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3
Compare Davies 1996b. See also Hay 1968.
4
Kumar 2003, p. 7.
Contours of British Political Thought 49
Early-modern British political culture inherited a well-defined but
vigorously contested ˜matter of Britain™ from the clerks, churchmen and
chroniclers of the middle ages. ˜The matter of Britain™ is, of course, a term
familiar to students of medieval literature. The formulation appeared
in late twelfth-century romance as a description of the Arthurian tales
popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth™s early twelfth-century Historia
Regum Britanniae, of which, as Julia Crick reminds us, a remarkable two
hundred and fifteen manuscript copies survive.5 Although Geoffrey™s
Historia is now best known as a fictive concoction of legend and romance,
in the medieval period it also enjoyed a potent ideological significance.
The Anglo-Norman exploitation of Galfridian history blurred the ethnic
distinction between the English (Saxon or Norman) and the pre-Saxon
peoples of Britain. Instead it became À and long remained À common to
trace the origins of English institutions back to ancient British origins.6
This appropriation of the ancient Britons as the founders of English
institutions contributed to the distorting elision of England and Britain
which has since bedevilled British history. Further, Galfridian accounts of
a pan-Britannic kingship exercised by Brut, first king of the ancient
Britons, who awarded England to his eldest son Locrinus, and Scotland
and Wales to his younger sons, and of a later high kingship enjoyed by
King Arthur, the conqueror of Ireland, over the whole of the British Isles,
became the canonical justification of English monarchical claims to a
suzerainty over the rest of Britain or the British Isles.7
However, the matter of Britain had become a matter of political
controversy long before it assumed canonical expression in Geoffrey™s
Historia. The vaunt of English monarchs that they were overlords of the
other peoples of Britain resounds, as the late Sir Rees Davies reminded us,
from at least the early tenth century, when the coinage of Athelstan
described him as rex totius Britanniae. According to Davies, this British
overkingship should not be confused with formal rule or direct kingship.
The high-kingship conferred prestige rather than power, and it did not
preclude the existence of other power centres or legitimate political
authorities, with the single proviso that these acknowledged the
suzerainty of their Britannic overlord. According to Davies, ˜a fairly
relaxed superioritas™ had prevailed À at least until the era of Edward I. Not
that the pretensions of Edward I™s predecessors on the English throne
were complacently accepted by the rulers of tributary polities. Rather it is

5 6 7
Crick 1989; Crick 1991. Kidd 1999, chs. 4, 5. Monmouth 1966, pp. 75, 221À22.
50 colin kidd
in the claim to English overlordship and the ideological resistance which
it provoked that one finds the origins À however rudimentary À of
British political thought.8
The kings of Scotland proved reluctant À and ambiguous À vassals of
their English overlords. In 1095 Edgar of Scotland conceded that he held
the Lothians in the south-east of Scotland À though not his crown
itself À from the King of England. From 1124 the fact that Scottish kings
possessed estates in England conveniently confused the terms of Scottish
vassalage to the Plantagenet monarchy. Scottish kings from David I to
Alexander III were happy enough to pay homage for their lands in
England, obfuscating the issue of whether they were vassals to the
crown of England in respect of their Scottish territories. There was,
however, an unfortunate exception, when William the Lion found
himself the prisoner of Henry II and won his freedom only by way of an
unambiguous acceptance of English overlordship in the Treaty of Falaise
(1174). This treaty was explicit about Scotland™s subordination to the high
kingship of England. The Treaty pointedly did not describe Scotland as a
kingdom (regnum), but merely as a land (terra). Moreover, this land was
ruled, according to the Treaty, by William the Lion as rex Scottorum,
while Henry II of England was its suzerain king (dominus rex). However,
by the Quitclaim of Canterbury in 1189 William was able to buy back
these concessions (or some of them at least) at a steep price from the
impoverished crusader-king, Richard I.9
Although the matter of Britain focused on the vexed question of where
suzerainty (if any) resided within the island of Britain or the British Isles,
this issue did not only take the form of debates about the location of
temporal power. There was also the closely related À perhaps, indeed,
indicative À issue of the locus of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Britain or
the British Isles. According to the Council of Windsor in 1072 the remit
of the archbishopric of York encompassed Scotland as well as England
north of the Humber. At this stage the papacy backed the metropolitan
claims of York over the Scottish church, but these were resisted by the
Scottish bishops and by the Scottish crown, which recognized such
ecclesiastical pretensions as a spiritual front for temporal designs.
Naturally, Henry II took the opportunity offered by the enforced
Treaty of Falaise to confirm the rights of the English church over the
church in Scotland. Nevertheless, the Scottish lobby at the papal curia

8 9
Davies 2000, pp. 9À10, 20, 37. Stones 1970, pp. 2À17; Davies 2000, pp. 12À14.
Contours of British Political Thought 51
was indefatigable, and in 1192 by Pope Celestine III™s bull Cum Universi
the church in Scotland was recognized as a filia specialis (˜special
daughter™) of the Papacy.10
The reign of Edward I witnessed both the emergence of a more
determined policy to realize a pan-Britannic sovereignty and also the
appearance of a recognizable body of British political thought, in the
pleadings of English and Scottish delegations at the papal curia. Edward
exerted his right as dominus superior of Britain to judge the disputed
succession to the Scottish crown; and then when his choice, King John
Balliol, began to resist the demands of his paramount lord, invaded
Scotland, removed Balliol, and attempted to incorporate the vassal-
kingdom of Scotland within his own dominion. The crisis in Anglo-
Scottish relations raised questions of ecclesiastical as well as political
autonomy. In 1299 Pope Boniface VIII wrote to Edward I and to the
archbishop of Canterbury enquiring why the king of England had
invaded the papal fief of Scotland. Edward I™s response to Boniface VIII
resurrected Geoffrey of Monmouth™s version of the origins of the British
state under Brutus and the later history of Scotland™s feudal subjection to
the superior crown of England. The Scottish submissions at the papal
curia in 1301, handled by the canon lawyer Baldred Bisset, punctured the
Galfridian interpretation of British history, insisting instead on a long and
separate history of Scottish national autonomy. The arguments of Bisset™s
processus resurfaced in a later letter to the papacy, the Scottish Barons™
letter to Pope John XXII in 1320, better known as the Declaration of
Arbroath, which remains today the foundational text and canonical
manifesto of Scottish nationalism.11
This anti-Galfridian counter-historiography of Britain was consoli-
dated and rendered more systematic in the Scotichronicon of John of
Fordun and his continuator Walter Bower. Fordun™s account of the
establishment of an independent, sovereign political community in
Scotland under its first king, Fergus MacFerquhard in 330 bce involved
an explicit rejection of Geoffrey™s Brut legend, and remained the
standard version of Scottish origins À in Scotland at any rate À until
the second quarter of the eighteenth century. For over three centuries
the independent origins of the Scottish monarchy in 330 bce was

10
Broun 2002; Barrell 1995; Davies 2000, pp. 11À12, 38; Ferguson 1977, p. 21.
11
Barrow 1988, esp. pp. 116À18, 185, 241, 306À11; Goldstein 1993, chs. 2, 3; Reynolds 1990,
pp. 273À6.
52 colin kidd
the crucial element in Scottish political thought, a body of argument
which not only defined the nature of the Scottish kingdom, but also
advanced its own reading of political relationships on the island of
Britain.12
Early-modern debate about the nature of Britain and the British Isles
was an extension and amplification of this well-defined conversation in
medieval British political argument. Too much ideological capital had
been invested in the matter of Britain for it to be lightly abandoned. The
Scottish philosopher and historian John Mair, or Major (1467À1550)
criticized both the origin legends of the Scots and the English in his
Britanniae Majoris Historia (1521) in an attempt to reconcile England and
Scotland in a peaceful and cooperative British future founded upon
mutual respect.13 Nevertheless, Mair™s Historia À its deconstructive
sophistication notwithstanding À was to be of marginal influence in the
shaping of early-modern Scottish political thought, its message of Anglo-
Scottish reconciliation almost immediately eclipsed by newer versions
of the familiar Scottish origin myths.14 Nor did sixteenth-century English
propagandists drop the Galfridian interpretation of British history.
Henry VIII™s Declaration, Conteyning the Just Causes and Consyderations
of This Present Warre with the Scottis (1542) justified his invasion of
Scotland on the basis of a Galfridian imperialism and the grounds of the
English crown™s claim to a feudal superiority over Scotland.15 A sceptical
critique of ancient Scottish history by the Welsh antiquary Humphrey
Lhwyd in his Breviary of Britayne (Latin edition 1568; English translation
1572) provoked the Scots humanist polymath George Buchanan into a
vigorous defence of the Scottish myth of sovereignty in his mammoth
Rerum Scoticarum Historia (1582).16
Another round of debate was instigated by Raphael Holinshed who
devoted a chapter of his Description of Britaine to the crown of England™s
˜sovereignty™ over the whole island of Britain. Under the influence of
Geoffrey, Holinshed traced this authority back to the succession of
Brutus™s eldest son, Locrinus, to the imperial crown of England, when
˜seignorie over Albania [Scotland] consisted in Locrinus™. This ˜seignorie™
or ˜sovereignty™ had been confirmed by the later homages performed

12
Fordun 1871À1872; Ferguson 1998, pp. 43À53; Goldstein 1993, ch. 4.
13
Major 1892, pp. 1À2, 50À52.
14
Boece 1574; Bellenden 1821.
15
Armitage 2000, pp. 37À8.
16
Mason 1987, p. 74; Buchanan 1690.
Contours of British Political Thought 53
by the subordinate kings of Scotland to their English overlords.17
Holinshed™s assertion of English claims over Scotland provoked an
outraged, but highly sophisticated, response from the eminent Scottish
feudal jurist, Thomas Craig of Riccarton (1538?À1608) in his Latin
manuscript treatise, De hominio, which was ready for publication by 1602,
but not published until 1695 when, as we shall see, it appeared in an
English translation. Craig not only denounced the imperial delusions of
the British History, but, as the author of another distinguished
manuscript treatise, the Ius Feudale, eventually published to European
acclaim in 1655, also went on to expose the absurdity of a domestic
feudalist parsing of the Anglo-Scottish relationship. Craig pointed out the
anachronism on which the ancient English claim to feudal superiority
rested. The terminology of superiority, fee and homage belonged to the
tenth century, at the earliest, and had not been imported into Britain till
the Norman Conquest. Anglo-Scottish history did not conform to feudal
precepts. Kings of England had not exercised feudal rights of wardship
over the kingdom of Scotland when the latter experienced a royal
minority, nor had the consent of the king of England been required at the
inauguration of Scottish kings (with the exception of King John Balliol),
as it would have been had Scotland been a fief, whereby the vassal was
required to seek renovation of the fee within the year whenever the person
of the lord or vassal changed. Craig insisted upon the rights of ˜majesty™
belonging to the Scottish crown, evidence for which was clear in the
international recognition Scotland enjoyed within the affairs of Europe.
The kingdom of Scotland, Craig insisted, had participated freely,
unconstrained by England™s pretended pan-Britannic suzerainty, in the
sphere of inter-regnal conflict, treaties and alliances. Although writing in
a pre-Grotian context, Craig was making the point that Scotland did not
belong to the ius feudale, but was an independent actor in international
affairs.18
The Union of the Crowns in 1603 did nothing to resolve the matter of
Britain. Rather, by bringing Scotland within the ambit of the English
multiple monarchy (which already included the subordinate kingdom of
Ireland), the vexed issue of locating authority in the British Isles was, if
anything, intensified and rendered even more opaque and ambiguous.
Moreover, the confessional divisions within British Protestantism acted

17
Holinshed 1807À08, i, pp. 196À214.
18
Craig 1695, esp. pp. 19À20, 418À24; Craig 1934.
54 colin kidd
as a further intensifier of the traditional jurisdictional divisions of the
British world. Nor, following the failure of James VI and I™s plans for a
united British monarchy, did the Stuart rulers of England and Scotland
manage to settle the question of where ultimate sovereignty À if any À
resided within the British Isles. Indeed, the Stuart monarchy itself
exhibited some uncertainty about the precise form of sovereignty within
the Union of the Crowns. Did the Kingdoms of Scotland and England
retain separate sovereignties or had they been merged into the dominions
of a King of Great Britain? Although royal proclamations of 1604
changed the Stuarts™ style to Kings of Great Britain, the English
parliament continued to refer to the King of England, while the Scots
parliament fluctuated between the British and the Scottish style.
Official representations of sovereignty on Scottish seals and coinage
were inconsistent in their renderings of seventeenth-century monarchs,
who were sometimes described as Kings of Scotland and England,
sometimes as Kings of Great Britain.19
Throughout the duration of the Union of the Crowns (1603À1707) the
English claim over Scotland was not confined to a particular partisan or
religious persuasion, but was espoused across the spectrum of English
politics, Puritan as well as Cavalier, Whig as well as Tory. From the
clericalist extreme, the Laudian geographer Peter Heylyn wove an English
imperial superiority into his encyclopedic Cosmography (1652), incorpo-
rating numerous legal and historical examples in his account of Britain™s
political geography. Wallace, for example, had been executed by Edward I
not because he was a prisoner of war, but because he was a traitor to the
paramount crown of England. There was also a later body of pre-1603
case law which showed, Heylyn claimed, that Scots in England had been
treated not as aliens, but as subjects of an English suzerain crown.
Furthermore, Heylyn also explained the distinction between the English
and Scottish crowns. Scottish kings, he noted, were merely styled reges
Scotorum, thus ˜intimating that though they are the kings of the nation,
yet there is some superior lord (king paramount as we may call him)
who hath the royalty of the land.™20 On the other side of mid-century
political and religious controversy, the Puritan antiquary William Prynne
advanced a decidedly Erastian version of Anglo-British imperium.

19
Anderson 1739, plates xcivÀxcix and clxixÀclxxiv; Burns 1887, ii, pp. 414À525; Bindoff 1945,
esp. pp. 196, 213À14, 216.
20
Heylyn 1670, pp. 310, 324, 332, 339.
Contours of British Political Thought 55
Prynne asserted ˜the ancient right and sovereign dominion of our English
kings over that realm and church [of Scotland], against all claims of
usurping Popes or ingrate perfidious rebellious Kings of Scotland™.
English sovereignty was first and foremost a matter of supremacy over the
church, argued the anti-papalist Prynne. Indeed, he blamed the Papacy
for having lent clandestine encouragement to the Scots in their rebellion
against their paramount lord, Edward I. Moreover, Prynne was most
insistent that the English crown À not the archbishop of York À held
authority over the ˜church™ and ˜clergy™ of Scotland.21
By now, however, issues of ecclesiastical jurisdiction constituted only
one component of the religious matter of Britain. From the Reformation

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