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Issue 3 - Monarchs of the Glen

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 3
July 2002


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Monarchs of the Glen

The British monarchy is whee it isbecause of its Scottish roots. A look back in time by Charles Douglas

What is so often forgotten amid all the myths and misinformation that surrounds the British Monarchy is that the Royal House of Windsor, which currently occupies the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is there because of its Scottish credentials.

This came about chiefly as a result of domestic religious strife. Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries was deeply divided between the forces of Catholicism and the rising Protestant persuasions. In 1532, Henry VIII of England set the precedent by creating the Church of England and appointing himself its head. In Scotland, the Reformation by 1560 had established the Presbyterian faith.

It is impossible to underestimate the strength and depth of feeling this provoked at the time. It was because of his conversion to Catholicism that James VII of Scotland and II of England, last of the Stuart kings, was driven into exile in 1688 by his daughter and Protestant son-in-law William of Orange. With the Act of Settlement of 1701, the parliament of the day decreed that the British Crown should bypass 42 Catholic heirs in favour of the nearest Protestant candidate, and that person was Sophia, daughter of James VI of Scotland’s daughter Elizabeth. Sophia had married the Elector of Hanover, and that is how her son George, following her death, became the first Hanovarian King of England and Scotland.

In the decades that followed, the son and grandson of the disenfranchised James VII led two Jacobite uprisings, cashing in on the popularity of the Stuart dynasty in Scotland. Both failed, and the Hanovarian dynasty prevailed to re-brand itself House of Windsor in 1917 during the First World War. Up until the present day, however, it should understood that the House of Windsor’s hereditary entitlement to occupy the throne of the United Kingdom comes about simply through its being directly in the female line from James VI of Scotland, who in 1603 became James I of England.

BALMORAL & Queen Victoria
For almost 200 years, between the reigns of Charles II and George III, no reigning British monarch set foot on Scottish soil. George IV made a token, much-publicised visit in 1822, but it was not until his niece Queen Victoria took an interest in her northern realm, that the present day Royal Family’s love of Scotland began.

Queen Victoria first visited Scotland on 31st August 1842, when her Royal Yacht, a converted man-of-war, The Royal George, sailed up the east coast. With her husband,Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the Queen decided upon a Royal Progress that took her from Edinburgh to Perth, and then to the Highlands where they were guests of the Marquis of Breadalbane at Taymouth Castle.

That visit proved sufficient of a success for the Royal couple to decide upon a replay. Confiding in his diary, Prince Albert wrote: The country is full of beauty, of a severe and grand character, perfect for the support of all kings, and the air remarkably pure and light; in comparison with what we have here. The people are more natural, and are marked by that honesty and sympathy which always distinguishes the inhabitants of mountainous countries.

In 1844, Victoria and Albert stayed with the Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle, and three years later took the lease of the Ardverikie Estate, on the banks of Loch Laggan, currently enjoying a revived celebrity as Glen Bogle in the BBC television series Monarch of the Glen. “Alas!” wrote the Queen on her arrival. “The country is fine, but the weather is most dreadful.”

The incessant rain nearly put them off altogether, but through a coincidence it emerged that while skies in Inverness-shire had been uniformly grey, across the Cairngorm mountains, on Upper Deeside, they were a beautiful, pristine blue. That October, while taking breakfast, Sir Robert Gordon, a brother of the British prime minister Lord Aberdeen, choked on a fish-bone and tragically died. Some years earlier, he had acquired the lease of Balmoral Castle, and Lord Aberdeen, to whom the estate now passed, now suggested that the Queen might be interested in taking over the remaining 27-year lease.

And thus began the British Royal Family’s association with Balmoral, a love affair that has gone from strength to strength ever since. In 1848, the lease was acquired. The estate at the time consisted of 10,000 acres, to which, in 1849, were added the further 14,000 of the neighbouring Abergeldie Castle. Birkhall, with a further 6,000 acres, was purchased later on. In 1856, the present castle was raised near the site of the original building. Inside, it was furnished with tartan and so many representations of thistles that, observed one guest, it would “gladden the heart of a donkey.”

Two annual Royal rituals are associated with Balmoral. On the very first Sunday, Victoria and Albert set the precedent of attending morning service at Crathie Church, replaced in 1894 by the present church. It was the first step in an informal participation in local activities which continues to this day. And on another occasion, during their early visits, Victoria attended a gathering of the clans at Braemar.

This event claims its origins from the reign of King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. It would seem that during the 11th century, Malcolm summoned the clans to the Braes of Mar so that he could choose his “hardiest soldiers and his fleetest messengers.” By the 19th century, these trials of strength had developed into the more formal contests such as throwing the hammer, tossing the caber and hill racing.

In the years that followed a pattern was established. It inevitably caused problems that the Queen of Great Britain should annually retreat from her centre of Government, and in an age before the introduction of telephones there were predictable communications problems. But, a romantic at heart, Victoria embraced the land of her ancestors regardless. During the months of August and September, Prime Ministers were obliged to make the journey north to see her.

ELIZABETH Queen of Scots
There is an endearing, if unconfirmed, story from the 1970s concerning two young hitch hikers thumbing their way across Scotland. On Upper Deeside, a Land Rover came to a halt and a friendly woman in a headscarf offered them a lift to the nearest town. With her were two corgi dogs, and as she drove off, she interrogated them about their lives and interests, laughing and joking with them as they told her about their escapades. It was only after she had delivered them to a youth hostel that it occurred to them that their chauffeur had been the Queen.

Of course, that was back in the 1970s, in another, kinder world where Royalty, politicians and celebrities had no need of bodyguards or protection. Today, it would be unthinkable for the Queen even to be out-and-about on her own, and this could easily have been on her mind when she recently addressed the British Houses of Parliament on the changes she has seen taking place in her lifetime.

In this, her Golden Anniversary Year, Queen Elizabeth has lost both her mother and her sister, and the nation has shared in her grief. Solemn and dignified, she moves on with dedication, fulfilling the role nobody could have expected her to play when she was born. Yet undoubtedly those personal qualities that have contributed towards making those 50 years such an extraordinary achievement were there from the very start.

Encountering the young Princess on a visit to Balmoral in 1928, Sir Winston Churchill, writing to his wife Clementine, observed: “There is no one here at all except the family, the household and Princess Elizabeth. The latter is a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.”

Princess Elizabeth was then two years old, and Sir Winston who – following the death of her father King George VI in 1952 – was to become her guide and mentor, instantly singled out the strengths that would sustain her in the years to come.

And to some extent it has been Scotland, with Balmoral and the relative privacy it has afforded her, which has added to these strengths. As a direct descendant of Mary Queen of Scots and James VI of Scotland through the Royal Houses of Stuart and Hanover, Queen Elizabeth is also directly related through her mother’s family to King Robert II of Scotland in the 14th century. From the very start of her reign she has adhered uncompromisingly to the Scottish traditions established by her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.

Accompanied by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and other members of her family, she annually takes up her official residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh in early July to undertake a full programme of public engagements throughout Scotland. In May, as Queen of Scots, she personally attended the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Few political leaders command such respect both at home and abroad. She has kissed hands with 10 British Prime Ministers: seven Conservative, three Labour. Over the same period she has met and known almost every head of state and leader of governments in foreign countries. In any other kind of top management position, her unique experience would qualify her as a wise old head with a hefty pension.

But unlike any other management job, this is one for life. Under the British Constitution, she is the Lord’s anointed. In 1,000 years there is no precedent for a British monarch to take early retirement through longevity.

The claims of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Commonwealth cannot be overlooked. In these countries she remains Head of State, and each government has its constitutional rights including the option to reject the Sovereign. The fact that for the time being they choose not to do so speaks volumes about the high regard in which Queen Elizabeth is universally held. Our nation and our people are the richer for her presence among us.

Queen Elizabeth THE QUEEN MOTHER
As the enormous wave of public emotion that followed her death in April this year illustrated, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was not just an old lady who had lived a long life. She represented the passing of an era that we will never see again.

For her father-in-law King George V, she was “the gleam of sunshine.” Towards the end of his life, he wrote to the Duke of York: “The better I know and the more I see of your dear little Scottish wife, the more charming I think she is and everyone fell in love with her here.”

Growing up as the youngest of eight children possibly had a lot to do with this. She was born in England four years before her father, Lord Glamis, became 14th Earl of Strathmore & Kinghorn. With that ancient Scottish title came the gloomy red-sandstone castle of Glamis in the glens of Angus and 1,000 years of Scots history.

When she married the Duke of York in 1925, Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon never expected to become Queen. He was the second son. Nobody could have foreseen that the popular Prince of Wales would become infatuated with a twice-married divorcee, an unacceptable match for the Church of England. Almost overnight, it seemed, the Prince of Wales abdicated, and the shy second son of King George V was catapulted into the public gaze. It was then that his little Scottish wife truly came into her own.

Elizabeth’s first state visit to Scotland as Queen in 1937 was an astonishing success, given the unstable political climate of the day. 23,000 children paraded in Murrayfield before a crowd of some 20,000, and 8,000 guests attended the garden party held afterwards at Holyrood. Everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of her.

And the new Queen was intensely proud of being Scots, influencing the placement of the Scottish lion rampant on the back of alternate shillings in her husband’s new coinage, earlier insisting that their second child, Princess Margaret Rose, be born at her parent’s home in Scotland.

The King’s death in 1952 was traumatic. It precipitated her 26-year-old daughter Elizabeth to the throne and changed their lives overnight. Then again it was to Scotland that Elizabeth of Glamis turned for solace. She had come across the Castle of Mey on the far flung Pentland Firth while staying with friends. The castle with no back door she saved from demolition and made it her second home. She said afterwards that it had helped her retain her sanity at a time when her private grief was so relentlessly public.

She supervised the rebuilding work on this 17th century former Sinclair stronghold, and when it was completed bought a herd of Aberdeen-Angus cattle and a flock of Border Cheviots. Before long she was winning championship competitions with them. Upon her death, the Castle of Mey was left in Trust for the Nation.

Friend of politicians, writers and artists, the less public side of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s interests is less publicised. Add to her circle of friends her knowledge of agriculture, salmon fishing, horticulture and horse breeding, and you have but a snapshot.

The Prince of WALES
It is an unenviable state to be born the child of a famous parent, notwithstanding the reflected glory and expectations. From the moment of his birth on 14th November 1948, Prince Charles of Edward has been under the public spotlight. At the age of three he was made Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick and Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland. The title of Prince of Wales was bestowed upon him at the age of twenty-one.

Attitudes were changing during the 1950s, but an heir to the British throne had never before been sent away to school. At the age of thirteen, Charles was enrolled at Gordonstoun School in the north east of Scotland, following in the footsteps of his father, Prince Philip. It was an education that attempted to balance the physical and the mental, with the emphasis on being self-reliant. And although he obviously hated it at the time, these qualities have since marked him out, helping him to rise above and beyond the traumatic circumstances of his unhappy marriage, which ended with the tragic death in a car accident of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Throughout his career, Charles has been conscious of his ‘Monarch-in-Waiting’ status. But longevity runs in his family. He is aware that his mother is unlikely to retire, and will most likely live for many years to come. He has therefore had to a very large extent create his own role in the public life of the United Kingdom.

The Prince of Wales has always felt a deep and real commitment to improving the world in which we live. Whether environmental or sociological, his interests are wide and varied, and it was when he left the navy in 1976 that he decided to found the Prince’s Trust to help young people in search of a better future. The Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust was launched as a separate organisation in 1989.

Sometimes his views on inner city decline, modern architecture and organic farming have raised controversy among those who feel that as the future Head of State he should not express his opinions, but to date his comments have won him more respect than criticism. The trivia of popular press reportage often amazes him. “I am said to be becoming more eccentric by the day,” he says with a grin. “Yes, I do prefer to eat fish, but that doesn’t mean I don’t eat meat. I’m not strictly a vegetarian. It seems odd that if you eat just meat, nobody thinks it at all odd; but if you eat just vegetables, all Hell lets loose … The same goes for my interest in spiritualism or mysticism. I find it riveting what people say.”

Certainly, of the younger members of the Royal Family, Charles has the greatest affinity with his Scottish roots, glorying in the freedom of the Highlands, and regularly dropping in on remote islands and enterprises to keep in touch with what is taking place. The business community has much to be grateful to him for his tireless promotion of British manufactured products overseas.

Scotland also has a more relaxed attitude towards his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles whom he has invited to stay at Holyrood and Balmoral on several occasions. At Holyrood, he has appointed his own chosen group of Scottish advisors who, in an unprecedented way, enable him to keep abreast of the groundswell of public opinion on both personal and public matters.

The Princess ROYAL
It was not always so, particularly in her petulant youth, when she was an Olympic equestrian champion, but the Princess Royal, through personality and commitment to hard work, has emerged as Scotland’s favourite Royal next to the Queen. She makes almost monthly visits north of the border, cheer leading for her charities such as Save the Children Fund, Riding for the Disabled, The Princess Royal’s Trust for Carers and the Erskine Hospital.

A stalwart of Murrayfield Rugby Ground, where she uncompromisingly wears the colours of the Scottish team, she is also Colonelin-Chief of the Royal Scots Regiment, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and patron of the Scottish Business Achievements Award Scheme. Anne has certainly earned her spurs.

She may look imperious and she has certainly inherited her grandmother Queen Mary’s haughty reserve, but it can crack in an instant. When she is doing the rounds meeting people, she does her homework to such a degree that she is often able chat informally to whoever is presented about their hobbies and home lives. “You have to remember that people are far more nervous of meeting you than you are of meeting them,” she observed long ago. If such a word can be applied to a member of the Royal Family, she is a professional.

And Scotland has been a special place for her in more ways than one. Following her divorce from Captain Mark Phillips, it was under the Presbyterian faith at Crathie Church, close to Balmoral, that she was able to marry her second husband, Commander Tim Laurence. Both of her children, Peter and Zara Phillips, attended Gordonstoun School, and both have grown up to be well-balanced and intelligent family members.

Uncompromising and dedicated, Anne does not necessarily attract the glare of publicity that surrounds other members of her family, and no doubt she is grateful for this. She prefers to be in the mould of the old fashioned Royal who simply goes about her business without a fuss, raising money for good causes and generally encouraging others to do the same.

PRINCE William
With his 6ft 2in height and film star good looks, Prince William has succeeded in capturing the imagination of the younger generation in much the same way as his mother, Princess Diana, captivated the generation of the 1980s. Following school at Ludgrove School and Eton College, both in England, and a gap year abroad in Belize and Chile with Raleigh International, there was much debate as to what he should do next, but of his own choice, he is currently studying at St Andrews University in Fife.

He plays tennis, rows, bikes, skis, fishes and hunts. He began his four-year university course in autumn 2001. At first he studied art history, but in April this year it was reported that he was thinking of changing to geography degree. He was registered under the name “William of Wales” and has deliberately kept a low profile.

Like his father, William’s future is certain to be lived in the full glare of the public spotlight, but to some extent a truce has been called at St Andrews. He has relatives and family friends who live in the surrounding countryside, and this enables him to escape into a degree of normal life. The media has also agreed to respect William’s privacy while he remains an undergraduate.