Honour, honours and nobility in Scotland between the reformation and the national covenant

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Honour is a currency found in most pre-modern communities. In early modern Europe the version of honour that predominated in male, noble societies was commonly associated with martial attributes and the reputation of the kindred, the lineage and its living representatives. The competitive nature of noble houses, and the intense sensitivity of individual nobles and their men to insult, often led to violence in the form of duels and feuds. In later sixteenth-century Scotland, where feuding was especially prevalent, this version of honour was closely associated with acts of personal and group conflict that fuelled political instability. Alternative versions of honour derived from ideas about virtue were promoted by humanist thinkers, the new Protestant church which wished to promote ideas of godly behaviour, and the crown which advocated a concept of honour derived from the king. The regal union of 1603 altered Scotland's political landscape, increasing the wealth of the crown and allowing James VI and Charles I to use their enhanced patronage to promote their version of honour, especially through an expansion of honours. The parallel reduction in feuding weakened the association of honour with violence. However, the crown's rhetoric was superficial and noble society remained wedded to a concept of honour that embraced notions of personal virtue alongside martial behaviour, and rooted in the reputation of the lineage rather than in service to the prince. The ultimate rejection of the latter was demonstrated in the overthrow of royal authority in the Covenanting revolution of 1637.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-75
Number of pages33
JournalScottish Historical Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


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