‘Politics and the Public Domain in the Later Fifteenth Century’

Published on: Author: Megan Leave a comment

On 25 October, 2016, the Centre welcomed Claire Hawes (Aberdeen) to discuss ‘Politics and the Public Domain in the Later Fifteenth Century’. This lecture offered revisionist perspectives on the familiar ground of crown-magnate relations, which has dominated much of the historical scholarship on late medieval Scotland. At the heart of the discussion was the critical assertion that a scholarly focus on personal relationships has been a substitute for political theory: this criticism was applied to more recent commentators such as Brown and Boardman, as well as to Grant and Wormald.


The notion of ‘common good’ which features in the contemporary documentation and the importance of identifying the ‘political community’, particularly in burghs, are key elements of the revised perspective proposed here.

The core argument was that by imagining that politics operated in a public domain, rather than a purely personal private one, it become possible to identify the ideals that operated in practice and constrained the worst excesses of authority.

The benefits of such a perspective are that it becomes possible to:

  • Recognise and analyse the discourse on the common good
  • Restore the discourse and contribution of the burgh community
  • Appreciate more clearly the importance of the discourse of kinship (fictive and real)
  • Understand the role of guild courts which were organised to ensure that urban elites acted like kin.

The advantages of this proposed model of  political theory are that it foregrounds principles of community and makes the role of the urban communities much more visible.

Summary by Professor Stephen Driscoll

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