Wars of Independence - Perspective

Play Controls


Dr Alastair MacDonald and Professor Geoffrey Barrow discuss the propaganda war between Scotland and England and escalation towards actual war, as well as the development of Scottish identity both before and after the wars of independence.


The propaganda war

Dr Alastair MacDonald

England and Scotland waged a real war in the Wars of Independence, but they also waged a propaganda war at various levels, and it’s hard to say in some senses who won that war.  It depends to some extent what audience the propaganda was aimed at: there was a domestic audience for propaganda, for instance, and I think in this sense both the Scottish and English crowns were able to reach out to their domestic audience and very effective inculcate an enthusiasm for war and a hatred of the other.

Robert I, for instance, sent out firebrand preachers early in his reign to try and rouse up the Scots against the English, and this seems to have been effective - certainly the English were concerned about his activities in this regard. Similarly, the English crown quite clearly reaches out to chronicle writers, to popular poets, who write very scathingly anti-Scottish verse, and if this can in some way to be taken to reflect wider opinion then hostility at the ordinary level in society is starting to be developed through propaganda against the other realm. 

Scottish crowns also in their propaganda tried to appeal to foreign powers as well; it wasn’t just aimed at domestic audiences.  So one of the obvious examples of this was the Papacy, both the English and the Scottish crown put their case before the Papacy in terms of outlining the rights and wrongs of the Anglo-Scottish struggle.  The Scots acquitted themselves quite capably in presenting propaganda to the various Popes during the Wars of Independence period, most famously perhaps in 1301 Baldred Bisset led an expedition to the Papacy of Boniface VIII and put the Scottish case forward apparently very effectively.  And Boniface VIII seems to have been able to look favourably upon the Scottish cause, maybe partly because he quite liked to have ways in which he would try to curb the power and authority of the kings of England and France. 

Robert I had much more difficult relations with the Papacy, not surprisingly given that he murdered somebody and then seized the throne.  He had a long struggle in trying to get Papal recognition of his own rule, Papal approval of the struggle against England.  The most famous highlight of that, the climax of that, was the Declaration of Arbroath so called, a letter nominally from the barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII.  There were mixed fortunes I think between the Scots and the English when they appealed to foreign powers, they had propaganda aimed obviously at other powers as well as the Papacy, but the Papacy stands as a good example.

One of the important things to draw from this I think is that propaganda was regarded as a very important battleground between England and Scotland.  In some senses we’re getting towards total war, all the arms of the state must be involved in trying to achieve victory to the death against a very staunch enemy.


Scottish identity

Professor Geoffrey Barrow

The development of Scottish identity of course was a gradual business, starting in the 12th, if not the 11th Century, certainly starting by the 12th Century 

Dr Alastair MacDonald

I think it’s quite clear that Scottish national identity, something we can call Scottish national identity, did exist before the Wars of Independence, but it’s also quite clear I think that that sort of concept gets greatly sharpened by warfare, especially the prolonged sort of warfare that occurred between England and Scotland.

Professor Geoffrey Barrow

Had the Scots been defeated by either Edward I or Edward II we probably would have had a different organisation of the island of Britain.  Probably southern Scotland would have been absorbed into England, and the north and the Highlands probably left as a kind of subordinate sub-kingdom of some sort of other.

Dr Alastair MacDonald

By the end of the 13th Century there was a sense that people who were subjects of the king of Scots had a communal identity of some sort, that they were Scots under one crown.  I think we can see this sense of identity in action as soon as Alexander III dies in 1286; the Scottish guardians clearly seem to be acting on behalf of some sort of sense of a community that represents the Scottish kingdom.  You can see this in symbolism, the fact that there’s a St Andrew’s cross on the Guardian seal, so I think there’s definitely identity, both Scottish and English, before the Wars of Independence break out. 

And I think we can see that both in terms of a positive identity, but also in terms of negativity, in terms of xenophobia, of hatred of the other, in the Scottish case hatred of the English, often in the English case hatred of the Scots.  One trivial example, or seemingly trivial example, is the fact that Scots abuse the English as soon as war breaks out in 1296 for having tails; this is a widely held belief in the middle-ages that the English have got something demonic about them.  So the Scots are using this even in 1296, but that sort of stereotyping and these sorts of xenophobic and nationalistic, I suppose in the worst sense, attitude, you can see them increasingly once war becomes entrenched and continues.


Referring Articles

Related Videos

  1. Dr Ewen A Cameron, Professor Tom Devine and Professor Richard Finlay discuss changes to Scottish identity at a local, national and British level, as well as the crumbling empire and attempts to rebuild the Scottish image.

  2. Professor Richard Finlay, Dr Ewen A Cameron and Professor Tom Devine discuss war losses in Scotland, Scotland's creation of war memorials, post-war emigration and the impact on Scottish identity.

  3. Professor Elaine McFarland, Professor Hew Strachan, Dr William Kenefick, Mr Alex Weir and Dr Catriona MacDonald discuss Scottish martial tradition and the Scottish contribution to the war.

  4. Dr Catriona MacDonald, Dr William Kenefick and Professor Elaine MacDonald discuss the growth of the Independent Labour Party, Red Clydeside and the polarisation of politics.

  5. Professor Elaine McFarland, Professor Hew Strachan, Dr Catriona MacDonald and Dr William Kenefick discuss the impact of war on heavy industry, fishing and agriculture in Scotland.

  6. Professor Elaine McFarland, Dr Catriona MacDonald and Professor Hew Strachan discuss Defence of the Realm, the changing role of women, the impact of war losses and commemoration.

  7. Dr Alastair MacDonald, Dr Michael Brown and Dr Fiona Watson discuss how well matched Scotland and England were militarily, the Scottish resistance, the role of John Balliol, the French alliance and the impact of English occupation.

  8. In this video, Davuit Broun, Professor of Scottish History at Glasgow University introduces a free multi-faceted database of every person mentioned in over 6000 documents in the 190 years before the Scottish Wars of Independence, and gives further details of how it can be used by teachers and learners in the classroom.

  9. Experts Dr Alan MacDonald, Professor Michael Lynch, Dr Steven Reid, Dr Julian Goodare and Dr Jenny Wormald compare Scotland’s reformation with those in other parts of Europe, and analyse how Scotland's relationships with France and England affected both the timing and the manner of the reformation.

  10. Dr Sharon Adams talks about the development of Scottish identity after the Union, and the reasons the union has persisted into the 21st century.