Big Sam, the affable giant

Big Sam was born in 1762, and raised in Lairg in Sutherland. A noted “strongman”, when he came of age, he first joined the 2nd Sutherland Fencibles in 1779, and then, in 1791, he went on to join the Royal Scots, wherein he served as their Drill-leader. He was then employed as a porter for the prince of Wales sometime later. And because of his giant stature, meantime, he had even appeared as Hercules in a play at Drury lane Theatre; his formidable bulk and countenance perfectly suitable for the role. Eventually, after leaving behind the glamour of show business, he had then enlisted with the 93rd Sutherland regiment, where he would go on to serve until his death. Though during his time as an enlisted soldier, and thanks to his great stature, he was often regulated to the side of any formation of troops, and handpicked to lead the regimental mascot, a deer. The big-yin’s image was even used as a recruiting tool, where it was plastered across recruiting posters throughout Scotland, and the rest of Britain. Though as hard as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to track down any images of those posters, so here’s this one instead:

“Here we, here we, here we fuckin’ go! Lets go, lets go, lets go fuckin’ mental!” – Traditional Ned fighting song.

Now, being the giant that he was, Sam often found himself, of course, as the center of attention wherever he went. And in one instance, the countess of Sutherland, so taken by his height and breadth upon sighting him and hearing of his exploits, declared then that he should be paid two shillings and a six pence more a day than the average man, solely to satisfy the appetite he must surely have possessed.

Benandonner and Finn McCool
Benandonner V Finn McCool 2.0. Picture this, only with Benandonner not on his knees, but about to defeat Finn with a handshake.

And in yet another account of the affable giant, Big Sam, whilst on duty in Ireland, was said to have been challenged to a fist-fight, by an equally massive Irishman. However, Sam being the gentleman that he was, had insisted that they shake hands first. The Irishman agreed, and so took Sam’s hand, only to have the very blood crushed from his fingers until his entire hand was said to have run pale, and then numb. The Irish “giant” was understandably quick to back down as a result.

And whilst still stationed in Ireland, another tale concerning him and an Irishman took place, though this time in a butchers shop in Dublin. There, the owner had flat-out refused to believe any of the stories of Sam’s great strength, and thus, duly challenged him to carry a Bullock all the way back and to his barracks, which, were situated more than two miles away. And, If he did? He would get the entirety of his order for free. Of course, Big Sam would never allow the weight of a small cow to stand in the way of himself and a good meal, and so did indeed carry that beast all the way back to his barracks, and without even stopping once on the way.

carrying a coo
An artists recreation. That artist was me…

But, the best example of what kind of a man Big Sam was, comes from his own camp mates. Assigned to guard duty on one especially cold winters night, he had been ordered to guard a cannon. And there, in the freezing cold, he guarded that cannon for several hours, stuck there alone in the dead of night with neither fire, nor friend for company. After a while however, he understandably grew tired of his situation. Weary of the cold and the solitude, he had reasoned that he was left with only choice, and so, bending down, he then wrenched the whole cannon up and out from its placement. Unassisted, he then carried the weapon (that could have weighed up to 3,400 lbs) all the way to the nearest guardhouse; guided only by the warm glow of the campfire’s light outside of it. And when the incredulous guardsmen noticed his approach, and then rushed out to question him likewise dumbfounded, Big Sam was said to have Remarked, and rather earnestly, that he could guard the cannon just as well here by the fire, as he could over there; a door stop-like thumb casually thrust back over his shoulder toward where he had just come.

Cinead MacAlpin.


Melrose Abbey

An Introduction

The story of Melrose Abbey extends back to sometime before 650AD, though its origins are at a place now known as Old Melrose (called Mailros at the time) which stands in a loop of the River Tweed, some two and a half miles east of the present day monastery. It was here that St Aidan of Lindisfarne established a monastery, to which he brought monks from St Columba’s monastery on Iona. The most notable monk to emerge from this original monastery was one St Cuthbert, who would later be appointed as Prior of Lindisfarne in England. St Cuthbert was descended of old Gaelic/Northumbrian stock, but was born in Scotland; despite going on to become a legendary and prominent figure throughout northern England sometime after.

The abbey at Mailros, or Old Melrose, was destroyed by the hero Kenneth Mac Alpin, King of the Scots, in 839. As one last act of his reign, he had ordered the destruction of Mailros. Though this act leaves one to wonder as to what offence the abbey had given, to cause a Christian king reason to attack; most likely, like at the sacking of Dunbar and several other areas of ancient Northumbria, Eldunum near Mailros was still a Centre of political/monastic Northumbrian resistance to the encroaching domination of the native Northern/ Southern Picts, as well as the Gaels of Dal Riada, and so; although a place of Christian worship, those who worshipped within were still enemy to the burgeoning Scottish race, and were thus quite rightly put to sword and flame.

The campaigns of annexation likely continued on for nearly 150 years afterwards, until the battle of Carham in 1018, wherein a stunning defeat for the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria had resulted in the pushing back of the Anglo-Scottish border down across the Cheviot Hills, roughly, to where it lies today; Anglo-Saxon influence in the area all but eradicated when the Scottish Kingdom swiftly subsumed that tiny south-eastern corner of what would become Scotland. Yet despite such destruction, there is still some evidence to suggest that the site was, in an ironic twist, used at later stages as a place of retreat in such times as war and hardship, and it is possible that a small church even continued to be in use there for centuries after the original monastery’s destruction.

The Birth of Scotland’s Greatest Abbey

Melrose Abbey in 1800 when part of the abbey was still in use as the parish church
Melrose Abbey in 1800 when part of the abbey was still in use as the parish church

It was King David I, who had actually founded Scotland’s first Cistercian monastery on the site we know today, Melrose Abbey, in 1136. And at one time, Melrose had the largest flock of sheep of any of the religious houses in the country; some fifteen thousand by 1370; the wool produced even being sold as far afield as the Low Countries and Italy. Now, being so close to the border, and owning around 22,000 acres of land in the Borders and elsewhere, Melrose was to suffer greatly at the hands of countless English armies during much of the Middle Ages; as a center of commerce, and therefore wealth, the abbey was a natural target for invading armies, with Melrose being sacked on at least four occasions; at one point, even being largely destroyed by Richard II’s English army in 1385.

However, despite its often bloody existence, it was rebuilt entirely by the mid-1380s, and was then used as an abbey continuously until the Protestant Reformation of 1560. After which, religion in Scotland was fundamentally changed, and the Abbey was then under the administration of lay Commendators. Instead of the monks being able to administer the revenue generated by the Abbey as they saw fit, the money was put to other uses by the Commendators. But, despite their ill treatment, the existing monks were allowed to stay on, and right up until the last of their order died in 1590. Shortly after this, the Abbey had become all but abandoned, and so much so, that many a villager was reported to have begun using its fine stone as a source of building material for the nearby town.

Melrose Abbey south Transpet postcard ca. 1870's-80's
Melrose Abbey south Transept postcard ca. 1870’s-80’s

The surviving remains of the church as seen today, are of the early 1400’s, and are of an elegance unsurpassed in all of Scotland, incorporating graceful architecture and ethereal design, to arguably stands as Britain’s finest example of monastic architecture from the late 1300’s; with many a peculiarity and quirk abounding within its exquisite form; somewhat mirroring the renowned Scottish sense of humor; including, perhaps, its most sought after and best known resident: the Bagpiping Melrose pig.

early 20th centuary photo of bagpiping Melrose pig
The earliest evidence in Scotland for the bagpipe in a recognizable form is through the carvings on medieval church buildings like the one above.

Heart of the Abbey

Originally, the Abbey building would have been a magnificent one indeed; richly decorated using lime washes, both inside and out, and with a multitude of saintly statues located in the now vacant niches, which would have been similarly painted. This would truly have been a shining beacon in the surrounding countryside. Fortunately however, the remains of a few of those statues do in fact remain, and can still be seen today, especially above the east window, though all is much a shadow of its former self.

A truly fascinating place; Melrose Abbey is filled with myths and history; from the turbulent periods through which it survived, to the mysteries of those who lie there, and by its sweeping architectural splendor; and all of which is woven together by Sir Walter Scott’s gentle hand in such a way as to capture the magic of that serene ruin in poignant, yet rustic fashion. Ghosts and legends are interspersed among the remains of Kings and wizards, and all to wait eternity amid derelict magnificence. Below, are just a few of those myths and legends.

An interior view of the abbey, 1835
An interior view of the abbey, 1835

A Stake through the Heart

The following is a tale from the mid-1100’s, and goes as such: Some time ago, it was said, there had been a priest who, during his life, had spent most of his time chasing worldly pleasures, whilst neglecting his religious duties in favor of such sins. His love for dogs and hunting had even earned him the name of “Hundeprest” or “Dog Priest”. Upon his death, he was then buried in Melrose Abbey. And for a time, all was quiet after his internment, when suddenly; he had begun to leave his grave at night, to stalk the nearby nunnery in search of blood. But, when he found that the monks who were at first aware of his presence, were in fact not frightened by his appearance in the least, he thus so emboldened, that he had then went to visit the bedchamber of his former mistress. This Lady was, however, utterly terrified by these nightly visits from her undead suitor, and so sought out the help of his mortal colleagues.

Four of the monks then resolved to guard the grave of the priest for several nights following; praying, fasting and even challenging the ghoul to rise and confront them. Yet, nothing happened, and so three of them then decided to return back inside the Abbey, leaving only one monk to stay at the graveside. As soon as the other monks had left, the dead priest rose out of his grave; clawing across the soil as it dragged its swollen trunk from the coffin. The young monk, startled yet resolute, swiftly struck off the ghoul’s head with his axe, upon which the body of the priest quickly retreated back into its grave, with its head tumbling in before the brave monk could seize it. The other monks had now returned, drawn toward the brief sound of a scuffle, and together they were able to pry open the grave, wherein they discovered the slain monster with “a great quantity of gore” still running from its neck. The corpse of the vampire was quickly dragged outside of the Abbey’s walls, and then cast into a great roaring fire, after which, its ashes were said to have been lifted into the night, and scattered over the Lammermuir Hills by the wind.

Today, there have even been reports from some, of a group of wandering monks who are glimpsed moving steadily throughout the abbey grounds. Perhaps, even now, those brave monks still patrol the Abbey’s grounds to protect the locals from the vampire, whose wraith is also said to be encountered.

Currier & Ives (American, 1834-1907)
Currier & Ives (American, 1834-1907)

The Heart of Madness

To full convey the legend that was Sir Michael Scot, would be an impossible task for I, and would surely never fit into any one post either, nevertheless; there have been a few sightings which are believed to link the ‘Scottish Wizard‘, whose fame not only earned him a place in Dante’s Inferno, but Cornelius Agrippa’s: De occulta philosophie, as well; with that of the wondrous Melrose Abbey. The connection is short, though nonetheless:

He is reported to haunt only his own grave, and it is thought that he does so, drawn there time and again, by his book of wizardry for which he has long since lost, but which was said to have been buried somewhere within the abbey grounds “on a night of woe and dread

The Wizard of the North” is also credited variously with being Scotland’s first scientist, alchemist, sorcerer and astronomer; in life, he was rumored to have practiced black magic, and of having been possessed of a deep understanding of the wider black arts in general. He could even fly, it was noted; which would explain nicely how he was also single-highhandedly responsible for building Hadrian’s Wall.

That other there, his flanks extremely spare,
was Michael Scot, a man who certainly
knew how the game of magic fraud was played.” – Dante’s Inferno.

sir michael Scot
Tomb of Sir Michael Scot

The Heart of a King

And lastly, the heart of the Bruce is thought to have been buried in the church grounds after having been brought back from crusades, along with the bones of Sir James Douglas and the other Scottish Knights who had accompanied the latter. An excavation had subsequently unearthed a conical lead container in 1921, and which bore an engraved copper plaque that read “The enclosed leaden casket containing a heart was found beneath Chapter House floor, March 1921, by His Majesty’s Office of Works.” And so, with no other records of anyone else’s heart having been buried at Melrose Abbey, that invaluable casket, coupled with the existing legend, seem to corroborate one another in the absence of solid fact. Yet some would argue that no King should have his heart buried anywhere other than beneath the altar of a church; it is only his heart, however, which was buried there, with his earthly remains already interred within Dunfermline Abbey in a sublime marble tomb.

Bruce heart
The Bruce Heart’s Burial Marker

In The End

As mentioned above, the final attack on the Abbey came in 1545, when the Earl of Hertford bombarded the site with cannon. Hertford was carrying out the orders of Henry VIII of England, who had wanted Queen Mary to marry his son, Prince Edward, and thus secure himself sovereignty over the Scots. After that fateful attack had taken its toll, the Abbey, now crippled, was never again rebuilt to its former beauty. A fat, petulant tyrant destroying something more beautiful, precious, and worthwhile than anything his ilk could ever hope to conceive, and all on a whim.

If thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright. Go visit it by the pale moonlight-‘ Sir Walter Scott: Melrose Abbey.

Melrose Abbey engraving of interior view of west window with figures. Titled ' Melrose Abbey. Drawn by D. Roberts, engraved by T. Jeavons.'
Melrose Abbey engraving of interior view of west window with figures. Titled: ‘ Melrose Abbey. Drawn by D. Roberts, engraved by T. Jeavons.’

Thankfully, having outlived the tyrant who would have reduced it to a pile of rubble; and whilst his bones turn to dust in his grave; Melrose yet stands, and continues to inspire.

Cinead MacAlpin.

The Four Stages Behind the Union Of 1707

Foreword: Since its inception, the union was never great, nor was it anything close to a uniting of two nations and their populations. It was the cementing of alliances among the elite; more civilians meant more manpower, labor force and soldiery. More manpower, laborers and soldiery meant further expansions within trade, markets and influence i.e. an expanding empire and an expanding purse for those who helmed it. No one wanted this union, not we Scots, nor even the English. Remember, in the 1700’s, if you were to tell a man that in Africa elephants walked backwards, and that lions rode zebras, it would have been nigh impossible for that man to refute you. But, when you control the media; pamphlets and printing presses; broadcasting institutions/propaganda mills; then you control the narrative, and can structure it around however many lies you so please. And in 1700’s Scotland; Elephants most definitely walked backwards for much of that century.

Stage One: deception

In the early years of the eighteenth century, resentment was running high between Scotland and England. Each country had enacted laws that angered the other; the English Act of Settlement in 1701, the Scottish Act of Security in 1703, and finally, England’s Alien Act of 1705, which threatened Scottish people with the status of aliens, as well as a restriction on trade, if they did not accept the English choice for the throne. Something needed to be done. A commission was created to consider the terms of a union between the two nations, and they met on April 16, 1706. But, even whilst the official cogs were turning within the rickety machine of half-hearted diplomacy, and both nations entertained the thin pretense of parliamentary procedure; the games played between Kingdoms would ever involve spies and deception; and so enter, one Daniel Defoe.

Defoe, an accomplished writer, adventurer and journalist, had been rescued from prison, and then enlisted by one, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, and spymaster for the English Government, and then tasked to travel north and infiltrate Scottish society; using his evident wiles to try and sway public opinion in favor of the idea of a union, by any means; and so begun Defoe’s nefarious campaign.

First, through The Review, and other pamphlets aimed at changing English opinion on the matter of a union, he had claimed that it would not only end the threat from the north; gaining for the Treasury an “inexhaustible treasury of men” in the process; but would also open up a valuable new market for increasing the power of their nation. By September 1706, Harley had ordered him to Edinburgh, as a secret agent sworn to do everything possible to secure acceptance of the Treaty of Union from the people. And he was certainly conscious of the risk to himself that such an endeavor invited, for in his first few reports, he had included several vivid descriptions of violent demonstrations taking place throughout the city, against the Union; Glasgow even requiring government troops to put down the rioters tearing up copies of the Treaty at almost every mercat cross (Scots: Market cross) in Scotland. When Defoe, the ever astute liar that he was, visited the city in the mid-1720s, his explanation for the troubles was that the hostility towards his party came about, “because they were English and because of the Union, which they were almost universally exclaimed against”

He also claimed: “A Scots rabble is the worst of its kind”. Years later, John Clerk of Penicuik, a leading Unionist, had written in his memoirs that it was not known at the time that Defoe had been an English spy, stating:

… to give a faithful account to him from time to time how everything past here. He was therefor a spy among us, but not known to be such, otherways the Mob of Edin would had pulled him to pieces.

Now, as a Presbyterian who had suffered in England for his beliefs, Defoe had been able to utilize this as a means of not only infiltrating the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as an adviser, but the committees of the Parliament of Scotland as well. He told Harley later, that he was “privy to all their folly” but, “Perfectly unsuspected as with corresponding with anybody in England”. As a result of this, he was in a position to manipulate, and influence the proposals that were put to Parliament. His next report reflects this:

Having had the honour to be always sent for the committee to whom these amendments were referrèd, I have had the good fortune to break their measures in two particulars via the bounty on Corn and proportion of the Excise.

Stage Two: propaganda

During his time weaving a web of lies in Scotland, it should also be noted that he had used radically different arguments and persuasions upon the populace, than those he had deployed when in England; usually ignoring the English doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament altogether, he would expound upon the Scots the guarantees in the Treaty, and of the benevolence and sincerity of the English government. The fact that he had needed to address these points so strenuously, and tackle them first and foremost, where as in England he had simply needed to remind them that Scots made good shock troops, is evidence of not only the resistance to the idea of union in Scotland, but of the machinations, down to the lowest man, of the English.

Some of his pamphlets championing the union were even purported to have been written by Scots, and would go on to subsequently mislead even reputable historians into quoting them as evidence of Scottish opinion of the time; that they were in fact favorable of it, when they simply weren’t. The same is true of a massive history of the Union which Defoe published in 1709, and which some historians still treat as a valuable source for the thoughts of that period. In these, Defoe had always taken great pains to try and present his ‘history’ with an veneer of objectivity; giving some room for arguments against the Union, but always having the last word for himself; setting up strawmen that he could easily set alight with predetermined counter arguments.

Fortunately, this snake received very little reward from his paymasters, and of course, no recognition for his services to his government. But, he did manage to use experiences in Scotland to write his Tour thro’ the whole Island of Great Britain, published in 1726, wherein he even admitted that the increase of trade and population in Scotland, which he had so erroneously predicted as a consequence of the Union, was “not the case, but rather the contrary”. But hey; at least he got a book deal out of the whole ordeal.

“For every one in favour of the union there are ninety-nine against it”- Daniel Defoe.

The Lies and Coercion’s from the Author of Robinson Crusoe

An Essay, at Removing National Prejudices, against a Union with England. Part III. London, 1706.

An Essay, at Removing National Prejudices, against a Union with England. Part III. London, 1706.

After Defoe’s first two pamphlets were reprinted in Edinburgh, opponents used them to try to show that all the advantages would go to England. And so here, the focus shifts to the Scots in an attempt to allay their fears that their church would be weakened. While Defoe does concede that Scottish political power will be weakened with the loss of their own parliament, he argued that the influx of manufacturing and trade into Scotland would more than compensate for such a loss.

Hint: now one problem I have with his argument is this: What good is money to a country’s economy, when they don’t have a parliament to administer over it?

A Fourth Essay, at Removing National Prejudices; with some Reply to Mr. H- – -dges and some other Authors, Who have Printed their Objections against an Union with England. [Edinburgh], 1706.

fourth essay

James Hodges wrote several essays, including The Rights and Interests of the Two British Monarchies, in opposition to the Union. Defoe’s reply argues that the parliaments of each country do have the right to make such a Union. Against those who would say that England is too immoral a nation to ally with, Defoe rejoices that the Union’s opponents are reduced to such ridiculous arguments, for it shows that there really is no major obstacle against the treaty. He does still, however, provide some evidence that “England, Bad as she is, is yet a Reforming Nation.”

Hint: see, what he does here, is acknowledges the idea of an untrustworthy England, an immoral and sinful country; essentially taking the side of Scotland by ingratiate himself to the side of the objector, but then ridicules him, as if to say, well, there’s bigger issues to deal with, so let’s just forget about this particularly silly notion, eh; therefor presenting it as nothing more than silliness, foolishness.

A Fifth Essay, at Removing National Prejudices; with a Reply to Some Authors, who have Printed their Objections against an Union with England. [Edinburgh], 1707.

According to Defoe, neither the fourth nor this fifth essay on the Union was planned beforehand. Instead, each was written out of a need to respond to those who continue to raise objections, whether “only to oppose the Thing in General, and prevent the Uniting the Nations on any Terms whatever, or those which are really offered from honest Scruple at the Particulars.”

Hint: Each rebuttal was actually him, and presenting an opinion that he had already crafted a reply to. That way, those who dissented were hoodwinked into thinking their protests were actually being addressed, when in reality, much of the narrative against the union being roundly publicized, was in fact, being controlled and manipulated by Defoe himself.

Two Great Questions Considered, I. What is the Obligation of Parliaments to the Addresses or Petitions of the People, and what the Duty of the Addressers? II. Whether the Obligation of the Covenant or other National Engagements, is Concern’d in the Treaty of Union? Being a Sixth Essay at Removing National Prejudices against the Union. [Edinburgh], 1707.

In this final essay, Defoe addressed what he considered the improper behavior of some who would petition parliament against the union. Parliaments are bound to hear petitions, but they are not bound to agree to or act on them, and the people have no right to press the matter.

Hint: The parliament serves the people, not the other way around. But by shaming the dissenter in such a fashion; reminding the plebs of their subservient station, and of their ignorance to such lofty matters; who of any great merit would challenge his opinion, and been seen to take the side of the common, uneducated, and filthy rabble, over the splendor and right of parliamentary procedure.

The second issue he tackles is whether persons, who have taken oaths to Scotland, or to the Church of Scotland, could agree to the Union without perjuring themselves. Defoe says that these oaths in no way prevent them from uniting with England, and that those who say so are merely trying to frighten “Innocent People from joining in the Good of their Native Country”.

Hint: By portraying opposes views as though they belong within some shady group of nefarious individuals, and by presenting the reader, in their own mind, as an “Innocent” and the union as being in “the Good of their Native Country” Defoe simply employs a kind of No true Scotsman fallacy.

Public Opinion

Although the 1707 settlement took the form of a complete ‘incorporating’ union between the two parliaments, many Scots preferred some sort of federal arrangement. There was even discussion of whether Scotland should unite with the Dutch Republic, rather than the English.

Speeches by politicians in the Scottish, and English parliaments were published, alongside religious sermons on the question of union. But, even though the Union did eventually come into force on the 1st of May, 1707, the controversy of it continued. Seven years later, George Lockhart of Carnwarth, a pro-Stuart MP who had opposed the Union, published his influential Memoirs of the Affairs of Scotland. This work helped to cement the image of Scottish independence betrayed by corrupt Scots politicians, such as Queen Anne’s chief minister in Scotland, James Douglas, Duke of Queensberry. Sir George Lockhart, the only member of the Scottish negotiating team against union, noted that “The whole nation appears against the Union” and even Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an ardent pro-unionist and Union negotiator, observed that the treaty was “contrary to the inclinations of at least three-fourths of the Kingdom“. Public opinion against the Treaty as it passed through the Scottish Parliament was voiced through petitions from shires, burghs, presbyteries and parishes all across the country. The Convention of Royal Burghs also petitioned against the Union:

That it is our indispensable duty to signify to your grace that, as we are not against an honourable and safe union with England far less can we expect to have the condition of the people of Scotland, with relation to these great concerns, made better and improved without a Scots Parliament.

Furthermore, not one single petition in favor of an incorporating union with England was received by Parliament; so much was the support against it. On the day the treaty was actually signed, threats of widespread civil unrest resulted in Parliament imposing martial law. The immediate fallout of the Union ranged from complex arrangements for the adoption of English currency in Scotland, to proclamations ordering the suppression of anti-Union demonstrations in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dumfries.

In late 1706, crowds in Dumfries were observed “insolently burning, in the face of the Sun and the presence of the Magistrates, the Articles of Treaty betwixt our two Kingdoms“. An official clampdown was ordered through proclamations posted to mercat crosses throughout Scotland outlawing all “Tumultuary and Irregular Meetings“. So far, it doesn’t seem like the majority of Scotland ever wanted this horrible union, not before, nor afterwards.

Stage Three: an insidious encroachment fostered Upon the Nation

Though the outcome of the 1707 Union is usually viewed in the terms of elite politics, its influence was soon felt in everyday life as well. Even the way in which Scots measured their food and drink had changed, with the introduction of English weights and measures in an effort to standardize and regulate the economy with that of England’s. The Union not only changed the infrastructure of Scotland, but altered it in other more subtle ways; though retaining many of its pre-existing intellectual, economic and religious links with Europe; Scotland had become increasingly influenced by English trends, such as the fifteen, of twenty-five separate articles of agreement which dealt with economic matters. Articles 16 and 17 of which, had an immediate impact on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Scots, altering how they standardized the weighing of goods, measurements, and how it was all paid for; such as the proclamation concerning the adoption in Scotland of English silver-money; with coins still being minted in Edinburgh, indicated by the letter ‘E’, which of course, continued for only two more years, despite the provision in Article 16 that a mint would be maintained in Scotland. It was not. The abolition of the Scottish Privy Council, increased taxes on a number of goods, and the very real threat to the predominance of the Presbyterian Kirk also occurred; all of which, were in direct contravention of the agreed upon articles of union.

coin 1
coin minted in Edinburgh, from that period

In short, all of this unfolded, bit by bit, slowly and methodically, and against the will of the people, until eventually even Scotland itself was gradually re-interpreted as ‘North Britain’ as a result; a country with neither parliament, nor name.

Map by the Dutch cartographer, Herman Moll. The work was for John Erskine, earl of Mar, who had helped persuade the Scottish parliament in favor of union. But, in a twist of irony, however; a year later, Mar actually led the 1715 Jacobite revolt.

Stage Four: deathblow

The eventual consolidation of the Union should not disguise the fact that it had still faced a multitude of serious challenges in the decades after 1707, what with the Stuart-led Jacobite risings still sweeping across the nation, as well civic unrest and dissent amongst the general population; intermittent support from enemies of the new British state, such as Spain, France, Russia and Sweden, no doubt also helping to fan the flames of Jacobite passions. Then, with the death of King James VII and II, the leadership of such struggles was passed on to his son, James VIII & III, or: the ‘Old Pretender’.

coin 2
Contrast the above map, with this Stuart coin, where Scotland remains Scotland, whilst only England is named Brit i.e. British; Declaring, essentially, that should the Stuarts be restored, Scotland would retain its sovereignty in any potential union. There would have been no ‘North Britain’ had the Stuart claim been successful.

And as a result, the next three decades following 1707, were to witness political upheaval, and needlessly bloody conflict, and all whilst the powers at be still sought to figure out what form the union would even take. Either way, with the subsequent defeat of the Jacobite forces in 1715, 1719, and then the eventual suppression of the movement entirely in 1746; the union, for the most part, had been cemented for ever after. But although the exiled Stuarts had promised to annul the Union, they still in fact remained committed to the idea of monarchical union of the kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland. And so it seems for many, that their banner was the better of two evils on which to attach their cause.

Now, the Jacobite risings are often portrayed as a war, or rebellion, by those who sought the restoration of the Scottish parliament, and thus sovereignty, with those whose allegiances now lay with the newly minted British state. But, in many ways, both sides were ultimately unionist in their goals. The Stuarts, as mentioned above, had sought to become Monarchs of not just Scotland, but the whole united country; though promising the Scots the freedom of parliament, church and law, from that of England in any such union. And then, only to complicate matters further still, with the succession of a German dynasty, the Hanoverians, to the throne in 1714, Britain’s relationship with a number of European powers was greatly soured; further undermining the legitimacy of the union in the eyes of many Scots. Over the next few decades, Britain then found itself in dispute with not only Russia, but Sweden, and Spain, and so for Scots still unhappy at the loss of independence; Jacobitism must surely have seemed like the only efficient means of reversing the tumultuous 1707 agreement, and removing Scotland from the entire dangerous fiasco.

broadsword Jacobite

The above Basket-hilted broadsword is a not only a perfect example of the Jacobite commitment to ending the Union through definite means, but also as an illustration of the above statement; the enduring sense of Scottish nationhood evidently first and foremost in the hearts of many supporters of the exiled Stuarts, for on both sides of the blade were once highly detailed engravings; first, the figure of St Andrew wearing a mitre and holding a cross, with the inscription “PROSPERITY / TO / SCHOTLAND/ & /NO UNION”; and then the figure of King James VIII & III on the reverse.


Due to increasing war efforts, England actually found itself with insufficient manpower to fight said wars, and sustain manufacturing whilst also expanding its empire. English feelings at the time that Scotland was acting as a rogue nation even contributed greatly to their governments’ willingness to sabotage the Darien scheme through which Scotland had attempted to establish itself as an international trading nation in the late 1690’s. English desires to control the Scots became more acute after the accession of Queen Anne, particularly as the Scots seemed reluctant to accept the eventual Hanoverian succession, as stated above. Financial issues had also become critical as England then embarked upon the War of the Spanish Succession. Because the Jacobites were strongly backed by Louis XIV of France, this engagement could well have turned into a war for the British succession. Renewal of war further exposed a demographic crisis in England, and brought about a major shift in government policy that suddenly favored of the union after all.

Again, England had insufficient manpower to fight these wars, sustain manufacturing, and continue the expansion of its empire, and so to them; the Scots were increasingly viewed as a ready reservoir of both fighting men, and coin. Greed, greed, greed, and greed; all for the sake of empire and greed. Everything that occurred leading up to, and well after the union, was solely in the name of greed. And In the end, the loss of Parliament, Church, and many thousands of Scottish lives had been sold to Scotland by only a margin of 37 votes.

Parcel o’ rogues in a nation’, indeed.






The tale of Kinmont Willie

Born William Armstrong, of Kinmont in around 1550, but better known as Kinmont Willie; was a Scottish border reiver, freebooter and outlaw active in the rough Scottish Borderlands during the late 1500’s, whose first recorded raid had taken place in August of 1583, against one of the two most formidable of English border families; the Milburn’s of Tynedale; the other being the Charltons, both of whom had fast roots within Northumberland during that time. Yet despite their supposed might, such an act of aggression would not have been at all surprising, for this was the age of the horse-bound border reiver; with the people of Tynesdale just as apt to carry out similar raids on the lands of Liddlesdale, north of the border in Scotland.

Scottish border reivers
Scottish border reivers

And during this time, and despite the peace between Scotland and England, it would not have been all that uncommon to happen across one of a dozen small battles being waged all across the Borderlands, from Annandale down through to Carlisle and everywhere in between; the countryside filled with troops of rogue cavalrymen, armored in steel and with lance in hand; their spear, sword, and axe strapped fast to their saddles, and flags and banners flying in rebellious irreverence. Many among their number would have been veteran soldiers, or sons born to the trade, but all united in rustling and banditry regardless. In a way, the Borders were akin to the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy; a truly lawless place, wherein neither Scotland’s King, nor England’s Queen held any authority over the rough men inhabiting it. Though despite the peace between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England, no doubt due in large part to the latter’s warring with Spain; Scotland itself was still party to the sort of infighting of which it had long grown accustomed. Such internal strife however, was not to last, as by October of 1585, the Earl of Angus, and many other Scottish exiles, had finally been granted permission to return from their refuge in England, and assist in the ousting of the Earl of Arran and his regime; major contributors of the aforementioned infighting. And it was in this ousting campaign, that one Kinmont Willie was involved.

With the successful capture of the town and castle of Stirling, sometime in early November, which had culminated in Arran’s defeat, and the restoring of many ancestral lands to their rightful owners, as well as signaling Arran’s opponents as being back in the Royal favor; it is clear that Kinmont was, if anything, an experienced soldier familiar with both raiding, and actual organized fighting. And so it should come as no surprise that eight years after that incident, he was next spotted back down in Tynedale, and this time with around one thousand men, carrying off over two thousand beasts, and some three hundred pound’s in loot. To say that his was a long and successful career, is perhaps an understatement, as even up until the turn of the century he was often said to continue undertaking large scale raids into England at the head of a band of around three hundred men known as “Kinmont’s bairns“, and that by the mid-1590s (fifteen or so years before his death) he had become the most wanted man on either side of the border; with the English especially keen to get their hands on him.

Now, during that era, it was common, every once in a while, for such events as ‘Truce Days’, or ‘Days of truce’ to occur; social gatherings that soon became great fairs attended by many a reiver family; an event where all could come together to socialize and discuss issues of mutual interest in a neutral environment, whilst also having the added bonus of allowing family and friends, normally separated by the border, to catch up safely. And it was whilst attending one such Truce Day, on 17 March 1596, that our man Kinmont, despite his ‘safe conduct’ order, was illegally, and without warning, set upon and arrested by the men of the English Warden of the West March, Sir Thomas Scrope, before being taken swiftly to Carlisle Castle in chains, where he was then imprisoned. As you might have guessed, this act of treachery did not sit very well with Kinmont’s bairns. And thus, an audacious rescue plan was soon hatched by one, Walter Scott of Buccleuch ‘the Bauld Buccleuch‘, keeper of Liddesdale, and on whose land our man had been unjustly captured.

Side note: Before I go on, I should explain that the fighting amongst the border reivers wasn’t always Scotland versus England, but rather, Scotsmen and Englishmen acting for the sake of booty and coin alone; if your target just so happened to be an Englishman, then it was his wealth which compelled you into attacking him, and not necessarily his nationality. These men really owed no nations monarch their allegiance, but, they were still more than ready to come to the aid of their own homelands should they be required to do so, as was the case with many a latter day Moss-trooper during Cromwell’s invasion. If it could be plundered, then they would take it regardless of where it lay; but if the English invaded Scotland, or vice versa, then such bandits could swiftly become a seasoned troop of cavalrymen at a moment’s notice.

And so, after much fruitless negotiating and endeavoring on the part of Buccleuch, between him and the English warden, and which had amounted to nothing more than Warden Scrope pointedly refusing to release Kinmont. The Keeper of Liddesdale resolved then to commit himself to a more direct course of action. And, on the 13 April, 1596, he did just that; personally leading a daring band of eighty men across the border, and into England; intent on securing our man’s release from his prison within Carlisle castle. Now, such a blatant act as this, of which had rarely been undertaken beforehand, would go on to have serious ramifications for the relationship between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England, than perhaps any involved had then considered; and certainly they could not have foreseen that their intrepid foray might very well have sparked a war between both countries as a result.

The rescue of Kinmount Willie by Angus Mcbride
The rescue of Kinmont Willie: Angus McBride

Now, the details are vague in regards to what occurred during the rescue, with some sources claiming that the castle guards were bribed into allowing Buccleuch and his men into the castle, whilst others maintain that the guards were actually subdued by force. As it stands, I really have no idea, but would imagine that were it men of an English reiver family guarding the prison, then perhaps a bribe really would have been all it took to gain admittance. Otherwise, eighty men either scaling a wall, or just simply infiltrating a castle likewise would not have been unheard of. Regardless of how, the bold Kinmont Willie was once again a free man at the end of it all. And, having very much captured a major English stronghold, our plucky Scots simply wheeled their steeds noses northward, and then rode back for Scotland. All in a nights work.

And there you have it; we’ve now reached the end of Kinmont’s tale, and despite the warden Scrope having hunted for him far and wide; ceaselessly upturning the surrounding land in a desperate and relentless effort to recapture his ill-gotten prisoner; raising the lands of Annan and Dumfries as he did so; Kinmont Willie was never again recaptured. In 1600; he was free to attack the village of Scotby, burning it down with one hundred and forty riders. And again, in 1602, he was still a free enough man to have mounted his last major foray into England, going so far south as to have passed Carlisle. His four sons, who had all helped in his earlier rescue, also survived the Wardens reprisals, for they were frequently named as having taken part in later Border raids. Kinmont died peacefully in his own bed in around 1610, at the age of 60.

But, our the chain of events sparked by his rescue dont end there, for in the immediate aftermath of the incident, so enraged by the peacetime incursion against one of her border fortresses was Queen Elizabeth I of England, furious with Scotland’s King James VI; who was the recipient of not only a promise of a generous pension, but the very throne of England itself; had vigorously set about demanding an explanation for the unwarranted hostility; and no doubt threatening war and all manner of other nasty reprisals if it wasn’t resolved satisfactory. King James VI, caught between popular will and his allegiance to his own people, with that of his vital relationship with the Queen, and his sizable pension; was ultimately left with no other choice but to relent, even managing to convince our Bold Buccleuch to go and travel down to England, meet with the Queen herself, and then see if he couldn’t go and smooth out the now incredibly strained Royal relationship; perhaps even thwart a war between the Kingdoms whilst he was at it. And, being the daring soul that he was, Buccleuch agreed; for the safety of his country, he would travel to a hostile court, and give an account of himself to none other than the Queen of England.

And needless to say, and to cut a long story short, our man did indeed go down and speak to the Queen, and so enamored was she said to have been with that ‘dashing‘ and ‘charming‘ man, that she forgave his trespass outright; as simple as that. No war, no strife, nor struggle; she simply forgave him. And that, is the story of how a winning smile was all it took to stop a war between Scotland and England.

Walter Scott of Buccleuch
The dashing Walter Scott of Buccleuch

P.S: before I go, I want to leave you with an account of an incident which had taken place between a group of Scottish and English reivers. Now, I can’t quite recall the exact details, or where I read it, though I think it may have taken place in some skirmish between that of Scotland and England. Anyway; apparently, whilst in the midst of the battle, when they should have been hacking and stabbing at one another; both factions were found to have been having a casual conversation, right there in the heat of battle! And, when they realized they had been rumbled, had halfheartedly pantomimed a fight until the coast was once again clear, before quickly lowering their weapons to continue chatting amongst themselves.

The fiddling fighting freebooter

Qi Xing painting 'As if James MacPherson had ever played fiddle to a white stag'
Painting by Qi Xing ‘As if James MacPherson had ever played fiddle to a white stag’

This is the story of my favorite folk hero, Jamie MacPherson. Now, whilst his life and exploits don’t exactly share the same level of fame and national significance as that of Rob Roy; in MacPhersons tragic story, his origins set the tone of a tale in the archetype of so many romantic tales concerning outlaws; with tragedy being central; whereas, Rob Roy’s story simply embodies the swashbuckling exploits of an itinerant rogue, full of adventure and the outwitting of lords and soldiery, yet lacking in any sense of intrigue or emotion on the part of the man himself’. It’s a fascinating and fun account, like that of an action movie wherein you already know that the hero is really in no danger. Whereas with MacPherson we find an intriguing figure in every sense and from the get go: mysterious origins, and appearance; tall, swarthy and of unusual strength, and said to have been an exceptional and self-taught swordsman, as well as a gifted fiddler, and composer.

The product of an illicit affair between a Highland laird, and that of a beautiful Tinker; upon his birth, Jamie’s father, one MacPherson of Invereshie, touchingly, actually acknowledged the infant as his own, even going so far as to take him into his home at Invereshie House near Kincraig, were he was raised to childhood; the circumstances of his lowly mothers life, in comparison to that of his own good fortune was surely not lost on the boy who would go on to become the charismatic, and in some instances, morally upright leader of a band of Tinkers (Scottish Gypsies).

Yet, sometime in the early 1680’s, tragedy struck that young man’s (so far) charmed life; his father, having been made aware of the location of some stolen cattle, rustled from Badenoch, had then went to the location with an armed party of men with which to recapture the purloined beasts. Once there however, he had had the unenviable task of defeating a band of hardened reivers to do so, and was slain in the attempt. Thus, the young Jamie found himself back with his mother’s Tinker kin. Yet, he was not so unfortunate as to have lived so harshly, for the men and women of his own Clan, Clan MacPherson, had endeavored to see him and his mother done right by; clothing and feeding him often, as well as providing her with money.

As he grew older, it seems he had inherited a great deal from his mother’s exotic appearance; his jet-black hair and swarthy skin certainly very uncommon in Scotland at that time; and so had soon grown into a man described by the first volume of the ‘New Monthly Magazine’ as:

“in beauty, strength and stature rarely equaled.” 

Side note: This magazine also helpfully informs us that neither MacPherson, nor his men, had to wear tights under their Kilts.

Starting his early career buying and selling horses, whether legitimately or not is impossible to know (Though I suspect it was the latter); he and his band of Tinkers were said to have been fairly well liked among the common folk during this time, perhaps due in no small part to MacPherson’s objection to unnecessary violence, and unwillingness to rob widows, the poor, and to harming either children, or the vulnerable. Sadly, in the end, it was such righteousness that would prove his undoing; though that part comes later in this tale.

At some point in his relatively short life, MacPherson had become such a well-known figure in the north east of Scotland, specifically Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray, that he had gathered behind himself a great number of powerful enemies due to his criminal activities; nobles, lairds, and gentlemen farmers chief among them; so that soon he found himself being chased through the low country of Aberdeenshire and Banff by as formidable a posse as such men could muster. And although he was captured several times during this period, no doubt thanks in large part to his willingness to stand and fight his pursuers, rather than skulk and hide; he was always able to escape them shortly afterwards. In one account, it was said, whilst being held at Aberdeen, one of his cousins, by the name of Donald MacPherson, along with a Tinker, Peter Brown (Then spelt; Broune), were able to so thoroughly rile up the local populace, that they aided the two men in his’ rescue. Another unlikely escape took place not long after that, wherein he was once again captured, but was this time aided by only one; the laird of Grant. As to the reason why a laird aided him, I have no idea. But, it wasn’t uncommon for such men to strike bargains with those like MacPherson, an investment of sorts; or even employ them as cattle-guards and agents with which to carry out their less gentlemanly affairs. Whatever the case was, MacPherson was a free man again, and now under the protection of the aforementioned laird. Though true to form, such freedom was never going to last very long if MacPherson’s boldness was to have a say in it.

In 1700, at the small town of Keith, Moray; the Saint Rufus Fair was in full swing; Alexander Duff of Braco, ancestor of the Earls of Fife, and a large company of men were among the revelers present that day, and if some sources are to be believed, it might not have been a coincidence, for that very same fair was paid a visit by none other than MacPherson and his band of outlaws who, according to a report in ‘The New Statistical Account of Scotland’, published by William Blackwood and Sons, in 1845; had a habit of visiting such market days in places like Forres, Elgin or Banff, were he would just swagger on in in as boldly as could be, he and his band armed to the teeth and with a piper leading them.

Now this is the part in the tale where things get a little murky for a moment, for some sources suggest that the reason for Duff’s presence at the fair might have been orchestrated by betrayal. Months earlier, MacPherson had supposedly gotten into a heated exchange with a particularly brutal member of his group whose intentions were to attack the house of a gentleman, despite the man’s wife and young children being present. MacPherson refused…firmly; and thus, may have gained himself a knife at the back for his trouble.

Whatever the case may be, armed boldly as he and his band were, which was an offence during that period; Duff, the laird of Braco, and his men fell upon them swiftly and a great battle ensued, with MacPherson fiercely displaying his frightening personal strength in the midst of that hectic fray; his Claymore, wielded by such raw power as it was, able to cleave grown men in two, amputate limbs, and part heads from shoulders; not a single man it was said could gain any measure over him. However, as the fighting shifted to a narrow street, those in the apartments above begun to drop blankets atop the battling MacPherson; covered now in layers of cloth and wool, and fighting for his very life on all sides, he half-freed himself and took away “seeking to reach the gable of the church”; “parrying the attack of his enemies by the way”. And he did indeed reach the Churchyard, but not the gable, for “he fell over a gravestone” and was, unfortunately, swiftly detained; as were two more of his number, one by the last name Gordon, and “twa Brouns”. It’s quite possible that one of those twa Brouns (two Browns) was the Peter Brown who had helped rescue him earlier.

Regardless, this was to be Macpherson’s final brush with the law. His trail took place at Banff, before Nicholas Dunbar, the Sheriff of Banffshire, on the 8th of November, 1700. Now, if it wasn’t bad enough that he was a known outlaw, “wagabond, and oppressor of his Magesties free lieges in ane bangstrie manner”, it should be noted also that it was actually a capital crime to be an ‘Egyptian’ (I.E Gypsy) within 18th century Scotland; and it was under such a statute that MacPherson (part Gypsy) was tried. Needless to say, and to cut a long story short, he was unsurprisingly-

“-to be taken to the Cross of Banff… to be hanged by the neck to the death by the hand of the common executioner… betwixt the hours of two and three in the afternoon…”

And it was whilst in jail, during the week before his execution, that MacPherson’s fame was truly cemented within the folk memory of Scotland, for it was then that he was said to have composed the song now known as MacPherson’s Lament, or, MacPherson’s Rant; the very same tune that he was then said to have played on his fiddle, beneath the gallows that would see him dead. When the bold MacPherson was finished, he had offered his instrument “to anyone in the crowd who would think well of him”, but, perhaps out of fear of betraying their familiarity to the condemned, not one among neither his Clan, nor band, accepted the parting gift. Incensed, MacPherson proceeded to break the fiddle, either over his knee, or that of the executioners’ head, and then tossed the ruined instrument into the crowd, snapping:

“No one else shall play Jamie MacPherson’s fiddle then!”

MacPherson's fiddle
MacPherson’s broken fiddle, on display at the MacPherson Clan Museum

On the 16th of November, 1700, Jamie MacPherson, freebooter and fiddler, aged 25 yrs.’ old and with a noose around his neck, leapt from the gallows, to hang on his own terms.

P.S. In some parts of the North East, it is still widely held that a reprieve from the laird of Grant was inbound, but that Duff had seen the rider approaching, and had then set the village clock 15 minutes ahead so as to ensure MacPherson was executed before the pardon could arrive. The magistrates were apparently punished afterwards, and the town clock was kept 15 minutes before the correct time for many years after. Even to this day, the town of Macduff has no west-facing town clock visible so the people of Banff cannot see the correct time.

PPS It’s also worth noting that his bones were later found close to the site  of his hanging, and actually seem to corroborate the description of him having been (even by today’s standards) a very tall, and very muscular individual.

Alexander Pedan: a lamb in fox’s clothing

Alexander Pedan was born sometime in 1626, at Auchincloich Farm, in what today would be East Ayrshire, in the northern part of the Parish of Sorn. The firstborn among his siblings, Pedan was the heir to his father’s fair holding, which was apparently not too unsubstantial by the standards of the day. As a result, he was to become an educated individual, well connected and intelligent; completing his education at the University of Glasgow, and supposedly with many a blue-blood counted among his circle as a result. Whilst in his mid-twenties or so, he had been teaching at Tarbolton, whereupon, accusations arose of his supposed ‘Wronging’ of a woman. This accusation, it turned out, was false, with evidence swiftly being presented to the court which cleared him of any such charges. And yet, we can assume, that with the stress of having excommunication looming above his head, it was no surprise that the obviously religious-minded Alexander eventually sought to enter the Church; gaining a license from the Presbytery of Lanark and Biggar in the process. It was said to have taken him a fair few try’s before going on to be ordained, and then appointed the Parish of New Luce, in Galloway. However, with the Ejectment Act in 1663, like many a passionate individual of his faith, compelled by the snapping jaws of enemies, or the spur of life’s purpose even, Alexanders spark was seemingly not to be content with Monastic tedium, nor could it be, and so followed a period of great wandering for our itinerant preacher; through all of the south west of Scotland he wandered, passing the Clyde, and into Renfrewshire and down into Dumfries and Galloway. Yet persecution ever loomed, and soon, our intrepid Alexander set sail for Northern Ireland, where he preached at Kells and Glenwherry in County Antrim for a time.

As a preacher, I have read that he was very gifted; an orator of considerable skill and vigor; conducting his sermons with an air of pageantry, yet in a way accessible to the layman; laden with dramatic pauses and stirring suspension; often said to pause mid-sentence as though conversing with some unseen force, nodding and whispering the whole time as if God himself, had taken the time out of his busy schedule with which to enter into a dialogue. Charismatic and vibrant, and with a flair for the theatrical, it is no wonder that our wandering preacher soon gained an almost mystical reputation among his flock.

This reputation, compounded by his obvious intellect, had allowed him time and time again, to escape the clutches of a multitude of enemies; escaping those who sought him through sudden mist and storms it was said; God seemingly sending down screens of tempestuous fury with which to cover our man’s retreat. In one such event, he was remarked to have displayed a somewhat cavalier recklessness toward hypothermia; escaping from pursuing dragoons by plunging into a river all but iced over; leaving his pursuers on the far shore, none too eager to take the plunge in after him. And again, whilst pursued by Dragoons, our bold preacher was said to have prayed aloud to the Almighty for assistance, before a thick mist suddenly fell across the land, through which he was able to again make his escape. The event is described by one, Howie, in Scots Worthies: “Let us pray here , for if the Lord hear not our prayers and save us , we are all dead men…. “Lord it is Thy enemy`s day, hour and power; they may not be idle. But hast Thou no other work for them but to send them after us? Send them after them to whom Thou wiltt give strength to flee, for our strength is gone. Twine them about the hill, Lord, and cast the lap of Thy cloak over Old Sandy, and thir poor things, and save us this one time; and we`ll keep it in remembrance, and tell it to the commendation of Thy goodness, pity and compassion, what Thou didst for us at such a time.”

Alexander Pedan's bible
Reverend Alexander Pedan’s Bible

Undoubtedly, he was an individual well-versed in the reading of his fellow man; shrewd and up to date with the Covenanter goings-on; it is safe to assume that it was not so much divine intervention that aided our wily preachers survival, but his own innate intelligence; keen observations of men, politics, and a wariness garnered over many years of dogged strife. Yet, despite the sharpness of his mind and despite even the providence of God himself, our daring preacher soon found himself the ever increasing object of attention of the authorities. Enter the fabled mask (Whether or not he wore it before hand, I don’t know. He probably did. Yet now is as good a time as any to introduce it into the story)

Alexander Pedan's mask

Above, is the rather absurd looking mask in question, which he used to disguise himself during his travails amid The Killing Time. Rudimentary by today`s standards of course, it is made from leather, with real human teeth and hair. But despite its awkward construction, it evidently worked to some reasonable effect; was this Gods work? Considering the absurd image above, I’d be inclined to believe it might have been; either that or our man Pedan had an audacious sense of humor.

In June 1673 however, whilst conducting a conventicle at Knockdow, near Ballantrae, Alexander was captured by one, Major William Cockburn, and subsequently sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment on the Bass Rock. In October 1677, he was then moved to the Edinburgh Tolbooth for a further fifteen, to eighteen months. In December 1678, he and sixty seven of his fellow prisoners were sentenced to banishment, and then put on board the “St Michael“, a ship bound for the state of Virginia.

Extract from sentacing

Praying for a fellow deportee, James Law, Alexander was remarked to have said: “lord, let not James Law`s wife miss her husband, until thou return him to her in peace and safety, which we are sure will be sooner than either he or she is looking for.”

On board the America-bound ship, our lone wanderer was said to have quipped to his fellows that; “If we were once in London we will all be set at liberty” Which I take to mean something along the lines of that once clear of England’s grasp, not to lose hope, or wallow in grief or in doubt, for freedom will be found among the free-spirited colonists.

And yet again, and as though by some higher power, Alexander made good his escape; the American captain, upon hearing of the reason behind the groups banishment; that they were good Christians and not a rabble of criminals as he had been led to believe; released them immediately, refusing to traffic in such cargo; an early American displaying that streak that would go hard in the proving of his kind. Received warmly by the people of Gravesend, Alexander and the majority of his fellow prisoners made their way back to Scotland shortly after. Another unlikely Prophecy fulfilled.

Spending his time between Scotland and Ulster, and referring to it as going “from one bloody land to the other bloody land“ He returned eventually to Scotland for the last time, to his brothers house, Ten Shilling Side, Auchinleck, in February 1685. Behind his brother’s home, there was said to be a cave on the River Lugar, in which our adventurous preacher would spend his nights hidden safely away from chance-discovery. When close to death, he was said to have left behind such damp conditions for the warmth of his brother’s hearth, where he was met by his sister-in-law. Fearing discovery, she was said to have pleaded that he return to his clandestine resting place; he refused, saying; “I have done with that for it is discovered. But there is no matter, for within forty eight hours I will be beyond the reach of all the devils’ temptations and his instruments in hell and on earth, and they shall trouble me no more.”

Within three hours of his words, the troopers discovered his cave, but, they did not discover our maverick prophet, for he had hidden in a pile of straw. After the soldiers had gone away, Pedan told his friends that, upon his death, they were to bury him where they would, and prophesied that he would be lifted again*; within a few hours, he was dead; buried then in Auchinleck Churchyard, in the Boswell family vault. Forty days later, *he was dug up by soldiers from Sorn Castle, and then hung from the gallows in the town of Cumnock. But once again, our wandering preachers old friend intervened, HE, and one William Crichton, 2nd Earl of Dumfries, to be exact, wherein, Alexander was cut down and buried at the foot of the gallows his corpse had swung from. The local people were said to have then steadily buried their dead around his resting place, so that soon enough, a veritable graveyard had sprung up around it. And, in 1891, a monument was erected to mark the spot. It reads:

In Memory

[ A native of Sorn ]




Because of his penchant for masks, and what today would be viewed as comical disguises, I’ve often heard Reverend Pedan referred to as ‘Mad‘, or as an ‘Eccentric old hermit‘, as though he were little more than an old, and raving wood-bound fool; and yet, for one to be so committed to one’s own beliefs, that they would risk their very life over it, that silly mask doesn’t seem so silly in light of the reality of swinging from the Hangman’s noose. In Alexander Pedan, I see a somewhat endearing figure, akin to the old Druids; holding Covanticles in ancient, gnarled forests, and aside millennia old Standing Stones; braving wind and rain to boldly deliver his sermons to huddled, yet fervent gatherings. In Alexander Pedan, I see a defiant man of strong character, who willingly faced down death to be a guiding light for many an errant soul. And again, in his mask, I see a man struck with a courage better suited to that of a man of action, than a humble preacher, for God can hide you only so well.

Cinead MacAlpin

A Tale of Two Hearts

This is the tale of one man’s mortal heart, and that of another’s figurative heart. This is the true story of how two heroes met their deaths; two legendary warriors of their time. One at peace in his bed, after a lifetime spent in the saddle with sword in hand, and the other, outnumbered twenty to one.

The tale

On the 7th of June, 1329, Robert the Bruce lay dying in his bed. At around this time, the Reconquista, a concerted effort by Christian forces to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim invaders, which had been raging for several centauries prior, was still in full swing, with forces drawn from all over the Christian world participating. This ‘Crusade’ was to have been joined by none other than the Bruce himself, but dying as he was, his penance in the eyes of God would have to be confined to death bed absolution instead. Concerned by this, it was then that he had his close friend and Lieutenant, one Sir James Douglas (The good Sir James/The Black Douglas) brought to his bed side.

There, he asked him a favor; that upon his death, James was to cut the heart from his chest and carry it to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the heart of the Holy Land, as a mark of penance, and that it should also be carried into battle against “God’s foes”, so that his ambition of Crusading would be fulfilled. And when he had died, his friend did just that, and his heart was removed and placed in a silver casket, which Sir James Douglas then wore around his neck. Several months later, Douglas, as Knight Bannerette, with seven other Scottish Knights and some twenty or so squires and gentlemen in tow, traveled to Berwick upon Tweed, armed with a safe conduct letter from Edward III of England, and a letter of recommendation to King Alfonso XI of Castile. Arriving there in good time, they soon set sail for Sluys in Flanders, France.

There, the Scots then waited for around a fortnight onboard the ship in which they had made the crossing, no doubt awaiting news of the situation with King Alfonso XI and the Moorish forces, the Crusade against Granada, and of the general consensus of the situation; Douglas even holding court with his Knight’s, as the late King would have done; spreading the word of his arrival, and of his planned expedition, and seeing who among the other foreign Knights would be interested in joining his party. Then, sometime around June, news reached Douglas that despite some, if not all, of King Alfonso’s allies having withdrawn their support from the conflict, the King still intended to go to war, quickly set sail for Spain. One tempest later, they found themselves at the mouth of the river Guadalquivir, and then disembarked upstream at the ancient city of Seville. And once again, it seemed, fate had placed the Scots on the side of the underdog.

It was there in Seville that Douglas met with Alfonso XI, and presented him with his credentials. And, it was said that Alfonso was so impressed by Douglas’s reputation, and the task set for him by the late Bruce, that he sought to lavish him with expensive gifts of gold and war-horses, fine armors’ and jewels; all of which Douglas was said to have graciously declined, replying only that he and his men sought to fight for the King as ‘humble pilgrims‘ and gain absolution for their sins in the process. Accepting this, the King then provided veteran soldiers of his own to act as advisers and mentors to the Scottish party, accustomed as those men were to fighting on Spanish terrain, and against the Moors. And it was there in that Spanish city, that Douglas soon found himself the centre of much chivalric attention and curiosity, with numerous foreign Knights seeking him out so as to pay their respects. There was even a good number of English Knights who sought him out also, men who only recently would have called him their mortal enemy, now coming as well-wishers and brothers-in-arms.  An exchange was said to have occurred between Douglas and an English Knight, whose name escapes me at the moment, which revolved around the fact that Douglas was relatively free of battle scars, and how that was unusual for a Knight, especially one as hardened and seasoned as Douglas was. It went something like this:

You can’t possibly be the man they call the Black Douglas, for there isn’t a scratch nor scar upon your face‘ The Englishman remarked; like most Knights, he was heavily battle scarred.

Ah, yes, but when you’re as good a fighter as I, the enemy has less chance to disfigure you‘ Sir James quipped.

Soon, however, such friendly pursuits were to give way to battle; it was time for King Alfonso’s Castilian army to enter the field and begin the war in earnest. Giving command of all foreign Knights to Douglas, the army then advanced south, marching through Ecija and Osuna, then southward still to the meadows of Almargen, which lay some five miles west of the castle of Teba, where they arrived and shortly after began their siege; their camp and intentions quickly drawing the notice of one Berber nobleman, Uthman bin Abi-l-Ulá, who, with six thousand cavalry, and thousands of infantry, had been marching up from the Guadalhorce valley to relieve the castle in case of just such an emergency. Crossing into a second valley, Uthman then made his camp ten miles south of Teba, between two fortresses; Turon, and Ardales castle.

Meanwhile, Alfonso’s siege engines had arrived from Ecija, and were soon given the task of opening up a breach made in the fortress’s wall previously. Despite this, things were not exactly going smoothly for Alfonso’s forces, as the Castilian army soon found the surrounding water sources unsupporting, and had to drive their horses and other livestock further and further afield until they were travelling up to two miles away just to water their beasts. This of course caused mounting tension throughout the multi-ethnic army as the water situation worsened, with five hundred Portuguese knights shortly after declaring their term of service expired, before abandoning the army completely. Even then, Moorish forces had been harrying those seeking water at every conceivable opportunity, so much so that to even drink, Alfonso had needed to provide a small army just to hold back the enemy long enough. Things were not going well, indeed. Worsened further when late one night, forces from Teba sailed out and attacked the besieging army’s frontline; leaving a siege tower in flames as they withdrew.

Knowing that he could never beat the Christian army in open battle, Uthman bin Abi-l-Ulá waited there in his hidden camp, waiting and watching for any opportunity, any advantage to strike; sending out skirmishing forces here and there, scrutinizing the enemy response and the actions they took against his men; noting their tactics, and formations. He could never beat them out in the open, that much was clear, and so he devised a plan; a pincer attack; three thousand Moorish cavalry would make a diversionary attack across the river where the Castilians collected their water, while Uthman himself, would take another three thousand upstream to directly engage King Alfonso’s camp with an attack on its flank. A daring, if predictable move. And one that Alfonso saw coming, thanks to his scouts. And when Uthman’s force sprang from their concealment and rode against his camp, seeing what he thought was a portion riding off to engage those attacking across the river, found instead, the entire camp bristling with ready weapons; the ‘army‘ riding for the divisionary force had simply been a scouting party led by Don Pedro Fernández de Castro to check on the situation at the river. His ruse had failed, and upon seeing his divisionary force beginning to become routed, Uthman had fallen back to support them, but when King Alfonso then dispatched two thousand men to reinforce those already in battle at the river, could do little but join them in retreat.

The Moorish cavalry were routed, and soon began heading back in the direction of their camp at Turon, and it was whilst they were doing so, that Douglas, believing that those of his own men about himself were indicative of a greater force giving chase, did just that, and raced after the enemy with haste; his fellow Scottish Knights, with several other foreign Knights in tow, were to turn out to be his only companions in that pursuit. Having outstripped all but a handful of those men, Douglas suddenly found himself far out in front; his allies far behind him, and the nimble Moorish cavalry not far ahead. Seeing the error of his way, he quickly wheeled his mount around and began to head back for the Castilian main, when he suddenly spied Sir William St. Clair of Rosslyn, a fellow Scottish Knight, battling a company of Moors that had surrounded him after seizing the opportunity to counter their small number of pursuers.

With only a handful of Scottish Knights, Sir William Keith, the brothers Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig and Sir Walter Logan, John St. Clair, younger brother of Sir William, Sir Simon Lockhart of Lee, Sir Kenneth Moir, William Borthwick, Sir Alan Cathcart and Sir Robert de Glen, Douglas galloped out across the valley, turning wide and swinging back around to head directly for the foe. Facing several thousand enemy warriors, he and his nine brave countrymen spurred their steeds forward and raced across the field toward them, to rescue Sir William if they could, or go to God, absolved of their sins as they would. They hurtled into the enemy in good order, with Douglas managing to fight his way to Sir William and seize the reins of his horse, yet could do nothing for the corpse that rode atop it. With his men dying all about him, and the overwhelming sea of enemies breaking over him, Sir James tore the casket from his neck, that which contained the heart of the Bruce, and threw it at the enemy, so that it landed deep among them, crying:

Now pass thou onward as thou wert wont, and Douglas will follow thee or die.

Good sir james at teba
Painting depicting Douglas preparing to throw the heart of Bruce among the enemy

And of course, it was not long until all of that brave party was slain.

Douglas memorial at teba
Memorial to Sir James Douglas at Teba, Spain

Yet so impressed was the enemy said to have been with such courage and sacrifice, that they had collected the remains of the Knights and the enameled casket from the battlefield, and then boiled the flesh from the bones, so that they could be more easily transported back to Scotland. Sir William Keith, from Ayrshire, was tasked with returning them, having missed the battle due to a broken arm received in earlier fighting. Returning home to Scotland, he deposited the bones of Douglas at St Bride’s Kirk, in Douglas, South Lanarkshire, With Bruce’s embalmed heart taken to Moray, to Melrose Abbey, and interred under the high alter therein.


Since then and to this day, the Douglas arms display a heart motif; that of the Bruce’s, and was awarded to the Clan in honor of Sir James Douglas’s aforementioned heroism at the Battle of Teba.

Douglas arms of subsequent Douglases after Sir James
Douglas Arms

Cinead MacAlpin