This is part four of my alphabetic amble through some of Edinburgh's history (links to previous parts at the bottom of the blog), brought to you this time by the letters J, K and L!
J is for JK Rowling
It is hard to avoid Edinburgh's associations with the Harry Potter series of children's books, as many enterprising businesses seek to capitalise (one might say exploit...) the city's links with the author and her work.
In deference to the great bulk of genuine history that Edinburgh offers (and in order to keep my cynicism in check!) I tend not to mention JK Rowling or her literary output on tours, unless there are children with a keen interest in the stories walking with me. But there are various sites of Potter pilgrimage around the town for those who insist on pursuing such things!
Rowling does still have a house in Edinburgh, and she did complete a teacher training course at the Moray House campus of Edinburgh University, which is their school for education. Everything else is a cultural confection that has led to the greatest travesty of all - the University of Edinburgh's Quidditch Club, where otherwise rational and (presumably) intelligent students run around the Meadows with broomsticks between their legs. For shame.
K is for Knox
A pair of Knoxes, actually - two of the city's famous historical inhabitants are John Knox and Robert Knox.
John Knox was the minister of St Giles' Cathedral in the sixteenth century, and famously was the man who moved Scotland away from Catholicism and onto the Presbyterian form of Protestantism that still forms the basis of the national Church of Scotland. Knox had been born in Haddington in East Lothian, and become a major figure in the historical record for his associations with Mary, Queen of Scots, a devout Catholic who represented the opposite side of the theological debate.
On the Royal Mile visitors can still visit John Knox's House, a maintained building from the period in which Knox was minister in the city, but not believed to have ever belonged to the man himself. A small plaque in Parliament Square near St Giles' Cathedral marks the reputed spot where Knox was buried, but even this story comes with a healthy dose of doubt...
Robert Knox was head of Edinburgh University's anatomy school in the nineteenth century, a popular figure who inspired his students and brought life to the study of dead bodies... It was Robert Knox who gained a level of infamy by paying cash for corpses and being heavily involved with the serial killers Burke and Hare, who took it upon themselves to ensure the medical school had a healthy supply of cadavers. Whilst Burke and Hare faced the consequences of the law for their criminal acts, Robert Knox avoided legal action but was effectively forced out of his profession and would later leave Edinburgh for good to seek out new life in London.
L is for Lady Stair's Close
One of the narrow lanes leading off the Lawnmarket section of the Royal Mile where visitors can find the city's Writers' Museum dedicated to three of Edinburgh's most famous authors: Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott and Robert Burns.
The building which houses the museum was once owned by the widow of the 1st Earl of Stair. Lord Stair's wife had previously been Lady Primrose, whose first husband had been a violent drunk - one afternoon as she was dressing for dinner she saw her husband in the mirror's reflection, entering the room behind her with a knife in his hand. Fearing he was going to do her harm she leapt from the bedroom window and sought refuge with her mother-in-law. Lord Primrose later left the country and travelled through Europe where his violent reputation hadn't followed him.
One day Lady primrose paid to have her fortune told and had described to her a scene in which a man standing at the altar, about to wed his wife, was killed by a guest at the wedding. Some years later, when Lady Primrose's brother returned from travelling through Holland, he described how he had been invited to the wedding of a mutual friend, a fellow Scotsman, and on arrival at the church recognised the groom-to-be as his sister's violent husband. Drawing his sword he killed the man in revenge for the mistreatment of his sister. The details accorded with the story Lady Primrose had heard from the fortune teller!
Lady Primrose later remarried and became Lady Stair, and bought the building on the lane which still has her name.
Explore more of Edinburgh's history (sans Harry Potter) with my private walking tours!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
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