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late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century debates about sovereignty.
Heraldry, geography and literary criticism constituted crucial and
understandably neglected adjuncts of the homage debate. Sir George
Mackenzie™s treatise, The Science of Heraldry Treated as a Part of the Civil
Law and the Law of Nations had brought the ideological significance
of heraldry into focus. In the tense years preceding 1707, the Scots
parliament not only supported James Anderson™s patriotic endeavours
in the field of history, but also sponsored the heraldic researches of
Alexander Nisbet.39 For the matter of sovereignty had heraldic and
armorial dimensions. Scotland™s enclosed crown with four arches sur-
mounted by a globe and cross, so the argument ran, provided crucial
evidence of Scottish imperium. Alternatively, had the rulers of Scotland
36
Drake 1703, pp. 4, 17.
37
Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland 1814À1875, xi, p. 221. 38 Anderson 1705.
39
Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland 1814À1875, xi, 85, 203; Nisbet, 1722À42.
62 colin kidd
been crowned with an unenclosed band, then this would have been
evidence to confirm English claims to suzerainty over Scottish kings as
a species of sub-reguli or viceroys.
The matter of Britain was also a matter of geography. Had the
authority of the Romans over the province of Britannia devolved upon
the kings of the ancient Britons, and then to the Saxon and Norman
kings? If so, had Roman Britain been coterminous with the island of
Britain? Did not Hadrian™s Wall and Antonine™s Wall suggest limits to the
Roman province of Britannia?40 There was also a huge and neglected
debate over the interpretation of the geographical term Hibernia (or
Ierne) in the Panegyric on the Fourth Consulship of the Emperor Theodosius
by the Roman poet Claudian (c. 370À410). The upshot of this
geographical vein of literary criticism was to discover whether the Scots
had been in Scotland at the time of the Romans, as they should have been
were the myth of a sovereign Scottish origin in 330 bce reliable, or still
across the sea in Ireland, and hence not in sovereign possession of Scottish
territory. Scots argued that Ierne was the region north of the firths of
Forth known as Strathearn. Ireland, Scots also contended, had never been
ice-bound: therefore, glacialis Ierne must, they argued, be northern
Scotland.41 Nor should we forget about the debate over the location of
Lodeney for which Scottish kings had performed homage to the English
crown. Was Lodeney, as English historians argued, the Lothians, the very
location of the Scottish capital? Or was Lodeney an area near Leeds in
the north of England, and part of the English estates belonging to
the Scottish crown, the performance of homage for which held no
implications for Scottish independence?42
The debate overlapped with domestic English political controversies.
Indeed, by this stage it is far from clear how representative Atwood™s
posturing was of English opinion. Queen Anne and her English ministry
favoured a resolution of the crisis. Indeed, there was a danger that
Atwood™s inflammatory tomes might jeopardize the prospect of successful
Anglo-Scottish negotiations. William Nicolson, bishop of the Border
diocese of Carlisle, constituted a steadying influence, and deliberately
distanced himself in his Leges Marchiarum (1705) from the feudalist
40
Gordon 1726.
41
Claudian 1981, pp. 30À33. For the patriotic Scottish rendering of Claudian, see Mackenzie
1716À22, A Defence of the Antiquity of the Royal Line of Scotland, ii, pp. 370À78; Mackenzie
1716À1722, The Antiquity of the Royal Line of Scotland, further cleared and defended, ii,
pp. 404À10; Taitt 1741; Goodall 1773, pp. 2À16; Maitland 1757, pp. 99À105.
42
Anderson 1705, pp. 214À22.
Contours of British Political Thought 63
interpretation of Scotland™s status. Indeed he insisted that commissioners
for Union should ˜treat as delegates on an equal foot™ on behalf of two
˜independent monarchies™, not À as the feudalists would have it À ˜as
proctors and attorneys of a supreme lord of the fee and his vassals™.43
The defence of Scottish autonomy had devastating implications for the
contemporary English Whig argument for an uninterrupted ancient
constitution,44 not least because the chronology of feudalism had come to
assume considerable importance in Anglo-Scottish debate. If it could be
shown, Scots antiquaries noticed, that the feudal law had only been
imported into England in 1066, then this exploded Atwood™s claims that
Scottish kings had performed liege homage for Scotland since the
folcmotes of King Arthur in the days of the ancient Britons. It also
reinforced, from an unexpected quarter, the domestic royalist argument
that England had been conquered by William I, and that its historic
institutions existed not as integral components of a continuous ancient
constitution, but rather by grace of the monarchy. English Whigs such as
Atwood were keenly aware that Craig™s arguments dovetailed with those
of Robert Brady™s Tory critique of England™s ancient constitution, while
Scots were equally aware that their chronology of feudalism challenged
deeply-held English Whig shibboleths.45 Scotland ™s Soveraignty Asserted
rather pointedly observed that ˜the kingdom of Scotland was always free,
and did never acknowledge any superior lord (which is more than the
English can say for themselves)™.46
The Articles of Union appeared to offer a partial resolution of the
contested matter of Britain, in Scotland™s favour it should be noted. But a
Union negotiated on behalf of Queen Anne of Scotland with herself in
her other regal capacity as Queen Anne of England was a cosily domestic
sort of arrangement. Was Britain a new entity in international law created
by a treaty between two equal sovereign powers, or merely the
reincorporation of a feudatory kingdom within the original holding
from which a British dominus superior had once granted the territory of
Scotland as dominium utile to a vassal-king of Scots? The distinction
between the Treaty of Union of 1707 and the Act of Union of 1707 is
not mere pedantry on the part of the Scots. Terminological exactitude
stands proxy for an informed understanding of the constitutional
significance of 1707. Treaties belong to the law of nations; an Act is

43 44 45
Nicolson 1705, p. vi. Pocock 1987a. Kidd 1993, pp. 44À8.
46
Craig 1695, p. 260.
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a piece of domestic law-making. Had Anglo-Scottish relations belonged
to the international sphere of the ius gentium or to a domestic realm
in which the ius feudale operated? Ironically, early eighteenth-century
Scots À the knowledge their juridical and academic leaders had of
Grotius and, sometimes, of Pufendorf notwithstanding47 À did not
explicitly hitch the defence of Scottish independence to modern natural
jurisprudence: it was Scottish unionists who invoked Grotius, arguing
that incorporation involved not a loss of sovereignty but a mutual
communication of rights.48 On the other hand, Scots of all stripes were
loudly insistent that the Anglo-Scottish relationship did not belong to the
feudal sphere.49
Other crucial ambiguities remained unresolved. Where did sovereignty
reside in the newly created united kingdom of Great Britain? Was this
new entity founded upon a fundamental law enshrined within the Treaty
of Union? Or did the authority embodied in crown-in-parliament trump
the Treaty guarantees given to Scotland in the Articles of Union? By what
mechanism, if any, might unhappy Scots seek redress from parliamentary
encroachments upon the Treaty of Union or the measures which
accompanied its passage, including the Act for the Security of the Church
of Scotland? Indeed, if the Kirk was secure in its unalterable privileges,
did this mean that an otherwise sovereign British parliament was
prevented from legislating within the sphere of the Kirk?
Henceforth, for Scots Presbyterians the matter of Britain was the
matter of the two kingdoms À not the relationship of Scotland and
England per se, but the uncertain relationship between the spiritual
kingdom and the temporal kingdom, as these were understood on either
side of a confessional border. For Scots Presbyterians held a more rigorous
conception of the separation of the spiritual and temporal kingdoms than
that practised within the Anglican polity. The Oxford Decrees of 1683 had
already borne witness to the intense differences in political theory which
separated Anglican and Presbyterian conceptions of governance and the
state. The Decrees singled out the canon of Scots Presbyterian political
thought for explicit condemnation: Knox, Buchanan, Calderwood,
Rutherford, the Solemn League and Covenant, Naphtali. The twentieth
Decree, in particular, which anathematized the doctrine that ˜presbyterian
government [was] the sceptre of Christ™s kingdom, to which kings as
well as others [were] bound to submit™, was a harbinger of future

47 48 49
Moore and Silverthorne 1983. Robertson 1995b, p. 221. Steel 1700; Belhaven 1705.
Contours of British Political Thought 65
Anglo-Scottish disputation.50 Although in 1710 the Whig prosecution of
the offensively high Tory cleric, Henry Sacheverell, secured À at some
cost À the burning of the Oxford Decrees,51 there remained nevertheless
an awkward gulf between Anglican and Scots Presbyterian conceptions of
government. The issue of church-state relations came to function as a
surrogate for the old causes of Scottish independence and English
imperium. In particular, the parliamentary imposition of lay patronage on
the Scots Kirk in 1712 provoked a long-running dispute on the nature and
limits of sovereignty within the ecclesiastical realm, which would
eventually culminate in the Disruption of 1843, when the Church of
Scotland split asunder over its vexed relationship with an Erastian British
state.52
This paper has focused upon the Anglo-Scottish aspect of the matter
of Britain. But the matter of Britain is by no means reducible to the issues
of Anglo-Scottish debate. An account of the Anglo-Irish matter of Britain
would embrace some kindred issues, but would also engage more heavily
with issues of ethnicity, civility and cultural difference.53 There is also
a fascinating story to be told about Scottish-Irish relationships. This
involved not only themes of sovereignty and suzerainty À did the colonist
Scots of Scotland pay tribute to the Scots of the Irish motherland? À but
also cultural issues. The vexing Scottish appropriation of Irish Scots, most
notably in the ecclesiastical and cultural realms, engendered a long-
running dispute which eventually merged with the Ossian controversy.54
However, not only does the matter of Britain provide an alternative set
of coordinates for plotting the contours of British political thought, it
also challenges those historians of political thought who exhibit an
unhealthy deference towards the norms and expectations of cognate
disciplines. For deference of this sort can distort or obscure the history
of political-arguments-as-they-were-once-deployed. Indeed, within the
history of political thought concepts such as sovereignty sometimes
seem overdetermined by their more settled definition in philosophy,
jurisprudence and political science. This is, perhaps, unsurprising. After
all, the history of political thought has a curious provenance, its origins
50
Wootton 1986, pp. 120À26.
51
Kenyon 1990, p. 141.
52
Fry 1993.
53
See e.g. Bradshaw, Hadfield and Maley 1993; Boyce, Eccleshall and Geoghegan 1993; Ohlmeyer
2000; Connolly 2000.
54
Dempster 1829; Mackenzie 1708À1722; Leerssen 1986; Kidd 1999, pp. 156À7; O™Halloran 1989,
pp. 69À95; O™Halloran 2004.
66 colin kidd
lying variously in history, philosophy, political science and law. In the
present case, however, their staple provisions are inadequate. The marrow
of the matter of Britain defies presentist analysis. Describing sovereignty
in early-modern British political thought is to participate in a messy
process of bricolage. At the very least, the matter of Britain summons the
historian of political thought down byways of ecclesiology, feudal
jurisprudence and heraldry unfrequented by political scientists or
philosophers. Indeed, while the history of political thought is certainly
capable of shedding light on current problems in political theory, is the
converse equally true? Is political theory a less useful aid to the historian
of political thought than ecclesiology or feudal jurisprudence, perhaps
even than heraldry or numismatics?
There is also an issue of congruence to confront. For example, do the
feudal concepts which so exercised late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-
century debates about sovereignty map directly onto the modern
discourse of sovereignty? Is dominium directum quite the same thing as
sovereignty, when, after all, the vassal holder of dominium utile À the
ruler of Scotland, say À is, arguably, presumed to control the fief in a
˜sovereign™ manner? The matter of Britain gave rise to distinctive and
peculiar idioms of political thought, which serve to illuminate not only
relationships among the four nations of the so-called British Isles, but also
the inadequacy of Procrustean approaches to the history of political
thought. Historians of political thought, it seems, need to construct their
own bespoke definitions from the materials of the past, eschewing
convenient off-the-peg formulations drawn from other disciplines.
chapter 4

The Intersections between Irish
and British Political Thought
of the Early-Modern Centuries
Nicholas Canny


Irish political thought has scarcely had an independent history due to the
thrust of academic history writing in Ireland. This discipline had dual
origins: in an Irish Protestant liberal tradition dating back to W. E. H.
Lecky, and in a conservative variety of English historiography cultivated
in the 1930s at London, and in the 1950s at Cambridge.1 Thus influenced,
historians have had two principal concerns: to achieve a mean between
denominational competition for the ownership of Ireland™s past, and to
understand the intersections between the histories of Ireland and Britain.
In this light, the history of political thought has, until recently, focused
on thinkers concerned with disputes over the constitutional relationship
between Ireland and England, while Ireland™s relationship with the
European continent, and particularly with Catholic Europe, was left to
Catholic (frequently clerical) historians writing to their own agendas.2
These distortions have been largely remedied by a new generation
of historians who have delved into an ever-expanding range of sources
concerning Ireland™s multifarious links with Continental Europe.
This work has also alerted scholars (including literary scholars) to the
importance of printed and documentary sources in the Irish and Latin
languages, while English language sources have shed fresh information
following their re-interrogation by historians who have read more
extensively on various historical experiences than their predecessors.
Practitioners of both the new British history and Atlantic history have
also been situating developments in Ireland (including the formation
of political ideas) in ever widening contexts. The outcome has been a


1
McCartney 1994; Brady 1994b, pp. 3À31; McIntire 2004, pp. 169À70, 306, 348.
2
Clarke 1978; Clarke 2000; Simms 1983; Canny 2003b.

67
68 nicholas canny
welter of publications on all aspects of Ireland™s history including an
appraisal of the political ideas fostered by the various elements of its
population during the early-modern centuries.3
This chapter, drawing upon these fresh perspectives, has three
objectives: (1) to examine how the steady increase in the power of the
English state in Ireland impacted upon indigenous political culture there;
(2) to assess how Crown involvement with Ireland, particularly between
the 1580s and the 1650s, acted as a forcing ground for political thinking
among English officials appointed there; and (3) to explain how Irish
opponents to the designs of successive English governments drew more
upon continental Catholic political ideas than upon English constitu-
tional precedents.

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