Talking Scot: English Perceptions of the Scots During the Regal Union

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Waurechen, Sarah K.
English, Scots, Britain, Familiar Alterity, Discourse, Perceptions
From 1603 until 1707, England and Scotland were joined by what scholars have described as the regal union. A dynastic accident that came into being when James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne as well, it forced the two kingdoms to share a single monarch without creating a unified legal system, religious hierarchy, political structure or British culture. This dissertation re-evaluates the resultant Anglo-Scottish relationship by examining what English people actually said about the Scots and Scotland during moments when this union was strained. Specifically, it explores discourses about the Scots that circulated immediately after the regal union, and those which appeared during the Bishops’ Wars (1638-40), the Cromwellian Union (1651-59), the Popish Plot and Exclusion Crisis (1679-81), and the parliamentary union of 1707 that renegotiated the terms of engagement. By doing so, it challenges widespread assumptions that an uncomplicated xenophobia dominated English approaches to the Scots, and illuminates the existence of a more nuanced Anglo-Scottish dynamic that still informs British politics today. The Scots were too similar to be Other, and too different to be wholly Same – their “familiar alterity” creating difficulties for the English. At the start of the regal union, the notion of what constituted a Scot was malleable and utilitarian, which encouraged the English to reject their partnership in the creation of a new British kingdom. During periods of outright Scottish assertiveness, however, the English were forced to remember their northern neighbours. At each of these moments, the Scots variously became beggars, locusts, radicals, worthy partners in empire, protestant deliverers and even role models, before the English were able to write them out of the equation again. Finally, in 1707, a parliamentary union mandated that within official discourse, the Scots were to be interpreted as familiars and as equals, in an attempt to cement their position and thus solidify the Anglo-Scottish relationship. In many ways, this meant nothing more than a divergence between official and popular discourses, but it did permanently intertwine English and Scottish development, no matter how intense divisive pressures became.
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