Sharon Adams, Julian Goodare, eds. Scotland in the Age of Two Revolutions. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2014. 270 pp. $115.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-84383-939-2.
Reviewed by Andrew Frantz
Published on H-War (December, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
In recent years, scholars have sought to breathe new life into the study of early modern British history by taking a step back from the traditional Anglocentric vantage point and examining long-studied subjects from the perspective of Britain’s other kingdoms. The essays in Sharon Adams and Julian Goodare’s Scotland in the Age of Two Revolutions highlight this trend as they explore the revolutionary developments that occurred in Scottish politics, religion, economics, and society during the seventeenth century.
Unlike other scholars who have examined Scotland and Ireland within the contexts of English events and ideas, the editors are quick to point out that their collection stands out by presenting the Scots on their own terms from the signing of the National Covenant in 1638 to William and Mary’s acceptance of the Claim of Right in 1689. In the first chapter, Adams and Goodare explain how the Williamite triumph in Scotland was the realization of the desires of the century’s earlier revolution and, further, how both events played out in a much different fashion than those south of the Tweed due to Scotland’s particular blend of religion and politics as well as its unique social and cultural institutions. By separating the actions of Scottish revolutionaries from the Crown’s ministers and policymakers in Whitehall, the editors seek to call attention to what really was at stake in the northern kingdom during the seventeenth century, stress the economic and social changes brought about by the political upheaval, and highlight the legacies that the victories gained through the revolutions would leave beyond the union.
The stage for mid-century troubles is set by Anna Groundwater’s chapter on James VI’s policies regarding the Borders, which lay at the heart of tensions surrounding the Union of the Crowns. As much as Groundwater highlights the challenges faced by dual government of the British kingdoms, the piece seems slightly out of place in connection to the other essays. While the pacification of the region served as the litmus test for how effectively the Crown could balance the political patronage and legal systems of the two kingdoms, the narrative does not illustrate the same kind of revolutionary change seen in the other pieces. Likewise, much of what occurred in Scotland regarding the changes in policy was extremely dependent on decisions being made in London and appointments to the king’s bedchamber there, a connection most of the other chapters try to sever. The somewhat awkward fit aside, Groundwater does a commendable job of highlighting the fine lines that existed between political, religious, and social contentions in the early part of the seventeenth century.
In addition to Groundwater’s chapter on the Borders, the collection’s contributions to regional history also extend to the Highlands in the form of Sherrilynn Theiss’s piece (chapter 3) on the relationship between the western Highlands and Edinburgh in the decades before the civil war and Danielle McCormack’s essay (chapter 7) on Highland lawlessness during the Cromwellian occupation. Though a considerable portion of Theiss’s piece serves as an overview of clan society, her insights into tenuous relations between the Covenanters and Highlanders (who were rather indifferent to their religious innovations) raise some compelling ideas about motivations behind allegiance and military service during the civil war. This theme of allegiance is also at the heart of McCormack’s chapter as she describes how the central government sought to combat lawlessness in the Highlands by destroying the authority of clan chieftains. While the presence of skilled occupation forces certainly left its mark, it was the exploitation of feelings of distrust and hostility among clansmen, especially in the wake of the failed Glencairn Rising, that allowed Edinburgh to begin chipping away at Highland martial culture and the clans’ way of life. Together, these chapters outline part of the role played by the powerful clans around the time of the civil war and its aftermath, but the lack of a chapter focused on the Highland experience in the second revolution, the long path that led to Glencoe, and later Culloden, feels incomplete.
The bulk of the collection focuses on Scottish political culture during this tumultuous era. Goodare’s own contribution to the book (chapter 5) is a thought-provoking essay in which he defines early modern revolution in the terms of the era and demonstrates what made the events following 1638 truly revolutionary. Adams’s piece follows, raising the question of whether or not the Crown’s opposition in Scotland had republican tendencies, to which she suggests that those radical ideas were unnecessary, as the Covenanters, devoutly loyal to the institution of the monarchy as they were, achieved their desired ends by limiting the Crown and not simply discarding it. In another notable entry (chapter 9), Caroline Erskine explains how Restoration-era Covenanters differed from their pre-civil war counterparts, most notably, in their growing distrust of the nobility and the Crown (linked, in part, to the rise of Whig political theory). The changing nature of political and religious ideas is also displayed in Alasdair Raffe’s examination (chapter 10) of the alterations to coronation oaths and the divisive Test Act. Other essays, chapters 4 and 8, examine the roles of leading bishops and veterans of the battle of Worcester, respectively, in Scottish politics of the era.
The final two essays explore the state of the Scottish economy at the end of this age of revolution. Laura Rayner (chapter 11) explains that the Privy Council and Treasury were busier than ever in the 1690s and that the Crown’s growing military expenditures as well as a serious economic downturn made it increasingly difficult for the Treasury to collect necessary excises. Tight purse strings did not, however, deter many of Scotland’s leaders from investing in the Company of Scotland. As Douglas Watt explains (in chapter 12), the company and its infamous colonial scheme quickly became a battleground for commercial and political capital between the court and country factions. Though the failure of the company’s economic enterprises was enough to bring about its end, Watt suggests that it was the political divisions, and eventual takeover by the country party, that stymied any chance of the Scottish company from establishing the sort of healthy relationship with the state that their English rivals had with London.
The essays compiled by Adams and Goodare provide fascinating vantage points from which readers can view revolutionary Scotland free from influences of England’s own political and social upheavals. The impact of Scotland’s unique religious reforms and the signing of the National Covenant run as a common theme through all the chapters, supporting the editors’ early claim that the experience of the revolutions, Interregnum, and Restoration in Scotland was entirely dependent on that kingdom’s distinctive cultures and social circumstances. Though many of the themes and trends parallel those seen in Stuart England and Ireland, the narrative of seventeenth-century Scottish history is not clear when pinned to an Anglocentric timeline. Though more could be said of the latter decades in the Highlands, as well as Lowland Scottish culture and society throughout the period, the works included must be commended for their originality and variety of subject matter The collection as a whole can serve both as a primer for those early modernists who have previously not given much thought to the lands north of Carlisle and Newcastle as well as a gateway into further topics of study for the most learned of Scottish historical scholars. Either way, Adams and Goodare have provided an excellent addition to the Three Kingdoms approach to British history. Just as many hoped the Covenant would free the Kirk from arbitrary rule from London, perhaps this collection will help free more in the discipline from England’s long-held control of the historiography of early modern Britain
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Andrew Frantz. Review of Adams, Sharon; Goodare, Julian, eds., Scotland in the Age of Two Revolutions.
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