Jenny Wormald's contribution to the transformation of Scottish historical scholarship is manifest in a number of areas, as the various studies that make up this volume confirm individually and collectively. Through a series of innovative and original monographs and articles she has launched an often brutally witty iconoclastic assault on hoary misconceptions about the medieval and early modern kingdom and left a landscape littered with the battered remains of old prejudices and muddled thinking in her wake. For festschrift editors, circling the site of battle and attempting to identify juicy titbits amongst the wreckage, the scale of Jenny's triumph and the rapidity of her subsequent advance present their own problems in terms of supplying a bewilderingly wide choice of possible targets. Rather than flap aimlessly across a broad and still developing front, we have alighted on a few fundamental aspects of Jenny's work that might repay more detailed consideration.
The question that lies behind much of our discussion is that of periodisation. When was medieval Scotland? When was early modern Scotland? Why does this book begin in 1300, and why does it end in 1625? Lord Acton's advice that historians should ‘study problems, not periods’ is as wise as ever, but any investigation of the problem of how relationships among ‘kings, lords and men’ were articulated in political culture must address the question of when the main changes occurred. As we shall see, Jenny's unconventional approach to this question has generated fresh insights.
A persistent feature of Jenny's historical approach has been a cheerful disinclination to accept the idea that there were necessarily profound differences between fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Scotland. Indeed, the chronological sweep of much of Jenny's published work implicitly brings into question the usefulness and utility of thinking in terms of the constructed historical categories of ‘medieval’ and ‘early modern’. In the Scottish context, in particular, Jenny's studies have ranged widely in both theme and chronology, analysing social, legal and governmental structures and developments from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century. The particular breadth and coherence of her vision for the century and a half between c.1450 and c.1600, straddling what has occasionally been presented as the shift from the medieval to the early modern, rests on her identification of basic patterns in Scottish social and political life that endured, despite a variety of challenges, throughout that period.