[3]​ Yet closer scrutiny also re-asserts the ambiguity of these concepts. No rigid boundaries existed between Gaelic and Scots or English-speaking regions (Withers 1984: 32, 37). No clear-cut lines can be drawn between the Highland’s political, religious, or cultural identities (Macinnes 1996: 56-87, 123-125). Cathcart’s own work, focusing largely on the sixteenth century, has helped to establish that ‘local, regional, and national politics in Scotland were inextricably intertwined’ across any Highland line, and anything north of such a perceived or imagined margin was wrought with ‘sub-divisions’(2006: 28-29, 209).​[4]​ Among work responding to this, Allan Kennedy has continued the re-integration of ‘the periphery’ into the political center through a study of Highland parliamentary commissioners (2016; 2017). Importantly, Martin MacGregor has also established how the advancement of the Campbells of Argyll, during the late medieval and early modern periods, relied upon their successful negotiation of cultural, as much as, political frontiers, once again illustrating the diverse permeability of what has often been assumed as an immovable boundary (2012: 121, 152-153).

​[5]​ The influence of the so-called cultural turn on the historiography of pre-modern Scotland​[5]​ has led to an exploration of social groups and divisions defined by cultural, rather than geographic delineations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the benefits of this approach are clearly visible in work examining cultural production. For example, Jamie Reid-Baxter has discussed the literary creation and poetic expression of a communal spiritual identity in eastern Fife (2017a; 2017b); an exploration that he has further developed in this present volume.​[6]​ Other analysts have even used literary works to explore the boundaries and tensions between different groups.​[7]​ Research on Scottish music and composition during the early modern period has revealed how Scottish songs and ballads were written and performed outside Scotland by musicians of other countries who had ‘Scotland in mind’, further pushing the boundaries of who can be considered a part of a Scottish community, or who, in fact, existed on the margins.​[8]​ A similar approach has also been taken to discuss discernible intellectual communities in early modern Scotland.​[9]​

​[6]​ Yet the extent to which pre-modern Scotland as a whole can be considered as a ‘national community’ must also be contemplated. Interpretations differ over which communal idea or ideal could prove capable of unifying the kingdom, largely dictated by individual scholars’ chronological and topical concerns. Jenny Wormald, in her seminal Court, Kirk, and Community, deployed the term thematically to imagine an emerging sense of Scottishness alongside a transforming monarchy and reforming church (2001). For Margot Todd, a Scottish community was both a more definable and notably less political entity; constructed through the cultural and religious transformation of the Protestant Reformation (2000; 2002).​[10]​ Laura Stewart, meanwhile, working on the mid-seventeenth century, has written of a new and revolutionary national community created almost self-consciously through the countrywide swearing of both religious and political allegiance to the reforms envisaged by the 1638 National Covenant (2018: 8-9, 221-222, 304).

​[7]​ However, work by those researching Scots and Scottish interests lying outside the dominant representation of Scotland at that time – be that courtly or covenanted – illustrates the opacity of any national ideal. Where one scholar constructs the idea of a community, another explores its consequential but often permeable boundaries. Jane Dawson’s examination of John Knox and other Protestant Scots in sixteenth-century Geneva forms a clear example. Geographically exiled but spiritually and culturally unified, these men and women perfectly illustrate the duality of both community and marginality to many early modern Scots (2010). Equally, however, they also prove the changeability of these labels, with Knox returning from exile to help fashion the Reformed Scottish community written of by Margo Todd and others, noted above. Parallels are also visible in the clusters of trading and dissenting Scottish émigrés based within Atlantic colonies, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe, during the seventeenth century.​[11]​ Depictions of any national, Scottish community, or social marginality, are arguably thus best considered as momentary representations. But this is not to leave either without analytical value. Indeed, it is arguably the moments of change and permeability within the inextricable co-existence of community and marginality that render the theme addressed by this edition as most rewarding. These are the moments that illustrate the realities and intricacies of pre-modern life in a way that is often otherwise unreachable.

​[8]​ The value of this collection’s multi-faceted theme is also illustrated by recent work on Scots who were marginalized from wider from society but still resident within national bounds. Criminality, for example, could incur marginalizing punishments like ‘horning’ or transportation, but Elizabeth Ewan’s recent work on the use of banishment in fifteenth-century burghs has emphasized the permeability of such social boundaries (2018: 238).​[12]​ This point is further supported by recent work on Scotland’s poor who, although quite obviously constituting a significant proportion of the overall population, are frequently conceptualized as marginalized from broader society; conventionally discussed as religiously disciplined or politically disenfranchised subordinates. John McCallum, for instance, understands the poor as socially connected to the wider community through charity, both within and without parish church structures (2012: 110; 2014; 2018). This is a claim also echoed by Chris Langley, albeit the community enthusiasm for poor relief was often strained by ongoing warfare in the cases he examined (2016; 2017).

​[9]​ The contribution that women made to many different aspects of Scottish society have been rediscovered and recognized. Narratives of women transgressing societal norms have permeated historical discourse, with much focus on how marginalized women attempted to navigate their subjugated status within the community. Julian Goodare’s work on Scottish witch-hunting has shown how those women who were suspected of witchcraft were compelled to defend their behaviour before their local communities and courts (2013).​[13]​ Rosalind Mitchison and Leah Leneman have also revealed how women who failed to adhere to social and moral norms faced imprisonment, or even banishment (1989; 1998a; 1998b). John Harrison has shown how the scold’s bridle, a Scottish implement attached to the town’s courthouse and jail (Tolbooth), was used to forcibly silence transgressive women, while serving as a constant reminder to those passing of the dangers of operating on the margins of the community (1998).

​[10]​ Yet whilst often collectively marginalized within a patriarchal society, Scotswomen willing and able to negotiate their gender and status within their own communities appear ubiquitously in contemporary sources. Research undertaken by Michael Graham and Alice Glaze has uncovered evidence of women giving and receiving charity within the kirk-sanctioned poor relief system, as well as policing their neighbours’ behaviour and defending their own (Graham 1999; Glaze 2016). Mairianna Birkeland has shown how women protected their church and religion during times of violence and dissent, with this active participation considered as community-sanctioned during times of social upheaval (1999: 45-48). Additionally, Cathryn Spence has uncovered how women in early modern Edinburgh were closely involved in cultivating credit and debt networks with their neighbours, and established themselves as formidable, respected members of their local communities (2016). The ambiguous position of women thus symbolizes the interconnected shades of marginality and community in early modern Scottish society.

​[11]​ Whether implicitly or explicitly, however, the wider field of Scottish history has continued to relegate women to the margins of historiography. Despite the expanding volume of new research, some corners of Scottish history still consider women’s history to be a distinct area of study that has limited relevance for mainstream history. Moreover, women’s history is repeatedly linked to ‘women’s issues’, such as sex or the family, whereas men’s history continues to be associated with political, intellectual, and theological issues. As well as dominating the field of women’s history, gender historians have also undertaken the laborious task of uncovering men’s history through a gendered lens. Lynn Abram’s and Elizabeth Ewan’s 2017 book Nine Centuries of Man – which traced the stereotypes of the medieval kilted warrior to the modern-day ‘hard man’ – provided a much-needed exploration on the diverse range of the multiple and changing forms of masculinities in Scotland from the medieval to modern period. Much work still remains to be done, however, to synthesize women’s history and gender history within the wider field.

***

​[12]​ Our contributors seek to challenge some fundamental assumptions about the communities and margins of early modern Scotland by providing new perspectives and uncovering some neglected voices. The over-arching goal of this collection is to develop a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which the communities and margins of pre-modern Scotland intersected within wider discourses concerning the formation and reformation of national identities during a period of pronounced social, political, and religious upheaval.

​[13]​ The first two articles within this collection, by Julian Goodare and Jamie Reid-Baxter, use literary sources as starting points for their exploration of early modern Scotland’s communities and margins. Goodare investigates narratives of witches’ prophecies, drawing distinctions between these paranormal prophets and the prophecies they made, which themselves reflect the cultural range within which Scottish witchcraft can be understood. Goodare shows how prophetic witches can be perceived as brokers between elite and popular culture; the surviving written narratives are predominantly elite in origin, but ordinary Scots also told stories of the downfall of prominent men through popular ballads and oral culture. Additionally, Goodare also notes that the charge of ‘witch’ was a label applied by those within the community, such as an aggrieved neighbour, to those operating on its fringes. Meanwhile, Jamie Reid-Baxter’s article grows from the study of two Scottish ministers’ tracts on dying a Christian death, written in 1596 and 1631, and considers how their authors’ relationships with their congregational community, or experience of its peripheries, impacted upon comprehension of mortality as the most physically marginalizing facet of early modern life. Both Goodare and Reid-Baxter use prose and poetry to explore the construction of communal identities and societal margins.

​[14]​ Contributions from Andrew Lind and Laura Doak both address the societal fissures caused by the mid-seventeenth-century covenanting revolution, archipelagic civil war, and overthrow of the Stuart monarchy. Exploring the ideological contours of community divisions in civil war Glasgow, Lind challenges the idea that the Scottish burghs were bastions of support for the Covenanting movement during the 1640s and 1650s, and contends that Glasgow was, in fact, ‘deeply divided’ and home to a strong Royalist faction. Lind’s study of Glasgow’s diverse political and religious factions highlights the dangers of interpreting allegiance solely through official records and offers a new perspective on Glasgow in the civil war period. Meanwhile, Doak’s analysis centres upon the construction of a communal, covenanting identity after the 1660 Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Using a micro-historical analysis of two prominent and extremist female covenanters of the early 1680s, Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie, Doak demonstrates how these transgressive women played an active role in constructing and disseminating a collective, militant identity on the margins of Scottish society, which was itself united by a communal sense of purpose and radical belief.

​[15]​ Jamie Kelly examines the early modern Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), an organization whose mission was to establish a network of charity schools in the Highland region to provide basic religious instruction and literary education to remote communities. While the established historiography tends to present the run-up to the Society’s foundation as a something of a crucible for Gaelic, following which SSPCK members conspired to exclude Gaelic from formal education, Kelly demonstrates that the picture is far more complex than previously realized. Although the organization depicted the Highlands as spiritually and educationally desolate, Kelly reveals that many – if not most – Highland districts had already contained a school for decades before the Society’s establishment. Furthermore, these schools prioritized instruction in English and Latin, with very little evidence suggesting that Gaelic was part of the curriculum; this suggests that while English functioned as a literary medium for Scottish Gaels, they continued to speak Gaelic as their mother-tongue. Overall, Kelly’s article demonstrates that the society’s initial hesitance to enforce a language policy on the ground reflects how the treatment of the Gaelic language continued to be dictated by local conditions and the attitudes of individual schoolmasters.

​[16]​ Finally, Andrew Bull investigates the Scottish musical community in London after the parliamentary union of Scotland and England in 1707. Focusing on James Oswald, a dancing tutor from Dunfermline who later became court composer to George III, Bull contends that networks of Scots resident in London aided one another in navigating their marginalized status and forged a distinctive community. Bull also analyses the marginalization of Scottish national music within a wider ‘British’ musical landscape. Linking the othering of Scottish national music as belonging to an ‘ancient’ past, Bull convincingly argues that the genre was seen as ‘Highland’ in origin and thus by the London elite as ‘uncivilized, barbaric, and reliant upon a natural state of being instead of achieving civility.’ In joining with Kelly’s exploration of Scotland’s post-1707 position on the discursive periphery of a newly minted ‘British’ polity, Bull thus completes this edition’s exploration of community and margins as entwined themes in the history and cultural production of early modern Scotland.

​Dr Laura Doak is the current Charlotte Nicholson Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on popular engagement and political communication in seventeenth-century Scotland. She is also ECR Editorial Fellow for History: the journal of the Historical Association.

Dr Rebecca Mason is the recipient of an Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Glasgow. She is a historian of women, property and law in early modern Scotland.

​NOTES​

​[1] For a discussion of the theoretical concepts and debates surrounding the idea of community, and its margins, see: Alexandra Shepard and Phil Withrington and, ‘Introduction: communities in early modern England’ in A. Shepard and P. Withrington, eds., Communities in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000) 1-15. See also: Peter Burke, Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 5-7; J. L. Stevens Cranshaw, ‘Introduction’ in A. Spicer and J. L. Stevens Cranshaw, eds., The Place of the Social Margins, 1350 – 1750 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017) 1-18.​[back to text]​

​[2] See also Claire Hawes, ‘The urban community in fifteenth-century Scotland: language, law and political practice’, Urban History, 44, 3 (2017) 365-380. For an older but still relevant example, see also: T. C. Smout, ‘The Glasgow merchant community in the seventeenth century’, Scottish Historical Review, 47 (1968) 53-71.​[back to text]​

​[3] See Caroline Bingham, Beyond the Highland Line: Highland History and Culture (London: Constable and Company, 1991), 13-16; I. D. Whyte, Scotland’s Society and Economy in Transition, c.1500-c.1760 (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1997), 94-114; R. A. Dodgshon, From Chief to Landlords: Social and Economic Change in the Western Highlands and Islands, c.1493-1820 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), 7-15.​[back to text]​

​[4] For similar arguments addressing Highland diversity see: J. E. A. Dawson, ‘The Origins of the ‘Road to the Isles’: Trade, Communications and Campbell Power in Early Modern Scotland, in R. Mason and N. Macdougall, eds., People and Power in Scotland (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1992) 96; Aonghas MacCoinnich, Plantation and Civility in the North Atlantic World: The Case of the Northern Hebrides, 1570-1639 (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2015), esp. 3-11.​[back to text]​

​[5] For a discussion of the cultural turn’s impact upon Scottish historiography more generally see: Karin Bowie, ‘Cultural, British and Global Turns in the History of Early Modern Scotland’, The Scottish Historical Review 92 (2013) esp. 39-44.​[back to text]​

​[6]See also, J. Reid Baxter, ‘Rethinking the Melvillians: the Poetic Spirituality of the East Neuk of Fife, 1580 – 1620’, paper at The Future of Early Modern Scottish Studies Conference 13 January 2017 (University of St Andrews) [available online at: https://scottishhistoryconference2017.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/beyond-the-conference/media-and-resources/].​[back to text]​

​[7]See W. Michalski, ‘Creating Knightly Identities? Scottish Lords and Their Leaders in the Narratives about Great Moments in Community History’, in A. Pleszczynski, J. A. Sobiesiak, M. Tomaszek, and P. Tyszka, eds., Imagined Communities: Constructing Collective Identities in Medieval Europe (Leiden: Brill, 2018) 154 – 178; A. Steenson, ‘Writing Sonnets as a Scoto-Britane: Scottish Sonnets, the Union of the Crowns, and Negotiations of Identity’, Medievalia et Humanistica 41 (2016) 195-210.​[back to text]​

​[8] R. Fiske, Scotland in Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), quotation at ix. See also D. Johnson, Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, 2nd edition (Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 1972, 2003), esp. 3-19; J. Purser, Scotland’s Music: A History of the Traditional and Classical Music of Scotland from Early Times to the Present Day (Edinburgh and London: Mainstream Publishing, 2007); J. Reid Baxter, ‘James IV and Robert Carver: Music for the Armed Man’, in Medieval and Early Modern Representations of Authority in Scotland and the British Isles, eds. K. Buchanan and L. Dean with M. Penman (London: Routledge, 2016), 235-252.​[back to text]​

​[9] D. Allan, Virtue, Learning and the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), 29-78; A. MacDonald and K. Dekker, eds, Rhetoric, Royalty, and Reality: Essays on the Literary Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Scotland, (Leuven, Paris and Dudley MA: Peeters, 2005); R. Carr, Gender and Enlightenment Culture in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 73-101; D. McOmish, ‘A Community of Scholarship: Latin Literature and Scientific Discourse in Early-Modern Scotland’, in S. J. Reid and D. McOmish, eds., Neo-Latin Literature and Literary Culture in Early Modern Scotland (Leiden: Brill, 2016) 40 – 73.​[back to text]​

​[10] For a similar discussion see: K. P. Walton, ‘Scotland’s “City on a Hill”: The Godly and the Political Community in Early Reformation Scotland’, in M. J. Halvorsen and K. E. Spierling, eds., Defining Community in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 247-265.​[back to text]​

​[11] Ginny Gardner, The Scottish Exile Community in the Netherlands, 1660 – 1690: ‘shaken together in the bag of affliction’ (East Linton: Tuckwell, 2004); A. Grosjean and S. Murdoch, eds., Scottish Communities Abroad in the Early Modern Period (Leiden: Brill, 2005); S. Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603 – 1746 (London: Brill, 2006); D. Worthington, ed., British and Irish Emigrants and Exiles in Europe, 1603-1688 (Leiden: Brill, 2010); E. Mijers, ‘Between empires and cultures: Scots in New Netherlands and New York’, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 33:2 (2013) 165-195.​[back to text]​

​[12] Scotland’s royal burghs can be considered as largely self-determined communities, see: E. Patricia Dennison, ‘Urban Society and Economy’ in B. Harris and A. R. MacDonald, eds., Scotland: the Making and Unmaking of the Nation, c.1100-1707, ii (Dundee: Dundee University Press in association with the Open University in Scotland: 2007) 146.​[back to text]​

​[13] See also J. Goodare, L. Martin, J. Miller, eds., Witchcraft and Belief in Early Modern Scotland, (New York, 2008).​[back to text]​

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