In one of the earliest of his signal contributions to the rethinking of early modern Scotland, in particular, and of the comparative history of the Western European archipelago in general, Allan Macinnes presented a new and challenging account of the way in which the principal dynasties of Scottish feudal society gradually but successfully transformed themselves into a typical European aristocracy. In his Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart (1996) Macinnes offered a sustained analysis of the processes through which so many of the traditional dynasties achieved this transformation.
His was not a simple account, nor a pretty one. Instead it meticulously detailed how the great clanship dynasts gradually divested themselves of their traditional status as leaders and protectors of their dynastic and feudal dependants; and, by exploiting the opportunities supplied by the procedures of written Scottish law, of economic advantage, of political alliance and connection, and also by sheer coercion, how they successfully transformed themselves into a powerful and wealthy capitalist aristocracy comparable in status, character and outlook to their peers south of the Tweed. Macinnes's bold analysis not only offered a powerful critique of the sentimental and nostalgic image of the old Scottish nobility as propagated by writers as influential as Scott and Stevenson; also, with appropriate recognition of important regional and cultural variations, it had the advantage of supplying parallels with the history of the crisis and recovery of the English aristocracy as traced in the seminal work of Lawrence Stone.
In this Macinnes was soon not to be alone. In the late 1990s and early 2000s a spate of research, notably by Keith Brown, Jane Dawson and Alison Cathcart, which, even while occasionally disagreeing with his interpretative emphases, confirmed his contention that the real objective of historical exploration should not be on their apparent submission to the power of the Stuart monarchy, but actually on the ways in which the Scottish nobility succeeded, with remarkable success, in adapting themselves and consolidating their status in the new world of seventeenth-century politics. In this, as Brown has persuasively argued, the experience of the Scottish nobility was not exceptional, but followed closely not only that of their English neighbours but also that of the Western European nobility as a whole.