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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



Ireland and Scotland in the Middle Ages

CA. 450-1603


1 Irish high cross, stone sculpture,
twelfth century

In 1 Ireland and Scotland, neither of which had ever been part of the Roman Empire or conquered by Germans, many Celtic traditions that had disappeared in England were preserved. Both countries, however, were subjected to the English kings' expansionism. The English were able to take advantage of Ireland's internal divisions to subjugate clans and then the entire island, although English control remained weak. Scotland, on the other hand, maintained its independence until the dynastic unification with England.


The rivalry among the clans prevented the development of a unified Irish state and made it possible for the English to extend their rule into Ireland.


The history of Ireland is dominated by the battles of a large number of hostile clans fighting among themselves, each attempting to build up a unified complex of dominions.
Four large kingdoms emerged between the fourth and tenth centuries— Connacht, Leinster, 2 Munster, and Ulster—in addition to numerous other smaller kingdoms.

2 St. Patrick's Cathedral in Cashel, the former capital of the kingdom of Munster

The title of an overall Irish 3 "high king" remained hotly contested among the clans. In the fifth century, 5 St. Patrick Christianized the whole of Ireland from the see he established in Armagh.

3 Broach from Òàrà,
the seat of the Irish high kings,
twelfth century

5 The miracle of St. Patrick, painting by Tiepolo,
18th century

A distinctive Irish type of Christianity, characterized by autonomous 6 monasteries, developed.

The monasteries ushered in a cultural golden age, particularly in literature, while also maintaining the old Celtic epics. Moreover, the monks traveled in active missionary work—for example, Gallus among the Germans on the Continent, and St. Columban of Iona in Scotland in the sixth century.

A plea for help to Henry II of England from a minor Irish king in battle against his rivals brought an 4 English invasion in 1169.

Initially only a portion of the east coast was occupied, and the English kings were satisfied with nominal sovereignty. Not until the time of the Tudors was an attempt made to control the entire island, but then Henry VIII assumed the title of king of Ireland in the year 1541. The deliberate settlement of English people and later also Scots, particularly in Ulster, that began in the 16th century was meant to secure English rule. Religious conflicts developed, however, because the new settlers were Protestants while the Irish remained Catholics. After several rebellions, the revolt of Hugh O'Neill in 1595 became a serious threat to the English crown's rule over Ireland. Despite support from Spain, the Irish were overcome. The Irish supported the pro-Catholic Stuarts in the English civil war and during the Glorious Revolution, which they paid for through appalling retaliatory measures and a wide-reaching deprivation of rights by the English up to the 19th century.

6 The round tower of Clonmacnoise Abbey,
built in the twelfth century

4 English fleet navigating a stormy Channel
on the way to invade Ireland, book painting,
ca. 1400




The Scottish kings had to establish national unity and independence in the face of the Scottish aristocracy and the claims of the English.


In Roman times Scotland was inhabited by tribes with a 7 Celtic culture.

7 Ossian on the bank of the Lora invoking the Gods to the strains of a Harp,
painting by Gerard, 19th ñ

The Romans called them Picts ("the painted"), because of their tattoos. In the third century, Celtic "Scottis"—after whom Scotland was named—began invading from out of Ireland; they settled and founded a kingdom. In the ninth century, their king, Kenneth MacAlpin, united the Picts and Scots in the Kingdom of Alba.
MacAlpin's descendents died out in 1018.

A relative, Duncan I, took the throne, but was murdered by the usurper 8 Macbeth in 1034.

Macbeth then fell in battle against Duncan's son, who became king as Malcolm III of Scotland in 1057.

English influence in Scotland increased during the reign of Malcolm III and afterward. The Roman Catholic Church suppressed the Irish-Scottish form of Christianity.

8 Macbeth and the three witches, scene from
Shakespeare's Scottish play Macbeth,
painting, 19th century

The feudal system in the English form became established in the Southeast and the 9 Lowlands.

The Highlands, however, remained ruled by the clans as in Celtic times.

9 Edinburgh Castle, built from the late seventh century on, in Edinburgh,
capital of the Scottish Lowlands

Once Malcolm's dynasty was extinguished at the end of the 13th century, the powerful Bruce and Balliol families fought over the succession. Edward I of England saw an opportunity and helped John de Balliol to the throne, in return for which he was to recognize English suzerainty. However, after winning the crown, Balliol refused to submit to English interests, whereupon the English occupied the country. Sir William Wallace and Robert the Bruce organized the resistance against the English occupiers. In extended fighting, Robert, who was crowned king in 1306, was able to defend Scottish independence. The Scots were able to strengthen their position further as England became embroiled in the Hundred Years' War and the War of the Roses.

In 1371, the Stuarts replaced the House of Bruce. Despite the marriage of James IV Stuart to Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII of England in 1503, clashes with the English continued.

Nevertheless, this marriage formed the basis for the claim of James's granddaughter 11 Mary Stuart  to the English throne and led in 1603 to the unification of both kingdoms under Mary's son 10 James VI of Scotland and I of England.

11 Mary Stuart, Queen Mary I of Scotland, and her second husband Lord Henry Darnley,
parents of the later King James I of England.

10 James VI of Scotland and James I of England,
painting, 1605




queen of Scotland
byname Mary Queen of Scots, original name Mary Stuart or Mary Stewart

born December 8, 1542, Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland
died February 8, 1587, Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England

queen of Scotland (1542–67) and queen consort of France (1559–60). Her unwise marital and political actions provoked rebellion among the Scottish nobles, forcing her to flee to England, where she was eventually beheaded as a Roman Catholic threat to the English throne.

Early life
Mary Stuart was the only child of King James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise. The death of her father six days after her birth left Mary as queen of Scotland in her own right. Although Mary’s great-uncle King Henry VIII of England made an unsuccessful effort to secure control of her (Mary inherited Tudor blood through her grandmother, a sister of Henry VIII), the regency of the kingdom was settled in favour of her mother.

Her mother saw to it that Mary was sent to France at age five. There she was brought up at the court of King Henry II and his queen Catherine de Médicis with their own large family, assisted by relations on her mother’s side, the powerful Guises. Despite a charmed childhood of much luxury, including frequent hunting and dancing (at both of which she excelled), Mary’s education was not neglected, and she was taught Latin, Italian, Spanish, and some Greek. French now became her first language, and indeed in every other way Mary grew into a Frenchwoman rather than a Scot.

By her remarkable beauty, with her tall, slender figure (she was about 5 feet 11 inches), her red-gold hair and amber-coloured eyes, and her taste for music and poetry, Mary summed up the contemporary ideal of the Renaissance princess at the time of her marriage to Francis, eldest son of Henry and Catherine, in April 1558. Although it was a political match aimed at the union of France and Scotland, Mary was sincerely fond of her boy husband, though the marriage was probably never consummated.

The accession of Elizabeth Tudor to the throne of England in November 1558 meant that Mary was, by virtue of her Tudor blood, next in line to the English throne. Those Roman Catholics who considered Elizabeth illegitimate because they regarded Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn invalid even looked upon Mary as the lawful queen. Mary’s father-in-law, Henry II of France, thus claimed the English throne on her behalf. The death of Henry in 1559 brought Francis to the French throne and made Mary a glittering queen consort of France, until Francis’s premature death in December 1560 made her a widow at the age of 18.

Queen of Scotland
Returning to Scotland in August 1561, Mary discovered that her sheltered French upbringing had made her ill-equipped to cope with the series of problems now facing her. Mary’s former pretensions to the English throne had incurred Elizabeth’s hostility. She refused to acknowledge Mary as her heiress, however much Mary, nothing if not royal by temperament, prized her English rights. While Mary herself was a Roman Catholic, the official religion of Scotland had been reformed to Protestantism in her absence, and she thus represented to many, including the leading Calvinist preacher John Knox, a foreign queen of an alien religion. Most difficult of all were the Scottish nobles; factious and turbulent after a series of royal minorities, they cared more for private feuds and self-aggrandizement than support of the crown. Nevertheless, for the first years of her rule, Mary managed well, with the aid of her bastard half-brother James, earl of Moray, and helped in particular by her policy of religious tolerance. Nor were all the Scots averse to the spectacle of a pretty young queen creating a graceful court life and enjoying her progresses round the country.

It was Mary’s second marriage in July 1565 to her cousin Henry Stewart (Stuart), earl of Darnley, son of Matthew Stewart, 4th earl of Lennox, that started the fatal train of events culminating in her destruction. Mary married the handsome Darnley recklessly for love. It was a disastrous choice because by her marriage she antagonized all the elements interested in the power structure of Scotland, including Elizabeth, who disapproved of Mary marrying another Tudor descendant, and her half brother James, who, jealous of the Lennox family’s rise to power, promptly rebelled. Nor did Darnley’s character measure up to the promise of his appearance—he was weak, vicious, and yet ambitious. The callous butchery of her secretary and confidant, David Riccio (Rizzio), in front of her own eyes, in March 1566, by Darnley and a group of nobles, convinced Mary that her husband had aimed at her own life. The birth of their son James in June did nothing to reconcile the couple, and Mary, armed now with the heir she had craved, looked for some means to relieve an intolerable situation.

The next eight months constitute the most tangled and controversial period of Mary’s career. According to Mary’s detractors, it was during this period that she developed an adulterous liaison with James Hepburn, 4th earl of Bothwell, and planned with him the death of Darnley and their own following marriage. There is, however, no contemporary evidence of this love affair, before Darnley’s death, except the highly dubious so-called Casket Letters, poems and letters supposedly written by Mary to Bothwell but now generally considered to be inadmissible evidence by historians. But Mary did undoubtedly consider the question of a divorce from Darnley, after a serious illness in October 1566, which left her health wrecked and her spirits low. On the night of February 9, 1567, the house at Kirk o’ Field on the outskirts of Edinburgh where Darnley lay recovering from illness was blown up, and Darnley himself was strangled while trying to escape. Many theories have been put forward to explain conflicting accounts of the crime, including the possibility that Darnley, plotting to blow up Mary, was caught in his own trap. Nevertheless, the most obvious explanation—that those responsible were the nobles who hated Darnley—is the most likely one.

Whatever Mary’s foreknowledge of the crime, her conduct thereafter was fatally unwise and showed how much she lacked wise counselors in Scotland. After three months, she allowed herself to be married off to Bothwell, the chief suspect, after he abducted and ravished her. If passion is rejected as the motive, Mary’s behaviour can be ascribed to her increasing despair, exacerbated by ill health, at her inability to manage the affairs of tempestuous Scotland without a strong arm to support her. But in fact Bothwell as a consort proved no more acceptable to the jealous Scottish nobility than Darnley had been. Mary and Bothwell were parted forever at Carberry Hill on June 15, 1567, Bothwell to exile and imprisonment where he died in 1578, and Mary to incarceration on the tiny island of Loch Leven, where she was formally deposed in favour of her one-year-old son James. After a brief fling of liberty the following year, defeat of her supporters at a battle at Langside put her once more to flight. Impulsively, Mary sought refuge in England with her cousin Elizabeth. But Elizabeth, with all the political cunning Mary lacked, employed a series of excuses connected with the murder of Darnley to hold Mary in English captivity in a series of prisons for the next 18 years of her life. In the meantime, Mary’s brother Moray flourished as regent of Scotland.

Captivity in England
Mary’s captivity was long and wearisome, only partly allayed by the consolations of religion and, on a more mundane level, her skill at embroidery and her love of such little pets as lap dogs and singing birds. Her health suffered from the lack of physical exercise, her figure thickened, and her beauty diminished, as can be seen in the best-known pictures of her in black velvet and white veil, dating from 1578. Naturally, she concentrated her energies on procuring release from an imprisonment she considered unjustified, at first by pleas, and later by conspiracy. Unfortunately for her survival, Mary as a Catholic was the natural focus for the hopes of those English Catholics who wished to replace the Protestant queen Elizabeth on the throne. It was the discovery in 1586 of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and bring about a Roman Catholic uprising that convinced Queen Elizabeth that, while she lived, Mary would always constitute too dangerous a threat to her own position.

Despite the fact that she was the sovereign queen of another country, Mary was tried by an English court and condemned; her son, James, who had not seen his mother since infancy and now had his sights fixed on succeeding to the English throne, raised no objections. Mary was executed in 1587 in the great hall at Fotheringhay Castle, near Peterborough; she was 44 years old. It was a chilling scene, redeemed by the great personal dignity with which Mary met her fate. Her body ultimately came to rest in Westminster Abbey in a magnificent monument James I raised to his mother, after he finally ascended the throne of England.

A romantic and tragic figure to her supporters, a scheming adulteress if not murderess to her political enemies, Mary aroused furious controversy in her own lifetime, during which her cousin Queen Elizabeth aptly termed her “the daughter of debate.” Her dramatic story has continued to provoke argument among historians ever since, while the public interest in this 16th-century femme fatale remains unabated.

Lady Antonia Fraser

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Mary Stuart


William Wallace
Hero of Scotland, d.1305

William Wallace

William Wallace—known as "Braveheart"—led the Scots to victory over a superior English army in the Battle of Stirling in 1297.

However, the Scottish nobility refused to support Wallace, who rose out of modest circumstances, and so he was soon defeated by the English in 1298 at Falkirk.

Wallace was later betrayed by a Scottish noble, taken captive, and executed in London in 1305.

Statue of William Wallace by
the walls of Edinburgh Castle



Sir William Wallace

Scottish hero

born c. 1270, probably near Paisley, Renfrew, Scot.
died Aug. 23, 1305, London, Eng.

one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes, leader of the Scottish resistance forces during the first years of the long, and ultimately successful, struggle to free Scotland from English rule.

His father, Sir Malcolm Wallace, was a small landowner in Renfrew. In 1296 King Edward I of England deposed and imprisoned the Scottish king John de Balliol and declared himself ruler of Scotland. Sporadic resistance had already occurred when, in May 1297, Wallace and a band of some 30 men burned Lanark and killed its English sheriff. Wallace then organized an army of commoners and small landowners and attacked the English garrisons between the Rivers Forth and Tay. On Sept. 11, 1297, an English army under John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, confronted him at the Forth near Stirling. Wallace’s forces were greatly outnumbered, but Surrey had to cross a narrow bridge over the Forth before he could reach the Scottish positions. By slaughtering the English as they crossed the river, Wallace gained an overwhelming victory. He captured Stirling Castle, and for the moment Scotland was nearly free of occupying forces. In October he invaded northern England and ravaged the counties of Northumberland and Cumberland.

Upon returning to Scotland early in December 1297, Wallace was knighted and proclaimed guardian of the kingdom, ruling in Balliol’s name. Nevertheless, many nobles lent him only grudging support; and he had yet to confront Edward I, who was campaigning in France. Edward returned to England in March 1298, and on July 3 he invaded Scotland. On July 22 Wallace’s spearmen were defeated by Edward’s archers and cavalry in the Battle of Falkirk, Stirling. Although Edward failed to pacify Scotland before returning to England, Wallace’s military reputation was ruined. He resigned his guardianship in December and was succeeded by Robert de Bruce (later King Robert I) and Sir John Comyn “the Red.”

There is some evidence that Wallace went to France in 1299 and thereafter acted as a solitary guerrilla leader in Scotland; but from the autumn of 1299 nothing is known of his activities for more than four years. Although most of the Scottish nobles submitted to Edward in 1304, the English continued to pursue Wallace relentlessly. On Aug. 5, 1305, he was arrested near Glasgow. Taken to London, he was condemned as a traitor to the king even though, as he maintained, he had never sworn allegiance to Edward. He was hanged, disemboweled, beheaded, and quartered. In 1306 Bruce raised the rebellion that eventually won independence for Scotland.

Many of the stories surrounding Wallace have been traced to a late 15th-century romance ascribed to Henry the Minstrel, or “Blind Harry.” The most popular tales are not supported by documentary evidence, but they show Wallace’s firm hold on the imagination of his people. A huge monument (1861–69) to Wallace stands atop the rock of Abbey Craig near Stirling.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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