Prestigious prize for Scottish Parliament research

Tuesday 22 April 2003

A researcher who revealed that the first Scottish Parliament was one of the most argumentative and powerful parliaments in the world has been awarded a prestigious book prize for his research.

Dr Roland Tanner, a Research Fellow within the Scottish Parliament Project (SPP) team at the University of St Andrews’ School of History, has won the Saltire Society History Book of the Year Award for “The Late Medieval Scottish Parliament: Politics and the Three Estates, 1424-1488”.

The award will be presented in one of the seats of the first Scottish Parliament, Parliament Hall, South Street, St Andrews on Wednesday 23 April 2003.

The first book to be written entirely on the subject of the medieval parliament, it overthrows the traditional history-book opinion that the Scottish Parliament of the past was ineffective. Moreover, it is suggested that the medieval Scottish Parliament wielded a surprising amount of power over the Scottish Kings of the period, sometimes resulting in their public humiliation. Dr Tanner’s book is the first on the parliament to be written by a member of the Scottish Parliament Project, a six year study to revise and correct previous records of parliamentary history in Scotland.

Dr Tanner said, “I am obviously overjoyed to have been given this award by the Saltire Society. Parliamentary history can seem, superficially, to be a dry and unpromising area of research but I tried to bring the story of the human-beings who sat in parliament to the fore in my study. It is human emotions – ambitions, rivalries, petty jealousies and occasionally more far-sighted motives – that make a parliament work and that make its history so interesting. I was able to show that, contrary to the old canard that Scotland, before 1707, was misgoverned backwater with a hopeless parliament, Scotland was no less capable of sustaining a powerful and influential parliament than any other country. That I researched and wrote this story during the debate about a new parliament for Scotland between 1994 and 1999 only brought it home to me even more that Scotland’s past remains extremely important to its present.”

The book is the first ever study of the medieval parliament and examines the actions and motives of those who attended. It overturns the long-held view that the Scottish Parliament was a weak and ineffective institution, damned because of its failure to be more like its English counterpart.

The dearth of knowledge on the history of the Scottish Parliament before it voted itself out of existence in 1707 did not allow for these opinions to be revised, as the only historical records of the Scottish Parliament were available in a 19th century text which was not accessible to everyday people. In 1997, the St Andrews historians set about creating an edition of the acts of parliament which could be understood by everyone. In addition to correcting mistakes made in the 19th century book, the group have been recovering lost texts, which have been discovered in archives and family records over the last 150 years. Dr Tanner has sought to bring the old Parliament to life through the people who attended, the reasons why they attended and the complex interactions which occurred when all the most wealthy, powerful and ambitious people in the kingdom gathered in one place.

The Saltire Society aims to preserve all that is best in Scottish tradition and to encourage every new development which can strengthen and enrich the country’s cultural life. Aimed at Scottish historical research, the Saltire Society History Book of the Year Award was established in 1965 in honour of Agnes Mure Mackenzie, a doctor’s daughter from Stornoway. She studied at Aberdeen University and lectured in English there and, for a short time from 1920, at Birkbeck College, London, before becoming a full-time writer. She suffered all her life from poor eyesight and hearing, but was a prolific author. She wrote a few historical novels but is best known for her non-fiction books on Scottish history and literature. She was awarded a CBE for services to Scottish literature in 1945 and died in Edinburgh in February 1955.

For further information, please visit the Scottish Parliament Project website at or the Saltire Society website at “The Late Medieval Scottish Parliament: Politics and the Three Estates, 1424-1488” is published by Tuckwell Press, priced £20, ISBN 1 86232 174 4.



You are invited to send a reporter/photographer to the award ceremony at Parliament Hall, South Street, St Andrews at 5pm on Wednesday 23 April 2003.

Funded by the Scottish Records Office, the Scottish Parliament Project, which covers parliamentary history and the great political events in Scotland from the 13th century to 1707, is thought to be one of the biggest historical studies of its kind.

To date, researchers have found a number of new parliaments not previously known about. The centuries-old legislation they are editing and translating covers all aspects of Scottish life, from farming, taxes, law and order, education, and religion, to pursuing wolves and crows and medieval dress codes.

During 2003/4, the project will culminate with the publication of the three volume History of the Scottish Parliament and The Records of the Scottish Parliament before 1707, edited by Keith M Brown et al, on CD-ROM and the internet.

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact: Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email cg24@st- View University press releases on- line at Ref: tanner/standrews/chg/22april2003

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