National Identity and the Anglo-Scottish Borderlands, 1552-1652

It seems that borders in one place or another are constantly in the news these days: they were a primary concern for many Brexiteers; the reinstatement of an internal Irish border raises grave concerns; some European states strengthened theirs against the refugee crisis; and the argument over whether the United States needs a wall on its southern border. Jenna M. Schultz’s book is therefore both welcome and timely. Here she introduces us to the complex issues around the early modern Anglo-Scottish borderlands, and how a divide may still persist after a border has gone.

King James VI of Scotland  and King James I of England

1603: a dramatic, yet exciting year in the history of the British Isles. King James VI of Scotland acceded to the throne of England as James I. As the first monarch to rule both kingdoms, questions surrounding stronger legal, commercial, and other ties demanded lengthy discussions by Members of Parliament. However, the king sought to visually demonstrate the shift toward stronger relations as well. To do so, he focused his attention on the region where these potential changes would be most strongly felt: the Anglo-Scottish borderlands. In my new book, National Identity and the Anglo-Scottish Borderlands, 1552-1652, I explore questions of Englishness and Scottishness in the decades before and after the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Through the lens of the borderlands, it becomes clear that, despite the king’s efforts, strong national identities served to reinforce the border as a line of division between the kingdoms. The local English and Scottish populace were enmeshed in social, administrative, and territorial complexities that hindered the possibility of a complete union.

A study of national identity expression in the borderlands contributes to the broader discussion of British history, provides new insight into early modern state formation, and reveals deeply engrained understandings of what it meant to be English or Scottish. Though it is clear that the borderlands was not a cohesive unit, investigating the region through an expanded geographical and chronological scope reveals broad patterns of development that were previously unrealized.

I was first inspired to delve into the history of the borderlands as an undergraduate. I joined a university program that allowed students to live and take courses in Alnwick Castle, a medieval stronghold that sits approximately 30 miles from the border. Early in the semester, the history professor took the class on a tour of the castle grounds. At one point, the students stopped to look out at the sheep pasturing in the meadow near the Aln River. The professor noted that the fields around the castle were littered with the remains and memories of English and Scottish soldiers who had fought in several battles during 11th and 12th centuries. It may have been a simple comment to give students an understanding of the significance of the region in Anglo-Scottish conflicts, but that moment profoundly shaped my professional life. Since then, my passion has been uncovering the animosity, camaraderie, and convoluted relationships between peoples living on the frontier.

Alnwick Castle, image credit: wikimedia

The research for this book revealed a few unexpected surprises. Uncovering the voice of anyone from the middling or poorer sort during the early modern period is often difficult. Through border commission reports, court documents, and general petitions, the opinions and hopes of individuals shine. In Berwick-upon-Tweed on the English side of the border, townspeople did not shy away from gossiping or voicing their supposed fears regarding visitors from the northern kingdom. Additionally, the lack of cooperation between local officials, whether because they were unwilling or unable, emerges as a key factor in the challenges facing union. As a whole, the narrative that emerges is one of resistance and the pervasiveness of Englishness and Scottishness.


This guest post was written by Jenna M. Schultz whom teaches in the Department of History at the University of St Thomas in St Paul, Minnesota.

National Identity and the Anglo-Scottish Borderlands, 1552-1652
by Jenna M. Schultz
Hardback / 9781783273973 / £52.50 or $90

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