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Notes on the Early History of Scotland
Bede's Ecclesiastical History - Part 1

Interpolations in Bede's Ecclesiastical History and Other Ancient Annals
Affecting the early history of Scotland and Ireland

IT is a well-known fact that most writers who have dealt with the early history of Scotland state that Scotia, the ancient name of this country, was a name applied to Ireland only till the eleventh century. This is the opening sentence of a pamphlet recently published, entitled, " Ireland not the Hibernia of the Ancients," in which an attempt has been already made to controvert such a belief. But as the idea that Ireland was at one time peopled by Scots, and therefore called Scotia, is to a great extent based on Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England, a further attempt will be made in the following pages to prove that Scotland was the only Scotia, by showing that this work is largely interpolated for the purpose of making people believe that Scotia was once a name for ireland. This will be done by comparing it with the writings of later historians who have copied most of it nearly verbatim. Even were the work as it now exists taken into consideration, it would be seen that its information regarding the question at issue is contradictory and unreliable.

The Venerable Bede, author of the history before us, was born in the year 673. There being some uncertainty regarding the place of his birth, it will be necessary to endeavour to ascertain its true situation, especially as it has a close relation to the subject on hand, for it is possible he may be found to have been born near the Firth of Forth. William of Malmesbury says: "Britain contains in its remotest parts, bordering Scotia, the place of Bede’s birth and education. Through the district runs the river Wira, of no mean width, and of tolerable rapidity." [Bede’s Miscellaneous Works, by Giles, viii, i. pref p. xlvi,] This is taken by modern writers to refer to the borden of present Scotland, and the river Wear in England. The ancient British name of the Forth, however, was Werid, [Skene’s Celtic Scotland, vol. iii. p. 45.] and there are reasons for believing that this is one of the many instances of the transference of the history of places in the south of Scotland to England on account of the similarity of the ancient names of rivers, towns, &c., in the diflerent countries. In several cases this appears to have been done designedly, as an opportunity will afterwards be taken to show. Meanwhile it will be sufficient to say, that incidents which Fordimn narrates as having taken place on the north bank of the Forth, are transferred in an apparently interpolated passage in one of Simeon of Durham’s works, to the banks of the Wear in England. [Ibid., vol. i. pp. 422, 423.] It may be remembered also that the mistake in Ptolemy’s map of Scotland, affects all the country between the Wear in Fngland and the Tay in Scotland, as noticed in "Ireland not the Hibernia of the Ancients."’ The altusion in the above quotation from William of Malmesbury's Chronicle to the remotest region of Britain, bordering on Scotia, supports the belief that he is referring to the Forth when he speaks of the river Wira. It is well known from authentic records that in this historian’s life—time (the twelfth century) the name of Scotia was confined to the country North of the Forth. Bede’s birthplace should therefore be looked for in the neighbourhood of the Firth of Forth. Two writers, Langen and Engelnussius, state that Bede was born in Saxony in Germany. [Bede’s MiscelIoueous Works, by Giles, vol. i, pref, pp. cvii, and cviii.] They have in all likelihood seen it mentioned somewhere that he was born in Saxonia, which was no doubt quite true, but this was a diflerent place from Saxoriy in Germany. It evidently refers to the district called Saxonia by the Pictish Chronicle, Tighernach’s Annals, and the Annals of Ulster, which is pretty nearly comprehended in the Lothians of the present day. This harmonises with William of Malmesbury’s reference to the place of Bede’s birth, and confirms the belief that it was near the Firth of Forth.

The monastery in which Bede spent the most of his life was situated in the same neighbourhood. Malmesbury, writing of the place of his birth and education, adds: "This region, formerly exhaling the grateful odour of mnonasteries, or glittering with a multitude of cities built by the Romans, now desolate through the ancient devastations of the Danes, or those more recent of the Normans, presents but little to allure the mind. Here is the river Were, of considerable breadth and rapid tide; which, running into the sea, receives the vessels borne by gentle gales on the calm bosom of its haven. Both its banks have been made conspicuous by one Benedict, who there built churches and monasteries—one dedicated to Peter, the other to Paul." Bede himself is quoted by Malrnesbury [Chronicle, Bohn’s Translation, p. 56.] as saying that he was born within the possessions of the monastery of the Apostles Peter and Paul which is at Wearmouth, and, after spending some time under the care of Abbots Benedict and Ceolfrid, he passed the remainder of his life at the said inonastery. Dr Skene [Celtic Scotland, vol. 1 p. 192.] points out that Bede, in his "Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth," quotes a letter of one of the Abbots, in which he says that the monastery of Wearmouth was in Saxonia; and he adds that this name remained till a late period attached to the most northern part of the Saxon territory in Britain. Hector Boeth ins, or Boece, says that Betfe, during the latter part of his life, lived at Mailros, an Abbey in Scotland, where there was a community of monks. Dempster, in his Historia Ecclesiasticus getis Sotorum to a certain extent corroborates this. There is good reason for believing, as will be afterwards shown, that the Mailros of the ninth and preceding centuries was situated nearer the Firth of Forth than the Melrose of the present day, and if so, Boece’s notice would harmonise with William of Malmusbury’s and Bede’s own word regarding the monastery in which he spent the later years of his life. All these references, it will be seen, have points of agreement, and they lead to the belief that the Venerable Bede was born and spent the most of his days in the neighbourhood of the Firth of Forth. He died in the year 734.

If the "Ecclesiastical History of the English," as it is now puldish were to be considered as all the original production of’ Bede, it would be a truly wonderful work for the time and country in which he lived. That it is largely interpolated, however, is borne out by several circumstances. The most cogent of these is the silence of the later English annalists regarding events which are treated of in Bede's work at great length. These writers all quote from the Ecclesiastical History frequently, and praise Bede highly, but they omit all notice of several important incidents which the later ancient English historians would assuredly have referred to if they had had a place in the genuine work of Bede. Roger  Wendover even quotes the work always under the title of the "History of the English" only; and a minute comparison of his history and Bede’s shows that most of the ecclesiastical notices in the work have been engrafted with the original history after Wendover’s time. This does not much concern us at present, however, but if English writers care to take the trouble of comparing the two works, word by word, they would be astonish to find to what an extent the early ecclesiastical history of their country had been tampered with.

As none of the original manuscripts of Bede’s work seem to be extant, it is now difficult to trace all the interpolations; but the first version in modern English, which was published in 1565, immediately after the Reformation in England and Scotland, was issued under the auspices of’ a priesthood who cannot be regarded as free from the suspicion of having tampered with other works than that of the Venerable Bede. It was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, and the following passage occurs in the dedication: "In this history Your Highness shall see in how many and weighty points the pretended reformers of the Church in your Grace’s dominions have departed from the pattern of that sound and catholic faith planted first among Englishmen by holy St Angustine our apostle, and his virtuous company, described truly and sincerely by Venerable Bede, so called in all Christendom for his passing virtues and rare learning, the Author of this history."

In analysing the passages in the Ecclesiastical History relating to Scotland and Ireland, an endeavour will be made to separate the genuine from the spurious, though this may not always be successful. Notwithstanding this, we hope to be able to show that Bede’s Scots were the inhabitants of north-eastern Scotland, and that this district was the country known to him by the name of Scotia. To accomplish this the passages referred to will be compared with parallel ones in the Saxon Chronicle, and the works of Gildas, Ethelwerd, Florence of Worcester, Henry of Huntingdon, William of Malmesbury, and Roger of Wendover. This will throw additional light on the Ireland-Scotia controversy, and probably lead to a settlement of it. Considered along with the proofs already produced, and those to follow, they point clearly to the fact that Ireland never was called Scotia or Scotland.

It may be as well to say that several of those later annals are interpolated as well as Bede’s work. Separate estimates of their value in this respect will be afterwards given, in producing the testimony they afford on the question at issue. Suffice it to say, in the meantime, that Florence of Worcester’s Annals, and Henry of Huntingdon’s History (this latter being first printed in England along with Bede’s work), are very largely interpolated. Henry of Huntingdon affirms that he had relied principally on Bede’s information in writing his history, but he does not generally copy it literally, except in the interpolated passages. The others are very sparsely interpolated; Gildas and Ethelwerd being apparently almost entirely free from this plague.

Roger of Wendover’s work is the most valuable for the purpose on hand, as although it has been interpolated with the view of identifying Hibernia with Ireland, or perhaps written after the former name had been transferred from Iceland, it seems to have escaped being tampered with in order to connect the Scots and Scotia with Ireland. This is perhaps owing to an original manuscript of the work which had escaped the hands of the manipulators of early Scottish history having been discovered at a late date.

In the comparison, the translations of the works named, published in Bohn’s Antiquarian Library, have been principally used, as they are accessible to the majority of readers. Of course Ireland nearly always appears in the original editions as Hibernia, but the translated name has been used, in order to avoid confusion between the ancient and modern Hibeinia, and to show which country it is supposed to refer to by the translators.


The first chapter of the "Ecclesiastical History" is entitled: "Of the situation of Britain and Ireland, and of their ancient inhabitants." At the beginning of it, we are told that Britain was formerly called Albion; and a description of that country is then given. After which the following passages occur:—

"This island at present, following the number of the books in which the Divine Law was written. contains five nations, the English. Britons, Scots, Piets, and Latins, each in its own peculiar dialect cultivating the sublime study of Divine truth. The Latin tongue is, by the study of the Scriptures, become common to all the rest. At first this island had no other inhabitants but the Britons, from whom it derived its name, and who, coming over into Britain, as is reported, from Armorica, possessed themselves of the southern parts thereof. When they, beginning at the south, had made themselves masters of the greatest part of the island, it happened that the nation of the Picts, from Scythia, as is reported, putting to sea, in a few long ships, were driven by the winds beyond the shores of Britain. and arrived on the northern coasts of Ireland, where, finding the nation of, the Scots, they begged to be allowed to settle among them, but could not succeed in obtaining their request.... The Picts, accordingly, sailing over into Britain, began to inhabit the northern parts thereof....Now the Picts had no wives, and asked them of the Scots; who would not consent to grant them upon any other terms, than that when any difficulty should arise, they should choose a king from the female royal race rather than from the male; which custom, as is well known, has been observed among the Picts to this day. In process of time, Britain, besides the Britons and the Picts, received a third nation, the Scots, who, migrating from Ireland under their leader, Reuda, either by fair means, or by force of arms, secured to themselves those settlements among the Picts which they still possess. From the name of their connnander, they are to this day called Dalreudins; for in their language, Dal signifies a part. Ireland, in breadth, and for wholesomeness and serenity of climate far surpasses Britain.... it is properly the country of the Scots, who, migrating from thence, as has been said, added a third nation in Britain to the Britons and the Pits. There is a very large gulf of the sea, which formerly divided the nation of the Picts from the Britons; which gulf runs from the west very far into the land, where, to this day, stands the strong city of the Britons, called Alcluith. The Scots, arriving on the north side of this bay, settled themselves there!

As the information given above will be found to be contradicted by more reliable testimony, it seems probable that the greater part of this chapter is fabricated. Only one of the ancient English annalists, besides Bede, appears to take notice of these events, and that one is the least trustworthy on such a subject, namely, Henry of Huntingdon. Something similar appears in copies of the Saxon Chronicle, but these are known to be of a late date. It is awanting in the earliest manuscript extant. But this is not the greatest objection to these passages; and it is questionable whether a single line of the whole chapter be genuine or not. Albion, for instance, is not mentioned as the ancient name of Britain by any trustworthy writer, and Alban or Albany is confined in authentic records and the Celtic legends to a part of Scotland. The word English (Anglorum), too, used twice in this chapter, is riot likely to have been a word used by Bede to designate the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of England in his day. It was an ambiguous word then; and it will be found to occur generally, if not only, in the fabricated passages of the Ecclesiastical History.

in addition to this, it was not till the eighteenth century that Riada and his colony of Scots appeared in the pages of historians of Ireland. " Kennedy, whose genealogical dissertation on the family of’ Stuart was published at Paris in 1705, and, though brief, is the most accurate work known on Irish history, as he generally quotes manuscript page and column, first laid open the fact that a colony of Scots, under Riada, settled in Pictland." [Pinkerton’s Enquiry, vol. ii. p. 63.] After quoting the words of Kennedy regarding Riada’s settlement in Britain, Pinkerton adds: ‘In both these passages he gives no authorities, though he commonly produces them. [Ibid., p. 64. a Ibid., ] he then treats at some ]ength of O'Connor’s allusion to the settlement of Riada in Britain, and sums up with these words: "All this is given as usual wjthout an authority or reference. The circumstances of Mr O’ Connor’s tale are also discordant," &c. Ritson [Annals Caledonians, &c., vol ii. p. 12.] says: " No such expedition, nor even such a person as Riada, or Reuda, is ever noticed by Tigernach, or Flannus a Monasteroo (Flan of Bute), is quoted by Usher or O’Flaherty, or in the Ulster Annals, or any other ancient or authentic monument". It is not noticed by Clyn, an Irish annalist of the fourteenth century, who was acquainted with Bede’s History, and quotes it. If it had been mentioned there in Clyn's life—time, he would scarcely have ignored altogether such an important episode in his countrys annals. If the ancient Irish writer's knew nothing of this expedition of Scots where did Bede learn about it?

it may be remarked here also that Ireland (Hibernia) is not said in this first chapter to have have any other name. This would have been a strange omission on the part of Bede, who lived at the very time when the country is alleged to have also been called Scotia or Scotland; and, if this had been the case, it would have been still more wonderful to find, that throughout the whole of the Ecclesiastical History, even interlopated as it is, it is never distinctly affirmed that Ireland was ever called Scotia. Speaking of the forged writings which form the ground—work of Boece’s History of Scotland, Innes says: It is a great advantage to truth that the most part of the forgers of pretended old writings were, by the permission of providence, generally so extremely ignoramit, and frequently of so little sense or judgment, that even almost in every passage of their inventions, one may discover anachronisms, contradictions, and other marks of their forgery." [Eesay i., p. 304.]


The next chapter which concerns the presemit subject, is the twelfth chapter of Book I. The. substance of this chapter is copied by most of the ancient annalists; and it appears to be almost, if not altogether, the genuine work of Bede. it is entitled: "The Britons being ravaged by the Sects and Picts, sought succour from the Romans, who, comming a second time, built a wall across the Island; but the Britons being again invaded by the aforesaid enemies, were reduced to greater distress than before." The materials for this chapter are taken from a work by Gildas, a preceding British writer; but several important additions are made to them in the Ecclesiastical History. For instance, after calling the Picts and Scots transmarine, or foreign, nations, as his predecessor had done, Bede adds:

"We call these foreign nations, not on account of their being seated out of Britain, but because they were remote from that part of it which was posessed by the Britons; two inlets of the sea bring between them, one of which runs in far and broad into the land of Britain, from the Eastern Ocean, and the other from the Western, though they do not reach so as to touch one another. The eastern has in the midst of it the city Guidi. The Western has on it, that is, on the right hand thereof, the city Alcluith, which in their language signifies the rock Cluith, for it is close by the river of that name."

Again, after giving Glides’ aceount of the arrival of the Romans, the defeat of the enemies, and the buildnig of a turf wall, Bede adds:

However, they drew it (the wall) for many miles between the bays or inlets of the seas, which we have spoken of; to the end that where the defence of the water was wanting, they might use the rampart to defend their borders from the irruptions of the enemies. Of which work there erected, that is, of a rampart of extraordinary breadth and height, there are evident remains to he seen at this day. It begins at about two miles’ distance from the monastery of Abercurnig, on the west, at a place called in the Pictish language, Peanfahel, but in the English tongue Penneltun, and running to the westward, ends near the city Aleluith."

Then, after paraphrasing his predecessor’s narrative of another visit of the Roman troops, and the driving of the Scots and Picts again beyond the seas, he continues to depend on Gildas in stating that the Romans resolved to leave the country for ever, but before doing so they helped the natives to build a stone wall from sea to sea. After this another addition of Bede’s’ is found to this effect: "This famous wall, which is still to be seen, is not far from the trench of Severus, and was built at the public and private expense, the Britons also lending their assistance. It is eight feet in breadth, and twelve feet in height, in a straight line from east to west, as is still visible to beholders." Still adhering closely to Gildas’ narrative, Bede finishes this twelfth chapter by stating that the Picts and Scots now occupied all the northern and farthest part of the island, as far as the wall.

The most of this chapter was evidently written by Bede: and no writer of his time would have penned such words as quoted above had there been a people called Scots living in Ireland, and so predominating there as to cause that country to be called Scotia. The part of the chapter which appears not to be genuine, is only that small portion referring to the building of the turf wall. There are several objections which might be urged against its authenticity, but the only one that need be noticed is the occurrence of the word English (Anglorum) in it; and it may be added that none of the other ancient annalists countenance this passage except Henry of Huntingdon, into whose work all the interpolations found in the Ecclesiastical History have been copied.

It has been sometimes stated that Bede takes notice af three wails built by the Romans in Britain, but a diligent examination of the Ecclesiastical History reveals the fact that he knew only of one, the wall of Antoninus, between the Firths of Forth and Clyde. Three walls are spoken of in the Ecclesiastical History: the one, built by Severus, and the other two which have just been noticed; but the passage referring to one of these has been shown to be, in all likelihood, an interpolation, and the other two walls were evidently built on or near the same site. According to Bede, the stone wall was not far from the trench which accompanied the rampart., or turf wall, of Severus. In the fifth chapter he alludes to the building of this wall in these words: "After many great and dangerous battles, he (Severus) thought fit to divide that part of the island, which he had recovered from the unconquered nations, not with a wall, as some imagine, but with a rampart. For a wall is made of stones, but a rampart with which camps are fortified to repel the assaults of enemies, is made of sods cut out of the earth, and raised above the ground all round like a wall, having in front of it the ditch whence the sods were taken." Then in the eleventh chapter he alludes to it again thus: "In the year 402 . . . . the Romans ceased to rule in Britain ....They resided within the rampart, which, as we have mentioned, Severus made across the island," which shows that he is speaking of a wall between the Firths of Forth and Clyde, for it is now well known that the Roman occupation of the country extended thus far from the time of Antoninus till the Romans left the island. The phrase, not far from the trench of Severus, may mean that the stone wall spoken of by Bede was erected at some short distance. from Severus’ rampart, and likely to the south of it; but it is straining the meaning of the words to identify the stone wall with Hadrian’s, between the Tyne and Eden, in the north of England, as some writers have done. It is an undoubted fact that Bede’s account of the building of the stone wall is not in accordance with the evidence of the stones of the wall itself and Roman history; but it is less in accordance with the evidence supplied by the stones of Hadrian’s wall and other circumstances. The reason for this is plain. The references to these works in Roman writers are scanty and vague; and the traditions of five or six hundred years at such a period were not to be depended upon.

That Bede and all the early English annalists, whose works we are comparing, always write about one Roman wall only is beyond doubt, and that wall is apparently no other than the one between the Firths of Forth and Clyde. A sufficient explanation of their ignorance of the wall in the north of England is furnished by Chalmers: [Caledonia, vol. 1. p. 185, note.] "From the opinions of Dio and Herodian, it appears probable that only the wall of Antonine existed at the epoch of Severus’ invasion; and that Hadrian’s wall, being no longer necessary, had become ruinous." Whether this is the right reason or not for Beds’s silence regarding the wall in the north of England, and it should be remembered that he spent most, if not all his life, at a great distance away from it, it is at least certain that on and after this Bede speaks only of one wall, that which he describes in this twelfth chapter.

The city mentioned by Bede as situated in the midst of the eastern ocean, has been sometimes identified with Leith or Queensferry: and in the translation before us its situation is said not to be known. Dr Skene has identified it with Inchkeith, which exactly suits Bede’s description; and it is quite possible there may have been a small town there at the time referred to. Besides the name of the island confirms this, for lnchkeith might easily be regarded as a corruption of Inis-Guidi, or the Island Guidi. Few names of that period have reached us with less change.

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