Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remembrance Day

I was delighted to read that traffic in Inverness will stop for two minutes at 11.00 tomorrow, 11 November, to mark the memory of  all those servicemen who fell in the First World War and subsequent conflicts. This move which augments tributes that will be paid at War Memorials throughout the land this Sunday is a welcome move to bring this extraordinary sacrifice into people's daily lives.

I was at Eilean Donan Castle recently, looking at the memorial to the MacRaes who gave their lives in the two wars. I re-read the poem by John MacRae, a Canadian, which led to the poppy becoming the emblem of Remembrance:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; whilst in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amidst the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie
In Flanders fields. 

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, the British Army suffered nearly 60,000 casualties - that's nearly the population of Inverness.

I, too, will be pausing for two minutes at 11.00 tomorrow.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Guy Fawkes Day and the 'Winter Queen'

Today is an ideal Guy Fawkes Day - clear, crisp and a Saturday. There will be fireworks throughout the United Kingdom tonight and massive bonfires topped with a 'guy', a stuffed effigy of Guy Fawkes who, on 5 November 1605, hoped to make a bonfire of the Houses of Parliament thereby killing the king.

The king in question was King James VI of Scotland (right), son of Mary Queen of Scots, and recently crowned James I of England. Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were aggrieved that James, a Protestant (albeit with a Roman Catholic mother and wife) was not resisting anti-Catholic legislation.

The story twists and turns and is well told here and here. In essence the plot was that with the king and his elder son dead, his nine year old daughter Elizabeth would become Queen of a newly Catholic country. Well, Fawkes was discovered on 4 November and Elizabeth grew up to marry the German Frederick V, Elector Palatinate. For just a few months in the winter of 1619/1620 Frederick became King of Bohemia, and known as 'The Winter King'; thus Elisabeth acquired her moniker 'Winter Queen'.

Elisabeth, who was born in Falkland Palace in Fife and brought up at Linlithgow Palace near Edinburgh, would surely have considered herself a Scot; her portrait hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. It is therefore doubly ironic that Elizabeth whom Guy Fawkes wished to crown as a Catholic Queen is remembered principally as the Grandmother of George I, who was preferred to the Cathoic James Stuart, the exiled de jure king, when Queen Anne died in 1714. George, a Protestant, became the first monarch of the House of Hanover, leapfrogging more than 50 Roman Catholics who had a better claim to the throne! There followed 32 years of Jacobite Risings, seeking to right this perceived wrong.

Elizabeth died in England, whilst visiting her nephew Charles II who was fond of her and insisted that some of the 'barbarous' names in his new territories across the Atlantic were named after her, hence the Elizabeth River in Southeastern Virginia and Cape Elizabeth in Maine.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!