Scottish history we weren’t taught

November 23rd, 2008

I don’t watch much television, hardly at all in fact, but occasionally I’ll watch something on the BBC iPlayer service. Having heard about the new Scotland’s History series and having been quite impressed by Neil Oliver when he first started to appear on archaeology programs a few years ago, I caught the first two episodes recently. As always seems to be the way these days there was a big build-up, making out that it was rewriting the whole history of Scotland. Well I don’t know if they are exactly rewriting it but they do seem to be mentioning some things of which I was unaware, particularly in the second episode.

I’ve always had a keen general interest in history and later developed a fascination with archaeology, and of course this was boosted still further by becoming involved with the Dorothy Dunnett community due to Dorothy’s extraordinarily detailed research. However I was always aware of a few gaps where things were hazy. One of those was that I knew about the short but well-regarded reign and tragic death of Alexander III, but had often wondered in passing about the earlier Alexanders. Working in James Thin for so long I was able to dip into their stock but there never seemed to be anything published specifically about them and I never really followed it up. It was therefore with some astonishment that I watched the second episode last night in which Oliver told of Alexander II’s invasion of the England of King John following the mention of injustice done to him in the Magna Carter. No mention of such an entry had ever been made in either school history or in other books or TV programs I had seen on this supposedly critical document in British history. And certainly no mention had come to my attention that Alexander marched all the way to Dover to join the French in besieging Dover Castle. It seems that only the unexpected death of John saw the English barons change their allegiances from Alexander to John’s young son. Otherwise it seems likely that Scotland would have at least extended to the Cumbrian and Northumbrian territories and possibly further.

I’ll continue to watch this series with interest to see what other gaps I may have in my knowledge, and see what other material they may bring forward in radio articles. While I found some of the photography and special effects a touch overdone I was glad to see the emphasis on the changing boundaries of the various sections of the country – too often it seems to be assumed that the current boundaries have always been set in stone and the impression given that countries were always united in the way they are now.

I just wish we’d seen a bit more in the first period they covered which, while interesting in the coverage of the “problem” of what happened to the Picts, seemed to me to be rather light on the Viking period and omitted any mention of the period of Thorfinn and Macbeth, which is of course a time that fascinates many Dunnett readers.

Entry Filed under: history,Scottish

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