20th Conference 1977

The 20th Conference of the Scottish Medievalists was held at Pitlochry, 8-9 January 1977. Minutes Secretary W.W. Scott.

20th Conference 1977

20th Conference: Saturday 8 January 4.15 p.m.

Scottish Historical Publishing Clubs: Talk by Dr Harinell Ash

Dr Ash presented the results of her recent investigations into the history of Scottish historical publishing and some material prepared by Dr Withrington, who was unable to present his own paper. Apart from looking at the works published by the historical clubs as artefacts in their own right, she also proposed to touch on the correspondence of David Laing, whose active career spanned the life of most of the clubs.

The central figure in the origin of the clubs was Sir Walter Scott. In 1802 Scott had published the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. The book could be seen in various ways, but at one level it was certainly an expression of the basic historical activity of collecting and publishing texts. Scott later went further than this and in doing so he was under a number of influences. There were a number of different traditions of history in Scotland. Apart from popular traditions in the ballads, there was a clear tradition of historical writing and scholarship which was a product of the Enlightenment, typified in the works of Robertson. This strain was perhaps less pro-Scottish than the first, in the sense that it took less account of the Scots tongue and fashions, but it left some influence on Scott because of his study under A.F. Tytler, a former Secretary of Lord Kames and a Professor of History at Edinburgh University. Tytler’s view was that history was a study for the benefit of man, and that institutions changed to meet the needs of people.

At the same time, Scott was clearly influenced by the different ways of looking at the landscape, and in this he was the inheritor of nearly two centuries of antiquarian enquiry into the landscape and visible remains; e.g. the works of Sir Robert Sibbald. The publication of Waverley in 1814 showed how far Scott had progressed in his ideas and use of history, and the revolutionary impact of this and the subsequent novels now needs little emphasis. This was the romantic view of history.

In 1822 the idea of a publishing club was first proposed. Apart from the Record Commission, no other bodies were at the time publishing the texts of original documents in Scotland. Scott proposed the formation of a club to undertake such publication, and the first meeting of what was to be called the Bannatyne Club was held in 1823. The Club drew on some earlier examples. The Society of Antiquaries had been founded in 1780 and was still enjoying a somewhat precarious existence and publishing little. The Roxburghe Club founded in 1812 was a distinctly eccentric body in which each of the small number of members was to contribute a book annually. This feature of the Roxburghe Club’s rules was carried over into the rules for the Bannatyne Club, although the Bannatyne Club from its start was somewhat larger.

From the start the Bannatyne Club had its convivial side, but this declined as the 1820s wore on. Clearly there was a good deal of personal friendship amongst the members of the Club, and this was probably one reason why the Club survived for as long as it did. Another reason for its survival was the work of David Laing, born in 1793 and the son of a book-seller. Laing had come under the influence of George Chalmers the antiquary and by his early 20s was already involved in the editing and publishing of historical materials. Laing was Secretary of the Club for some 40 years and edited 37 of its publications. He organised the business side of the Club, while recognising that it was largely Scott’s influence which gave the Club much of its early genius and drive. By the tine of Scott’s death in 1832 over one-third of the eventual tally of the Club’s publications had appeared. At this point the influence of Laing and of Cosmo Innes became more apparent, and later publications became more ambitious eg the cartularies of the major religious houses and the invitation to foreign editors such as Teulet in Paris to contribute to the Club. In 1837 Laing was appointed Signet Librarian, a post which he held until 1878.

The Bannatyne Club produced its imitators. In 1829 a group in Glasgow set up the Maitland Club. Almost inevitably there were tensions and reactions between the two Clubs, but there was also collaboration and joint publication. Another imitator was the Abbotsford Club, set up after the death of Scott by the brilliant and unstable advocate W.B.D.D. Turnbull. This was a very erratic affair, since the Club lacked a consistent publishing policy. By the early 1840s it was clear that it should be wound up. It had also become evident during the 1830s that there was a need for the publishing Clubs to have more public and larger memberships. Another Club founded in 1833, the Iona Club, pointed the way. It was set up mainly by W.F. Skene and D. Gregory to publish materials relating to the history and antiquities of the highlands. The Club only produced one volume, but it was an important portent for in its first year of membership it acquired 111 members, each subscribing 1 guinea (the Bannatyne Club subscription was 5 guineas).

The Bannatyne had its imitators in England. In 1834 James Raine helped to set up the Surtees Society in Durham. This Society had an unlimited number of members each paying 1 guinea per year. The Camden Society set up in 1838 was a similar institution. The Camden was particularly important because it seems to have provided a model for the Spalding Club set up in 1839 in Aberdeen as a result of proposals from a group of Aberdeen lawyers. They had publicly advertised a proposal to set up the Club, which had an annual subscription of £l.

The religious controversies of the mid 19th century also helped to found historical clubs. It is to these arguments that we owe the origins of the Presbyterian Woodrow Society in 1841, and the Spottiswoode Society in 1843. But the events which gave rise to these clubs also broke them – the Disruption certainly broke the Woodrow Society and perhaps helped to destroy the Bannatyne and Maitland Clubs, as religious controversy not only severed personal friendships but broke a general consensus about the aims and uses of history. In this situation the survival of the Spalding Club should probably be attributed to the combined strength of local patriotism and the religious conservatism of North East Scotland.

Another factor in the decline of the Clubs was probably that, there was no clear idea of what should be the result of their activities. Although one impetus in founding the Bannatyne Club had been Scott’s recognition that a proper history of Scotland could only be based on original sources (he had first suggested to P.F. Tytler that he undertake the task) publication for its own sake was the Club’s main rationale. This was true for some of the other Clubs as well. In such publication the clubs had undoubtedly been very successful, but equally clearly this one aim on its own had not been enough to ensure their survival.


In opening the discussion the Chairman commented that the idea of patriotic utility typified by the Bannatyne Club went much further back than the Enlightenment. But a new feature was the use of records or documented material. Further comment suggested that the Bannatyne Club was not the only indication of a different feeling towards Scottish history. The publication of Jamieson’s Dictionary and of early Scottish prose writing at about the same time raised the idea of Scotland as a nation with a history which was worth studying. A further point which was urged was that Scott might be seen as the father of Scottish social history. This was not, however, generally accepted as altogether a good thing, since some of his work (the Tales of a Grandfather, in particular) could be blamed for a number of the misconceptions about medieval Scottish history which still persisted.

Considering the fall of the Clubs, it was suggested that the cost of printing may have been one factor in the difficulty of their continued survival. It was only in the 1860s that the cost of printing dropped dramatically and before then the high cost of production may have helped to keep subscriptions high and output expensive. The use of record type by the Bannatyne Club, although not by later clubs, might be another factor in the situation.

Father Dilworth raised the question as to how much of the activity of the Club was a product of the romantic revival. Dr Ash thought that one of the main contributions in the publishing proposals came from interest in early Scots law and that it was probably this as much as anything else which led to, for example, the publication of the monastic cartularies. Further comment suggested that the romantic revival probably helped to create a climate of opinion within which the work of the Club could flourish. A parallel might be seen in revived interest in gothic architecture. It was also pointed out that the sense of patriotism in the activity of the Clubs could be found elsewhere, particularly in Germany with the publication of the Monumenta Germainiae Historica.

Developing the point about national consciousness, Mr Munro suggested that the Disruption led to a diminution of interest because other subjects called for attention and caught the imagination. Dr Ash agreed that it was not only so but that after the Disruption there was a virulent pamphlet warfare, particularly from the side of the Free Church, which affected the interpretation of a number of historical episodes. Professor McQueen commented that nevertheless the idea of the historical club lived on, apart from the survival of the Spalding Club. The work of the Bannatyne Club in publishing literary texts had been continued by the Scottish Text Society and the Scottish History Society. Dr Watt suggested that one facet of the importance of the Clubs was the contact between their activity and the general lack of interest in the Scottish universities at that time in Scottish’ history. Further speakers commented that this perhaps merely underlined the point earlier made that there was no sense of an ultimate use to which the published texts were to be put. Although Tytler had worked from original sources he was a lonely figure and there was still considerable room for the texts to be used in a positive way to produce a factual, as distinct from an opinionated, account of what actually happened. In concluding Dr Ash said that the rise and fall of the clubs would still bear further investigation. Although the influence of the Disruption had clearly been important in their fall, it might not be the entire explanation. Buokle’s History was probably very influential in Scotland, and this may have been a blow against the idea of publication by the Clubs. Finally, she drew attention to the important role of Cosmo Innes as an editor in the later life of the Bannatyne Club. Previous commentators during discussion had drawn attention to this role. But there were still some considerable mysteries about Innes’ life and working methods. In particular, few letters from him were known to have survived. The discovery of such correspondence might add considerably to- our knowledge of the Clubs in the 1840s.

20th Conference: Saturday 8 January 7.30 p.m.

Scotland and Hagi: Talk by Mr Alexander Fenton.

Mr Fenton explained that the title of his talk referred to the crofting system in Shetland. The crofts were normally separated from common grazing by hill dykes. The grazings were the area beyond the dykes and were usually called scattalds. The derivation of the name was almost certainly from ‘skat’ meaning a tax, usually on arable land. But why should it be applied to grazings? Other names suggested different uses of the common grazings. For example, there were ‘Quoy’ names (that is, folds) and ‘Settr’ (settlement names) in grazings which might otherwise be regarded as part of the scattald. One could find other intrusions in the common grazings with such names as ‘out-breaks’ and ‘out-casts’. It was likely that the spread of settlement reached its peak in Shetland in the 18th and 19th centuries with the settlements known as ‘out-sets’. Sometimes there were many of these and the old proportions of grazings to arable land broke down.

In the Faroes the areas beyond the hill dykes are known as hagi. Individual holders normally had a share proportional to the holding in the ‘inmark’. But these shares were not normally delineated. The word hagi was also used in Shetland and survived in place names in the form ‘hoga of’, as in ‘lambhoga’. Hagi itself has the emphasis of a noun and is also found in compound names eg ‘haglet’ is an enclosed piece of hill pasture regularly used for grazing and a mark between two pastures is a thagstane’ or ‘hagmark’.

The scattald could have several townships with rights in it. There were regular inspections of the bounds of the scattalds. This was apparently a custom with a long weight of tradition behind it, including that of giving the tenants’ sons a thrashing on the way to impress on them the existence and placing of the hagstanes.

There are similarities elsewhere. One can say that the ‘Wolmenning’ (common garths in Unst) are variants of the Norse word ‘Allmening’ which means common land. Part of the hagi could be a common pasture shared between scattalds. In old Swedish, ‘hagi’ was equivalent to an enclosed pasture and one finds it as a place name element combined with animal names. The hagi could also be divided into precise areas and one finds r.hushagi, and ‘fialhagi’ (hill hagi).

One could also find in Scandinavia a distinction between summer and winter use, but this is not usual in Shetland except in Paula and Yell. In Unst the use of the word ‘hogaland’ as a pasture for cattle survived into the 20th century. One also finds the term ‘hogaleave’ – that is, permission to graze cattle, cast peats and cut grass or thatch etc in the scattald. In Unst there are examples of townships without their own common pasture. Hogaleave would apply in such cases, and other places eg islands off Unst, claimed hogaleave on Unst itself until the early 19th century.

While it woe clear that hagi was always a grazing area, the origin of the scattald is more complex. It appears at first to have been a fiscal unit covering all land available to a group of settlements.. It was possible that chapel and scattald areas were broadly similar. From the 16th century there is evidence that there were persons with and persons without shares in the scattalds.

The origin of the word is also mysterious. Tax was normally paid on the cultivated land, which had proportionate grazing shares. The grazings were originally unskatted, at least before a certain period and probably always. Traditionally skat is paid on scattalds but no skat is paid if there are no common rights eg out-lyers do not pay skat. Some new ‘roums’ pay skat to a superior tenant but not to the Crown. Even so, it is clear that in some instances skat was not proportional to the holdings and that payment of skat was not always a tax – sometimes it was a rent or perhaps even compensation. Several records of scattalds survive, so it is possible to work out some scattald boundaries. There are, for example, 17th century descriptions of a scattald setting out the boundaries. It is through these boundaries and the existence of the scattalds that on can perhaps more easily see the older settlement patterns in Shetland.


In discussion it was mentioned that the practice of following boundaries on the ground was not quite dead, at least as far as the Land Court was concerned. Further consideration of the identity of scattalds and parishes. suggested that the relationship between the two was not altogether clear, but that perhaps the scattalds came later. Mr Fenton additionally pointed out that scattalds do not apparently exist in Orkney and that there seemed to be no scattald place names as such there. So the name and the practices associated with it are no doubt secondary to hagi.

Professor McQueen asked whether there was any information about the amount of skat paid. The word ‘treen’ was usually related to the ounce of silver, and he wondered whether any fiscal units were related to skats. Mr Fenton said that the most usual equivalent was with one or more merklands, but there was no consistency in the usage.

20th Conference: Sunday 9 January 11.00 p.m.

Castles in Ireland and Scotland: Talk by Dr Tom McNeill

Chairman: Dr E. Talbot

Dr, McNeill proposed to discuss and illustrate the development of castles in the earldom of Ulster, using physical evidence to show something of the state of society. His interest was mainly the lesser castles, the lesser landlords, and their adaptation to life in a border Earldom. The interaction and confrontation between the Celtic world and the incoming Anglo-Normans was perhaps starker in Ireland than in Scotland, since in the former the conquest had been military. Celtic and Anglo-Norman societies in Ireland remained largely separate.

Up to the early part of the 13th century the main strength of the earldom of Ulster lay in Down and South Antrim. The earldom was much smaller than the whole area to the east of the River Bann. By 1333 the Anglo-Norman settlement in Down was really no larger than a century earlier. The situation was more complex in Antrim. North Antrim was probably conquered early in the 13th century and possibly no later than c.1242. Later in the century settlement was pushed along the coast towards Derry. The northern and western growth in this area was not, however, uniform, and the Irish Kingdom of Ui Tuirtre remained as a wedge nearly dividing the Earldom across mid Lntrim. In general, Ulster was a border Earldom. No part of it was more than 10 miles from the sea, or more than a day’s raiding distance from Irish country. Some parts of the earldom were valuable, particularly the more settled farming areas nearer the coast; this was in sharp contrast to the recorded values for Irish lands in general. It is probable that the wealth rested on grain exports to Northern England via Chester.

Anglo-Norman invaders built stone castles from the start, often starting with a smallish enclosure. At Dundrum, for example, which was built at the latest by the early 13th century there was a polygonal curtain wall and a slightly later stone keep. The type survived in Ulster until at least 1254, when Seafin Castle in Down was rebuilt. A further example of the type was Doonbought in Antrim. Excavation in 1969 at this border castle revealed rough masonry work and a polygonal plan of an enclosure shaped around a natural outcrop. Similar examples of the type occur in Antrim at Connor; Cross; and Court McMartin. None of these castles is mentioned in documentary evidence except for Seafin. They all have similar polygonal shapes and battered plinths of rough stone work: they may be considered together as late thirteenth century.

The military functions of these castles are not yet entirely clear. It is tempting to link then with the military problem of controlling territory in Ireland. Generally, the problem was one of seeking to counter small raids by small numbers of men. A castle, in short, could be small so long as it was ‘riot-proof’.

There were further Irish characteristics if one considered earthwork castles and in particular the role of the bailey. A general view, from a study of English matte and bailey castles, was that the motte was used for refuge and the bailey for normal living. But a study of some 120 sites in Ireland showed that only 24 per cent had baileys. Moreover, the baileys appeared almost entirely in border castles. The classic Irish matte and bailey site at Dromore in Down has a very small attached bailey – it is only 100 feet across and yet is the largest bailey in Ulster. Ballygroney has 2 very small baileys. Documentary evidence late in the reign of King John shows that castle garrisons might be very small – for example, Antrim Castle in 1211-1212 had a garrison of 2 knights, 18 foot soldiers and, for the time being, another 40 men who were paid in cows. The latter were probably native Irish mercenaries.

The general problem was where the people who owned and used these motte castles were expected to live. Did they live beside the motte unprotected by a castle bailey? This seems unlikely. One has to recall that there was a need for protection not only for living quarters for the lord and his followers but also for domestic animals and above all, grain in barns. Irish mottes had their own peculiar features. Ballywalter motte, which is typical for Ulster, is comparatively low but broad. It is sited on a ridge. Eight further illustrated sites from County Down could all be contrasted with English mottes which generally were higher and narrower. Excavations at Clough in Down had revealed that, in a large motte and a very small bailey, the hall for living was on the motte. This suggested that Irish mottes were broader to make it easier to accommodate permanent living quartets.

If it could be accepted that in Ireland it was normal for daily life to take place on the motte, this in turn raised the problem of the manor in Anglo-Norman Ulster. Documentary evidence suggested that there was a system of manors with territorial divisions. But there were reasons for wondering whether the English manorial system had in fact been imported. There was evidence of light work service and villeinage in Ulster, perhaps because the Anglo-Normans could not afford to bear heavily on English tenants, since they needed to attract settlers. An inquisition of 1333 contains descriptions of several manors. One is described as including a borough, but it is clear that manor and borough are several miles distance from each other. The manors are unlike the English type, with centralised demesne farms.

Survey work shows that there are large numbers of mottes in Antrim and Down. They do not seem to have the attributes of farms and to the extent that they were the head of a manor wore probably fiscal centres only. The actual settlement of the manor was probably dispersed, with the lords living in small halls on mattes, and working their lands with Irish tenants. In all probability they lived more like minor Irish lords and drew their rents in the form of food renders rather than from demesne farming in the English fashion.

Turning to the probability of castle building by Irish lords, particularly in Ui Tuirtre Dr McNeill took the view that Doonbought was perhaps founded on the site of an earlier Irish castle. Excavation had revealed an earlier dry stone cashel wall and a small timber frame building which did not look like Anglo-Norman work. It was to be dated perhaps to the early 13th century. Another example was the building known as Harry Avery’s Castle in Tyrone. This is an Irish site on the 13/14th century, perhaps the latter. The main block of the castle is modelled on an English gate-house, and behind the gate-house there is a polygonal enclosure. The gate-house, gives no direct access to the enclosure but houses a hall and chambers at first floor level. One can see it as a precursor of later tower houses in Ireland such as Kilclief Castle. The line of development is in the use of relatively small-but defensible and riot-proof houses, conceivably used in the same way as proposed for mottes.

In summary, the general picture of life in the border Earldom of Ulster was that the English way of life had undergone considerable adaptation. The Earl of Ulster lived like an English magnate, but his followers were not living like their English counter-parts. It was a different picture from that which could be derived from south-east Ireland near Dublin. Castles were clearly an essential part of the Anglo-Norman domination of Ulster. From the 13th century onwards there is evidence of Irish use of castles and perhaps a strengthening of Irish kings vis a vis their own followers.

How does this picture affect Scotland? Two points seemed to stand out. First, a consideration of mottes in Scotland not only showed their preponderance in what might be described as border areas but also showed that perhaps only 25 per cent of them had baileys. This immediately posed the second point – did the line of development in Scotland, as proposed in Ulster, lead from the motte to a style of tower house? Further investigation would be needed to prove or disprove this possibility, but it should be noted that the plan of Mingary Castle was very like Irish examples. It might look strange in a Scottish setting, but it was very familiar to those who knew the Irish background. There were many links between North Antrim and the Western Isles, and a style of castle building adapted to the raids and warfare of that area could well have travelled from one part to another.


In reply to questions from Mr Wormald and Mr Fenton about the relationship of food growing areas to the castles, Dr McNeill said that this was still obscure. To some extent it would depend on the number of English peasants working the land. There was no evidence as to whether or not more food was grown around mottes without baileys or otherwise. There was some evidence that one rath site might have been used as a grain store but there was so far no further evidence of such organisation.

Professor McQueen inquired how fax it might be said that pre-Norman sites were used. Dr McNeill replied that the Current view was that Diraldus Cambrensis was right in claiming that when the invasion took place the old raths were abandoned and that the Irish were defeated because they did nut make use of castles. Although it was clear that raths were not necessarily fortified sites – for example, there were rarely signs of palisades in them – there was no reason to doubt the general validity of the view.

Discussing questions about the weapons used, Dr McNeill suggested that the most significant factor was the use of the gallowglass from the later 13th century onwards. These men would normally be armed with axes. The Irish had no tradition of archery comparable to that of the English. It was, however, clear that later in the medieval period the Irish had adopted the use of light horsemen (hobillars).

Finally Dr McNeill, when discussing the functions of small castles, explained that there was no evidence as yet of permanent timber buildings either on mottes or within the curtain walls of the small stone castles. More work was needed to establish whether or not they had existed.