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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - June/July 2005
The Other 70%

By Judith Lloyd - Email her at

When the Renaissance movement infiltrated Scotland in the mid-15th century, Scotland was ruling itself with its own king, James III - the grandson of Robert the Bruce - and had its own parliament, which had instituted regular taxation, an army and navy, and increased emphasis on law rather than kinship in the settlement of disputes.  At the time an uneasy truce existed between Scotland and England.

The Renaissance, which means rebirth, was a rebirth of the classics of Rome and Greece during the 15th through the 17th centuries.  During this time the printing press was invented and these classics could be reproduced and translated much more quickly than by the previous method of hand printing copies of manuscripts.   After 1460 ideas rapidly spread throughout Europe. It became the golden age of art (including literature) and invention.

James III was a Stuart who had one of the longer lines of royalty, able to trace their line back to the first Gaelic king of Scotland. His was in fact one of the oldest pedigrees in Europe, much older than that of the reigning Tudors in England.  This 'pedigree' was an important asset in Renaissance Europe.   Royal courts were the primary forces behind the Renaissance movement in Britain.  Sort of like keeping up with the Joneses.

Earlier, during the reign of James I (from 1424 to 1437) universities such as the ones at Aberdeen and Glasgow, as well as St. Andrews were founded, but most references to the Renaissance in Scotland refer to the reign of James IV who became king in 1488 at the age of 15.  If you were to see the Scots of that era they would appear no different from their English, Spanish, and French peers.  True, the Highlander was uneducated, poor, considered barbaric, but the Lowlanders and city dwellers were on a par with any of their European neighbors in dress and in education. 

Scotland's royalty had always married foreign royalty to forge or keep alliances, so much of Europe's culture was introduced through these foreigners.  Trading with France, Burgundy, and Flanders also brought continental ideas to Scotland.  Though the movement may have begun in the reign of James III it reached its apex during the reign of James IV, who was the peer of Henry the VIII, whose sister Margaret Tudor he married in 1503. He was 16 years her senior.  In England the Renaissance came late.  Henry the VIII is said to be the first to embrace it.  He was instrumental in bringing culture to the English Court.  But it was during the reign of his younger daughter, Elizabeth in the mid 1500's where the Renaissance reached its heights.

During James IV's reign, as I said, the Renaissance reached its peak with many classics being translated into Scots, the language of the Lowlanders, including Chaucer, Aesop, and The Aenid.  A specific Scottish phenomenon called Flyting (spelled FLYTING) developed.  This was actually 'fighting with words' and took place between two poets or bards and consisted of derogatory verses flung at each other.  Philosophy, music, literature, education, and architecture flourished in the reigns of these two James, especially the younger. 

Much of what remains of Stirling Castle was built or rebuilt during this period, on top of fortifications that had been there since the 11th century at the foot of the Highlands.  The Royal Palace built there between 1540 and 1542 is widely regarded as having the finest Renaissance architecture in Europe.

Renaissance math in Scotland was used for more accurate cannons, bigger warships, new and better designed for fortifications, and royal power increased over the nobles.  There were tournaments, feasting displays of power, and ever increasing taxation.  The Age of Chivalry also flourished. During James IV's rule compulsory education was initiated for the landed classes.

However, James the IV had one problem, which was to prove his downfall - and essentially the end of the Renaissance movement for Scotland.  He was in alliance with France, as Scotland had been many times in its history, so when England declared war against France, James was persuaded to declare war against England, whose new king was his brother-in-law, Henry the VIII. James was killed at Flodden in the Lowlands of Scotland in 1513 and took with him many of the Nobles of Scotland along with top bishops in the Church of Scotland in a land where the church was responsible for the education, culture, welfare, and discipline of the general populace.  His son, James V, was a young child who later sought to battle Henry in 1542 and was also killed, leaving the infant, Mary, Queen of Scots as heir to the throne of Scotland.  Both the English and the French then battled for Mary, since she had a rightful claim to the throne of England also.  Her mother sent her to France for safety, and there is where she grew up as a Catholic.

In England, when Henry the VIII died his son Edward I ruled for 6 years, dying at the age of 16, followed by his elder daughter, Mary, who ruled for 5 years, and then in 1558 by Elizabeth I, under whom England would take great strides into the modern world.  Scotland at this time was being ruled by regents for Mary who remained in France and had wed Francois, heir to the throne of France.  In 1559 a group of Scot nobles, led by John Knox, overthrew the regents for Mary, including her mother, and the Scottish Parliament renounced the authority of the Pope over Scottish affairs.  This was the Scotland that Mary returned to a year later after the death of her husband, to take up her role as queen, a Catholic queen to a Protestant nation.  Though Mary continued introducing culture into the royal court, few notable strides were made during her reign.  She made mistakes in marriages and alliances and in 1567 her own nobles again rose against her and she was forced to abdicate in favor of her son, James VI, who was an infant.   After 6 years of civil war Mary fled to England to seek the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth, who fearing a religious upheaval in her own Protestant country imprisoned her for 19 years and then beheaded her for treason. Mary's son, James VI, in the meantime had been taken under the wing and tutored by one of Europe's most brilliant Renaissance scholars, George Buchanan, who had been his mother's court poet - and who also had been much in favor of her overthrow.  During this time Edinburgh University was founded, but the period also saw very little change compared to the period when his grandfather had reigned.  In England, under Elizabeth's rule the Renaissance period continued in full glory for many years.  Thus when one thinks of the Renaissance in Britain it is the Elizabethan Era that comes to most people's mind with most likely no thoughts of the advances in Scotland before her time.   In fact, I believe that with the picture that most people have of the people of Scotland in that era that they would be amazed to know that the Renaissance movement even 'passed through' Scotland at all.

Though Leia Lima and Rick Davis are most likely portraying English nobles in the picture from the NC Renaissance Faire, they could just as easily be taken for Lowland Scots.

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