[Project] Crowns, Wedding Rings and Processions: Royal State Ceremony and Representations of Authority in Medieval Early Modern Scotland
Royal ceremony in Scotland has received very haphazard research to date, with few attempts to compare how these crucial moments in the representation of royal authority developed over a number of centuries. My AHRC-funded doctoral thesis, ‘Crowns, Wedding Rings and Processions: Continuity and Change in the Representations of Scottish Royal Authority in State Ceremony c.1214 – c.1603,’ takes three key royal ceremonies – inaugurations/coronations, funerals, and weddings with consort coronations – as the core of the study. These were chosen due to their integral position in the reign of each monarch. The issues of succession and security of hereditary monarchy dictate that the ceremonies of death and accession are inescapably intertwined, and funerals and coronations have been studied in unison for other European comparators. However, the frequency of minor accessions, early and violent deaths, absentee kingship and political upheaval across the time period in Scotland determined that weddings were often the first occasion Scottish monarchs had to project their personal adult authority at the point at which Scotland had the widest European audience for their display.
Ceremonies and Kingship
The thesis focuses upon key questions to illuminate the developments of these ceremonies as both reflectors of a distinct Scottish royal identity and representative of their integration within a broader European language of ceremony. How did these ceremonies reflect the ideals of Scottish kingship? How were they shaped to function within the parameters of Scottish governance and traditions? How was the Scottish crown influenced by other monarchies and the papacy? How did it hope to be perceived by the wider European community and how was royal power exercised over its subjects in this transitional period of Scottish history? Moreover, within the context of a highly public and interactive era of display and posturing by great leaders across Europe, this thesis also reveals what made the Scottish ceremonies unique, and how this furthers our understanding of that which lay beneath such representations of royal authority.
The conclusions reached in this thesis are in many ways an open-ended. However, there are some solid statements to make regarding the representations of Scottish royal authority and how these developed in a distinctive manner. The economy of scale found in the various ceremonial projections of image – a theory to be explored in more depth – reflected both the financial constraints upon the Scots at various points across the time period, and a keen understanding of when the most prominent and elaborate displays should be made. The marriages of Scottish monarchs, particularly those who had come to the throne as minors, were pivotal ceremonial moments on which great expense and effort was lavished to present personal displays of adult regal magnificence and power. While the ceremonies of death and succession were of extreme national importance, the political context of Scotland’s ceremonial development frequently saw these projections of royal authority made by others. Both secular and ecclesiastic forces had much influence on the development of ceremony. Perhaps that which separates Scotland most from its comparators was the involvement of the three estates, regents and guardians (in all their guises) in the demonstrations and legitimation of Scottish kingship and royal power. The Scottish ceremonies across this time period reveal a remarkable level of adaptability and fluidity in their development through a multitude of challenges and influences; nevertheless, equally they demonstrate the resilience of Scottish traditional aspects. Finally, these are just three of a large number of ceremonies through which Scottish monarchs would have projected royal authority.
This study, by dispelling myths regarding the peripheral nature, backwardness, and immaturity of ceremony, and by exploring beyond the late sixteenth-century bias of current literature, has provided a platform for continuation of research in this field. Two chapters in edited collections have been recently published, one considering the impact of crowning minors on Scottish inaugural ceremonies, and another on the royal entries of foreign consorts in Scottish towns. Subsequent publications forthcoming include an essay on the ceremonies of Robert the Bruce which recently won the International Review of Scottish Studies (Guelph) Early Career Researcher Prize to be published in the journal in Sept 2015, and my first monograph – Death and the Royal Succession: Scottish Funerals, Coronations and Weddings, c.1214–c.1543 – is in preparation, along with work on royal and high status baptisms.
Heraldry and Ceremony
With regards to heraldry and heralds in particular, this doctoral research has built upon the foundations of important research into the Scottish situation provided by the likes of Katie Stevenson, Roger Mason, Alasdair A. MacDonald and Caroline Edington, to focus quite particularly on the herald’s role in ceremony. The study analyses the appropriation of the role of the highland poet in the Scottish inauguration by the Lyon King of Arms, his crowning ceremony recorded in the fifteenth century as part of the royal inauguration and his increasing role as master of ceremonies, as well as the importance of heralds in regards to the proclamations of royal lineage, the rapid and all-encompassing growth of heraldic display and design, and the glorification of the chivalric tradition within ceremonial. Moreover, one of the primary source types which has revealed some of the most interesting, but often the most challenging and questionable, material has been the heraldic manuscript dossiers collected in the National Library of Scotland and other repositories. The question arises as to how much these seventeenth-century antiquarian heralds be trusted in their recording of procedures, ritual and ceremony which long pre-date them.
In recent postdoctoral proposals for future research, these heraldic records are central to my future explorations into the role and rituals of ambassadors and other representatives of the Stewart royal court (c. 1371-c.1542) abroad – and their foreign counterparts. This future project argues for a firmer understanding of the medieval roots of early modern Scottish and British diplomacy when the Stewart dynasty is at a peak of public popularity. Through archival research – particularly a further detailed exploration of heraldic manuscripts, financial materials and foreign correspondence – it will explore: the role of Scottish ambassadors and entourages in projections of royal authority; the impact of Scottish monarchs on the European stage; and the comparative impact of foreign ambassadors and entourages upon Scottish ritual and display. Thus, it will increase our understanding of how Stewart diplomacy and ritual developed between 1371 and 1542, and the essential role individuals played in the complex diplomatic language of display.