The legend of Scota and the origins of Scottish independence (21st October 2015)


Image of Scota and Gaythelos from Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 171, f 14r)

Next meeting: 21st October / Room 2.50 / 3-5pm

The story of Scota and Gaythelos is first recorded in the Historia Britonnum and in an Irish chronicle known as Book of Leinster. The legend developed in Scotland during the thirteenth century, and was then included in John of Fordun’s Chronica gentis Scotorum (c . 1363-85), the first history of Scotland from its foundation to the death of King David I in 1153. At the next meeting, we will be reading three fifteenth-century chronicles, and discussing both Scottish and English versions of the story of Scota.

Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon (1440s)
Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon (1440-7) was a continuation of John of Fordun’s Chronica gentis Scotorum. Bower made some revisions to John’s original text, and extended the historical narrative to the death of James I in 1437.

John Hardyng’s Chronicle (1457 and 1464)
Hardyng’s Chronicle follows the traditional Galfridian narrative from the foundation of Britain by Brutus to the death of Cadwalladr, and he also continues the narrative into the present day. Hardyng wrote two versions of his Chronicle: the first version was dedicated to Henry VI, while  the second version was written for Richard, Duke of York, the father of Edward VI and Richard III. We are reading an extract from the second version.

The Scottis Originale (fifteenth and sixteenth centuries)
This chronicle is a condensed and popular version of the Fordun-Bower tradition written in Old Scots. The text survives in three manuscripts: National Archives of Scotland MS Dalhousie GD 45/31/1-II; British Library MS Royal 17.D.xx; and National Library of Scotland MS 165000 (or the Asloan MS). The Dalhousie and Royal manuscripts were produced in the fifteenth century (1460s), while the Asloan manuscript was written in the sixteenth century after the Battle of Flodden (1513).

Try to think about some answers to the following questions as you read the selection of texts:

  1. Why do you think the Scots are descended from the Egyptians? Why would chroniclers draw on a narrative from the Old Testament?
  2. What do you make of the quotations of various chronicle sources in the Scotichronicon?
  3. How does the story of Scota and Gaythelos relate to the issue of Scottish independence?
  4. What similarities and differences are there between the portraits of Gaythelos in the three chronicles?
  5. Can you make any other connections with other origin stories you may have read? (i.e. Brutus and Albina). You may want to think about different acts of transgression, or the role of the law-giver.
  6. What is the significance of the Stone of Scone that is mentioned in Hardyng’s Chronicle?

You may also want to look at some medieval maps of Scotland, which can be found here on Sarah Peverley’s blog. Sarah’s post discusses the maps of Scotland that Hardyng drew for his Chronicle, as well including other cartographic representations, such as those by Matthew Paris, the Gough map, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi.

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