Colleges, School and Institutes
My research specialism is Older Scots literature, particularly Older Scots romance and the history of the book. I am also especially interested in women's reading and writing; I am currently writing a book about Scotland's fifteenth- and sixteenth-century queens and princesses and their links to contemporary European literary culture, and looking ahead to a new edition of the poetry of Mary Queen of Scots. I have an interest too in children's literature, in particular children's picture books.
The label Older Scots literature refers to the surviving body of literature written in Lowland Scots between c. 1375 and 1700. Its margins therefore span what we would think of as the Middle English, Early Modern, and even Restoration periods of English literature, and as a result, the body of literature which survives is unsurprisingly both rich and diverse. It ranges from The Bruce and The Wallace, epic tales of the Anglo-Scots Wars of Independence by John Barbour and Blind Harry, to the varied work of the chameleonic poet William Dunbar, who wrote poems both praising and criticising the aureate court of James IV and his wife, Margaret Tudor. Historical chronicles chart the development of the Scottish nation, romance literature scrutinises the kingship and knighthood of the great courts of King Arthur and Alexander the Great, dream visions and allegories reflect on the nature of love, and religious lyric extols the Virgin and Trinity in language which aspires to be worthy of its objects of praise. Two related themes in particular stand out: Sovereignty - both of the nation and individual- and Good Governance - how best to rule the public realm and the private body of the self.
My D.Phil. thesis offers the first book-length study of the entire corpus of Older Scots romance. Building on recent developments in Middle English romance scholarship and Older Scots book history, it contextualises the surviving corpus of Older Scots romances in light of their unique material witnesses and contemporary cultural milieu.
My monograph, The Trojan Legend in Medieval Scottish Literature begins in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. During the Anglo-Scots Wars of Independence and subsequent Anglo-Scottish diplomatic exchange, Scottish writers developed an already nascent origin myth to counter that of the English who - following Geoffrey of Monmouth - traced their ancestry via King Arthur to Brutus and the Trojans. The English-Trojan origin myth was seized upon by Edward I and II to bolster their claims to lordship and ownership of Scotland. To counteract this, and instead prove Scotland’s independence and sovereignty, Scottish historians traced their nation’s origins to a Greek prince, Gaythelos, and his Egyptian wife, Scota. This appeal to an originally Irish origin legend enabled the Scots to derive their origins from a parent race at least as old as, if not older than, the Trojan remnant. That parent race was, moreover, most crucially victorious against the ancestors of the English in the Trojan War. My monograph sets out to discover how Older Scots writers represented and responded to the Trojan legend and their own Greek origin myth in the wake of this ‘war of historiography’. It provides comprehensive and detailed analysis of a range of Older Scots texts that engage, either as a whole or in part, with the Matter of Troy. It seeks to determine whether there is a specifically Scottish response to the Trojan legend, and, if so, what form that response takes. It considers the way in which Scottish texts interact with English counterparts, and examines the extent to which the Scottish response to the Trojan legend develops over time. I began my project suspecting that Scottish writers might well adopt a hostile attitude towards the Trojan legend, but this assumption soon proved false. I have instead discovered that the Trojan legend was actively and successfully re-appropriated by Scottish writers and used increasingly not only as an origin myth and metaphor for Anglo-Scots political relations, but also as a locus through which poets might explore broader issues of good self and public governance and also questions of literary tradition, authority, and the nature of poetic truth.
My latest book project, Books Beyond the Border: Scotland’s Royal Women and European Literary Culture, 1424-1587 builds upon an already rich body of work on women’s writing and reading in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and seeks to position Scotland’s queens and princesses alongside their better known Continental counterparts, such as Yolande of Aragon, Anne of Brittany, Margaret of York, or Margaret of Austria. Throughout I look to understand the role that literary texts played in the lives of Scotland’s royal women (and vice versa) as they married into and out of the Scottish royal family. In assessing how Scotland’s queens and princesses from Joan Beaufort (d. 1445) through to Mary Queen of Scots both used and received the written word, I evaluate what kinds of texts they were associated with, in terms of form, genre, and language, and to what extent this changed over time. I also explore how the women themselves were represented in written and visual form and I further consider whether their connection to contemporary European literary and artistic culture was a private and/or public (and therefore political) phenomenon. My work will be especially distinguished by its cross-border and cross-period approach; it adopts a trans-national approach to the study of literary history and examines a range of texts and individuals from across the traditional medieval/early modern divide. By offering substantial historically- and materially-informed new research the monograph is designed to stand both as a discrete case-study of literary activity concerning Scotland’s royal women across the fifteenth and sixteenth century and as a leading example of the kind of future book-length work that might be undertaken on the literary activities of other collective groups of women – royal or otherwise - across contemporary Europe.
I originate from the small town of Stamford, in Lincolnshire, and studied at St. Gilbert's Primary School and (funded by a LEA scholarship) at Stamford High School for Girls. I was subsequently the first in my family to go to University. My undergraduate and graduate career was pursued at Lincoln College, Oxford. I received a First Class BA Hons degree in English Language and Literature (2003), followed by a Distinction for the MSt. in English Literature 650-1500 (2007). My D.Phil. (2007-10), which was fully funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, examined the manuscript and print contexts of Older Scots romance. I joined the Department of English here at Birmingham in January 2013 after holding a Junior Research Fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge.
Willingness to take PhD students
I would welcome postgraduates wishing to work on medieval English and Scottish literature, particular in the fields of romance, women's reading and writing, and history of the book. I also have an interest in children's literature, especially children's picture books, and would welcome students wishing to work in this area.
Claire Harrill: 'Politics and Sainthood: Literary Representations of St Margaret of Scotland from the C11th to the C15th in England and Scotland.'
Ruth Caddick: An Edition and Study of the Older Scots Romance Clariodus
Jim McAtear: Andrew of Wyntoun’s Original Chronicle