Rosalind Mitchison on the history of Scotland

  • Presbyteries and Profits: Calvinism and the Development of Capitalism in Scotland 1506-1707 by Gordon Marshall
    Oxford, 406 pp, £18.00, September 1980, ISBN 0 19 827246 4
  • The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 by Bruce Lenman
    Eyre Methuen, 300 pp, £9.95, May 1980, ISBN 0 413 39650 9

It is over seventy years since Max Weber put forward the thesis that the Protestant ethic was closely linked to the ethos of capitalism, a thesis which has inspired a long-standing debate among historians. In the cases held to support the theory, Weber included Scotland. Economic historians have at various times commented on the paradox of the Scottish case, contrasting the backward economy of the country in the 17th century with its monolithic adherence to an extreme form of Calvinism, but nobody has, till now, taken the trouble to make a thorough study of whether the evidence from Scotland confirms or contradicts Weber’s theory. This book sets out to do just that, and it involves the author in a careful analysis of the structure of Weber’s argument as well as a consideration of Scottish dogma and enterprise. It is a pity that the title raises the irrelevant issue of presbyteries. Calvinism was a system of belief which in Scotland and some other countries was sustained by a presbyterian church structure, but could equally well make use of episcopacy.

Dr Marshall holds that the issue of Scottish economic development, or the lack of such development, is a red herring. The ‘medieval’ features of the economy, which prevented capital accumulation and deployment and the development of a skilled labour force, are treated as inbuilt. Weber’s thesis is shown to be, in fact, two separate theories: one, ‘that the modern capitalist mentality’ is based on neo-Calvinist theology as developed in the late 16th and the 17th century, and the other that this mentality has been a necessary feature in the development of modern capitalism. It is to the first of these two themes that Dr Marshall addresses himself.

The Calvinism that Weber looked to as the source of the spirit of capitalism was not that of Calvin himself but of later formulators. Neo-Calvinist thought hardened Calvin’s concept of predestination into the fully supralapsarian form enunciated at Dort, and built up with this a stress on the conduct of daily life which set forward for the elect hard work, asceticism, constant attention to detail and the scrutiny of one’s own behaviour. God granted his elect assurance of salvation, but the proof of this to the elect themselves lay in constant striving towards a godly life, and this striving had to be shown not only in personal relationships but in the faithful pursuit of one’s calling. The word ‘calling’ covered both a man’s personal relationship to God and his worldly occupation: the former was to be manifest in the latter. It was through rigorous self-analysis and constant application to duty that the elect ascertained his election, and since to doubt election was to demonstrate that one belonged to the reprobate, such analysis and application were the necessary seals of salvation.

Scottish theology, as Dr Marshall shows, was from the late 16th century fully neo-Calvinist. The sample of sermons analysed in support of this is representative, for neo-Calvinism was held to by both sides in the struggle over liturgy and episcopacy. When Arminianism became a political issue in England in the 1630s, the Scots, anxious to share in the same doctrinal scare, were, in fact, unable to produce any examples of heretical thought except an errant bishop in France. (William Forbes, who has been casually labelled Arminianist by some modern historians, seems to have been imbued with medieval Augustinianism.) ‘Arminian’ was a useful term of abuse and, along with accusations of incest and drunkenness, could be fastened on the King’s adherents, but the theories of Arminius have left no traces in 17th-century Scotland, not even as much as did Quakerism. There can be no doubt that the Calvinism which Weber saw as fostering the spirit of capitalism was the Calvinism uniformly held by those Scots capable of Protestant doctrinal thought.

But what did this come to mean in practice? Rigorous pursuit of an economic calling may be seen as an automatic route to capital accumulation, but this need not mean capitalist success. On the face of things, the government of Scotland was keen to promote economic development. Dr Marshall examines the economic legislation of the Scottish Parliaments and the Privy Council. Efforts were made to promote industries, privileges were offered to entrepreneurs, and infant industry was protected from foreign competition, as far as was possible in a system of protection which relied on a totally venal and inefficient customs service. An interesting example of Parliamentary concern for the economy is the Restoration legislation which attempted to combine industrial development with the solution of a social problem by ordering that vagabonds be compulsorily recruited as a serf labour-force for the ‘manufactories’, and sustained while undergoing training by a local rate.

Certainly the Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland give the impression of a constant drive for economic development. What Dr Marshall does not consider, in his analysis of the ethic shown in much of the legislation, is that the people who passed it in many cases did absolutely nothing to bring it into action. No locality can, for instance, be found impressing vagrants at its own cost into manufactories, and no industry took advantage of this subsidised but otherwise unattractive labour-force. When noblemen or merchant burgesses took off their Parliamentary robes and became potential ratepayers or employers, they could see that such legislation was impractical.

Dr Marshall makes a thorough investigation into one industrial enterprise set up to take advantage of the wide economic privileges offered in 1681, the Newmills Cloth Manufactory outside Haddington. We have no record of the religious views of the directors, though it can be assumed that they were normal conformists, but their business decisions are shown to be fully in line with the capitalist ethos. Profit was systematically pursued, workers encouraged by financial incentives to be careful and industrious; pay was based on piece work and bonuses, unprofitable lines were closed down and the workers in them dismissed; capital as it accumulated – and it is an essential part of the Weberian thesis that it should accumulate – was used to enlarge the enterprise. Dr Marshall cannot, of course, tell how far the work-force accepted the economic ethos of the company. Probably it did not. Well into the 19th century workers in this part of Scotland can be seen to have resisted economic incentives in favour of the traditional concept of a reasonable day’s work. In this enterprise, discipline problems, particularly theft of materials, led the managers to consider having their own prison for offenders. One is reminded that it was the recalcitrance of miners to their employers which led to the introduction of the thumb-screw to Scotland. The Newmills managers exploited their legal privileges to prevent other businesses poaching their skilled labour, and used the system of certificates set up by the Calvinist Church to check on the moral character of workers. These points are offered as part of the capitalist ethos.

The picture of a modern capitalist outfit is confirmed by many details. The company even had its slush fund: bribes, in the form of beaver hats, coats and riding cloth, were given to regimental officers to persuade them to use the company’s cloth for uniforms. More seriously, Dr Marshall contrasts the rational policy of expansion by reinvestment of profits with the simple impulse of financial greed which can provide tycoons in any society. His argument would be stronger if he could show that the company used modern accounting methods – it does not appear that it knew of double entry, though this had existed since the 14th century – and that it envisaged a system in which the enterprise would be able to dispense with legal privileges and stand up to foreign competition. In fact, when trade with England was freed by the Act of Union, the Manufactory was still too weak to survive.

The author’s grasp of the 17th century is not as sure as one would like. He implies that it was Scottish protectionism which created protectionism in other countries, stating that the Act of 1681, which gave almost every conceivable privilege to Scottish manufactories, ‘was responsible for the closing of almost all foreign markets’. Attention to the policy of the English Parliaments after 1660, or to Colbert’s, would show that here he has got things the wrong way round. Scottish protectionism was an ineffective response to a world of closing markets. The attitude to labour poaching which he regards as capitalist was a principle of the guilds, which made their members take oaths against it. He underestimates the Calvinism of the Anglican Church in the 17th century, overestimates the expansionist attitudes of Scottish coal-owners and is far too sure that 17th-century church discipline actually did get everyone to church (on the few occasions on which numbers can be checked they are markedly deficient). The main theme of the book, that Scottish manufacturers held by the principles of expansionist capitalism, is, in his chosen instance, proved, though his explanation of why this led to so little general economic growth is inadequate.

A theme which Dr Marshall does not take up, but might consider, is the method by which the Calvinist clergy of the 17th century did eventually achieve the modernisation of Scottish society. The morality of the Reformed Kirk was a punitive one: offences were specific and should be drastically punished, preferably by death. For this reason, the King was always at odds with the clergy over the treatment of offenders. Scottish society was still, at the beginning of the 17th century, based on kinship and lordship, and the policy of the Crown was, of necessity, to settle issues and disputes by bargains and compromises between the heads of the great houses. The forces of law and order were hamstrung by the need for such compromise. But after the Great Rebellion and the disasters of Whig rule and the Interregnum, all this changed. The nobility had learned discipline from the Whig dictatorship, but preferred that it should be exercised by the Crown. It accepted the authority of the central government as part of the terms by which it was itself restored in 1660. The economic development which was so conspicuous in the 18th century relied on the stabilisation and modernisation of society which was the achievement of this period. Dr Marshall might consider whether these changes did not owe more to the Judaic intransigence of the clergy in the 1630s and 1640s than to the Calvinist ethic as expressed in economic terms.

Bruce Lenman’s book on the Jacobite risings sets out to show, not only that Scottish history is more than the study of a few dramatic episodes strongly coloured by royal personalities (the rule of Mary Queen of Scots, the Forty-Five), but also that the stream of Jacobite sentiment, intrigue and effort is more complex than has traditionally been allowed. Scottish Jacobite episodes have frequently been offered to the public either as stirring narrative or as detailed family historiography. This book is neither. It is not to be recommended as narrative, for whenever a clear and dramatic story-line is called for the call is ignored. The author seems to think that that aspect has already been provided. He may well be right. It is the why and wherefore of Jacobitism, the external setting that made its aims and plots at times realistic, the complicated bundle of national or dynastic prejudices and loyalties and the counteracting squabbles and personal vendettas of members of the upper class, particularly the landed class of Scotland, which are the stuff of this book.

Behind it lies not only a wide reading of both obvious and obscure secondary material but a detailed acquaintance with particular manuscript collections which give depth to Mr Lenman’s view of Scottish society. Customs records illustrate the deeply-held Scottish prejudices against paying realistically for the benefits of government. Judicial records, particulary those of the jurisdictions in private hands, show what a long way the Scotland of the early 18th century had to go to be a modern state. And the archives of Blair Atholl illustrate the diversities of allegiance within a dominant family strategically placed between Highland and Lowland society, anxious to assuage social and national prejudices and yet to get the best out of the English connection.

Mr Lenman’s appreciation of the complexity of the motives of those who, for one reason or another, played or worked at Jacobitism is lively and alert. His evaluation of the 18th-century Whig hegemony is, by contrast, distinctly crude. He overrates the effectiveness of the central government when it set out to act unscrupulously, as well as the frequency with which it did so. His view of Whig politicians as corrupt and self-seeking is fair enough, but he does not allow enough for the fact that the preservation of personal power over large areas of territory, certainly an aim of those who opposed Whiggery, could be just as unpleasant and ruthless as the cultivation of power based on money. Whig society was open at the top, ‘like the Ritz’. Traditional society was not. I am not sure why one should feel tender towards the latter and denigrate the former for this. In any case, when a Scottish historian sets out to complain of the brutal use of force in 18th-century England, he should bear in mind that that society was not as bloodthirsty as the rule of the Covenant had been in 17th-century Scotland.

The author’s wayward mixture of insight and opacity leads him to assert that 18th and 20th-century British societies were both ‘patronage-ridden’ – a coupling which adds nothing to our understanding of either. But it also produces an enlightened comment on personalities: Walpole ‘closely resembled some 20th-century Prime Ministers in that he was a curiously isolated sort of figure, with no serious political ideology, sustaining himself on a combination of the arrogance of office and a deep sense of his own inherent reasonableness and rationality’. All of us can put at least one modern name to this description. Another insight in this book, of a non-parochial nature, is the appreciation of the international setting. After 1716, Jacobitism could not hope to win without powerful foreign backing, so an evaluation of its chances involves understanding the problems and aims of Cardinal Fleury and Elizabeth Farnese. Even though the exploration of English Jacobitism in this book is superficial, the European dimension makes it a great deal more than the exploration of an anachronistic quirk of Scottish history.

It is natural that this book, while ostensibly ‘British’ in coverage, should give much more attention to Scotland than to England, for it was in Scotland that Jacobitism was, at least for a short time, a serious alternative to Whig rule, that it received support from sections of society outside the landowning class, and that most of the real fighting took place. Of course, since 1603 any major political transference of power had to be effective in both countries, and so English Jacobitism, less widespread than Scottish though no less deeply held, in many cases, was vital to success. For this reason, the only important Jacobite rising was the Fifteen. The Jacobite refusal under Claverhouse to co-operate with Williamite supremacy was, as Lenman asserts, ‘merely the dying spasm of an abandoned political order’. Given the readiness of the English to do without James II and the passivity of those few sections of English society not happy at the Revolution, it was on its own. The Claverhouse rebellion embodied features, all the same, that were to become peculiarly Jacobite: a personal inability to work within the new political structure, an exalted conception of hereditary right which meant that the royal claim to inheritance was merely a larger manifestation of the property consciousness of landed society, and a reliance on the dissatisfaction of the clans of the south-west Highlands at a political settlement in which the imperialist house of Argyll had a dominant share. But the Fifteen brought together a much more serious repertoire of motives.

There was the total lack of ‘charisma’ in the Hanoverian monarch. True, James VIII had little enough of this himself, but he had an honest, gloomy incompetence which roused protective instincts. There is the perceptive comment of Fletcher of Saltoun on his stupidities that he was ‘taking all the pains to ruine his owen affairs; which convinces everybody who formerly did not believe it that he is of the Family.’ In the other line, Stewart family features, the Stewart mixture of intellect and tactlessness, seem to have descended to the Electress Sophia but then to have died out. There was the support obtained from Roman Catholicism in Lancashire, from bankruptcy in Northumberland. There were the justifiable grievances among the Episcopalians in north-east Scotland, and the more general and equally justified sense of national outrage in Scotland as a whole produced by the shabby backtracking on the explicit and implicit promises of the Union bargain by post-Union Parliaments. Altogether in 1715 there was a powerful mixture of opposition, and very little positive enthusiasm for Hanover with which to resist it. Unfortunately for the Stewarts, in the two areas where serious campaigning was called for, Lancashire and central Scotland, the military leadership was totally incompetent. After that, Jacobitism waned rapidly in England. The combination of Walpole’s unscrupulousness, changes in the diplomatic setting, and the disunity of the few active Jacobites, ran the movement into the ground. All that survived in the 1720s were the people who adopted the label as a form of self-assertion (Sir John Hyde Cotton of Madingley is an obvious example), men who had absolutely no intention of risking so much as a farthing on the cause; and those who, like William Shippen, used it as a title for their disgust at the mechanisms and ethos of Whig rule and who would have found a Stewart regime equally distasteful. But in Scotland Jacobitism survived as a sentiment and a base for intrigue and as a sense that the whole question of the dominant regime was still open, in spite of the disasters in England and in Europe. The main task of the book is to explore this fact.

One important reason was the failure of disciplinary action after the Fifteen. In England the Government had had to call off any large-scale programme of executions because the populace, perfectly prepared to have men hung for theft, felt that treason was a more venial crime. In Scotland, physical personal retribution was only a token show. The more serious policy of property confiscation ran up against a silent conspiracy. Judges, lawyers, families, tenants and neighbours all united to make it impossible. Even where estates could be confiscated, various manoeuvres meant that the profits from them could be retained in ‘suitable’ hands. Debt was part of the normal climate of landed society, so those with claims against forfeited estates obtained recognition, and the accredited claims could be bought up like any other paper security. The end result, for instance, of the confiscation of the lands of the Jacobite Mackenzie of Applecross was the accumulation of claims against them in the hands of Mackenzie of Kinchulladrum. Was it any real change? Elsewhere bullying of the tenantry in the interests of exiled Jacobite landowners meant there were no rents to collect.

But the survival of Jacobitism in Scotland, particularly in the north-east, was based on more than the immunity resulting from the cohesiveness of Scottish society. This book attempts to explain Jacobitism as a personal force driving individuals into actions likely to be dangerous or costly. Partly this happened because Scotland had experienced in the 17th century a development in church organisation which fitted badly into her traditional social order, and was particularly unacceptable in those parts of the country where the social order was least modernised. Traditional views of lordship and dependency still survived in the north-east. Officially they were expected to co-exist with a church organisation rabidly independent of lay power; hostile to the exercise of patronage and held together by a strong professional ethos. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland was not, of course, nearly as anti-Erastian as it proclaimed, but its official statements denied the sort of society which had prevailed throughout the country in the early 17th century, and still survived in Aberdeenshire. The north had been losing out to the central valley of Scotland in wealth and political leadership for at least two centuries, and its adherence to episcopacy and Jacobitism was evidence of a deep-seated protest at this cumulative failure. In southern Scotland landed society managed both to co-operate with and to control the Presbyterian Church, and to retain enough residual lordship to give it hegemony over the peasantry and social dominance over the merchant class. It was not, in the long run, irrational that the failure of the Forty-Five rebellion should be followed by the destruction of the most conspicious surviving remnant of feudal lordship, the heritable jurisdictions, but landed society in the south could maintain its dominance without this feature.

Jacobitism in the Highlands was haphazard in distribution and much more haphazardly adhered to than in the north-east. Various leading Jacobite chiefs ran with both hare and hounds, and some had to make hurried and difficult decisions in the summer of 1745. Mr Lenman shows that there was no simple link between economic backwardness and political conservatism. Lochiel the younger was a ruthless exploiter of the resources of his clan lands, Mackintosh of Borlum an enthusiast for the most basic features of improvement.

We know very little about the politics of the ordinary clansmen, but the fact that they disembarrassed themselves of the burdens of allegiance to their chiefs as soon as it was safe to do so makes it seem unlikely that their military participation was ever anything but unwilling. It is typical of the importance of the domination of great men and clan society in the rebellions that in 1715 Mar did not raise the rebellion in the area where his most profitable estates lay, the Forth valley, but in the Highlands where he could act like a chief and burn out his tenantry if resistance showed. Jacobitism in the Highlands was more evancescent and more calculating than in the north-east, and probably based on a narrower social segment.

The Jacobitism of some other groups than landowners is here revealed. It was entrenched in the world of old-fashioned historical scholarship, in printing and in banking. It was also conspicious among the craftsmen goldsmiths of Edinburgh. It drew enormous support from those who continued to disapprove of the Treaty of Union with England. For the most part, the Presbyterian Church, which had loudly denounced the Treaty, had settled down to enjoy its benefits: but there were enough Scots poorly acquainted with these benefits to sustain the resistance movement.

The trouble was that by 1745 much of this sentiment was passive. Union was at last bringing diffuse advantages to most communities. A more monetarised and commercial world had really something to offer to Scotland. The new style of life, much of it borrowed from the English gentry, gave both material comforts and a coherent ethos to Scottish lairds. In some parts of the country, Whiggism could elicit strong support. Ayrshire was, for many years, proud of its loyalty to the existing regime and of its refusal to participate in the Forty-Five. A Kilmarnock craftsman had his infant daughter, born in 1746, christened Cumberland.

The Forty-Five was, in fact, a fluke. Most of those who sympathised with it did not see any likelihood of success; the great houses kept out of it. Lenman notes that the Government had removed all effective military force from the Highlands in the early 1740s. He does not give enough weight to a leading theory of Whig legalism which held that it was not permissible for subjects to arm and resist revolution. A society which can afford such a theory must, at base, be very strong indeed.

Mr Lenman gives an interesting account of the destruction of the heritable jurisdictions, that jungle of private right left over from the weak monarchy of the Middle Ages. This was, as he says, a breach of the Union Treaty. It is worth considering why this anomaly, girned at by James VI in the 1590s, as well as by 18th-century lawyers, had survived the reforming and creative work of Parliament in William’s reign. Parliament had done a great deal in a few years to give Scotland a law and an administration suitable for the modern world. But it had done so with a basic emphasis on the rights and advantages of nobility and landowners. The power of the aristocracy made it inevitable that heritable jurisdictions be left alone. Union offered the aristocracy a larger field in British affairs, and so deflected ambition. By 1748, this class was ready to accept a handsome bribe instead of the anomaly. If it was a breach of Union, so is much of the equipment of the 20th-century state. Scottish landed society was pushed into modernity by Whig governments. The alternative soon ceased to seem attractive. What the classes below the landowning felt about the right type of civil government we cannot now hope to know.