Apologies, this might be a very niche question, but I recently discovered that the theologian John Duns Scotus - a Scotsman, unsurprisingly - lived in England in the late 1200s/early 1300s - during the First Scottish War of Independence and the reign of Edward I and Edward II.

I found it strange to think that a Scotsman could have lived, apparently unmolested, in England during a brutal mediaeval war between Scotland and England. How was this possible? Was he protected from possible persecution by the state due to his status a priest? Even if so, would he not have faced significant hostility from the English general population? Or was it, in fact, quite normal for Scots to live in England, and vice-versa, during this time period?

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In the particular case of John Duns Scotus, we know relatively little about him apart from his work, and the fact that he was a friar. As a member of a religious order and an academic, he would probably have lived mainly in religious houses and so been protected from most overt hostility.

More generally, there were a lot of people who could be described as "Scottish" living in England in the late 13th century - particularly in the North of England. Nobles often owned land on both sides of the border. As this PhD thesis states (p20), when war broke out in 1296, it demanded a declaration of allegiance, and

"In April of that year, orders were issued to arrest all Scots in England and the sheriff of Northumberland was instructed to draw up lists of all landowners who could be considered 'Scottish', most of whom were descended from established Northumbrian families who had intermarried with the Scots."

From that point, life for Scots in England, probably even those prepared to declare their allegiance to Edward, would have been much more complicated. The English who were expelled from Scotland fared little better as they joined the growing ranks of the so-called "disinherited".

More generally, I don't doubt that Scots living in England would have experienced at least some hostility even before war broke out in 1296. Descriptions of Scots from that period were hardly flattering! In fact, as late as the sixteenth century, English writers were still describing the Scots thus:

They drank the bloud [blood] out of wounds of the slain: they establish themselves, by drinking one anothers bloud [blood] and suppose the great number of slaughters they commit, the more honour they winne [win] and so did the Scythians in old time. To this we adde [add] that these wild Scots, like as the Scythians, had for their principall weapons, bowes and arrows.

Camden, Brittania, (1586)


We won't know whether Duns Scotus faced any hostility for his Scottishness, but we can't expect the perceptions of nationhood and nationality in the late 13th century that would exist if there was a war today. People living in lowland Scotland near to the modern border in the 1290s did not necessarily think of themselves as Scottish, or loyal to a Scottish 'nation'. Certainly they might well have thought themselves to have had more in common culturally and linguistically with the English that the highland and Gaelic-speaking Scots. As a member of religious orders, Duns Scotus was moreover an 'employee', if you like, of the world's largest pan-national organisation, the Church, which did not distinguish people or judge people based on nationality.

Yes, we do know that King Robert Bruce made it his business to make the the noble landowning classes choose a side, by preventing the cross-border landowning which had happened before, but that did not apply to ecclesiastics, who could take benefices or positions wherever they could find them, and continued to do so until the Reformation.

So, while Duns Scotus's very name emphasizes how his place of origin was well understood by contemporaries, being identified as a Scot did not necessarily mean that Scotus was perceived as automatically a supporter of an independent Scotland contrary to the claim of Edward I, or a supporter of Robert Bruce. Scotus' political loyalties will remain a matter of conjecture, but were more likely to be coloured by local South East Scottish family loyalties than an inherent sense of Scottish nationhood or loyalty to his 'nation' of birth. In fact many much more prominent clerics than Scotus remained loyal to the English 'overlord', Edward I and II, even as late as the 1320s.

Finally, it should be noted that Scotus actually spent much of his later life in Paris and Cologne, from 1302 to his death in 1308. It could be that his move to the continent was associated with a desire to lecture in a more supportive environment for Scots than Oxford. However, Duns Scotus's loyalties may have been more to the Church than any secular power, and he was fired from his position in Paris for a time for supporting the pope in a dispute with the French crown.

Finally, the stage of the Wars of Independence in which Duns Scotus was alive was a period in which Scotland underwent periods of complete conquest when the Wars of Independence appeared to be over. From an English perspective, those limited forces that continued to withstand the English victory were small groups of rebels resisting the legitimate government, not the united Scottish nation at war with England. Being Scottish did not ipso facto mean anti-English.

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