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the Fergusian tradition) extirpated the older established Pictish nation in
the ninth century. As a consequence of Innes™s critical breakthrough there
was no reason why Scottishness ought to be deWned exclusively in terms
of the continuity of the Dalriadic Scots: ˜the present inhabitants of
Scotland™, either nobility, commonalty or royal family “ meaning the
Stuarts “ were ˜not universally descended from those Scots that came
from Ireland, or owe not chieXy to them what makes for their greatest
lustre and honour in ancient times™.û

Civil religion
Celtic Christianity had also remained central to the legitimacy of the
fragile presbyterian Kirk established by the Revolution settlement of
1690. The Kirk was faced by a propaganda assault from episcopalians
who not only challenged the validity of presbyterian orders, but charged
the Scots presbyterian tradition with a legacy of political anarchy, resis-
tance, assassination and social levelling. Some presbyterians were also
embarrassed by the Covenants, and, in particular, the pledge in the
Solemn League and Covenant (1643) to presbyterianise England. To
wipe away the smears of innovation and radicalism, and to distance the
new establishment from the pan-Britannic presbyterian imperialism of
the Solemn League and Covenant, several of the Kirk™s leading defenders

À” Mackenzie, Lives of writers, I, pp. v“viii.
û Thomas Innes, A critical essay on the ancient inhabitants of the northern parts of Britain, or
Scotland (1729: Edinburgh, 1879), esp. pp. 110“13; C. Kidd, ˜Antiquarianism, religion
and the Scottish Enlightenment™, Innes Review 46 (1995), 139“54.
The Gaelic dilemma in early modern Scotland 137

resorted to cautious and conservative ecclesiological formulae. These
included the patristic defence that the term bishop in the primitive church
had been the equivalent of a modern presbyter, and quite unlike a modern
diocesan bishop, and the argument for the legitimacy of presbyterianism
as the original model of the Church of Scotland from Dalriadic antiquity.
These approaches were part of the presentation of Scots presbyterianism
as an unthreatening ˜civil religion™.æ
In particular, the notion that the proto-presbyterian government of the
church of the Dalriadic Scots was Scotland™s original ecclesiastical polity
suggested that the Revolution of 1689“90 had, contrary to the impression
of innovatory cataclysm projected in episcopalian polemic, restored the
nation™s ancient ecclesiastical constitution. The Culdees became a sym-
bol of a less threatening, less radical presbyterianism, more attuned to
compromise within a multiconfessional multiple monarchy; the defence
of the ancient presbyterianism of Dalriada as the legitimate system of
ecclesiastical discipline in Scotland neutralised some of the universalist
and anti-Anglican thrust of presbyterian ecclesiological principles. More-
over, the learning associated with the Hebridean monastic community of
Iona strengthened the Kirk from the episcopalian taunt that the presby-
terian tradition was the sectarianism of unlettered fanatics.à
Ironically, this appropriation of a learned Dalriadic civil religion co-
incided with a renewal of the Kirk™s eVorts to eradicate Gaelic illiteracy,
ignorance and barbarity. As Culdeeism began to play a more central role
in the identity of the Scots presbyterian Kirk, so the campaign against the
Gaelic language waged by the Kirk and its lay supporters became more
intense. In the Wrst half of the eighteenth century, according to John
MacInnes, Highlanders were confronted with the phenomenon of ˜mili-
tant presbyterian evangelicalism™, an anti-Gaelicist movement, which
like its predecessors bowed to the tactical necessity of using Gaelic as a
missionary medium. The Kirk accepted Gaelic in worship, but became
even more strongly committed to English schooling. In 1694 the rev-
enues of the suppressed bishopric of Argyll and the Isles were used to
fund English schools in the west Highlands, of which there were twenty-
Wve by 1698. The education act of 1696 passed by the Scots parliament
ignored Gaelic in its prescriptions for a national parochial school system.
Under an Act of the General Assembly of 1699, ministers who knew the
˜Irish™ language were to be sent to Highland parishes; where Highland

æ Kidd, Subverting, ch. 4.
à Ibid. E.g. William Jameson, Nazianzeni querela et votum justum (Glasgow, 1697),
pp. 33“47. For an unusual example, see Patrick Cuming, A sermon preached before the
Society in Scotland for Promoting Christian Knowledge (Edinburgh, 1760), pp. 78“80, who
incorporated a celebration of Iona into an anti-Gaelic tract.
138 The three kingdoms

congregations understood any English, they were to be preached at in
that tongue; and there was to be an English-speaking schoolmaster in
every Highland parish. The General Assembly also legislated that ˜Eng-
lish schoolmasters be erected in all Highland parishes, according to
former acts of parliament and general assemblies™.ÃÀ
The Society in Scotland for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge
(Scottish SPCK) was established in 1709 out of the movement for the
reformation of manners which had arisen in Scotland from 1699. The
Scottish SPCK planned to establish charity schools in the Highlands of
Scotland in order to win that area for presbyterianism, whig loyalty,
industry and, of course, the English language. The schools established
were to be limited to a few core subjects: ˜the principles of religion,
reading of English, writing, arithmetic and church music™. Gaelic literacy
was not encouraged. In 1713 the Scottish SPCK prohibited Gaelic read-
ing in its schools, a state of aVairs which would continue until the 1760s.
Yet, there was considerable tension between the Scottish SPCK authori-
ties, with their anti-Gaelic purism, and their teachers in the Highland
localities. Schoolmasters noted that rote learning in English did not entail
comprehension in English. In 1723 the Society™s General Committee
responded with a restatement of the organisation™s basic anti-Gaelic
policy in the Overtures on the teaching of English, which enjoined the
almost total exclusion of Gaelic from the Society™s schools except at a very
few specially designated moments in the learning process. The Society set
out its achievements in stridently anti-Gaelicist terms: ˜In some places
where the minister had so few hearers who understood English, that he
was obliged to perform all the parts of his oYce in the Irish language, he
now oYciates in English, to the full understanding of many of his
hearers.™ Anglicisation meshed with the aim of the Hanoverian state to
assimilate Scotland™s ˜Jacobite™ periphery to whiggish norms. From 1725
the crown made an annual donation to the Kirk ˜for the reformation of the
Highlands and Islands, and other places where popery and ignorance
abound™. This grant was administered by the Kirk™s Committee of the
Royal Bounty, which used its funds for the employment of catechists,
usually local men, in Highland parishes, to inculcate Protestantism,
loyalty and respect for the law. The Kirk™s administration of the Royal
Bounty, characterised by the use of Gaelic-speaking catechists and the
insistence only that part of every sermon need be in English, was, as

ÃÀ J. MacInnes, The evangelical movement in the Highlands of Scotland 1688 to 1800 (Aber-
deen, 1951), p. 223; Durkacz, Decline, p. 17; Campbell, Gaelic in Scottish education and
life, pp. 50“1; Withers, Gaelic in Scotland, pp. 29“36; Acts of the General Assembly of the
Church of Scotland, 1638“1842 (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1843), I, p. 282.
The Gaelic dilemma in early modern Scotland 139

Michael Lynch has noted, less ˜consistently dogmatic™ than the stated
Gaelophobic policies of the SSPCK.ÃÃ
Ironically, the anti-Gaelicist policies of the Scottish SPCK began to
mellow during the same period when Scots presbyterians abandoned an
untenable Dalriadic identity. William Robertson, the mouthpiece of the
increasingly inXuential Moderate party in the Kirk, constructed a histori-
cal defence of the Kirk which did not rely upon Culdaic legends.Õ
Although the rules of the Scottish SPCK had become even harsher in
1750 with the insistence that children speak English to the total exclusion
of Gaelic not only in school but also when playing around the school
premises, there was, all of a sudden, a thaw in attitudes. In 1754 the
Scottish SPCK commissioned its own Gaelic New Testament, which
eventually appeared in 1767. Moreover, in 1766 there had been an
important reformulation of policy. Highland schoolmasters were hence-
forth to ˜teach their scholars to read both Erse and English™, though the
ultimate goal was still the attainment of reading, speaking and under-
standing the English language.Ã’

Lowland identity and the politics of legitimacy
Why did early modern Lowlanders uphold with such vigour and commit-
ment these apparent contradictions? Why did exploitation of a traditional
ethnic identity continue when there were obvious defects in the capacity
of Gaeldom to provide a suitable identity for a law-bound burgh-oriented
Lowland elite? Above all, why was there no apparent awareness of the
Gaelic dilemma in Scottish political culture?
The situation arose out of a unique conjunction of factors in the late
medieval and early modern Scottish experience, but also bears the hall-
marks of a deference to inherited custom and authority common to most
early modern European societies. The subordinate status of ethnicity in
early modern European political discourse suggests that the congruence
of ethnic identities in diVerent spheres of public life might well have
mattered less than compatibility between other concerns which were
Wrmly entrenched as unquestioned primary goods. Hence, when existing
ÃÃ Durkacz, Decline, pp. 26, 51; W. Ferguson, ˜The problems of the established church in
the west Highlands and islands in the eighteenth century™, Records of the Scottish Church
History Society 17 (1969), 15“31; J. MacInnes, Evangelical movement, pp. 224“5; Withers,
Gaelic Scotland, pp. 122“5; The state of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian
Knowledge, anno 1729 (Edinburgh, 1729), p. 34; Lynch, Scotland, p. 364; A. Macinnes,
Clanship, commerce and the house of Stuart (East Linton, 1996), pp. 178“9.
Õ See C. Kidd, ˜The ideological signiWcance of Robertson™s History of Scotland™, in
S. J. Brown (ed.), William Robertson and the expansion of empire (Cambridge, 1997).
Ã’ Withers, Gaelic Scotland, p. 125; Durkacz, Decline, pp. 63, 66“7; J. MacInnes, Evangelical
movement, pp. 64, 246“7.
140 The three kingdoms

goods appeared to rely on distinctive ethnic identities, there was no clash
of irreconcilables. For example, Scottish independence and a thriving
Protestant realm free of disorder were values which loomed so large that
they obliterated any perceptions of ethnological incoherence arising from
the contrasting attitudes Lowlanders held towards historic Dalriada and
contemporary Gaeldom. Lowland Scots inherited a usable Dalriadic past
which for centuries had proved vital to the propaganda war for Scottish
independence, and had since been elaborated into a past which legit-
imated both royalist and monarchomach interpretations of Scotland™s
political institutions. There was no pressure to abandon this association
with Dalriada simply because of the existence of anti-Gaelic attitudes.
Lowlanders inherited distinctively non-Gaelic manners and speech to-
gether with a history whose content was Gaelic. This unusual combina-
tion of inherited cultural characteristics formed the identity of Scottish
Lowlanders, a people untroubled by any ethnic schizophrenia in large
part because political discourse was not driven by an ethnic imperative.
Why was the Dalriadic past so important when the values of the ˜old
Scots™ of the Highlands conXicted so sharply with Lowland standards of
˜civility™? The Dalriadic past was vital to the defence of Scottish sover-
eignty, an imperium for which many generations of late medieval Scots
had had to struggle to preserve, but which could be in danger of being
surreptitiously eroded within the post-1603 regal union. The principal
argument for Scottish independence was historical and prescriptive: the
Scots had possessed territory in Scotland free of any overlord from the
darkest antiquity of 330 BC. Scotland™s claims to precedence and dignity
rested on the same foundations, and were similarly threatened by the
Stuarts™ adoption of an English metropolitan court for their multiple
monarchy. Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh tried to establish the
precedence of the Scottish monarchy on basic juridical principles drawn
from the antiquity of the Dalriadic kingdom. According to Mackenzie
British kings derived their ˜precedency™ over the various other monarchs
of Europe through their Scottish title ˜for it is an uncontroverted ground
in law, that amongst those of equal dignity, he who Wrst attained to that
dignity is to be preferred™.Ó
It was obvious that the patriotic boasts of Scottish precedence and
antiquity could apply only to the Dalriadic heartland of the kingdom. The
Romans had, for a time, incorporated the Lowlands as far north as the

Ó George Mackenzie, Observations upon the laws and customs of nations as to precedency, in
Mackenzie, Works (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1716“22), II, p. 516. See also Mudie, Scotiae
indiculum, ˜Epistle dedicatory™; W. Alexander, Medulla historiae Scoticae (London, 1685),
˜Introduction™; Alexander Nisbet, A system of heraldry speculative and practical (2 vols.,
Edinburgh, 1722“42), II, pt iv, pp. 145“6, 173“4.
The Gaelic dilemma in early modern Scotland 141

Antonine Wall within the province of Britannia. The Lothians had also
been part of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria until the tenth century.
English historians claimed that medieval kings of Scotland had been
accustomed to perform homage to the imperial crown of England for this
part of their territory. Edinburgh, the modern capital of a Scotland whose
political, ecclesiastical and economic centres of gravity were in the Low-
lands, was not the historic navel of the kingdom. The north of Scotland
alone had been absolutely free of foreign conquest.Ó
Gaelic identity was subordinated to a politics of prescriptive legitimacy;
the fundamental commitment was to the Dalriadic past as the basis of
institutional continuity “ not as an ethnic history of the Scottish people
per se. Although there was some pride in the manners of the people,
particularly their martial valour, the rationale behind the Dalriadic ident-
ity was not primarily ethnic. Dalriadic ethnocentrism was, in a sense,
weak. Although supplying the ideological underpinnings of Scotland™s
church and state, it did nothing to inhibit the destruction of a regional
Gaelic particularism, nor was it so exclusive as to prevent the gradual
emergence of Scottish Gothicist antiquarianism. The coexistence
throughout the early modern period of a powerful critique of Highland
values, manners and institutions with a starkly contradictory and yet
equally powerful national adherence to ideologies grounded in Dalriadic
historical myths stands testimony to an ethnocentrism qualiWed by an
essentially legitimist purpose. Hence the possibility of a nation depending
on ancient Gaeldom for its notions of political legitimacy, operating an
anti-Gaelic cultural policy without apparent unease or sense of incongru-
ity. Scots were not overwhelmed by a sense of Dalriadic ancestry, but
used the imagined aYliation of the whole nation and its institutions with
ancient Dalriada for speciWc purposes. Legitimacy was reinforced by
ethnic history; yet Scots remained aware of the reality of ethnic pluralism,
and indeed of a vast Highland“Lowland gulf within the nation.
The fertile humanistic and antiquarian cultures of early modern Scot-
land failed to encourage any signiWcant exploration of the nation™s plural
origins. Arthur Williamson, for example, has noted how vague Buchanan
was about the timing of the feudalisation of Scottish institutions and

Ó For the identiWcation of the ˜Ierne™ of the ancients “ and its ˜Scottish™ inhabitants “ as
Scotland north of the Wrths of Clyde and Forth (and for the corollary that during the
Roman era the Scots had been present in mainland Scotland, rather than Ireland), see
George Mackenzie, A defence of the antiquity of the royal line of Scotland, in Mackenzie,
Works, II, pp. 370“8; Mackenzie, The antiquity of the royal line of Scotland, further cleared
and defended, ibid., II, pp. 404“10; Alexander Taitt, The Roman account of Britain and
Ireland in answer to Father Innes (Edinburgh, 1741); Walter Goodall, An introduction to the
history and antiquities of Scotland (1739: transln, Edinburgh, 1773), pp. 2“16; William
Maitland, The history and antiquities of Scotland (London, 1757), pp. 99“105.
142 The three kingdoms

Lowland life.Ô There may have been a suspicion that, if the myth of a
single ancient line of institutional continuity were shattered, the very idea
of nationhood independent of English claims to suzerainty might be
rendered perilously fragile. During the seventeenth century Scottish jur-
ists were clearly aware of the Gothic provenance of the nation™s laws and,
by implication, its other feudal institutions. Nevertheless, feudal jurispru-
dence was woven into the seamless Dalriadic history of the Scottish
nation. Most historians argued that the feudal law had arrived in Scotland
in the early eleventh century in the reign of Malcolm II, and were proud
that they had received the feudal tenures before their arrival in England at
the Norman Conquest. Thus Scottish historians boasted of these Leges
Malcolmi as evidence of Scotland™s early reception of feudalism,•» but did
not allow this boasting to become in any way Gothicist, or allow it to dent
the ethnic hegemony of political argument from supposed original Dal-


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