A new interactive database containing thousands of documents from Scottish medieval history has been revealed after painstaking work from University of Glasgow researchers.
The People of Medieval Scotland (PoMS) project catalogued over 21,000 individuals mentioned in 8600 documents.
These documents - or charters - were written by monks between two key dates in Scottish history; the death of Malcolm III in 1093 to the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
They help tell the story of Scotland’s transformation through the Wars of Independence to an established kingdom, and feature records of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and King Edward I of England - the ‘Hammer of the Scots’.
One charter about Wallace makes reference to the the Lubeck letter, when the rebel Scottish leader - along with co-guardian Andrew Murray - informed European trading partners that Scottish ports were once again open for business after the Battle of Stirling.
In relation to Robert the Bruce, the 'Irvine' record in the PoMS database demonstrates his submission with other prominent Scots to Edward I's peace deal in July 1297, highlighting that not all leading Scots were for an independent country.
Dr Amanda Beam and Dr John Reuben Davies from the University of Glasgow worked on the database and were assisted by teams from the universities of Edinburgh, Lancaster, and King’s College London. They were funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
For the past four years, they have inputted records from the charters into the database. Their work will be officially unveiled by Mike Russell MSP, the Education Minister, at a ceremony at the university on Wednesday night.
Dr Beam said: “The database is of all the people mentioned in charters relating to Scotland during this period. It is about their interactions, their social networks, the people they were connected to, and lands that are being given and granted as possessions.
“Scotland during this period was in its formative years. By 1286, Scotland as we know it today was formed essentially. You can look through these charters and see how that developed and who was involved in that. There are French people, Normans, Gaels, all mentioned in the charters.”
Prior to the PoMS project, the records did exist in various places but not in a way that would been very helpful to researchers.
Dr Beam added: “It would be really hard for somebody to research this before. We are presenting this stuff all in one place and we are hoping that schoolchildren can use it.”
While the charters tend to focus on the aristocracy of the day and legal transactions between them, they also give brief insights to commoners. In one record - relating to a transaction of land in Perth - one of the names on the document refers to ‘helmet maker’.
The earliest record in the database - written between November 1093 and 1094 - gives a fascinating insight into medieval life in Scotland.
It details how Duncan II, the King of Scotland, gave land in East Lothian to the Bishops of Durham and Saint Cuthbert so the latter would pray for Duncan and his family. In return, the people living in areas like Tyninghame, Auldhame and Scoughall would have English Bishops as their landlords.
One of the earliest records in Glasgow University’s own archive is also in the database. It confirms another charter relating to Robert, the Bishop of Glasgow, who gifts friars ‘a spring’ - an area of water - in the Meduwel area of the city.
Dr Davies said: “The reason the records have survived is the church. The monks were concerned with recording what land people had and who had given it, in case of disputes.
“After the Wars of Independence, we can see how people are interacting with English kings. Through this database, you can see where people’s loyalties were.
“The database is intended for a broad reach of people and not just those interested in their own family history and locality.”
Ahead of the ceremony to mark the PoMS, Mike Russell MSP said: “This is a world class resource which will inform current and future historians and members of the public about this important period in Scottish history.
“Learning about our history, languages, literature and culture as well as connecting with Scotland as a place is a vital part of developing a confident, balanced and informed sense of citizenship with perspective on Scotland and our place in the world.
“It is therefore a pleasure to see partnerships working between universities, schools and other key organizations to make this wonderful resource accessible throughout Scotland's education system and beyond.”
The PoMS project is related to the Breaking of Britain study which also involved researchers from the University of Glasgow, including Dauvit Broun - the Professor of Scottish History at the institution.
Last year, the professor found a new document which suggested Wallace was only a co-leader in an event which sparked a rebellion against the English, the murder of the English Sheriff William Hesilrig in Lanark in 1297. This lead the historian to conclude that “Wallace became the legendary leader of Scottish resistance by accident, by the death, capture or surrender of his colleagues”.
Professor Broun, who also lead the PoMS project, added: “The period that these documents cover is one of the most fundamental times in Scotland’s past.
“This was an age where many of the methods and means of governing a country that we take for granted today were evolving and the Scotland of today was being forged. Understanding these documents is therefore hugely important in detailing the foundations of modern Scotland and how the name of ‘Scotland’ and ‘Scots’ came to apply to a distinct country and people.”