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tone of mild wonder that some things should be going on in their
otherwise orderly universe™.41 More provocatively, he argues that ˜Scottish
national and historical consciousness remains one in which the choices of
identity are open, probably because they cannot be resolved . . . Scottish
history has been, and may remain, a mere matter of choice, in which the
acceptance of anglicization, the insistence on the concept of Britain,
Lowland localism and Gaelic romanticism, remain equally viable
options and the problem is to reconcile one™s sense of identity with
one™s awareness of so open-ended a structure of choice™.42 So ˜national™
histories can and should take account of the interactions between them;
but the explanatory thrust and purpose is to make sense of the history
of one nation/territory. In each case the ˜national™ historian is interested
in how the ˜other™ affects the particular, not about the two-way (or indeed
three-way/four-or-more-way) pattern of cause and effect. We will see
later how and why this matters.
When he came to reconsider the case for a new British history in 1983
(in an article sub-titled ˜in search for the unknown subject™ although
I would preferred ˜in search of a forgotten subject™), John Pocock used
` `
the concepts of verita effettuale and verita quasi-effettuale as a way into
the darkness. As English historiography engorges the territories to the
North and West, ˜there is no caesura, no change or key or structure,
no sense that the history of England has become part of something
else™,43 a point illustrated in relation to the Acts of Union of 1707
or 1801. This is because English historiography is constructed around


40
A term Pocock derived from Beckett 1966, ch. 4, ˜The War of the Three Kingdoms™.
41 42 43
Pocock 1975b, p. 614. Pocock 1975b, p. 615. Pocock 1982, p. 312.
Thinking about the New British History 37
the assumption of ˜the interaction of governing institutions with
a continuous social fabric™.44 (I would gloss this by saying that this
notion of a continuous social fabric was discussed in terms of slowly
evolving sets of vertical social relations À this in itself is responsible
for the absence of ˜British history™ for much of the twentieth century.)
This can be contrasted with a Scottish or Irish (or colonial American)
`
historiography constructed as a verita quasi-effettuale À ˜the history of
a people intelligible within the parameters they have constructed for
themselves but overlaid, repressed and distorted by the imposition of
a ˜˜British™™ structure, which is English and irrelevant™.45 Whereas the
earlier essay looked mainly at the incomplete and messy processes of
state formation, this second essay examines the non-national aspects
of the British non-nation non-state:
the premises must be that the various peoples and nations, ethnic cultures,
social structures and locally defined communities, which have from time to
time existed in the area known as ˜Great Britain and Ireland™, have not only acted
so as to create the conditions of their several existencies, but have also interacted
so as to modify the conditions on one another™s existence and that there are
processes here that can, and should, be studied.46
˜British history™ is thus the study of ˜the formation and disruption of state
structures™ and of the transoceanic expansion of the peoples caught up
in that process, as the transatlantic seaboard ˜acquired inhabitants with
modes of consciousness corresponding to this experience™.47 British
history is about the connection between the fumbled military and
political expansion of England and Englishness and of the resistance
and adaptation of non-English peoples to that fumbled expansion.48

vi
So far, it seems, so straightforward. But there are complications. One
more essay by Pocock leads into deeper waters. The Center for the
History of British Political Thought at the Folger Library has system-
atically explored the theme of ˜Britishness™, and in the 1990s explored
Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-Irish political exchange across the period

44 45
Pocock 1982, p. 312. Pocock 1982, p. 313.
46 47
Pocock 1982, p. 317. Pocock 1982, p. 318.
48
Much of the remainder of that article is a demonstration of this model in relation to key
aspects of each time-period from the eleventh to the twentieth centuries: Pocock 1982,
pp. 321À36. Important for Pocock™s exegesis of the early-modern period is his encounter
with Webb 1979: Pocock 1982, pp. 326À8.
38 john morrill
1560À1800. To the first of the resulting volumes, focusing on 1603,
Pocock contributed an essay entitled ˜Two Kingdoms and Three
Histories? Political Thought in British Contexts™.49 In it, he speaks of
British political thought as ˜a discourse directed at the ˜˜matter of
Britain™™ ™,50 that is at the problematics of conceiving and realizing
a political entity to be known by that name. This proves to be no simple
matter. The political entity was, in the early-modern period (and certainly
to 1707) only in a limited sense a political entity: the same ruler acted
as king according to very different sets of rules and conventions in
each of his kingdoms, one telling example being the way that James VI
had a spiritual identity in England by virtue of the English Reformation
by Act of State (Crown and Parliament) and in Scotland by virtue of
an act of noble and popular rebellion in defiance of the Crown.51 At one
level, then, a history of British political thought (strictly construed) is
the act of recovering how men (for the most part) in the past reflected
on what to do when there existed two (or more) political bodies (and
persons) defined by two apparently incommensurable systems of royal
and national law. And in the British case, ˜the union of head and
body, which constituted a political kingdom . . . formed by laws that were
nationally and culturally specific [which meant that] the more ˜˜absolute™™
(and less relative and contingent) each kingdom™s laws and customs,
the harder it was to merge its personality with another™s)™.52
But what the essay also makes clear is that British history is absolutely
non-teleological in the strong sense53 À in the sense that it is ˜the self-
authenticated history of a self-perpetuating polity or culture™.54 It is the
history of Britain as it might-have-been (or better, as it might-become:
that is, it is the history of an aspiration)55 and it is a history of those
who sought to subvert that might-become, of that aspiration. Since what
is imagined as might-becoming changes over time, so does that history
mutate. French history is the history of what became France; Spanish
history of what Spain became (without Portugal, but with the Basques),
British history, however, is something different.

49
Pocock™s essay begins with a frank confession: ˜A Center for the History of British Political
Thought must sooner or later pay attention to its own title™, Pocock 1994, p. 293.
50
Pocock 1994, p. 312, on which, see now Kidd, in this volume.
51 52
Pocock 1994, pp. 300À2. Pocock 1994, p. 306.
53 54
See Burgess 1990, pp. 614À16. Pocock 1994, p. 311.
55
Unless one considers 1800À1922 as being the multi-national state that the subject yearns
to find À a period with one head of state, one sovereign legislature, one imperial system,
but more than one legal system, several religious systems, several self-consciously separate
nations.
Thinking about the New British History 39
And this history of might-becomes is brilliantly caught by Roger
Mason in the introductory essay to the volume he edited on the Union
of 1603. He defends the period covered by his volume (1560À1650)
as breaking down a chronology derived from English dynastic caesuras
and making clear that Scotland™s destiny was set much more from the
events of 1558À1563 than from the events of 1603.56 In 1558 Mary Tudor
died and Mary Stewart married Francis II of France. It seemed entirely
likely that England (and Ireland) would be a Protestant Caesaro-papalist
monarchia; and that Scotland would be to France what Ireland was to
England or The Netherlands were to the Spanish (or hispanicized)
Habsburgs À an outlying colonial dependency. And any son of Francis
and Mary would have been seen as the rightful Catholic ruler of
England ahead of the heretic bastard Elizabeth. It was thus also possible
´ `
that the dynastic rivalries involved in this dynastic menage-a-trois
would have led to Habsburg/Valois(/Tudor) rivalries being fought on
British soil rather than continental soil. Whatever the outcome, English
liberties and monarchical republicanism are unlikely to have prospered.
What prevented this was the defining event in early-modern Scottish
history, the noble/popular rebellion that overthrew the French protecto-
rate of Mary of Guise and established the Scottish Reformation; and
the most important contingency of all the dynastic contingencies that
shaped the geopolitics of sixteenth-century history, the ear infection that
carried off Francis II in 1560 before he could impregnate Mary Queen
of Scots.
As both Pocock and Mason point out, any canon of Scottish political
texts ˜arrestingly begins with an affirmation that Scottish history can
only be written within the context of a Historia Maioris Britanniae™.57
Or, as Mason puts it in the introduction (and as he explores it in
another essay in the volume) ˜the idea of Britain as a single geopolitical
entity . . . [had] distinguished medieval antecedents, but more pertinently
it had been strongly touted in the 1540s . . . [This] ˜˜Edwardian moment™™
was loaded with connotations of English hegemony . . .™. 58 How so many
Scots came to terms with the advantages as against the disadvantages
of this is the theme of the rest of the book, and of the succeeding volume


56
Mason 1994a, pp. 3À6. The following paragraph is my additional gloss to the points he
makes À for a fuller discussion, see Morrill 2005.
57
Pocock 1994, p. 293, alluding to Major 1892.
58
Mason 1994a, p. 7; compare Mason 1994b.
40 john morrill
on the Union of 1707 edited by John Robertson.59 The fact is, that
(with the massacres of the nobility at Flodden and Solway Moss all too
fresh in the minds of the survivors and of the children of the dead) many
(even most) Scots recognized the necessity of accommodation with this
over-mighty and awkward neighbour. By 1560, long term independence
was an unreality; and a majority had come to prefer accommodation
with Protestant England to colonial dependency on Catholic France.60
The civil wars of 1567À1574 confirmed that polarization; 1603 showed
˜the English had it™; the refusal in 1649 to accept the English offer
to regain their independence is the most telling demonstration of all;
and the war of the two dynasties of 1689À1746 which had nothing to
do with the break-up of the British polity, but the internal arrangements
within it, put the seal on it. In all this, 1560 not 1603 is the point at which
˜the awkward neighbour™ became the necessary bedfellow.


vii
While the Folger Center volumes on Scotland fitfully explore the
internal dynamics of nationhood À as in Edward Cowan™s essay on what
the political thought of the Covenanting eighth Earl of Argyll owed to
the discourses of the Gaedhealtachd 61À this is an issue that could not be
ducked when attention was turned to a Britain-Ireland dialectic. It is
a startling (and largely unexplored) fact that few if any Englishmen
acquired property in Scotland by purchase or marriage in the century
between the Union of the Crowns and of the Kingdoms, although many
Scots acquired property especially by marriage in England. This is just
one of the many asymmetries between Scotland™s relations with England
and Ireland™s relations with England. A history that thinks of Anglo-
British imperialism in Ireland starts from a very different base. An Irish
Parliament dominated by the descendants of twelfth- and thirteenth-
centuries colonists erected a kingdom in Ireland, but did not create an
Irish Crown. There was a military occupation of large parts of Ireland
by new waves of English and (after 1603) Scottish settlers. Gaelic
landowners who had not been consulted about the creation of the Irish
kingdom were expropriated for resisting its claims to sovereignty, itself
a concept of little resonance to their way of viewing the world. All this
needed justifying; and all this needed to be challenged and resisted

59 60 61
Robertson 1995a. I have argued this vigorously in Morrill 1994. Cowan 1994.
Thinking about the New British History 41
intellectually as well as militarily and in languages understood by and
acceptable to the international Catholic community whose support
would be critical to any sustained resistance. Those who erected the
kingdom became increasingly unhappy with the Caesaro-papalist preten-
sions of an Anglo-British Empress and Emperors, and with the pressure
to subordinate the peoples of Ireland not only with an English kingdom
but to the English Parliament.
And yet almost all those who saw themselves as the older communities
of Ireland À the ˜Irish™ and the ˜English of Ireland™ À there was no
question of separating themselves from loyalty to the House of Stuart.
Those who fought the bitter battles of the 1640s and (although this is now
more contentious) those who fought the bitter battles of the 1590s,
struggled to redefine themselves and the kingdom of Ireland within
a confederated triple monarchy; not to break away from it into an
unworkable independence or a new dependency on the Kings of Spain
or France. No wonder John Pocock could say that ˜ ˜˜Irish™™ history is not
part of ˜˜British History™™ for the very reason that it is largely the history
of a largely successful resistance to being included in it; yet it is part
of ˜˜British History™™ for precisely the same reason™.62 We are back to
the ˜might-becomes™ or in this case the ˜might-not-becomes™ À the history
of what is not rather than the history of what is.
If 1560 turns out to be the underestimated date in Scottish-British
history, 1580 turns out to be the turning point in Irish-British history.
In Hiram Morgan™s edited collection Political Ideology in Ireland,
1541À1641 (1999), the real starting point is with the translation of
Gerald of Wales™s Expugnatio Hibernica added to the second edition
of Holinshed,63 with its Norman contempt for Gaelic culture and sense
of effortless superiority for the institutions of the English in the second
edition of his Chronicles (1587) and with the historical and historio-
graphical furores released by the publication of Edmund Spenser™s View
of the Present State of Ireland. Morgan™s volume is very much a history of
the way that England™s relationship to Ireland was contested in the period
1580À1640, the strident voices of the incorporators (Spenser, Sidney,
Beacon, Davis) clashing with the voices of Richard Stanihurst, David
Rothe, Philip O™Sullivan Beare and the bards in Latin and in Irish
defending King, Faith and Fatherland.64 It is striking for the way it

62
Pocock 1995, p. 295.
63
Added in the second edition (Holinshed 1587).
64
Morgan 1999b.
42 john morrill
integrates (so comfortably in comparison with the volumes on Scottish
responses to Anglo-British imperialism) chapters about English writers on
˜the proto-Irish problem™ and Irish writers on the same. This can also be
said with equal conviction of Jane Ohlmeyer™s volume, staidly entitled
Political Thought in Seventeenth-Century Ireland: Kingdom or Colony
(2000).65 But something else is noteworthy: Morgan™s authors show
awareness of the ways in which particular traditions of ancient, biblical
and continental humanist thought were conscripted by participants in the
debates, but it shies away from a re-examination of the ˜Quinn-Canny™
thesis of Ireland as a stepping stone to English colonization in the
Americas.


viii
British History is thus a story of not what is, or even what was, but

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