We all know that guy with the Scottish pride, right? He wears a kilt to weddings and took bagpipe lessons in college. He shows you the tartan of his clan then tosses a caber around on the local soccer fields.
Unfortunately for ol’ Pridey MacHaggis, much of what he thinks constitutes the Scottish heritage may be — in the vernacular of the highlands — total bullshite.
Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper died in 2003 after finishing eight chapters of a book on Scottish history. Those chapters were just published by Yale University press as “The Invention of Scotland.” According to this review in the New York Sun, the book illustrates how even the most Scottish-seeming things aren’t necessarily indigenous:
Sad to say, the kilt was invented by an Englishman, Thomas Rawlinson, who came to Scotland in the 1720s to manage an ironworks in the Highlands. Rawlinson observed that while the actual native costume of the Highlanders — the long belted cloak called the plaid — might have been suitable for rambling over hills and bogs, it was “a cumbrous, inconvenient habit” for men working at a furnace. So he hired the tailor of the local army regiment to make something more “handy and convenient for his workmen” by “separating the skirt from the plaid and converting into a distinct garment” — the kilt. This symbol of Highland tradition, as Trevor-Roper notes, was “bestowed … on the Highlanders, not in order to preserve their traditional way of life, but to ease its transformation: to bring them off the heath and into the factory.”
And by an Englishman, no less.
The whole book appears to be a chronicle of how many of the bulwarks of Scottish national identity — history, literature, culture — were invented or concocted to fill gaps in history or promote political nationalism.
It’s a shame, really. I feel bad for the Scottish. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if some jackass historian published a book about how Vikings weren’t eight foot tall marauding superhumans with horned helmets and magic hammers.