The stories we learnt at school about kings, queens, bishops, and knights are surprisingly relevant to the archaeology of the built environment, because great chunks of it were built at their behest; they were at the focal point of the history of medieval Scotland, which as we saw in the last article, was an economic and ecological disaster zone, subject to systemic violence between Highlands and Lowlands.
For several millennium agriculture had supported an elite, an aristocracy, who for most of our history owned the land, an ownership that extended a varying degree to the people who lived on and worked their land. While prehistory gives us a canvass onto which we can project a world where this might not be so, as soon as myth, then history, emerges, it’s men with swords that are calling the shots. Swords are not entirely symbolic in this context, they appear in the Bronze Age, [left ],and unlike arrows or spears, they are unambiguously weapons, and raised the technological bar for warfare; interpersonal violence was becoming the preserve of specialists.
Lets be perfectly clear from the outset; in most periods these elites were sponsors of art, architecture, and literature, they were the engines of ‘culture’ as we understand it. The people at the top, while seldom actually creating art, or fabricating material culture, paid the people who did, so were responsible for the nice bits of history as well the nasty.
The same can be said of ‘the church’, but if we are to follow the narrative of history we must try to forget our own emotional involvement with similarly named institutions. The Church owned land on the same terms as the aristocracy, so it had a place at the table and a stake in the game, and could reassure the population that God sanctioned these arrangements, and ensure he was on the winning side.
Land was power; it gave you either soldiers or the income to buy them/pay them off. In Scotland we saw how the power of the clan chiefs was based on military service in return for use of the land, the ‘Clan’, though often related, were effectively tenants expected to put their life on the line at the behest of the landlord.
In recorded history this aristocracy was international; with class, it’s blood and birth that’s important, this transcends modern ideas of national identity. After all, it only blood that distinguish aristocracy, so heredity and class are absolutely central to the concept of individuals holding power over others by rite.
It is the interests of these elites that the drive the plot of history, they took the resources of the general economy and population and invested them in the warfare market, although we should not forget that this was a partially regulated market, with rules and rates of exchange. The objective was not necessarily to kill an enemy, most soldiers were worth a lot more alive, and the aim of warfare was to make a profit in ransom, loot, and tribute, as well as land. Money was a much simpler and convenient method of warfare than making off with your enemies’ cows, although this was also still standard practice. The Celts probably first encountered money while working as mercenaries for the Greeks; when the Romans encountered the Celts in 390bce, with their mass charge battle tactics, they chose to pay them off with gold. Warfare was like massive protection racket, with serious sums of money changing hands in ransoms and payoffs.
For people of my generation the BBC drama series I Claudius made a lasting impression, it was the history of the Roman Imperial family, a sort of at home with the Julio-Claudians, . Brian Blessed, (booming voice, right), who played Augustus, tells the tale that the cast were unsure how to play the Roman aristocracy for television, the solution, they decided, was to play them in the way the Italian mafia were portrayed, family centred, concerned for their respectability and standing, extravagant presents, big hand gestures, - you get the picture. There is an important point here, even the Roman empire with its complex systems of power and republican aspirations, was still largely run by families, sometimes exclusively.
So that’s it; history was just a giant turf war, where criminal families competed for the rites to extort money and resources from the local population. The aristocracy had better weapons, power, and strategic control; they also had the law, and god, on their side, and were the natural order of things. In an age were people could be owned, it was probably best to belong to somebody, that way you were less likely to be stolen or damaged, and besides, in most class systems there is usually the comforting thought that someone is worse off than you.
While this warfare resulted in the occasional new faces down at the castle, for the most part, ordinary people were not involved. Once you have an elites, they tend to sort out issues of cultural or political change among themselves. Consider 1066; The English King dies, the local candidate, Harold, takes the throne, beats off a the Norwegian King but in then killed by William the Bastard, (right),a French noble, who turned up with 9000 troops and seized power and ownership of a country of 1,500,000 people. That was not the end, or even the beginning of the story, which is another problem with the past, knowing when or even where to start a story.
This would a good place to start our story of Scotland, but for the need to mention the Romans, who came to northern Britain, took look at it, and rapidly realised it only works if you can stop the Highlanders subsisting off the Lowlanders, and built forts, roads, and two walls in an attempt to solve the problem. The Roman’s military culture had long since come to terms with being charged by men with swords and shields, but had learnt the lesson about chasing off after them into the wild uncharted country.
The Highland/Lowland divide in Scotland generated its own built environment, but in a sense it is a microcosm of the Island as a whole, with geography favouring the south, and the north being ‘Bandit country’. William the Bastard used a scorched earth policy on northern England, and in the doomsday book, a meticulous cataloguing of his new kingdom, much of Northern England is described somewhat ominously as ‘waste’.
Meanwhile, well, 250 years later in Scotland, the Scots ran out of Royalty; Alexander [III] drove his horse off a cliff and died, his three year old daughter Margaret becomes Queen, but was dead at 8, giving the English King, Edward (hammer of the Scots) Planetagenet, (right), the excuse to intervene, [and kill William (Braveheart) Wallace in an unpleasant way and for a variety of complicated reasons, neither of which we have time to go into].
Following Edward Planetagenet’s pioneering work in Scotland at the end of the 13th century, a succession of Edwards, Henrys, and Richards, had sought to dominate the Scots, and there was sporadic warfare and hostage taking, but most kings of England were preoccupied with defending and expanding their own lands, which of course were in France, and the French were always keen on sponsoring a second front, and the Scots were happy to oblige.
In Scotland, Robert (the) Bruce took the vacant throne in 1306, and it was through his daughter that it passed into the hands of the Stewart family in 1371, when Robert (II) Stewart became king, (right). The Stewarts, originally from Brittany, had a rough time of it, being a Monarch was dangerous job, Robert Stewart III was a notoriously miserably king, but at least died in his bed, unlike his decedents the James Stewarts. JS I was assonated, JS II was accidentally blown up while standing next to a cannon, JSIII was stabbed, JSVI was killed in battle [invading England], and V was dead at 30, then followed Mary (Queen of Scots) Stewart, who was executed in 1587, on the orders of Elizabeth (good queen Bess) Tudor of England, who died childless in 1603, possibly the first break the Stewarts had got for a couple of centuries. The English offered the James (VI) Stewart the job of King of England, mainly because he was not Catholic; Henry (6 wives) Tudor VIII, Elizabeth’s farther, had detached the Church in England from Papal control starting a whole new round of religious wars in Europe.
James I/VI successor, Charles I, flirted with Catholicism and decided that he ruled by Gods authority not the peoples, the people disagreed, and to prove the point cut his head off, which was an important political statement. Unfortunately, it ushered military dictatorship, and the puritans, the C17th century equivalent to the Taliban, only less explosive. After a brief miserable period of religious fundamentalism, the Stewarts were invited back in the form of Charles II (the merry monarch) Stewart, and the puritans went somewhere else. The Stewarts were be thrown out again when James II/VII, a roman catholic, started with the divine rite business again. Other Stewarts, (William &) Mary, and Anne, continued till 1714, when Germans from Hanover were offered the job, all very civilised.
But the son of the exiled James II, - James (The old pretender) Stewart [iii/viii] tried to win back the throne in 1715, enlisting the Stewarts traditional allies in Scotland (Jacobites) and the French, this failed, and it was left to his son, Charles (bonnie prince Charlie) Stewart to carry on the fight. He arrived in Scotland in 1745, and raised the usual suspects in rebellion, defeated all comers in Scotland, and set off for England to reclaim his crown, (below).
This was now in the hands of a German family from Hanover, mostly called George, GII was bravely packing his kit as Bonnie Prince Charlie marched south, but he got only as far as a pub in Darby, before turning back to have his disorganised army destroyed at the battle of Culloden, by the British under the King's brother the Duke (butcher) Cumberland.
On 16 April 1746, in a bog where the Caledonian forest once stood, the highlanders had their final charge, it was the tactics of bronze age, as they charged, many with swords and shields, into a hail of musket balls and grape shot, to their credit they reached the British lines, but it was all over in less than half an hour, the Jacobite army broke up, Bonnie Prince Charlie eventually made it back to France, and the highlanders dispersed back into the hills, but this time there was no escape.
Since 43bce, when Julius Caesar arrived and allegedly announced “veni, vidi, vici”, a Latin speaking elite based in Rome had been embroiled in our politics, but in 1746 their last desperate throw of the dice ended in failure. The Highlanders, the people least touched by the Romans, paid the ultimate price, like their swords and shields, their ancient form of feudalism was an anachronism, and it was about to be finally swept away; this was the last battle on British soil.
In 1788, a few years after Samuel Johnson arrived in Scotland as a tourist, Bonnie Prince Charlie died in his bed in Rome, and was buried with his fellow exiled Stuarts in St Peters Basilica; it was 100 years since his grandfather had been chased out of England, and 139 years since the first Charles Stewart had been executed by his people; the following year the French feudal system collapsed, and in the ensuing revolution the people made a spirited attempt to exterminate their aristocracy, and the world moved on.
Balmoral, a romantic vision of a Scottish castle, built for Queen Victoria in 1850s, on an estate once owned and used for hunting by Robert Stewart(II).
Bonnie Prince Charlie in NEWS: