Book Chapter

Scottish and British? The Scottish Authorities, Richard III and the Cult of St Ninian in Late Medieval Scotland and Northern England


Turpie T (2016) Scottish and British? The Scottish Authorities, Richard III and the Cult of St Ninian in Late Medieval Scotland and Northern England. In: Penman M, Buchanan K & Dean L (eds.) Medieval and Early Modern Representations of Authority in Scotland and The British Isles. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 124-140.

The Anglo-Scottish wars of the later middle ages cannot be adequately explained by a catalogue of battles and sieges. Both sides used legal, historical and spiritual arguments to give authority to their respective claims to independence (Scots) or sovereignty (English). Saints played a particularly key role in the Scottish articulation of independence. The official patron St Andrew provided a direct link to the papacy, whilst the careers of a wide range of other saints, from the ‘first bishop’ Palladius to Queen Margaret, were used to demonstrate the richness and longevity of the kingdom’s Christian past and of its independent ecclesiastical institutions. One individual who sat awkwardly in this narrative was Ninian of Whithorn, a saint whose shrine was located in Galloway, a region of traditionally weak royal authority close to the English border and whose bishops were suffragens of York until 1472. A winning blend of specific and general thaumaturgical and protective functions meant that in late medieval Scotland devotion to Ninian far surpassed that of traditional regional patron saints like Columba, Margaret and Kentigern. For many Scots in this period, particularly those who lived or travelled abroad, Ninian had evolved into a popular national patron in addition, or as an alternative, to the formal patron Andrew. This broad popularity led in the fifteenth-century to efforts by the Scottish governmental structures of national church and crown to appropriate the cult to their cause. However, by the late fourteenth century the fame of Ninian and his shrine at Whithorn had spread beyond Scotland and his cult was established in northern England, where in the late fifteenth century it found a high profile patron in the person of Richard III. The establishment of the cult in fifteenth-century England is particularly striking as cross-border saints are extremely rare in the jingoistic political atmosphere that followed the Anglo-Scottish wars of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. This article will explore the attempts by the Scottish authorities to claim Ninian, consider how and why the cult spread into England and examine the motivations behind Richard III’s remarkable patronage of the saint.

Richard III; Saints; NInian

Publication date31/12/2016
Publication date online27/05/2016
Publisher URL…ok/9781472424488
Place of publicationAbingdon