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Independence and interdependence: one Scot’s perspective on Anglo-Scottish relations in early-seventeenth-century London

By Laura Flannigan | @LFlannigan17

Notions of Scottish devolution or independence from England and the rest of the United Kingdom have been reiterated across the last few generations, with the 2014 ‘IndyRef’ and its potential sequel only the most recent examples.  Much of the discussion south of the border hangs on how Scotland could think to sustain itself outside the UK, ‘its chief exports being oil, whisky [and] tartan’, as one panel-show quipped in 2013.[1]  This often-disparaging discourse has parallels in the conversations being had about Scotland’s contribution to the original Union of the Crowns of 1603, when the Scottish King James VI naturally acceded to the throne of England.

One of the many emigrants to move south of the border after the Union was David Brown, a native Scot educated at St. Andrews.  He had worked as a ‘professour of the art of ortografie and fair writing’ in Edinburgh and Ayr before publishing his well-known Calligraphia, a manual on handwriting practice, in 1522 under royal privilege.[2]  An ambitious professional, Brown may have moved to London sometime after Charles I’s accession in 1625, in the hopes of continuing this career.

It was whilst living and tutoring in London that he wrote and had published The introduction to the true understanding of the whole arte of expedition in teaching to write, in 1638.  Primarily intended to be an advertisement for his teaching services, the last twenty-six of its forty pages developed into a lengthy defence of the Scots, targeted at an English audience characterised as ignorant and prejudiced.[3]

Far from being tangential, these two aspects were inherently connected in Brown’s mind.  The lengthy title of The introduction proclaims his ambition ‘to shew the possibilitie of skill in teaching… to write in 6. hours’ and to dispel ‘a vulgare opinion against his native country of Scotland.’  Defending his almost fifty-year career in calligraphy, Brown described how a ‘sinister opinion… of that worthie nation’ disseminated through English ‘table discourse’ motivated by ‘derision’ as well as ignorance.[4]

He quoted the Londoners around him as asking him: ‘Can any good thing come out of Scotland? Doth it afford this or that?… Doe any such learned men, or faire writers live there, as there be here? And many like idle questions, which be rather moved for derision, than any wise to require resolution’.[5]  Such questions had remained commonplace since popular literature, circulating around the 1603 union, had first lambasted Scotland’s relative poverty.  With the political focus shifting almost entirely to London after 1625, any hopes that the Union might act as a moment of cultural exchange and understanding were fading.

In line with the range of studies published in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries outlining Scotland’s terrain and features, Brown countered that ‘Abundance and varieties of all commodities doe both come out of Scotland… by sea and land.’  He described the ‘mutuall traffique’ bringing goods to the country, but insisted that ‘they could as well… live both as contentedly and modestly with their owne’.  He praised the ‘industrie’ and worldliness of the Scots and emphasised the long and continuous history of the country.[6]

Brown was not a proponent of any othering of the ‘rude and unruly’ ‘Highland-men’ that we observe in more popular accounts of Scotland published at this time.[7]  Instead, he constructed a ‘British’ community, in which the two countries were more alike than different. He argued: ‘…they are both of Britaine… both not only of one continent, and of one name, but likewise are now both under one head, and of one Religion, yea and hath both one kinde of language, and one forme of writing.’[8]  Whilst The introduction was patriotically motivated and heightened by Brown’s own career ambitions, it was also attempting to educate and unite the Scots and English in mutual respect and understanding.

We may not view Scots with such suspicion in the present day, resorting instead to amusing stereotypes.  Yet, undoubtedly, accounts such as Brown’s show how the raised issue of union between the two kingdoms – once the result of dynastic happenstance, but nowadays a political topic freely and democratically negotiated – continues to lead us into discussions about interdependence, independence, and relative worth.   Whether united or separate, then, Anglo-Scottish relations conducted along these lines of thought may always be characterised by distance.

[1]  “Ray Winstone calls Scots ‘tramps’ on TV quiz show,” The Scotsman, 1 May 2013,    https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/tv-radio/ray-winstone-calls-scots-tramps-on-tv-quiz-show-1-2914017.

[2] “A speedy new way of teaching to write” [Advertisement of lessons], British Library Harl. MS 5949/341.

[3] David Brown, The introduction to the true understanding of the whole arte of expedition in teaching to write, Intermixed with rare discourses on other matters, to shew the possibilitie of skill in teaching and probabilitie of success in learning, to write in 6. hours, Which tending all to one end, doe serve for two uses; 1. If Authors doe excell others in their owne Artes, why may not this Author excell others in his Arte; 2. For removing a vulgare opinion against his native countrey of Scotland. he sheweth that it hath moe excellent Prerogatives than any other Kingdome. Whereby it will rather follow, that a Scotishman is so much the more able to prosecute whatsoever hee undertaketh, and therefore so much the more to be respected, by how so much he is more ingeneous than one of another nation (London, 1638).

[4] Ibid, fos. 3, 12, 12v., 13.

[5] Ibid, fo. 13, 13v.

[6] Ibid, fos. 12v.-13v, 16v.

[7] Camden, Britain, or A chorographicall description of the most flourishing kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the ilands adioyning, out of the depth of antiquitie beautified vvith mappes of the severall shires of England: vvritten first in Latine by William Camden Clarenceux K. of A. Translated newly into English by Philémon Holland Doctour in Physick: finally, revised, amended, and enlarged with sundry additions by the said author (London, 1610), 5.

[8] David Brown, The introduction, 11v.

Cover Image: map of Scotland and ‘Britannia’ in the Atlas Van der Hagen by Joan Blaeu, 1645, based on a map of John Speed, 1611,  Public domain 

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