The Community of the Realm in Scotland, 1249-1424: history, law and charters in a recreated kingdom

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: History


This project examines the 'nation' in the later middle ages, using the kingdom of Scotland between 1249 and 1424 as a case study. Its starting point is the argument of Susan Reynolds that the nation-as-political community was present in the medieval concept of 'the community of the realm'. The project will produce the first empirically-grounded study not only of how a medieval political community was constructed, but also how it functioned, changed and/or endured over the long term. In so doing, it aims to challenge the modernist position, which states that nations, as primary political groupings based around a self-conscious ethnicity, are identifiable only in the modern era.

This goal will be achieved by examining the changing form of representations of national community, identifiable in the law, history and charters produced in Scotland, first in the controversial reign of Robert I 'the Bruce', king of Scots, 1306-29, and then across the whole period 1249-1424. The 'community of the realm' was a new concept in Scottish political writing from 1286; however, it was under Robert that it was invoked at a previously unprecedented level in order to recreate the law, history and government of Scotland, in part to legitimise his authority. Our project will track how far those communal representations created in Robert's reign both departed from earlier ways of representing the regnal community and also endured over the long term, to identify the institutional bases and structures of a medieval political community.

The texts examined range from the unpublished and understudied to the very famous, and interdisciplinary methods will be used to analyse them. One particularly important innovation will be the creation of a new model of digital edition in order to represent visually how the form and content of texts change over time, while still retaining the text's coherence. Innovative editions of the Declaration of Arbroath (1320) and a model for Regiam Majestatem, a major legal text, will be produced in order to analyse changing representations and understandings of the historical and legal community of the realm. We will also examine the formal prose of charters to identify the context for the appearance of communal discourse within them, and use methods taken from Social Network Analysis to understand the changing composition of political society, and thus how differences in group structure and personnel relate to changes to political thought.

The project has many applications and benefits. Academically, it has interdisciplinary relevance: its 'genetic' editions will contribute to the field of textual criticism; the encoding digital publication framework will be a real contribution to Digital Humanities. It has clear benefit for Scottish history: it will produce a wholly new reassessment of the kingship of Robert I, assessing its enduring influence on the political form of the late medieval kingdom. It aims to inspire new collaborations between medieval and early modern scholars of Scottish legal history-particularly beneficial given the institutional prominence of Scottish legal history within existing law faculties in universities. By making a significant contribution to the longstanding debates on the nation, it will encourage cross-period collaborations.

The research will apply to and be of benefit to diverse publics, including the third sector. National identity and nationhood are topical issues, particularly when applied to Scotland's contemporary position within the UK. We will engage with how the medieval past is used as a resource in contemporary debates, through creating freely available podcasts on medieval and modern nations, and contributing to a major exhibition held in Edinburgh in 2020. We will develop material for schools and further education institutions. This project will thus engage critically with major contemporary issues in which the manner of representing the past is of fundamental concern.

Planned Impact

This project intends to impact on diverse publics by prompting them to reflect critically on the concept of the nation and how understandings of the past inform our views of the present. We will achieve these impacts partly by working with three project partners: (1) The National Records of Scotland (NRS), Edinburgh (2) Newbattle Abbey College (3) New Heritage Solutions Community Interest Production Company.

The project's research will benefit the third sector through formal and informal collaboration with public archives and museums. Its research will feed into the major exhibition planned by the NRS for the 700th anniversary year of the Declaration of Arbroath (1320), an exhibition with a high public profile given the contemporary constitutional questions surrounding Scotland's position in the UK. The Declaration, which is believed to have influenced the US Declaration of Independence, has not been exhibited since 2005; the exhibition will thus attract a major national audience and is internationally relevant. The project's research will be of direct benefit to the NRS and to exhibition attendees through (a) advising on the content and direction of the exhibition through the PI sitting on the exhibition working group (b) contributing to the exhibition by producing an animated short film on the project's innovative new online edition of the Declaration of Arbroath and (c) delivering (through consultation) a series of short lunchtime lectures delivered at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) during the first half of 2020. The NRS's education programme will benefit from the project's findings (they already have a 'services for schools' section on their website:, and their exhibition will, through the inclusion of the project's results, be at the cutting edge of historical research. The project's direct impact will be tracked by online surveys in the exhibition itself and publicised through contact detail gathered from online registration services).

Second, the project will benefit local communities. Newbattle Abbey College is 'Scotland's transformational adult education residential college', and is a formal project partner. It has a diverse student body, with many from marginalised social groups. It has a formal national and local role, set out in its outcome agreement (, demonstrated in its 'Newbattle Conversations'-a series of public events devoted to developing public discourse on 'Scotland's political awakening'-and through links with local councils and local authority schools. The project will benefit the students of Newbattle Abbey College through its role in part-funding and contributing to the major conference on the Declaration of Arbroath in April 2020, held at Newbattle as part of the 'Newbattle Conversations'. In the long term, it will also benefit schools more generally, through the creation of material to be used at secondary and further education level.

Third, the project will benefit the media, and the relevant audiences. It will commission work (VAT exempt) from a Community Interest Production Company, New Heritage Solutions, to create podcasts, available online to reach as wide an audience as possible; interaction with the podcasts will be tracked by Google Analytics and a comments page on the project website. New Heritage Solutions will also work with the project to develop a commissioning proposal for BBC Radio 4 for a series of radio programmes on the project's wider issues: the concept of the medieval nation, and its relationship with modern national identities. These programmes will also benefit wider publics, prompting listeners (tracked by RAJAR) to reflect critically on the concept of nation, and promote nuanced public understandings of the phenomena of nations, and national identities.
Description Our research into the conceptualisation of kingship in the reign of Robert I (through Regiam Maiestatem) and the Declaration of Arbroath have fed into discussions of a new exhibition on the Declaration of Arbroath, forthcoming in 2020. More material will be provided as discussions develop.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Meet the people of medieval Scotland: a day of interactive history 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 35 people attended a public history event held at Newbattle Abbey College on 22 September 2018. The day was intended to launch the newly redesigned 'People of Medieval Scotland' database, and show members of the public how to use the database for their own purposes to change their understanding about either the past or anything about Scotland, medieval history or their own local area. The event only had a short-lead up period, but tweet activity from the project's twitter account (@cotr2020) generated over 15,000 impressions in just over four weeks. The event had 100% positive feedback, with participants in the age brackets 0-24 to over 75. 100% said they felt more confident using the database independently after the event, and 100% said they would be use the database in the future when finding out about medieval Scotland. We will be conducting a follow up survey in December 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018