Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A heather coloured mist

A heather coloured mist descended in front of my eyes just now. The speaker on BBCR4's Thought for the Day refered to the Emperor Constantine as having 'failed to subdue the Scots' in 221AD. Imagine the hilarity if someone in such an honoured position (I'm talking about the speaker on Thought for the Day, not the Emperor Constantine) referred to the Vikings discovering 'the USA' in the 7th century AD. George Orwell believed in the importance of words, and how their use (or misuse) can support or insidiously corrode, public discourse. Using the term 'The Scots' in the sense of the realm of Scotland ruled over by one king is anachronistic and misleading if we are talking of any period earlier than the 11th century. Before David I (who had been brought up in the Norman court but was I think at least partly a Scot), there were the tribes and kingdoms (plural) of North Britain, not least the British kingdom of Strathclyde based at Dumbarton Rock. It is a lively matter of debate among historians why a sudden outbreak of Scottishness, an acute desire to be identified as 'Scottish' broke out around the time of William Wallace, and the reason is usually given to be the unfortunate behaviour of Edward I 'Longshanks' and his son Edward II who should have known better.

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