66th Conference 2023

The 66th Conference of the Scottish Medievalists was held 7-8 January 2023

66th Conference
Professor Hector MacQueen presents Professor Sandy Grant a leather-bound copy of Kingship, Lordship and Sanctity in Medieval Britain: Essays in Honour of Alexander Grant.

Session 1: Marian and Jacobean Scotland

Chair: Steven J. Reid

Beth Cowen (Glasgow): ‘“Political Manoeuvring and Persuasive Arguments”: James VI of Scotland’s Dynastic Politics & Family Management’

This paper examined James VI of Scotland’s Scottish reign in the context of the Elizabethan succession question. Specifically, it focused on the ways in which James managed his immediate family history and his contemporary family life in order to enhance his rule and his claim to the English throne. By exploring the ways that James used his parents as commodities and leverage, and how he attempted to create an image for himself as the father of a Stewart dynasty, it will demonstrate that James utilised the past to attain his present goals and to position himself as close to the English throne as possible.

Joseph Ellis, (Sheffield): ‘The Progresses of James VI: politics, pageantry and royal authority on the road’

On 23rd April 1586, the earls Bothwell and Mar heard that the king was set to ride to Falkland. Naturally, they expected to accompany him, reasoning that ‘if his grace had occasion of any journey, it would please him to let them know it’. The king, however, disagreed, replying sharply that ‘he was not to be directed by them, for he would ride when it pleased him, and take with him whom he list himself’. Perhaps, this was merely the irritated outburst of a young monarch keen to assert his prerogative. But this episode is much more significant, and indicative of James’s emerging style of personal kingship. In the years that followed, he would indeed ‘ride when it pleased him’ and control who remained closest to him as he travelled.  Progresses, the focus of my research, are extensive tours of the realm, upon which James was accompanied by a large retinue of the court. He lodged in the homes of provincial and civic elites and elements of public display were incorporated into the journeys. Most importantly, progresses were deployed with politics in mind, sometimes overtly, but often under the guise of royal sociability. I suggest that, for James, movement and access were weapons with which he wielded his authority in Scotland. In this paper, I present a brief overview of the motivations and logistics behind James VI’s Scottish progresses, and the contemporary audience engagement with them. 

John Malden (Heraldry Society of Scotland): ‘The Heraldry of the State Funeral of Mary Queen of Scots’

Following her execution in late February 1587, Mary Queen of Scots embalmed body, enclosed in lead, remained at Fotheringay Castle whilst Queen Elizabeth wondered what to do next.  There had been strong reaction from the French, but little from Scotland. The original plan was to body the body in Fotheringay Church.

However, by early June, the stench from the decomposing body was too much to stand and Elizabeth ordered a state funeral. Prepared in only two weeks and involving 59 staff from the royal court and 76 employed locally, food was prepared for 200 mourners whilst mourning clothes were supplied.  All the accounts for the funeral’ the food, the mourning clothes and the heraldry survive, together with eye witness accounts from French and English participants and a drawing of the procession.  The French reports name the individual Scots present whilst the English do not.  The body was immediately buried in the south aisle of Peterborough Cathedral where it remained until 1612 when it was removed without ceremony to Westminster Abbey.

66th Conference
Reconstruction of part of Mary’s Funeral procession, by Mark Dennis.

Session 2: Literary-Historical Intersections

Chair: Nicola Royan

Thomas Fairfax (Nottingham): ‘Caithness and the House of Frakkǫk: Revisiting Orkneyinga saga’s ‘Clan Moddan’

Orkneyinga saga, an Icelandic text composed in the thirteenth century, contains an array of kinship information relating to the jarls of Orkney and their contemporaries in Caithness and the Northern Isles. The saga’s genealogies portray an interconnected Late Norse world, in which the earldom mixed with the families of powerful chieftains across Scandinavia and the British Isles. Of those connected to the jarls’ dynasty, the group named by later scholars as ‘Clan Moddan’ is one of the most influential in the text, playing a substantial role in both the saga’s narrative and its genealogies. Moddan’s daughter Frakkǫk appears to have held an estate in Sutherland. By looking at the saga’s kinship information in tandem with other historical evidence, this paper will argue that the network surrounding Frakkǫk Moddansdóttir was the most important political force in Caithness during the twelfth century. Acknowledging this allows us to re-interpret Orkneyinga saga’s tale about Frakkǫk’s murder and question conventional historical narratives about the Scottish kings’ interventions in Caithness and Sutherland.

Thomas Fairfax
Viking Longship themed flower display in Helmsdale

Thomas Owen Clancy (Glasgow) ‘The Earliest Scottish Play?’

In this paper, I argued that a short text titled De Clericis et de Rustico “The Two Clerks and the Peasant” might be considered the “earliest Scottish play”. This entailed considering first its Scottishness, and second the validity of considering it a play. The text itself is a form of Latin verse dialogue, written in elegaic couplets.  It recounts, entirely through dialogue, a meeting between three pilgrims, two seemingly urbane clerks, the third a rusticus, a countryman or peasant. Finding themselves in a town overnight with only the peasant’s morsel of bread or cake for food, they agree that whoever has the best dream will get to eat it; the clerks think to trick the rustic this way, figuring him to be stupid. Eventually, however, the peasant wins out by eating the loaf while they are asleep. The text is found only in two manuscripts, Glasgow University Library, MS Hunter 511, dating to around 1220 or 1230, and the earlier Vatican MS Reginenses Latini 344, from around 1200, a miscellany of Latin texts of various types, primarily verse. Our text is found situated in a tranche of texts which are patently Scottish, including a poem addressed to William the Lion, a poem celebrating Hugh of Roxbrugh, the chancellor of Scotland from 1189 until 1199; and a poem on Melrose. Our text is situated (with a couple of other short items) in between these latter two texts. I argued that it is possible that the manuscript as a whole was created in Scotland; but even if not, this tranche of material has been derived from Scotland, and so De Clericis et de Rustico can, albeit tentatively, be argued to have also originated in Scotland, perhaps at the monastery of Melrose. As regards its status as a play, I turned to scholarship on the text, which in recent decades have been positive about the texts clear performative aspects: it is rendered entirely in speech with no infills or speech markers; indeed, it is hard to understand with either performing it or assigning speakers to the segments of dialogue. I concluded by suggesting the significance of the text, if my argument were to be accepted. First, it predates the texts usually classified as the earliest Scottish plays by some three centuries. Second, it actually shares some common features with those later plays which are worth exploring: intersection with 12th-century Latin comedies; and the possibility of being a text designed for students to perform.

Session 3: The 5th A.A.M. Duncan Memorial Lecture

Alex Woolf Chair

Paul Gething (Durham): ‘The Perfect Sword: Forging the Dark Ages’

In 2000, archaeologist Paul Gething rediscovered a sword, an unprepossessing length of rusty metal, which had been left in a suitcase for thirty years. Specialist tests revealed this to be possibly the finest, and certainly the most complex early medieval sword ever made, which had been forged in seventh-century Northumberland by an anonymous swordsmith.

This talk explored the material properties of the sword, and the processes needed to forge a replica. It also explored the wider archaeological contexts of Bamburgh, particularly a contemporary elite burial ground excavated over several decades. Discussion was also made on the literary evidence of the warrior society that produced the blade, and broader comparisons to other warrior societies.

Sunday 8 January 66th Conference 2023

Session 4: Medieval and Early Modern Scotland, through a Gendered Lens

Chair: Morvern French

Karen Dempsey (Cardiff): ‘Gendered Lives at Caerlaverock Castle: exploring masculine identities in later medieval Scotland’

In castle studies traditional research comprises detailed architectural description, a focus on landscape and power or historical profiles of notable inhabitants: particularly elite men, for whom greater written evidence survives. Yet recent scholarship has shown there exists great potential for vibrant multi-vocal accounts of past people and their social identities. This collaborative paper takes the opportunity to build a combined historical and archaeological narrative that emphasises the gendered lives of people living or working at the castle complex of Caerlaverock between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. In this we take a microscale material history approach that focuses on explorations of gender at this castle which, while a centre of elite culture, could be viewed as peripheral to wider noble networks. By exploring the rich remains revealed during excavation and set within its cultural context we can begin to access the material lives of medieval people. Here,, we will only explore elite and ordinary masculinities, and the related sensorial and emotional lives of men with concerns about power, relationships, and the dangers of everyday life.

A hand tinted postcard of Caerlaverock Castle dating to about 1900.

Emma Trivett (Edinburgh): ‘Managing Expectations?: Negotiating Royal (In)fertility in Medieval Scotland

David II of Scotland was married twice, first to Joan of the Tower and then to Margaret Drummond but neither marriage produced any children. While historians have acknowledged that not producing a biological heir was a barrier to David’s success as king, the significance of his infertility has not been considered through a gendered lens. In this paper, I discuss evidence of David’s pilgrimages and increased employment of physicians in late 1350s-60s. I argue that David II’s infertility was a barrier to his mature, masculine identity as king and he was working to promote fertility with pilgrimages and medical care in the period when his childlessness was a particularly politicised issue in domestic affairs and interregnal peace negotiations with Edward III. Crucially, David’s pilgrimages and employment of physicians were visible efforts which were witnessed by his court and political community. I suggest that the king’s pilgrimages and investment in medical care signalled his attention to remedying infertility to the Scottish political community to gain their support for his peace deal with Edward III. Ultimately, being seen to manage infertility was crucial for perceptions of David’s masculine identity and kingship in the 1350s-60s.

Jane Dawson (Edinburgh emerita): ‘Revisiting Kate: Lady Glenorchy and other women in the Breadalbane Letters (1548-1583)

This takes a fresh look at Katherine Ruthven, Lady Glenorchy (d. 1584) and the other women whose letters appear in the Breadalbane Letters (1548-83) (https://www.ed.ac.uk/divinity/research/resources/breadalbane). A selection [202] was printed in Clan Campbell Letters, 1559-1583 SHS 5th ser. 10 1997; also online at NLS Digital).

Fifty incoming letters to Lady Glenorchy have survived but only two outgoing ones. She was the daughter of William, 2nd Lord Ruthven, and Janet Halyburton and was raised at Huntingtower and Direlton castles. Kate, as she was sometimes affectionately called by her correspondents, was married to ‘Grey Colin’, 6th laird of Glenorchy (d. 1583) whose main residence of Balloch castle lay at the east end of Loch Tay. Kate’s correspondents ranged across family, friends, servants and even those who had been enemies. They also included high-ranking nobles and royal officials. Kate was privy to, and at times in sole charge of, her husband’s correspondence and was the prime mover in the negotiations for the marriages of her son, Duncan, the Glenorchy heir, and her daughter, Margaret. In addition to her own correspondence, many of the letters sent to Grey Colin included specific greetings to Kate.

Letters from three other women are contained within the collection with Agnes Campbell, Lady Dunivaig, and Annabella Murray, Countess of Mar, writing to Grey Colin and Jean Stewart, Countess of Argyll’s letter to the earl of Atholl also included. Several more letters written by Kate to Annas Keith, Countess of Moray and Argyll, survive in the Moray MSS. What has become clearer is, that for Scottish noblewomen of the period, Kate’s experience was probably closer to the norm than the exception. These women stood at the heart of their own networks and were heavily involved in local, regional and even national politics.

Session 5 Anderson Dunlop Award Reports

Chair: Anna Groundwater

Sally Foster (Stirling): ‘Authenticity’s child: current meanings and future destinies for the Stone of Scone’

Authenticity’s Child: current meanings and future destinies for the ‘Stone of Scone’ is a longitudinal, multi-stranded and interdisciplinary study designed to take place over several years. With no firm results to offer at this early stage, the paper shared approach and progress. The Anderson Dunlop Fund proved invaluable to initiate a study relating to the Stone of Destiny, specifically in relation to fieldwork at Westminster Abbey, with further funding since secured from Historic Environment Scotland, Stirling’s Centre for Scottish Studies and further grant applications submitted. Further details of the project can be found on thestone.stir.ac.uk.  

The main research questions are: what is the contemporary authenticity and value of the Stone and its replicas (1996 – present – near future); how and why does the itinerary (movement of the Stone) affect such attributes; what are the implications of this understanding for the Stone’s future, noting the political context; and what are the wider implications of this research for heritage and museum practices? The aim is to understand and give voice to the contemporary authenticity and social value of the Stone and its recent life-stages from a critical heritage perspective, adding to its better-researched earlier lives.  The overall project’s methodology employs mixed methods, primarily focused ethnographic and qualitative fieldwork combining semi-structured interviews, short interviews, focus groups and participant observation that offer ‘intense routes to knowing’ through rapid but deep reflections. This is complemented by extensive use of archival sources and memorabilia. Authenticity’s child has begun with a critical re-examination of the 1996 repatriation of the Stone in its 1950/51 context. So far, long interviews have been conducted long interviews with 12 people from Scotland and England who have an intimate experience of events in 1996, including a Westminster Abbey Canon. With one exception, these took place in their homes or offices, with ready access to their Stone memorabilia. In parallel, extensive archival material, including unpublished oral histories, has been gathered from Westminster Abbey, National Archives of Scotland (includes government files only made accessible in recent years), Historic Environment Scotland, Gairloch Museum, Scottish Political Archive and interviewees themselves. At the same time, an ethically approved autoethnographic study of experiences on this panel is being conducted. The perspectives of academics and curators predominate and will offer a counterpoise to other expert and non-expert perspectives.

Selection of Souvenirs of the Coronation Chair, complete with stone.

Alice Blackwell & Helen Wyld (National Museum of Scotland): ‘The medieval royal textiles of Dunfermline’

Funds were awarded by the Anderson Dunlop to support the development of a collaborative research project on textile remains found when a royal tomb in Dunfermline Abbey was opened in 1818. Recent research has revisited accounts of the tomb’s opening, its surviving material remains and the longstanding association with King Robert I (Fraser 2005; Penman 2009; Wilkinson et al 2016; MacGregor and Wilkinson 2019a; MacGregor and Wilkinson 2019b). While collectively this work has been wide-reaching and interdisciplinary, including the reconstruction of a 14th-century-style marble tomb monument from dispersed fragments, and a facial reconstruction from a skull cast, it did not include analysis of surviving textile remains found within the tomb (known in antiquarian literature as the ‘cloth of gold’). These fragments of an elaborate cloth woven from silk and gold thread are extremely rare survivals. They are the only such fragments known to survive from Scotland and as such are vital and evocative physical evidence for the material culture of the medieval royal Scottish court.

The objective of this project is to establish as much information about the surviving silk fragments as possible with a view to understanding when and where the textile was made and reconstructing its original appearance. Identifying the cloth will enhance our knowledge of the trade or diplomatic connections that brought luxury imported silks to Scotland, while reconstructing its elaborate design will further our understanding of the royal deployment of European elite visual symbolism. Significantly in the context of the Dunfermline tomb and its identification as that of either King Robert I (died 1329; MacGregor 2019b) or King David I (died 1153; Penman 2009), the fragments also provide another means to date the internment, both through comparative analysis with other silks and, potentially, through scientific analysis and radiocarbon dating.

Four fragmentary pieces of the Dunfermline silk are preserved in the collections of National Museums Scotland, along with at least three further fragments in other collections (Glasgow Museums and two private collections). The fragments are a brocaded silk with an elaborate but poorly surviving and undeciphered design formed by metal-wrapped thread and a second colour of silk. Our preliminary work to date has produced composite panoramic magnified images of each of the NMS fragments to enable analysis at an individual thread level (Image 1). A specialist in medieval and renaissance silks, Lisa Monnas (eg 1987; 1990; 2009) was funded by the Anderson Dunlop to support in-person analysis of the fragments by the silk. Lisa’s report to inform planned future analysis of the dyes and metal-wrapped thread and consider the potential for radiocarbon dating. Alice and Helen will continue ongoing research to establish whether further fragments are preserved in other collections before combining evidence from all the surviving pieces to give the best chance of reconstructing the poorly preserved design.

Here the 66th Conference ended.