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The Invention of Scotland

The Invention of Scotland

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Invention of Scotland
    Book Description:

    This book argues that while Anglo-Saxon culture has given rise to virtually no myths at all, myth has played a central role in the historical development of Scottish identity. Hugh Trevor-Roper explores three myths across 400 years of Scottish history: the political myth of the "ancient constitution" of Scotland; the literary myth, including Walter Scott as well as Ossian and ancient poetry; and the sartorial myth of tartan and the kilt, invented-ironically, by Englishmen-in quite modern times.

    Trevor-Roper reveals myth as an often deliberate cultural construction used to enshrine a people's identity. While his treatment of Scottish myth is highly critical, indeed debunking, he shows how the ritualization and domestication of Scotland's myths as local color diverted the Scottish intelligentsia from the path that led German intellectuals to a dangerous myth of racial supremacy.

    This compelling manuscript was left unpublished on Trevor-Roper's death in 2003 and is now made available for the first time. Written with characteristic elegance, lucidity, and wit, and containing defiant and challenging opinions, it will absorb and provoke Scottish readers while intriguing many others.

    "I believe that the whole history of Scotland has been coloured by myth; and that myth, in Scotland, is never driven out by reality, or by reason, but lingers on until another myth has been discovered, or elaborated, to replace it."-Hugh Trevor-Roper

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17653-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Editor’s Foreword
    (pp. vii-xviii)
    Jeremy J. Cater

    The recovery and publication of a book which was left unfinished by its author over twenty years earlier requires some explanation. The decision depends on who the author was, how far and why the book was not completed, and what it can contribute to the present. Hugh Trevor-Roper was a master historian; and even in this short work his many talents are amply displayed – as, indeed, they were so often in his collections of essays. Here, as elsewhere, we see the imaginative insight into characters; the awareness of social and intellectual context; the broad and deep vision across space...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xxii)

    At different times, and in various places, myth has played an important part in history. For what people believe is true is a force, even if it is not true. Myth may be a driving force: such as the myth of inevitability, encountered in Calvin, or of invincibility, as at Sparta. Myth may also be thesoulof history, engendering imaginative literature in poetry or prose.

    Some races, it seems, are more mythopoeic than others. The myths of ancient Greece are as inseparable from Greek history as they are from Greek literature. The Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, have been...


    • 1 Scotia’s Rise to Glory?
      (pp. 3-32)

      The early history of all countries is obscure; but the mist which envelops the early history of Scotland is unique, both in density and duration. It was both thickened and prolonged by national pride and deliberate myth-making. As late as the end of the eighteenth century, the racial origins of the Scots and their relationship with the Irish was a matter of learned dispute; and the ablest scholars were led, by blind or interested guides, and by deliberate forgeries, into the grossest errors. In 1729, the first and greatest of Scottish antiquaries, Father Thomas Innes – an exiled Catholic priest...

    • 2 George Buchanan
      (pp. 33-54)

      George Buchanan was, by universal consent, the greatest Latin writer, whether in prose or in verse, in sixteenth-century Europe. He was the undisputed literary hero of Scotland till the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. But very little of his life was spent in his native country. Once he had followed the well-trodden path from a Scottish university to the university of Paris, France was always his intellectual and generally his physical home. There he lived, mainly by teaching Latin, in a circle of humanist poets and scholars who all, vain though they were, recognised his pre-eminence. They hailed him – and it became...

    • 3 Buchanan’s Nemesis
      (pp. 55-72)

      Humphrey Lhuyd was a man of some distinction. He was a medical man, a member of Parliament, and a friend, kinsman and client of the great. He was also celebrated as an antiquary, ‘the most famous Antiquarius of all our country . . . after John Leland and John Bale’.¹ He was known abroad, too: in 1565 he contributed an essay on the Isle of Man to the atlas of the greatest living geographer, Abraham Ortelius of Antwerp. In this essay he declared himself a firm defender of the Welsh Brutus against the attacks of the unbelieving Italian, Polydore Vergil....


    • 4 The Search for a Celtic Homer
      (pp. 75-105)

      When a society renounces politics, it can find other ways of expressing its identity. After the Union of 1707, and more especially after the defeat of the last Jacobite rebellion in 1746, the Scots looked for such other ways. Some of them turned to economics. Recognising that the development of their country in the past two centuries had been arrested, and that their political activity had been (to say the least) unconstructive, they welcomed the end of political independence and devoted themselves to ‘improvement’. While their landlords attended to their estates, planted trees and introduced new crops, and their merchants...

    • 5 James Macpherson and Fingal
      (pp. 106-136)

      Horace Walpole was not alone in his doubts. In the year following the publication of the newly discovered epic, while it was being hailed as a literary, historical and moral revelation throughout Europe, the men of letters in London found increasing and, in the end, overwhelming reasons for scepticism.

      First, there was the style: the style of Ossian was not that of a ‘primitive’ poet: it fitted a little too happily into the taste of the moment. It also contained some passages suspiciously similar to passages from Milton and the Bible, among others;¹ and although these similarities would afterwards be...

    • 6 The Controversy over Ossian
      (pp. 137-188)

      Johnson’s views on the authenticity of Ossian were already formed when he set out, in the autumn of 1773, on his personal tour of the Hebrides. He suspected, on the evidence of style and content, that the work was not genuine; he considered that, in the face of this evidence, Macpherson had a duty to submit to the scrutiny of scholars the ancient manuscripts which he claimed to have used; and he interpreted Macpherson’s refusal even to discuss the matter as confirmation of his own suspicions. In fact, Johnson believed that Macpherson could have no manuscripts – or at least...


    • 7 The Coming of the Kilt
      (pp. 191-215)

      The several races of the British isles have contributed unequally, but distinctively, to our common culture. Political and intellectual initiative has come mainly from the Anglo-Saxons or Anglo-Normans. Myth, fantasy, and the traditions that are the crystallisation of such myth, have been supplied by the Celts. No halo of romance surrounds the misty figures of Hengist and Horsa. Norman blood and the Norman yoke survive only as the symbols of a proud or hatedHerrenvolk. But King Arthur and Camelot have been adopted into English legend and literature; the Irish language and Irish mythology have been accepted by the descendants...

    • 8 The Tartan
      (pp. 216-236)

      The charade of George IV’s visit to Edinburgh has an important place in the mythology of Highland dress. Designed to complete the victory of 1746 by reconciling the minds of Celtic Scotland to Hanoverian rule, it ended by reversing that victory. The Celtic clans, conclusively defeated at Culloden, and thereafter subjected effectively to Anglo-Saxon rule from London and Edinburgh, now asserted their claim that all Scotland was really theirs; and their claim – in the realm of myth – was allowed. For the next century, scholars and historians might protest; but they protested in vain. Even the greatest and most...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 237-265)
  10. Further Reading
    (pp. 266-267)
    Jeremy J. Cater
  11. Index
    (pp. 268-282)