1. At the very outset, it is necessary to explain the need for a modern edition and translation of a work with so evil a reputation as the Scotorum Historia a prima gentis origine by Hector Boece [1465 - 1536], first printed at Paris in 1527 and republished at Paris in 1575 as supplemented by the immigrant Italian Humanist Giovanni Ferrerio. The chief problem is that for the earlier part of his history down to the reign of Malcolm Canmore, as he never tires of reminding us, Boece relied on an early source called “Veremund,” and since no historian of that name was known, ever since a seminal 1729 essay by Thomas Innes NOTE 1 Boece has lain under deep suspicion of having been deceived by a forgery or, even worse, of having manufactured all that he wrote about the first forty kings of Scotland out of whole cloth. He has, therefore, often been written off, and sometimes derided, as a romancing liar, more or less the Scottish equivalent of Geoffrey of Monmouth, not to be taken seriously. The consideration that David Chalmers in his 1566 Dictionary of Scots Law (British Library Add. MS 17472 fols. 3r and 63r) appears to provide independent confirmation of the existence of this “Veremund” has not done much to alter this verdict. Nor has the fact that a now-lost work very much like what “Veremund” is supposed to have written was recorded in the Register of the priory of St. Andrews (probably his reputation as Scotland’s premiere Humanist is the reason why George Buchanan’s later Rerum Scotarum Historia, which contains much the same material in condensed form, is not usually held in the the same disrepute). NOTE 2
2. Boece provides a certain amount of information about this real or alleged source. In his dedicatory epistle to James V (§ 2) he writes:
Nostrae vero gentis peculiariter res gestas edidere Veremundus archidiaconus sancti Andreae natione Hispanus, qui ab exordio gentis historiam Latine usque ad Malcolmi tertii cognomento Cammoir tempora (cui et ipsum opus dicavit) contexuit, Turgotus sancti Andreae episcopus, Ioannes Campusbellus, quos tres magnis laboribus nostris (auxiliantibus quos modo diximus viris clarissimis) ex Iona insula ad nos comportandos curavimus.
[“Veremund, a Spaniard who became Archdeacon of St. Andrews, chronicled the events of our nation from its inception down to the reign of Malcolm III Canmore (to whom he dedicated his work), Turgot, a Bishop of St. Andrews, and John Campbell, are three writers whom, at the cost of great pains and with the help of the aforesaid distinguished gentlemen, I arranged to be fetched from the island of Iona.”]
And at VII.10 he writes further about having obtained some old books from the abbey on Iona, which presumably refers to the same transaction:
Caeterum qui sint libri in Iona insula fama adeo celebrati, ac quibus de rebus conscripti, explorandi provinicam sumentes apud piorum loci illius coetum, nuntio tertium compellatum, opera maxime nobilis ac eruditi viri Ioannis Campibelli, a regiis thesauris, tandem obtinuimus, ut antiqui codices quo quinque illic Romanis characteribus essent exarata ad nos fideli nuntio Aberdoniam deferrentur. Ergo anno Christiano quinto supra millesimum quingentismum ac vicesimum vetustissima quaedam codicum ac paucula fragmenta, quorum vix aliquod palmae superabat magnitudinem, dura et inflexibili pene membrana, mira arte ac diligentia, uti ex characterum elegantia facile dignoscitur conscripta, vetustate vel custodum potius incuria adeo erosa ut vix decimum quodque verbum legere possis, recepi.
[“But I took upon myself the responsibility of finding out what these famous books on Iona actually are, and what subjects they are written about, and with the great help of that noble and learned gentleman John Campbell, Treasurer to the King, after prodding the pious college of that place three times, I managed to have five ancient codices written in Roman letters brought to me at Aberdeen by a reliable messenger. And so in the year of Christ 1520 certain very ancient codices, together with a few scraps — mostly no larger thatn the palm of my hand — so hard and stuff that they could hardly be bent, written with wonderful art and diligence (as was readily evident from the letters with which they were written), but so damaged by time, or more likely the negligence of their custodians, that barely one word in ten was legible.”]
It looks as if the text of the former passage has been garbled. At first sight, the John Campbell in question would seem to be an old source like Turgot (the first Norman bishop of St. Andrews and the author of the Vita Sanctae Margaretae) and the putative “Veremund,” but surely this is the same individual who assisted Boece in obtaining these documents, Sir John Campbell of Lundie [d. 1562], Treasurer to James V and himself a researcher into Scottish history. He is sometimes cited by Boece as if he were a valuable source of information regarding chronology, which may have been true, but one suspects that he gave him prominence, at least in part, as a gesture of gratitude and flattery. In any event, in this passage it looks as if, for some reason, Campbell’s name has replaced that of some third early writer.
3. The image of Boece as a baldfaced liar began to be questioned in 1973, when G. W. S. Barrow noted the existence of a certain Richard Vairement, a Culdee of St. Andrews of the thirteenth century, but saw no evidence supporting the equation of this individual with Boece’s “Veremund.” NOTE 3 At least in modern times, that connection was first made by Marjorie Jean Drexler in a 1979 doctoral dissertation. NOTE 4 The identification was tentatively accepted by William Ferguson in 1998, NOTE 5 and has been solidified in a groundbreaking 2001 article by Nicola Royan, NOTE 6 whose conclusions were accepted (albeit with a distinct note of caution) and built upon by Dauvit Broun in 2007. NOTE 7 Probably a fair and reasonable statement of the current state of play is that, while the quondam existence of a history by Vairement is by no means a proven fact, qualified contemporary scholars are increasingly openminded to the possibility. If this work did exist, we can, no doubt, take it for granted that Boece fleshed out what he inherited from his source with a great deal of his own story-telling and literary embroidery (it is a time-honored cliché to compare Boece to Livy, and if we could compare Livy’s history with his sources we would in all probability discover that the great Roman historian did the same). But after all necessary qualifications have been made, the central fact nonetheless remains that the old view of Boece as little more than a liar now seems open to substantial question. Since this is current situation in Boece scholarship, whenever the Latin text has Veremundus, in the translation provided here, “Vairement” is written, but with the proviso that the identification is a tentative one.
4. This in turn requires a possible reassessment of the second canard often alleged against Boece, that he is very often wrong in his facts (some, but by no means all, of his blunders are remarked here in individual commentary notes). Given the possible existence of Vairement as a genuine source, it is no longer a necessarily straightforward matter to dismiss Boece as a slovenly historian or one indifferent to historical accuracy. An alternative explanation for many of his mistakes may well be that they are the result of a Humanist’s inclination to overvalue and place excessive credence on historical sources merely because they were old (in that case, the way sixteenth century English historians trustingly relied on such old writers as Gildas and Nennius would be distinctly comparable). It is undeniably true that Boece’s errors are not restricted to early history (one of his worst howlers is his dating of the death of James II to August 5, 1463 at XVIII.86, by a seeming slip of the pen, whereas the king actually died on August 3, 1460, but in fairness one must hasten to add that this Book was printed from a posthumous manuscript that had not yet received its author’s summa manus, and also that he gets the year right at the beginning of Book XIX). But it would require a far more detailed identification of Boece’s sources and comparison with them than seems ever to been attempted before one could make any secure pronouncements about whether these mistakes were introduced by his own carelessness or inherited from his predecessors.
5. These recent developments, which potentially place Boece in a very different light, serve to justify a recent upsurge of scholarly interest in his history, and warrant a careful reappraisal of his achievements. A modern edition is therefore appropriate and timely. So, too, is a modern translation. Latinless readers usually confront Boece by means of the Scots translation by John Bellenden (Ballentine), Archdean of Moray and Canon of Ross. NOTE 8 Bellenden’s translation is only marginally satisfactory and does not adequately reflect the contents of the Latin original, because of his constant practice of abridging and simplifying what Boece wrote, to the extent that a great deal of circumstantial detail becomes obliterated. Then too, when I was doing my own translation and encountered some passage where Boece’s Latin was in any way difficult, I would often want to see how Bellenden rendered it, but on very many occasions discovered that the passage in question was simply missing from his version (the same was often true, incidentally, when I needed to interpret Latinized forms of proper nouns). This tendency to skip over the hard parts is sufficiently conspicuous that one cannot help suspecting Bellenden was a weak Latinist, often only capable of providing a sketchy summary of what Boece was actually saying. A single random comparison will convey an idea of Bellenden’s abridging ways. Here is the end of Book X, first followed by a modern translation and then by Bellenden’s:
Dum in hoc statu res essent Anglorum exorta simultas inter Moravos Rossosque sollicitum habuit regem Donaldum. Dissidium a modico habuit initium. Latrunculis enim e Rossia praedandi causa noctu Moraviam petentibus et hostiliter irrumpentibus, Moravi primum rixis et telis resistebant, inde, vicinis in belli partem accitis, eo dementiae processit contentio ut plures duobus hominum millibus variis pugnis e Moravia et Rossia ante secundum mensem finitum a suis sint desiderati. Aegerrime autem Donaldus ferens pacem intestina seditione sic turbari, numerosum exercitum in Moraviam ducit, illucque praecipuos factionum in ius vocatos iussosque causam dicere, quum nihil certi afferent unde criminis se ostenderent immunes, vulgari multitudine quae duces fuerant sequuta nullo supplicio affecta, ut cruore scelus admissum luerent effecit. Ea seditione ita extincta, post cuntas Scotorum regiones lustratas Donaldus, Anglorum ac Danorum concordiam habens suspectam, in Northumbria consedit, iuventutem habens in armis ad omnem insultum, si quis fieret, paratam, ubi etiam pietate semper insignis moritur, posteaquam undecim pene regnasset annos. Scotorum proceres defuncti regis funus in Ionam inter maiorum sepulchra, marmoreo adiecto monumento, funerali pompa (ut tum mos erat) extulere
While English affairs stood thus, Donald was preoccupied with a quarrel that had arisen between the men of Moray and Ross. This feud had a trifling beginning. For when some robbers from Ross invaded Moray by night for the sake of plundering, the Moray men first resisted by brawling and taking up weapons, and then called on their neighbors to join in the fight. Their struggle reached such a height of folly that within two months more than two thousand men of Moray and Ross were killed. Donald was sorely vexed that the peace was being disturbed by this domestic squabble, and led a large army into Moray. There he haled the leaders of the factions into court and bade them plead their cases. And when they could offer no good reason why they should be considered free of guilt, he made them atone for their crime with their blood, although the common people who followed their leaders went unpunished. That sedition thus having been put down, Donald made a progress throughout all the districts of Scotland. Harboring suspicions about the concord between the English and Danes, he remained in Northumbria, having with him a force of young men-at-arms ready to deal with any emergency, should one arise. There he died, always having been noteworthy for his piety, after having ruled for almost eleven years. In accordance with the custom of those days, the Scottish nobility bore his body in funeral estate to Iona, where he was buried in a marble tomb. among the graves of his ancestors.
The peace, ratifyit in this maner in Ingland, ane trubil happinnit in Scotland betwix the Murrayis and the Rossis; ilk ane of thame invading othir with sic slauchter, that MM men of thame war slane, within two monethis, on ilk side. King Donald, impacient to suffir sic displeaseris, come on thame with ane army, and ceissit not quhil the principal movaris of this troubil war tane, and punisht, for their demeritis, to the deith. The cutre beand dantit in this maner, King Donald began to have the concord of Danis and Inglismen at suspition, and maid his habitation in Northumberland; havand with him, ane cumpany of chosin men, reddy to resist al invasion that micht occur: and finaly, he deceissit in the same, efter that he had roung XI yeris; and was buryit in Colmekill, fra the incarnation DCCCCIII yeris.
And, beginning with Book XII, Bellenden begins display increasing independence by inserting his own supplementary material and deleting entire passages of the original. NOTE 9 The Latinless reader will of course assume that these interpolated passages are Boece’s own.
6. Then too, of course, Bellenden based his translation on Boece’s editio princeps, originally published in seventeen Books, whereas in the 1575 edition Giovanni Ferrerio managed to include transcripts of MS. versions of Book XVIII, covering the reign of James II, and the fragmentary beginning of a Book XIX intended to treat that of James III (he furnished his own continuation, given here in an Appendix, bringing the history down to the end of that sovereign’s reign). This extra material is altogether inaccessible to the Latinless reader. If Boece is to become an object of scholarly investigation, it is essential that Bellenden’s translation be replaced by a full and accurate one.
7. A good deal of what has been written about Boece’s history focuses on such subjects as sources and historical accuracy, and indeed many discussions bog down on these issues and get no farther. But it is equally necessary to take the measure of this work as a literary artifact, something less frequently attempted. The remainder of this Introduction, therefore, will be a kind of tentative foray into that area, considering his intentions in writing this history as discussed under two main headings, didactic purpose and patriotism.
8. The reader needs first to be reminded that the standard aim of Humanistic historiography was to provide exempla of good and bad conduct for imitation and avoidance. History was therefore regarded as a special sub-department of moral philosophy (in the next century Digory Whear, the first occupant of the Camden Chair of History at Oxford, codified this notion in theoretical terms in his inaugural address, De Ratione et Methodo Legendi Historias, subsequently worked up as a book-length treatise, but the idea can be documented from many earlier statements concerning historiographical theory). Bearing this in mind, if we wish to divine Boece’s intentions, there is no better beginning-point than what he himself has to say on the subject, in a lengthy passage in his dedicatory epistle to James V (who was fifteen years old at the time the history was published), which begins:
Caeterum iam opere ad calcem, auxiliante divina gratia, perducto, circunspicienti cuinam potissimum id dicandum esset, unus mihi occurristi, Iacobe rex indulgentissime, cui cum plurimum voluptatis, tum uberrimum fructum apparebit allaturum. Nam quum in ea adhuc sis aetate, qua ingenia iam disciplinarum capacissima sunt, cognosces profecto ex hac historia non modo quae a maioribus tuis gesta sunt, quibusque artibus imperium hoc iam supra millesimum octingentesimum quinquagesimumsextum annum retentum est, externis nullis unquam subditum imperiis (quanquam interim et ab Romanis et ab Anglis gravissimis afflicti fuimus malis, tantumque non oppressi vix caput exerere potuerimus) verum etiam collatis omnibus exemplis, praeterita cum praesentibus componendo, quonam pacto potissimum ipse quoque regnum istud tuum quam optime administrare debeas. Videbis enim populorum regni tui omnium mores, tum acceptis quae hic abunde suppeditantur exemplis, rationem in promptu semper habebis, quonam pacto unumquenque in officio retineas, idque tibi eveniet quod iis quos antiquitas laudibus tantopere extulit et adhuc admiratur posteritas, qui peragratis variis regionibus, multorumque inspectis moribus, experientia rerum multarum sapientes vulgo sunt habiti. Quod enim illis multis sudoribus algoribusque tandem evenit, id tibi huius lectione operis haud sine foenore continget.
[“When, by the grace of God, this work had been brought to its end, and I looked around to see to whom it might best be dedicated, most indulgent King James, you struck me as the single man to whom it would purvey the greatest pleasure and richest benefit. For since you are still of that age at which talents are still fully capable of being trained, from this history you will not only learn what was done by your ancestors, and the arts by which this government has been preserved for more than 1,856 years, never subjected to any foreign rule (although we were afflicted by great evils by the Romans and the English, and, albeit unsubdued, could scarcely keep our heads erect), but also, having gathered all these examples and compared past things with present, you will learn in what way you may best administer your realm. For you will observe the manners of all its peoples and, having digested all the examples abundantly supplied here, you will always have to hand the means whereby you may maintain the obedience of each one, and you will reap the same benefit as those — so greatly praised by antiquity and still admired by posterity — who after having traveled through various regions, witnessing the manners of many men were deemed wise for their wide experience after having traveled through various regions, witnessing the manners of many men. What they gained at the expense of much sweating and shivering will be yours, at no cost whatever, on reading this present work.”]
9. The reader of history, in other words, will gain a knowledge of other people and their manners without the need of embarking on his own Odyssey, and may profit from this instruction in his own life, a thing particularly useful if he happens to be a sovereign. There is no visible reason for not taking Boece at his word. So, at least on one level (and, arguably, the most important one), his history is written for a readership of one. This, by the way, goes a long way towards explaining why the book is written as it is: it is replete with colorful story-telling (something in which Boece excelled) and exciting battle-scenes which seem meant to entertain and engage the attention of an adolescent reader. Throughout his work, Boece adopts the persona of the philosophical scholar-mentor instructing the young prince, a familiar figure ever since the time when Aristotle served as tutor the young Alexander. NOTE 10
10. This raises an obvious question: what precise lessons is his young royal student supposed to learn? Boece’s history is full of kings who provide good and bad examples for royal conduct. The good ones are vigilant in defense of Scottish liberty (libertas is a word Boece uses with conspicuous frequency), ready and able to take up arms in its defense. Since their behavior and morality sets the tone for imitation by their subjects, the good ones, who are dutiful, selfless, and abstemious, produce subjects with similar qualities, and the nation is in good shape to wage war when necessary. Contrariwise, those kings who wallow in their voluptas or self-indulgent pleasure-seeking (which sometimes has to do with sex, but very often with an excessive interest in food, for dietary habit is a subject which, for some reason, had become freighted with particular symbolic significance in Boece’s mind — it is almost as if, for him, moral virtue and the regular consumption of oatmeal were one and the same), who are avaricious, lazy, negligent regarding the administration of the law and the suppression of banditry or discord, or otherwise neglectful of their duties, encourage the same behavior in their subjects, with the result that the Scots become either so selfish and quarrelsome, or so soft and effeminate, that they make bad soldiers, with the inevitable consequence that Scotland either dissolves into factionalism or loses its foreign wars, and consequently suffers. Therefore, for the sovereign, self-control and the cultivation of his own good moral fiber is, in effect, a requisite tool of good government. As Boece puts it in one of his generalizations about the Scottish national character (XI.28):
Enimvero inter nostrates ita natura est comparatum ut magnates primum, inde caetera multitudo in regis mores se transforment: quo uno apparente studioso populus virtuti se dedit; quo item flagitiis addicto rari eius imperio audientes scelere sunt immunes.
[“For our countrymen have such a nature that our grandees are the first to copy the manners of their king, and then the rest of the population follow suit. If he alone appears morally earnest, then his people devotes itself to virtue, but if he is addicted to wrongdoing, few of his subjects are immune to malfeasance.”]
11. A second and equally important lesson has to do with the right relationship between the king and a corporation of leading men whom Boece variously calls the maiores and patres when he is thinking of their seniority (in which cases the word could almost be translated “aldermen”), or identifies by such words as primores, praecipui, and proceres when their social status is uppermost in his mind. The actual composition of this group is never precisely defined, so that they remain an anonymous and rather shadowy collective repository of national wisdom. Its membership may be at least approximately assumed to be the leading nobility of the realm, or (which is maybe not precisely the same thing) it may be an association of clan chiefs. And, since when Boece comes to relatively modern times, these maiores are replaced by the three Estates of the Scottish Parliament, so in a sense they embody parliamentary authority retrojected into the past. In any event, Boece regards these maiores as such a natural and important feature of government that he permits himself the assumption that other nations, Celtic and Germanic alike, have similar maiores: the Irish, Britons, Saxons, and so forth. In describing the accession of new kings, even when the individual in question is the adult firstborn son of his predecessor, Boece represents a vote of approval by this body, as well as the acclaim of the general population, as a necessary prerequisite for being crowned, and a good king regularly consults with them on such important subjects as declarations of war, the making of peace treaties and foreign alliances, the sending of embassies, the regulation of religious matters, and the passage of laws. One of the frequent marks of a bad king, on the other hand, is that he fails to consult his national maiores and refuses to take their advice, or manages to alienate them by his evil behavior. Some, the ones whom he classifies as tyrants, go so far as to attempt to govern by the force of their own personalities, or by means of inappropriate agents of their own choosing, usually recruited from the lower classes. In flagrant cases, the maiores are empowered to depose and replace a king who is clearly unfit to govern. This all implies an assumption that the powers of kingship are and ought to be limited and contingent, very much at odds with the political ideas of contemporary Tudor England. Translated into the reality of the Scottish state, Boece is impressing on his young reader the idea that the king is really a primus inter pares who needs to acknowledge the limitations of his authority and treat his nobility with proper respect and deference. Possibly one can take this a step further and think that part of Boece’s message is that an excessively strong central government managed along Tudor lines would be inappropriate for Scotland.
12. While we are on the subject of kingship and the contrast between Tudor ideas and Scottish thinking on the subject, at least as articulated by Boece for young James’ benefit, it is worth adding that the Scottish concept was profoundly different. Tudor theory about kingship took great comfort from I Samuel, in which, once the people of Israel make it clear that they wish to be ruled by kings rather than judges, God Himself, through the agency of the prophet Samuel and Zadok the High Priest, selects Saul to rule them. The opinion of the people is not consulted on the subject. When it turns out that Saul is mentally unstable, murderous, and, at least by human standards, a thoroughly unfit ruler, once again any popular opinion on the subject is not consulted. Rather, it is a mark of David’s piety that he goes into hiding to avoid Saul’s murderous rage, but does not question his right to rule or make any attempt to depose and replace him. In the same way, the King of England has a peculiar ghostly relationship with the Almighty as His special chosen representative, and is answerable to Him alone. The people of England are obliged, as a matter of both civic and religious duty, to accept his government without question. The proper attitude of the good subject is well summarized in a passage from the 1603 tragedy Nero, a history play written by the Oxford loyalist Matthew Gwinne (1241ff.):
Princeps, seu bonus est, seu malus, a Iove:
In paenam malus est, in pretium bonus:
Patris dextra bonus, laeva manus malus.
Ornes, si bonus est; sin malus est, feras.
Curae sunt superis, et bonus, et malus.
Non fert insidias Iupiter in bonum;
Defendit similem, nec iuvat in malum:
Nam non est hominum, sed Iovis ultio.
Foelix, fida, decens, rara rebellio.
Tantis proditio falsa periculis
Hinc illinc trepidans et scatet, et patet.
Se prodit, properans prodere, proditor.
[“A ruler, whether good or bad, is sent us by Jove. The bad is sent for chastisement, the good as a reward. Our Father’s right hand is good, his left bad. Praise him if good, tolerate him if bad. For both the good and the bad are under God’s special protection. Jupiter tolerates no scheming against the good, for he defends him who is like himself. Nor does he aid us against the bad, for revenge belongs to Jove, not to mankind. It is a rare rebellion that is fortunate, loyal, and decent. Betrayal, confused by great perils, disperses hither and thither in panic, and becomes manifest. Thus the traitor, hastening to betray, betrays himself.”]
This kind of thinking, highly typical of Tudor political doctrine, of course has a considerable history: very notably, see the volume that first appeared under Edward VI and was repeatedly reprinted under Elizabeth, Certayne Sermons appoynted by the Kings/Queenes Maiestie to be declared and read by all persons, vicars, and Curates, every Sonday and holy daye, in theyr Churches, containing among its homilies An Exhortation Concerning Good Order and Obedience to Rulers and Magistrates. This document (evidently the handiwork of Bishop John Jewel) ought to be required reading for all students of Tudor political theory.
13. The Scottish view of kingship, about which Boece clearly thought the young James required instruction, was radically different. NOTE 11 In the first place, as has already been indicated, Boece shows that the formal assent of both the maiores and the general people of Scotland is necessary for the installation of a king. In the second place, his (admittedly brief and formulaic) descriptions of such installations offer no reason for thinking that the crowning of a king was anything other than a secular ceremony. The sole exception to this generalization is his description of the coronation of Aidanus at IX.49f., presided over by St. Columba, who crowns the king with his own hands and, in a kind of sermon delivered to those present, says Enimvero non tam vestris adhortationibus quam divino imperio ego ad hunc celeberrimum admotus consessum Aidano regiam admoveo coronam [“For I am inspired not so much by your urgings as by divine command to come to this very crowded assembly and set the royal crown on Aidanus.”] It looks almost as if Columba is trying to hijack the coronation ceremony and convert it into a kind of theater piece in which the king’s dependence on the Church is demonstrated to the onlookers. If this diagnosis is correct, it is striking that Boece never describes a second similar coronation (beyond noting the introduction of anointment during coronation ceremonies at the beginning of the twelfth century, at XIV.46). Finally, Boece records numerous instances of an unsatisfactory king being removed, either by an actual decision of the maiores (as in the case of Ethus at X.78, for instance) or by the less formal action of some or all members of the Scottish nobility. Although Boece never spells out these underlying political and legal assumptions in so many words, from all the examples he provides various conclusions are too self-evident to have been missed by his royal reader: kingship is an essentially secular institution and ultimate political power is vested in the people of Scotland, or more precisely in the people as represented by their maiores, and latterly, therefore, in their Parliament. And, besides having the power to elect kings, these representatives are empowered to remove a miscreant one for just cause.
14. No wonder, then, that later in this century, when he sought to justify the removal of Mary Queen of Scots, George Buchanan found Boece’s history congenial to his own political way of thinking and used it as an important source for his 1582 Rerum Scotarum Historia, for Boece supplies plenty of ammunition to support the political theories Buchanan had set forth years earlier in his De Iure Regni apud Scotos Dialogus, written in 1567 though not published until 1579. Possibly, therefore, Buchanan thought it best to suppress whatever doubts he may have privately entertained about the veracity of the fabulous early history of Scotland retailed by Boece. This was especially so because, within the context of Buchanan’s own history, Boece’s tales of early kings removed from office for malfeasance take on an aspect of useful legitimizing precedents. It was largely for this this reason, one imagines, that he found it necessary to devote a large portion of his Book II to refuting the Welsh antiquary Humphrey Lhuyd, who in his Commentarioli Descriptionis Britannicae Fragmentum had questioned the veracity of traditional accounts of early British history, and at the Book’s conclusion (II.50) he explicitly defends Boece against Lhuyd’s attack. The theory of the limited power of kingship appears to have been first introduced into Scottish political thinking by John Mair in the course of his 1521 history of Scotland, discussed below. NOTE 12 At this point we must return to the question of Boece’s “Veremund.” If you accept the identification of this individual as Richard Vairement, then — although I do not myself subscribe to this view — it seems perfectly possible to think that Boece took for granted the truth of the early Scottish history he retails, and had no necessary interest in the theoretical inferences that could be drawn from them. On the other hand, if you persist in the belief that “Veremund” was his own fraudulent invention, and that he devised all this pseudo-historical material himself, then it becomes considerably harder to avoid the consequent conclusion that his motivation was in large part a political one, and that he was intent on manufacturing spurious exempla to support the theory floated by Mair, in which he himself deeply believed.
15. Another form of didacticism probably concerns Boece’s many and vivid descriptions of battles. As already indicated, these are at least meant to be graphic and exciting, and seem as if they were written to appeal to the young king. But something more serious may well be at stake. It was reasonable to suppose that someday James himself would command an army, so these descriptions may have been intend to give him some kind of instruction in what Boece imagined to be sound battlefield tactics, again by providing plenty of historical exempla of both good and bad generalship and occasional bits of advice about how a good commander should comport himself (although his battle-descriptions are so generic that one seriously doubts he had ever seen one actually fought, and it is striking that one of the most memorable masterpieces of Scottish tactics, Wallace’s handling of the Battle of Sterling Bridge, is not described in any detail at all at XIV.12). In the same way, in imitation of his Classical models Boece’s history is studded with many speeches placed in the mouths of this characters. NOTE 13 These provide him with the opportunity to showcase his ability at writing epideictic rhetoric, but something else may be at stake. Before nearly every battle he describes, both opposing commanders deliver a harangue of exhortation to encourage their men to fight, and thus he makes it clear that oratorical ability is one of the requirements of good generalship. Thus the young king is being encouraged to apply himself to the study of rhetoric (and maybe, by extension, of the Humanities in general).
16. These observations do not exhaust the subject of Boece’s didacticism. His history is liberally salted with a number of generalizations about human nature (such as, for example, XI.4, Sed, ut sunt hominum res, qui tum potissimum alienae patent iniuriae quum maxime suis confidunt viribus... [“But such is the human condition that men are most exposed to wrongdoing by others when they most greatly trust in their own strength...”], moralizing outbursts against contemporary evils (such as his one against his fellow-countrymen’s propensity for blasphemy and cursing at X.98), and specific observations about the features of Scottish national character. Another common feature of his history probably deserves to be categorized with these, his frequent authorial remarks to the effect of “as I have mentioned above,” and “I must now return to my subject.” Then too, he not infrequently says things along the lines of “Some writers say otherwise, but I prefer to follow Vairement.” All of these elements are various ways of drawing attention to himself and injecting himself into his story, and their cumulative effect is to construct the literary persona of a wise, reliable and discriminating teacher and guide, who judiciously combines modern Humanistic learning with the austere and upright morality of the good Scotsmen of olden times who populate his book. As such, the “I” of his book is a qualified narrator of his nation’s history, and a fit and capable tutor of his royal reader.
18. It is possible that the Scotorum Historia could be “decoded” to show that more specific forms of instruction and advice about royal policy are being offered to the young king. Boece, for example, repeatedly describes Hebridian forays into mainland Scotland, and even an attempt or two by a Lord of the Isles to proclaim himself “King of the Hebrides,” and perhaps he did so as a means of encouraging James to pursue his father’s ambition of achieving a truly united Scotland by bringing the semi-independent Hebrides firmly under crown rule (something he in fact did in later life). NOTE 14 Others may care to discern further implicit recommendations. Nonetheless, one cannot help concluding this discussion of Boece’s didacticism and political outlook with an observation that there is something ineluctably schizophrenic about his views. One wonders exactly how his royal reader might have reacted to a work that by implication appears to recommend Mair’s theory of kingship, and yet contains so much evidence that this kind of limited sovereignty failed to work. On the one hand, Boece evidently thought that good government consisted of maintaining a proper balance between the king and the important nobility of the land featuring a distinctly limited form of royal authority. On the other, in recording all the anarchy and dissension that chronically marred Scottish life (often, by his testimony, sponsored by the same kind of powerful regional lords with whom the king is supposed to coexist in a balance of power), he is constantly providing compelling evidence that Scotland was in desperate need of a stronger central government. He himself does not seem to have worked out a solution in his own mind, and he does not provide King James with any satisfactory historical paradigm or other form of recommendation for solving the political dilemma he himself so vividly describes. As the sixteenth century wore on, this became an ever-more urgent problem. For anyone with the eyes to see, Flodden Field had already begun to teach the lesson subsequently driven home at Solway Firth and Pinky Cleugh: Scotland could by no means compete with the kind of organized and disciplined modern armies which only strong centralized states such as Tudor England could put in the field, and in this new contemporary world the kind of limited kingship Boece seems to have advocated was an impossible, self-defeating dream. Or rather, it may be more accurate to say that Boece has no explicit political remedy to offer, but is trying to show a possible way out of the dilemma: his use of history as a vehicle for preaching of a sense of Scottish national identity is intended to provide a superior substitute for the personal, regional, and tribal loyalties (to which sectarian religious loyalties were soon to be added) that had traditionally interfered with Scotland’s functioning as a coherent national entity.
17. Discussions of the Scotorum Historia routinely speak of its patriotism, and this is obvious enough. The overarching theme of the history is the story of a small and often beleaguered nation “at the end of the earth” obliged to defend its libertas and sometimes its very existence against a series of rivals and would-be oppressors: the Britons, Romans, Picts, Saxons, Danes, Norwegians, and English. NOTE 15 This is partially achieved by Scotland negotiating its way through a constantly shifting sequence of alliances, but mainly by a seemingly never-ending series of wars. Boece appears to have regarded this as a normal state of affairs: at one point, for example (XI.8), he attributed to one of his characters the sentiment eam humanarum rerum vicissitudinis legem, ut bellum pax, pacem bellum finiat [“the law of human vicissitudes was that peace should end war, and war put a stop to peace.”] The result is that Boece’s history largely consists of descriptions of wars and battles. Furthermore, Scotland is chronically confronted with a second problem. Over and over, the centripetal government of the king and elders of Scotland is challenged by the centrifugal tendency of some of their subjects to ignore their laws, flout their authority, and indulge in rebellion, factional strife, regional separatism, or freebooting (not infrequently, for example, adventurers from the Hebrides attack the mainland, almost as if they were an invading foreign power). This problem, too, usually requires a military solution.
18. The fact that the preservation of Scotland’s freedom, and sometime her very existence, depends on the fighting quality of her young men has important ethical consequences. Boece’s history exhibits a strong outspoken preference for those moral values and patterns of behavior which he believed to produce good soldiers, and a corresponding aversion to those that do not. And this is why his good kings are in large part good because (in addition to administering the law fairly, protecting the common people, and promoting religion) they set examples which recommend virtus in the original Roman sense of the word, whereas many of his bad ones set virtus-undermining examples of luxury-loving, idleness, and softness. Military and political disaster is the inevitable result. This often-repeated pattern is well illustrated by the events narrated in Book X. After the Picts had shattered by the warrior-king Kenneth II, his soft and negligent successor Donald V came close to wrecking things by allowing the Saxons to seize all Scots territory south of the Firth of Forth. Then Kenneth’s son Constantine II paved the way for the eventual rectification of the situation by his moral reforms, which had salubrious effects on his subjects. The reign of Ethus, who devoted himself to the pleasures of the hunt to the exclusion of his royal responsibilities, was mercifully short and he was deposed before Scotland suffered great damage. He in turn was succeeded by another great warrior-king, Gregory, who overcame the Danes and advanced the borders of Scotland even further southward than they existed after the victories of Kenneth II. Needless to say, Kenneth and Gregory are both portrayed as perfect embodiments of what Boece regarded as the good moral qualities. Throughout this narrative sequence, and at many other points in Boece’s history, Scotland’s military fortunes, and consequently its libertas, are explicitly tied to the personal moral fiber of her kings and its influence on their subjects. Moral didacticism and patriotism thus become closely linked.
19. Boece’s choice to write the Scotorum Historia in the Latin language puts its own special spin on its ethical orientation. Sarolta A. Takács NOTE 16 has recently reminded us how, in Roman political discourse, the core military and ethical values that enucleate the concept of Romanitas are summarized in a constellation of key words such as virtus, disciplina, fides, pietas, and respublica, and it is conspicuous that the words belonging to this cluster are all prominently used by Boece. His constant application of this vocabulary of Romanitas to Scottish society and politics implies an importation of Roman notions: his good Scotsmen have much the same qualities, and operate according to much the same values, as good Romans out of the pages of Livy. Boece does not simply record and codify traditional Scottish values (although he does frequently celebrate such ones as abstemiousness and thrift, and condemns their opposites), to an appreciable extent he redefines them along Romanizing lines. It is not quite clear whether he was conscious of what he was doing, or whether he was allowing the Latin language to do his thinking for him. One minor but telling linguistic mannerism suggests that the latter possibility may be closer to the truth. It is noteworthy that when mentioning such boundary-defining rivers as the Tyne and the Humber he invariably used citra to mean “south of” and ultra to mean “north of,” as if he were looking at British geography from the viewpoint of somebody in the Roman province, not in Scotland, in all probability for no other reason than this is the way a Roman writer would have used those prepositions, and this has the unintended effect of making the Scots rather than the Romans seem the excluded outsiders. So there is a conspicuous disconnection between his unfriendly portrayal of the Romans as one of Scotland’s libertas-threatening enemy nations and his imposition of Roman values on the Scottish situation. But, no matter what he may or may not have intended in employing these words, their effect on the reader is the same.
20. Now, to address more directly the patriotic content of the Scotorum Historia, this work followed hard on the heels of the Historia Maioris Britanniae tam Angliae quam Scotiae by John Mair (Major), printed at Paris in 1521. NOTE 17 The Cambridge-educated Mair had a conspicuously friendly attitude towards England, and went so far as to argue that union of Scotland and England under a single sovereign was desirable. NOTE 18 Here is a passage from IV.12 of his history, followed by Aeneas MacKay’s translation (pp. 189f.):
Opinionem meam paucis hic referam. Imprudentissime hoc in matrimonio Scoti egerunt. et hanc propositionem dico. Regum nullum Anglo in matrimonio haeredis mulieris praeferre Scoti debebant. Et idem de Anglo respectu Scoti si haeredem mulierem habeat censeo. Hac sola via duo regna inimicissima in eadem insula florentia, quorum neutrum alterum subigere potest, essent unita et sub eodem rege. Et si Scotorum nomen et regnum caderent, sic et Anglorum, quia pro utroque rex Britanniae diceretur. Nec Angli regis vectigalia Scvoti timere haberent. Pro Anglo respondere ausim quod eis in liberatibus antiquis permisisset sicut Aragonenses Castellae rex hodierno die sinit. Item in casu ut bene reipublicae sit vectigalia secundum materiae exigentiam regi tribuere conducit. Sed Scotiae ut arbitror primores unum regem in tota insula late dominantem habere recusant. Et fortasse Angliae optimatibus id idem contigit, quia regi illi ob suam potentiam illustres viri contraire non auderent. Sed hoc eis utilissimum foret. Iustitia pollerent, alterutri vim nullus inferrret, eorum domus et familiae diuturniores essent, ab extero rege nullo invaderentur unquam. Et si iniuriis lacessiti essent alios aggredi etiam sine formidine possent.
[“I will state my opinion in few words. The Scots acted, I must hold, most unwisely in the matter of this marriage. And I lay down this proposition: There was no king whom the Scots ought to have preferred as a husband for the heiress to the king of England. And had the position been reversed — had it been the heiress of England for whom a husband was being sought — I hold that there could have been found no marriage for her more suitable than with the king of Scotland. For thus, and thus only, could two intensely hostile peoples, inhabitants of the same island, of which neither can conquer the other, have been brought together under one and the same king. And what although the name and kingdom of the Scots had disappeared — so too would the name and kingdom of the English no more have had a place among men — for in the place of both we should have had a king of Britain. Nor would the Scots have aught to fear from taxes imposed by an English king. For the English king I dare to make answer, that he would have respected our ancient liberties, just as the king of Castile at the present day permits to the men of Aragon the full enjoyment of their rights. And, besides, when the commonwealth is to have advantage therefrom, it is right to pay taxes to the king, as they may be called for by any particular exigence. But I take it that the Scottish nobility have an objection to the notion of the rule of a single king throughout the length and breadth of the island; and the same is true perhaps of the English nobility, since the outstanding men among them would not then dare to make face against the king when his power had grown to such a height. And yet the result would have been pregnant with advantage to them. They would have known what it is to have an equal administration of justice; no man would have been able to lay violent hands on his neighbour; their houses and families would have been secured of an undisturbed existence; never would they have known invasion from a foreign king; and if at any time they had to avenge an injury, there would have been no foe within their borders to temper with a sense of insecurity the justice of their quarrel.”]
21. It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Scotorum Historia was conceived as a counterblast to this work. The contrast between these two histories’ titles tells the whole story: in that of Boece, Scotland stands alone, whereas in Mair’s Scotland is subordinated to the concept of Greater Britain. NOTE 19 Mair was willing to sacrifice traditional Scottish libertas as the price for creating a superior political structure, but in Boece’s view the paramount duty of the Scottish people and their kings was to defend this libertas, won long in the past and defended over many centuries at the cost of great exertion and suffering, at all times, in all places, and in all ways. Normally, this libertas was threatened by external attack. This time, the challenge was coming from a new quarter, from a prestigious member of the Scottish intellectual establishment (Mair was an Aristotelian who had taught in France, but at the time of the publication of his history was Principal Regent of the University of Glasgow, and migrated to St. Andrews the following year), and Boece took upon himself the task of rising to the defense of Scottish independence and his people’s traditional sense of national identity. English perfidy and enthusiasm for expanding at Scottish expense are regularly stressed, the usual stories about Wallace and Robert Bruce struggling to foil Edward I’s attempt to obliterate Scotland are duly rehearsed, and in many ways England is portrayed as the archenemy of Scottish libertas. Boece can scarcely have been unaware of Mair and presumably of his history as well — he had known him personally when he was a student at the University of Paris and writes of him in glowing terms as a theologian, albeit not as a historian, in his 1522 Episcoporum Vitae and also in the posthumously published Book XVIII of the present work (at §88) — but he chose the strategy of ignoring its existence. The closest he comes to an explicit engagement with Mair’s way of thinking is in a passage beginning at X.4 in which an embassy from Charlemagne appears at the court of King Achaius requesting that the Scots enter into a treaty of mutual defense with the Franks against the Saxons. This produces a balanced pair of speeches which, in comparison to most of Boece’s oratorical set-pieces, are remarkable for their thoughtful contents. Charlemagne’s request provokes a crisis, since it is clear to everyone present that Scotland must now choose between a Frankish alliance and a Saxon one, a choice which will have far-reaching implications for her future, and in these speeches the merits of both possibilities are examined. Clearly this is a decisive moment in Scottish history. For it is at this comparatively remote point in time that Boece locates Scotland’s reliance on a French alliance as a means of preserving her independence from England, with her concomitant tendency to gravitate into the cultural orbit of France. He is, in effect, replying to Mair by showing the claims for a close alliance with England have already been carefully considered and rejected.
22. Besides the issue of libertas or political independence, there is also the closely associated one of national identity. Since Mair elsewhere freely acknowledges the cultural superiority of England, it is not difficult to guess, according to his scheme of things, which former nation would have been the dominant partner in the union he recommended. There would have existed a material danger of Scottish national identity being swallowed up in a union of these two nations, and, if one were to think this possibility far-fetched, he only had to remember Edward I’s attempt to obliterate Scottish culture and replace it with an English one, something which Boece describes in considerable detail. One of the most striking differences between Mair’s history and his own is that Mair subjected the legendary traditions about Scotland’s origins and early history (which had, no doubt, been concocted to counterbalance similar English ones) to a rationalistic critique and rejects them. This Boece refuses to imitate. It is clear enough that he was capable of performing such an analysis, since, when it comes to Geoffrey of Monmouth, he displays no less skepticism than Mair would have done in the same context (VII.54), and proceeds in the very Mair-like way of comparing Geoffrey to other sources and applying the test of probability. So it is obvious that, when he declined to do this regarding the traditions of his own people, this was a matter of personal choice and not the result of any defective intellectual capacity. These traditions about the Egyptian origin of the Scottish people (they are, significantly, represented as contemporaries of the Israelites), their own Exodus and wanderings in exile before coming to the Promised Land of Albion, and about the first mythical “forty kings” of Scotland, were simply too valuable to sacrifice on the altar of rationalism.
23. And if one wonders about the nature of their value, the obvious answer lies in the power of history, real or fictitious, to create and maintain a sense of national identity, since the belief in a common past is a vitally important component of that sense. This is memorably shown by the case of the Greek city-state of Messenia, which has recently been examined in detail as “a case study in ethnicity and ethnogenesis.” NOTE 20 Messenia, a very fertile district in the southwest Peloponnese, had been conquered by the Spartans at an early date and served as their breadbasket for centuries. Despite some failed attempts at rebellion, the Messenians remained subject to Sparta, and lived under the same rigorous conditions as Sparta’s own Helots. Then, as the result of Epaminondas’ victory at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 B. C. Spartan power was shattered and the Messenians suddenly found they were a free people in possession of an independent sovereign state. This produced an existential crisis for the newly-liberated beneficiaries of Sparta’s defeat, for they largely lacked a collective identity, culture, history, and the other equipment that normally goes to make up nationhood. When they existed to any degree at all, it was necessary to refurbish and modernize them. When they did not exist, they had to be invented. To provide a collective religious life, the Mysteries of Andania, which were supposedly as ancient as the Mysteries of Eleusis at Athens, were, if not newly created, at least revived, and other religious cults were instituted. It was equally necessary to furnish some kind of shared collective experience, and so two historical works were written which, at best, preserved and codified folk memories in a highly embellished literary form. Myron of Priene’s prose history is a lost historical work of which little can be said, but the epic poem Messeniaca by the Cretan poet Rhianus is better known because it is an important source for that portion of Pausanias’ extant Description of Greece devoted to Messenia.
24. The Messenian example is an extreme one, but it serves to drive home the power of literature in general, and history in particular, to enucleate, foster, and, when necessary, modify a consciousness of collective identity. NOTE 21 And at this point we are brought back to the point where we started, Boece’s decision to base his history on that of Richard Vairement (and, in the last analysis, whether this work was real or fictitious does not matter). The most recent authority to mention that writer, Dauvit Broun, observed that “If Vairement was the author of this work, and if it existed at all, then it would clearly have a claim to be regarded as the earliest sustained narrative of a distinct Scottish past.” The cultural importance of this achievement is not to be neglected. The true importance of whatever Vairement may have written is not to be calculated in terms of its historical accuracy, or lack thereof, but rather in terms of its cultural significance as a facilitator of “ethnogenesis.” It provided the Scottish people, for the first time, with a coherent and codified narrative of their real or supposed national history, such as fostered the sense of a shared collective experience. Alternatively, if you insist on regarding Boece’s “Veremund” as his own device, the purely fictive existence of such a source by itself serves to impart the same cultural authority by grounding his historical narrative on an old work that at least allegedly performed this same function. One might even go so far as to suggest that if “Veremund” did not exist, then he needed to be invented. Burns (p. 82) sagely observed that “...[if] there is not much in Boece’s Scotorum Historia that may be called political theory, there is something that may be regarded as even more important: a powerful and dramatic political myth,” and for political and cultural purposes it is essentially irrelevant whether or not a myth is factually accurate, since of course even a highly fanciful one can be powerful and compelling. For the creation of the modern Scottish nation, for its preservation against the military aggression and cultural magnetism of their more powerful neighbor to the south, and for resisting the internal centrifugal forces that threatened to pull it apart, this form of self-consciousness was indispensable.
25. Let us suppose that Vairement did write a history and that, in its broad outlines, it contained pretty much the same things we find in Boece: the Egyptian origin, the period of wandering, and the “forty kings.” Factual nonsense, of course (or at most, to be more charitable, a Messenia-like literary codification of folk memories fleshed out by bits and scraps acquired from whatever Roman sources its author may have seen). But nonetheless, from a cultural point of view, highly valuable nonsense, far too much so to be subjected to any rationalistic demolition. Coming so soon after Mair, there is something visibly defiant about Boece loyally clinging to this stuff and nailing his colors to the mast of the traditional story. For, although his history may be dressed up in all the newfangled finery of Humanism (in a way that Mair’s is not), it remains squarely situated in the tradition of Medieval Scottish historiography. The example set by Mair had presented Boece with the option of writing a more critical kind of history, but this he rejected. In the last analysis, the reason for his decision was a political one, made because Mair’s rationalism had the effect of discrediting the traditional lore of Scottish history that helped bind the Scottish people into a coherent community, and therefore, in Boece’s opinion, militated against the best interests of the Scottish nation. It should be pointed out, parenthetically, that a later Scottish historian made the same choice for the same reason. For in writing of early Scottish history in his 1582 Rerum Scotarum Historia, George Buchanan was largely content to present the reader with a condensed version of Boece’s account.
26. Finally, something must be said about Boece as a writer of Humanistic history. It is paradoxical that Mair, whose understanding of the historian’s task was considerably more modern, wrote a distinctively Medieval kind of Latin, whereas Boece, the historical traditionalist, adopted the style and all the other trappings of the Humanistic movement. NOTE 22 Above all, in terms of both substance and style the Scotorum Historia is calculated to imitate Classical models. It contains many of the features of the Roman historians, such as the interpolated fictional speeches placed in the mouths of this characters, varied only in a passage beginning at IV.50, where a matched pair of speeches is copied (with due acknowledgement) from Tacitus verbatim, descriptions of evil, portents occurring before military defeats or the deaths of kings, the persona of the author as a reliable teacher-guide, and (at least after the point when sufficiently detailed historical information becomes available to permit it) the use of annalistic organization. Although he himself does nothing to invite the comparison explicitly beyond starting his dedicatory epistle to James V with a deliberate echo of the first words of Livy’s proem, it is a commonplace in discussions of Boece to identify him as the Scottish Livy, and the comparison is a good one. This is true not only because his work is a comprehensive soup-to-nuts treatment of its subject and because of its massive size (as expanded by Ferrerio, it occupies 866 folio pages), but because, like Livy, Boece monumentalizes the traditional version of his national history in a palatable modern form, employing all the rhetorical artifice he could command.
27. Boece was a personal friend of Erasmus, having known him when they were fellow students at the Collège de Montaigu of the University of Paris, and in fact Erasmus dedicated to him his Carmen de casa natalitia Iesu (Paris, ca. 1496). Like many others Humanists whose lives were touched by Erasmus, Boece strove to write what English contemporaries such as John Colet, William Lilly, and, slightly later, Roger Ascham called “clean Latin,” based on careful study and imitation of the best classical authors. It is true that the Latin style of this first generation of British Humanists was not as “clean” or artistic as what their successors were able to accomplish later in the century. The Scottish philosopher Florence Wilson (Volusenus) could even look back and pass some adverse comments concerning Erasmus’ style in his 1543 dialogue De Animi Tranquillitate (§239), and Boece’s Latin is by no means immune from criticism. Although he writes in a style vastly more elegant and artistic than Mair’s, he has an unfortunate tendency to employ the same words over and over without troubling to introduce variety by casting around for synonyms, he uses the same phrases so often that they take on a formulaic quality, and he relies excessively on the same grammatical constructions, most notably the ablative absolute. This verbal and syntactical repetition tends to invite tedium when Boece’s prose is consumed in large helpings, although his ability as a master story-teller saves the day, because the reader is carried on by his desire to find out what happens next. Additionally, when Boece strives for formality or to achieve a particularly high-flown style, particularly in his speeches, he indulges in lengthy periodic sentences that he cannot quite pull off because he becomes tangled up in his syntax. As a stylist, he is most successful when is engaged in straightforward narrative.
28. Equally Humanistic, of course, is the work’s highly rhetorical nature, which is by no means limited to Boece’s set-piece speeches. He has often been characterized as primarily a rhetorician. For example, Roger Mason (op. cit. p. 39) wrote “[Boece] was fully trained in the rigours of scholastic logic and even published a textbook on the subject, [but] he was deeply attracted to the humanist pursuit of eloquence and clearly saw the past as raw material for the display of his rhetorical rather than his critical skills.” This is true enough, as long as one does not imagine that he had no more serious purpose than merely showing off his accomplishment in that art. It is no more appropriate to attribute to him such a superficial motive than to make the same assertion about Renaissance clergymen who appropriated the technology of Classical rhetoric to preach the Gospel to congregations steeped in the New Learning.
29. The effect of Boece’s writing a Humanistic history is to enlist the prestige of the New Learning to put old wine in a new bottle and repackage the traditional Medieval account of Scottish history, putatively first assembled by Vairement, thereby giving it a look of modernity and new vitality, and making it more relevant and appetizing to modern readers. Boece’s reason for casting his history in the Roman mold is obvious: it is his way of conveying to the reader that the history of his own nation has no less value and dignity than that of Greece and Rome (a short time later, Polydore Vergil would do precisely the same for England in his Anglica Historica, and no doubt he was inspired by the same motivation — in fact, one would probably not go too far in suggesting that Polidore wrote his history under the influence of Boece’s model). Two considerations imparted extra prestige to his telling of Scotland’s story. In the first place, his personal standing as the first Principal of King’s College, Aberdeen (he had been hand-picked for this job by its founder, Bishop William Elphinstone) neatly counterbalanced that of Mair. Then too, he was the first historian to be able to capitalize on the enormous multiplying power of the printing press in placing the traditional account of Scottish history in a large number of hands.
30. These observations about Boece’s didactic and patriotic intentions are very preliminary, and leave, no doubt, many important blanks to be filled in and topics open for further investigation and elaboration. But, on the basis of what is said here, it is already to safe to draw one conclusion: far from being a romancer spinning tales for mere entertainment’s sake, a rhetorician writing merely for show, or some kind of historical trifler, Boece was a writer motivated by a high sense of purpose, and wrote the Scotorum Historia in the way he did as the result of decisions made for intelligent and clearly identifiable reasons. He took his job seriously, and he deserves to be taken seriously himself
31. The present edition is based on the 1575 Paris edition, printed by Jacques Dupuy, containing the extra Books XVIII and XIX and Giovanni Ferrerio’s continuation, which brings the history down to the death of James III. Ferrerio [1502 - 1579] was a Piedmontese Humanist who spent three years at the court of James V and a considerably longer time teaching and writing at Kinloss Abbey. NOTE 23 In introducing this additional material, Ferrerio says he was urged to undertake that task by various people, but mainly by Henry Sinclair, Dean of Glasgow, a famous book collector, and in her O. D. N. B. biography of Ferrerio, Nicola Royan speculates he may have furnished the Italian with these documents. Most of these, as Ferrerio’s continuation, as he himself warns the reader, really amounts to notes towards a history of the reign of James III rather than a history itself (he describes it with the word sylva), and I regret to have to report that it is marred by a number of truly spectacular factual errors. Some of these, anyway, are observed in relevant commentary notes. As he himself hints in his initial epistle to the reader, Ferrerio’s grasp of British affairs was far from perfect since he was a foreigner, and some of his mistakes (most flagrantly, his confusion of Henry VI’s son Edward of Westminster with the like-named son of the Duke of York, the future Edward IV, at §3) would never occur to an Englishman or even a native Scotsman. And the annalistic scheme of organization Ferrerio adopts for the first part of his continuation serves to highlight his sometimes faulty chronology: for example, at §27 - 28 he writes of Pierre de Breze and the Yorkist siege of Alnwick under the year 1471, although in truth de Breze died in 1465, and the mysterious death of John Stewart Earl of Mar occurred in 1479 and not, as Ferrerio states at §43, in 1480. It should be noticed, incidentally, that at one point (§64) Ferrerio promises to write of the doings of John Duke of Albany, which suggests that at the time he wrote those words he intended to carry on with his continuation at least through the reign of James IV, and perhaps that of James V as well (the Duke did not die until 1535).
32. Considering its length, the original book contains relatively few printing errors, and almost all of these are easily put right. NOTE 24 Its punctuation is quite another matter. The book abounds with passages where what is actually a single sentence is misleadingly written as two, by the addition of an unwanted full stop. To cite one illustrative example out of many hundreds, at VIII.74 the book has Secutam multitudinem, primum Vortigerni immania scelera in Constantianum domum atque in Britanicam rempublicam et gentem. Inde Hengisti Saxonumque atrocem in Deum atque homines iniuriam longa questus oratione, incensam perpulit, maiorum caedis vindicandae ac restituendae verae pietatis causa, ad arma celerius assumenta. This is obviously wrong: the whole thing is a single sentence, and the fatal full stop after gentem needs to be replaced with a comma. Other punctuation mistakes (such as run-on sentences, where two sentences are written as one, and superfluous commas) are less common, but the cumulative effect of all these problems with the text’s pointing is to make it unnaturally difficult to comprehend. It would be tedious in the extreme to record all the changes that have been required, and the simplest and most effective solution is silently to impose modern punctuation that helps the reader grasp the actual syntactical articulation of the text, and to issue a blanket statement that the punctuation of the present text is the responsibility of myself, not Boece. The same is true regarding the division of the text into paragraphs. The book has next to no paragraphing, and it is necessary to introduce this, both to exhibit the text’s rhetorical articulation and for ease of reading. To facilitate referencing, these paragraphs are numbered. (It should be added that these remarks about punctuation and paragraphing apply to Boece’s text, but not to Ferrerio’s contributions to the volume.)
33. I should like to record my gratitude to the British Library for furnishing me with a digitized photographic reproduction of this volume, which, not having been printed in the British Isles, is unavailable in the Early English Books microfilm series or its electronic online equivalent. One cannot forbear to remark how exasperating it is that works written by even the most important British authors but printed abroad are neglected in this series and likewise in the English Short-Title Catalog, which considerably diminishes the value of those resources. This policy consigns virtually all Humanistic English authors who wrote under Henry VII and the early years of the reign of Henry VIII, before Latin books came to be printed in England, as well as their Scottish counterparts, and also all British authors of the Catholic faith, to a kind of Stalinistic memory hole, and probably goes a long way towards explaining why they tend to be neglected by modern scholarship. But my greatest gratitude is reserved for my great and good friend Dr. Jamie Reid Baxter. The idea for this edition was originally his, and at every point in this work I have been supported by his encouragement and advice. The quality of this edition, and most particularly of this Introduction, would be markedly less without his kind assistance. Needless to say, however, whatever errors and omissions the reader discovers herein ought to be credited to myself exclusively.
NOTE 1 A Critical Essay on the Ancient Inhabitants of the Northern Parts of Britain or Scotland (London, 1729, an 1879 Edinburgh reprint is available in digitized photographic reproduction here and in downloadable machine-readable form here). See particularly pp. 171 - 76.
Innes was scarcely the first writer to criticize Boece. That honor would seem to go to Humphrey Lhuyd or Llwyd, who in his Commentarioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum (posthumously published at Cologne in 1572) attacked Boece for attributing the achievements of the Welsh to the Scots (p. 6) and called him a boldfaced liar for having invented the Egyptian ancestry of the Scots and pre-Roman Scottish history (pp. 32ff.). But, despite this appraisal, he raises no question about the quondam existence of “Veremundus.”
The English antiquarian John Leland also wrote an epigram against Boece (clviii):
Hectoris historici tot quot mendacia scripsit
Si vis ut numerem, lector amice, tibi,
Me iubeas etiam fluctus numerare marinos,
Et liquidi stellas connumerare poli.
[“Reader, if you want me to count up all the lies written by the historian Hector, you might as well bid me count the waves of the sea and the stars of the clear sky.”]
But it is not clear whether Leland was really offended by Boece’s historical inaccuracies or his anti-English stance, so what he meant by “lies” seems debatable.
NOTE 2 Julian Goodare, The Government of Scotland, 1560 - 1625 (Oxford, 2004) 77 is the most recent of a long line of authorities who have argued that when Chalmers discusses a number of old laws “collectit out of the cronickillis,” he at least mainly meant Boece, and casts doubt on his veracity in claiming to have seen Veremund himself (Innes had thought he was an innocent victim of a forgery).
I do not mean to suggest that Buchanan has never been criticized in this respect: cf., for example, Joseph Ritson’s Bibliographia Scotica, as quoted by Bertrand H. Bronson, “Rirtson’s Bibliographia Scotica,” Proceedings of the Modern Language Association 52 (1937) p. 127, “Upon such excellent materials [as John of Fordun], however, honest Hector has composed a romance, which Buchanan, who knew it falsehood, was dishonest enough to copy, and which his countrymen (with a few honorable exceptions) are still credulous enough to believe.” It is probably more accurate to suggest that Buchanan was well aware of the bogus nature of these traditions of early Scottish history but chose to retain them because they supported his own political views. The stories of these forty fictitious kings supply several clear precedents of the removal of a king for malfeasance, too useful to be ignored.
NOTE 3 In obtaining manuscripts from Iona, Boece was following in the footsteps of his mentor Bishop William Elphinstone, of whom he writes in his 1521 Murthlacensium et Aberdonensium Episcoporum Vitae (p. 99):
Scotorum historias de gentis antiquitatibus, praesertim apud Hybrides insulas, ubi quondam regum sepulchra nostraque gentis prisca servabantur monumenta, magna diligentia atque labore est scrutatus : in unum coarctavit volumen quas invenit. Enimvero perierant ferme omnia quae de Scotorum gestis literis fuerant mandata, Anglorum insidiis, quum nostram regionem intestina seditione laborantem foede populabantur. Scoticum enim nomen adeo illis erat invisum, ut non modo gentem, sed et gentis ob res egregie gestas memorabilem gloriam, penitus delere semper animo habuerint. Wilhelmi scripta in re Scotica, quam literis utcunque mandare incepimus, maxime insequimur.
[“With great diligence he studied Scottish history, particularly those preserved in the Hebrides islands, where once our king’s tombs and the ancient monuments of our nation were preserved, and summarized them all in a single volume. For nearly all writings about Scottish history have perished thanks to the wiles of the English, when they foully despoiled our nation at a time when it was suffering from internal discord. They hated Scotland so greatly that they always desired to abolish, not only the Scottish nation, but also the memorable glory of its accomplishments. I greatly follow what William wrote about Scottish history in the work I have begun to write.”]
NOTE 3 The Kingdom of the Scots (London, 1973) 218f. and 220f.
NOTE 4 Attitudes to Nationality in Scottish Historical Writing from Barbour to Boece (Diss. Edinburgh, 1979) 232 - 4. In point of fact, although it appears to have made little if any impression on Boece scholarship, the identification of Vairement as Veremund goes back at least as far as William Lockhart, The Church of Scotland in the Thirteenth Century: The Life and Times of David de Bernham of St. Andrews (Edinburgh, 1889) p. 33, who suggested that the reference to a Historia originis Scotorum ex Egypto ad Hispaniam, in Hiberniam, breviter inde in Britanniam, fol. 57 in the (now lost) Register of the priory of St. Andrews may have been a description of Vairement’s work. Given the putative contents of his history, it is interesting to learn (from Lockhart p. 34) that Vairement had been accused of forgery in connection with certain letters patent allegedly granted by William the Lion to the Earl of Mar. Someone might care to regard this as a powerful reason for thinking that Boece’s “Veremund” did actually exist: Vairement had a demonstrable track record as a falsifier, whereas Boece did not.
NOTE 5 The Identity of the Scottish Nation (Edinburgh, 1998), 66.
NOTE 6 “Hector Boece and the Question of Veremund,” Innes Review 51 (2001) 42 - 62.
NOTE 7 Scottish Independence and the Idea of Britain from the Picts to Alexander III (Edinburgh, 2007), Chapter 9.
NOTE 8 Printed at Edinburgh slightly before 1540, and most recently reprinted in two volumes as edited under the title History and Chronicles of Scotland Written in Latin by Hector Boece; and translated by John Bellenden, Archdean of Moray, and Canon of Ross, by Walter Seton, R. W. Chambers, and Edith C. Batho (Scottish Text Society 3:10 and 15, Edinburgh - London, 1938 - 41), available in electronic form in two volumes here and here (various manuscript copies also exist, not itemized here). See Nicola Royan, “The Relationship between the Scotorum Historia of Hector Boece and John Bellenden’s Chronicles of Scotland,” in Sally L. Mapstone and Juliette Wood (edd.), The Rose and the Thistle: Essays on the Culture of Late Medieval and Renaissance Scotland (East Lindon, 1998) 136 - 57.
Most readers know Boece as represented by Bellenden. There are two other more or less contemporary translations, not printed until comparatively modern times. The first is a verse translation by William Stewart, The Buik of the Cronicilis of Scotland; this has been edited by William Turmbull (London, 1858). For another partial prose translation preserved in a MS. now in the possession of the Pierpont Morgan Library, see George Watson (ed.), The Mar Lodge translation of the History of Scotland(Scottish Text Society Publications 3:17, Edinburgh, 1946).
NOTE 9 The relation of Bellenden’s translation to Boece’s original has been studied by Nicola Royan, “The relationship between the Scotorum Historia of Hector Boece and John Bellenden's Chronicles of Scotland,” in Sally Mapstone (ed.), The Rose and the; Thistle: Essays on the Culture of Late Renaissance Scotland (East Linton, 1998) 136 - 57.
NOTE 10 For another contemporary example of a Humanist instructing a member of the Scottish royal family, we may compare Erasmus’ service as rhetoric tutor to Alexander Stewart, the uncle of James V. The relationship that Boece establishes with the young king in this work can also be read against the tradition of Scotsmen giving advice, sometimes very bluntly, to their sovereigns, which became a familiar feature in their national literature. See Sally Mapstone, The Advice to Princes Tradition in Scottish Literature (Diss. Oxford, 1986).
NOTE 11 See, for example, the long vernacular poem De regimine Principum bonum consilium found in mss. of the Liber Pluscardensis, a mid-15th century continuation of Fordun’s Scotichronicon. This poem, which has much to say about the need for the rule of law and the fact that even a king’s individual ‘wyt may nocht suffice / For to mayntene sa hee a gouernance’, tells the monarch he ‘suld ger cheis the counsal at war wyss, / Be al thi thre estatis ordinance; / And lay al hale the charge in thair balance / To gife the counsale in thi gouernment.’ The poem was popular: printed by Chepman and Myllar c. 1508, its most complete surviving version was copied into the Maitland Folio Manuscript sometime after 1570; see the edition thereof by Sir William Craigie (Scottish Text Society, 2 vols.), I.115 - 27 and II.72 - 91}.
NOTE 12 These contrasting theories of absolute monarchy and what he calls “resistance theory” (that expounded by Boece, Buchanan, and Knox, among others) are studied by James Henderson Burns, The True Law of Kingship: Concepts of Monarchy in Early Modern Scotland (Oxford, 1996). What Burns writes about Boece in his Chapter 2 constitutes by far the most penetrating and illuminating available study. In the course of this chapter, Burns argues that the theory was injected into Scottish thinking by Mair’s Scottish history. See also James Cameron, “The Conciliarism of John Mair,“ in Diana Wood (ed.), The Church and Sovereignty c. 590 - 1918 (Oxford, 1991), 429 - 34.
NOTE 13 These speeches have been studied by Nicola Royan, “The Uses of Speech in Hector Boece's Scotorum Historia,” In L. A. J. R. Houwen, Alasdair A. MacDonald, and Sally L. Mapstone (edd.), A Palace in the Wild : Essays on Vernacular Culture and Humanism in Late-Medieval and Renaissance Scotland (Mediaevalia Groningana n. s. 1, Leeuven, 2000), 75 - 94.
NOTE 14 See the chapter entitled “Daunting the Isles” in Jamie Cameron, James V: The Personal Rule 1528 - 1542 (Edinburgh, 1998).
NOTE 15 Boece is at times capable of being frank about the source of another threat to Scottish liberty, the one posed by Rome. This comes out most notably when he writes about an abortive papal attempt to place the Scottish bishops under the authority of the Archbishop of York at a time when Scotland was at war with England (XIII.17), and about fraudulent attempts to extract Scottish money to subsidize Crusades by papal legates (see the passage beginning at XIII.46), which tends to represent the institution of the papacy in a very unfriendly light. At the time he wrote his history Protestantism had not yet come to Scotland (although in 1525 the Scottish Parliament found it necessary to ban the importation of Luther’s books), but these passages as well as others dealing with monastic corruption appear to reflect something of the religious ferment and dissatisfaction of the age. One hastens to add, however, that when it came to religious doctrine Boece appears to have been entirely orthodox.
NOTE 16 Sarolta A. Takács The Construction of Authority in Ancient Rome and Byzantium: the Rhetoric of Empire (Cambridge U. K., 2009).
NOTE 17 A translation of this work was printed under the title John Major’s Greater Britain (tr. Aeneas J. J. MacKay, Publications of the Scottish History Society x, Edinburgh, 1892).
NOTE 18 The best studies of Mair as a historian and political thinker are Arthur Williamson, Scottish National Consciousness in the Age of James VI (Edinburgh, 1979), 97 - 102, Burns, op. cit. Chapter 2, and Roger Mason, Kingship and the Commonweal (East Linton, 1998), 36 - 77. It should be noted that, according to Burns, Mair was largely responsible for the creation of the theory of limited kingship. Although in other respects Boece is writing to combat Mair’s recommendation for union with England, it is true that he is tacitly accepting this political concept: he never explicitly articulates the theoretical and legal foundations of the idea, but he provides a very large number of historical exempla that tend to support it.
One hastens to add that Mair did not invent his theory out of thin air: it is solidly based on memories of the ancient Celtic political institution of tanistry, whereby kings and other leaders were chosen by a mixed system of heredity and election. (There is a very good treatment of this custom in Francis John Bryne, Irish Kings and High Kings, Dublin, 1973). Then too, in more modern times, there was the Declaration of Arbroath sent to Pope John XXII by a group of Scottish nobles and magnates in 1321, which is sometimes interpreted as containing an assertion of the right of the Scottish people to elect their sovereigns, and that the relationship between the king and his people is a contractual one (although, admittedly, Mair, Boece, and Buchanan all seem to have been unaware of this document). See Edward J. Cowan, For Freedom Alone: The Declaration of Arbroath (East Lothian, 2003).
In view of his tacit endorsement of Mair’s views of the limited nature of Scottish kingship, the reader may be surprised at his very favorable portrayal of James I in Book XVII, although the great theme of James’ reign was his attempt to consolidate the power of the crown at the expense of the nobility. I am not sure I can provide a satisfactory answer to this paradox, but it may have been the case that his gratitude for James’ support of Scottish intellectuals and the arts got the better of his usual political judgment.
NOTE 19 I assume that in Mair’s title the word Maioris is a common adjective modifying Britanniae and not a Latinized form of the author’s surname (although there of course may be some punning at work), so he used “Greater Britain” in something of the same way that Großdeutschland was minted by Pan-Germanists. The term “Great Britain” had been employed by earlier writers to distinguish Britain from Brittany (“Lesser Britain”), but its use by a Scotsman in the sense of a greater whole embracing England and Scotland looks new. One wonders if, when James VI/I succeeded Elizabeth on the throne of England and called the resulting political structure Great Britain, he got the idea from the title of Mair’s book. For discussions of the history of this phrase see Denys Hay, “The Use of the Term ‘Great Britain’ in the Middle Ages,” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 89 (1955 - 56), 55-66, reprinted in Hay’s Europe: the Emergence of an Idea (Edinburgh 1968) 128 - 44, and also R. R. Davies, “In Praise of British History,” in R. R. Davies (ed.), The British Isles 1100 - 1500 (Edinburgh, 1988) pp. 9 - 26, especially pp. 10 - 12.
NOTE 20 See Nino Luraghi, The Ancient Messenians: Constructions of Ethnicity and Memory (Cambridge U. K., 2008).
NOTE 21 An recent interesting study of this is Cathy Shrank, Writing the Nation in Reformation England(Oxford, 2006), who looks at the activities of such writers as Thomas Smith and John Leland. Had she taken into consideration later literary figures, Shrank would doubtless have had much to say about William Camden’s Britannia, or at least about the 1607 edition of that work. This was printed not long after James VI/I’s accession to the throne of England, at a time when many Englishmen’s sense of nationhood and identity must have been challenged. In this work, Camden is at great pains to show how the English people was already an amalgam of various ethnic groups which had been progressively and successfully fused into a single whole, and this reassuringly points the way to the possibility of union of two previously independent peoples. The great popularity of Britannia in Camden’s own lifetime (his effigy in Poets’ Corner of the Abbey clutches a copy of that book) may have been partially due to the fact that this work suggested a way out of an urgent contemporary existential crisis. This is a fine example of literature’s power to reshape national identity.
NOTE 22 The diagnosis of Roger Mason (p. 99) is similar, when he writes of Mair’s “telling critique of Scottish chivalrous culture, which paradoxically enough appears to owe much more to Erasmian humanism than does the idealizing atavism so characteristic of Hector Boece.”
NOTE 23 When Royan writes that Ferrerio made Boece’s acquaintance at the University of Paris in 1525, this is clearly wrong: Boece was at Aberdeen at that time. More likely they met in 1527, when Boece appears to have taken a leave of absence and gone to Paris to supervise the printing of his history. Cf. John Durkan, “Giovanni Ferrerio, Humanist: His Influence in Sixteenth Century Scotland,” in K. Robbins (ed.), Religion and Humanism(Studies in Church History 17, Oxford, 1981) 181 - 94.
NOTE 24 The number of printing errors might in fact be considerably greater than those recorded here. On the basis of a digitized photographic reprint, it is not always easy to determine whether n had been substituted for u or vice versa by an inversion of the type, and so only definite instances are recorded. But there are many others where this may also be the case.