Secret sassenach

Scotland’s dirty secret is that lowland Scots constitute the second English State on the Island of Britain. Sassenach (or Saxon) referred originally to the ethnic and linguistic English inhabitants of Lowland Scotland, not to ethnic English living in England.

How this came about is a fascinating story, little known in England and entirely suppressed by Nationalists in Scotland.

The Gaels only learned English in the 19C whereas for lowland Caledonia, English has been the mother tongue for 1,200 years.

Court language

Have you ever wondered why English was spoken at the Scottish Court even before the union with England, under James I?

And why Wales, ruled by England off and on since Norman times has perhaps twenty times more native Welsh speakers than Scotland has Gaelic speakers?

England’s capital

Edinburgh is likely named after King Edwin of Northumbria, the overlord of all English kings (Bretwalda) born 586 AD.

So Edinburgh was for a time the capital of England, before Scotland ever existed.

The Northumbrian English conquered southern Caledonia from the Welsh, at a time when the Irish invaders (Scots) had not yet taken all of the more northerly Caledonia from the native Picts.

Welsh language

Welsh was anyway the language originally spoken in Lowland Scotland, indeed spoken both sides of Hadrian’s Wall until it was replaced by English.

Lowland Scotland has never much spoken Gaelic, it largely went straight from Welsh to English.

Although Gaelic and Welsh are both Celtic languages their speakers are no more intelligible to each other than are speakers of English and German (both Teutonic languages).

Welsh hero

The name given by the Teutonic conquerors for a Romanised Celt is ‘Walas‘, from which we get the name for Wales, the Wallace clan (from SW Scotland – so yes, the greatest hero of Scottish Independence was a Welshman, certainly in ancestry and possibly in speech).

It also gives us the name for the Latin (now French) speaking Part of Belgium (Wallonia), one of the Latin (now Romanian) speaking areas of the Balkans (Wallachia) and even the nut introduced to Celtic Britain by the Romans (Walnut).

The other clue that English has been spoken in Lowland Scotland almost as long as it has been spoken in England is that it comes from an ancient branch of Northumbrian English called Lallans.

And just look at all the clearly English Clan names, Armstrong, Cunningham, Elphinstone Edmonstone, Aikenhead, Ayton, Bannerman, etc, (and I haven’t even gone beyond “E”in the list!).

The clue to the ancient lineage of Lallans is that modern speakers of Received Pronunciation can barely understand Glaswegian. Yet, the English spoken in the Highlands and Islands is, like Irish English, perfectly intelligible to people from London. Is this not a paradox? And the explanation is that the longer a language follows its own separate development, the more different it becomes from the original, (sort of the same thing to language as the genetic mutation rate is to the formation of new species in Evolution) and the Gaelic areas adopted English only in the 19C, whereas it was the mother tongue of the English settlers in Lowland Caledonia from the 7C.

By way of illustrating this important point, the English had themselves arrived from Germany after 445AD and Continental Saxons, Angles Frisians and Franks could still understand the English until about 750–800 AD.

This is why the Pope was able to use English missionaries like St Boniface (or Winfrith, born near Crediton in Devon) to convert continental Germans – indeed this English cleric is known as “The Apostle of Germany”. As he put it “for we are of one blood and one bone with you”. (Do look up St Boniface on Wiki, he is probably the most significant Englishman that no one has ever heard of, and hard to think of any Englishman before Churchill who played a greater role in the destiny of Continental Europe).

Much of NW Europe was evangelised by Anglo-Saxons. Even the patron Saint of Finland is an Englishman.

Getting back to Lallans, or lowland Scots English (the language of Robbie Burns), this developed separately from mainstream English after the Vikings took most of Northumbria, from around 800AD, and cut off the unconquered English in what is now SE Scotland, Lothian, and Bamburgh, from the rest of the English speakers of Britain, to the South of what had become Viking territory.

So Wessex was NOT “The Last Kingdom”, both Bamburgh and Anglo-Saxon Scotland also successfully retained their independence from the Vikings, but only Bamburgh and the rest of what became modern Northumbria was later reincorporated into the English State after 927 when Athelstan (grandson of Alfred of Wessex) united all of England by ending the last surviving Viking Kingdom and deposing Eric Bloodaxe, Viking king of York. (Yes, they don’t make names like that anymore).

In the intervening 200 years between the fall of most of Northumbria to the Vikings and the West Saxon reconquest of the whole of England, which established the modern English State, the English who had been cut off in Lowland Scotland had, in order to survive, allied themselves with their fellow Christians, the Scots, who had come from Ireland to invade northern Caledonia (inhabited originally by the Picts) at about the same time as the English had invaded Southern Caledonia. And given the choice of heathen Viking rule (by kings with names like Eric Bloodaxe ) or incorporating yourself into a single State with the Christian Scots from Ireland, the Caledonian English of course chose to become part of Scotland, and they were natural allies, both Scots and English were Christian and both were being attacked by the same horrific enemy, the Vikings, who had actually seized Dublin and the Hebrides. Thus by the time the West Saxon liberators reached the Tweed, around 927, those ancient English subjects of what had once been Northern Northumbria were now part of the new Kingdom of Scotland, so the Northern part of what had been Northumbria, including its old Capital, “Edwin’s Burgh”,was permanently lost to England, and its people became the only Anglo-Saxons never to become part of the English Unitary State. But they were, in blood, language and culture, Northumbrian English, and Gaelic was never much spoken in their part of Southern Scotland, which today includes both the largest city (Glasgow)and the Capital. They adopted tartans, bagpipes (which were also an English instrument, Chaucer mentions the Northumbrian pipes) and a great Anglo-Gaelic Cultural fusion took place in which the Gaels ultimately adopted English (but only in the 18C and 19C) and the sassenachs (or English speaking Southern Caledonians) accepted the Irish Clan system and tartan dress, etc.

This is why modern English ears understand highland Scots and Irish English infinitely better than they understand lowland Scots, spoken by the descendants of the original English invaders of Britain. The Gaels of the Highlands only adopted English in the 18-19C so the English they adopted was essentially modern English, whereas in Glasgow they speak the descendant of ancient Lallans, a form of English with a thousand years of separate development from Southern English.

Southern English people also struggle to understand Ulster English for the same reason, many of the 17C Protestant colonists to Ulster came from lowland Scotland , and spoke the ancient Lallans variety of English.

And as for all these poor deluded lowland Scots who are caught up in the current vogue and attending Gaelic classes in the mistaken belief that they are somehow “rediscovering their roots”, Gaelic is the language of foreign invaders of Caledonia exactly as much as is English.

The only original languages of Caledonia are the extinct lowland Welsh and Pictish (which has no written record whatever, but is now often assumed to be a form of Welsh – but I “ha’e me doots” about this, because they had some radically different social customs, such as matrilineal descent and inheritance, so they could have been a Bronze Age pre Celtic relict people). The truth is that modern Scotland is the product of the fusion mainly of Anglo Saxon and Irish Gaelic cultures. The Anglo Saxons loved the Irish for having converted them to Christianity, (the Venerable Bede, the first English historian, a Northumbrian monk writing around 730 AD almost worships the Irish) whereas the Welsh had refused to evangelise their English oppressors. I’m afraid Bede took a very dim view of the Welsh for this.

Just to add to the confusion, it was the Welsh from the borders of Caledonia who had evanglised and converted the Irish Scots, St Patrick was a Welsh boy seized from near modern Carlisle by Irish slave raiders, and taken to Ireland. So you can see how incredibly intertwined are the cultural ethnic and linguistic origins of all the peoples of the British Isles.

(But the Welsh did refuse to evangelize the English directly, and refusal of forgiveness was a great sin in English – as indeed in all – Christianity, something the embittered vanquished the World over often struggle to remember, once sin is genuinely acknowledged, contrition expressed and forgiveness sought. This is at the cultural heart of our old religion, and was central to the ultimate ability of English and the newly converted Danes later to form a new Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom. It sounds like a sermon, today, but these cultural traits really mattered, helped blood feuds (the plague of many of non Christian early European societies) to be settled, and allowed us as a Nation to progress).

So there is nothing to be ashamed of in Scotland being a new creation from many different ethnic and cultural groups. Rejoice in all parts which have given rise to modern Scotland. It is the entwinement of the very best of many cultures.

Sadly, anti English bigotry has become routine in some Nationalist circles, so there is a complete denial that the Anglo-Saxons are as much a part of Scottish cultural and ethnic identity as are the Irish, the Welsh and the Picts. The glory of Britain is the cultural union forged amongst different ethnic groups to make a union capable of resisting barbarian attack, from the Vikings to the Nazis, perceiving what were our shared cultural values and how these outweigh our cultural and ethnic differences.

Such a message runs counter to the divisive element among some Scottish Nationalists who seek to present Scottish Culture and people as if they were a pure and uncorrupted entity, sprung magically either from nothing, or from exclusively the Irish Gaelic strand, to the exclusion of the non Gaelic Pictish, Welsh and English elements, and ignoring also the powerful bonds of politics and religion which have bound all of the people of Britain into a single Cultural identity, joyfully composed of many rich and distinct strands.

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