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plished prince, was defeated by his insurgent nobles



10 BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND.

and slain. James v. spent his days in useless strug-
gles with his chief subjects, and died at length heart-
broken by their treacherous desertion. The earlier
years of James vi. were little better than a disguised
captivity.

During such times no sound Constitution could
grow up. Accordingly, the Scottish Parliament, even
in its perfected form, was never powerful for good.
The burgesses had indeed been summoned to it from
an early period ; but they cared little to come, and
for all they could accomplish, might as well have
stayed away. Occasionally they passed useful laws,
which the great nobles disregarded at their pleasure.
Public spirit was roused by no great questions of
taxation as in England, probably because there was
nothing to tax. The history of revenue has been
called the history of liberty ; and perhaps Scotland
failed to achieve constitutional liberty because there
were no revenue questions which could serve as the
field of battle. The defects of the Scotch Parliament
are too well known to be repeated, were it not that
Mr. Burton has rather glossed them over. The Three
Estates voted together. No question was brought
before them unless recommended by the Lords of the
Articles a private committee, really though not in
form nominated by the Crown. The Acts of Session
were drawn up at the close by the Clerk Kegister
according to his own idea of what the votes and
resolutions of the Estates might signify. The extent
of the King's prerogative was undetermined ; and the
Parliament had not the power of electing their Speaker
the Chancellor presiding ex officio. Such a Con-
stitution afforded no security for liberty a powerful
prince had everything his own way. In early times
the liberties of the nation had little to fear from the
monarchy ; but when the King was enabled to wield



BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND. 11

the whole strength of England, the want of constitu-
tional safeguards made itself felt. Everybody knows
how the Parliaments of the English Stuarts, led by
profligate statesmen and subservient lawyers, sat only
to register the edicts of the King. Then Scottish
history was the history of alien domination and
disastrous revolt a fawning aristocracy, a corrupt
clergy, an enraged and rebellious people churchmen
like Sharp, sectaries like Burley, statesmen like Perth
and Melfort. There were doubtless many causes
which brought about all this evil ; but much of it
was certainly owing to the absence of any constitu-
tional restraints on the Sovereign, and to the want of
that steady and rational spirit of independence which
familiarity with the use of such restraints gives to a
people. The Stuarts, with all the will in the world,
could never make such wild work with the liberties
of England.

In material well-being Scotland lost even more by
the War of Independence. As an independent king-
dom she had little leisure for the pursuits of peace.
A transitory gleam of prosperity shone out in the
early days of James iv. soon to vanish in the ever-
recurring storm. The union of the Crowns, so far
from being a gain, was in this respect a detriment to
her. During Cromwell's administration, indeed, com-
plete conquest brought with it a rich consolation in
free-trade between the countries, and the privilege of
sharing in the expanding commerce of England.
But, with the exception of this brief period, during
the unprecedented prosperity which England enjoyed
from the accession of James I. to the fall of James n.,
Scotland was steadily becoming poorer. The extent
of this evil may be best illustrated by a contrast. It
is a terrible thing to say of a nation that, during a
period of four centuries, it retrograded in material



12 BURTONS HISTORY OF SCOTLAND.

well-being. Yet this may with truth be said of Scot-
land. Mr. Innes 1 lays it down as beyond dispute
that at the death of Alexander in. in 1285, Scotland
was more civilised and more prosperous than at any
period of her existence, until the time when she
ceased to be a separate kingdom in 1707. Mr.
Burton 2 and Mr. Kobertson 3 give a picture of Scot-
land at the death of Alexander in which they bring
forward satisfactory proofs of the comparative wealth
and civilisation of the country. Mr. Kobertson
is perhaps rather an enthusiastic writer ; but Mr.
Burton certainly is not ; and the latter forms quite as
favourable an estimate of the state of the country as
the former. Tradition points to the days of the Alex-
anders as a time of great well-being. There had been
peace with England for more than a hundred years
a blessing never again enjoyed until the Union. The
burghs had risen into affluence and importance, emi-
nent over the English burghs in other respects closely
resembling them by the absence of any trace of
thraldom. Berwick, styled by an enthusiastic chroni-
cler " the Alexandria of the North," held a foremost
place among the commercial cities of the island.
During the reign of the third Alexander her customs
are said to have been farmed for a sum amounting to
more than a quarter of the whole revenue of England
from similar sources ; and the story runs that in the
middle of the twelfth century a citizen of Berwick
fitted out 110 fewer than fourteen vessels for the rescue
of his wife, who had been carried off by Orkney
pirates. The purity of the coinage, and the absence
of all mention of voluntary aids, afford strong evi-

1 " Sketches of Scottish History," p. 158.

2 Vol. ii. pp. 190-198.

3 " Scotland under her Early Kings," vol. ii. pp. 171-180.



BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND. 13

dence of the wealth of the nation. Everything, in
short, that we can learn points in the same direction.
The castles of that period, and still more the noble
ecclesiastical buildings, bear witness to peace and
riches. The tariff, which was very complicated, is
proof of the luxuries in which the inhabitants were
enabled to indulge ; and a country which at that
date imported such things as pepper, almonds, figs,
beaver and sable skins, and which carefully provided
for the regulation of hostels or taverns, must have
been pretty well-to-do in the world. As Mr. Burton
says, in his familiar style, it is not easy, wanting as
we do any exact statistics, " to communicate that
general impression which the investigator carries with
him after rummaging unmethodically among old docu-
ments." But on the whole all the facts which can be
ascertained Jead us to the conclusion that Scotland
was a rich, prosperous, and happy country at the close
of the thirteenth century.

Very different was the state of Scotland at the close
of the seventeenth century. The nobility, far too
numerous for the country, were poor place-hunters ;
the gentry wandering adventurers. There was no
agriculture worthy of the name ; no trade save what
was carried on by petty pedlars. Prices were high ;
severe scarcities frequent. Slavery, though in theory
illegal, was really enforced. All colliers and salt-
makers were regarded as predial serfs. Kidnapping
was a regular trade. Donacha Dhu in the " Heart of
Midlothian " is no exaggeration. There were almost
no magistrates roads only between the large cities
rarely bridges a greater number of idiots than in any
other country and finally in all times a tenth, in evil
days a fifth, of the whole population, begging from
door to door, living in the constant commission of



14 BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND.

every kind of crime a state of things so appalling
that (as is well known) a regular system of slavery
seemed to Fletcher of Saltoun the only efficient
remedy for miseries so deeply rooted. In a word,
Scotland bought her independence at the cost of in-
conceivable material wretchedness, the loss of consti-
tutional liberty, the utter disorganisation of society,
and the arrest for nearly four hundred years of any
real progress in civilisation.

Was it worth the price ? Many Scotchmen will be
indignant at the very question ; but if we look at the
matter dispassionately the answer is not easy. We
have seen how, while Scotland as a nation gained her
independence, the people of Scotland failed to gain
their freedom. On the other hand, had Edward's
designs succeeded, Scotland would have entered on the
enjoyment of those constitutional rights which the
English people had even then achieved, and the want
of which in after years cost Scotland so dear ; her
burghers would have shared in the privileges which
Simon de Montfort had given to their English brethren,
her nobles might have stood by Bohun and Bigod,
when they won the Confirmatio Chartarum from
Edward himself. Again as regards material advance-
ment, she would have enjoyed a continuance of that
peace and order which had already raised her so high,
while she would have been admitted to a share in that
foreign trade which, even in the fourteenth century,
enabled the merchants of London to be the hosts of
princes. Nor, in Edward's defence, should we forget
that* he may be well supposed to have foreseen the
future to have been fully persuaded, that for Scot-
land the only alternative was between union and
long years of misery. Situated as Scotland was, and
related to England as she was, there was no peace
possible to her as an independent nation. Were such



BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND. 15

the views of Edward, and we can readily believe them
to have been so, he was certainly justified by the event.

Some defensive wars stand out in history the issues
of which were momentous in striking disproportion to
what at the time appeared to be the interests directly
at stake. Such was the resistance of the Greek
Kepublics to Persia such too the repulse of Athens
in the harbour of Syracuse. Such in other times was
the struggle of the Lombard Republics against Bar-
barossa, in which liberty first showed herself to modern
Europe. Little of this interest attaches to the Scotch
War of Independence. The case of Switzerland ap-
proaches it most nearly. But even there a more com-
plete success rewarded virtue, and the effects of the
contest were more widely felt. The victors of Sempach
gained for their country a more enduring liberty than
the victors of Bannockburn ; and in a later generation
the triumphs of Granson and Morat accomplished
the overthrow of the power of Burgundy, and raised
Switzerland to a conspicuous place in Europe. The
Scottish patriots secured for their country only a pro-
tracted struggle ; and so far as they brought her into
European politics at all, they made her little more
than an outlying battle-field between France and
England. Yet not on that account do they lose their
title to our sympathy. Keeping the results steadily
in view, we may doubt the expediency of the resist-
ance ; it is impossible to withhold our admiration from
the spirit which inspired it. " Not for glory," wrote
the Scotch Parliament to the Pope, " riches, or honours
did we fight, but for liberty alone, which no good man
abandons but with his life." If only they had really
achieved that liberty for which they endured so much !

Mr. Burton is the first historian, so far as we know,
who has brought out the real nature of this struggle.
It was not in any sense a struggle for national inde-



16 BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND.

pendence by a united Scottish people. In fact, the
Scottish nation, as we use the words now, can hardly
be said to have had then any existence at all. It was
simply the last desperate stand made by the Saxon
against the advancing wave of Norman aggression,
differing only in point of time and eventual success
from the stand made by Hereward or Kobin Hood ;
perhaps even more closely resembling the stand made
some hundred years later by the Scottish Celt against
the power of the Scottish Lowlander.

The first fruit of the Norman Conquest in Scotland
was a steady migration of the Saxon people northwards.
"Angles" was the name these refugees bore among the
motley races which then inhabited our country, and,
taken together with those of the same race previously
established there, they probably formed the bulk of the
population of all Lowland Scotland except Galloway.
These refugees knew the expansive power of the
tyranny from which they had fled, and could tell their
kinsmen strange and cruel tales of Norman oppression.
Every year was widening the difference between the
people subject to Norman oppression and the people
free from it, and was teaching the latter what they
might expect should this heavy yoke be ever laid
upon them. While such feelings were gaining ground
among the Saxons of Scotland, Norman adventurers
came trooping into that country just as they had into
England in the days of Edward the Confessor. Wel-
come at Court, they were not popular throughout the
country. At the death of Malcolm in. the prevailing
desire for their expulsion had nearly occasioned a
change of dynasty. Hence when the dispute as to the
crown broke out, the "middle class" if we can with
propriety apply that expression to those times at all
events a strong peasant and burgher class, for the
most part of Saxon race, saw their danger.



BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND. 17

" Historical conditions had made the Lowland Scots the
very pick of the hardy northern tribes. They were made
up of those who had left their homes whenever they found
tyranny, or, as it may be otherwise called, a strong govern-
ment pressing on them. Thither came those who had
successively swarmed off before the pressure of Varus, of
Charlemagne, of Gorme the Old, and of Harold the Fair-
haired. And the last, and perhaps the stoutest and truest
of all, were the Saxon peasants who had sought refuge from
the iron rule of the Normans among a kindred people still
free." Vol. ii. p. 281.

It mattered little to these men whether they were
ruled by the Norman Edward or by some Norman
baron who held estates in Scotland; in any case
it was Norman rule with all its varied wickedness
which was impending over them. To this they would
never submit, and hence the War of Independence.
The national instinct, therefore, which has made
Wallace the hero of that war, is justified by historical
truth. He was the impersonation of the feeling we
have described, the very type of the class among
whom that feeling was supreme. Bruce, Norman as
he was, could never have succeeded had he not broken
from his Norman compeers and his Norman King ;
and we doubt whether he could have succeeded at all
had not Wallace gone before, rousing the people by an
appeal to the feelings which stirred so strongly within
them fear and hatred of Norman tyranny.

Mr. Burton has not only brought into due promi-
nence the true causes of this war, but he is the first
Scottish historian, so far as we know, who has done
justice to the motives of Edward. We quote the
following comment on the ordinance for the Govern-
ment of Scotland, issued by Edward in 1305, not only
as enforcing powerfully the writer's views, but as a
favourable specimen of his style :

" The ordinance is not a logical or methodical document.
VOL. 1. B



18 BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND.

It mixes up the broadest projects of legislation and admin-
istration with mere personal interests and arrangements.
But it bears the impression of a high intelligence and a far
foresight, mellowed by beneficence and even kindliness.
The author of it sees that, once brought together, without
violence or goadings to national antipathy, the two nations
would naturally co-operate and fuse into one compact
empire ; and no one could be more alive to the mighty
destinies that such an empire might have to look to. Had
he begun in this spirit, there are many things to render it
credible that he might have been successful. A nationality
distinct from and antagonistic to that of the English people had
not been made before the death of Alexander III. The Scots
looked to King Edward with a paternal feeling, and had a
leaning to the English institutions. Of these they were
never afraid ; and if they could have felt assured of retain-
ing such freedom of action as these or their own native
institutions gave, they would not have been apprehensive of
innovation. What they dreaded was the prerogative power,
royal and baronial, which the Normans brought by innova-
tion on the original laws and customs of England. In the
discussion of the succession, and in the military occupation
of the country, these were set in their most offensive shape,
face to face with the people of Scotland. Throughout the
twelve years' contest, too, they were reminded over and over
again of these innovations, with which their neighbours
were still at war. They knew that when the King of England
found difficulty in gathering a sufficient force for crushing
them, it was because he was haggling with his own people
about demands for the renewal of the Great Charter and the
limitation of the forest laws ; and these reiterated demands
were nothing but the lamentation and denunciations of the
people of England for the rights and liberties of which they
deemed they had been robbed." Vol. ii. pp. 342-3.

In a well-known passage of his history, Lord
Macaulay comments on the singular lot of the Scottish
Highlander but a short while ago detested by all
civilised Scotland as a barbarian and a thief, now
hailed as the true type of Scottish nationality. Mr.



BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND. 19

Burton did something towards exploding this roman-
tic folly in his "History of Scotland since the Union."
He dealt it a severe blow by his discovery that the
picturesque kilt was the invention of an ingenious
trooper in General Wade's army. In his present his-
tory he has gone yet further, and shown not only that
the Highlander was all along alien and hostile to the
Scot in the modern sense of the word, but that he did
what in him lay to prevent the existence of Scotland
altogether. It may be true, though Mr. Burton does
not think so, that at least in the beginning of the
eleventh century, Scotland as a whole was a Gaelic-
speaking country. However this may be, it did not
long continue so. The tide of Saxon immigration
then began to flow steadily ; settled in the lowlands,
and, uniting with those of the same race already
there, created what we now mean when we speak
of the Scottish nation. The Celt driven back to his
hills allied himself with the Norman. Edward de-
rived from them important aid, and entered into
treaties with their leading chiefs. And this antipathy
to the Saxon race lasted throughout the whole of
Scottish story. From the days when they assailed
Bruce at Loch Awe to the days when they butchered
the Covenanters at Both well Bridge, the Celts were
the pests of Scotland. As Mr. Burton says, we shall
fail to gain a true estimate of the history of our
country, unless we realise the truth that by the
Scottish people the battle of Harlaw was hailed as a
not less memorable deliverance than the battle of
Bannockburn. It was the spirit of the Saxon middle
class which achieved Scottish independence ; ex-
hausted by misery and poverty, overmastered by
turbulent nobles, it sank down powerless for long
years, to be roused again at the second great awaken-
ing of national life the Keformation.



20 BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND.

We have dwelt thus long upon the causes and
effects of the War of Independence, both because it is a
point of Scottish history not perfectly understood, and
because Mr. Burton in his account of it has achieved
his greatest triumph. Party-spirit could hardly here
have influence ; but national prejudice might be, and
in many instances has been, very powerful for evil.
Of this disturbing, and in these times unworthy
element, we find, in Mr. Burton's clear and impartial
argument, no trace. His view of the War of Inde-
pendence is not, of course, absolutely new ; but we
have nowhere else seen it urged with the same know-
ledge and convincing force. Originality is in fact
the marked characteristic of the whole book. And
while here and there doubtless, especially in the
antiquarian discussions, a lurking love of paradox
may be discovered, as a rule this originality is not
disfigured by a restless craving after novelty. We
have sometimes ventured to doubt whether or no the
new sources of information recently opened with such
profusion to the world, have after all been of much
use in advancing historical truth. It seems question-
able whether historians really profit by the mass of
materials now hurled upon them ; or whether, unable
to grasp the whole, they do not too readily embrace
the new, neglectful of the old. Men are so prone to
over-estimate what they have themselves disinterred,
especially if it be in manuscript ; to under-estimate
what has been long before the world, especially if it
be in print. From this inordinate affectation of novelty
Mr. Burton is free. Of all writers we know he is
about the last to be led by others ; he forms his own
opinions, and expresses them with unmistakable dis-
tinctness ; but in the formation of those opinions he
is not carried away by a vague admiration of new
discoveries, he gives no undue weight to some re-



BUKTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND. 21

cently dug-up despatch filled with the gossip of the
day, the work of an ambassador, if not, according to
Wotton's sarcastic definition, " a man sent abroad to
lie for the benefit of his sovereign," at least a man
sent to report all manner of tittle-tattle for his benefit
and his amusement. Not that Mr. Burton neglects
such sources of information. On the contrary, so far
as we can judge, he is well acquainted with the
results of the most recent investigations ; but he
rates them at their proper value, and no higher. To
this sedateness of judgment it is mainly owing that
the philosophy of Scottish history has never been so
clearly set forth as in these volumes.

It would, on the other hand, be idle to deny that
in some respects the varying aspects of the War of
Independence might have found a more congenial
chronicler. Mr. Burton possesses but in a slight
degree the art of the story-teller ; and he wants, if
not the feeling of romance, at least the power of ex-
pressing the romantic. Nor, though this may be the
rashness of ignorance, do we esteem very highly those
dissertations on military tactics of which he is extra-
vagantly fond. He is very jealous of the military
fame of Wallace, and claims for him the merit of the
great discovery of the power of infantry. But then
he fails to show us how, if this were so, the battle of
Falkirk was lost, and that of Bannockburn won.
Still more entirely does he fail to present the noble
and picturesque aspects of the contest. To have the
heart stirred with that sympathy for courage and
resolution, to which no one, English or Scotch, would
willingly be dead, and which the desperate struggles
of Wallace, the wild adventures of Bruce and the good
Lord James so surely evoke, we must after aU go
back to that chosen friend of boyhood, the " Tales of
a Grandfather."



22 BURTON'S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND.

The third volume of Mr. Burton's History is, to our
thinking, the least interesting of the four. This is in
part attributable to the nature of the subject ; and in
part to the writer's inability to make the best of the
subject such as it is. Doubtless no theme could be
less attractive. The period embraced is from the
accession of David Bruce to the death of James v.,
and the annals of few countries can furnish a more
dismal record. The prosperity of the middle class had
passed away like a dream. Swept by the storms of
English invasion, neither town nor country could
afford a secure resting-place for peaceful industry.
Trade was no more, agriculture ceased to be worthy
of the name ; burgesses and peasantry alike sank into
insignificance and misery. The history of Scotland,
during this dreary time, is but a record of savage
feuds among the nobles themselves, and of an in-
veterate antagonism between the strength of the
nobles and the weakness of the Crown,

" A leafless branch her sceptre, and her throne
An icy car indebted to no wheels,
But urged by storms along its slippery way."

It was the rare felicity of England that, in the early
struggles between her nobles and her king, constitu-
tional safeguards were established, which afterwards
did good service in many a perilous contest. Scotland
had no such fortune. While the nobles of England
contended for behoof of those liberties which belong
to all classes of men, the nobles of Scotland sought
only for license to plunder and oppress. Throughout



Online LibraryHenry H LancasterEssays and reviews → online text (page 2 of 38)