The Strategic Placement, and defensibility of, Pictish Brochs In Southern Scotland

When you look at the placement of Pictish Brochs in Southern Scotland, the purely defensive placements of such structures is clearer to see, than at any other Broch site in Scotland. As without the surrounding defensibility of countless mountains, Lochs, straits and Islands, the Brochs of Southern Scotland, and their strategic placement, stand out even more so as a result.

Incidentally, it seems that most southern Brochs are larger than those found in the north also, perhaps as a direct result of having to contend with enemies such as the Romans and Proto-English tribes from the south more so than those further north.


Edin’s Hall

Take for instance Edin’s Hall, which stands atop the northeast slope of Cockburn Law, just above a fairly steep slope down to the Whiteadder Water. Note the haugh (Low-lying land) that compromises all of the southern and western-facing terrain, of which provides views for several miles in both directions (Almost all the way down to the Cheviots!). As mentioned above, the Broch is also situated close to a source of water, and therefor food, as well as a forest, of which would have acted as a screen for miles to the north. The forest of course, would have also served as a ready source of timber, game, and foraging; and all of which would have been easily defensible through proximity to the Brochs strength, the bend in the river, and the vantage afforded by the fortifications height itself.

It is also worth noting that Edin’s Hall is defended by the ramparts and ditches of an even earlier Iron Age Hill-fort, consisting of a large roundhouse in the center, close to the Broch, and a double rampart and ditches surrounding, all of which being enclosed by a larger oval area some 442ft by 246ft, the placement of which can be seen in the satellite image below.

Edin's Hall Broch

Not a Broch, but worth noting also, are the complex fortifications of Cockburn Law, pictured below, and of which stands roughly a half mile to the south west of Edin’s Hall, and as a testament to the area’s highly defensible nature, evidently valued by the ancient Celtic peoples who inhabited the area previous to their Pictish descendants.

Cockburn Law

The fort on the summit of Cockburn Law is of an oval plan construction, and measures 360ft by 280ft internally. It is defended on the Eastern side by one rampart, with a wide linear boulder spread, which runs parallel to the foot of the natural slope, which may be a further line of defense thereupon. On the south side, the fort is defended by two ramparts, and by three stone and earth ones on the west and north facing side, giving an overall dimension of 500ft by 380ft. There are three entrances, one situated on the North-West, a West facing one, and another on the South facing side.

Within the interior of the fortifications themselves, of which is guarded by a large enclosing stone rampart, at the highest point, is the remains of a cairn, and north of that, a series of bands made from stones, which suggest huts having been once situated there. At the base of the hill, from the southern entrance, to the northern one, is a row of large boulders that seem to have bordered an enclosure of some type during it’s Iron Age occupation; a sheep fold perhaps? A storehouse of some sort, or a tannery? Or maybe even an area for surrounding civilians to shelter in times of war or assault?


Bow Castle

Bow Castle Broch

Bow Castle sits atop it’s namesake, Bow hill, on the level ground on the brink of it’s steep southwest facing slope. The Broch has an internal wall some 15ft thick, enclosing a court-like area 32ft in diameter, the entrance of which is situated in the east-facing wall. However, the Broch was originally surrounded by another wall some 15ft thick, with the entrance to the entire fortification situated in the northeastern side likewise.

Further still, are the obscured remains of what might have been even more fortifications, again, on the north east facing side, in the form ditches and walls, which suggests a concentration of strength at the fort’s entrance, and seemingly most vulnerable side. Incidentally, if you look closely at the above ariel photograph, you will notice the gentleness of the aforementioned sides approach, whereas the other sides are somewhat protected by the surrounding steepness, with the northwest side in particular defended naturally by a nearly vertical, broken face.

The placement of the Broch is also telling, for not only does it overlook the Gala water and surrounding forests, but also sits on the western part of a rise that forms a crescent ridge at the head of the Galashiels. A well placed vantage, and easily defensible strength if pressed from any direction North, west, or south of it’s lofty position. There also seems to be a natural pass dividing the crescent ridge in the middle, through which a traveler going east to the higher ground that sits beyond the Broch, would likely need to traverse if he wanted to shave 3-6 miles off of his journey, and this, the fort was also well placed to monitor.

Bow Castle ordinance survey map

It’s worth mentioning that the surrounding area is also littered with numerous settlements and cairns, concentrated on or near the summits of the many hills that dot the landscape. It seems this area was a hub of sorts during the Iron Age, and it is easy to see why.


Torwoodlee Broch

Torwoodlee Broch

Torwoodlee Broch is situated on the site of an earlier Hill-fort on the shoulder of a ridge, over 800ft OD, of which affords the fort extensive views, especially across Galashiels to the Eildon Hills, and is proposed as having been built solely in response to roman presence in the outlying area. Most likely the site was chosen because of the earlier fort already built thereon. And like Bow Castle Broch some two miles north, Torwoodlee was also built upon an easily defensible ridge with easy access to water and timber.
The Hill-fort is an irregular oval in shape, measuring in at massive 449ft by 446ft. Along the Western side, the defenses would have consisted of two ramparts each with an external ditch, traces of which, can be seen continuing around to the North facing side. Unfortunately, both the South and East facing sides of the fort have been destroyed beyond recognition.

Now, whilst the earlier Hill fort is certainly impressive in size and scale, the Broch itself, which lies on the southwest side of the fort, and is built partly on top of the earlier defenses, is a great deal smaller than it’s older counterpart, with a diameter of 76ft, but with an outer wall coming in at a sizable 17ft thick it is among one of the largest Brochs discovered. The inner court, or living space, has a diameter of roughly 39ft, with the entrance on the East side, and a door-check in each wall of the passage leading in. It is reasonable to assume that, although the Eastern defenses are all but lost, being situated around the entrance of the Broch would suggest similar defenses as afforded to the North and West facing sides, if not more so.

Furthermore, this particular Broch is highly unusual in that is was surrounded by a ditch, with a causeway in front of the entrance. Excavation showed this to be V-shaped in section, some 8.8ft wide and 5.2ft deep. An Iron Age moat, of sorts.

The archaeological finds from this Broch also suggest that it was inhabited by a rich, and influential chieftain, with many bronze artifacts, roman coins and loot, as well as native glass armlets having been found within it’s walls.

Torwoodlee ordinance survey map


Doon Castle

Doon Castle Broch

This Broch is situated within an outwork placed on a rocky promontory on the South side of Ardwell Point, on a narrow spit cut off from the land by a wall, and traversed by a ditch spanned by a built-up causeway. The Broch, comparatively well preserved, with entrances on both the North-East and the South facing sides, and a mural chamber on the Eastern side, with a probable second on the Western. The interior of this impressive Broch measures in at about 30ft in diameter, and is enclosed within a wall anywhere from 12ft in thickness, in the Northeast, to 15ft on the East facing side. A more than adequate defense given the already imposing strength afforded to the fort by the rocky outcrop, and the relatively narrow causeway linking it. I would think that no more than two men abreast could cross it at any given time, and so the defensibility and strategic placement of this Broch really needs no explanation.

Doon Castle ordinance survey map

The outwork, however, of the surrounding fortifications is compromised of a wall at least 8.5ft thick, which encloses an area measuring 46ft from East to West, by 33ft between the Broch and the North end of the promontory. On the East facing side, the rubble of the outwork merges with that of the Broch itself.

The entrance through the outwork, rather than the Broch, was probably on the Northeast facing side, opposite the aforementioned causeway, which had been constructed across a natural gully some 19ft wide, and 8ft deep, of which cuts off the promontory from the North. The causeway itself is only 6.2ft wide and 3ft high.


Laws of Monifieth

Laws Of Monifieth

Monifieth Laws Broch sits on the plateau within an Iron Age Hill fort, of which overlooks the Firth of Tay to the south. It should be noted, in the interests of defensibility, that Laws hill, upon which the fortification rests, rises to an elevation of around 400ft above sea level. On the summit, are the aforementioned remains of what had once been a very large and substantial fort. The entrance appears to face South-East.

Originally, the Hill fort was no doubt a small stronghold which, like the others on this list, had been built during the centuries of intermittent warfare. The walls of were likely added to, extended and strengthened as necessity required, until the whole hill-top had been covered by huge ramparts of stone surrounding the central buildings within, where men and stores could be housed, and with space seemingly sufficient enough even for the accommodation of cattle no less, such is the apparent scale of the fortifications.

Laws of Monifieth ordinance survey map

The site itself, occupies an area of about two acres, having an almost elliptical boundary at a whopping 1110ft in circumference. The length from east to west is about 510ft. It`s position is one of the highest elevations in the district. As a defensive position it was the strongest possible. There was a good water supply from springs, and the walls, of which vestiges remain in the shape of enormous masses of stonework, point to an almost impregnable fortification.

The outside diameter is 64ft, with a wall thickness of 16ft, and an inside diameter of around 33ft. However, despite the fantastic nature of the earlier fort surrounding it, the construction of the Broch itself, is of a poor standard compared to those Brochs found in the north. Yet, despite it’s shortcomings, the site does have clear views all around the Angus country-side, apart from that obscured by the hill to the north. The fort also belongs to the class, vitrified; the stones being bound together by a glaze that could only be produced by a fire so hot, and so long applied, as to fuse the stones until they were connected by a cement resembling melted ore.

Interestingly as well, in mentioning Angus, the capital of Pictland was continuously changing. Each King would make his headquarters in the district where he possessed territory, and where he would be surrounded by those personally devoted to him. Queen Fichem was the wife of King Oengus, (Angus) who reigned from 729 to 762 AD, and who was in residence at Balmossie when she gave the gift of the hall and royal place to the monks, who had with them the relics of St. Andrew. It may be therefore, that Fichem, or Finchem, belonged to some Pictish family of consequence, whose possessions lay in Forfarshire, and whose stronghold was the Laws Fort. Incidentally, the presence of a number of class II and III Pictish stones in the surrounding area, also points to Monifieth having had some importance as an ecclesiastical center to the Pict’s, for the lands were a possession of the Céli Dé monastic order, until they were granted to the Tironensian monks of Arbroath Abbey in the early 13th century.

It should be said, that of all the Brochs mentioned, the Laws of Monifieth has so far yielded the greater amount of ancient artifacts, including a bronze spiral finger ring, which was recovered during 19th excavations, as well as many fragments of tobacco pipes made of clay, not differing much from the modern shape, but clumsier and thicker, along with not only human bones, but articles of daily life including a stone cup, a sword, querns, and iron implements too.

A smoke, a drink, and good fight! How little life in Scotland has changed, it seems…

Cinead MacAlpin.

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On This Day, 1305

On this day in 1305, Sir William Wallace was tried in Westminster Hall on the charge of High Treason, during which a garland of oak was placed upon his head mockingly, to signify him as the King of outlaws. His grisly sentence, of course, was read out immediately following the verdict, and included the full details of the punishment, known as “hanging, drawing and quartering”.

He was then beaten and dragged outside to a pair of waiting horses, and subsequently chained prostrate onto a hurdle (just a piece of fencing, not the wheeled construction shown in the film) before being dragged through the filthy streets of London for the public to mock, throw rubbish at, and stone.

He was drawn first to the Tower, about two and a half miles from the site of his trial, and then on to Smithfield via Aldgate, another mile or thereabouts so that all could look upon his mighty person and safely jeer. When his would be humiliation was finally complete and he had arrived at the spot of his execution, without ceremony, a noose was swiftly tightened about his neck, after which he was hanged all the way up and to the point of unconsciousness, being cut down just before passing out, or strangling to death. He was not racked as shown in the film however, nor was he allowed a chance to submit to Edward’s peace or even take a breath, and thereby cut short his suffering; rather, whilst being held upright by the hangman’s rope, like a carcass in a butchers yard, his private parts were swiftly cut away (all of them, and hence emasculation, not castration) of which were then summarily burned in the brazier in front of him. Then, while still upright, and very much alive and conscious, his stomach was slit open so that he could be ritually disemboweled for a baying crowd of filthy, cowardly peasants. His entrails were burnt on the brazier likewise.

Not content with the excruciating torture already dished out to the bound prisoner, the cruelty of the English rarely sated when given the chance at psychopathy, and so the final act was to be decapitation, and then quartering. You will note that in effect, these are three symbolic deaths: first, hanging, second, evisceration, and finally, decapitation. But before that small mercy, his arms and legs were first hacked off of his body, and for at least some of that, or perhaps even all of it, Wallace might very well have been conscious enough to know what was happening to him. I only pray shock had fully set in then, and all was but a detached numbness as his body wracked and spasmed from the blows of the axe slowly, but steadily detaching the broken limbs from his body.

But why did such a cruel injustice befall Wallace, one might ask, and for what reason would such a horrific punishment be devised? Look no further than Edward I then, who is said to have decreed that treason was a triple crime: against God, against man, and against the King. Hence the triple death sentence. The grisly, grotesque nature of the killing was explained in the severe language of the law with the intention that it should terrify the listeners and enhance the misery of the man whose body would soon illustrate the reality of the horror it entailed.

Needless to say, afterwards, Wallace’s head, dipped in tar, was then fixed to a pike, and subsequently displayed atop London Bridge, to be joined alongside by those of his brothers later on.

“I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.”- Wallace at his trial.

This barbaric murdering, in fact, was employed by the English for the execution of Scotsmen even as late as the 18th century, and as given by Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough (1750-1818) the wording was as follows:

“You are to be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, where you are to be hanged, but not till you are dead; for while still living, your body is to be taken down, your bowels torn out and burnt before your face; your head is then cut off, and your body divided into four quarters.”

P.S Tonight, I’ll be raising a glass of Bourbon in the name of Scotland’s Immortal Guardian.

“A Wallace, a Wallace!”- The War-cry of the men who had the fortune to follow him.

Cinead.

The price of a King’s life: a dead-eye, and one dead dog

The following is an account of the aftermath of a disastrous failed attack on Thirwall castle, in England, by Robert the Bruce and a handful of men who had rode thereto in order to aid in the attack against that castle, of which was supposed to have been mounted by Sir James Douglas, who was, it turned out, still riding through his own lands of Douglasdale, back home in Scotland.

Being pursued by a force of six hundred, who were themselves a small piece of an army several thousand strong, Bruce decided that it was imperative that he and his handful of men split apart; every man for himself so to speak, otherwise, they could end up being wiped out as one whole body. Immediately, his men flew to the wind, yet Bruce, who had noted how the Lord of Lorn seemed to pursue him even then, asked his foster-brother if he would accompany him, so as to ascertain whether or not he, the King, had truly been recognized among the scattering rabble, or whether or not it was simple bad luck that set the foe’s attentions squarely upon him.

And so, as he and his man sprinted across the rolling hills, indeed, the enemy yet pursued them directly; a great war-dog now heralding them loudly and swiftly. He was being tracked, of course, Bruce then realized. But given the unerring stamina of that powerful King, Lord Lorn sometime later called off the pursuit by the main force, and instead sent out a party of five men; his strongest and fastest warriors. However, upon spotting this, Bruce resolved to stand and fight these men, and was quoted as saying:

“Yon five are coming quickly; they are almost upon us. So will you help at all, for we shall be attacked pretty soon?”

To which, his foster-brother replied, “Yes, sir, all that I can”

You say well indeed,” said the King. “I see them coming close to us. I’m going no further but will stay right here, while I still have breath, to see what strength they can muster”

And with that, the King then planted his feet squarely upon English soil, all but alone, to await firmly these, the lord Lorn’s chosen executioners. And those five men, traitor Scots all, hurtled toward the steadfast King and his foster-brother with much threatening and jeering and the waving of axe and sword. Bruce, however, simply awaited them in quiet observation; his sword poised, but held without tension; relaxed, even, in his bodily manner, as those rough few who would be King-slayers charged him; at their backs, the sight of Lorn’s main host continuing their advance must have been terrifying, and yet Bruce and his man faced them down. Two men with courage enough to turn upon the dirt of a hostile nation and face the army bearing down, and there before it, meet a portion head first.

Bruce

And so on they came, the fiercest of a fierce foe, arriving in two sets as they did, with three going straight for Bruce, and the other two to the King’s man. But, instead of holding his ground, or seeking only to survive, to withstand the encounter; Bruce went forwards instead, to meet the enemy boldly and directly, and so struck the ear and cheek off of the foremost of his attackers, the blade slicing right down to the neck and onward so that half of the shoulder meat came away also. The second and third men were evidently cautious now, and so much so, that upon glimpsing the precarious situation befalling his foster-brother then, Bruce reasoned it safe to abandon his own adversary’s a moment, in favor of those other two.

And so leaping across to where his foster-brother battled valiantly, Bruce landed lightly to the side of the fray, and from there, decapitated the closest man in a single blow of his sword. Then, after having evened the odds somewhat, returned again to his own attackers, who, having gathered their wits and courage by then, came again, strongly this time, and together, to best the lone King through brute force, where skill could not overcome.

And yet, it was futile, for even in the outnumbering, they were themselves, outmatched severely, and this was to be brought home to one of those men starkly when his attacking arm returned to him a bloody stump; the sword of The Bruce only slightly bloodied, such was it’s sharpness, and by the speed of which the amputation had been performed.

Bruce sword
Lord Bruce presenting his ancestors Claymore

Needless to say, when it was all over; of the five, Bruce had slain four, with the other having ultimately fallen to the sword of his foster-brother. And with no time to wonder at their handy work, those two victors quickly took away, to make for a woodland nearby as the five hundred or so axes that accompanied the Lord of Lorn came rushing up to meet them; themselves in full battle-array, and with all but mere yards shielding the King from their wrath.

But, the King was cunning, you see, and knew fine well that the tracking hound would discover their trail whichever direction they took, and so told his foster-brother of how they could rob the hound of their scent if they jumped into he river that flowed through this place, and that if they could do that, then they would have no need to worry. Not surprisingly, his comrade agreed readily, and so both took away to the river as suggested; splashing down into it’s shallows, from which they then followed it’s course for some time.

But, unbeknownst to King, nor foster-brother, their plight had been observed by an archer of particular courage, who, upon having sighted the Lord of Lorn’s great tracking dog giving chase to The Bruce, resolved then to see it done away with, if he could, and so ensure that his King got away safely. And as that King and his man entered the shade of the wood, the archer had already crouched himself down in a bush great enough to conceal him, and from there, loosed an arrow into the great hounds chest, killing it instantly, so that it was to fall only meters from the tree line.

Scottish archer

And it’s more than likely that Bruce had made his escape without ever fully realizing just how dangerously close he had come to being killed that day, were it not for the unknown archer who, in anonymity, had quietly sacrificed himself for his King.

That man’s arrow, an instrument of fate; his nerve, a King’s reprieve; his aim, true enough to have maintained the very course of a nations destiny.

“For a’ that, and a’ that, their tinsel show, an’ a’ that; the honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, is King o’ men for a’ that”

Cinead MacAlpin.

 

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:

ww1
“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
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.

Conclusion

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.

Cinead.