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riadic precedent. There was no acknowledgement that feudal law had
transformed the Dalriadic inheritance, or that feudal institutions pro-
vided an alternative institutional basis for a Lowland-oriented national
identity. There was no apparent tension that the laws were of a diVerent
ethnic origin from the monarchy. Parliament was a puzzle. There was
some recognition among royalists that it was the king™s feudal court.
However, both royalists and monarchomachs resorted to the Dalriadic ius
regni for their major arguments. Ancient constitutionalists neglected the
feudal parliament as the basis of a tradition of mixed government for the
myth of an ancient Gaelic assembly of clan chiefs or phylarchs as the basis
of institutional limitations on the Scottish monarchy. The Covenanting
minister John Brown of Wamphray argued that it had been an ancient
Dalriadic parliament “ ˜partakers and fellow-sharers of the supremacy
with the king™ “ which had Wrst entailed the Scottish crown out of the
direct Fergusian line conferring it on Fergus MacFerquhard™s brother
Feritharis.•¦ Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, the king™s advocate and a sophisti-
cated jurist, knew that Scottish government was a palimpsest whose most
recent layer, that of feudalism, had almost completely obliterated all but a
few vestiges of earlier Celtic institutions and law. Nevertheless, it was the
ancient Dalriadic origins of the monarchy that remained uppermost in
Mackenzie™s political treatises. Although Mackenzie knew the royalist
argument for the parliament as a feudal court of the kingdom™s para-
mount feudal superior, this had to take second place in his historical
ideology to an anti-Buchananite interpretation of the mythical events of
330 BC.• 
Ô Williamson, Scottish national consciousness, p. 125. •» Kidd, Subverting, p. 148.
•¦ Brown, Apologetical narration, pp. 70“6.
•  Mackenzie, Ius regium, in Mackenzie, Works, II, pp. 442, 446“7, 451“7.
The Gaelic dilemma in early modern Scotland 143

Ethnic continuity from antiquity was an important dimension of the
defence of sovereign independence rather than an aspect of racial chau-
vinism per se. When Mackenzie boasted that ˜we are still the same people
and nation, but the English are not the old Britons, but are a mixture
descending from Danes, Saxons and French™,•À he was not, I suspect,
making a point about Scotland™s ethnic composition. His aim was rather
to establish the continuity of a sovereign Scottish regnum in the absence of
foreign conquest: ˜no historian can pretend that we obeyed any race, save
that which now reigns: Whereas we can condescend, where the English
and French were conquered by strangers, and had their royal line de-
throned and inverted™.•Ã Although the eminent antiquary Sir Robert
Sibbald (1641“1722) explored the tribal diversity of ancient Scotland, he
maintained a strict commitment to the Gaelic origins of Scottish institu-
tions in church and state, and, indeed, explicitly defended the integrity of
the Dalriadic myth as the basis of Scottish nationhood.••
Did Scotland possess an alternative myth of national origins? The
Brythonic peoples of ancient Scotland, the Caledonians and Picts, who
might have provided one, were accommodated to the Dalriadic main-
stream of Scottish historiography. The ancient Caledonian people might
have provided a possible ethnic identity for Scotland distinct from Gael-
dom. After all, the rediscovery of Tacitus had exerted a profound inXu-
ence on the development of early modern British historiography. And had
not Tacitus made Calgacus, the ancient Caledonian general who opposed
Agricola at the battle of Mons Graupius, the very model of civic virtue, a
leader who combined valour with inspiring eloquence?•’ However, the
Caledonians, and particularly Calgacus, were absorbed within the devel-
oping matter of the Dalriadic Scots. Boece, inXuenced by civic humanist
ideas, presented Tacitus™s Calgacus as the Scottish king Corbred Galdus:
˜Galdus (Galgacum Tacitus eum vocat)™.•“ Similarly, Buchanan chal-
lenged the views of the Welsh antiquary Humphrey Lhuyd that the
Caledonians had been Britons, and, like Boece, appropriated Calgacus as
a Scottish king.•“ Innes would later criticise the assumption of previous
Scottish historians that the various ancient inhabitants of the north of
•À Mackenzie, Observations upon precedency, in Mackenzie, Works, II, p. 518.
•Ã Ibid., II, p. 517; Abercromby, Martial atchievements, I, pp. 2“3, 210“11.
•• Robert Sibbald, ˜A (defence or) vindication of the Scotish history and of the Scotish
historians™ (c. 1685), National Library of Scotland Adv. MS 15.1.3.
•’ Tacitus, On Britain and Germany (trans. H. Mattingly, Harmondsworth, 1948),
pp. 78“83.
•“ Boece, Scotorum historiae, p. 57. Improbably, Caractacus, the heroic leader of the
Catuvellauni, an ancient British tribe based around Hertfordshire, was also appropriated
as a Scottish king. See Mackenzie, Lives of writers, II, pp. 15, 21“5.
•“ H. Trevor-Roper, George Buchanan and the ancient Scottish constitution, EHR supplement
3 (1966).
144 The three kingdoms

Britain, including the Caledonii, the Maeatae of the southern Lowlands
and even the Brigantes of Yorkshire, ˜made a part of the Scots™.•” Nor did
Boece and Buchanan champion Scotland™s Pictish origins. They argued
that when King Kenneth (II) MacAlpin had conquered and absorbed the
Pictish kingdom, most Picts had either Xed or been massacred in the
triumphant Scottish victory. In other words, the history of the Picts was a
dead end irrelevant to medieval and modern Scotland, a view later
overturned by Innes, who made the continuity of the Pictish monarchy
central to his revisionist interpretation of the Scottish past.’»
Curiously, there was very little eVort expended in the construction of a
non-Gaelic Scottish identity which might recognise the dominant role
played by Lowlanders in the making of early modern Scotland. From the
late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries jurists such as Thomas
Craig (1538“1608) and John Skene (c. 1543“1617) began to describe
Scottish laws and institutions in Gothic terms, attributing the origins of
feus, for example, to the Germanic peoples of the Continent.’¦ However,
such insights did not resonate with Scotland™s largely Gothic or
Gothicised political nation, which remained trapped, by its Gaelic politi-
cal imagination, in a Dalriadic fantasy. While Gothicism remained con-
Wned to juridical discourse, the Lowlands lacked a convincing or usable
identity in which to construct a non-Gaelic version of Scottishness.
The Wction of a common national ancestry was a necessity given the
predominance of prescriptive argument in the prevailing patterns of
British political discourse, including the continuing debate over the status
of the Scottish kingdom relative to the imperial crown of England. Since
the late thirteenth century the argument for Scottish independence had
depended on an acceptance of regnal and national solidarity as descend-
ants of the Dalriadic Scots.’  It would have undermined Scotland™s
sovereignty, independence and constitution to concede the plural origins
of Scotland™s Pictish, British, Saxon, Norman and Flemish peoples. In
any case there were problems with these traditions. The Britons were
associated in Scottish eyes with the despised imperialist myths concocted
by GeoVrey of Monmouth, and the Saxons were held to have arrived in
•” Innes, Critical essay, p. 4.
’» Buchanan, Rerum Scoticarum historia, lib. v, R. 69; R. Mason, ˜Scotching the Brut:
politics, history and national myth in sixteenth-century Britain™, in Mason (ed.), Scotland
and England 1286“1815 (Edinburgh, 1987), pp. 65, 77.
’¦ Thomas Craig, Ius feudale (ed. and trans. J. A. Clyde, 2 vols., Edinburgh and London,
1934), I, pp. 49“70; J. Cairns, T. Fergus and H. MacQueen, ˜Legal humanism and the
history of Scots law: John Skene and Thomas Craig™, in J. MacQueen (ed.), Humanism in
Renaissance Scotland (Edinburgh, 1990); J. G. A. Pocock, The ancient constitution and the
feudal law (1957: reissue with retrospect, Cambridge, 1987), pp. 79“90, 97.
’  See S. Reynolds, ˜Medieval origines gentium and the community of the realm™, History 68
(1983), 375“90.
The Gaelic dilemma in early modern Scotland 145

Scotland a defeated people seeking refuge from the Norman Conquest.’À
Moreover, the Saxons and Normans provided little in the way of a history
of ethnic and national diVerentiation from England, which was vital to the
patriotic assertion that the community of Scotland was distinctive and
independent and had never been part of, or subject to, an English im-
perium. The Flemish contribution to Lowland history tended to be ne-
glected until the work of George Chalmers at the turn of the nineteenth
century.’Ã There were speciWc drawbacks to each particular component
of the Lowland mosaic. Above all, the primary good of national freedom
dictated that the Scottish political nation recognise one single ethnic
origin. It was necessary to trace one clear indisputable genealogy of the
relevant institutions of sovereign nationhood. By the seventeenth century
such had been the predominance and functional capacity of the Dalriadic
defence of Scottish nationhood that the emergence of a rival identity,
which might have reXected more appropriately the non-Gaelic ethnic
balance of the Lowland-dominated Scottish nation, was in large part
dependent either on the exposure of the ancient Dalriadic past as the
fraudulent invention of late medieval chroniclers or on the decline of
prescriptive argument.
The combined eVect of Innes™s deconstructive scholarship, the rise of
the Scottish Enlightenment and the Wrst stirrings of romanticism led to
the dissolution of these tensions between Scotland and the Highlands.
The watershed of the middle of the eighteenth century did not mark a
straightforward transition from a negatively ˜political™ to a positively
˜poetical™ view of the Highlander. Rather one system of ambivalence
succeeded another. The romantic Highlands of the Lowland imagination
were not invented ex nihilo in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centu-
ries; rather they were reinvented after the dissolution of an earlier and
equally fantastical vision of Gaeldom. Notwithstanding the inXuence of
romantic primitivism, there remained a strong antipathy to the real
Highlands. The kitsch Gaeldom of the nineteenth century would con-
veniently obscure the sacriWce of the Highland peasantry on the altars of
political economy.’•
’À Mason, ˜Scotching the Brut™, p. 74; Kidd, Subverting, p. 44.
’Ã George Chalmers, Caledonia (3 vols., London, 1807“24), I, pp. 600“9.
’• See L. Leneman, ˜A new role for a lost cause: Lowland romanticisation of the Jacobite
Highlander™, in Leneman (ed.), Perspectives in Scottish history (Aberdeen, 1988);
P. Womack, Improvement and romance (London, 1989).
7 The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790




The contentious role played by ethnic identity in the history of Ireland
makes it easy to forget that the Irish, like other nations, have played out
their conXicts in a world of imagined communities. Yet, a variety of
typical early modern ideological constructions confounds the historian
who expects to Wnd a clear and unambiguous relationship between com-
munal ancestry and identity. Indeed, ˜real™ and ˜imagined™ pedigrees were
often incongruent, and numerous inconsistencies occurred in the use of
overlapping ethnic and religious labels. It is one of the poignant ironies of
its history that the undisputed reality of ethnic division and hostility is
fuelled in Ireland as elsewhere by a large measure of invention. Ongoing
and creative processes of ethnogenesis “ rather than biological or cultural
continuities “ form the early modern backdrop to the tragedy of Ireland™s
story.
There is no contesting, however, the central importance of ethnicity in
early modern Irish politics. The ˜nation™ was divided into three distinct
groups deWned largely by ethnic origin, though secondarily and increas-
ingly by religious confession. The Old Irish “ also known in their histories
as the Milesians “ were the historic inhabitants of the island whose
presence long preceded the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman settlement.
The Old English were largely the descendants of this latter group of
medieval colonists. Over the course of subsequent centuries they had,
according to their New English detractors, gone native, becoming suspi-
ciously Hibernicised in their customs. The New English were the post-
Reformation settlers of Ireland. This new breed of colonist would appro-
priate the Anglo-Irish identity of their medieval colonial predecessors,
though without using this particular terminology: rather they deWned
themselves as the Protestant Irish nation.¦

¦ Not all contemporaries recognised exactly these categories. Sir John Davies, the speaker of
the Irish Commons, in 1613 referred to ˜all the inhabitants of the kingdom, English by
birth, English by blood, the new British colony, and the old Irish natives™: quoted in
D.G. Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (1982: 2nd edn, London, 1991), p. 73. Many of the
new colonists in Ulster were, of course, Scots, that is, British rather than English.

146
The weave of Irish identities, 1600“1790 147

The divisions of Old Irish, Old English and New English did reXect
genuine interests, political groupings and ideological positions. However,
the intellectual and cultural leaders of early modern Ireland “ scholars,
churchmen and antiquaries “ constructed categories of ethnic classiWca-
tion which did not correspond to historical reality. In particular, identities
were often appropriated, one group stealing the ethnic clothes of another
group™s collective past. This tended to occur when the latter group™s
historical experience complemented the former™s ideological needs.
There were a number of examples of this phenomenon in early modern
Ireland; indeed, no group eschewed the practice of appropriation. An
element of ethnic borrowing Wgured in the identities of Old Irish, Old
English and New English nations. Generally speaking, the identities of
the majority core-population of the various ethnic groups in early modern
Ireland were dressed to some extent in purloined historical garb. Not only
did the Old English and New English, in their diVerent ways, have
colonial identities, but even the Milesian Irish claimed neither to be
autochthonous (though an ancient presence on the island) nor to be the
original founders of the Irish high-kingship. The arrival of the Milesians
had been preceded, in succession, so legend ran, by the invasions of
Partholon and his followers (who had displaced the island™s aboriginal
´
giants), the Nemedians, the Fir-Bolg and the Tuatha-De-Danaan. The
´
Gaelic community identiWed in particular with the institutional histories
of the Fir-Bolg, under whom the Irish monarchy had been established,
and the Tuatha-De-Danaan. In the course of the seventeenth century
´
Old English antiquarians adopted the Gaelic past as the core element in
their identity. The most striking anomaly was the identity of the New
English. This community, which was settled in Ireland only in the six-
teenth and seventeenth centuries, claimed as its own both the constitu-
tional history of the twelfth-century Old English colonists and the ecclesi-
astical history of the Celtic church. Later, a perceptible divergence
between Anglo-Irish and English interests in the eighteenth century
created the space for ˜a growing identiWcation with a Gaelic Ireland
(which had meanwhile absorbed the remaining Catholic Old English)™. 
The recognised ethnic identities of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries failed in several respects to match the ethnic constructions
imposed upon the various historic ˜Irelands™ of the antiquarian imagin-
ation. Patriotic antiquarians were pragmatists, and did not regard the
complexities and ambiguities in the ethnic composition of Irish history as
an insurmountable obstacle to the achievement of their mythistorical
projects. An overriding commitment to institutions and non-ethnic

  J. T. Leerssen, Mere Irish and F±or-Ghael (1986: 2nd edn, Cork, 1996), p. 297.
´
148 The three kingdoms

values distorted Irish ethnic identities. In particular, the importance of
asserting priority of settlement in contemporary legitimist debate meant
that there was an in-built preference for the extension of one™s lineage
beyond the immediate history of one™s ethnic ancestry to encompass an
earlier phase of the Irish past. The litmus test for the selection of historical
backdrops was not so much the plausibility of the link between a phase of
the Irish past with the ethnic situation of the authors as its functional
adaptability to reinforce a particular ideological position. Imagined lines
of ancestry were invoked unselfconsciously. There arose instead a marked
degree of incongruence between contemporary ethnic identity and its
historical expression. Somehow the heirs of medieval conquerors or
recent sixteenth- and seventeenth-century settlers were able to aYliate
themselves with aspects of Irish institutional history which occurred in
more distant eras of the nation™s past, ignoring subsequent ethnic up-
heaval and displacement. Ethnic and historical accuracy were sacriWced
on the altar of ideological utility.
The status of Ireland as a political entity and the nature of the Irish
ecclesiastical tradition constituted the primary foci of early modern Irish
political culture. What was the nature of Ireland™s relationship with the
crown and kingdom of England, and what claim “ temporal as well as

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