James McConica

  • Buchanan by I.D. McFarlane
    Duckworth, 575 pp, £45.00, June 1981, ISBN 0 7156 0971 8

Scotland in the century of the Reformation was a fully enfranchised province in the republic of letters. Despite its geographical remoteness, and in part because of it, it sent its more ambitious and industrious sons almost everywhere abroad to study. The three universities of medieval foundation were essentially undergraduate colleges, but, as John Durkan has shown, Scots as students and teachers had roamed abroad since the 15th century to the higher faculties of the Northern universities – some to England, but far more to the Continent. While they were to be found in significant numbers from Louvain to Vienna, most of them went to Paris, and it was in the Paris of the 16th century that three of European reputation whose careers were also intertwined were chiefly trained: Hector Boece, John Mair or Major, and Major’s most famous pupil, George Buchanan. If the pitch and intonation of Scottish intellectual life have always seemed somewhat alien to English ears, the influence of these Continental schools must not be forgotten in accounting for it.

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