Hugh Ross Williamson reviews a book by Archbishop Mathew
SCOTLAND UNDER CHARLES I. by David Mathew (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 30s.).
EEschoolboy knows that it was the intransigence of the Scots and the little matter of a Bishops' War " that touched off the fuse of the Great Rebellion in England. But very few schoolboys-or adults either, for that matter-know much of the Scotland of that period.
Disconnected pictures of dour Highlanders signing a document laid out on a tombstone: of a Jenny Geddes flinging a hassock at the preacher in St. Giles.; of the incomparable Montrose, like a prince in an improbable legend. living and dying for loyalty; of " the master-fiend Argyle " inscrutably squinting; of dark, insoluble historical mysteries like " the Incident " and the holocaust in the burning tower of Frendraught-these are a childish background that only the most resolute scholarship can later compose into an intelligible picture.
And that scholarship Archbishop Mathew most excellently and persuasively supplies in what is the most important of his hooks on the early Stuarts. In the previous ones. valuable as they arc, he has only been emphasising or correcting lines already known; here he draws firmly and for the first time a new picture.
Whereas in the past one has tended to say of the learned accumulation of family detail : " How interesting ! " here one says : " How illuminating!"
His method of developing national history along regional lines (and we are promised Wales and Ireland, too) here finds its complete vindication. The Scotland of Charles I is displayed as it was-totally different from contemporary England in its groupings of power and ambition and different, too. from the betterknown and almost medieval Scotland of James VI,
The author examines the social and economic life of the country, region by region the " old " forces represented by the powerful Huntlys. the surviving Catholicism, the Episcopalian tradition and the new and triumphant forces of Presbyterianism. (Of this last, Archbishop Mathew penetratingly points out that, for a proper understanding of its power, the simple fact must he remembered that " the Calvinism of the early seventeenth century had never known disaster. . . . Presbyterianism was essentially a creed that was victorious. The Presbyterian polity carried with it a conscious recognition of its own truth.") He assesses the importance of the contacts with France, the various strands of Scottish opposition to the King and. in detail, the dominant figures of Hamilton and Argyll. (Montrose. at this period, is still a Covenanter.)
Archbishop Mathew writes with his usual urbanity and precision. At times he seems to he (where, perhaps. an historian ought to be)
above the battle. It is therefore good to he able to report that the illustrations to the book include a portrait of Argyll.