The 11th Conference of the Scottish Medievalists was held at Chalmers Hall, University of Dundee, 6-7 January 1968. Minutes Secretary David B. Smith.
Saturday, 6 January
Discussion: Jenny Brown (later Wormald) and Norman Macdougall ‘Crown and Nobility in the 15th Century’
Chairman: Dr. Ian Cowan
Mrs. Brown opened the discussion by dealing with the period up to 1460. She argued that the common view of the period, characterised by a feud between ‘wicked barons and a weak monarchy’ was incorrect. She did not dispute that James I had tried to establish a strong position but submitted that he did not see this in terms of centralisation and strong central government. What James was doing was pursuing a family vendetta, and doing so unpleasantly and vindictively. The nobles and the monarchy saw each other as having a part to play. Indeed, the creation of new earldoms throughout the 15th and 16th centuries was inconsistent with the supposed distrust and fear of the monarchy for the greater nobility. There was evidence of increased interest in law and order, significantly more documentation, more notaries. The king and nobility regarded themselves as something of a cooperative enterprise, joining together in running the country. This kind of thinking showed Scotland to be similar to other European countries where this theory held.
Mr Macdougall began by stating that James III was still regarded by historians as pretty much of a failure and that this was due to Buchanan, Pitscottie and Ferrerius. In fact Buchanan’s view was that he was a tyrant deposed by the people for his misdeeds. Their complaints were reputed to be that the king chose as his advisors mere nobodies; that he was weak and no leader in war; and that he was lazy. The modern view was a somewhat modified version of this: that he was an intelligent man living in a little artistic world of his own with his talented favourites. There was, however, a total lack of record evidence for the existence of these favourites. Moreover, it is clear that James did use his nobility and even depended upon them.
The hard evidence of the times refuted the second criticism of him: that he was no leader in war. In 1482 he was ready to invade France and had to be restrained. In 1482 he led his host against an English army (which was not led by its king). That the king was interested in artillery was vouched by no fewer than 13 references in the Treasurer’s accounts for the 1 1/2 years of his reign for which they survive.
There were repeated complaints in Parliament, from 1473 on, that James was not a great lawgiver and was not travelling about the country. But it is now known that he did travel as far north as Elgin and Inverness. It was true that there were many feuds and skirmishes, but it must be remembered that the scale of such incidents was very small. There does not seem to have been conflict between royal justice and the local jurisdictions.
In the discussion which followed Mr. Cant remarked that in his view there was in 15th century Scotland a broad measure of agreement between crown and nobility about the way in which the country was to be governed. In England by this time, much more power was allowed to the crown than in
Scotland, but in Scotland there was nonetheless an orderly and well understood way of running the country. Regalities were part of the system and they were all clearly and carefully defined in documents.He was pleased to find the speakers taking the view they did: not least in the point that bonds of manrent were a stabilizing feature rather than the opposite.
A lively discussion ranged widely on and around the topic, much attention being given to the nature of the source materials and to the reliance which might or might not be placed on them. The session ended with a warm vote of thanks to the two speakers and a general consensus that this discussion meeting had been very successful.
Sunday, 7 January
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