Wars of Independence - Perspective

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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.


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