Time To Join the Liberty Dance, Scotland

Jul 4, 2014 by

Today, July 4th, America celebrates our declaration of independence from the tyrannical rule of Britain. Though only a small colony with no standing army, America’s untried citizen-soldiers defeated the vaunted military might of the British Empire, showing the world that a strong, unbreakable desire for liberty can overcome against all odds.

During its history, Scotland has fought many bloody battles for freedom from Britain; unlike America, the Scots were never successful in using military force to achieve that liberty.   A rare democratic, non-military chance for Scottish independence is on the near horizon.   On September 18, 2014, Scotland’s citizens will vote yes or no in answer to this simple question:

should Scotland be an independent country?

indexamerica scotfreedom

Many, if not most, Americans–a large proportion of them with Scottish ancestry–if asked would likely tell the Scottish people that the benefits of independence far outweigh the supposed security of having another country make your decisions.   Nationhood is rough in the beginning, but all great things often start with a few missteps.  To paraphrase Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace : it’s been hard getting to the ceilidh, now it’s time to see if you can dance.

Time to rightfully claim your freedom, Scotland–vote AYE!

 

 

 

Here are some thoughtful comments about liberty, from famous Americans, Scotsmen, and one small Corsican fellow:

 

My Son, Freedom is best, I tell thee true, of all things to be won.
William Wallace, as quoted in William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland (1948) by Sir James Fergusson

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin, Memoirs of the Life & Writings of Benjamin Franklin

For so long as a hundred remain alive, we will never in any degree be subject to the domination of the English. Since it is not for glory, riches or honour that we fight but for liberty alone which no good man loses but with his life.
Scottish Declaration of Independence, letter to Pope John XXII sealed by the barons of Scotland at Arbroath Abbey, 6 April 1320

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty.
― Thomas Jefferson

I believe that every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist.
–John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir of Enfield (1875-1940)

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.
― Napoleon Bonaparte

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Scotland’s Dunnottar Castle

May 11, 2014 by

 

On the north east coast of Scotland, high atop a rocky headland on the North Sea, lie the ruins of a medieval fortress called Dùn Fhoithear. Known as Dunnottar in English, this famous castle is one of the most photographed in Scotland, and with good reason. The views of the castle from land and sea are simply stunning, calling up memories of ancient Picts, medieval Scottish knights and Jacobites, all of whom are connected to the site. Dunnottar was once controlled by the Keiths, who held the peerage title Earl Marischal until the lands and castle were seized by the Crown from the 10th Earl for his role in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. The castle essentially fell into disrepair until it was bought by the Cowdray family in 1925; the family still owns the castle, but it is open to the public.

 

 

The castle played a prominent role in the history of Scotland, and William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II all visited Dunnottar at some point during its storied history.

 

 

In November, 1651, Cromwell’s forces laid siege to the castle, seeking the Honours of Scotland (the regalia of crown, sword and sceptre) used during the coronation of Charles II at Scone castle earlier in 1651. The Dunnottar defenders held out for six months against a vastly superior force, until the Honours were safely smuggled out of the castle and secreted beneath the floor of a local church. The Honours, which are the oldest set of crown jewels in the British isles, are now on display at Edinburgh Castle.

 

 

Visitors to Dunnottar can walk from the nearby town of Stonehaven (about two miles) or drive to the small car park near the castle. You must then follow a footpath to the base of the castle headland, and climb a long, steep set of stone stairs to reach the castle grounds.

 

For more information about Dunnottar, its hours of operation and directions, click on the castle website HERE.

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Alexander the Fierce, King of the Scots

Jan 8, 2014 by

On January 8, 1107, Edgar I,  son of King Malcolm III and Margaret of Wessex, died in Edinburgh, Scotland.  At the time of his death, Edgar was unmarried and childless, therefore the crown of Scotland passed to his 29 year old brother, Alexander, who was crowned that same day as King Alexander I of Scotland.  Who was this young king, described by contemporaries as a bold and godly man?

Alexander I, King of Scotland 1107-1124 AD

Alexander I, King of Scotland 1107-1124 AD    image

Alexander (Medieval Gaelic: Alaxandair mac Maíl Coluim;Modern Scots Gaelic: Alasdair mac Mhaol Chaluim) was born in 1078, the fourth son of Malcolm III by his wife Margaret of Wessex, who would become Saint Margaret of Scotland in 1250. Upon the death of his older brother, Edgar I, Alexander became King of Scotland; in accordance with Edgar’s wishes, Alexander gave his younger brother, David, the lands of the former kingdom of Strathclyde, or Cumbria. David, the Prince of Cumbria as he was entitled, would go on to become King David I of Scotland after defeating Alexander’s illegitimate son, Malcolm, in battle.

Alexander was by all accounts a pious man, not surprising in light of his mother’s devotion to the Catholic Church. She was a devout Catholic and quite active in reforming the Celtic Church of Scotland along the lines of the continental Catholic Church.  Margaret practiced what she preached, so to speak, pursuing many activities on behalf of the poor and ill.  Alexander’s father, Malcolm III, was not nearly as religious, but indulged his wife in her daily prayers and devotionals and in her dedication to raising her sons to be just and holy rulers.  Alexander  may have been named in honor of Pope Alexander II, the leader of the Catholic Church, who had died just a few years earlier.

Saint Margaret of Scotland, as depicted in her chapel at Edinburgh Castle   image

Saint Margaret of Scotland, as depicted in her chapel at Edinburgh Castle image

Alexander established Augustinian priories at Scone and on Inchcolm Island, sometime between 1114 and 1124. He also appointed his mother’s chaplain and hagiographer, Thurgot, as Bishop of Saint Andrews (or Cell Rígmonaid) in 1107 and granted lands for a priory to be built there.

A king, however godly he may wish to be, must also be willing to raise his sword in defense of his kingdom, a royal duty Alexander understood and was more than willing to perform. In 1114, Alexander joined Henry I of England on his successful campaign against Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd, a powerful Celtic king of Wales. At some point during his reign, between 1107 and 1114, Alexander also married Henry’s illegitimate daughter, Sybillia de Normandy, a woman with both Viking and Cornish heritage. Henry was thus Alexander’s father-in-law, a distinction which may have influenced Alexander’s decision to fight on behalf of an English king.

Many Scottish chieftains had cause to despise Alexander, and there was no love lost between the Celtic Highlanders and the Anglo-Saxon influenced king.  Malcolm III, Alexander’s father, had wrested control of Scotland from King Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, better known by his Anglicized name, MacBeth–yes, THAT MacBeth,  title character in “the Scottish Play ” by Will Shakespeare.   MacBeth himself is a subject for another post, but let me quickly note that the play, while based on the historical MacBeth, is not an accurate account of either the man or his reign as the last Celtic King of Scotland.  That’s a good thing for Scottish history fans–trust me.

When men (not clearly identified in historical sources) from the Gaelic-speaking earldom of Moray (Moireabh in Scots Gaelic, pronounced Murray), in the northeastern Highlands of Scotland, attacked Alexander at his court in Invergowrie, he quickly pursued them north.  He was known for his fiery, energetic temper and  he ruthlessly quelled the nascent Celtic rebellion.  As a result of his actions against the Highlanders, he was nicknamed Alexander the Fierce, a fitting appellation for a warrior king of Scotland.

 

The reverse of the seal of Alexander I, enhanced as a 19th-century steel engraving.  Image

The reverse of the seal of Alexander I, enhanced as a 19th-century steel engraving.  Image

Alexander and Sybillia never had any children.   She died (the cause is unrecorded) in July 1122, on the tiny island of Eilean nam Ban (Eilean nan Bannoamh: “Isle of the female saints”) in Loch Tay, and Alexander founded a priory on the island in her memory.  She was buried in Dunfermline Abbey, Fife.  Alexander did not remarry.

Alexander did have an illegitmate son, Malcolm (Medieval Gaelic: Máel Coluim mac Alaxandair or Máel Coluim mac Alasdair) who challenged his uncle, David I, for the Scottish throne after Alexander’s death.  Malcolm is a relatively obscure figure, mostly due to the scarcity of source material, which appears only in pro-David,  English sources.   I could find no source that identified Malcolm’s mother or her connection to Alexander.

The end of Alexander’s seventeen year reign as King of Scotland came on April 27, 1124, when he died at Stirling.  He was 46 years old.

In addition to the continuation of his mother’s reforms of the Celtic Church in Scotland and his own devout support of the Church, Alexander is remembered for his reforms amongst the governing civil authorities of the day.  He continued the changes begun in his predecessor’s reign, bringing most of Scotland into conformity with the types of high offices used in England:

  “…the whole of Scotland, with the exception of what had formed the kingdom of Thorfinn (during the Norwegian conquest consisting of the Orkneys, the Hebrides, and a large portion of the Highlands), exhibited the exact counterpart of Saxon England, with its earls, thanes, and sheriffs, while the rest of the country remained in the possession of the Gaelic Maormors, who yielded so far to Saxon influence as to assume the Saxon title of earl.”

History of Highlanders, Their Origin, History and Antiquities, Vol I, p.128, by William F. Skene, 1837

 

 

Alexander also encouraged Scottish trade with other countries, even distant and exotic Asian lands.  His court, like that that of his father’s, was a far stretch from the “barbarous” courts of early Scottish kings and chieftains.   Alexander dressed in silks, jewels and finery from around the world, and members of the Scottish nobility followed suit.  More trading with foreign lands led to a need for more royal coinage. Some of the oldest Scottish coinage dates to Alexander’s reign, when commerce began to flourish along Scotland’s coasts and border areas. The silver pennies of Alexander I are some of the most ancient coins and are extremely rare.

Can we conclude that Alexander the Fierce was an important ruler of medieval Scotland, worthy of remembrance?  Scholars generally seem to view his reign favorably, especially the religious and secular changes he brought about in Scotland.   His granting of Scottish border lands in the south to his younger brother David, however, and Alexander’s swift and harsh reprisal against Highland challenge to his authority over the northern portion of Scotland should be noted.  The historic disjunction of these two parts of Scotland aided David’s relatively bloodless transition as successor,  but it further deepened the division between the Celtic, Gaelic-speaking Highlanders and the Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking Lowland Scots,who made up the majority of the noble rulers of Scotland.  Highland Scotland continued to resist  the degradation of their Celtic heritage, while the rest of the country continued on their course towards English allegiances, lifestyles and, ultimately, English rule.

So, Scottish history buffs, I say keep Alexander I in your to-be-studied pile, but remember that this medieval king is not on a level with truly famous Scotsmen such as William Wallace, Rob Roy or Robert the Bruce.  I give Alexander credit for fierceness, but he sadly lacks in heroic qualities–Hollywood won’t be making an epic based on this historical Scotsman.

Sources:

www.britroyals.com

The Scottish Nation: Alexander (ElectricScotland.com)

www.wikipedia.com

Story of Scotland, Chapter Five: Scotland Under MacBeth Successors, by Robert Gunn

 

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