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Issue 57 - Reclaiming the Past

Scotland Magazine Issue 57
June 2011

 

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Reclaiming the Past

Roddy looks at the part of the Scottish psyche that celebrates the past

Living in Scotland, the unfinished business of the past is never allowed to be forgotten. Some say that it is genetic; others that it is integral to the Scottish psyche. Whatever the reasons, there are always countless opportunities to pay homage to who we are, and to those who have made us what we are.
The current preoccupation of a Facebook friend is to have the letter of safe conduct granted to Scotland’s 13th century hero William Wallace by King Philip IV of France returned from London to be put on public display in the National Museum of Scotland.
A more ambitious plan, perhaps, is to have the fourth Earl of Bothwell, third husband of Mary Queen of Scots, brought back to Scotland from Denmark. The unfortunate Bothwell passed the remaining 10 years of his life chained to a pillar in a dungeon of Dragsholm Castle in Zeeland and, after his death in 1578, his embalmed body was preserved in a crypt in a church at Faarvejle. In the opinion of his direct descendant Sir Alistair Buchan-Hepburn, it is now time for the doomed Earl’s last wishes to be respected and for his remains to be brought home for burial at one of his former homes, Crichton Castle. So far, alas, Sir Alistair’s pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Similarly, there is a rather more unsuccessful movement who want the body parts of James IV brought back from England. Following the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513, a corpse identified as James was taken to London where the body was embalmed and gruesomely put on show in the monastery of Sheen, in Surrey. After the Reformation it disappeared, but was thought to have been interred in an anonymous grave at St Michael Wood Street, now the site of a large office block. An ignominious end for a great king if ever there was, and unlikely, short of a miracle, that anyone will ever be able to retrieve him.
On a more positive note, of course, there are already plans being evolved to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 2014 and, in 2012, alongside the Olympic Games in London, and Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Montrose Society intends to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose with a ceremony held in St Giles Kirk in Edinburgh.
In brief, this was a born leader of men, handsome but unassuming, with an ability to inspire his followers to extraordinary feats of endurance and achievement. Decency and honour were his core virtues, but sadly it was these same values that led to his downfall and early death on the scaffold at the age of 38. Whichever side you supported during Scotland’s Covenanting Wars and subsequent engagement with the English Civil War, nobody emerged from the snake pit of betrayal and intrigue with more dignity than Montrose. Loyal to the Stuart Monarchy, he was ultimately sacrificed for political expediency and met his end with remarkable stoicism.
His remains were thrown into a felon’s grave at the Boroughmuir but after the Restoration of 1659, Charles II had them exhumed and interred in St Giles, with a state funeral held to commemorate the deeds of this profoundly good and talented man.
Following the Gathering of the Clans held in Edinburgh in 2009, there was a grand march up the Royal Mile from Holyrood Park and onto the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. At the time it was humorously observed that as Clan Campbell led by the Duke of Argyll paraded into the High Street, there were boos from the crowd, no doubt reflecting upon the massacres at Toward Castle and Glencoe.
What many of the perpetrators were perhaps unaware of, I suspect, is that when Montrose was taken to his execution on that same street, his great enemy, the eighth Marquis of Argyll, the Campbell Chief of the day, had paid sums of gold to have the spectators shout insults at the condemned man.
Instead, they stood, their heads bowed in respectful silence. Eleven years later when the Marquis of Argyll was himself taken up that same street for execution, the crowd erupted in abuse.
Who says that history does not repeat itself?