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Issue 64 - Sons of Scotland

Scotland Magazine Issue 64
August 2012

 

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Sons of Scotland

The Scots are of a creative and adventurous creed and it is hard to single out 10 examples of outstanding ability. There can be no doubt that the impact of the following on the history of Scotland has been genuinely impressive.

Sir William Wallace
(c1272-1305)
William Wallace's rise to iconic status has largely come about on the strength of a poem written by a fifteenth century poet known as Blind Harry. However, he was undoubtedly a major figure in defiance of Edward's I of England's determination to subjugate Scotland.. Born in Elderslie in Renfrewshire, the son of a minor landholder, Wallace emerged during an uprising against William de Haselrig, the English Sheriff of Lanark, in 1297. Leading a Scots army to vitory at the battle of Stirling Bridge that same year, he was granted the title Guardian of Scotland. Evading capture by the English until 1305, it was the sheer brutality of his execution ordered by Edward I that created the myths which surround him to this day.

Robert the Bruce
(1274-1329)
The eldest son of Robert de Brus, sixth Lord of Annandale, and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, was reluctant at first to pursue his destiny as King of Scots. For several years he played a two-sided game with Edward I of England to safeguard his English landholdings, but finally embraced the cause for Scottish Independence in 1298. Following the barbaric execution of William Wallace in 1305, and the altercation at Dumfries in which his fellow claimant and cousin John Comyn was killed, Bruce was crowned King of Scots at Scone on 25th March 1306. Edward I died in 1307 and seven years of guerilla war followed, but in 1314 the great English army led by Edward II was routed at Bannockburn. King Robert I thereafter reigned relatively unchallenged until his death in 1329.

John Knox
(c1514-1572)
Historians have not been kind to the father of the Presbyterian Church, but it is, perhaps, time for a reappraisal. Born in Haddington, Knox served as an alter boy in the Catholic Church, but was profoundly influenced by Protestant reformers such as Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. It was undoubtedly Wishart's brutal execution at St Andrews which turned Knox's religious allegiances, leading to his eighteen month sentence as a prisoner on the French galleys. Released, and finally returning to Scotland from exile in England in 1560, Knox became leader of the Reformation in Scotland.

James Graham, first Marquis of Montrose
(1612-1650)
Chief of Clan Graham and a scholar, poet and military strategist into the bargain, James Graham espoused the Covenanting Cause before switching his allegiances to Charles I during the English Civil War. Although he won a series of extraordinary battles over this period, it was his remarkable charisma and sense of decency and loyalty which have inspired his admirers, among them President John F. Kennedy. Betrayed, he died on the scaffold in Edinburgh at the age of 38.

Flora Macdonald
(1722-1780)
Had she refused to help the fugitive Prince Charles Edward Stuart escape from the English army after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in 1745, Flora Macdonald might only have been consigned to a footnote in history. Instead, although she spent only a week in the Prince's company, she became the “Heroine of the '45”. Her subsequent history is equally fascinating. After imprisonement in the Tower of London, she married her cousin and the family emigrated to America in 1774, only to become embroiled in the War of Independence. She returned to the Isle of Skye in 1779 Robert Burns (1759-1796) The son of a tenant farmer in Ayrshire, Robert Burns epitomises the son of the soil who was educated by his father and went on to capture the national mood of Scotland with his poetry and ballads, beginning with the Kilmarnock Edition published in 1786. His dashing good looks and love of the fairer sex led to him being lionised by contemporary society, but financial problems beset him and, having tried his hand at farming in Dumfriesshire, he became a exciseman. He died in poverty at the age of thirty seven but with the widespread relocation of Scots around the world, the celebration of his poetry took on a fresh impetus and societies commemorating his life were formed globally.

Sir Walter Scott
(1771-1932)
The son of a solicitor, and earning his living as a lawyer in Edinburgh, Walter Scott's first works The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border and The Lay of the Last Minstrel captured the popular imagination and his novels such as Waverley, Guy Mannering and Ivanhoewere widely read throughout Europe. He was the first best selling novelist, recreating a not entirely incorrect romantic mythology about Scotland and the Scots that has survived through the generations.

David Livingston
(1813-1873)
Born in the small mill town of Blantyre in Lanarkshire, Livingston enroled around 1839 as a Scottish Congregationalist pioneer medical missionary with the London Missionary Society. He was one of the first Europeans to make the journey across Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. In 1858, he headed the Zambezi Expedition, and in 1866 set off in search of the source of the River Nile, discovering instead Lake Malawi and the Victoria Falls. In 1869, he was famously encountered on the shores of Lake Tanganyika by the journalist Henry Morton Stanley who had been sent to find him by the New York Herald newspaper.

Sir James Young Simpson
(1811-1970)
James Young Simpson was born in Bathgate, Midlothian, the son of a baker who qualified as an accountant. Qualifying as a doctor at the age of eighteen, he moved into general practice and went on to become the Chair of Medicine and Midwifery at the University of Edinburgh. His greatest and most lasting achievement was in the introduction of chloroform for general medical use. Just imagine a world without anaesthetics and you will appreciate just what the modern world owes to him.

Alexander Graham Bell
(1847-1922)
Scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator, Bell was born in Edinburgh, son of a University professor. In 1870, the family moved to Canada. Having previously worked extensively with the deaf, Alexander became Professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory. In 1875, he developed an acoustic telegraph which is the forerunner of the modern telephone. The Bell Telephone Company was created in 1877, and in January 1915, Bell made the first ceremonial transcontinental telephone call.