Thursday, May 05, 2016

Flodden 1513

The most recent Scots Heritage Magazine has a piece on the feud between the Montgomery and Cunningham families in the 15th/16th centuries. It's a depressing story but I read it anyway: castles burned with folk inside them, a parade of individuals ambushed and murdered. Gory even for Scotland at this time. It went on until well into the 17th century (when James VI called a halt) but there was a pause in 1513 when, as the author Margaret Skea notes, "private grievances were set aside in the face of an English threat".

The Flodden Monument

Look into the history of any Scottish name and you will wince at what was lost at Flodden in 1513. Not just our best king since Robert the Bruce, but 10,000 men including most of Scotland's nobility. William Cunningham 1st Laird of Craigends, son of the first Earl of Glencairn, died (his father died fighting the English at Sauchieburn in 1488). Hugh Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Eglinton, fought and escaped. Their neighbour in the south west, David Kennedy, 1st Earl of Cassilis died.

Kings of Scots at this time struggled to make their writ run throughout what they considered to be their kingdom, but the Flodden dead came from all parts. Archibald Campbell 2nd Earl of Argyll and Hector, 9th Chief of Clan MacLean in the west; from the north William Sinclair 2nd Earl of Caithness; from the north east William Graham, 1st Earl of Montrose and both sons of William Keith, 3rd Earl Marischal.

Quite naturally most came from the Borders. Every year at Selkirk as part of the Common Riding celebrations, the town's Standard Bearer recalls Fletcher, the town's sole survivor, who returned with a captured English banner and when asked where the other men were, he silently laid it on the ground.
Selkirk Common Riding

I was at Flodden yesterday (it's about an hour from my house) on a fine spring afternoon. Between the monument and Branxton Hill is 'the boggy ground' where about 10,000 Scots died. Now it is drained and under efficient cultivation. A monument was erected nearby in 1910. The dozens killed in the Montgomery-Cunningham feud are inconsequential by comparison.

And if you ask what the battle was all about...it's complicated. James IV aimed to relieve pressure on his ally the King of France but Niall Barr in his excellent book on Flodden also notes, "James had achieved much in his reign, but he had never won a pitched battle - which remained the ultimate accolade for a Renaissance prince". We've had a few frustrated would-be princes ready to sacrifice lives in our 21st century too.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Scots who migrated to Bath.


The mineral-rich hot springs of Bath, Somerset, England still bubble away, as they did in Roman times. As they did in 1687 when Mary of Modena, wife of James II, visited there desperately hoping for a healthy child and nine months later James, father of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', was born. As they did when it was the most fashionable resort in Georgian times.

Unusually, I was in Bath over Hogmanay, attending a wedding in the wonderful 16th century abbey. Drawn back there next day my eye wandered over the 641 marble plaques on the walls and saw a remarkable number of Scots featured. I started to write down the details and whilst I certainly did not get them all, I noted 31; details are below (but 100% accuracy is not guaranteed).


Two of those so honoured are from Hawick, 330 miles from Bath. Two refer to Lord Reay whose seat was at Tongue on the north coast, 640 miles from Bath... big distances in the late 1700s! So what were they all doing there?

I have half an answer. Many were ex-military or ex-Civil Service and having served all round the world, joined others in fashionable Bath, inhabiting those famous Georgian houses and hoping that the curing waters would prolong their lives. I can also vouch for the fact that it is a little warmer there in winter. But still, if Scots lay claim to 5% of all the plaques, was fashionable Bath really 5% Scottish in the 18th century?


The list of those remembered in Bath Abbey (chronological order).

Margaret Pringle, daughter of Sir Robert Pringle of Stichill in the County of Teviotdale, in Scotland, Baronet and wife of William Drummond of Grange in the County of Stirling Esq, who died 26th August 1728, aged 48.

George Gordon of Gight in Aberdeenshire, died 9 January 1779.

Sir Patrick Houston of Houston in North Britain, Baronet who died 24 March 1785 in the 43rd year of his age.

Duncan Grant of Mullochard, North Britain, died 1 January 1788, aged 59.

John Hay Balfour Esq of Leys, Perthshire, North Britain who died 28 February 1791.

Charles Lockhart of Muiravonside in the County of Stirling, died 3 February 1796, aged 55.

Mrs Mary Fraser, died 25 July 1799, aged 60.

Adam Gordon of Lime Street London, 5th son of Charles Gordon Esq, of Abergeldie, in the county of Aberdeen, North Britain, died 28 May 1800, aged 42 years

Helen, Countess of Selkirk, relict of Dunbar Earl Selkirk, who died 29 November 1802, aged 65.

Alexander Ellice Esq, born Anchelys, Aberdeenshire June 15th 1743 and died at Bath, 28 September 1805. Anne, his widow, died at Bath April 30th 1847. Sacred also to the memory of Charles, son of Alexander and Anne Ellice. Born December 10th 1797, died March 10th 1799.

Mary Anne Leycester Sturt, youngest daughter of Thomas Lenox Napier Sturt & James, his wife. Died 19 February 1812, aged 2 years 5 months.

Alicia, Countess of Erroll, died 24 April 1812 in the 35th year of her age.

William Kennedy Lawrie of Red Castle, Galloway, late of St Thomas in East Jamaica, died 28 January 1811, aged 62.

John McDougall Vice Admiral of Red of His Majesty`s Fleet, died 21 November 1814, aged 66.

John Maclean Esq of Inverscardle, North Britain, died 27 April 1812, aged 72.

John White Melville of Bennochy and Strathkinnes in Fifeshire, Scotland, died 27 May, 1813, aged 59.

The Honourable Colonel Cosmo Gordon, brother of the late Earl of Aberdeen and Uncle to the present Duke of Gordon, died 27th February 1813 in his 76th year.

Colin Mackenzie, son of the late Sir Lewis Mackenzie of Scatewell, North Britain, died 3 February 1814, aged 66. Janet, relict of the above, died 19 July 1817 aged 57.

Lt General Elliot, late Commandant of Royal Marines, died 16th April 1820 in the 88th year of his age. 


John Campbell, 1st Lord Cawdor who died 1st June 1821 in the 68th year of his age.

Hugh Campbell Esq of Mayfield in the County of Ayr, North Britain, late Captain in His Majesty's 85th Regt. Died 5 January 1824, aged 51.

Mary, Countess Dowager of Kintore, died on the 30th of June 1826, aged 56 years.

John Ewart Christie, Royal Marines and late Lt Col of the Nithsdale Militia, died 27 July 1828, aged 74.

James Sholto Douglas Esq, died January 12 1830 Aged 72. Also of Anne Elizabeth his second daughter who died March 13th 1842.

William Murray Esq of Glencaird, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Died 14 April 1833, aged 83. 

Anne, widow of the Hon George Mackay and mother of Eric, 7th Lord Reay, died 15 March 1833, aged 82.


James Anderson Esq of Wilton Lodge, Roxburghshire, died 30 October 1833, aged 76.

David Monro Esq, formerly of Quebec, lower Canada. He died September 3rd 1834, aged 74 years.


Lt General Sir Thomas Dallas, GCB, died 12 August 1839. Anne, his widow, died 30 April 1847.

Col the Hon Aeneas Mackay, 3rd son of the 2nd Lord Reay who died in the service of the States General. His descendants settled in the Netherlands and to them the Scottish Barony descended in 1875.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

General Hugh Mercer: Jacobite, Doctor, Symbol of the American Revolution


General Hugh Mercer was a Jacobite who fought at the Battle of Culloden (1746) as a 20 year old surgeon and died as a general in George Washington's Continental Army, fatally wounded at the Battle of Princeton in 1777, now aged 51. Washington said of him, "In his experience and judgement you may repose great confidence."



From 1 April 2016 there will be a permanent exhibition at the Fraserburgh Heritage Centre (up on Scotland's North East Coast) highlighting this famous son of the area.

Born at Pitsligo Kirk Manse (near Fraserburgh) in 1726, he studied medicine at Marischal College Aberdeen from age 15. In 1745 he enlisted in the Jacobite Army (Pitsligo's Regiment of Horse) as a Surgeon. Fighting alongside him was his cousin, Thomas Mercer of Auchnacant, an Aide de Camp.

Following the disaster of Culloden, Mercer spent months in hiding, and in 1747 bought his way on to a ship and settled at Mercersburg, Pennsylvania where he practised medicine.

Eight years later, his taste for adventure resurfaced and he joined the British Army, not as a doctor but as an infantry officer, and was prominent in the struggle against the French for Fort Duquesne. Having captured the fort and (now renamed Fort Pitt, the origin of Pittsburg) in 1758 Colonel Mercer was left in charge and at one stage the new fort was recorded as 'Mercer's Fort'.

He returned to medicine in Fredericksburg Virginia where he married and had five children. At the outset of the Revolution in 1776, he joined George Washington and is credited with the plan to cross the iced over Delaware and surprise the British Army at Trenton. Next month, though, his brigade became separated from the main army on the way to Princetown and he died of his wounds. There is a memorial plaque outside the house where he died.



Amongst Mercer's many descendants was General George S. Patton Jr. of World War Two fame.

Some might comment that, although he looks very much a part of the establishment, he was a rebel all his life!

General Hugh Mercer Memorial Statue, Washington District, Fredericksburg, Virginia.






Thursday, August 06, 2015

Clashing Cultures

I watched episode nine of the Outlander TV series last night... where Jamie takes his belt to Claire for her disobedience: "You've done wrong to all the men and you must suffer for it". She then twice makes him promise, at the point of a dirk, never to do such a thing again. This tension between cultures is one of the charms of the books and Diana Gabaldon has put her finger on an enduring issue.

For Claire, an intelligent liberated woman of the 20th century, such barbarity is unacceptable, indeed contemptible. But, stripped of modern ethical standards, clan society in the 18th century worked pretty well, and Claire was operating in a cultural vacuum (her culture had not yet been born!).



The episode put me in mind of  Alistair Moffat's comments in his excellent book on Hadrian's Wall, on the relative barbarism of Romans and the invaded, artistic but illiterate Celts, "In AD 105 the Emperor Trajan sent 50,000 captives back to Rome to be butchered by gladiators for the amusement of spectators... very civilised".

Where a culture has superior military power, it somehow believes that its values are superior to those who are less developed, less able to defend themselves.

In 1919 the Aliab Dinka of Southern Sudan, naked, spear-carrying cattle herders were not paying their taxes and, when confronted, had the temerity to outwit the government forces and kill the provincial governor. The Lewis gun equipped punitive expedition burned villages and drove off 7000 cattle, sold to fund the occupying force. Who were the Barbarians?



Moffat also writes of the aftermath of Queen Boudica's rebellion, "Paullinus scoured the countryside for fugitives, allies, or even neutrals... smoke rose on every horizon as the soldiers punished southern Britain for daring to rebel". The same man dealt with the island of Anglesey, "In the days after the battle the killing went on: Paullinus ordered his men to cut down the sacred groves of oak trees on Mona, and as far as possible extirpate the cult of the druids".



The extirpation of a cult was more or less exactly what the Duke of Cumberland had in mind with his brutal and indiscriminate suppression of the Highlands in 1746. The violence and sense of superiority of the British Army of the day is only a little exaggerated in the TV series.

That was 270 years ago. But the conviction that more developed cultures are superior (and should be imposed) still endures.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Gallipoli 1915 and Culloden 1746

My adopted town of Hawick remembers its dead. In May I visited the Gallipoli peninsular, scene of a disastrous campaign in 1915, where there is a marble shield to the Hawick fallen. 86 Hawick men lost their lives on 12 July 1915 and each year there is a service of remembrance here. Today, the centenary, there was an expanded ceremony; each of the 86 names was read out, the Last Post sounded: They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old... 

The Hawick men were from 4th Battalion, Kings Own Scottish Borderers. They were ordered to take a non existent line of trenches and ended up milling around in the open under heavy machine gun and artillery fire. Only two officers ended the day uninjured; seventy men from a unit of about 700 were fit for duty next day.



There are many heart wrenching tales from Gallipoli. Many are scarcely believable accounts of sheltering for days in the baking sun behind rotting bodies (a ready breeding ground for millions of flies). But the story that particularly caught my attention was that of Brigadier Scott Moncrieff. At the Battle of Gully Ravine, he watched his men being cut to pieces as they attacked into Turkish machine gun fire. He was ordered to attack again and felt he had no choice but to be at the head of his men. He led them 'over the top' and was hit in the head by a bullet. The attack failed.

The grave of Brigadier Scott Moncrieff
It reminded me of Cameron of Lochiel ('The Gentle Lochiel') at the Battle of Culloden in 1746; he was a polyglot, expert forester and much respected clan chief. He must have known that, after the failure of the night attack, the situation at Culloden was hopeless. But all the same he bounded across that moor in his powdered wig, brandishing a broadsword, endeavouring to engage the British Army.

But Lochiel did not reach the government front line as his legs caught the grapeshot of their cannons; he was carried back to his home at Achnacarry and escaped to France where he died.

Cameron of Lochiel (1700 - 1748)
Both men willingly put themselves in certain mortal danger in a battle they knew would be lost, leading their men in the full knowledge that it was probably all in vain. It was their duty. Better to die a hero than live a coward.