In January 1951, Hugh Trevor-Roper, later Lord Dacre, found himself spending New Year ‘among great frozen icebergs in the ultimate north, ie in Scotland’, a country then captivated by the daring seizure of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey by four students the previous week. In a letter to the art critic Bernard Berenson, posthumously published in Letters from Oxford (2006), Trevor-Roper observed not only that, as the only English guest, he feared ‘a poisoned mince-pie’, but also that the outbreak of fervent Scots nationalism provoked by the theft had convinced him that ‘pure farce covers a greater field of history’ than economic causation, rendering ‘Gibbon ... a more reliable guide to that subject than Marx’. Trevor-Roper’s interest in Scotland and its history endured for a further three decades as he acquired a Scots wife and Scots country house, published iconoclastic articles on ancient Scottish constitutionalism, the Scottish Enlightenment and the Victorian cult of tartanry and, by 1981, had prepared the text of The Invention of Scotland, which has now been published.
The book’s tripartite structure considers ‘the political myth’ of ancient constitutionalism from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries; ‘the literary myth’ regarding Enlightenment interests in ancient Scottish poetry from c1760 to 1820; and ‘the sartorial myth’ concerning the origins of Scots national dress from the 1820s onwards. Arguing that Scotland is