England and Scotland (1607), thus making clear the indelible mark each
had made on the other;20 whether it was the way Irish-born scholars
(Protestant and Catholic) sought to define the historic autonomy of the
peoples (sic) of Ireland from Britain,21 the relationship between
the peoples and/or the kingdoms was at the centre of historical debate.
Even the chronicles which preceded the emergence of the new empirical
historicism could become deeply involved in the geopolitics of
Britishness. Thus both editions of Raphael Holinshedâ€™s Chronicles of
England, Scotlande, and Irelande (published in 1577 and 1587, respectively)
offered separate histories of the Three Kingdoms, but it was precisely
their attempt to show the connections between them that led them to be
censored by the Privy Council.22
At the end of the process by which there developed a British state
system if not quite a British state, eighteenth-century historians had
certainly developed a sense of British identity and practised British
history. Perhaps the classic example is David Hume, whose discussion
of seventeenth century integrates English and Scottish (if not Irish)
history into a self-aware plaid. Close scrutiny reveals separate strands
but the effect is a tight weave. Let us take his discussion in Volume 3 of
Most graphically brought out in a succession of works by Roger Mason: Mason 1991;
Mason 1994a; Mason 1994b; Mason 2004. See also Kidd, in this volume.
Clapham 1602; Clapham 1606; Ayscough 1607; for a brief review of this literature,
see Woolf 1990, esp. pp. 55Ã€65.
Ford and McCafferty 2005, chs. 4, 5, 11.
Holinshed 1577; Holinshed 1587. There is an admirable short account in the life of Holinshed in
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Clegg 2004.
Thinking about the New British History 31
his History of England (sic) of the winter of 1644Ã€1645.23 Humeâ€™s account
of the terms discussed between royalist and parliamentarian negotiators is
the only one before the twenty-first century to give full consideration to
the Irish and Scottish articles; the trial of Laud is set in the context of
Scottish insistence on destroying him; and there follows a linking
paragraph that tells us that â€˜[w]hile the kingâ€™s affairs declined in England,
some events happened in Scotland which seemed to promise him a more
prosperous issue of the quarrelâ€™ (throughout his kingdoms). The next
page explores how Montroseâ€™s freedom of action was transformed by the
downfall of Hamilton at Court which gave Montrose far more influence;
and great care is taken to show how that in turn limited the freedom of
movement of Covenanting armies and commissioners in England. The
role of Irish troops in these Scottish campaigns is fully explored. This may
have been history with a moral purpose Ã€ to demonstrate the illegitimacy
of rebellion and the perils of priestcraft and of enthusiasm Ã€ but it is
unselfconscious British History. From then on, there was a steady decline
throughout the nineteenth century, and a very low trough for most of the
Whig historiography focused on constitutional documents, and espe-
cially on parliamentary Acts. Whether these Acts were passed by, or these
debates held in, the English, the British or the United Kingdom
Parliament the result was the same Ã€ an assumption of Anglo-centricity.
Scotland and Ireland were marginalized in every sense. The supreme
demonstration of this is the assertion of 1688 as the Glorious (and
bloodless) Revolution.25 Glencoe and Killiecrankie, the Boyne and
the walls of Derry were disagreeable offstage noises, the death-rattle
of traditions of violence that England had put behind it and would
radiate out to the outlying regions in the decades that followed. Scots
and Irish were allowed to take part in civilizing those parts of the
world fortunate enough to be incorporated into the British Empire.
But they were Britons carrying a British Englishness with them.26
Hume 1983, v, pp. 455Ã€65. Morrill 1999, pp. 67Ã€78.
Trevelyan 1939 encapsulates the view; as does the term â€˜Glorious Revolutionâ€™ recreated in
the 1930s and found in the title of 117 books and essays since 1936 listed in the Royal Historical
Society Bibliography online (www.rhs.ac.uk/bibl, accessed 20th January 2005).
See Claydon 1999, pp. 115Ã€21.
32 john morrill
From not later than the 1920s, however, this view was to give
ground to new and less patronizing historical traditions. First, historians
became preoccupied with analysing the underlying economic and
social structures within which people operated, on the social-science
assumption that peopleâ€™s behaviour is determined, or at the very
least shaped, by those structures. Since the economic and social struc-
tures of Scotland and Ireland were little studied, or so far as they were
studied believed to represent a pattern of sharp contrast from the patterns
thought to prevail in England (and Wales), the story of how glacial
change in English society created fissures in the political and institu-
tional structures that eventuated in civil war in the 1640s became
an exclusively English story.27 This is most obviously seen in the work
of Christopher Hill and the â€˜Oxford Schoolâ€™ of the 1950s to 1980s Ã€
scholars like David Underdown, Brian Manning and Gerald Aylmer.
All had some concern about what the English did in Ireland, but none
saw it as more than a dire epiphenomenon of the social conflict boiling
over in England.28
Second, and related to this, there was a growing fascination Ã€ which
reached its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s Ã€ with the â€˜radicalâ€™
movements spawned by the war and with the print culture associated
with these movements. Since these were essentially English movements,
there was a resulting de-emphasis on the popular cultural responses to
the collapse of royal and noble power in Scotland and Ireland. Neither
the â€˜Whiggamoresâ€™ of Scotland nor the â€˜Toriesâ€™ or â€˜wood-kerneâ€™ of
Ireland wrote pamphlets and thus they remained outside the concern of
monoglot-English scholars who failed to recognize the potential of these
â€˜brigandsâ€™ to produce the kind of progressive ideas with which they
yearned to identify.29
Third, there was a strong tendency Ã€ driven as much as anything
by the PhD industry Ã€ towards atomization, with fewer and fewer
broad research monographs and more and more tightly-drawn studies.
Stone 1965, in which the views of Professors Tawney, Stone, Trevor-Roper and many more
are extracted and summarized. The whole book is a testament to how imposing historical
castles built on sand can sometimes appear at the time.
Hill 1961; Hill 1972; Hill 1985; Hill 1998; Underdown 1985; Underdown 1996; Manning 1976;
For some fascinating preliminary thoughts on these groups, see Oâ€™Ciardha 1997, pp. 164Ã€84.
For the same kind of reason, historians before the 1970s lavished interest and space on the
Levellers and not on the much more numerous and widespread Clubmen: see the comments
of David Underdown in Eley and Hunt 1988, pp. 338Ã€9.
Thinking about the New British History 33
This created a series of discrete debates, with textbooks and survey
books acting as guides to particular debates rather than whole fields.
The proliferation of studies of pre-civil war and civil war counties
and county towns is one obvious example of this. Since Scottish and
Irish politics remained clan- or name-driven, with counties that
lacked the institutional and cultural strength of early-modern English
counties, there was no scope for the development of a comparative
Fourth, this in turn reinforced the tendency for historians in and
of Scotland and Ireland to write within their own separate historio-
graphical tradition,30 and not to participate in Ã€ or especially to
take note of Ã€ the blinkered English historiographical discourse.31
Furthermore, in the universities of Scotland, Scottish history, and in
the universities of Ireland, Irish history, were hermetically sealed off
from other branches of history, and neâ€™er were the twain (â€˜Modernâ€™ and
â€˜Scottishâ€™ history, â€˜Britishâ€™ and â€˜Irishâ€™ history) encouraged to meet.32
Few of the major figures in Scottish and Irish history specialized in
early-modern history, most of the Professors being medievalists (or, in
the case of Ireland, of recent history), and many of those employed to
teach early-modern history were medievalists by training whose concern
to look for continuities in Scottish or Irish history rather than contiguities
within British history.
I have to be more speculative when I talk about the development of
research and teaching in British (as against English, Irish and Scottish)
history outside Britain. The situation no doubt differs from place
to place. There were many reasons why doctoral students from the
Commonwealth or the USA would spend any research time they had
in London or else at Oxford and Cambridge. English public records,
and even more English private records, were much more systematically
calendared than Scottish or Irish ones; and this was reinforced in the
era of microfilm when English records, including books published
in England (the Thomason Tracts, for example) were far more extensively
commercially filmed and disseminated.33 In fact, it is an important
See the traditions reflected in the Moody, Martin, and Byrne 1976; and in Lynch 1991.
For some especially interesting recent comments on this, see Canny 2003b, pp. 723Ã€48.
As late as the mid 1980s external examiners to the Modern History Department of more than
one Scottish University were not invited to moderate the scripts for special subjects in Scottish
History at the heart of their own specialism, the task instead being entrusted to external
examiners in Scottish History whose expertise was remote from the subjects in question.
For John Pocockâ€™s own acute observations on the differences in record-making and record
survival in the different territories, see Pocock 1975b, pp. 611Ã€13.
34 john morrill
aspect of British state formation, that there was never a centralization
of archives Ã€ the Victorians established separate Record Offices in
London, Edinburgh and Dublin (later Belfast) but not in Cardiff
(but, interestingly national libraries were established over a more ragged
timescale in all four territories).34 US and Old Commonwealth
Universities would typically have two or three specialists in British
history, and there would be a tendency to take scholars in â€˜mainstreamâ€™
areas, which would reinforce Anglo-centricity. There would be little
opportunity or incentive for the handful of specialists in non-English
British history to collaborate with English â€˜Britishâ€™ historians.
The result of all this can be seen in the textbooks used in higher
education across the twentieth century. As I have argued elsewhere,
there was an inexorable separation out of national histories from the
late nineteenth century and from the establishment of the Whig
paradigms in G. M. Trevelyanâ€™s England Under the Stuarts (1904) and of
the Marxist paradigms, as represented by Christopher Hillâ€™s The Century
of Revolution, 1603Ã€1714 (1961) Ã€ which misses England out of its title,
but misses Britain out too, and even manages to miss Scotland and
Ireland out of its maps.35 For me (at least in retrospect) a low point
was reached when Lawrence Stone published The Causes of the English
Revolution (1972), an over-triumphalist summation of forty yearsâ€™
debate and argument on that subject precisely defined. It contains
no index entry at all for â€˜Scotlandâ€™ or â€˜Scottishâ€™, and just one entry
to â€˜Irelandâ€™ under the heading â€˜Irish Rebellionâ€™ which leads the reader to
seventeen lines of text unpromisingly prefaced by the words â€˜tension
was enormously increased by two chance events, of which the first was
the death of the Earl of Bedford . . . [and] the second . . . was the outbreak
of the Irish Rebellionâ€™. British history had reached a very low ebb
One historian above all others was the prophet of the new history:
John Pocock. He has wrestled with the need for, and with the hazards of,
On another occasion, it would be interesting (in terms of elite notions of Britishness) to discuss
why there is a British Academy (and a Royal Society and a Royal Academy of the Arts)
which covers the whole of the UK, and a Royal Irish Academy (which ignores borders in the
island of Ireland) and a Royal Society of Edinburgh for scholars based in Scotland. But there
is no Academy for scholars based in England only.
Trevelyan 1904; Hill 1961; Morrill 1999, pp. 68Ã€78.
Stone 1972, pp. 137Ã€8 (my emphasis).
Thinking about the New British History 35
a history that embraces several peoples in three kingdoms. He has had
more that is pertinent to say than anyone else, especially in exploring
the dynamics of state formation and national identity as an aspect
of intellectual history. In 1973, Pocock returned to New Zealand to deliver
the first J. C. Beaglehole Memorial Lecture, named after a histo-
rian who had pioneered the raising of historical consciousness and a
self-aware historiography of the South Pacific region. Two years later,
Pocock published an adjusted version of that lecture under the
title â€˜British History: a Plea for a New Subjectâ€™.37 It began by scolding
A. J. P. Taylor for his purposeful indifference to the nomenclature of
English and British history, and he explored the ambiguities and
carelessness of usages over time, and the reality that there was no real
â€˜British historyâ€™ as against English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and â€˜colonial
Americanâ€™ history. Pocockâ€™s first attempted definition of this new sub-
ject was â€˜the plural history of a group of cultures situated along an
Anglo-Celtic frontier and marked by increasing English political and
cultural dominationâ€™. This captures well one of the treacherous essences
of the subject as it has emerged Ã€ that it is both about state formation and
how processes of state formation were conceptualized and explained and
acted out; and that it was also about the way national identities within
this partially achieved state system evolved and changed as a result of the
interactions between the peoples in the context of English military,
institutional and cultural aggression: as Pocock has put it, â€˜the fact of
hegemony does not alter the fact of a plurality, any more than the history
of a frontier amounts to denial that there is a history beyond the
The central section of that first article is a bravura attempt to see
how this definition applies to the main periods of â€˜Britishâ€™ History since
the establishment of the Anglo-Norman realms in southern England,
southern Scotland and eastern Ireland. For example, he suggests that,
for the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, it is â€˜the history of contacts
and penetrations between three loci of Anglo-Norman powerâ€™;39 or for
the seventeenth century, he suggests it is the recovery and exploration
First published in New Zealand (Pocock 1974) and then lightly revised as Pocock 1975a.
Pocock 1975b, pp. 605Ã€6.
Pocock 1975b, pp. 608Ã€9 It is surprising how little use early-modern historians have made of
the â€˜British Historyâ€™ developed so brilliantly for medieval history by Rees Davies, Robin Frame
and others. For Davies, see his four presidential addresses to the Royal Historical Society under
the collective title â€˜The Peoples of Britain and Irelandâ€™: Davies 1994; Davies 1995; Davies 1996a;
Davies 1997; also, see Frame 1990; Davies 1988; Davies 2000.
36 john morrill
of the notion of the crisis of the mid seventeenth century not as
â€˜the English Revolutionâ€™, â€˜the Irish Rebellionâ€™ and â€˜the wars of the
Covenantersâ€™ but â€˜the war of the Three Kingdomsâ€™.40 This is, Pocock
insisted, a pluralist history. And this makes it an addition to four
â€˜nationalâ€™ histories, not a substitute for them; and in the remainder of
the essay, he explores some of the lineaments of continuing English,
Scottish and Irish historiographies.
This is not to acknowledge the possibility of a historiography of
little England, little Ireland or little Scotland: as Pocock points out, â€˜Irish
history is to an inordinate degree the history of responses to England,
while English historians writing of Ireland maintain . . . the traditional