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


John Barbour’s, The Brus: Thoughts

For a while now I’ve been reading John Barbour’s epic, The Brus, and one of the things that most fascinates me about the poem is that it gives us an undeniable window into the mindset of a man who lived during that time; whereas so much of history is told to us through dusty old texts and boring lectures, where one man’s opinion, or the opinions of a small group is often times how we ourselves interpret what it is we are reading, in The Brus, however, we are listening to a man speak, and not just factually state his approximation of events that transpired, but of how he himself would have known and told them; how he did, in fact, tell such stories to the Scottish court and to King Robert II, Bruce’s son. John Barbour was a man who had actually meet those brave Scots who had fought alongside the previous King Robert; he existed around the time that these events had taken place, and had meet and spoken to those now elderly warriors, or their children, about such events; and so again, what fascinates me is when he says a line to the effect of “I heard it once told” or “as I heard tell” that through these anecdotes, and his own personable approach to telling this history, the reader is able to gain an insight into that time through just one man, John Barbour; who links us to the man at Bannockburn, or the man who fought alongside Bruce in Glentrool forest.

Bruce stone at Glentrool
The Bruce stone at Glentrool

And even if you’re not solely interested in Scottish history, the book nonetheless is a great read in that it manages to lend humor and a sense of personality into an historical subject in a way that a history book, or text, simply cannot. It is its firsthand and secondhand accounts that help lend a sense of character to the people and places from the perspective of a man who knew those people, and those places, and during the time in which they existed. For me, it truly is an invaluable source of information of the time of The Scottish Wars of Independence; it’s a Scottish source, and unashamedly so; it champions Scotland and her heroes (Whilst being more than fair to her enemies), and tells their story in what is widely considered to be a more than reasonably true account of such matters; both historic victory, and historic defeat being encountered there in the pages as they happened.

For instance, in Book 2, line 349, The Battle of Methven is recorded, wherein; the bridle of King Bruce’s horse is seized by Sir Philip Mowbray, who then calls out ‘Help! Help! I have the new-made King.’ Christopher Seaton then fly’s to the aid of the King and strikes Mowbray unconscious, thus releasing King Robert, which is followed shortly after by a retreat of the Scots force; and yet despite this mention of dramatic heroism, the account of the battle is still rightly attested to, and that Bruce and his men were defeated, is made clear. It’s a warts and all history that mentions the good times, and the bad; heroism and betrayal; its content easily being corroborated by other sources from that era, both Scottish, and English.

Now, I will say, that within the pages; liberally sprinkled among the numerous accounts of valorous deeds, and acts of ‘great courage’; are the use of words such as chivalry, stoutly, boldly and bravely; and whilst these words make for good story telling, their frequent usage can become noticeable, even a little heavy handed. Yet if an eyewitness was to tell Barbour that Bruce fought valiantly, as is often reiterated dramatically within the pages of the poem, or that a battle went this way or that way; then why would I choose to disbelieve that? Bruce was a fighter, and very much a warrior King; he fought a multitude of battles and wars, and survived them all. No one would doubt his prowess, or even that of his chivalric enemies, and so when lines attest to as much, and are reiterated heavily; mentioning his great chivalry and his overwhelming courage etc. I choose to believe it as a true characteristic of the man’s nature, and given by those who had witnessed him in such moments. For instance, the forces Bruce led where usually dangerously outnumbered, and yet he was often victorious. This alone should go some way to making such favorable descriptions of the King’s prowess and bravery, and that of the men who followed him, at the least believable.

“in his youth he was a match for the super athletes of today”
“a privileged and muscular man, with large, broad features”

But regardless of the fast paced action sequences, it’s the lines which give you a rare glimpse into how men shaped by that time viewed each other, and the world around them; of how the nature of war and conflict were viewed through the lens of the prejudices and social norms of that period, which really interest me: Book 3, line 153:

There was a baron, Macnaughton, who paid great heed in his heart to the King’s (Bruce’s)chivalry, and he esteemed him greatly in his heart. He said to the lord of Lorn, ‘Assuredly, you can now see the heaviest trespass-payment taken that you ever saw taken in your lifetime. For yon Knight, by his bold deed and by his superhuman (outrageous manheid) qualties, in a short time has killed three men of great pride (Noblemen or Knights). He has discomfitted all our company so that no man dare go after him, and he turns his horse so often that he seems to have no fear of us.’ Then the lord of Lorn said, ‘You seemed to be pleased, perfay, that he kills our men like that.’ ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘as God is my witness, saving your presence, it’s not like that. But whosoever wins the prize in chivalry, be he friend or foe, men should speak faithfuly of it. And assuredly, in all my life, I never heard tell, in song or verse, of a man who achieved great chivalry so vigerously.’

Now contrast that glowing endorsement of the King, by non-other than an enemy, with how the King himself makes statement after the battle: Book 3, line 187:

‘For being discouraged,’ as he said then, ‘is the worst thing possible. For through great discouragement men often fall into despair, and when a man is in despair, then he is utterly beaten. If the spirit is discouraged, the body is not worth a jot. Therefore,’ he said, ‘above all keep yourselves from despair, and remember that, though we now feel injuries, God may yet relieve us well.’

Bruce and the spider
Bruce contemplating the spiders determined resolve

So whilst others begin to champion his legend, we see a hint of the concern of the here and now that Bruce and his men must surely have found themselves in, and no doubt often dwelt upon; yet unconcerned with whether or not history would remember them as heroic, or how ‘right manfully’ the country thought they conducted themselves; Bruce simply try’s to lift his men’s spirits in those closing moments after the battle, knowing that lives had been at stake, and that the men around him had faced down real danger; regardless of the glory to be won in the hindsight. It’s often difficult to remember that these were real men who had no idea then, that they would eventually be victorious. At that point in time, they were just a handful operating within a violent country, and surrounded daily by literal armies of enemies at every turn in the road. Did he say, verbatim, those exact words written above? Who can say? Did he ever actually utter similar words to his beleaguered army? It’s very possible.


But of course, no one will ever truly know what had really gone through the mind of the Bruce during that time, with the same being true of the men who followed him. Did they fight solely for Scotland, or did they simply hate the English? Did they fight for their lands that had been seized, or did they truly fight for the sake of liberty and the cause of freedom alone? Is it naive to assume some of them did fight for that? I don’t know, it’s all subjective and an exercise in educated guesswork to try and read the minds of people long dead, and from an era with a vastly different morality scale. What I do know however, is that the book itself is pretty entertaining, insightful and interesting in respects to mindset of the 1300’s, and one that I would highly recommend.

John Fordun: Indeed he is said to have said to his Knights one day when worn out by such…hardships and dangers, ‘Were I not moved by Scotland’s freedom still, for rule of the world I would not bear this ill.’

That all the punishment and strife he endured, Bruce wouldn’t have suffered so for the sake of the world, that he continued onward for Scotland, and Scotland only, to who he owed his allegiance, in my humble opinion, should never be doubted.

Bruce and Wallace at Stirling
Wallace and Bruce at Stirling

Cinead MacAlpin.

Alasdair the Devastator: Part two

Mac Colla has often been credited with refining the tactic known as the ‘Highland charge’; a tactic which was utilized in the Civil Wars, wherein a large body of men would run at high speed toward the enemy infantry, fire a volley of pistols at close range, and then finish with the foe, hand to hand. And this tactic proved remarkably effective, in part due to the musket’s slow reloading time, as well as the shock and awe it inspired. In combat, Mac Colla’s unit was usually placed on the wings, and he was infamous for charging out ahead of his men, chopping the enemy pikes and spears in half with his claymore as he did so; claiming the honor of being the first among his men to spill the enemy blood as the battle begun.

And this seemingly insane strategy worked incredibly well as back in the 17th century, the Covenanters were using muzzle-loading gunpowder muskets (a process that could take anywhere from 20 to 40 seconds depending on how skilled the musketeer was), as mentioned above; but Mac Colla himself didn’t really see how such an awkward and time consuming weapon was much of an advantage in battle; especially over the tried and true sword-and-shield technique of yesteryear. So, capitalizing upon the effectiveness of the charge, he set about further developing and refining it into what it would eventually become.

And as you can imagine, his efforts proved the charge to be an extremely effective tactic against all manner of formations and troop types. In one of his first battles alongside Montrose, Mac Colla hadn’t enough weapons to provide to his troops, and where any other commander would have conceded defeat; Mac Colla simply had his men charge toward the enemy armed only with a large rocks. They reached the enemy in good order, having ducked and rolled beneath several musket volley’s to arrive; and then, with rocks in hand, slew those they found there; taking the weapons of the dead, and then using those for the remainder of the battle; which they soundly won, severely outnumbered as they had been. Using this fear-inducing tactic, combined with what must have looked to the enemy like an almost unparalleled lack of self preservation; Mac Colla’s 2,000-man unit routed and annihilated a Covenanter force that outnumbered him three-to-one. At the Battle of Kilsyth he charged uphill against orders and ended up breaking the enemy formation there with a perfectly-timed charge. At Auldearn, his 500 men were surprise-attacked by a coordinated attack from four full regiments of musketeers, but he managed to somehow hold off the attack long enough for Montrose’s cavalry to get around the enemies flank and break their formation. This ambush it was said, so enraged Mac Colla that he ordered all of his men to run the enemy down on foot, through moor and over hill, and kill as many of them as they could.

It was during this campaign that Alasdair Mac Colla and Clan MacDonald eventually completed their vengeance on the Campbells; an act they accomplished while fighting with Montrose at the Battle of Inverlochy in 1645. Mac Colla marched through a dense bog to flank the Campbell castle, and then charged straight into the enemy formation sent out to defend it; crushing them swiftly, he captured the ancestral seat of Clan Campbell in a matter of moments. As mentioned in Part one, he was knighted by Montrose shortly after; making him Sir Alasdair the Devastator. But those happy times were not to last forever. For whilst things were going well in Scotland, the situation back in England was a different matter entirely. It turned out that Oliver Cromwell had defeated King Charles’ forces, and that the King had ultimately issued an order for Montrose, and all Royalists, to lay down their arms and surrender as a result.

Mac Colla of course, being the man he was, refused.

Montrose however, left the war as was the Kings wish, whilst Mac Colla continued to fight an increasingly futile series of battles over the next two years; constantly surrounded by enemies and often without back-up. Outnumbered, and out gunned being the routine; he was finally slain in 1647 at the Battle of Knocknanauss. Today, he’s a larger-than-life folk hero in several bagpipe tunes and Scottish drinking songs, though most non-Catholics who would be aware of him might continue to think of him as little more than a monster. I, even as a protestant, regardless, see him simply as a hero to my Clan; Clan Donald; Clan MacDonald, Sept of Clan Donald; MacDonald of Clanranald, Sept of Clan MacDonald.

Margaret Wilson

Margaret Wilson was a young Scottish Covenanter. Born in Wigtown, on a farm near Newton Stewart to Episcopalian parents; young Margaret, surrounded as she was by male family members, had either been influenced, or sought the acceptance of, her brothers and their covenanter ideals. As the movement raged on, Margaret threw all caution to the wind and cast passionately in with the Covenanters and followed her elder brothers into the fray. But soon, as the movement began to falter, and with her brothers then scattered to the wilds of the Highlands, hiding as outlaws from the authorities, and with ever harsher punishments brought in against ‘rebels‘ such as her and her kin, Margaret subsequently took her convictions under ground; attending small gatherings of like-minded people when and where she could. Soon however, even these appointments were scuppered by the strict rules imposed by the crown.

Millais' illustration of Wilson's martyrdom

Illustration by John Everett Millais

But despite the risks, and the newly imposed death penalty for doing so, Margaret began attending conventicles with her younger brother Thomas in increasing fervour, possibly beginning in earnest when there was an opportunity at a local conventicle to see the charismatic James Renwick, who had just taken control of the more zealous branch of Covenanters known as the Cameronians. In February 1685, Margaret and her younger sister Agnes traveled on a secret trip to Wigtown, to visit allies of their cause. One such ally was an elderly widow by the name of Margaret McLachlan. The young sisters Margaret and Agnes were taken prisoner shortly after arriving in the town, possibly after declining to drink to the King’s health, and were subsequently arrested. There in chains, they refused to take the Abjuration Oath which renounced the Covenant and accepted the king. On the following Sunday, Margaret McLachlan was arrested, and was also put into the “Thieves hole” with the Wilson girls. Not long after, the three women were taken before the local sheriff of the Government Commissioners for Wigtownshire.

And on the 13th of April, 1685, after several reprieves, and somewhat of a pardon, they were ultimately proclaimed guilty of Rebellion, guilty of Bothwell Bridge and Aird’s Moss, of 20 Field Conventicles and 20 House Conventicles. The three women were sentenced to death shortly after. Chained like dogs on the banks of the Solway Firth, and with the tide waters rushing in, the proudly defiant Margaret Wilson was afforded a chance to pray for forgiveness from the king. She was said to have refused. And so, refusing to renounce or abjure the covenant she so dearly held, her hair was taken roughly and her head was forced beneath the water’s surface. She was said to have begun singing psalms from the bible; her voice faltering only when the air in her lungs was replaced with sea-water.

The Martyr of Solway, by John Everett Millais, 1871

The Martyr of Solway. John Everett Millais, 1871

tied to palisades fixed in the sand, within the floodmark of the sea, and there to stand till the flood o’erflowed them

P.S. I’m vaguely aware of there being some debate as to whether or not this incident actually occurred, or if it was simply a fabrication for one purpose or another. But, at the end of the day, it’s an interesting story set in an interesting time in Scottish history, so make of it as you will. Though just remember, there is a reason one often remarks that Scotland’s history is written in blood.


Scottish Gaelic: Gaelic Scotland

Continuing on from my post: Concerning nonsense; I’d like to expand further on the matter of Gaelic language and culture being a part of all of Scotland’s heritage, and not just that of the Highlands. So first, I’ll give you a brief rundown of the numbers of speakers.

Scottish Gaelic speakers

57,000 speakers in Scotland (2011 Census of Scotland, Table QS211SC) With 87,000 people aged three and over Scotland wide reported having some Gaelic language ability in 2011. (2011 Census of Scotland, Table QS211SC)

Now, would it surprise you to know that roughly half of those Gaelic speakers live in the Lowlands? Well, according to, its the truth. Anyway, the Highland region compromises roughly just over half of Scotland’s landmass and has a population of around 400,000; 7 % of which speak Gaelic. 7% of the Highlands speak Gaelic, and that’s just an estimate; with only half of those speakers being fluent. So with both regions speaking it to some extent today, and all of Scotland having spoken it predominantly for centuries before, should an imaginary line really divide an entire country, a country that is tiny in both size and population? Are Highlanders ethnically different to Lowlanders? No, it’s simply genetically impossible, otherwise, they would have degenerated into a homogeneous society of cave-dwelling fish folk; especially considering their population is absolutely infinitesimal. It is also worth noting that there a 100,000’s of English, welsh and Irish people living all over Scotland; in the Highlands and Lowlands. There are sizable populations of all of the above living in the Highlands alone, and who don’t speak Gaelic; yet are they more Scottish than Lowlanders? If your answer is yes, then there is no counter argument I can make to try and convince you otherwise; there simply isn’t. And if there were, then I fear I wouldn’t have the skills necessary to accomplish it on account of you being an absolute moron. Anyway, enough of my ranting. Below, are a few maps of the distribution of the Gaelic language throughout Scotland at various periods in time.

10th-12th century Scotland


The blue is Gaelic speakers. The purple is Norse speakers. The pink is English speakers. The green is an estimation of the extent of the Cumbric language in Scotland during this period. So, according to this map, the extent of Anglo-Saxon and Cumbric (with most asserting that it was more likely a mixture of both Cumbric and Gaelic) influence in 12th century Scotland was minimal at best; why, it seems like Norse had more of a foothold during that time than any other outside cultural influence. So, Scotland up and until around the 12th century, was wholly Gaelic. Let’s compare this map to some more recent ones shall we?

Side note: according to this map, Lewis isn’t even Gaelic at this point in time, whereas almost the entire Lowlands is. If that doesn’t make you see things a little differently in regards to Highland and Lowland Scotland, then just leave, because nothing I say will ever convince you otherwise. Also, just thought I’d point out that Cumbric speakers were Brythonic Celts; the optimal word here, being Celts. It’s also worth noting that the Anglo influence is barely worth registering, and is, again, lesser even than that of the Norse influence in Scotland’s far north. Lastly, it was actually during the 10-11th centuries that Gaelic became known as the lingua Scotia: The language of Scotland.

1400’S-1500’s Scotland


These two maps show the estimated linguistic (See linguistic, not ETHNIC) divide in Scotland during the 1400’S, and then 1500’s. The blue represents Gaelic. The Yellow represents Scots. The orange represents Norn. This map, however, does not represent those bilingual speakers who could converse in either language, but does help to illustrate the extent of the language continuing in much of Galloway and the wider Aberdeen shire area. What this says to me is that Lowlanders opted to learn English so as to effectively trade with those south of the border. Industry and commerce of course would have fuelled this necessity further; but it by no means says to me that we suddenly became English. It’s worth noting that when a Highlander refers to a lowlander as a Sassenach, that term does not, at least originally, refer to one’s ethnicity, but rather to ones spoken tongue I.E; an English speaker; even the Irish referred to Scots as Foreign Gaels on account of us having spoken a slightly different dialect of Gaelic to them.

Side note: King Alexander III, coroneted in 1249, was addressed at his coronation in Scottish Gaelic; which he understood. King Alexander was not a ‘Highlander‘, though was descended from the old Celtic royal line of ancient Scotland. Like me*, he was a Gaelic speaking ‘Lowlander‘(*Learning), despite his ancient Scottish pedigree; he would be considered a Lowlander.

Also, did you know that the Outer Hebrides went from being Nordic in language and culture, to Gaelic in around the 12th century; even despite their Norse ancestry, regaining the language was enough to have them considered Gaels again. Let that sink in; half Norse, half Scottish people picking up the language used by a portion of their ancestors. Do you think any Highlanders balked at that? And now, Lewis (Outer Hebrides) is the last bastion of the language, despite having spoken it for far less time than the Lowlands did! But no, no; their still more Scottish than us ‘Lowlanders’………ridiculous.

1800’s Scotland


This map shows the distribution of Scottish Gaelic in 1891. Notice that the only places in Scotland during 1891 that were 75-80% Gaelic fluency was two small fractions of Uist and Lewis, Arkeg, a small slither of southern Nairn, Southern Oban, Jura, the northern tip of Kintyre, and the area between Dumess and Ullapool; whilst only 5-30% of the Highland region was actually fluent.

Now, the Lowlands and the north east of Scotland had an average of 5-10% Gaelic speakers inhabiting it (In some areas that percentage rises to 25-75%; such as Ayr, Sanquhar, Girvan, Ballantrae, Peeples, sections of the Edinburgh region, Moffat and Selkirk; some even possessing at least 75-80% Gaelic language fluency)

Contrast that with today, were around only 7% of the Highlands speaks the language in any capacity; with 1% of Scotland’s total population speaking Gaelic both fluently and conversationally/intermediary. So, by today’s logic, this 1891 survey would be enough to make both the Lowlands and the east/*northeast of Scotland ethnically/culturally Gael (*From Elgin in the Northeast, down to Perth, there was roughly a 5-30% fluency)

Only a small fraction of the border region possessed no Gaelic language skills at this time however, and I stress, it is a small fraction considering how many people will tell you that no one in that region even spoke it at all. So, if there were no Gaels outside of the Highlands, then how could the language have been spoken Scotland wide from the 12th century, and then well into the 1800’s?

21st century Scotland


This map shows the distribution of Gaelic speakers in Scotland in 2001. Note that whilst the Lowlands has only some proficiency with the language, there are roughly only two regions that sit around the 4% threshold; whereas, in almost half of the Highland region the percentage of speakers falls below the 4% threshold as well. As I have said before, the only place in Scotland that seems to have retained a Gaelic day to day life is Lewis and the Outer Hebrides. In fact, the centre of the Highlands itself currently possess just about the same amount of Gaelic speakers as the lowlands once did only 126 years ago. Yet they are apparently more Scottish than me? They are apparently more culturally different? Well, I wear the Kilt, and I’ am learning the language. I also play the Bagpipes and am learning the fiddle to boot! So, it would seem that I, a Lowlander, am more of a Gael than half of today’s ‘Highlanders’.

Scotland today


SkateTier – Own work: Geographic Distribution of Gaelic speakers in Scotland (2011)

As it is quite hard to make out, I have circled all of those areas in Lowland and Northeastern Scotland that are up to 1-5% Gaelic speaking. Note, that despite this map, at first glance, misleading the eye into believing that Gaelic is all but dead in the Lowlands and Northeast; Scotland’s Lowland population is somewhere close to 5,500,000 or thereabouts, whereas the Highland population is around 400,000. So, 42 areas of the Lowlands with 1-5% of the population speaking Gaelic, is incredibly substantial compared to those who speak it in the vastly smaller Highland region.


But remember, being a Gael is for the most part linguistic, not ethnic; a Scot is a Scot, whether he is more Pictish, Celtic, or Gaelic than his neighbor, we all have a good mixture of the blood of each pumping through our veins regardless of what language we speak. I have ‘Highland’ ancestry as much as I do ‘Lowland’. Scottish Gaelic belongs to me. Scottish culture is my culture.

Cinead MacAlpin.

The fustanella. What is it? And why it isn’t a Kilt

Foreword: I decided to tackle this subject because of one YouTube comment, which read: ‘Are the Scottish and Albanian people related? They share the Kilt and the pipe. And the name “Albannach”


Okay, I’ll be as brief as I can here; the term Albannach, is the name for a Scotsman in Scottish Gaelic, a language that pre-dates the country of Albania by around 1500 years, give or take when you recognize the region that would become Albania as emerging out of the Roman empire, the ottoman empire, the establishment of the Principality of Arbëror in the 1100’s, or their independence in 1912.

The name Albania is the Latin name for the country, applied sometime in the medieval period.

Alba, the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland, which lends itself to the name Albannach (Scottish/Scotsman), is older than the established Kingdom of Scotland by about 500 years. So no, Scotland and Albania are nothing alike, culturally or otherwise, simply for having similar sounding names, whose etymologies share absolutely no root word, or linguistic correlation with one another.

As for the pipes, Scotland didn’t invent them. Current evidence suggests that the Romans did, yet these were primitive single chanter/double chanter instruments devoid of tartan. The Great Highland Bagpipe is the Scottish variation of the instrument, and is somewhat recognizable for its radical design, of which, originated solely in Scotland.

Side note: Scotland is over 2000 mi away from Albania, and with the English channel separating the landmass of Britain and Europe by anywhere from 150 mi, to 20 mi. There aint no math to be done here folks. And as sure as I’ am that Albania’s a wonderful country, Scotland has nothing to do with it, whatsoever.


A brief history of the fustanella

Now, there a few scholars who say the fustanella is derived from the ancient Greek garment called a chiton, and if anyone reading this has read any of my other Defending-the-kilt type posts, you will know what’s coming next…that’s right, it’s a type of belted tunic…whodafunkit!


Moving on, the fustanella itself is understood by many, though not all agree, to have originally been an Albanian costume, introduced into Greek territories sometime around the Ottoman period; the outfit originating in the Toskeria region of southern Albania. The Fustanella was an outfit well-suited for use in mountain warfare, which was why it was worn by some of the indigenous soldiers of the Ottoman period, and also by the akritai of the earlier Byzantine era. Then, In the middle of the 19th century, Albanian guerilla’s abandoned their Turkish pants, to instead wear an outfit similar to the fustanella; the skirts of which, hung below the knees, with the hem gathered tight with garters, whilst tucked into the boots, creating somewhat of a bloused effect. Eventually, the garment was shortened into a kind of billowy, shorts-like skirt. This is the outfit worn by the modern Greek Presidential Guard; seen here:


For comparison, here is the Great Plaid, and the Kilt:


The ignorant observations of the privileged Englishman

So, where does the misinformed correlation between the fustanella, and the Kilt stem from? Well, for me, it’s fairly simple; the English (Of course it is) Now, let me explain.

An English traveler, by the name of, John Cam Hobhouse, wrote that ‘the Albanian speakers wore the Kamisa shirt and kilt, while Greek speakers wore woollen brogues‘ Other British, gentleman, travellers within the same region, such as Lord Byron, were enraptured by the Albanian garment, and described it as “the most magnificent in the world, consisting of long, white kilt, gold-worked cloak, crimson velvet gold laced jacket and waist-coat, silver mounted pistols and daggers

So, what we have here, is some toffee-nosed Englishmen who haven’t taken the time to research what it is the natives are actually wearing, and so simply refer to the garments as ‘Kilts‘ because that is their point of reference when confronted by men in skirts. What the natives were actually wearing, was a form of the, you guessed it, fustanella; not the Kilt. It’s as simple as that.

Why isn’t it a Kilt?

Well, one of the major arguments put forward by the casual observer to the contrary, refers to the fustanella’s pleats, and how they are the same as those found on a Kilt. Now both outfits are skirt-like, and yes, they do share pleating, yet remember, the progenitor of the Kilt, is the Great Plaid, which occasionally had pleating, which was then carried over to the modern Kilt; the keyword here is Modern (No one claims the modern Kilt is ancient); and I don’t think it’s all that much of a stretch to say that when the Great Plaid became the Kilt, the pleats were simply made uniform due to the warmth giving practicality of layered fabric; and out of a sense of Victorian uniformity.

Besides, the pleats are redundant in any argument, as children’s dresses have pleats, and so does that mean that little girls have ownership of the Kilt? Did they create it? Catholic Clergymen have pleats in their Choir rochet, hell, even an armchair can have pleats, so does that mean upholsters have ownership of the Kilt? Do armchairs? Don’t be fucking ridiculous. Anyway, so what if the fustanella has pleats, pleats aren’t owned by any one culture, and it stands to reason that many countries would have used some form of pleating in their clothing, as it’s good for layering up fabric so as to keep warm; its practical; common sense. By these peoples logic, the one descendant of the caveman who first discovered fire is now entitled to all the matches in the world…

Now, you could make the argument that trousers are trousers, and skirts are skirts, and so the Kilt is just another version of the concept of a ‘fustanella‘ Well, let me explain the differences, and why this is not the case.


The fustanella is not a Kilt, but a pleated skirt of wildly varying length that is sometimes tucked into the hem of a pair of breeches or boots; of a single colour, usually white or cream; and often, in modern times, worn above the knees like a mini skirt; especially by the Greek military who adopted their standardized version of the outfit sometime in the 1800-1900’s. Historically, it has even been worn above leggings, breeches, and trousers as a kind of light-weight, fabric fauld (Pelvis, hip and upper thigh armor) further separating it from the Kilt of Scotland, which is worn singularly with nothing beneath, or above. It is standardized; a Kilt is a Kilt, whereas the fustanella as a garment has no official, nor traditional set of rules by which it has to be worn.

That is the difference between a Kilt, and the fustanella. The Kilt is a Kilt; the fustanella can be worn any which way; long, short; with or without trousers; tucked into shoes; as part of a tunic arrangement; but never, ever, ever, on its own, otherwise it’s just a frilly white skirt.

But do you know what outfit can be worn on its own, and still be the same outfit? You guessed it, the Kilt; which is a standardized outfit whose origins are Scottish. The fustanella on the other hand, is a garment of many faces, and could be Greek, Baltic, Albanian, or even Turkish in origin. Seriously though, really? Does this actually look like a Kilt?


But what I don’t understand is why they don’t just call it what it is, and there are many names to choose from, for example; Aromanian: fustanelã, fustã, fustanã. Italian: fustanella. Romanian: fustanelă. Macedonian: fustan (фустан ) Whilst Scotland’s national dress already has a name: Scottish Gaelic; filleadh beag (Small Kilt) or, simply, the Kilt.

After all, you wouldn’t call an Aston Martin, a Yugo GV, even though they both have four wheels and an engine.

Cinead MacAlpin.