'Union and Revolution, Scotland and Beyond, 1625-1725' by Laura A M Stewart and Janay Nugent (published by Edinburgh University Press)
This book is Volume five in a series called The New History of Scotland
, originally edited by the late Jenny Wormald. Completed in eight volumes, the series appeared in the 1980s and 90s. However, The New History of Scotland
has recently been updated and revised in a new edition. Now five of the eight volumes are entirely new works by new authors. Thus Union and Revolution
replaces Lordship to Patronage
by Rosalind Mitchison.
No new editor has been named in place of Jenny Wormald. Her Volume five has been retained and reissued with a new foreword by Keith Brown. Volumes six and eight have been revised by their original – and surviving – authors. But surely there is a question over how short-lived Jenny Wormald's The New History of Scotland
has proved to be.
Is it Edinburgh University Press's intention to replace The New History of Scotland
with another one every 20 years or so? If so, perhaps it would be wise to change the title of the series. Can history be so 'new' in so few years? Again, would not a less pretentious title such as A New History of Scotland
be an improvement? I'm afraid I'm also unhappy about Volume five's title. Which 'Union' and which 'Revolution' is in question? Would not reversing the order to Revolution and Union
make more sense?
At the close of their Preface
, the authors write: 'While we hope all our readers will enjoy the book, we particularly had students and interested non-experts in mind while writing it'. Are 'interested non-experts' other than general readers I wonder? Perhaps what the writers are trying to suggest is that their book is not an intimidating scholarly tome. And it's true that one conventional aspect of scholarly writing is absent here: there are no footnotes. Yet there are 15 pages of Further Reading
, with a particular emphasis on the work of 'younger scholars' and women historians.
In terms of structure, the book is in two parts. Part One
, consisting of Chapters 1-4, provides 'an overview of political developments in Scottish history between the accession of King Charles 1 in 1625 and the destruction of the Jacobite cause in 1745'. So it involves the English Civil War and its impact upon Scotland, the conquering of Scotland by the English puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, the Restoration of King Charles II to the British throne in 1660, the revolution of 1688-90 which, after the flight of the Catholic King James II, brought about the accession of the Protestant William and Mary, the incorporating Union of the parliaments of Scotland and England in 1707, and the rise and defeat of Jacobitism. In a sense then, Part One
exemplifies the old history.
, in Chapters 5-8, on the other hand, represents the new. Taking what the authors' call 'a thematic approach', it investigates 'the social structures, beliefs, customs and forms of self-representation that shaped how people understood and engaged with politics'. How exactly 'did gender, age and status affect how people experienced governing institutions?' This is history reaching out to society at large rather than focusing exclusively on the doings of powerful white men.
According to its cover, Union and Revolution
provides 'A provocative account of Scotland's history across a century of revolution and political instability'. As a 'non-expert', I'm ready to agree. The story or stories told here are illuminating and intriguing – and sometimes even exciting. I'm not sure that the authors have come up with any interpretation of political events that is radically new and challenging. Others better qualified than I am might have more to say on this point. But the account here strikes me as always careful, balanced, nuanced. There is certainly a degree of correction of conventional older accounts. 'Scotland' here is far from being exclusively Lowland Scotland. The often very individual situation of the non-English speakers of the Highlands is frequently explored. (It was extraordinary to learn that the New Testament was not published in Gaelic until 1767.)
Again, while the impact of religion upon every aspect of Scottish life throughout this century is constantly emphasised, it is not only the Church of Scotland and covenanting Presbyterianism that is recognised. The Scottish Episcopal Church is shown to have remained significant from 1660 on. Indeed, in relation to the rise and fall of Jacobitism in Scotland, it was Episcopalians rather than Roman Catholics who played the crucial role. Here the author's account seems to draw heavily on the cited work of Murray Pittock.
The odd reader may be wondering what it is I found exciting in the book. The answer is the section entitled The Union of 1707
. I felt in these wonderful pages I might have been reading a fashionable historical novel. The ups and downs, the swings and roundabouts, that for several decades surrounded this issue are quite extraordinary. Periods of positive expectations are matched by negative ones. It seems to be a mere toss-up between success and failure. There are moments when one feels the need to turn the page to find out what actually happened! History in the making.
of the book, seeking to explore Scottish life outside and beyond politics – the new history – is full of illumination. Chapter headings indicate the range of material included: 'Religious Cultures', 'Community, Household, Gender and Age', 'Art and Architecture'. I learned a great deal. I guess few of us were aware that, prior to 1707, it was normal for Scottish wives to retain their father's name. It was only with exposure to English practice that this began to change. Again, it was only after the passing of the Marriage Act in1753, making irregular marriage illegal in England, that Gretna Green began to acquire the fame – or notoriety – it still possesses.
The chapter on art and architecture demonstrates that despite the level of political strife and instability in the 17th and early 18th centuries, Scotland nonetheless flourished artistically in new ways. Portrait painting of the nobility – but also developing to include pictures of professional figures such as lawyers, clerics, and medical practitioners – became standard practice.
Even more striking is the authors' account of the scale across Scotland of the creation of grand new town and country houses designed by leading architects. Hopetoun House remains a classic example. Mavisbank, near Edinburgh, on the other hand I'd never heard of. Described here as 'one of the front runners for the title of Scotland's most important 18th-century house', Mavisbank was the result of a partnership between the architect William Adam and Sir John Clerk of Penicuik. Gutted by fire in the 1970s, its restoration is the aim of a Trust established in 2002. The National Lottery Heritage Fund invited it to submit a bid in 2020. I hope the description and account in this impressive book will help in its success.
Andrew Hook is Emeritus Bradley Professor of English Literature at the University of Glasgow