Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, 1654

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Name: Blaeu, Joan, 1596-1673  
Title: Adnotata ad Scotorvm Antiqvitatem. Rob Gordonii. De Thule Insula Dissertatio  
Pagination: 6-7
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Translation of text:

them the Picts, had made their home in this island, they gradually spread out, and as their progeny increased they expanded their frontiers: at first each people was constrainted as by a natural frontier by the Firths of Forth and Clyde, then they advanced beyond on both sides. The Picts followed the line of the eastern coast in Lothian and claimed for themselves much territory on that side; if you look for their frontier, they seem to have possessed all that our people succeeded to on their expulsion. The Scots sought for themselves the western coast beyond the Clyde. The first contests for both were with the Britons, until Julius Agricola with a Roman army interrupted the dispute; thus our people and the Picts were thrown back between the two firths, and the frontier remained here continuously until Severus; although it was often breached, nothing was siezed, and the prize of war was pillage of the fields. Severus was the first to alter the frontier, and either he or his sons established the wall named after him. But Carausius under Diocletian and Maximian pushed forward the defences and again fixed the limit at Hadrian's wall; and the following Roman commanders continuously kept it there, as long as they held Britain, except finally in their last days there was a return to Severus' wall, which on the withdrawal of the Romans could not keep out the enemy.

Then the Saxons were invited in, and a medicine was applied to the bad state of affairs which exceeded all the illness. For the treachery of their allies did more harm to wretched nation than any cruelty of the enemy. Not content to abide by the agreement, they claimed the province for themselves; not content to rule like the Romans before, or in a gentle victory to coalesce with the defeated into one body, as the French with the Gauls, or later the Danes with their grandsons, they did not rest until the race had been rooted out or banished into the wilderness, so that they succeeded to empty homes. They invaded different places under many leaders, but all had the same desire to make a desert and found new kingdoms. Those who invaded the northern parts, taking the name of Northumbrians, with a strong army under two leaders established the two kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia. They again seized from the Scots and Picts what Severus had left to them, over which later there had been such bloody strife. They pushed their frontier to the two firths, and could not by any force even after the adoption of Christianity be driven from there, until they were weakened and broken first by civil discords, then by the Danish attacks. Then at last the Scots and Picts returned to their own land; employing their victory with gentleness and allowing the people for the most part to keep their homes, they became lords of the regions which later continuously to this day they held from the Danes and English.

These events down to the Saxon invasion are sufficiently attested by what was said when I was discussing the boundaries. The following are on the authority of Bede, who knew them best of all who have written on them. One may draw much from him to establish this truth, although this change followed his time by more than 100 years. He mentions the River Tweed, the monastery of Melrose, also the monastery of Abercorn on the Firth of Forth; he mentions too the bishopric of Whithorn, which is today recognised in Galloway. All of these places and many more are to be read scattered in his work, as pieces of the kingdom of the Bernicians (which among the Northumbrian kingdoms lay more to the north), and further admitting only those which he had seen himself in his lifetime, not those from hearsay. He relates that King Oswyn had to a great extent (these are his words) subdued the race of the Picts to the English about the year 660. He relates also that Aidan king of the Scots with a numerous army fought unsuccessfully against the Northumbrians, so that afterwards no-one dared to dispute with them over the provinces won in war. And this was the state of affairs in the time of Bede.

But, the Saxon wealth being pounded and broken, our people and the Picts returned to their own lands, and what they had lost in war, they took in war. They came however not into a desert, but into places full of now Christian Saxons. The victors put aside their anger and enjoyed their victory in clemency, those who surrendered were spared, and they were allowed the cultivation of the fields to which they had been accustomed, until they should (as later happened) coalesce into one body with the victors. The language remained purely Saxon, nor could it have been driven from those regions which are to the south of the Forth and Clyde, except by introducing new colonists, which does not appear to have been attempted, nor is there any memory of such a thing. The new Lords ruled the old colonists. These regions consitute a third of the kingdom, if land area is considered: but if richness of the fields, number of inhabitants, opportunity of situation, they almost totally kill the remainder. Now if cultivation, wealth, the tamed nature of the inhabitants in comparison with the others, it easily takes first place. Hence the capital was sited here in neglect of more distant parts. Hence law, power, business, in a word whatever is avidly sought by mortals for a good and happy life, is to be found in these beyond the other provinces of the kingdom. Since therefore, as I have said, this huge tract of land was possessed for such great periods by Saxons and was a large part of the kingdom of the Bernicians, and when they surrendered it and our people claimed it for themselves, the old colonists with their native tongue for the most part remained, it is certainly agreed that from here we must seek the beginnings of our modern language.


The island of Thule was celebrated among the ancients in the songs of bards and also in the narratives of historians, but today despite the great light of literature and increase in ability it as yet lies hidden, and if Ptolemy had not pointed to it, it would still have been hidden. Since it either was part of the British world or considered an appendix of it, it is not surprising that foreigners have paid little heed to it. It would certainly not have escaped the most sagacious genius of Camden, if he had turned his mind to it, but this was for him off the map; for although in his most industrious work he encompassed the whole British empire, he admits that whatever labour he spent on the parts other than England, he only touched on with superficial lightness. Undoubtedly the aids necessary for this labour were lacking to him. The proper geography of the islands which lie around our kingdom was still unknown to the world. Some recent writers who have tried to extricate this island from darkness, have identified Thule with the modern Shetland, on the basis of the argument that those islands are the last in our world. Iceland, discovered much later, did not in this context occur to the mind of anyone so far as I know. But that the Romans saw the Shetland Islands or reached as far as that in ships is a vain opinion. The fleet of the Emperor Claudius was the first to open up the Orkneys, which the adulation of poets claims that he conquered: it was no great matter to have subjugated them, where there was no reward for victory except fame, which that Emperor sought and won in abundance from that superficial expedition into Britain. Julius Agricola's fleet, in going round the island, discovered more islands to the west, all of which, just as the Orkneys, just as also the northern parts of our kingdom, they despised: the voyage was undertaken for surveying, not for conquering or possessing; the edge of Britain was being sought, but they neglected these places as useless; sailing along the coast on these maritime journeys, for fear of the immense and perilous ocean, they were content to have seen the shores and what was nearest to the shores. Nor is it surprising, when today those seas scattered with so many islands, though always free of all ice, are not always passable by ships, being notorious for winds, storms and swirling tides. The strait which lies between Scotland and the Orkney Islands, called Pictish, is not easily crossed by the inexperienced or without a skilled pilot. What hope then for a Roman voyage to Shetland, so that Thule could be found there? Also that region is made up of a collection of many islands, while we recognise Thule as the name of one island, which the Romans had derived not from hearsay, but from sight, having at some time landed there. There is one among the Shetlands, clearly of those which incline to the north, small indeed, more truly a rock than an island, whose name is Foula: some because of the relationship of the name have sought Thule here. Others have referred Thule to the island of Fair Isle, that is beautiful island, half way between the Orkneys and Shetland in the open and perilous sea; but that in no way agrees with the Ptolemaic description, as he shows us Thule not as small, as that beautiful one is, but notable for its size, and marks its middle and four sides with clear numbers. Therefore it must be sought elsewhere, and actually a place that the Roman fleets dared to approach, that is, not far from the mainland, and that in its size corresponds in some way to his numbers.

If therefore one puts before one's eyes the Ptolemaic map accurately set out as to its numbers, and then alters the quarters of the sky, and imagines that what he has on the right, as being eastern, is northern, as it really is, while what he depicts on the whole map as northern is taken as western: there will be found a not absurd depiction of our whole kingdom, which is not too inconsistent with the modern position of the land. That great man, being wrongly informed about the true position of the Orkneys, twisted them to the west in opposition to the truth, and of the three promontories on the opposite mainland, that which most faces Orkney he marked with the name Orkney, which is named today Parro-head or Faraid Head. Having found the Orkneys, about which there is no doubt, we must investigate Thule. Here, apart from Ptolemy alone, no-one has told us anything certain beyond the name. But if we take him as guide, turning the map as I have said and altering the quarters

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