Is nationalism evident within the Scottish church during the Great Schism period?

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Is nationalism evident within the Scottish church during the Great Schism period?

It is not easy to answer this question for everyone has got his own definition of nationalism. I have tried to find out what actually nationalism is and if it appeared in the Middle Ages. And eventually to combine with thoughts within the Scottish church during this period.

According to David McRoberts was "the emergence of nationalist sentiment in the latter part of the medieval period of immense significance for Europe. The 15th century in particular witnessed an extraordinary acceleration in the growth of this new mood."1

But Hans Kohn states the thesis that there was no sentiment worthy of being called nationalism in the Middle Ages.2

But I think there was a sort of national awareness emerging in Europe and of course in Scotland. Churchmen for they were the educated class of medieval society played an important role and they should have been aware of national sentiments and also of how one could use national sentiments.

Common elements for developing a kind of national sentiment in the whole of Europe were 'juvenile pride' in one's own nation as contrasted with others, and the pride is mostly concentrated upon the warlike virtues of the nation, in several cases also upon the superiority of their own civilisations. It includes hatred or contempt of other nations. In the Scottish case towards England. The nation is centred in its king, who is the chief of the nation in battle and the visible symbol, signifying political unity.

From the beginning of the 12th century nationalism grew from simplicity of earlier times to complexity. New institutions such as a national parliament and the church placed themselves at the side of the king and attracted the devo- tion of the people. Historic traditions conveyed to the people new national symbols, heroes of independence (William Wallace, the Bruces), saints and also laws.

The growth of nation states in 15th century Europe destroyed the medieval concept of Christendom as a single, exclusive and united people, owing alle- giance to the inter- related authority of Emperor and Pope. In the first place the acceleration of the disintegration of Christendom, because of the emer- gence of national states, was the Great Schism (1378-1418). Within that pe- riod Christendom was faced with the unedifying spectacle of 2 -one time 3- rival popes, mutually excommunicating one another. Following closely came the Councils of Constance and Basle which still further weakened the central authority of the Papacy and of the Empire since they provided a stage for the effective display of international rivalries which weak Popes and Emperors could in no way control. These councils left in Scotland as in other northern lands a strong and permanent conciliarist element within the clergy. In the 15th century Scotsmen, and in particular Scottish churchmen, were well aware of the new ideas of contemporary Europe. In the crisis of the Schism Scotland had played a rather remarkable part. When all nations, even France, had deserted the allegiance of the Avignon Pope Scotland with only the king- dom of Aragon maintained her loyalty to Benedict VIII.. The stand undertaken by Aragon is understandable because Benedict VIII. was Aragonese, but it is not quite so easy to explain Scotland's loyalty. Whatever the reason for this loyalty, it must have been an invigorating experience for Scottish delegates to stand with Aragonese representatives at the side of the redoubtable pope Benedict VIII., bidding defiance to the rest of Christendom. The experience was no doubt remembered. At several of the lesser councils of that turbulent era, Scotland had to assert her independent nationhood in the face of opposi- tion as, for example, Thomas Morrow, abbot of Paisley, strove to do at Siena in 1423 and 1424.3 Efforts were made to organise Scotland more effectively as a self- contained nation- state of Christendom after the contemporary fash- ion and ecclesiastics played a full and active part in developing new Scotland. According to Adrian Hastings "two things 'turned' Scotland into a nation in the Middle Ages: firstly, the struggle against domination by the king of England; secondly, the slow impact of state formation of an English sort within a clearly defined territory."4

One can say one of the first aspects of national consciousness in Scotland was the Declaration of Arbroath. It was a piece of government propaganda but the ideas behind are worth taking seriously. After all its basic premise was the existence of separate national identities. The Declaration was addressed to the Papacy but its message was also aimed at domestic consumption. Medieval historical writing, which was mostly undertaken by monks, played an important role in shaping awareness of national differences. The origins, myths and narratives of significant events were established and formalised in various western European nations thereby the separate histories of each of the countries and their peoples were defined. That helped to shape percep- tions of the past and mould common identities, but it could not have been done in a vacuum. It is impossible to write a national history of a non-existent nation or even invent one, because that could be done only for an audience consisting of people who believed or were prepared to believe that the nation actually existed. Propaganda of that sort of national histories works best when it defines and articulates beliefs and theories which are already there. The Scottish church in particular was not only influenced by the movement but, in turn, did much to promote the new outlook among the people of Scot- land.

In Scotland, as in other countries, one can distinguish between two types of national sentiment.

Firstly, there is a narrow and purely negative nationalism, which in 15th century Scotland found its expression normally in anti- English feeling. Very good expressed in Bower:

The story of Walter Siward.

He escaped from the battle of Dunbar…

Among the rest a certain noble knight, Walter Siward by name,

escaped from the battle together with only his one household

spearman of English birth, whom from boyhood he brought up as a Scot and whom he specially trusted. As they rode alone be- tween the town of Musselburgh and 'Redfigot', the knight uttered harsh complaints and querulous lamentations to his servant with tearful sobs for the misfortune of the Scots. 'How sad it is', he said, 'that it is the circumstances of our birth alone that are lead- ing us to destruction at the hands of our English enemies and that very soon!' [ … ] While the knight was talking over these and similar matters with his servant, whom he preceded with troubled step, the faithless servant seized the opportunity and stabbed his sorrowing master in the back with a lance, and throwing him off his horse to the ground, immediately slaughtered his unsuspecting and defenceless victim.5

This story is clearly nationalistic. The traitor, although brought up as a Scot, is English and acts like an English. Also a certain characteristic of the English is expressed: cowardice. The servant stabs poor Walter Siward in the back.

And secondly, the other and more important type of nationalism is, and was, positive and constructive. In the 15th century it sought to build up pride in the kingdom of Scotland, its traditions, life and institutions so that Scotland would be respected and take its place by right among the sovereign states of Europe.

The negative, or merely anti- English, nationalism was of long- standing among 15th century Scotsmen. It was an inheritance from the War of Inde- pendence of the preceding century. The special 15th century contribution to this sentiment was to provide popular history in which his bias was strongly emphasised. It is possible that in Scottish cloisters and cathedral closes in the 14th and 15th century, a fair number of people attempted to write a consecu- tive history of the Scottish nation. But only one or two are extant. John For- dun, writing at the beginning of the Great Schism and Andrew Wyntoun, writ- ing as that epoch came to an end. Both take on the whole a sober and objec- tive view of Anglo-Scottish relations. The atmosphere changes considerably in the pages of the next chronicle, written in the second quarter of the 15th cen- tury by Walter Bower, abbot of Inchcolm. They did not invent the concept of Scotland instead they were justifying the country's right to exist by producing a definitive history for the people of Scotland. They were all strongly - Bower virulently - nationalist. What they were writing was a consolidation of Scottish beliefs about the past. They were trying to give the Scots their history. But they were not setting to produce a Scottish national consciousness. That had already been displayed in the Wars of Independence. Had it not been in exis- tence then there would have been no Scots for Fordun, Wyntoun and Bower to write for. In Scotland's case the production of national histories was a refec- tion the current state of affairs.

Also a kind of "liturgical nationalism" emerged. In Scotland the liturgy gener- ally used in secular churches war the Sarum Use, which derived from Eng- land. There is also evidence that the great saints of Scotland's past were ne- glected. Some influential churchmen accepted as a fact that the Sarum Use was an alien liturgy that had been imposed on Scotland and that the memory of the Scottish saints had been deliberately suppressed - all by king Edward I. of England. The reaction to this belief was an outburst of nationalist devotion, which sought to supplant the Sarum Use in Scotland by the introduction of a purely Scottish liturgical use.

Up to 1472 Scotland did not have an archbishopric. The archbishop of York was meant to be the metropolitan of Scotland, The king and churchmen would not yield to English claims. And from 1192 Scotland did form a distinct and recognisable province, and was referred to by the pope himself as Ecclesia Scotiana,6 the Scottish church, the church of the kingdom of Scotland, the church of the subjects of the king of Scots. The only reason for the existence of such a church was the political reason of the existence of a Scottish king- dom. In Scotland, as elsewhere, the association of church with the kingdom emerged with particular clarity when the pope imposed an interdict, for the in- terdict applied to the kingdom, not to a province- an acknowledgement of the identity of church and nation.

But ecclesiastical and political frontiers did not entirely coincide. The bishopric of Galloway remained subject to the archbishopric of York and the Isles be- longed to the archbishopric of Trondheim. The people of Galloway regarded themselves as within the Scottish kingdom and were treated in all respect as subjects of the Scottish king, and the bishop of Galloway, whatever his ecclesiastical allegiance, attended the Scottish parliament in the same way as any other Scottish bishop.

The position of monastic orders was different. Many of them straddled na- tional boundaries and looked to headquarters overseas. Some thirty Scottish parishes were appropriated to English monasteries and a few Scottish monasteries owned property in England. As the medieval centuries went on the tendency to identify ecclesiastical and political boundaries became stronger. There were also tendencies for religious orders to develop their own separate organisation, coinciding with the political frontier. Under the pressure of AngloScottish hostility and the allegiance of England and Scotland to different popes during the period of the Schism Scottish parishes which had been appropriated to English religious houses in the main recovered their independence or were attached to Scottish institutions instead.

A case in which is not entirely clear if it nationalism or simply military necessity is the priory of Coldingham.

The Benedictine priory of Coldingham belonged to Durham. During the first half of the 12th century the church of Coldingham was gradually transformed into a regular conventual priory. Thanks to its handsome endowment by Scot- tish kings, ecclesiastics and magnates, Coldingham became the wealthiest and most prominent of Durham's eight cells. There did not seem to have been any kind of national sentiment against an English based monastery. Until the very end of the 13th century Coldingham was also one of the richest and most prosperous of all Scottish monasteries. But its situation as an alien house on Scottish soil, with divided political and ecclesiastical loyalties, meant that it was in almost continuous difficulties from the beginning of the Wars of Inde- pendence until the final expulsion of the English monks in 1462. In July 1378 Robert II. made the decision to expel the Durham monks and replace them Benedictines from Dunfermline Abbey. The Scotichronicon by Fordun con- tains a charter of Robert II., granting Coldingham Priory to Dunfermline Ab- bey. The reasons given were the threat to his royal majesty, the realm, and its inhabitants posed by English monks, and the damage they had done to the neighbourhood. Bower adds that the prior William Claxton was accused and convicted before the king and 3 estates of felony and spying, revealing the secrets of the council and the kingdom when it was forbidden, and that canons of Jedburgh and Dryburgh, seeking justice in England at this time had been inhumanly treated.7

Coldingham's dependence on Durham was an anomalous survival from an age when the boundary between the kingdoms of England and Scotland was settling down on the Tweed but religious orders themselves still represented international forces needing to pay scant respect to the existence of political frontiers. By the 15th century there was no ready parallel to the position at Coldingham where a small colony of English monks lived among their tradi- tional enemies. The fate of the alien priories in England was an object lesson in the usual effects of national hostility in such circumstances, and the English monks resident on the Isle of May, dependent on a motherhouse at Reading, had not survived the first decade of the Scottish Wars of Independence. The religious habits of the Durham monks at Coldingham provided only partial pro- tection from the often virulent hatred of their neighbours. The charges made against the English community at the St Andrews consistory court in the spring of 1379 testify to Scottish fear and detestation of the alien. The Cold- ingham monks were accused of large-scale espionage, of sending Scottish bullion to England, of smuggling the bones and relics of Scotland's national saints, St Margaret and St Aebba, to Durham and of terrorising the borders with a hired retinue. Propaganda of this sort may not always have been be- lieved but it clearly appealed to a substantial audience. Walter Bower com- pared William Drax, prior of Coldingham, to a serpent nourished in the bosom of the kingdom.

A certain William Drax, a monk of Durham, as a usurper of the same office8 was duly removed and banned from the place. After proceedings of second and final warnings of excommunication against him and the expulsion of his supporters, the same Wil- liam Drax obtained great favours from the Scots. Heedless of his own welfare and sham defender of monastic reputation as he was, he caused the destruction by fire at the hands of some sat- ellites belonging to his English nation [!] of that noble shrine con- structed with wonderful skill and costly workmanship, [ … ]

[ … ] However, after being reinstated to that place by the Scots, of at least admitted or sent there, just like the serpent in the bosom of the kingdom mentioned above, he investigated with little rea- son a certain well-known ship master, William Alanson by name, and had him arrested by the English and killed - not only con- temptuously beheaded but also to the displeasure of the royal majesty (whose subject the said William was) hanged and sub- sequently exposed to view for men to wonder at, tied in a high place over racks as if an archery target for the English.9 [ … ]

But the Scottish prejudices were understandable at a time when the cruelty and tyranny of the English were notorious. The practical advantages of Cold- ingham as an English outpost in Scotland, as a place where representatives of the two countries might meet and the prior might receive complaints of Eng- lish subjects against the Scots were outweighed by the strength of Scottish hostility.

But I am not so sure whether the Coldingham case is motivated by nationalism or just by military necessity. I think it is rather stupid to allow a group of foreign people with connections to their land to settle within your area. It must have been easy to spy for the monks in Coldingham. But the differentiation between the good Scots and the bad English was made clear.

All in one, one can see the growing importance of national identity in church- life.

During the War of Independence churchmen were prominent on the patriotic side, even although the national cause meant hostility not only to England but also to the pope. From the reign of James I. (1406-37) the Scottish church was drawn more closely into association with the Western church. Doctrine, government and worship, tough not quite uniform, were much the same eve- rywhere, and the unity of the Christian commonwealth overrode national and provincial boundaries.10 But however far papal pretensions went, the sense of the identity of the national church was never lost. The church in Scotland, the Scottish province of the church, remained Ecclesia Scotiana, the Scottish church: one can even find the phrase ′the universal church of Scotland′ Until the War of Independence, Scottish students migrated most naturally to the universities of England. After the war students from Scotland still went, at least intermittently, to Oxford and Cambridge, but the main impulse was now towards to the universities of her ally France and in particular to Paris. So long as medieval Christendom remained anything of a reality, while the sense of a common unity was stronger than national differences, there was little need for national universities. By the 14th century the medieval order was breaking down with the apparent failure of its own central ideal and the rise of a new temper of exclusive nationalism. Sooner or later this development would have been lead to the establishment of a Scottish university, as it was leading to the establishment of national universities in other parts of Europe. The proc- ess was accelerated by the outbreak of the Great Schism in the papacy in 1378. In the Schism the loyalties of Europe were determined, very largely, by nationalist considerations.

The foundation of the first Scottish university was a signal not just for church but for the nation. The physical boundaries of Scotland were by this time established, its political and municipal energies had gained a distinctive character and by the institution of a university the intellectual, if not spiritual, independence of the nation was sealed.

Scotland was more closely linked with Rome than, for instance, England was. I think it is clearly stated that there was an element of nationalism or at least of some kind of awareness within the Scottish church. It is expressed in various sorts of action, chronicles, the foundation of a university, the establishment of a kind of a national church, the treatment of members of other national churches. Although I am not entirely sure, if the Coldingham case was motivated by nationalism or other things.


- Barrell, A.D.M.: The Papacy, Scotland and Northern England. Cambridge 1995.
- Bower, Walter: Scotichronicon. Ed. by D E R Watt. Aberdeen 1991.
- Brown, A. L.: The priory of Coldingham in the late fourteenth century. In: Innes Review 23 (1972). pp. 91-101.
- Burleigh, J.H.: A church history of Scotland. Oxford 1960.
- Cant, Ronald G.: The University of St Andrews. A short history. Edinburgh 1970.
- Dobson, R. B.: The last monks on Scottish soil. The severance of Colding- ham priory from the monastery of Durham 1461-78. In: SHR 46 (1967) pp. 1-25.
- Dobson, R.B.: Durham Priory 1400-1450. Cambridge 1972.
- Donaldson, Gordon: Scottish Church History. Edinburgh 1985.
- Donaldson, Gordon: Scotland. Church and Nation through sixteen centu- ries. Edinburgh 1972.
- Grant, Alexander: Aspects of national consciousness in Medieval Scot- land. In: Nations, nationalism and patriotism in the European past. Ed. by: Claus BjØrn, et al. Copenhagen 1994. pp. 68-95.
- Grant, Alexander: Independence and Nationhood: Scotland 1306-1469. London 1984.
- Guenée, Bernard: States and rulers in Later Medieval Europe. 900-1300. Oxford 1985.
- Hastings, Adrian: The construction of Nationhood. Ethnicity, religion and nationalism. Cambridge 1997.
- Huizinga, Johan: Patriotism and Nationalism in European History. In: Men and Ideas. History, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance. 1960. pp. 97-159.
- Kantorowicz, Ernst H.: Pro Patria Mori in Medieval Thought. In: AHR 56 (1951). pp. 472-492.
- Kohn, Hans: The idea of nationalism. A study in its origins and back- ground. New York 1944.
- Koht, Halvdan: The dawn of nationalism in Europe. In: AHR 52(1947). pp. 265-280.
- McEwan, Hugh: "A theolog solempne," Thomas de Rossy, bishop of Gal- loway. In: Innes Review 8 (1957). pp. 21-29.
- MacEwen, Alex R.: A history of the church in Scotland Vol. I. Edinburgh 1913.
- McRoberts, David: The Scottish church and nationalism in the fifteenth century. In: Innes Review 19 (1968). pp. 3-14.
- Nicholson, Ranald: Scotland. The Later Middle Ages. Edinburgh 1974.
- Swanson, R. N.: Universities, academics and the Great Schism. Cam- bridge 1979.
- Tipton, C. Leon (ed.): Nationalism in the Middle Ages. New York 1972.


1 McRoberts, The Scottish church and nationalism in the 15th century. p3.

2 Kohn, Hans: The idea of nationalism. A study in its origins and background. New York 1944. He quotes F. Brie, that in the 15th century, Scottish epics and chronicles had a patriotic tone unknown elsewhere. But despite that, one finds nationalism of no importance in Scotland during these years. The country was torn by factions and rivalry among its aristocracy, who showed a complete lack of loyalty to the fatherland, frequently changed their allegiance, and often made common cause with England against Scotland.

3 McRoberts,

4 Hastings, Adrian: The construction of Nationhood. Ethnicity, religion and nationalism. Cambridge 1997.

5 Bower, Walter: Scotichronicon. Ed. by D E R Watt. Vol. 6. p72.

6 Scotland was known as special daughter of the papacy

7 Brown, A. L.: The priory of Coldingham in the late fourteenth century. In: Innes Review 23 (1972). .

8 the prior

9 Bower, Walter: Scotichronicon. Ed. by D E R Watt. Vol. 6. p71.

10 Donaldson, Church and nation through sixteen centuries, p 31.

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Is nationalism evident within the Scottish church during the Great Schism period?
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