When Did Scotland Become Scotland?

Dauvit Broun looks at the making of a nation, 1000-1300, which formed a crucial element in the shaping of medieval Britain.

In a recent article in History Today Patrick Wormald tackled the fascinating question 'when did England become England?' His persuasive answer was: in the tenth and eleventh centuries, when kings of Wessex conquered all England and established a new political order with the 'king of the English' at its apex. He emphasised, however, that the idea of 'the English people' was much older – as old as Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731) – and played a vital role in lending legitimacy to the English state created in the tenth century.

So strong was the institutional framework and network of allegiance which embodied the newly-formed England that it not only survived the storms of defeat and conquest, but thrived to become the major power in Britain and Ireland. By the end of the thirteenth century only Scotland stood in the way of the king of England's claim to be sovereign of Britain. The repeated failure of Edward I and Edward III to win their wars against the Scots, despite victories on the battlefield, ensured that Britain as a single political entity would remain no more than an ideal until 1707. Even then, the Union actually enshrined the separate existence of central aspects of Scottish society – law, education and the church – and did not create a homogenous unitary state, a situation which has continued to this day.

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