essera caerulea - commentariolum. Tessera rubicunda - nota textualis. Tessera viridis - translatio  


The final two Books of this volume are now published for the first time

With the addition of the continuation of this history of Scotland by Giovanni Ferrerio of Piedmont, newly written and published by him

Paris, 1575



spacerScotland, a land mighty for its men and its warfare, most distinguished in its affairs, is cut off by the sea as the extremity of mankind, but is foremost for its strength. Here shines a golden field, enclosed on all sides by a broad border, and in its center there glows red a great, fierce badge of this realm. A lion like a lightning-bolt strikes terror here, the lion that protects that far-off land, ready to lay low those who would fight it, and to defend its royal scepter. It raises aloft its head and front feet, rampant on its hind legs, whetting its bright blue claws, displaying its tongue and jaws with its frightful gaping maw, prepared to do violence with its great lashing tail. Around and above it on the border fresh lilies shine. and the large golden field holds wealth and hidden gems, and that wonderful race, the strength of its protector.   The lions of Libya, believe me, greatly dread this lion. The oxen of the north, the leopard who dwells in the dark forest and fain would  carry off the lilies, and the bears who come down from the mountain, likewise dread it,  and thieves dare not stretch out their grasping hands, for from afar it sleeplessly keeps watch on Scotland’s borders and shores. It commits no deceit, but if it perceives that deceits are being prepared against itself, it dares to hurl itself upon wild beasts and serried ranks of men. When wounded, it does not fear the number of its enemies or their darts: its wounds give it courage. It is gentle to those who freely yield themselves, while rebels it harries, roaring, and puts them down. Hence the King of Scots maintains this noble example of virtues and, imitating the strength and courage of that lion, he cherishes his subjects, being accustomed to bridle the proud.


spacerHe who ascribes all Hector’s arts to Mars is mistaken, for Hector is a Clio in masculine form, mighty in this art, namely history. For he has applied the distinction of Paduan Livy, and that man’s milky eloquence, blue to the Scots. No less, King James, does he trace the pedigree of your ancestors from its ancient origin. So now you can read the praise and deeds of your great forebears, and understand what glory is, and, matching your forefathers with your own noble deeds, you may make your way to the heavens, passing through happy tracts. And, that you may have greater reliance on your breeding and your lucky stars, you derive your blood-line from both kings of the British. blue So may good Jupiter and the favorable gods bring about that by your doing the gates of Mars are closed blue for your subjects, and the arts of Pallas thrive, and may nourishing faith be upheld among the Scots, thanks to your Cecrops-like striving. blue


RAY enthusiastically take up this history of our nation, a history that has too long been languishing in obscurity, that has at length been published and is, in the opinion of many men, not lacking in erudition, from which, readily learning what kind of men our ancestors were, and what we ourselves would have to be if we desired to be regarded as worthy of them, we shall receive a welcome spur to attain to our ancestors’ virtue. For, as this work goes to show, what has been lacking was not a man of Scottish orgins who would act with excellence, but a man who would write about it. Therefore, now that our forefather’s noble actions have been published, we have, alongside Romans like Horatio, Scipio and Fabius, men of our own nation whom we can readily cite as models of virtue. And not just this: we now also have what is needful if we are successfully to vie with the world’s other nations in terms of the longevity of our government and about the long series of our kings. For from the time that the Scottish nation obtained rule in Albion, more than a hundred kings have governed for 1,856 years, and I scarcely know whether this has been granted to any other people or nation since the world’s beginning. And so Hector Boece has deserved well of us and our republic for being our common instructor (for thus I rightly call this man, because he has so greatly labored to inspire the lion-like nobility of our bluebloods, which does not readily accept any censure, to greater things by the examples of their ancestors), and he is to be held in particular reverence by ourselves. But my desire has not been to praise this work (for it contains its own praise), but to urge you to read it closely, because I unhesitatingly say that, the more often it is one’s hands, the more pleasure it purveys. Farewell and prosper. From the most celebrated University of Paris, March 15, 1527 in the Roman manner of reckoning.


E read it excellently (and no less truthfully) written by Plato, blue easily the prince among philosophers, right noble King James, that we are not born only for ourselves, but in part for our parents, in part for our friends, and that our nation indisputably has a claim on not the least part, since it has given us the sweetest first-fruits that we enjoy as living, breathing creatures. Therefore, since I always have been so disposed towards my nation as to help it with with my every effort, and to do my best to repay it with my gratitude, and particularly because of the encouragement of various of my friends and most especially of the reverend father in Christ Gavin Dunbar, Bishop of Aberdeen, an excellent man who has deserved well of our nation, although I have been aware that I am far too feeble to sustain such a burden, nevertheless, since I thought I would do be doing something worthwhile if with my talent, very small though it may be, I might comply with their urgings, I have attempted to write the history of our nation, by far the most ancient of them all, a hard and arduous task, and one which requires eloquence equal to a supreme intellect. Although I recognize that I am helpless, and indeed although I understand how far removed from that I am, nevertheless, when I read certain books which only a rare man has previously seen (taking advantage of the opportunity given me mostly by the help of those right distinguished noblemen Colin Campbell, Earl of Argyll, and his right distinguished brother, your Treasurer), and thinking it wrong for such monuments of our people’s affairs to lie hidden in obscurity, I chose not to refuse this stubbornly, and attempted, insofar as I could, to prevent foul barbarity from offending any man’s ears and, even if I could not attain the heights of eloquence, not to be thought to be a complete barbarian. If any man should come along after me who, because of the happiness of his talent (which, I admit, is slight in me) and, because of the goodness of these times (flourishing in all respects thanks to the revival of learning) has received a better education than I, might write these things with a much finer pen and put my work in the shade by the brilliance of his intellect, I for my part will rejoice and congratulate the public welfare since we have at length gained such great writers, writers such as the very magnitude of our affairs deserves. Meanwhile, I shall not waste all the profit of my labors, if I bequeath to those who will write after me this anthology, as it were, that I have culled from various authors, from which they may take their material and polish it with their talents; they will be in my debt, as am I to all those from whom I have borrowed.
spacer 2. And next, lest I appear to be demanding that my empty words be taken on trust, I shall briefly mention the authors out of whom I have assembled this history. Above all, Cornelius Tacitus claims not the least part, a man whose works sufficiently proclaim his eloquence and learning. And, since he enjoyed great authority among his own people and was an enemy to us, and it was to gratify his father-in-law Julius Agricola and his fellow countrymen that he recorded many of the things done in Albion, I have chosen to place no small trust in those things which he freely conceded to be prosperous and good in ourselves. For it is not likely that a foe would attribute to his enemies ample glory for their accomplishments, to the disparagement of his own fellow countrymen, without good cause. For which reason, I have sometimes placed greater trust in him than in our own writers, namely regarding those things where I have perceived that what he recorded about us was uncorrupted by any partiality. Among Roman writers, furthermore, are Eutropius, Paul the Deacon, Aelius Spartianus, Lampridius, and the very eloquent poet Claudian, and also Herodianus and Strabo, of whom the latter wrote a geography in Greek and the former the lives of eight Roman emperors with great eloquence. Furthermore, among more recent writers are Antonio Sabellico, a historian by no means to be scorned, and Platina. And among those who pieced together British history there are Geoffrey of Monmouth, John of Fordun, and William Capton. Then too, Froissart, who recounted the same things in French, blue and also Bede, venerable for both his virtues and his learning, who briefly encompassed the history of both nations, English and Scottish. Vairement, a Spaniard who became Archdeacon of St. Andrews, chronicled the events of our nation from its inception down to the reign of Malcolm III Canmore (to whom he dedicated his work), Turgot, a Bishop of St. Andrews, and [...], blue are three writers whom, at the cost of great pains and with the help of the aforesaid distinguished noblemen, I arranged to be fetched from the island of Iona, and also some abbot of the island of Inch Colm, whose name is not recorded. Finally, there is William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen, a man who must be revered for his many virtues, who was Chancellor of the realm during the reign of your grandfather and a Privy Councilor and Keeper of the Seal throughout all your father’s reign. Whatever profit I have gained by my exertions I owe to him, for he was the first to scour virtually all of Scotland to see if anywhere he could find any monuments of our history and bring whatever he found to light, like a spark of fire out of a vein of flint. Finally, getting a taste of Vairement and the others on the island of Iona, because of his patriotism (even if distracted by his burdensome occupations) he was not afraid to undertake such a great task and began to write a history. When he was prevented by the Fates and had left this unfinished, to the great detriment of learning and our nation, he chose to deposit it for safekeeping in Kings College, Aberdeen, founded there to the great advantage of learning.
spacer 3. If it strikes anyone as strange that no written record of those men’s deeds has come to light in all this island, if he will recall how great a destruction of all literature King Edward I of England brought to pass throughout all our realm, and with what frenzy he raged against things both sacred and profane, leaving nothing intact and indeed sparing nothing from utter destruction, when in his crazed fury he had it in mind to obliterate all the remains of antiquity and convert us to English manners, then he will cease to be surprised, inasmuch as Edward burned books throughout all the churches of Scotland and compelled us to celebrate sacred rites according to the customs of the English Church. For which reason, had not Iona preserved those writers for us thanks to the very wise decision of Fergus II, all the memory of our origin and such great achievements would have perished in oblivion, either because of the hatred of certain men or the destructive force of time. For he was one of the generals when Rome was taken, and happened to gain some books by way of booty, a prize no whit inferior to gold plate and gems of any value you care to name. He took great pains to have this booty brought to Scotland and, having built a monastery and appointed custodians, he gave these books to be preserved on Iona, even though, thanks to the carelessness of the guardians (which must be imputed to the misfortunes of those times), who were ignorant of the hidden treasure they were preserving, nothing was left to us of those books but some damaged fragments, to the great detriment of scholarship.
spacer 4. But enough of these things, since I lament these losses in vain. Neither you, best of kings, nor any of your subjects who reads these words of mine should be troubled that in my reckoning of time (in which even the soundest of authors sometimes vary) I do not always agree with my sources. For, since they are very much at odds, I have elected to follow those which are least at variance with foreign writers: Vairement, Campbell, and chiefly the reverend Bishop William Elphinstone. Nor would I have it be charged against me that I have often resorted to the vernacular regarding the illustrious family names of your realm and place-names, since I understood that this would please many and saw that it would be of general advantage at many points.
spacer 5. When, by the grace of God, this work had been brought to its end, and I looked around to see to whom it might best be dedicated, most indulgent King James, you struck me as the single man to whom it would purvey the greatest pleasure and richest benefit. For since you are still of that age at which talents are still fully capable of being trained, from this history you will not only learn what was done by your ancestors, and the arts by which this government has been preserved for more than 1,856 years, never subjected to any foreign rule (although we were afflicted by great evils by the Romans and the English, and, albeit unsubdued, could scarcely keep our heads erect), but also, having gathered all these examples and compared past things with present, you will learn in what way you may best administer your realm. For you will observe the manners of all its peoples and, having digested all the examples abundantly supplied here, you will always have to hand the means whereby you may maintain the obedience of each one, and you will reap the same benefit as those — so greatly praised by antiquity and still admired by posterity — who after having traveled through various regions, witnessing the manners of many men were deemed wise for their wide experience after having traveled through various regions, witnessing the manners of many men. What they gained at the expense of much sweating and shivering will be yours, free and gratis, on reading this present work. For within the span of a single man’s lifetime nobody can visit so many lands and observe so many things with his own eyes as you will see enacted here. This book will abundantly allow you to judge wisely and well about anything pertaining to our republic, because it will demonstrate the outcomes of enterprises both good and evil and good, showing that the results of the former are foul and to be shunned, and the latter praiseworthy and to be sought. For thus far nobody has been seen to venture on some revolutionary enterprise relying on something base and dishonorable who did not suffer a disgraceful result: I do not mean just kings, but even more so men of the nobility who became puffed-up by unrestrained power and did not shrink from rising up against their own sovereigns. If all rulers were not behindhand in weighing these things, they would not fail to wish their own interests to be honorably conjoined with those of their republic.
spacer 6. Furthermore, for anybody to take the helm of government, when he knows no more than the basest commoner about the principles by which a state ought to be guided, is no different than for someone with no experience of the sea, who has never beheld storm-caused currents, to board a great ship and demand that the helm be turned over to himself, although he has no idea where, how, or through what dangers the ship needs to be steered. For no mean tempests daily arise for rulers of states. And so, if you have seen in advance such storms besetting other men and have been made wise thanks to the dangers they have experienced, you will be free to seek safety for yourself, and will not run afoul of the same reefs on which you have seen other men shipwrecked. For here you will discover countless examples of all the virtues and vices. For (not to mention the vices, which I prefer to omit, since I cannot enumerate them without feeling pain) you will encounter examples of fortitude such as you cannot easily find in other nations, and if our fellow citizens had always possessed prudenc in equal measure, I would not hesitate to say that no other race would have been more distinguished for its deeds. And yet there was no want of men who displayed the greatest wisdom and courage in the face of changeful fortune, and when you read the book you will come to know them in greater depth than if I were to briefly touch upon them now. Religion and piety, too, they always enthusiastically cultivated, even more than others did, having received priests and those teaching the divine Word with great, steady veneration; we have never strayed from the Catholic faith and thus far have never fostered heresy. And how greatly we have valued justice is made sufficiently clear by this one example, that once upon a time it was common to leave one’s unguarded property outdoors, even at night.
spacer 7. And what sufficiently worthy thing can be said about our self-restraint, which no other people ever retained as long as we did, nor so grudgingly opened the door to its opposite, self-indulgence? But (by the Saints!) just as we were later in adopting this last-named, so we cling to it more tightly nowadays, as if we wish to make good the loss we seem to have suffered in earlier times when we excluded it and lived with parsimony and temperance. And if this is ever to be corrected, I should not imagine this could better be achieved than if the prelates and lords of the realm bring it back into fashion, so that they might influence the people by their example. Would that we might someday witness the thing which made our forefathers so admirable, so that, content with a single kind of food, we might eat the pure things which provided their nature with its strength, not corrupting them with any spices, since hunger acquired by exercise would provide them with the best of flavors! Were this to happen, I would not despair that we would at some point regain that physical strength thanks to which we not only withstood the Roman empire, which had nearly the entire world subject to its rule, but even stoutly fended it off and to no small degree destroyed it. And I would hope that that steadfastness in battle would return, whereby we subdued the might of the Saxons when it was growing in Albion. But God, Who granted it, will restore it when He wishes.
spacer 8. But let me return to my history, which I would wish to be as well-recommended to Your Majesty as possible. For if I can bring it about that you do not reject it at first sight, and consent to give it a hearing during some leisure hours, the time when the rest of mankind devote themselves to games or dicing, that single greatest plague of all royal courts, to which they devote themselves at the greatest peril of wasting their valuable time, or even when they engage in honorable physical exercise, I mean withdrawing yourself from idle things to the inasmuch as a king ought to be wiser than other men, then I would venture to promise that by reading it you will gain more mental pleasure than you would from any base and wicked pleasure, or even the upright and honorable mental recreation what is wont to accrue from physical exercise. For what can delight you more than to observe, as it were, from a safe vantage point the varieties of times and the vicissitudes of fortune which, even if you would scarcely wish to experience them yourself, are very pleasurable in the reading? Who is unmoved by those two brilliant luminaries of our realm, William Wallace and Robert Bruce? The former, coming from a humble origin, attained such power exclusively by means of his virtue of mind and body, that he not only drove out the English at a time they were occupying nearly all our territory, but also, when King Edward of England returned from France because he had heard rumors of their expulsion, he put the king to rout by his very sight and laid to waste all English territory adjacent to Scotland, and then, having suffered a great reversal because of the envy of his fellow-countrymen, together with the destruction of nearly all the realm, he nevertheless refused to bear the victor’s yoke, and chose to defend liberty in the trackless wilderness rather than embrace servitude and a tyrant’s generous rewards. The latter, because of his desire to free his nation, was reduced to such extremities that, deserted even by his friends, he was obliged to pass several months lurking in caves, supporting his life with roots and herbs out of a hope for better things. But not long thereafter he was joined by a few supporters and, when his nation had been freed, he attained to such great glory that he proved to be highly distinguished, beyond the reach of all kings’ envy. There are many examples of the preservation of liberty, both those of men of olden times such as Caractacus, Galdus, Gregory, both the Ferguses, and others, and also more recent ones, which not only delight the reader’s mind, but also inspire him to dare similar things by way of imitation. For even if some of these men suffered sadder ends than they deserved, the recollection of their virtue and the pity we feel for their downfall is always pleasurable and welcome to us. And in every age of the world there have been men whose excellent deeds have made them worthy of noble and undying fame. But since they were intent on acting well rather than writing or speaking, or because all things were sometimes destroyed by tyrants, they have not remained so illustrious in our eyes, their reputation perishing and becoming lost along with their bodies.
spacer 9. I am not unaware, kindest of kings, of the great affairs of state in which you are preoccupied, but I have dwelt on these things at some length because I regard it a matter of no small importance to the security of the realm and to your own glory that you should always want to desire things worthy of enduring memory, and I believe that I am not being importunate in drawing these things to your attention. Doubtless, in ages after our own there shall be those who will transmit to posterity your life and character (as long as the Saints long preserve you in safety, as we hope), and this will be all the happier and easier to hope for insofar as learning is reviving throughout the world. And would that such men flourished among us as much as they do in other lands, so that we might someday live devoted to culture and virtue, our barbarism and ferocity pruned back by the gentler Muses. And that this might come about rests particularly in your hand alone, if you always cherish the learned (as you do), and bestow honors and rewards not just on those you have at home, but also on the scholars whom you invite to your realm from other lands, a thing we observe other sovereigns to have done and still to be doing. Nor do I find the talents of our citizens unhappier than in any other part of the world, when learned teachers are present. But it happens that characters neglected or even corrupted by disgraceful habits (into which unbridled youth easily falls) are like a field which would otherwise be fruitful enough, and, in the places of virtues, produce a bumper crop of vices. For of those sparks or seeds of fire nature has planted within us are inspired and fed by the tinder of learning, I would hope that in our part of the world men would soon be seen who are no less distinguished than anywhere else. For Democritus himself (like many men of our own age) sufficiently goes to show that “Fine men, destined to set great examples, are born in a nation of sheep, in a sluggish climate.” blue Farewell, right noble king, and by the daily training and shaping of your youth’s flower may God Almighty condescend to bring it to ripe fruition. Given at Aberdeen on April 1, 1526 A. D.


O that I might give some notable proof of my piety towards my nation, at the urging of my friends I have published a single volume setting forth the ancient origin of the Scottish nation; the homes they possessed prior to their arrival in Albion, and under what leaders; their accomplishments after gaining a realm here; the varying fortunes by which this realm was storm-tossed; and the exertions whereby it was retained by a lengthy series of kings. For those who have attempted to record each and every deed since the beginning of our race have recounted these things in a mean and low-down way, being ignoble writers, such as learned men are scarcely happy to read. And so, for want of a proper writer, they have long lain virtually hidden in darkness. I admit that it is scarcely myself who has undertaken the responsibility of correcting this error (for only a most eloquent, consummate orator could accomplish that), but only the task of setting forth the beginnings of our nation in a manner a little more honorable than that of olden times, which was not wont to express anything in a clean, polished way. For uncouth language diminishes any deed, no matter how excellent and worthy of immorality, whereas eloquence renders it splendid and wonderfully distinguished. Had I the two qualities which are traditionally required in a first-rate historian, trustworthiness and learning, I would not hesitate to devote my efforts to providing the reader with something he would not find unwelcome. But, since the learning is lacking, I have so much foregone imposing on the reader’ trust that in the present work that I have recorded next to nothing not taken from well-proven authors or documented by very weighty evidence. And, right reverend Bishop, since these two things, trustworthiness and learning, are prized by you more than by nearly any other man, I would have this work, of whatever quality it may be, which is dedicated to the name of our most illustrious sovereign James V, be submitted to you, a very fair judge in grave matters, so that you may reject things unworthy of a hearing, approve the more honorable things (if there are any such), and point out to our young king how useful it is to read history, how greatly listening to the deeds of his noble ancestors incites a man to virtue, and how much it pulls a man back from wrongdoing to learn that very criminal men have often paid forfeits for their great sins by suffering bitter punishments and meeting an unhappy end, thanks to divine vengeance. And I am convinced, that after you have read it over and carefully considered more recent events, the king will all the more accept this all from my history by your suasion, because he is aware that his father always valued you highly for your merits and very often availed himself of your help in grave matters, and indeed that King James IV, rightly to be numbered among the world’s most outstanding sovereigns, very frequently coopted you as a member of his royal Privy Council because he wanted the greatest affairs of state at home and abroad, and sometimes diplomatic missions sent to foreign lands, to be handled in accordance with your guidance: this was brought about by your sincere fidelity and constant benevolence towards all men (virtues he understood to exist in you). Why should I recall your prudence? As they say, it abundantly proclaims itself. And you supply your own very abundant evidence when you speak of the most difficult matters regarding the advantages and values of counsels, arguments, opportunities, and other such things of the kind which display prudent observation and singular artfulness. Witness is also borne to the liveliness of your wit when at an assembly of prelates you chance to provide some anecdote: the thing strikes everybody as being enacted, not related. Here I could cite many affairs of state well-managed by you in your chancellorship during these very tempestuous times, if the place in in which I shall treat of the events of the reigns of James V and his father did not rightfully claim them for itself. But I beg you, right reverend Father, not to feel any annoyance towards your Hector for being so bold as to touch on your praises even thus slightly. For I am not unaware of how modest a mind you have always been and how averse you customarily are to even the slightest praise. But I shall in any event be forgiven for having regarded it as permissible to mention something proclaimed by all men everwhere. Thrive always and prosper. From Kings College, Aberdeen, May 2, 1526 A. D.


CCEPT with a grateful heart, candid reader, this work of Scottish history gathered from writers both of our nation and foreign, not a work such as this great subject requires, but such as I was able to create with my limited talent, when I had leisure from the cares which all but overwhelmed me. Nor, I pray, should you blame me if you do not find therein all the things which writers either learned or of the common sort have record about our nation. I do not believe it is granted to any author, no matter how well-equipped with learning and happiness of intellect, to include everything when he writes, and I confess I have omitted much, partly out of ignorance, partly out of neglect in searching them out, particularly regarding the families and distinguished men who have belonged to our nation and conferred great splendor on us, such as Sedulius, Levinus, Jodocus, Willebrodus, Romaldus, the historian Martin, blue and many others who deserve to be enumerated. But if I am ever granted the opportunity to rewrite this work, with God’s help I shall take more diligent care that everything is improved. Farewell.


spacerbelieve that you have great cause for rejoicing, learned gentleman, that a history of our nation, reliable and erudite, has first come forth from our literary workshop at Aberdeen. No more (as has previously been the case) will the fine deeds of our ancestors, some of which have been suppressed by foreigners who were our professed enemies, and others have been appropriated for themselves by nations envious of our glory, lie hidden for want of a historian. Rather (let what I say give no offence), the virtue of our fellow-countrymen will now be all the better known to the extent that it has long been suppressed by other nations’ envy. Its author is the same Hector Boece who is the Principal of your University, a gentleman very learned in every branch of philosophy, and I rightly believe that the task of publishing such a great work (from which derives outstanding worldwide honor, the appointed reward for virtue) was reserved for him in this age of the world. Nor do I doubt that (since you understand this is your part to play), you will greet this work, especially calculated to be an ornament to yourselves, and its author with a grateful heart and well-disposed mind, and will urge others to do the same, inasmuch as even the most learned Parisians reckon him as not the least of their glories. And I issue this advice all the more earnestly because he was not only my instructor (as he is yours), but also was the professor of my uncles William and James Oglivy. Had the Fates’ unkindness allowed them to live, I do not know what our age would have which would have been more illustrious (and I know whereof I write). Farewell, men made distinguished even by this single work.


spacerdo not imagine that anybody’s mind is so plunged in the shadows of blind ignorance that he is unaware that a familiarity with geography is very necessary for the understanding of history, and that it requires no mean intellect to deal with it in a praiseworthy manner. For no men who have described the whole world are unfamiliar figures, and the very excellent ones who have most diligently cultivated this branch of learning seem to display a superhuman intellect, involving themselves in such a multitude and variety of matters with little error and very bountiful profit. But since the nature of their subject-matter is such that it is not stable, not enduring, and does not retain the form it previously possessed, in the eyes of those who fail to grasp the nature of these things they can appear not to have dealt correctly with geography in all respects. Indeed, since all things contained in this world are liable to death and destruction, so that either they perish before ourselves, or we before them, then to those men who are truly observant no small corruption of lands (like a certain death from old age, or at least a transformation) becomes evident. For we see with our own eyes, and learn from reliable histories, that cities and regions have been swallowed up by great chasms in the earth, so that land that was previously habitable now exists either as a vast wasteland or has at length been covered by water and is navigable for shipping. In some parts the sea has battered the shore with its great waves and savagely wrenched away some part, while in other places it has receded from the coastline, just as it has unjustly invaded lands not its own. It is because of this change over time, I imagine, that all things to not agree in full detail with the topography that has been described by the most learned of writers.
spacer 2. For this reason nobody should be surprised if he sees that the lie of the land is treated differently by modern writers than it was by Ptolemy, Pliny, Strabo, and Mela, since all quarters of the world are open to their careful inspection thanks to our common religion. Furthermore, if those writers were mere men (as we our ourselves), and could not visit all things themselves, but were obliged to rely on the reports of others, I think it is no insult if I say that some things were hidden from them and escaped their notice. And so, for the sake of the common advantage, I have no hesitation to provide an account of the topography and manners of Scotland which I have gathered from experience, differing somewhat from ancient modern writers regarding those things I have learned with my own eyes. Although I have thought this is something not to be scorned or neglected, to relate things worth knowing about the manners of peoples and the lie of the land, and also about whatever memorable thing or novelty in any region I have learned on good authority. But let me say by way of preface that I am not going to relate anything fabulous or any old wives’ tales, but only what I have seen by means of my own industry, excited by report of the thing, or what I have gathered from several trustworthy men when they unequivocally agree in their reports. Elsewhere I shall provide more of these same things in a more copious way, if I am given to understand that these things, which here will reported briefly in their most familiar features, receive a welcome reception.
spacer 3. And so to begin, the entire island that embraces Scotland and England, as described by the frequent testimonies of Greek and Roman writers, lies in good part off the land of France and is surrounded by the ocean: to the east by the German Sea, to the south-east by the English Channel, to the west by the Irish Sea (which is also called the Vergivian Sea), and to the north by the Deucaledonian Sea. Stretched for a lengthy expanse from the southwest towards the northeast (not the southeast towards the north), it is far longer than it is wide, and has the shape of a triangle with unequal sides, being narrowest where it it is washed by the Deucaledonian Sea. Some think the reason it is called Albion (the ancient name used by Greek writers, which remains in our ancient language) because of those white cliffs which are the first thing to present themselves to those sailing over from France. Others (telling a story not unlike that the poets manufactured about the daughters of Danaus, king of the Argives) with it to be thus called because a certain captain named Albin led a fleet carrying fifty sisters, after all their husbands had been killed, through the Pillars of Hercules, sailed around all of Spain, and finally landed at this island and, with nobody opposing him, founded a settlement. Then, thanks to unnatural intercourse with demons, all these women produced men of monstrous size, whom they called Giants, and people think that these possessed the island down to the time of Brutus, the ancestor of the British. And then this grandson or great-grandson of Aeneas (for writers are at variance on this point) fled Italy and came to the Peloponnese because he had committed a murder, gathered the remaining Trojans after the fall of Troy, who had been enslaved by their captors, and sailed beyond the Pillars of Hercules in search of a new home. He was driven to Albion by the winds of storm in about the year 4027 after the world’s creation. And there, when the Giants had been killed off, he occupied the southern part of the island, calling it Britain after himself, and his people the British.
spacer 4. Our national writers refer the Scottish name to Egypt and the time of Moses. For they that say that a Greek named Gathelus, a man born of royal blood, took to wife the daughter of Pharaoh, king of the Egyptians, and that her name was Scota. But he soon came to think that ruin was impending for Egypt, since he saw it suffering the plagues of which Holy Scripture tells us, and, gathering companions, who were partly Greek and partly Egyptian, and taking his wife, he sailed out into our sea in order to remove himself as far as possible from the danger, and settled the northernmost extremity of Spain, calling his people Scottish after the name of his wife, so as to make them more loyal to himself after they had lost their homeland. After a number of years had passed, he led to Ireland a colony recruited from these Scots, and, thanks to their excellent virtue of mind and body, they soon gained rule over the entire Ireland, as well as great glory. And not long thereafter, they say, Rothesaus, the son of a certain Irish king, took a choice band of young men and crossed over to the Hebrides, so-called because they were named after Hiberus, the son of King Gathelus, or because these people came from Hibernia or Ireland, although some people called these islands the Eboniae. From there they had a direct passage to Albion, I mean the part facing the Hebrides, which was deserted at the time, since the rule of the British did not yet stretch that far, they being so few in number. They say that the year in which the Scots entered Albion was more than 4617 after the world’s beginning.
spacer 5. But the Scots did not call their kings by their national name, but rather used the vernacular world Re-albain, taken from the land they had gained, to hail them, lest, since three different people occupied separate territories, they might create greater confusion by calling thir dingsby a common title than they would achieve good-will and friendship. But nowadays the Scottish name survives for us alone thanks to our virtue, which surpasses that of the others, while it has perished in Spain and Ireland. And very definite proof of those things still remains, that Spaniards dwelling in hilly and wooded places (to which the Romans in their ambition greed never penetrated, thanks to the roughness and poverty of those places), the Irish, and the Highland Scots employ languages not very different from each other. For what happened to us is very different than that which befell the British. They entered the island some centuries prior to ourselves and gained the parts further south, whereas we gained the portion facing the north, which was therefore less fertile and rougher for its mountains and forests. And, later than both these peoples, the Agathyrsan Picts migrated from Sarmatia to the Cimbric peninsula (now called Denmark), and after living there a while they assembled ships and sailed to Albion, where they occupied the vast tract between the two peoples, who had been maintaining secure borders against each other out of mutual fear. This did they did 250 years after the arrival of the Scots in Albion. Nor can it correctly be called into question whether the coming of the Picts or the Scots into Albion was the earlier by claiming that Reuthares was the king responsible for settling our race in Albion, since all our ancient writers about British affairs list five kings in Scotland prior to him, namely Fergus, Ferithares, Mainus, Dornodilla, and Nothatus. Hence, I suppose, that which Bede writes about Reuthares (whom he calls Reuda) is to be understood as pertaining to a return, not a first arrival, as the historical record clearly indicates.
spacer 6. Although nearly from the very beginning the island was inhabited by three different peoples of different origins, and took its name from that part which, earliest of them all, the companions of Brutus possessed, with the rest of the island assuming this old name for itself, something that was, as I have said, not unwelcome for our ancestors. And likewise the Picts, arriving at this same place after ourselves, adopted this same name out of necessity, since from the very beginning they were conjoined with the Scots. And since we were rarely called by our proper names, and more commonly called Alban-dwellers than Scots or Picts, it is scarcely absurd to suppose that Tacitus, who recorded Roman activities in Scotland and Pithland, did not venture to employ the names of the Scottish or Pictish nations in his writings, since because of this ambiguity he was unclear whether he should call them by the common name of Albion-dwellers or by their proper national names. Rather, as a Roman army passed through each region, or a Roman fleet sailed by it, he called the inhabitants by the special name of that region, such as the Tegeni from Tegenia, the Horestii from Horestia, the Caledonians from Caledonia, the Brigantes from Brigantia. And yet he gives very definite indications that, in addition to the British nation per se, whom we call the Britons, the races of the northern part of the island had different manners and characters, such as the Picts, whose hair and folkways showed to have a German origin, and the Scots, who always went around with shaven heads and a forelock, and for these and other Spanish customs he asserted to have had a Spanish origin. But in these days the island is only inhabited by two peoples, the English and the Scots living in the south over against France, and those who occupy the part of Scotland stretching northwards.
spacer 7. Having explained the reason and origin of their name, I shall discuss these at greater length at the end of this little treatise, together with the lineage of our nations’s kings and the vicissitudes suffered by these newcomers. Now, the circumference of the entire island comes to about 2,000 miles, and it is about 350 miles wide at its broadest expanse (at its base, facing the English Channel), and from there it gradually narrows to the border of Scotland and England, from the promontory of Galloway over to St. Ebb’s Head (the one facing the Irish Sea, the other the German Sea). This width is no more than 60 miles, and becomes progressively narrower until it comes to it draws to its closest point ,where it is barely 30 miles across. Britain abounds with men, horses, and every kind of of grain fit for cattle and flocks, save for those places where God in His singular goodness has provided a supply of gold, silver, copper, tin, and quicksilver such as suffices not just for this single island but also for neighboring people, if only adequate labor is invested in its mining. But the abundance of all things and love of idleness renders men less enterprising. For, in addition to the store of things which come to us from the earth and the sky, there is such a superabundance of fish (especially as you go northwards) that the salmon alone would suffice to feed the whole island, and the neighboring nations adjacent to our shore, France, Flanders, Zealand, Holland and Germany, not only send a huge number of ships into our sea to fish or purchase enough for themselves, but also during the Lenten season sell to the Mediterranean lands as much as the traffic will bear, at a great profit, and there these are not regarded as everyday fare (as they are by the aforementioned nations which take them away), but as delicacies. What am I do say about our wool, greatly prized by all nations and most renowned everywhere because it is necessary to use? But what is not so well known to everybody is that no small part of it is choice and soft, so that it takes a scarlet or purple dye and textiles, gloves, and similar things are woven from it, and this I do not think should go unmentioned.
spacer 8. And so, if it were also God’s gift that these realms could coexist in harmonious peace or be ruled by a single king, they would so abound with all things needful for life that they would not only be able to support themselves generously without any need for purchasing, but also, if any foreign violence should be offered against them, they could fend it off with next to no trouble. For, in addition to the comeliness of their inhabitants’ bodies, in which they yield to no other nation, and their talents, fit both for learning and the manual arts, they have very great physical strength. For them, nothing is burdensome, nothing difficult, as long as they live a temperate life and employ their former customary and familiar moderation in eating. Thus God, the Father of nature, has willed that their land, fertile in other respects, does not bear wine, seeing that this, which is most useful for other nations, would be disadvantageous for them. For their appetite is so unnaturally great, and their greed for foreign things (conjoined with a scorn for that which is their own) is such that there is no other way to prevent them from very avidly filling themselves full of wine, and you can see them in their cups becoming afflicted, not only with diseases which are familiar among other nations, but also strange and unknown ones. Others grow languid and disaffected, and, thanks to excessive voracity in consuming food and wine, they at length arrive at such deformity that, if you knew them as boys or young men, you would not recognize them in their old age. Indeed, comparing them to their fellow citizens you would hardly imagine they were born on the same island, unless you were to adjudge them to be monstrosities ajnd freaks. And, thanks to the constant use of wine, no few of them have demented old age for a companion, and you will rarely see tosspots fathering children, since this ruins their natural vigor. Regarding religion, prior to their adoption of the Christian faith, they comprehended it wonderfully and with learning, according to the standard of the time. According to the testimony of Caesar and Tacitus, the Gauls maintained a home and certain academies in Britain, and the Druids came from here. This is told by our annals as well, saying that the island of Mona blue was the source of all sacred things and arcane lore. And then, having adopted the True Religion at the outset without any reluctance, they clung to it with great sincerity, manufacturing no heresies, nor cleaving to those invented elsewhere.
spacer 9. Thus far I have been speaking about things common to all the island’s inhabitants. Now let me turn to my chosen subject, since I am about to describe the present condition of Scotland. Once the Picts possessed the larger part of what is now Scotland. Having been conjoined with the Scots for 1171 years in a perpetual league against the Britons and Romans, who waged war against them, although sometimes indulging in mutual fighting at the urging of quarrelsome fellows who blew cold, in the end they were driven to mutual slaughter by their extreme hatred, and, in accordance with the Fates’ decree, where exterminated by the Scots. But, by the help of God’s grace, the Scots, although greatly storm-tossed, survive intact down to this very day. You will discover that nearly all of the generalizations I have made about the inhabitants of Britain apply with greater force to the Scots, since they have less dealings with merchants from overseas, and hence are lest soft and less tainted by foreign blood. Thus they are more tolerant of going without sleep or food, and of enduring cold, and are possessed of greater boldness, agility, and fighting skills. They are tenacious in keeping their word. Scotland’s border along the German Sea is Deera, formerly the finest part of the Picts’ realm. But, now that they have been driven out, the best part of it is called Merch, which means “border.” On the other side, certain small burns flowing down from the Cheviots and nearby hills flow into the River Solway, which divides Cumbria from Annandale, and these discharge into the Irish Sea with a common mouth, forming the ancient borders of Scotland. The middle march is distinguished by the outspread hills of Cheviot with their many rivulets. Merch, partially bounded by the German Sea and the river Tweed, and part by Lothian and the Firth of Forth, numbers Berwick among its distinguished towns (it was once Ordolucium, and its inhabitants were called the Ordolucae). The Tweed rises from a small enough source, and in its rather lengthy course is enlarged by a number of small tributaries. When it approaches the coast, it becomes tidal and discharges into the German Sea with a capacious enough basin. Beyond the Tweed, as you go inland to the Cheviot Hills, lies Teviotdale, which takes its name from the Teviot, beyond which you have Eskdale, named after the river Esk. And as you head towards the opposite cost you find Eusdale, named from the river Eus, but this flows into the river Annan, and these flow into the Tweed. After these, reaching over to the coast of the Irish Sea coast, comes Annandale (named after the river, which flows through the middle of Niddisdale), and the Eus joins the Solway and the Annan in disgorging into the sea with a common mouth, encircled by the Irish Sea.
spacer 10. In this district there is a loch five miles long and four wide, commonly called Lochmaben, very full of fish, and ones of a strange kind at that. Adjacent to this is a stoutly fortified castle, formerly built for the suppression of robbers. For not only in this district, but in all the aforementioned ones as well, there always exists a great number of robbers during times of trouble. For they dwell cheek by jowl alongside their English enemy, and when the enemy invades in wartime and devastates their fields, poverty obliges them to gain their livelihood by robbery and thieving, whereas in times of peace they are attracted by the pleasant prospect of booty, since they think it a fine thing to do damage to their enemy, so that not even then do they turn to the peaceful tilling of their fields. The result is that the land, which would otherwise be highly fertile, yields a meager crop for want of cultivation. Nor is this to be passed over in silence, that not far distant from the river Solway (which teems with fish) there is quicksand so treacherous that it engulfs your footsteps and allows you such a difficult passage that you appear to be sinking into it. Once upon a time Annandale was called Ordovicia, and its inhabitants (obliterated by Roman arms) the Ordovici. It is said that they were cannibals, and that their women were accustomed to kill their menfolk if they returned home after suffering a defeat, inflicting a well-deserved punishment for their futile fear.
spacer 11. As travelers make their way northward up the coast of the Irish Sea, next in order they encounter Niddisdale, named after the river Nith, which meets the sea with a narrow enough front, but widens inland. Within it is the town of Dumfries, well known for its very white woolen textiles woven out of fine thread, held in high esteem by the English, French, Flemish, and Germans to whom it is exported. Alongside it lies Galloway, once known as Brigantia. The river Cree is divided into two parts, of which the one nearer to Niddisdale, is called the Lower Cree, and the further stretch is called the Upper. In this is the market-town of Kirkcudbright, well known for the number of merchants who come a-flocking here, and here is Whitehorn, most distinguished for its piety and large population. It is consecrated to St. Ninian, and possesses an abbey in which the tomb and relics of that most holy man are preserved with great honor, and visited by throngs of men. A little further along comes the town of Wigtown, and Myrton Loch Myrton is four miles distant; and it is noteworthy that part of the Loch freezes solid in winter, as do other waters, but part cannot be frozen by any cold spells. Furthermore, there are two lochs in Galloway, Salset and Newtramen, of a similar large size. Galloway reaches out into the sea with a great promontory which the local folk call the Mull, and when it turns back from the sea it creates two huge bays (by which the nearby region of Carrick is surrounded) which are difficult to enter because of their great shoals. There are two maritime lochs, called by the natives Luce Bay and Loch Ryan, of approximately equal width, but the one is about sixteen miles long, and the other is twice as long. Both are rich in oysters, herring, eels, mussels, and similar sea-creatures, but most of all of cockles. Some write that what is nowadays called Wales in England was once named Brigantia, where the Britons were driven after the Saxons had invaded Britain, but that it is now wholly brought under English control. But they are scarcely right. For Roman writers say that the island Mona lies off Brigantia and that those crossing over to Ireland come there at about the mid-point in their voyage, as nowadays can be seen to be the truth even if the shores lie a little further away from each other, having (like everything else) been eroded by time. And the same latitude and polar elevation which Ptolemy assigns to Brigantia well matches Galloway at this time, but is far removed from Wales, for Mona is nearly three hundred miles away and can be seen from Galloway.
spacer 12. Not to speak just of Scottish history, but of Irish and Spanish as well, they say that a colony was once sent from Brigantia in Spain (now called Compostella) to Ireland, and that a sizeable band of those colonists crossed over to the land of Albion under the leadership of Fergus I, bringing along with them the name of their old nation. To these things Cornelius Tacitus (reckoned as a grave author by the pagans) subscribes his authority, asserting that the Brigantes were of Spanish origin and had their home in a recess of Britain (for this was his name for the entire island) farther away than he could maintain any Britons had penetrated by that time. In addition to wool, the districts of Annandale, Niddisdale and Galloway abound with numerous herds and flocks and bear various kinds of grain, but not wheat. Above Galloway is located Carrick, once a part of Siluria, and it is not agreed whether it takes its name from Carectonium, once a populous city whose ruined buildings still attest its magnificence, or from something else. Within it are a large number of castles strongly protected both by nature and human effort. In addition to other herds, it possesses oxen of excellent huge size, whose meat is tender and pleasant to est, but their fat never congeals and always runs liquid. Next comes Kyle, or rather Coil, named for Coilus, a king of the Britons killed there in battle. In this district there is a rock scarce ten miles distant from the down of Ayr, barely twelve feet high and thirty wide, of three cubits’ thickness, which is not without reason called the Deaf Stone by the locals. For no matter how loud a sound is made on the other side, even employing a cannon, it can barely be heard unless you happen to be at a far distance from it, and then the sound is readily perceptible.
spacer 13. Cunninghame follows soon after Kyle, the third part of Siluria, which was formerly a very warlike nation and (as Tacitus tells us) always ill-disposed towards the Romans and rebellious. There is a loch in Kyle called Doon, from which flows the river Doon, irrigating the land through which it makes its way to the sea with its very limpid water, and in Cunninghame a loch that is its equal, named Garnot, famous for the nobility of its fish. Here is Largs, a town made famous by Alexander III’s battle against the Norwegians. To the north of Cunninghame, the river Clyde (called the Glyde by some, and the Glota by Tacitus) separates Lennox from the Barony of Renfrew. It arises from the same little hill in the middle of the Forest of Caledonia from which issues the Annan, which, as I have said, makes its long way through the inland district to the Irish Sea. And from a source not far distant flows the Forth, gliding towards the German Sea in its wide riverbed and creating an immense estuary. But more of this herafter. The Clyde flows nearly straight north for some distance until, as if repelled by the foot of Mt. Grampius, it bends a little and heads back southward and flow into the Irish Sea in a broad enough bay that, as Tacitus tells us, when they had crossed it the Romans imagined they had arrived at another island. In the narrow little space between this and the district of Lennox runs the so-called Barony of Renfrew (which is wider inland), and the region below the bend in the Clyde is called Clydesdale. There are two lochs in Renfrew, Lochwinnoch, about twenty miles in circumference, and Barr Loch, not more than twelve, both teeming with fish. And in Lennox, which lies along the coast above Renfrew and was called Lelgonia by Ptolemy, is the largest of lochs, more than twenty-four miles long and eight wide. It contains thirty islands, of which many have hamlets and churches and chapels consecrated to Saints. This is popularly called Loch Lomond. Three memorable things are found in it. For it possesses tasty fish that lack scales. Sometimes, although no wind is blowing, its waters becomes so roiled that they would deter even the boldest sailors. Hence, even when the wind is falling, ships caught in mid-course are tossed about to their great peril, and, unless some harbor happens to be at hand, they are often capsized. And finally, there is a certain island rich in pasturage for sheep and cattle, but it floats and is driven hither and thither by tides and winds. This loch is situated at the foot of Mt. Grampius, and once marked the boundary between the realms of the Picts and the Scots, where the Grampian ridge as it runs from the mouth of the river Dee that passes through Aberdeen as it wends its way towards the German Sea and is rough and intractable(as is signified by its vernacular name Granybeene) as it goes through the middle of Scotland, tending towards the other sea, until it runs into this loch is brought a halt. Tacitus likewise mentions this mountain.
spacer 14. And since I am speaking of the Pictish borders, this should not be passed over in silence, that the Picts never possessed anything beyond Mt. Grampius, but that at the place where Loch Lomond prevents Mt. Grampus from proceeding any further, the Scots were able to occupy the aforementioned districts thanks to the fact that the passageway alongside the coast permits access to the lands on this side, and there boundaries were established between the two peoples, so the Picts never caught sight of the Irish Sea. Eight miles distant from Loch Lomond is Dunbriton, an exceedingly strong castle, built at the place where the river Leven joins the Clyde, which had in olden times been called Alcleuch. From there people going up the coastline are soon confronted by Argyll, called by the ancients Argathelia, facing the sea with most high crags along its seashore. Two notable lochs, called Loch Fyne and Loch Caolisport, divide it into three parts, and the space in between is called Knapdale. In Loch Fyne, in addition to a large stock of all manner of fish, there is a number of herring such as exists in no other place available to human access, and in Lochquho a great supply of those fish that take pleasure in fresh water. Moreover, there are twelve islands and two castles built there, Glenurquhart and Enconell. Both of these lochs are more than twenty-four miles long and four wide. The soil of Argyll is fitter for pasturage than crop-bearing, and quite rich in ores, if only the industry and the skill were available for its residents. There is a persistent report that a certain stone grows there which, if you place it beneath straw or tinder for a little while, creates fire. In Argyll there are seven more lochs, some having a circumference of thirty miles, but others a lesser number, and all of them of a goodly width. Sir Duncan Campbell, a man of no less integrity than distinguished breeding, has related to me that in on the summer solstice of the year 1510 some kind of beast the size of a mastiff emerged at dawn from one of those lochs, named Gairloch, having feet like a goose, that without any difficulty knocked down great oak trees with the lashings of its tail. It quickly ran up to the huntsmen and laid low three of them with three blows, the remainder making their escape among the trees. Then, without any hesitation, it immediately returned into the loch. Men think that when this monster appears it portends great evil for the realm, for otherwise it is rarely seen.
spacer 15. Lorne is adjacent to Argyll, and was once part of Argathelia. As if begrudging the fact that it is compressed into a narrow peninsula, it juts out into the Irish Sea for the length of sixty miles and then retracts itself, creating no similar width. This tract once had the name of Novantia, but is now commonly called Cantyre, which signifies a headland, and its extremity it is no more than sixteen miles distant from Ireland. Some think that both Argyll and this peninsula were once comprehended by the name of Novantia, relying on no other argument than that Ptolemy appears to indicate this when he makes no mention of Argyll. Excellent barley grows abundantly in Lorne. Beyond Lorne on the mainland lies Lochaber, one part of which formerly faced Mull, and another Skye, for as you crossed this island-like tract, it faced the sea in both directions, and once it formed a portion of Moray. But later, thanks to better counsels, it was divided into two parts and administrative districts. It abounds in iron, lead, and pastureland. Within it are many forests, many lochs and burns, but two principal rivers teeming with salmon and other delicious fish both marine and freshwater, which are so abundant that they are caught with no skill or exertion. No such supply exists elsewhere on this island. One of these rivers is named the Lochy and the other the Spayne (although this name would not appear to be given it for no good reason, I have not yet found anything definite to suggest). The Lochy arises from a certain loch not more than eight miles distant from Loch Ness, whence a river of the name flows towards the German Sea on the opposite coast and discharges into the same. Here the land is compressed into a very narrow peninsula, and then rises up into the lofty promontory of Hardnomorth, from which you can glimpse the island of island of Islay, not far off. At the mouth of the Lochy was once located the very prosperous town of Inverloth, memorable for the number of Gauls and Spaniards who came there to do trade. But, ruined in wars waged by the Norwegians and Danes, it was not subsequently rebuilt (I do not know whether to say because of the sloth of its inhabitants or the malevolence of certain men who were jealous of towns and castles if they were too well fortified), to the considerable disgrace of all involved.
spacer 16. Across the Lochy is located a very strong castle, once called Evonium, but now Dunstafage. Further along, the river Spayne enters the sea, and then Ross (once called Lugia) immediately greets you as you continue. It indeed presents a narrow front, but extends into the middle of the island for a considerable distance. It is lapped by the sea on both sides, and on the side of the Vergivian Sea it is rough and impassible country because of its forests and hills, fitter for wild game than for men. But it is more cultivated towards the German Sea, and unstintingly bears crops. Nor is it less suitable for pasturage, because of its plentiful fodder. Handsome valleys watered by fish-filled streams provide sweet, luxurious grass for livestock. There are a number of lochs in Ross, of which salmon-filled Lochbroom is the largest, and also streams, and these provide nearly any kind of fish seen anywhere on this island. In Ross there is also an inlet not inappropriately called Cromarty by many, since it often serves as a safe harbor for endangered seafarers (for this word means “safety for sailors.”) In Ross, too, is a town called Thane, notable for the fact that the bones of St. Dutho are preserved there, pilgrims come from all over Albion to adore the relics of that very holy man. In a valley of Ross are also preserved two monuments of antiquity, round buildings that have the shape of bells. Strathnaver comes after Ross, the northernmost district of Scotland. There the shore, facing the Deucaledonian Sea, quickly turns back towards the German Sea: to the north it partly has the Deucaledonian Sea and partly Caithness, to the east Sutherland, to the south Ross, and to the west the Deucaledonian Sea once more. Three promontories at its extremity serve to create two bays. The first of these Howbourn, located in Strathnaver, notorious for its savagery, and the two that follow belong to Caithness, Hoy and Dunnet Bay (called Dume by Ptolemy), which are less less large. Beginning here, the coast turns south and is washed by the German Sea.
spacer 17. Sutherland is conjoined to Caithness, a district scarcely to scorned, for (like the previous two) it is a region more bountiful for pasturage than crop-bearing, yet it supplies more than enough to feed those who work its land. Next comes Moray (formerly called Vararis) , which abuts Ross, but it does not retain the same boundaries it once possessed. For once it consisted of the region enclosed by the Ness and the Spey and ran toward the Irish Sea, but now it is bounded by the rivers Spey and Kissock, where the shore reaches out into the German Sea. Between Ross and Moray the land curves inward and creates a great firth into which five rivers discharge, the Ness (about which more presently), Nardin, Findhorn, Loss, and Spey. The Spey surpasses the rest in the rapidity of its current, to the extent that it can by no means be arrested when it discharges into the sea and drives back ships traveling at full sail. The river Ness, which originates in a like-named loch barely more than eight miles away from the loch whence the Lochy flows into the Irish Sea (a distance that guarantees that they are kept separate from each other), never freezes in any kind of weather, and neither does its loch. Whatever frozen thing is plunged in it immediately melts, to the great advantage of horses freezing with mud and ice. At the mouth of the Ness lies the town of Inverness, once rich with herring, but now deprived of that benefit by divine wrath: people say that the reason is the insolence of certain men who in their wild greed savagely competed against each other in fishing and tainted the waters with their sinful blood. They are convinced of this because, since the time of their fight, the supply of mussels, herring, and that sort of fish, which God in His providence bountifully supplies for the support of the poor, have appeared in small number, if at all.
spacer 18. Along the sides of Loch Ness (which is twenty-four miles long and twelve wide), because of their dense forestation, there is a great supply of deer, wild horses, wild goats, and game of this kind, and likewise a countless stock of martens, beavers, foxes, weasels, ferrets, and otters, whose skins are purchased as luxury goods by foreigners, bought at enormous price. In addition to an abundance of wheat and other grains, and likewise of nuts and all the fruits grown in Scotland, there is no less a store of fish, and particularly of salmon, found here in greater number than anywhere else. And they have a novel way of fishing: close in to shore they plant a long net in the mud, containing two or three turns within it. When the tide rises fish become caught in the turns and, while the water is still high, they have difficulty in extricating themselves. So soon thereafter, when the water recedes, they are stranded on dry land and offer themselves up as easy catches when the fishermen come along. And in Moray there is a loch named Spine, famous for its population of swans. And in that place there grows a certain grass whose seed is most eagerly harvested, and for that reason is called swansgrass. Its nature is that, when it is planted in the ground, it never decays. Hence it comes about that, although this loch stretches out for about five miles and within human memory has abounded with fish, particularly salmon, since the time this grass began to grow in it, it has gradually become so solid that one can walk over it and has become impassable for things swimming in it, so that henceforth no large fish has been seen therein. And in the Kirk of Pette in the district of Moray are preserved the bones of a certain man ironically called Little John, whom the shame and dimension of the bones show to have been fourteen feet tall, with a matching breadth. Six years ago I myself saw his coccyx bone, no less long than an entire shinbone and as thick as a human ankle, and I put my arm into its hollow space. This is proof of the huge size of the men our part of the world used to produce, at a time when our nation had not yet been invaded by such great enthusiasm for eating and drinking.
spacer 19. In Moray, furthermore, there is a town named Elgin, located not far distant from the mouth of the river Spey, notable for the number of merchants who come there, and in it is a very well-known cathedral with its episcopal see and college of canons. Moray is also very famed for its many abbeys and cloisters, the chief of which are Kinloss and Pluscarden, both belonging to the Benedictine Order, the one Cistercian, the other Cluniac. Next to Moray lies Boyne and Enzie, which begin at the promontory which extends far into the sea and shuts off Moray Firth, and then occupy a considerable stretch of coastline. This area is rich in pastures and cattle, and also of wild game because of its great forests, and yet is no less fertile in grain. At the mouth of the Deveron is a notable fishing-town named Banff. Beneath Boyne and Enzie lies Buchan with its many cattle and sheep, and wool which is superior to that of nearby districts. In it there are streams which teem with their supply of salmon, with the exception of one named Ratra, which contains none. Near Slains Castle (which belongs to the royal Constable), there is a cave of a wonderful nature. For over the long passage of time the water dripping into it has been transformed into the whitest of stone, and, if it had not been removed periodically, the cave would now be filled with this. None of the larger rodents can be seen in this district, nor can they survive there if imported. Oats grow wild in many places without cultivation, but if men come along bent on reaping it, they find everything bare. And yet, if they appear suddenly without giving any advance notice, everything is full of oats. And this seems unnatural, and an illusion invented by demons to impose on men’s gullible and superstitious minds. Next comes Mar, a large district stretching from the German Sea to Badenock, a distance of sixty miles, which produces a quantity of horses, oxen, and other livestock. In it is Aberdeen, enclosed by two rivers, the Don and the Dee, where flourishes is a University founded by the effort of William Elphinstone, the bishop of the place and the best of all men of his age, who also built Kings College there, where, for the great enhancement of learning, all the goodly arts are made available for the education of young gentlemen. Aberdeen is also renowned for its episcopal see and college of canons, and for its right elegant cathedral. The Don and the the Dee contain more salmon than any of Albion’s other rivers.
spacer 20. Neighboring Mar is Mernia or the Mearns, itself a rich-soiled district, fertile in pastureland. In it is the very strong castle of Dunnothir, the seat of the royal Marshal. At one of its towns, Fordoun, the relics of St. Palladius, the apostle of the Scots, are preserved, and the Esk (or, as it is commonly called, the North Esk) provides the border of the Mearns. Adjoining it is Angus (formerly a part of Horestia), which is watered by three rivers, the so-called North Esk with its great supply of salmon, the Esk (commonly called the South Esk), and the Tay, the greatest of Scottish rivers, familiar even to Roman writers. From it there reaches out into the German Sea a 4 popularly known as Red Head, conspicuous for its size. The Tay rises far beyond Mt. Grampius from a like-named loch which is twenty-four miles long and no more than ten wide, which contains some islands and castles, and arising with its abundant supply of fish and having watered many districts, it glides past my native city of Dundee (once known as Alectum) as it makes its way to the sea. This is a town noble for its wool-working, and many other towns and abbeys are found in Angus: Montrose (formerly Celurca), Brechin (the bishop’s seat), and many others. But, since its castles are without number it would be pointless to list them. But this cannot be passed over in silence, that Forfar was once a populous city with its two royal castles, as its ruins go to show, but has now been reduced to a village. Throughout the district large lochs are to be found, filled with fish. There is also a monastery therein named Restenneth, belonging to Augustine canons, and two others famed for their piety and learning, Abroath and Coupar, the latter Cistercian and the former (which is the larger of the two) Tironensian. They say that in one district of Angus, called Eskdale, the sheep bare a wool as white, fine, and delicate as hair, and its like cannot be found in all Albion.
spacer 21. On the far bank of the Tay starts Fife, which once comprised the better part of Otolinia. In this, in addition to every manner of grain and a plenty of flocks and herds that can match anything found throughout the island, is mined a great quantity of a black stones highly suitable for burning, such as are also excavated at Liege, and when these are set afire they create such a heat that they can even melt iron, and are highly useful for blacksmiths in the softening of iron and copper, and in all of Albion, to the best of my knowledge, this kind of stone is found nowhere else than between the Tay and the Tyne. Here, too, no mean amount of salt is obtained from seawater by boiling. There are a number of noteworthy towns in Fife, of which by far the principal one is that called St. Andrews, famed for its public University for the study of all branches of knowledge, and for its archbishop’s see. Nor can I omit Dysart, Kirkcaldy, Kinghorn, Cupar, or Dunfermline, where there is a rich abbey which serves as the common burial-place for our kings. There are other abbeys that exist under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, no less excellent for their piety than for the learning, of which those of greater reputation are Culross, Balmarino, Petmoyg, and Pittenweem. Fife has a number of lochs, the principal of which are Torre and Leven. In this latter is a very strong castle and various islands, one of which is chapel consecrated to St. Philanus. The river Forth separates Fife from Lothian, the next district one encounters when traveling down the coast, with a very wide estuary, once called Forthmon which is tidal for a long stretch and is amply stocked with oysters, mussels, cockles, seals, rockfish, and nearly every kind of fish. In this estuary, in addition to other islands, is the Isle of May, ennobled by the relics of St. Adrian and his companions, who suffered martyrdom for Christ’s sake. Here, on a high cliff, a fountain most liberally pours forth sweet water in the midst of the sea, a wonderful miracle of nature. And, surpassing all things in its novelty, there is the castle on Bass Rock, all but impregnable against any human powers.
spacer 22.Bass Rock is a crag located in this estuary that can scarcely admit a fishing-boat through its narrow entryway. It contains no buildings on it, but it is hollowed out in such a way that it offers no less hospitable dwelling-places within itself than if these had been constructed by great human effort, although in this respect it is far more stoutly defended. And everything on it is full of remarkable novelty. For a great number of soland geese (not very different from the birds Pliny calls sea erns) dwell there, more than almost anywhere else. When they first arrive there at the beginning of spring to build their nests, they brings such a supply of wood that those who live there can carry it off a supply sufficient for a year, and the birds do not object. The feed their chicks with fish, and those of the most delicate kind. For if they have taken a fish and, flying along, catch sight of a better one, they drop the first one and then swoop down and pursue their prey. When they have carried this food back to the nest and men steal it away, they are not greatly troubled, but immediately fly off for some more. Nor do they struggle when their chicks are stolen, a great boon for the keeper of the castle. For they take the skin and fat from the birds and make an ointment of great value, and these birds also have a small gut filled with an oil of singular medicinal virtue. This is wont to heal arthritis of the hip and ailments of that kind, so that its evident that this bird, which is otherwise so beneficial to mankind, is deficient in this sole respect, that it is rare save in this one place. And on this crag there also grows a plant that is sweet to the taste, but if it is taken away and transplanted it is not fit for eating, nor can it grow anywhere else. Once upon a time there was discovered on this same crag a stone, porous and sponge-like and concave on one side, and if water were allowed to percolate through it, it would become sweet and potable. And they say that, by being shared among friends, it passed through many hands and at length fetched up at Fast Castle, where it reposes today.
spacer 23. In the same estuary is Aemonia on the island of Inch Colm, an abbey of Augustine canons, a foundation dedicated to the writing and preservation of chronicles, and there are other islands therein which are a-swarm with rabbits. In this estuary there sometimes appear some ill-omened phantoms with human faces, wearing monks’ cowls, as it seems, which rise out of the water as far as their waists, and these are called bassinats in our native language. Lothian, once called Pithland, is now among the most excellent regions of the Scottish realm when it comes to the fertility of its soil. It has many noteworthy abbeys and fortified castles, and I have thought worth enumerating its more notable towns, which are Haddington, Dunbar, North Berwick, and Leith. But the important of them all is Edinburgh, where Maidens’ Castle, celebrated by the testimonials by the finest authors, is located, and nowadays, as in the past, this no less renowned than the king’s official residence. More or less two miles away from this town is a fountain which pours forth drops of oil with such force that, if you take nothing from it, it does not overflow, but no matter how much you carry way, what remains is undiminished. They say that this fountain had its origin when some drops of St. Catharine’s oil were spilled there when it was being brought to St. Margaret from Mt. Sinai. The truth of this is proven by the fact that the fountain is called that of St. Catharine, and next to the fountain is a chapel, built in her honor by St. Margaret. This oil has power against various diseases of the skin. Furthermore, at the mouth of the Firth of Forth is a fortress named Castle Dunbar, always accounted among Albion’s strongest thanks both to nature and human industry. This was formerly the seat of the Earls of Merch, and hard by is a town of the same name, which is noteworthy for a priestly college. Merch is alongside Lothian, so that my discourse, which has taken me around the coasts of Scotland, has come full circle and reached its ending.
spacer 24. Let us now proceed inland. Under Merch and Teviotdale lies Tweedale, named after the river Tweed, a not inconsiderable part of Lothian. Beneath are the other valleys, I mean Drysdale, Walcopedale, Douglasdale and Clydesdale, taking their names from the rivers Clyde, Douglas, Vauth, and Dry. One town of Clydesdale is called Glasgow, which has a public University, flourishing to no mean extent, and it is ennobled a very august church consecrated to St. Kentigern, as well as an episcopal see and a learned college of canons. In this region there is a gold-mine with a rich supply of gold and azure, which is excavated with next to no effort, and gems are occasionally found: lapis lazuli, rubies and diamonds. This mine was discovered during the reign of James IV and, had the Fates spared this man for us, he would doubtless have brought these newly-discovered riches to light for the great glory of the realm, which are now far less fine and useful than they ought to be, thanks to negligence and sloth. Marching with Argyll and Lennox in the interior lie the districts of Sterling and Menteith, and not far distant a town of this same name of Sterling, together with a very stout castle formerly named Mons Dolorosus. Once upon a time the Caledonian forest began here, and the old names Callendar and Caldar still remain. It ran in a long expanse through Menteith and Stratherne as far as Athol and Lochaber. This forest is wont to produce very white bulls that have lion-like manes but otherwise resemble domesticated ones, but they are so wild and untamed that they avoid contact with men, and if they sense that some plant or tree has been touched by human hand, they shun it for several days thereafter. If they are captured by some trick (a very difficult thing to do), they soon die of sorrow. And when they see they are being attacked, they charge whomever they encounter and lay him low, having no fear of dogs, javelins, nor any kind of steel. They say that Robert Bruce, having gained the throne and pacified his kingdom, hunted here for his recreation and came close to destruction. For when he was wandering about wherever his fancy took him, carefree and unescorted, he was confronted by a bull of this kind that had been wounded by a hunting-dart. Driven to a frenzy, it confronted Robert and threatened him with imminent death, and the king had no way of avoiding the danger. Whiile all his company saw this and were standing stock-still in amazement, one present-minded man, willing to sacrifice his life for the king’s sake, took the bull by the horns with might and main, and not only stopped it in its tracks, but very courageously wrestled it to the ground without suffering any harm himself. Then the bull was slain by the spears of those who came a-running, and this averted the king’s impending death. As a reward for saving his life, the king handsomely rewarded the fellow by conferring on him the name of Turnbull. Families of this name, possessed of no small degree of nobility, still exist, and that king is said to have been the first to give them this name and distinction. The meat of this animal is delightful to eat and our nobility is particularly fond of it, although it does have gristle. But the gaming that used to be found in all that forest are now to be seen only in that part which is called Cumbernauld, having been hunted to extinction elsewhere to appease Man’s gluttony.
spacer 25. Eastward of the district of Menteith is Ernedale, which in turn has Fife to its east, and within it is the little stream Erne, a tributary of the Tay. For miles away from the point it joins the Tay there is a stone of no great size, but possessed of a strange novelty, for it cannot be budged from its place by any force or device, and what makes this all the more remarkable is that you have the same result whether you use one man or a hundred. On the far bank of the Tay and beyond Angus and Gowrie lies Stermund, a place no less rich in crops than in grass. Athol abuts it to the north, a place watered by very pleasant and fish-filled streams, in which there is a great supply of eels, bass, and other river-fish. And the land is so fertile that it virtually produces crops without any cultivation, for it ripens excellently in that soil. Near the village of Lud the soil is so rich that, if it is tended with care, it will produce the finest barley without being seeded, as I learn from a priest of well-tried probity. But in this district there are lands of the contrary nature, where, if you plant wheat it is transformed into rye, something I hear is also true of the land around Liege. Beneath Buchan and Boyne to the west are Bothwell and Gareoth, both fertile in grass and crops. In this district is a mountain named Dundor, called Golden by the locals, I suppose because the sheep on it are golden in color, have golden teeth, and meat which, as if it had been dyed with saffron, is a little more yellow than the wool they bear. In the same district, at a certain place there is a crownlike circle of stones which ring like bronze. Antiquarians think there was once a temple of the gods at this place, at a time when our ancestors still worshipped demons. After these come a number of other districts, such as Bradalbain, Strathbraun, Badenock, and several others, but, to the best of my knowledge, they contain nothing remarkable, so I consider it superfluous to prolong my discourse about them.
spacer 26. And so, having related what I have learned about individual districts, let me now turn my pen to those things that can be said about Scotland in general. Through the entire realm (save where human habitation prevents it) there is everywhere a great supply of hares, deer, wild horses (which during the wintertime are captured, when the country folk craftily introduce tame ones into their herds), wolves and foxes. The wolves are most cruel towards our herds, and very hostile to our cattle, save in a certain valley of Angus called Glenmore, where domesticated livestock graze without becoming prey. Since foxes are never harmless to smaller animals and domesticated foul, particularly in hilly country where it is difficult to hunt them down, the inhabitants of this valley have devised the following scheme for preventing any destruction from these beasts. In their more populous hamlets each household nourishes its individual fox and then, having killed it, mixes its minced and cooked meat with the fodder they give their animals. Thus the foxes refuse to eat the domestic birds or animals which have consumed this fodder, so that for the space of two months they are free to wander about, since foxes are careful not to eat their own kind, as they show thus. For if foxes prowl about amidst chickens, ducks, geese, and suchlike fowl, they will only seize as prey those ones which they sense have abstained from the eating of foxes, so that it is evident that sometimes you can ward off harm by inflicting it yourself. Nor will I omit to speak of the nature of our dogs. For, in addition to the common domestic variety, we have three kinds of them, which (as I imagine) you will find nowhere else in the world. One kind is the hunting dog, both very swift and very bold, not only regarding wild game, but also in dealing with enemies and robbers, particularly if they see their lord and master being harmed or are sicced against those men. The second is the scenting-dog, which tracks down game, birds, and indeed even fishes lurking in rocks, by means of their smell. The third kind (which commonly has a black ruff or a black one with spots) is no more keen-scented, but is so clever that they can track down thieves and their loot and attack them as soon as they are found. If some robber crosses a river to deceive them, they hurl themselves into the water at the place he entered it, and, having crossed to the opposite shore, they do not cease running about in circles until they catch the scent. This would seem improbable if they were not commonly used in the Scots-English borderland, where many men are accustomed to supporting themselves by mutual thievery. During times when there is a glimmer peace, whenever somebody searches for his stolen property with the help of one of these sleuthounds, if a man refuses the dog admission even into his private bedchamber, he is regarded as a thief.
spacer 27. For birds of pray we have eagles, falcons, hawks and suchlike. And we have such a great and varied number of waterfowl that it would be nothing short of a miracle if you could count them. And among them are kinds found nowhere else. One of these, a little larger than a crow, is the capercail or woodshorse, which eats nothing but pine-needles. Another species, smaller than these, are called woodcocks. They abstain from eating grain and only eat the tiny new leaves of broom. Both of these birds are very sweet to the human palate. A third kind closely resembles the pheasant in its size and meat, but has black feathers and very red eyelids, and our countrymen call it the wood pigeon. Besides these, birds live in Merch that are commonly called bustards, in terms of the color of their plumage and their meat they are not very different from partridges, but as large as swans. This bird is rare and generally avoids the sight of Man. It lays its eggs on bare earth, and if it perceives that these eggs have been touched or even breathed upon by men (as it can easily do, thanks to its excellent natural endowments), it immediately abandons them as if they were unfit for hatching chicks, and goes elsewhere to lay new ones. The other kinds of birds are just like those elsewhere.
spacer 28. As is plain enough from what I have said, throughout our region there is a supply of fish such as you will find nowhere else, salmon in particular. And so I shall have no reluctance about inserting into these pages what I have discovered about the nature of the salmon. In the autumn they mate in streams or shallows, then spawn and cover their eggs with sand. After this, when the males have spent their milk and the females their eggs, they are so lean and emaciated that they are reduced to skin and bone, and so are wholly unfit for eating. It is said that they have this power, that whichever of their own kind they touch immediately becomes emaciated itself. And in the springtime out of these sand-covered eggs emerge little hatchlings, very soft and tender and, as they are no larger than a man’s finger, they melt away like water if you touch them. Quickly seeking the ocean, within twenty days they grow to a large size. Afterwards they swim upstream to the places they were born, and this presents a wonderful spectacle for observers. For some streams, compressed by narrow cliffs on both sides, flow with a swift current, and when the salmon begin to be swept downstream by its fast-running water, they are not immediately swept along by the river, but cast themselves out of the water and, sailing a certain space through the air with their curved bodies, fall to the ground with a loud noise. And so when they have come to such turbulent water they seek to overcome it by leaping, thus passing through the water with greater violence than they could by swimming. Those equipped with less strength are cast back by the water or fall onto dry land. The locals often build fires alongside waterfalls and set atop of them pots full of water, into which they toss the salmon which have thus fallen, with great boldness blue thus satisfying the cravings of palate and belly. But the salmon who do manage to overcome the falling water, if not caught, make straight for the places where they were hatched the previous autumn, where they remain until breeding-time. So that they may be able to devote thesmselves to their mating in security, it is forbidden by law to catch them at this time, which is defined as the period from September 10 to December 1. What this fish feeds upon, or indeed whet her it feeds on anything it all, is not known for sure, for when their bellies are cut open nothing is ever found but a thick liquid.
spacer 29. So much for salmon. I must next speak about mussels and the pearls encased within them. Although we have a variety of shellfish, some of which are small and commonplace, but highly pleasing to the palate when eaten fresh, some are similar to those which contain purple dye in terms of size and shape, but contain nothing of the sort, although they have a flavor not to be scorned by the discriminating eater. But those which have completely round shells from the head backwards and spots surpass the rest by a long chalk (not to speak of their young). These are deemed delicacies at a number of places, so that not without just cause did our ancestors account them as a supreme delicacy, so that they were called “widows’ delights,” even if the ones found in certain rivers, especially the Dee and the Don, are judged to be inedible. These are found in great number among us, and delight in living in in the clearest and purest water, not turbid with any mud, and in these places alone they conceive pearls. For when the weather is fair and temperate, at the dawn they raise their heads above the water and eagerly drink in the dew, and they produce a pearl proportionate in size to the amount of fructifying air they have inhaled. And they have such an acute perception that if you stand on the shore and make a loud utterance or throw a pebble, no matter how small, into the water, they all instantly withdraw themselves and sink into the water, for nature has granted them such cleverness for hiding their treasure, since they are well aware how high a value mortals set on their luxurious product. And so fisherman are very vigilant, so that they might grasp their shells at the first snatch and cling to them very tightly, for otherwise they will eject their pearl. Four or five men will go into the water and stand in a circle, each one with a pole in onehand, which he plants in the riverbed so as not to lose his footing. Then with their eyes they scan the clear water searching for their prize and gently use their toes to seize hold of the shells (for the depth prevents from doing this with their hands), which then give to bystanders whose hands are free. The pearls produced in our part of the world are scarcely cheap, for they display a glowing brightness, are well-rounded, light, and of the size of the nail of your hand’s little finger, such as one I once owned. There are shells of pretty much the same kind along the Spanish coast, as those who have returned from pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostella report, but they are not fertile since they live in salt water. And a huge number swim around the Scottish shores, but are sterile.
spacer 30. And all over Scotland are found fish of strange appearance. For some have very rigid scales and others wear shells. Some resemble lobsters, some are round and spherical with spiny skin like hedgehogs, using the same orifice for eating and excreting. Of the other kinds of fish, it would be pointless to take pen and enumerate them all, since it is a well known fact that every year the French and Germans come with a huge swarm of ships for fishing, scarcely unprofitable works; and thanks to God’s bounty there is such a huge stock of small fish off our shoreline, and the greater a grain-shortage we suffer, the richer this becomes. However much you take away on any given day, on the morrow no less a number appears in the same place. In uncultivated and sterile regions springs up heather, a plant very useful for sheep, goats, and every kind of cattle, and particularly welcome for bees. In the month of July it bears a very honey-sweet flower from which the Picts were once wont to make a kind of drink, as we read in the historical record, which was no less healthful than delightful. But they kept this as a secret art, lest, if it were published, either the drink would be come cheaper, or its ingredients more expensive, and when they themselves were eradicated in Scotland, the drink shared a common fate with that people. And no part of Scotland is so barren that it does not produce iron or some other ore, although on the islands that lie about Scotland they are far more abundant.
spacer 31. Since I have made mention of them, it is high time to relate in due order what I have decided to relate about these. In the Irish Sea forty-three islands lie off Scotland, of such some are thirty miles long, some are no more than twelve miles broad, and some more. Some call these the Eboniae, and others the Hebrides. The first and foremost of these is Mona, which in the vernacular we call Man, which faces Galloway and the bordering English territory. Its chief claim to fame that it used to be the home of the Druids. In addition to other Roman writers ancient and modern, it is mentioned by Julius Caesar and Cornelius Tacitus. As you proceed northwards from Mona, next comes Arran, once called Botha, and they say it received its second name from St. Brendan when he built a hut (which in the vernacular we call a booth) there. Next come Eilean and Ross, named after Rothesaus, who passed by this island as he first led the Scots from Ireland. Not far distant is Ailsa, which abounds with those soland geese I have previously described. Many islands then follow, each with its own name, and they have plenty of ore. The largest and best best known is Islay, which lies off the peninsula of Lorne, within sight of Lochaber. It is about thirty miles long, and both fertile in crops and would be rich in ores, if only the locals would be industrious in their work and the scarcity of wood on the island would allow its mining. Soon come along Cumbrae and Mull, no whit inferior to Islay. In the latter is a very clear-running fountain two miles inland, from which issues a small stream full of small egg-like spheres which shine as brightly as pearls and are full of a thick humor, and it flows to a depression close to the shore filled with salt water, and there, within the space of twelve hours, they grow into large mussels.
spacer 32. Alongside these is Iona, famous both for its most pious inhabitants and for serving as the common burial-place for kings, beginning with Fergus II, who restored the kingdom of Scotland after it had been all but lost. After passing through a tract of the Deucalidonian Sea you come to Lewis, a large island lying off Ross sixty miles in length and thirty in breadth, which has a single river. They say that if a woman wades across it, no salmon will be seen in it that year, even if that fish is running plentifully elsewhere. Next comes Skye, and Rona soon thereafter. Here the seals are so numerous that they do not avoid human contact. And the last of them all is the once called Hirta, having a polar elevation of 63o. Therefore, since Mona is not higher than 57o (if astronomers are to believe Ptolemy, who assigned a distance of 62½ land miles to each degree), then it follows that the distance from Mona, which is the first of the Hebrides, to Hirta, which is the last, is 370 miles. The name of this island comes from sheep, which in our old language we call hierth. It bears sheep and great goats of large height, having horns as thick as those of bulls, but somewhat longer, and also tails that hang down to the ground. This island is girt with very steep rocks, save where it has a narrow, difficult harbor that can barely admit a ship.
spacer 33. Once you could go there at any time, but now only at the summer solstice. At that time a priest crosses over from Lewis, baptizes babes, and remains several days administering the Sacraments. Having done these things and receiving the tithes of everything produced that year (and being obliged to take the islanders’ word for this), he returns home. On this island there are two chapels, one consecrated to St. Peter the Apostle, the other to St. Clement. There is a constant report that, when fire chances to fail on the island, someone who surpasses all the rest in his innocence is chosen to set a bundle of straw on the altars of both chapels, and, in response to the prayers of the full congregation, these miraculously burst into flame. Another island adjoins this, but it is uninhabitable, on which are animals which otherwise resemble sheep, but are wild and cannot be taken save by hunting. They have a wool halfway between that of sheep and goats, not as soft as the one, nor as hard as the other. No living thing of any other kind is seen there. Between these islands are many narrow channels presenting dangers to seafarers, either pulling in ships and swallowing them down, or dashing them on reefs. Surpassing all the rest in its savagery is the one named Corbrech, which can attract ships from two miles away by the force of its current.
spacer 34. It remains for me to discuss those geese commonly called clacks, which are commonly (but wrongly) imagined to be born on trees in these islands, on the basis of what I have learned from my diligent investigation of this thing. It seems to me that the distance of the sea exerts more influence over their manner of procreation than any other thing. For I have seen that this occurs in various ways, but always in the sea. For if you throw a log in that sea, first of all worms grow in its hollow spaces, which over time begin to sprout a head and feet, and last of all feathers, and attain to the size of a goose. When they grow to their proper size, they seek the sky just like any other bird, flying through the air by the flapping of their winds. This was witnessed more clearly than daylight by a number of observers in Buchan in the year 1490. For when a log of this kind was washed up by the tide at Castle Petalego, the first to examine it were amazed by the novelty of the thing, and went a-running to the Laird of the place to report it. He came along and commanded the piece of wood to be cut open, and when this done a multitude of worms became visible, some still unformed, others having certain deformed parts, and some perfectly resembling birds; some of these last had plumage, but others were unfledged. Therefore, by command of the Laird, the still-amazed folk carried the log to the church of St. Andrew at Tyre (this was the name of the hamlet), where it remains to this day, with perforations like worm-holes all over it. Two years later, a similar log was shown to the many men who came running up to see it at Broughty Castle on the Firth of Tay. No different was what the entire populace was able to see at Leith, the harbor of Edinburgh, yet two years thereafter. For a great ship whose insignia and name was the Christopher, which had anchored in the Hebrides for three full years, was brought back here and beached, its planking quite worm-eaten below the waterline, showing worms of this kind, some undeveloped and not yet possessing the form of birds, but some ripened to maturity.
spacer 35. But one might object that the trunks and branches of the trees growing in those islands has this power, claiming that the Christopher was made out of Hebridean wood. And so I will not hesitate to describe something I myself witnessed seven years ago. Alexander Galloway, parson of Kinkell, who, besides being a man of outstanding probity, is possessed of an unmatched zeal for studying wonders. When he was pulling up some driftwood and saw that seashells were clinging to it from one end to the other, he was surprised by the unusual nature of the thing, and, out of a zeal to understand it, opened them up, whereupon he was more amazed than ever, for within them he discovered, not sea creatures, but rather birds, of a size similar to the shells that contained them (i. e., small shells contained birds of a proportionately small size). So he quickly ran to me, whom he knew to be gripped with a great curiosity for investigating suchlike matters, and revealed the entire thing to me. I was no no more stupefied by the strangeness of the business than I was delighted by the chance of examining such a great, unheard-of thing. So, on the basis of this evidence, I believe it is established that the seeds for creating birds do not exist in tree-trunks, nor in their fruit, but in the ocean itself, which Vergil (like Homer) was not wrong in calling the father of all things. But since men saw the fruit of trees standing along the shore, when it had fallen in the water, transformed into birds by the passage of time, they fancied that the fruit itself was changed into birds, but wrongly. For after a certain amount of time has past, these fruit first teem with worms, thanks to the power of the sea, and, after the fruit has been consumed by the water and disappeared, these worms appear to be altered out of their original forms, though men do not perceive the process accurately.
spacer 36. What has been said thus far about the Hebrides must suffice, if I add this one thing, that it is not just ourselves, but also the Romans, who perceived that there is not one single Thule, as can be seen from Tacitus. For he says that the Roman fleet which circumnavigated our island by order of Agricola, caught sight of of Thule. This cannot be understood as being said about the Thule which Ptolemy located between among the Shetland Islands, up beyond the Orkneys, or near to Norway, because of the great distance involved. I myself call Islay the first Thule, and Lewis, the chiefest of the Hebrides, the second, so we can conjecture that this was seen by the Romans, unless we were to believe that they were so keen-sighted as to see a distance of 300 miles, with many islands interposed. There is also Iceland, lying in an ice-infested sea, which is the northernmost place accessible to Man, where fishing is the chief occupation. Instead of wheat they eat dried flesh, which they cook in their fireplaces. Many men call Iceland Thule.
spacer 37. Next after the Hebrides come the Orkneys, which partially lie in the Deucalidonian Sea and partly in the German Sea. The most important of these is Pomonia, notable for its episcopal see and august cathedral, as well as two very strong castles. No tree grows thereon, nor any wheat, although other kinds of grain abound. It has no serpent or other venomous creature (something likewise true of Ireland), to the extent that it does not readily permit the presence of anything horrid-looking or under the suspicion of being poisonous. There is no frog there, and eels are rare. And since I happen to be touching on Ireland, in addition to the countless miraculous things there (which do not pertain to my subject and would consume too many words in the description), I do not think it inappropriate to insert mention of a single one, which appears to surpass all belief in its portentous novelty, and which I have myself seen to be true. There is a lake there, around which, for a goodly distance, there grows no tree or plant. If you plant a wooden stake in it, within the space of a year the part inserted in the ground changes into stone, and the aboveground part into iron. But the part standing out of the water remains its wooden form. Therefore, thanks to this unheard-of novelty, stone, iron and wood can be seen within a single stake. But let me return to the Orkneys, where I shall speak of something no less marvelous. For although they distill a mightily strong drink out of their abundant supply of barley, nonetheless nobody there ever appears drunken or out of his mind, nobody is deranged or stupid. All of them live to ripe old age in the pink of good health, they have little if any use for medicine. Their bodies are very fair and robust. The majority of their sheep drop twins or even triplets. There is such a supply of birds there, both wild and domesticated, as exists nowhere else in Albion. But there the horses are slender and small, scarcely larger than donkeys, although very long-suffering when put to work. What point in mentioning their fish, since they exist in such abundance as can scarce be described or believed? One of these is of huge size, bigger than a large horse. This fish takes its teeth (which are very large and strong), grasps some rough crag abovewater, and then falls into the deepest sleep. If some sailors chance to happen by, they put in to land and drop anchor. Then they approach it in a skiff, bringing a very strong rope, and sail around its tail and bore a hole in its skin and flesh, so that the rope might better retain its hold when the fish commences its leaping. Having done this, all the seamen create a great hullabaloo and heave many stones at. Finally it grudgingly wakens from its sleep and, in accordance with its habit, with a jerk it attempts to swim back to sea. But, finding itself to be tied up and caught, it strives might and main to break free of its bond. Perceiving its efforts to be in vain, however, it admits it has been overcome and, as if surrendering, it sheds the skin (for which it is aware it is being sought), and soon stretches out, prepared to die. The sailors despoil it of its fat, from which they make oil in great quantity. And they use its skin for ropemaking, since it is very stout and difficult to break, nor is frayed save over a long passage of time.
spacer 38. One hundred miles beyond the Orkneys lie the Shetlands. Their entire wealth consists of sun-dried fish and the hides of cattle, sheep, goats, martens, and suchlike animals. These are purchased in trade for common goods by the Hollanders, Zealanders, and Germans who visit there annually. They have little grain, save for what is imported. What I said about the citizens of the Orkneys is holds good for them as well, that nobody there is seen to dull-witted or disturbed of mind, and they retain their wits until they succumb to nature’s necessity in extreme old age. But this is less surprising here, since water is their drink and their diet is temperate. And beyond the Shetlands there certain other islands where men enjoy the same benefit, but these make no use of grain or meat. They take dried fish and pound it with a pestle, and then add water to make a paste, which they warm in their hearths, and this is their bread. They also use dried fish-bones as fuel for their fires. And yet they live a happier life than men who are affluent with all the pleasures, and more content with their lot. Among them there is no competition for wealth, no quarrels or squabbles. Every man lays in provisions for himself and his household against the coming winter, and does so by fishing. Ambition and wars are quite foreign. And for the rest, the things which those among us we account wise regard as the best and only goods, I mean peace, concord, mutual charity, and a peaceful existence throughout one’s life, these things they enjoy with the greatest pleasure, and these are brought to perfection by their pure simplicity as they follow in Christ’s footsteps. Once a year a priest comes to them from the Orkneys (to which diocese they belong), administers all the Sacraments, and baptizes the infants born in that year, and after a few days they piously give him a tithe of their fish (their sole form of income) and send him home.
spacer 39. If these things are to be counted as external goods, they abound in these people more than in any other region. For their bodies are tall and strong, and their other natural endowments are excellent. What should I say about health, which every man (and particularly he who has experienced disease) ought to prefer to all worldly goods? Their health remains undamaged until extreme old age, I mean that of body. Nor is there anyone among them who can in any respect be regarded as of unsound mind. And if it is true (as it indeed is) that wealth consists of being content with what owns, desiring nothing, need nothing, in no part of the world can wealthier men be found. Furthermore, since they are the truest honors, sincere and containing no flattery, which are paid by good sons to their good fathers, so that excellent men pay each other mutual reverence, since they possess all these things, can anything be lacking for them? Or rather must we not stoutly maintain that they have everything for which the human mind can reasonably hope? But, lest anybody imagine that I am spinning inventions which cannot easily be refuted because of the great distance at which these men are removed from ourselves, my authority for saying these things was that most trustworthy gentleman Edward, Bishop of the Orkneys, who displayed no less probity than dignity. For a man from those islands staying with him did not only make these claims with his words, but excellently demonstrated them in his very own self. For, taller than all mortals, he was comely in all his parts. Nobody dared compete with him in strength, and women uncontrovertibly awarded him the palm for his handsomeness. And so I scarcely believe that these men are to be insulted by ignorant and haughty talk when those who live at the farthest remove from the sun are derided as wretched barbarians, since it has now been shown more clearly than daylight that no mortals anywhere live a better or happier life.
spacer 40. In the cliffs of these islands grows that substance called electrum by the Greeks, chyselectum by Pliny, and pterygophoron by Dioscarides, which is of an amber color and attracts to itself bits of straw, wool, and thread. For the sea, constantly pounding against the crags, spews forth a thick white foam on it, supplying it with the means to grow by this perpetual motion, until at length, either when some flood dashes in more impetuously than usually, or it drops of its own weight, it falls into the sea and floats away. Those who are able to observe it frequently say that, while it still clings to the crags and has not yet been sufficiently sea-tossed, it is like a bubble, and as yet has no vigor or virtues, until it arrives at maturity thanks to its prolonged interaction with the sea. It is often seen to be tangled up in seaweed, as long as it is carried hither and thither by the blind currents, while it is still soft and easily collects whatever it encounters. Two years ago a huge lump of this amber was washed up in Buchan, much larger than a horse. When shepherds who were grazing their flocks caught sight of it, ignorant of what is was and observing that it gave off a pleasant odor when cast in a fire, they quickly ran off to their parish priest, saying that this would a useful and pleasant substitute for incense. And he, no less ignorant, took what he regarded as a sufficient amount and, placing little value on the remainder, left it on the shore as a plaything for the shepherds. They broke off chunks and used this substance, worth its weight in gold, instead of candles, and by this silly foolishness they gradually consumed virtually the whole thing before the great news came to the ears of knowledgeable folk. Truly, the proverb applies to them, swine have nothing to do with marjoram, blue and by the agency of my friends a certain small amount of the lump came to me, when nearly all of it had been destroyed.
spacer 41. Let what has been said about the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands, all subject to Scottish rule, suffice. Although much else could be added, I have chosen the most outstanding items for my discourse, induced by their importance and novelty, shamelessly borrowing some things from nearby regions. Now an ending must be made to these things too, save that the remarkable nature of a single thing holds back my running pen, something I have heard attested by men of well-tried veracity who were sent on an embassy to the King of France by James IV King of Scots, of whom by far the most distinguished was James Ogilvy, a very beloved alumnus of the University of Aberdeen. After they set sail, they were driven sideways to Norway by a gale, and when they had landed there they saw, as it seemed, shaggy men such as those popularly called wildmen running about in the mountains not far away, and were brought to a halt, amazed at the marvelous sight. They were soon informed by the locals that these were mute beasts possessed of human form, who would attack men out of their great hatred. They were so afraid of the light that they did not dare show themselves to human sight. but rather prowled about at night, when they would invade farmsteads in packs, unless dogs frightened them away, for they would immediately flee at the sound of barking. If a dog were absent in the night, at a time when the darkness removed their awe of the sight of Man, they would knock down doors, rush in, and kill and devour whatever was within. They were possessed of such physical strength that they could uproot trees of middling size, and then they would tear off branches and use them to fight against each other. Terrified by this, the ambassadors made great fires at night and posted watchmen. On the morrow, when the dawn came and they had suffered no harm, they left this savage shore and were glad to resume their intended course. The same men reported that there were folk nearby who would swim in the ocean in summertime and gain their living by fishing, having neither the skill nor the wherewithal to make nets. But in the winter, when everything lay under a great blanket of snow, they would pursue game on boards attached to their feet (which allowed them a safe descent from mountains and were not dangerous since they guided themselves by means poles), shoot them from afar, and carry them back to their caves.


HEN certain most influential friends and kinsmen pressed me to gather in one place the observations about our nation’s ancient manners scattered throughout this work, so that they could be considered in their own right, and also to employ a comparison demonstrating how much we have departed from them, even though I was not unaware that this thing would, perhaps, provoke unpopularity and indignation, nevertheless, since I believed it would be wrong to refuse the wish of men thanks to whose prudence nothing is done rashly, and since I thought that I was obliged to regard no request made by these men, to whom I was so closely conjoined, to be improper (for such was their eloquence in urging me, as they repeatedly said it would not be without use for those of my readers readers not blinded by self-love or so plunged in vice that they could not be retrieved by any means), that they readily persuaded me and at length I agreed to write, in as few words as possible, a description of our ancestors’ manners, both at home and in the field, and of what disciplines allowed them to resist so many and so great adversaries over such a long time: first the Britons, then the Romans, and then, frequently, the Danes and the Saxons, when they invaded Albion with their great armies; then how, as men gradually began to fall away from their ancestral customs, their strength and virtue likewise began to fail; and finally how nowadays we are protected more by our neighbors’ good-will or their degeneracy (yet greater than ours) more than by our own powers, and how we are immersed in every manner of greed. Thus, I was confident, those who continue to follow in our ancestors’ footsteps and cleave to their more austere discipline would take pleasure in this welcome reminder, and the rest, shamed by this admonition into acknowledging their faults, would be corrected. But I would have this said and be noted well in all men’s minds, that whatever I say when I inveigh against the manners of our times is not going to be said against all men, but only against those so driven off the straight and narrow path by their boundless intemperance that they are justly to be regarded as deserving far greater rebukes. If a reader chances to feel that his own wound is being touched and, as it were, probed by a physician, he should not blame anybody, but rather should acknowledge, not without gratitude, the malady lurking within this bowls, and henceforth not maintain it concealed, to his own detriment, but rather should demand a cure and the application of the proper remedies for this kind of vice.
spacer 2. In peace and war our ancestors cultivated all the other virtues, and especially temperance, the mother of them all. They were very thrifty in taking their sleep, food and drink from sources easily gained and ready at hand: for they manufactured home-made bread from the grains that grew in any particular district, and employed them as they came from the ground, not making them tastier by careful sifting, since a great part of their nutritional power is lost in this manner. For meat they either at game taken in the hunt (their chief delight), from which they gained great physical vigor, or that of domestic animals, beef in particular (as today), but in a manner different from other nations. For they either slaughtered bull-calves or gelded them and raised them for working the land. Cows were preserved until maturity, and were only adjudged fit to eat when they were pregnant, at which time they grow wonderfully fat. And they frequently resorted to fish, not only those which their own sea and rivers supply in abundance, but, in cases where they were able to regain land ruined by prolonged warfare, even if there was a dearth of cattle, they could gain a sufficiency of fish from these sources. Eating a meager breakfast, they were kept nourished until suppertime, and their minds, unoppressed by surfeit, were free to perform their function. They ate a more generous supper, but not exceeding a single course. If they ever wished to lift their spirits, they drank that kind of potion called whiskey, made, then as now, by distillation and not flavored with foreign spices, but with such native herbs as thyme, mint, anise, and such like. Otherwise their everyday drink was what we call beer. But while in the field they drank water, and were issued just enough grain to make bread for a single day, which they would mix with water, form into a loaf, and bake over coals, something that (as we read in Herodianus) the Romans, and even the emperor Antoninus Caracalla, also used to do. When on campaign they rarely resorted to meat save for what they took as booty, and they ate it half-cooked, claiming that then it was at its juiciest. More frequently they ate sun-dried fish, and relied on it alone when enemy territory had no cattle to offer. And they always brought from home a certain kind of loaf formed out of wheat, butter, cheese, milk and vinegar, to ward off extreme famine. When the food-supply failed for many days and they were oppressed by hunger, they would support life by sucking the nutrition out of this loaf.
spacer 3. And in peacetime, when they had a vacation from fighting the enemy, they did not ruin their bodies with soft sloth, but exercised their them, either at the hunt (always held in high honor by us), or by long-distance running, crossing hilltops at a single dash and then returning to the flatland quicker than you could describe, or in wrestling or similar gymnastic contests. Unless troubled by some illness, they went about hatless and with shaven heads, in the Spanish manner retaining only a coiled forelock. Hence, because of this continual head-shaving, no bald man could formerly be seen among us. They walked barefoot, or (particularly in winter) in shoes deliberately soaked, so that their soles might be hardened and their feet inured to heat and cold. They were pleased to wear clothes, not for luxury’s sake, as was most suitable for their needs: they did not wear hose drawn above the knee, and these were made of linen or wool, their thigh-covering were usually hempen, and in the summer their mantles were made from light linen, in winter from heavier linen woven in a suitable pattern. They slept on the ground or heaps of straw. Beginning with earliest childhood, parents looked after their own children; nor did they fetch in wetnurses, but rather mothers nursed their own children, regarding it as a mark of shame, not free of the suspicion of adultery, if a woman’s milk chanced to fail. For they used to say that in this manner children were proven to be legitimate, if women’s nature did not refuse to nurture the same children they had carried in their wombs, and for this reason they themselves performed a mother’s duties and did not yield any part of this to wetnurses. And those very prudent men were of the opinion that sons degenerated from their father’s nature if, having become used to their own mothers’ nourishment while in the womb, they were given strangers’ breasts to suck.
spacer 4. And so they became acclimatized to tolerate all hardships, when the necessity arose: they learned not to fear summer heat or sinter cold, to travel afoot most of the time, to carry packs and baggage, sometimes on beasts of burden, but occasionally on their own shoulders, and to refuse no task which their captains assigned on the march or when it came time to make camp. If a battle would go against them they would run away, as fast as most horses, and dash over hilltops to evade the clutches of their oncoming enemy. Regarding an insult suffered by one to be a mark of shame against them all, they never ceased grieving or relaxed their careworn minds until they had washed away the disgrace with the blood of their enemies, and this created a singular discipline when they were on campaign. For every noble fellow vied to fight in the forefront and they held it a glory to be seen achieving some excellent deed, with their nobles competing against each other in good-will, and the common soldiers in obedience. Hence when any nobleman was seen to be endangering himself in the thick of battle, those who had followed their master to war were aroused, and frequently strove to hurl themselves into the midst of the enemy or lose their lives together with him. It was customary to decorate the tombs of noblemen with obelisks, erecting as many of them as the deceased had killed noble enemies.
spacer 5. If on the march or in camp a man was found not to have a flint or a sword by his side or in his hand, he suffered the great disgrace of a whipping. Their armor was light. They wore a jerkin of iron or leather, and carried either a bow or a spear, with every man having a long sword at his side and a little buckler hanging from a strap. Therefore they regarded themselves as lightly armed for attacking their enemy and unimpeded if they were obliged to flee, although nowadays our men prefer heavier armor. But they looked after their armament with great care and devoted the lion’s share of their wealth to its purchase, not unadvisedly. For if a man were to pawn his sword, he would be degraded and banished from the company of his comrades on the grounds of unfitness; this was likewise the penalty for perjury, and was by far the greatest disgrace. And the man who abandoned a battle-line, or deserted a camp without obtaining the leave of his captain, could be killed by anybody with impunity, and all his fortune was confiscated. The weaker sex had little less virtue than the menfolk. For those who were unmarried, or wives who joined their husbands (if they were not pregnant and were of a suitable age), volunteered for military service, and were no small help in the management of affairs. When they went on campaign they would kill the first animal they encountered, dip a swordpoint in it and lick off the blood, and promise themselves that the auspices were good. And if they saw blood spilled in combat, they were not immediately discouraged, but rather took heart and rushed against the enemy like madwomen. But in waging war or in private feuds they resorted to no treachery or deceit, considering it base to hide hatred with fair speech and then to attack someone unawares, for they thought this was the mark of weak people, not those who rely on their own strength.
spacer 6. Everybody cultivated simplicity and evenhanded honesty. When it came time to march off to war, each man did so at his personal expense and fought for his king without receiving a salary (a custom we still observe). They made a great to-do about searching for those with the falling sickness, idiocy, madness, or some similar fault which could easily be passed to one’s children, and gelded them lest their progeny be tainted by that foul contagion, and banished women suffering from diseases of this kind or from leprosy far away from the company of men, and if one of these was discovered to have conceived, she was buried alive together with her unborn infant. So that gluttons who gobbled down an inhuman amount and habitual drunkards would not survive as foul monstrosities, to the disgrace of their nation, they would give them more than their heart’s desire of food and drink and then drown them in a river, a kindly form of punishment. Just as justice goes into exile during time of war, so it took first place when peace returned, so much so that in this respect they sometime erred on the side of severity. For, deeming it necessary to suppress wartime’s license, they unwisely set no limit on avenging injuries, which ought to have been curbed gradually rather than violently put down. It was for that this reason that men conscious of some wrongdoing, knowing for a certainty that they could not escape an avenger’s hands, sometimes stirred up seditions and rebellions out of fear of punishment, although if you handle such people with moderation, you will find none more tractable and obedient to reason. In their private contracts they made payments in such a manner that, in addition to the amount due, some extra sum was always added, and this habit is so deeply ingrained nowadays that, if this is not done, the purchaser will void the contract.
spacer 7. They employed the learning of Egypt, the country of their origin. In secret matters they did not use normal letters, but rather figures of animals, as even these days is shown by monuments bearing animal-shaped inscriptions. But because of I know not what neglect, this art has perished. But there still remains special letters where in common use back then among those who employed the old language, expressing aspirations, diphthongs, and Lord knows what barbaric sounds. These are no longer in common employment, but are used by those who live in the countryside when, by royal authority, they create poets in their great ceremonies. Besides various other arts which they possess translated into that language, or have inherited from their fathers, they are great students of medicine, and those of them who have gained knowledge of the nature and virtues of the herbs growing there surpass others to no small degree. For no there is no district so far removed from the sun and condemned to infertility and barrenness, but that, thanks to divine providence, it abounds in all things needful for human employment, if only there exists someone who knows how to use them. We who have our homes near to the border of England, just as we have learned the language of the Saxons by means of frequent commerce and wars with them and have lost our own, so we have abandoned all our ancient customs, and, like our language, our old manner of writing is unknown to us. But those who inhabit the Highlands cling most tightly to the old language, and also they preserve nearly all the rest. An example of what I mean is their use of little boats constructed out of osiers and bulls’ hides, with which they cross rivers and fish for salmon, and carry about on their shoulders, when the need arises.
spacer 8. So much for antiquity. As the centuries passed, especially about the time of Malcolm Canmore, everything began to suffer a transformation. For after the neighboring Britons had first been overcome by the Romans and rendered effete by their idleness, and were afterwards driven out by the Saxons, we began to have no small amount of military alliance with those Saxons. Soon, after the Picts too had been destroyed, when we began to have intercourse with the English we also embraced their manners with open arms. At that time our ancestors’ ancient virtue began to lose its value, although our old-time craving for virtue nonetheless endured. But, not keeping to the true path, we chased after shadows of genuine glory rather than the genuine thing, as men earned noble titles for themselves, and, after the English manner, made open show of these things and boasted about them, although previously that man was, and was deemed to be, the noblest who gained distinction by virtue rather than wealth, by excellent achievements of his own rather than those of his ancestors. Hence such titles as Duke, Earl, and so forth were devised for ostentation’s sake, although previously the men who exercised the same authority were called thanes, a title given royal tax-collecters, in recognition of their virtue and loyalty.
spacer 9. And who is sufficiently eloquent or equipped with a large enough store of words to be able to describe how much we differ from our ancestors, when it comes to self-control and virtue? I mean at a time when most of us embrace drunkenness rather than sobriety, immoderate luxury in our diet rather than frugality and moderation, as if it were most honorable to devour, not only as much as possible, but also boundless and most rare foodstuffs such as by their novelty provoke our glutted appetites to consume more than our nature can bear. Therefore we do not cease wallowing in delicacies day and night, and do not cease until we push back from the table with swollen bellies, if we push back at all and day does not succeed day, and night, night. Breakfast and supper do not suffice to satisfy the cravings of our guts, no, not even if you add lunch to our ancestors’ temperate schedule: we must also add extra meals and snacks so that nothing will be missed, so that we are so dedicated to eating that we scarcely have the leisure to move our bowels. We have servants, not for the necessary employments of life, but to serve our gullets, but even if they spend all their time hunting game in forests, birds in the air, and fish in the water, then will never be able to equal our monstrous craving. Wines are sought, not just from France (for these are grown tedious), but also from Spain, Italy and Greece. And not even Africa or indeed Asia are unfamiliar with this accursed greed. For men circumnavigate the globe to fetch all those appetite-spurring spices, acquiring them at great expense and no small risk of human life.
spacer 10. For the mind, not satisfied with being caged up in its prison of the body, lapses from its divine condition unless it also grows sleek and fat, and, wrapped in the mists of such great feeding, becomes wholly blind, and is killed by inhabiting its half-dead tomb. The body, although excellently endowed by nature, is oppressed by this diverse assortment of food and drink, grows unable to perform its office, cannot maintain itself erect, and becomes overwhelmed and succumbs, surrendering itself to diseases for the torturing and the killing. Hence some of our countrymen are seized by fevers in this coldest of all climes, as they perceive their guts burning with the heat of the sun they import from faraway places, to their own harm. A part of them, their bodies surfeited, suddenly fall, stricken by apoplexy, dead in life and likewise living in death, showing no signs of life save for their shallow breathing. Hence (and here I exclude those who imitate the virtues of their forefathers) most of our young men, imbued with these habits, licentiously give themselves over to their affections and shun the Liberal Arts (which they ought to regard as the summum bonum) as nuisances interfering with their pleasures. When it comes time to defend their nation, men trained in such a school, being soft and languid, all go off to war on horseback when they should be marching afoot, showing that their spirits (which are lively enough by their proper nature) are impeded by the helplessness of their bodies. And at home, when things sufficient to satisfy their pleasure-seeking start to fail, they set no limit on their desires, and revealing themselves to be slaves to their bellies, indulge in freebooting or seek excuses for provoking quarrels within our nobility and set the stage for mutual theft and domestic sedition, all of which things derive from a common source of pleasure-seeking and lack of moderation.
spacer 11. If we would consent to restrain such things, then we would discover that no other part of the world is less liable to plagues, nor better outfitted with all the things needful for human life. Nor am I lacking in confidence that a correction of such manners is close at hand. We have not boldfacedly abandoned all our sense of shame. For in many men there do not only remain obvious traces of our old-time virtue, but also signs of a new way of life, thanks to the enhancements purveyed by the Christian religion. For (if I may say this without giving offence to other regions of the world) I am unaware of any nation more steadfast in the Catholic faith, none more reliable in its commercial dealings, and (I say this not so much for the sake of bestowing praise as to exhort my fellow countrymen to persevere) the nobles of Scotland in this present age are more cultivated than their forebears in dress, more elegant in their architecture and learning, and more magnificent in the building and decoration of their churches. So may the Lord bring it about that they return to our pristine frugality as quickly as they can!


NASMUCH as a perfect understanding of Scottish history is difficult to acquire because of the frequent need to touch upon the English commonwealth, since this has not always been occupied by the same people, but rather has suffered various vicissitudes at various times, it seems worth my while (lest I be criticized for failing the reader in this respect) to provide a compendious account of those to whom shifting Fortune has granted rule over Britain, beginning with Brutus, the founder of the race. The Britons were named after Brutus, under whose leadership they came to this island from Greece in the year 4027 after the Creation, and possessed undisturbed rule in a portion of Albion for about six hundred years. After which time, swar was waged against them by the Romans under the command of Julius Caesar, they were made vassals, and for a while paid tribute. Afterwards Britain was reduced to a province, and had its kings, but in name only, since the entire province was administered by Roman praetors down to the year of human salvation 436. At that time they were conquered by the arms of the Scots and the Picts and for thirty years paid tribute, having lost no small part of their territory, as I can say on the authority of Paul the Deacon, Bede, Antonio Sabellico, and many other writers both ancient and modern. But they quickly wearied of barbarian cruelty, having previously become accustomed to Roman pleasures, and summoned Constantine, the son of King Androenus of Armorica, to aid them against the Scots and Picts. He arrived with great forces, cast off the yoke of those peoples, and restored the Britons’ government in the year 465 A. D. He ruled, as did his son Constantius after him, and then Vortigern, all of them for a span of more than twenty-four years.
spacer 2. At that time the Scots and Picts invaded once more, and they were reduced to their former servitude. At the instigation of King Vortigern, they begged aid of the Saxons, with whose support Vortigern warded off any harm from the Saxons and Picts for twelve years. But he was brought into extreme peril when the Saxons failed to keep their word, under the command of the brothers Hengist and Orsa. For those men, whom he has invited to oppose the violence of those other peoples, killed off a large portion of the Britons, and Vortigern himself was taken captive and banished to Wales with a small remnant of the folk he had governed. Choosing Hengist as their king, the Saxons occupied the rest, so that the region came to be called England and its people the Angles. Yet the Britons did not wholly consent to this, and they fought against the English, with varying degrees of success, down to the time of King Arthur. But when he was killed, the end of his life was also the end of his realm: having lost their strength, they henceforth yielded the palm to the Saxons. The Angles possessed Britain from the time that Arthur succumbed to his fate, in the year 542, down to the year 1016, first under a single king, then divided into seven kingdoms, which were soon combined back into a single one possessed of pretty much the same boundaries as now. Then the Danes invaded and five English kings had Danish blood: Swino, his son Harald, Caniute, Harald Harefoot, and lastly Hardicanute, and from these the Saxons took their laws and their magistrates. But Hardicanute was over-haughty in his dealings with their nation, and, no longer able to bear their servitude, in a single night they killed all the Danish nobility throughout the land, and when Hardicanute saw that his death was imminent, he committed suicide. And so they made Edward the son of Ethelred (the last of the kings before the Danes’ arrival in England) their king. But when he died a little later and had been canonized for his life’s singular virtue, the Angles, fearful that the Danes, angry at the loss of their kingdom, would invade once more, passed over Edward, the nephew of St. Edward and brother of St. Margaret, subsequently Queen of Scots, and chose Harald, who was the son of Godwin of the English nation and of a mother who was daughter of King Canute. For they imagined that, with Danish rule in this sense restored, they would henceforth enjoy peace and quiet. But Harald, ruined by his great luxury and pride, criminally prostituted his wife, a daughter of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, to his household churls and so was assaulted by William in a just war and despoiled of life and throne, in the fiftieth year after the Danes first seized power over the Angles, which was the 1066th after the virgin birth. Having gained power over the Angles, it was William’s will that the Normans and Angles should merge into a single realm and that, with Danish power obliterated, this should be passed to his descendents. And his posterity has remained as rulers of England down to this very day, to their great glory. At the time these things were written, the throne was occupied by Henry, the eighth of that name, and men of later time will vie with each other in celebrating his glorious deeds, accomplished in many a place.


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