Flemish Settlement in Scotland: Prosopography and Networks

Claire Hawes
Saturday 21 May 2016

This is the eighth posting in the series that sets out the content of sessions at the conference on “Scotland and the Flemish People” that will be held in St Andrews on 16 and 17June. This session, with speaker Dr Matthew Hammond, deploys what historians call “prosopography” to gain an understanding of the pattern of relationships among Flemish settlers in the medieval period. Professor Dauvit Broun will chair the session and offer a response to Dr Hammond’s findings.

Session Overview

The relative dearth of narrative historical evidence for Scotland in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries makes the kingdom fertile ground for the prosopographical method (see definition in the box below). The People of Medieval Scotland database (www.poms.ac.uk), showing results on over 15,000 people and institutions drawn from over 6,000 charters and similar documents, provides a mine of information that can be used for the analysis.

In historical studies, prosopography is an investigation of the common characteristics of a historical group, whose individual biographies may be largely untraceable, by means of a collective study of their lives, in multiple career-line analysis. Prosopographical research has the goal of learning about patterns of relationships and activities through the study of collective biography; it collects and analyses statistically relevant quantities of biographical data about a well-defined group of individuals. This makes it a valuable technique for studying many pre-modern societies.

Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopography

The database will be used to examine the patterns of settlement by the Flemish in Scotland, looking at the contexts for their arrival, the various social classes to which they belonged, their success and achievements, and the extent to which they may have maintained a distinct identity through, for example, their use of surnames and how far we can talk about a self-conscious Flemish community in Scotland. The session will finish with a discussion of the broader political and cultural links between Scotland and the Low Countries in this period.

Session Participants 

Dauvit Broun, chairman of the session, is Professor of Scottish History at the University of Glasgow. He is an expert in medieval Scottish and Celtic studies and focuses mainly on early medieval Scotland. Among the themes that interest him are early Scottish king-lists, literacy, charter-writing, and national identity. He is Principal Investigator of the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project ‘The Paradox of Medieval Scotland, 1093-1286’.

Matthew Hammond is currently a Research Associate at the University of Glasgow on the Leverhulme Trust-funded ‘Transformation of Gaelic Scotland in the 12th and 13th Centuries’ project. He has authored many articles and book chapters on the society and people of Scotland in the central middle ages, and is currently working on a monograph, Social Networks and Lay Society in Medieval Scotland, 1124-1286. He is a former lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and has worked on a number of funded research projects around the People of Medieval Scotland 1093-1314 database and web resource. His research interests include the charters, aristocracy, onomastics, identities, political assemblies and public ritual, and French literature.