Reflection of Identity: The Architecture & Landscapes of the Border Abbeys and David I, The Scoto-Northumbrian King

Aberle, Jessica Marie, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Reilly, Lisa, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

This dissertation articulates the influence of the Norman Conquest of England (1066) on the development of medieval Scottish architecture, which was a response to the changing socio-political sphere in England. Following the Conquest and its aftermath, David I, King of the Scots (r.1124-1153), had to negotiate a Britain distinctly different from that his forefathers. He looked south not only to England but also to the continent for models of religion, kingship, social, political and economic structures, and a new architectural tradition. David I appropriated the architectural vocabulary and building policies of the Normans to make manifest his own political aspirations as the Northern King of Britain. He established a common visual language of kingship between himself and the Norman kings. Ultimately, Kelso, Melrose and Jedburgh Abbeys act as political statements, which testify to the power and ambition of David I through their iconographical programs and placement in the landscape. The Border Abbeys must be considered within the political context of the Normano-Scottish Border during the reign of David I. David I founded these three abbeys between 1128-1138 near his castle at Roxburgh on the periphery of the traditional Kingdom of the Scots but along the Normano-Scottish Border. Our understanding of Kelso, Melrose, and Jedburgh Abbeys is fundamentally tied to not only David I but also to their location at the center of a new Scoto-Northumbrian kingdom. The Border Abbeys were conceived of as active political strategies by David I as part of his campaign to conquer Northumbria and Cumbria. If the abbeys are examined within the framework of the twelfth-century Normano-Scottish Border, a pattern emerges suggesting that the iconography and locations were intentionally chosen to create a visually complex program that proclaimed David I‟s royal identity as the new Northern King of Britain by asserting his claim to the ancient kingdom of Northumbria.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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