Just as Braveheart defined Scottish history and culture for the mid-90s film buffs, the TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's historical time-travelling romance series Outlander has captured the imagination (and hearts) of a whole new generation of viewers.
Originally published in the UK in 1991 as Cross Stitch, Outlander has everything a popular drama needs - doomed lovers, battles, unrequited passions and (of course) men in kilts...!
Since it premiered in 2014, the TV adaptation has been responsible for a massive surge in interest in Scottish history, with whole tour agencies dedicated to providing an authentic Outlander experience for those wanting to walk in the footsteps of Claire and Jamie.
I don't take tours out of Edinburgh, but here's my guide to some of the Outlander filming locations that can be found in the city and further around Scotland - and if you'd like a guide to take you out of the city I can make some recommendations for companies to check out.
EDINBURGH'S OLD TOWN
Series three is when the characters in the story visit Edinburgh for the first time, and there are several locations in the Old Town which were used for on-site filming.
Bakehouse Close is the one which most fans look for, as this is the location for Jamie's print shop in the series. I've lost count of the number of people on my tours who have wanted to have their photograph taken on the steps which provided access to the print shop!
The lane here was heavily decorated for filming, and appeared in a number of sequences as characters made their way through the city's busy medieval streets.
The area historically was a bakery district (as its name suggests) and the adjacent Acheson House property - also used for filming - has served as both a high-status residence and a brothel at different times in history!
Tweeddale Court is another of the old lanes which was used for filming, again highly decorated as a market place, where Claire and Jamie first re-encounter each other in the series.
This narrow lane was originally outside of the medieval city walls, which can still be seen along the alley, and later was the access point to a grand manor house owned by the Marquess of Tweeddale.
Other locations in Edinburgh which feature in the series include the World's End pub; the Signet Library, a grand eighteenth-century legal library which today hosts afternoon teas; the former veterinary school of Summerhall; and Craigmillar Castle, a ruined fortress once occupied by Mary, Queen of Scots (the area around it is still known as 'Little France') which serves as Ardsmuir Prison where Jamie is held after the Battle of Culloden in the Outlander series.
You have to go beyond the city to discover some of the more recognisable and iconic locations from the TV series.
Linlithgow Palace was the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, and features in the Outlander series as the interior of Wentworth Prison. (Exterior shots of Wentworth Prison were filmed at Bamburgh Castle in northern England.)
The private estate of Hopetoun House has featured as a number of locations in the series - as the streets of Paris in season two, and the Duke of Sandringham's home in season one. In the grounds of the estate are Midhope Castle, which features as Lallybroch, the family home of Jamie Fraser. Although the estate is a private property, access can be arranged to view Midhope from the outside.
In east Lothian, outside of Edinburgh, you can find Gosford House which stood in for Versailles on screen, along with Preston Mill, a National Trust for Scotland property where Jamie was spotted hiding shirtless during season one, along with serving as the courtroom where Claire attended a hearing for witchcraft.
To the west of Edinburgh, just a short drive across the Firth of Forth, is the historic village of Culross, which features as Cranesmuir in the series.
At the heart of Culross is Culross Palace, a former royal residence which has associations with King James VI of Scotland. The palace building featured in both seasons one and two of Outlander.
The village here is a lovely place to visit, even if you don't know of its Outlander connections!
Across the other side of the water from Culross is Blackness Castle, styled imposingly in the shape of a ship moored at the side of the Firth of Forth. Blackness stood in for Fort William in the TV series.
Gosford House in East Lothian stood in for the French palace of Versailles in season 2 - a considerable amount of CGI was used to mask some of the less French styling of Robert Adam's 18th century design, but the house provided a huge expanse of land for filming, and featured in a number of scenes.
The grounds of the house can be accessed to get a sense of the lifestyle enjoyed by the Wemyss and March family, who continue to own the property.
Of course, it's the Highland landscape which is a major feature of Outlander's dramatic scenes, and if you plan to visit the Highlands from Edinburgh you should expect to spend a couple of days travelling and staying overnight rather than trying to do the journey there and back in a single day. (Edinburgh to Loch Ness and back is just over 350 miles, which equates to around 8 hours of travelling.)
The battlefield at Culloden outside Inverness was the site of the historic clash between the Jacobite Scots and English armed forced in 1746. You can visit the battlefield for free, and find the grave stones and memorials to the fallen clans, including the Clan Fraser.
Kinloch Rannoch, a short drive from Pitlochry, is the location of the infamous stone circle through which Claire travels in time, but in reality there's no stone circle at the site - they were props created for the series...
The imposing landscape of Glen Coe is on one of the main driving routes to and from the Highlands, and remains an atmospheric and rather unsettling place. The site of a bloody massacre of members of the Macdonald clan by members of the Campbell clan in February 1692, Glencoe remains popular with filmmakers as well as walkers and photographers. It's not hard to see why!
To the south west of Scotland, near Dumfries, you can find Drumlanrig Castle, the ancestral house of the Queensberry family. The building is known as the 'Pink Palace' because of the tinted sandstone which is local to this area.
In Outlander, Jamie is seen stopping off here on his journey north to Culloden.
And there are many other locations in parks, fields, forests, villages and even the university buildings of Glasgow and Stirling which stand in for various locations in Scotland and America in the series. Not all the locations are publically accessible to visitors, and many were heavily decorated for filming and don't necessarily bear much relation to what is visible on screen!
So if you're a fan of Outlander it's worth planning your visit in some detail if you want to hit some of the more popular filming sites - the sheer volume of companies offering dedicated Outlander tours means than many of the more remote locations can get very crowded in high season.
I can recommend some smaller, more personal tour services who can tailor an out of town tour to some of the filming locations, and if you want to explore the Edinburgh locations I can feature them on a private walking tour of the city.
Get in touch to find out more, or book your Edinburgh walking tour today!
On 15 August 1822, King George IV came ashore from the ship which had brought him up the east coast of Britain from London, and began a historic visit to Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands which would help to kick-start a new age for Scotland.
Prior to this, Scotland had been thought of pretty consistently as England's poorer, wilder, more rebellious, less civilised neighbour. The uprisings of the eighteenth century had helped to cement a perception of the Scots as troublemakers who resented the union with England - and it's true that there was a significant degree of ill-feeling towards the governing powers, who had made the ancient language of Gaelic illegal in Scotland, had banned the wearing of the national dress, and had systematically dismantled the centuries-old clan system of the Highlands.
Such was the national disconnect between Scotland and England, the Scots hadn't even been visited by their monarch since 1650 - Charles II had been the last king to visit Edinburgh, and although the grand New Town development from the 1760s onwards had been broadly named for George III, he had never actually visited the city itself.
That changed in 1822, when George IV was invited to visit Scotland and to travel around the country - a grand tour masterminded by Sir Walter Scott, who at that time was reaching the peak of his status as Scotland's greatest literary export. Indeed, 15 August - the first day the king would spend ashore in Scotland - was Walter Scott's birthday, and Scott had planned out the visit with no opportunity for pomp and circumstance neglected.
Key to getting George IV to Scotland was an appeal to his family heritage. Scott had charmed the king with stories asserting the Jacobite lineage from which he was descended, quelling any fears that the people of Scotland would reject his presence or his rule. He assured the king that not only was his royal connection to the Scottish throne a legitimate one, but that he could dress himself in the traditional attire of the Scottish Highlanders. Neither of these assertions might be considered entirely true, but in doing so Scott inadvertently created not one but two traditions which continue to appeal to visitors to Scotland: the romantic appeal of family connection to Scottish history, and the wearing of a form of Highland dress that isn't entirely authentic.
Scott had commissioned the production of the equivalent of £120,000 worth of tartan ahead of the king's visit, and from this vivid red and gold pattern - the Royal Stuart as it is known today - he oversaw the creation of all manner of decorations and dress items for the king's visit.
But the version of the kilt that Scott created in 1822 was a far cry from the original form of Highland dress, which was far less decorative and much more practical - a rough and substantial swathe of material that would have been worn with a belt and doubled as a blanket for protection during the harsh Highland weather.
It was Scott who was responsible for the modern tradition of a family having its own tartan design, or sett, and for the various forms and styles of kilts and tartan that have since become synonymous with Scottish history and culture. It often comes as a surprise for visitors to learn that this 'ancient' tradition dates all the way back to 1822...!
King George was a fairly portly man, with a figure not naturally suited to wearing such garb as a kilt. Some contemporary estimates put his height at about 5' 2" (1.57m), with a 51" (1.3m) waist and at around 20 stone (280lbs) in weight. He chose to wear bright pink silk stockings under his kilt, to help conceal the varicose veins and other unsightly features on his legs, and was alleged to have worn the kilt about six inches above his knee - a terrible look for a man of that size and shape!
At least one cartoon of him at the time gives a vivid visual sense of the effect created...
During his visit to Edinburgh, George IV attended a number of events, intended to show the king to as many people as possible, in a carefully coordinated programme that befits an exercise in a kind of propaganda. Having not seen their monarch for nearly two centuries, Scots crowded the streets and travelled from all around to catch a glimpse of their king in his splendid costume.
A high society ball in the New Town was catered by a local man named Ebenezer Scroggie, a well-known and well-liked figure who imported fine wines from Europe and was noted for hosting the grandest and most generous parties. He would later be an inspiration to the writer Charles Dickens, and would help to give the world the figure of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Another creation of George IV's visit was the notion of the royal bodyguard in Scotland. The Royal Company of Archers had been granted recognition by Queen Anne in the eighteenth century, and for George IV's visit they attended the king's presence and acted as his 'official' bodyguards. George was so enchanted by their presence and style that he formally appointed them the sovereign's bodyguards in Scotland.
The Royal Company of Archers continue this function in royal visits, and can occasionally be found practising their skills on the Meadows, south of the Royal Mile, near Archer's Walk, or spotted in the gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse when dignitaries are staying there. (You'll also find the face of an archer above the entrance to No.1 High Street, on the Royal Mile.)
The visit of George IV was a watershed moment for Scotland. Just as today some people look to British royals as influencers of fashion or taste, so it was in the nineteenth century. Reports of the king wearing a kilt affirmed that it was now not just legal to wear kilts again, but actually fashionable, and so the modern fixation with kilted attire began to form. Similarly, the king visiting Scotland assured people that it was a place worth visiting, no longer to be considered a barren wilderness of rebellious and uncivilised natives.
Just fifteen years later, George's niece would become Queen Victoria, who embraced the interest in Scotland that her uncle had ignited, and whose purchase of the Balmoral estate in the Highlands would solidify the connection between the monarch and the Scots, and with it the introduction of what we would recognise today as tourism to Scotland.
So George IV's visit to Edinburgh was not just important at the time, but in the context of the later growth of Scotland's visitor industry. George was not otherwise considered a popular king - a profligate and womaniser, he had grown fat (literally) on the wealth of Britain's nobles, and embraced a life of excess and debauchery - but the statue of him which stands grandly at one of the major junctions in Edinburgh's New Town today reminds us of his place in creating the modern sense of Scotland.
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History as we know it is made up of seemingly small moments of drama and action which have unintentionally massive consequences.
One such example occurred in Edinburgh on 23 July 1637, when an Edinburgh woman accidentally started a war between Scotland, England and Ireland, and set in motion a chain of events which wouldn't be fully settled until nearly thirty years later...
'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,' as the somewhat sexist proverb has it, and Jenny Geddes was one such woman. We can't know what was going on her head as she took her seat in St Giles' Cathedral that Sunday morning in July 1637 - doubtless she couldn't possibly have known that she was on the brink of almost single-handedly bringing the British Isles to civil war, in a conflict which would shape the political and military landscape of the nation for generations to come.
In one surging moment of outrage during the service, as the historical record has it, Geddes got to her feet and picked up the small three-legged stool upon which she had been sitting. "Daur ye say Mass in ma lug?" she shouted, as she hurled the stool at the head of the minister.
It was an explosive moment of rebellion which would have wide-ranging consequences for the whole of the British Isles.
In modern English, Geddes's accusation - 'dare you say Mass in my ear?' - had its roots in events from a number of years earlier, at the Scottish coronation of King Charles I at St Giles' Cathedral in 1633. Suffering from his adherence to the belief that as monarch he was directly appointed by God, known as the 'divine right of kings', Charles had insisted on an Anglican service for his coronation.
But since the Reformation in Scotland over sixty years previously, the Church of Scotland had taken a different path from the Anglican church, and saw its role in the joining of its congregants to God in a different way. Services had been overhauled and changed from the traditional Catholic-style Mass, and a new structure had been set up within the Scottish church that removed many of the power hierarchies that that the Church of England retained.
Regardless of these major differences which had evolved, Charles I sought to impose the Anglican book of Common Prayer on the Scottish church, against the wishes of many in the Scottish church who saw this as an attempt by an English king to impose his will on a church he didn't belong to.
The first time his authorised book of Common Prayer was to be read publicly at a service in Scotland was in St Giles', on 23 July 1637, and Jenny Geddes was one of many among the congregants that morning who resented the interference of the king in their experience of religious worship. Her outcry (accompanied by a deftly aimed wooden stool) was a passionate rejection of a liturgical form that she didn't recognise or adhere to.
Certainly the scene in St Giles' that morning would have been one of startling violence as a riot broke out amongst the congregation, and Jenny and a number of other protesters were thrown out of the church, taking their cause onto the streets of Edinburgh.
News of the uprising in Edinburgh led to similar riots breaking out in towns and cities across Scotland, and when the king refused to allow the Scottish church to maintain its own form of worship (distinct from the Anglican service) the people of Scotland sought to protect their interests by drawing up the National Covenant, a document that sought to enshrine the rights of Scotland to its own church, and one that operated distinct from the control of the king.
The National Convenant was signed at Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh in 1638, and copies of the document were circulated across Scotland, as a powerful and passionate declaration of the Scottish church's independence from the English monarch.
Charles I resorted to military force to impose his will on the Scottish church, leading to the so-called Bishops' Wars of 1639 and 1640, establishing a conflict between the authorities of Scotland, England and (by association) Ireland, known as the War of the Three Kingdoms. The following years led to the turbulence and trauma of the English Civil War, which would have a major impact on the nation - in 1649 Charles I executed for treason and the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell installed himself as Lord Protector (king in all but name) of Great Britain.
So it may be a stretch to suggest Jenny Geddes bore responsibility for all of the historical events which followed her outburst in St Giles', but certainly by speaking out against what she saw as an injustice she helped to foment Scotland's reputation for standing up for itself. And she became a minor celebrity in her own time - and the poet Robert Burns was so enamoured with her that he named his horse Jenny Geddes in her honour!
On such small moments great history turns, and often we forget (perhaps) that it can still be individuals whose actions or presence can lead to major historical changes. And whilst the story of the English Civil War is often told through the kings and military leaders who were involved, it's worthwhile remembering the disaffected Scotswoman whose outrage started it all.
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James VI of Scotland (later to also be James I of England) was born in Edinburgh on 19 June 1566.
His mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to him in the relative safety of the royal apartments at Edinburgh Castle, but within a year his father would be dead and the 10-month old James would be separated from his mother, who would never see him again.
James VI remains one of the most important and best-known of Scotland's monarchs, and he left his mark on Britain in a variety of ways. Here are just a handful of the legacies that James VI & I left behind him.
THE UNITED KINGDOMS
James would become king of Scotland after his mother's forced abdication in 1567, when James was a little over a year old. A series of regents reigned Scotland in place of the infant king, until James was in his late teens, but the biggest event of his reign occurred in 1603, when Elizabeth I of England died without having married or produced an heir to the throne.
Mary, Queen of Scots had been Elizabeth's cousin, with a rightful claim to the English throne - and it was partly through a process of historical manipulation and deeply-rooted paranoia over this claim that Elizabeth had seen fit to execute Mary in 1587, to remove the threat to her reign that she perceived in Mary.
But on Elizabeth's death, it mean that the next rightful heir would be Mary's son, and thus it was that James, already king of Scotland, now acceded to the throne of England as well. This single circumstance of genealogy united Scotland and England under one monarch for the first time, and (to an extent) the years of turbulence and animosity that had existed between the two separate kingdoms as each fought for power, control and resources was resolved.
The Union of Crowns, as it was known, eventually paved the way for the political Act of Union just over a century later, when the two nations would be brought under the governance of one united parliament, creating the United Kingdom as the single, multifaceted entity that we know today.
THE KING JAMES BIBLE
James was a devoutly religious man, raised in the protestant church (despite his mother's Catholicism) and inherited the Scottish church in the throes of its Reformation, which had brought new schisms into focus. What he found in England, after becoming king in 1603, was a more united form of protestantism that still viewed the monarch as the ultimate head of the church, something the Church of Scotland was less supportive on.
So James began to fully embrace his role as de facto head of the Church of England, and in 1604 convened a conference of senior figures from the church to discuss (among other concerns) commissioning a new edition of the Bible that would unite the centrist voices in the church and create a definitive version of the text in vernacular English (as opposed to Latin).
The King James Bible, originally published simply as the Authorised Version, or King James Version as it's sometimes known, was published in 1611, and became the only version of the Biblical texts authorised for use in English churches. (Scottish churches didn't adopt their own Authorised Version until 1633, when James's son, Charles I, was crowned king.)
By the early nineteenth century it became the most widely printed book in history, and despite minor changes to spelling and format it remained the standard version of Bibles referenced around the world until the growth of newer versions in the twentieth century. Today the standard text is still often referred to as the King James Bible.
An earlier book - one written by James himself - would have an equally significant impact on Scotland, and the wider world.
It grew from James's deeply held paranoia and distrust of the world around him, understandable perhaps when considering the traumatic experiences of his early life: he had been separated from his mother, and was subject to the machinations of a court who didn't always act in his interests (as his mother had been before him); his father had been killed in a explosive plot carried out by unknown assassins (and which his mother was reputed to have masterminded); and, most significantly, in 1589 he married Princess Anne of Denmark, whose life was threatened by a major storm at sea during their journey back to Scotland.
Suspicion grew in James's mind that this storm had been conjured by those who wished harm to him and his new wife. A trial took place in Denmark which resulted in two women being executed for witchcraft, after admitting to causing the storm which had been such a threat to the young couple.
Determined to pursue justice on those who had plotted against him nearer to home, James initiated a witch hunting effort that would have long-lasting effects on the people and the king himself.
It's an annual festival that is unique to Britain, but every winter the old rhyme is recited as citizens prepare for an explosive celebration:
The fifth of November -
Gunpowder, treason and plot!
In 1605 a plot was foiled that would have struck right at the heart of the British political and royal establishments, when a stockpile of gunpowder was discovered in the chambers beneath the Houses of Parliament in London.
A cohort of conspirators, of whom Guy Fawkes is the most familiar and best-known name, were just hours from assassinating King James VI & I, along with much of the government who led the country - and James's paranoid fears of history repeating itself were made real. His father had been killed at an explosion in his home in Edinburgh, and now his own life was narrowly saved from a band of rebels who sought to end his reign in a blaze of smoke and flames.
Every winter on Bonfire Night, the fifth of November, British children create (or used to) effigies of Guy Fawkes and parade them through the street collecting pennies, before burning them on a bonfire and turning their eyes skywards to the displays of fireworks which erupt overhead.
In recent years Guy Fawkes has experienced something of a resurgence, as his likeness has been co-opted by protestors and rioters around the globe, in particular the Anonymous collective (itself taking inspiration from the graphic novel V for Vendetta).
In 1590 he oversaw the series of events known as the North Berwick Witch Trials, which lasted over two years and saw in excess of 100 people from this small town just outside of Edinburgh accused of involvement in supernatural conspiracy against the king. It's not known precisely how many met their deaths, but many were convicted of treason on the evidence of torture administered in the Old Tolbooth which stood on the Royal Mile, near St Giles' Cathedral.
Between 4,000 and 6,000 people - mostly women - are believed to have been executed as witches in Scotland between the 1590s and 1660s. Many of them were burned on the esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle, where a small memorial fountain today commemorates their deaths.
In 1597, James would consolidate his knowledge and learning from the North Berwick events in his book Daemonologie, with its extensive subtitle: In Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Books: By the High and Mighty Prince, James.
His text is a series of conversations between allegorical figures, and covers everything from the Devil's relationship with Man, the distinctions between Necromancy, witchcraft, astrology and other magic arts, the path of 'apprenticeship' that witches follow in their pact with the Devil, and the various forms and styles that witchcraft can take.
It is, in short, a handbook for the identification, persecution and punishment of witches, and it was received with enthusiasm by a society who were ready to embrace this thesis for understanding their world, and its reach was extensive - James's ideas on witchcraft are likely to have influenced the notorious witch trials at Salem in Massachusetts in the early 1690s.
One figure who was especially influenced by the book was William Shakespeare, and it's easy to see how in 1606 he came to produce a tale of a power-hungry Scottish king riven with paranoia and working in league with sinister forces: Macbeth.
So James VI and I has left his mark not just on Scotland or even Britain, but has influenced the whole globe with his writings and his reign. Few monarchs can claim to have left such lasting legacies to the world.
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The city that changed the world. It's a bold claim - and one I've borrowed from a book by James Buchan - but Edinburgh really has been an intellectual crucible throughout history. One famous remark from an English visitor in the eighteenth century posited the idea that ‘‘you could stand at the Mercat Cross and, in half an hour, shake 50 men of genius by the hand’’.
And that may not even have been an exaggeration, as Edinburgh has been home to a great many thinkers, writers, inventors and scientists over the years.
The Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century was undoubtedly a high point in the city's history, as the crowded and cramped streets of the Old Town created a natural environment for the sharing and developing of big ideas - indeed, I would make the argument that the physical geography of the city, forcing all classes and levels of society to live cheek-by-jowl within such constrained city limits, was key to many of the inventions and developments which are attributed to the Enlightenment period.
But even before and after the eighteenth century, Edinburgh has been home to some great minds, so here's my selection of key figures from Edinburgh (past and present) who have - in various ways - changed the world.
In a nutshell, Adam Smith is credited with shaping our understanding of the economic processes which underpin society, chiefly through his 1776 work The Wealth of Nations. It remains a key text in schools and universities around the globe and the ideas within it continue to influence modern economic practice. To some Smith is the father of economics, to others he's the father of capitalism.
Smith had been living at Panmure House in Canongate - which in those days was just beyond the city limits of Edinburgh - when he wrote his magnum opus, which was born partly of the boom in Scotland's presence in the international trade market during the mid-eighteenth century, when the tobacco plantations of America were among some of the most valuable trade links that Scotland had.
Edinburgh at that time had especially huge amounts of wealth inequality, with very rich and very poor living beside each other, and with cash pouring into the pockets of the fantastically rich coming from both domestic sources (the Scottish Highlands being a long-exploited resource) and overseas markets. Smith's philosophy of cash and trade couldn't have arrived at a more convenient time, although it's doubtful if he could have imagined it still having such resonance on our world two hundred years and fifty years later.
James Hutton was a geologist who drew inspiration from the landscape of Edinburgh (and across Scotland) to shape his theories of the Earth, which would transform not just our understanding of our planet but our experience of it.
In the eighteenth century, church teachings still had it that the Earth had been created in the space of just a few days, and only several thousand years ago. Hutton believed that the features he was observing around Arthur's Seat and up in the Highlands didn't fit that story - the rocks (he hypothesised) had actually been created at different periods of time, and not just a matter of days apart but hundreds of thousands of years. Today the age of the Earth is estimated around 4.5 billion years old, and it has been growing and developing and changing over all that time.
This was the key idea of Hutton's work - that our Earth was not a fixed object that had been created as we know it, but it had shifted ('evolved', as a later geologist, Charles Lyell would describe it) over millennia, with its landmasses, oceans and the life upon and within them constantly changing.
"From what has actually been," Hutton wrote, "we have data for concluding with regard to that which is to happen thereafter." This linking of past, present and future understanding would filter through to a whole raft of later figures, including a particular influence on Charles Darwin (himself briefly a student in Edinburgh) whose later theories of evolution and 'survival of the fittest' would in turn redefine humanity's place and experience in the world.
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
Born on Charlotte Square in the New Town of Edinburgh in 1847, and educated at the Royal High School and University of Edinburgh, Bell was living in North America when he lodged his patent application for the device which revolutionised human communication.
Bell's mother was deaf, as was his wife, which was a major factor in much of his early work in speech and language and his later efforts to improve communication, leading him to seek to develop a device which would allow sufferers of deafness to 'hear' again. The invention of electricity had opened a whole new world of technology and innovation, and Bell set his mind to being able to reproduce the sounds of a human voice using electrical impulses, which he characterised as a 'harmonic telegraph' system.
In 1876, Bell applied for a US patent for his telephone, submitting it on the same day as a second inventor, Elisha Gray, applied for a patent for a similar device - it remains a subject of debate which of them made their application first, but it was Bell who made the first demonstration of the successful device. On 10 March 1876, the first telephone 'call' was made, from Bell to his assistant Thomas Watson, and since then the telephone has come to be an integral component not just of communication but of many aspects of daily life.
Who knows what would Bell make of our reliance on the modern version of the device he developed and patented. He died in 1922 and was buried near his family's home in Nova Scotia, Canada - and at the conclusion of his funeral, every telephone in North America was temporarily silenced as a tribute to the man who had revolutionised communication.
JAMES CLERK MAXWELL
Whilst figures like Bell and Adam Smith have become household names, one major figure from the world of science and technology is yet to be fully recognised by the general public.
James Clerk Maxwell was born in the New Town in Edinburgh in 1831, but moved with his family to an estate in Kirkudbrightshire while still an infant. His early years were spent in a spate of inquisitiveness, asking questions and probing for information from the world around him, a curiosity that would later serve him as a pioneering physicist and polymath who introduced a new understanding of our world.
Returning to Edinburgh to be educated at the Edinburgh Academy, young Maxwell was given the nickname 'Daftie' at school, due to his distracted attention - his mind was often elsewhere, creating the appearance of being slow and unknowing when in reality his brain was seeking out answers beyond those that his teachers could offer. Later studies at the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge demonstrated that he was far from academically stunted.
Maxwell has several major discoveries and theories attributed to him. His investigations into the properties of light and electromagnetism led to colour photography and (later) television. His writings inspired Albert Einstein, who had a portrait of Maxwell in his office and once commented, "I stand not on the shoulders of Isaac Newton, but of James Clerk Maxwell".
In his 20s, Maxwell had used pure mathematics to prove what the rings of Saturn were made of - a problem that astronomers and physicists had debated for years. But it was only when we were able to get a spacecraft close enough to take photographs - colour photographs - of Saturn's rings that we proved with a visual image what Maxwell had proven with maths over a century earlier.
Today one of the gaps between the rings of Saturn is named the Maxwell Gap.
DOLLY THE SHEEP
Actually the figure to celebrate here is the whole team at the Roslin Institute, who have been pioneering the understanding and application of genetics.
Established in the 1990s from earlier departments of the University of Edinburgh, the Roslin Institute is based on the outskirts of the city and has been involved in several major developments in genetics. But the groundbreaking project that still captures the public imagination came in 1996, when the world's first genetically cloned mammal was announced by the institute.
Dolly, as she was named by Keith Campbell and Ian Wilmutt, who led the team that created her, was developed from a single cell taken from a ewe's mammary gland. She was named Dolly in honour of what the scientists suggested were the world's finest mammary glands, on the singer Dolly Parton...
Dolly gave birth to several lambs who continued her genetic inheritance, before her death at the age of six from an illness unrelated to her genetic origins.
Such was the importance of Dolly's existence (and the genetic leap that had helped to create her) that after her death she was stuffed and mounted for display in the National Museum of Scotland, where she stands in the science and technology gallery as a statement of Scotland's world-leading scientific endeavour.
One of Edinburgh's great minds remains a resident of the city today, confirming the notion that not all of the major figures who have had an influence on the world are consigned to history!
Peter Higgs became a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in 1960, teaching at their institute of Mathematical Physics, after gaining his PhD from King's College in London in 1954. His writing in the 1960s featured the study of subatomic particles, and in 1964 Higgs hypothesised a new particle - dubbed the Higgs boson - which would resolve some of the difficulties physicists had encountered in explaining some of their observations of sub-atomic matter.
Although predicted in the 1960s, it wouldn't be until 2012 that the existence of the Higgs boson would be proven, following experiments made possible by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.
In 2013 Peter Higgs and François Englert, who had been a part of the 1960s team that made the original predictions, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work.
Peter Higgs is today the Honorary Patron of the James Clerk Maxwell foundation, and has a department of Theoretical Physics named after him at the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, which is based in (appropriately enough) the James Clerk Maxwell building at the university's King's Buildings campus.
This is just a very small, personal selection from the many great minds and figures who have been associated with Edinburgh over the years.
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It's not news to anyone that American visitors make up a significant percentage of those travelling from overseas to explore Edinburgh and Scotland.
From walking the footsteps of their (historically) distant relatives to simply exploring the wealth of history and culture on offer, and from self-drive excursions around the country to one day stops on a longer cruise itinerary, visitors from the US make up around 14% of all visitors to Scotland every year.
So let's look at some of the historical connections between Scotland and America - and maybe you'll find some Edinburgh features to put on your 'must see' list during your trip!
SEEING STARS (AND STRIPES)
Within Edinburgh Castle is a feature considered to be one of the earliest known representations of the Stars and Stripes, the flag of the United States. It's worth seeking out if you're going to take the time and trouble to visit the castle, but is not easy to find!
Look for the Prisons of War exhibition, which is one of the highlights of the castle itself, a recreation of the former prisons beneath the Great Hall where military prisoners were detained. From French naval offenders in the Seven Years' War of the 1750s to some of the original pirates of the Caribbean, these dank vaults have hosted enemies of Scotland from all around the globe.
When American sailors were captured during the American War of Independence, many of them found themselves held in Edinburgh Castle, and it was during this period that one prisoner took a penknife and carved carved an intriguing depiction of a flag into one of the heavy wooden doors of the prison complex.
The doors themselves are now on display with graphic representations alongside highlighting the names, initials, emblems and graffiti that was carved into them over the years, and amongst all these scratches and scrapes you will find (if you look closely) the unmistakable image of a striped flag, just waiting to have stars added to the corner panel...
HONEST ABE (HONESTLY!)
It may seem a strange place to find a statue of the sixteenth president of the United States, but in the Old Calton Burial ground is the imposing figure of Abraham Lincoln, looking down from an ornate marble monument.
The monument itself is a grave of six men who had travelled from Scotland to fight alongside Lincoln in the American Civil War. Like the Irish (with whom many Americans also find associations) the Scots could often be relied upon to provide vital firepower in military conflicts, which is one of the reasons why the Scottish army has connections to many historical battles all around the world.
After their deaths, the bodies of these Scots soldiers were returned to Edinburgh for burial, and it was the widow of one of them - a Sergeant Major John McEwan - who later wrote to the American consul in Edinburgh suggesting a formal commemoration of their deaths may be appropriate.
The consul himself wasn't initially persuaded, until (it is said) his wife came to hear of the request and made the case that the surviving wives and families of the dead men were entitled to an official acknowledgement of their sacrifice.
And so it was that funds were raised to pay for the commemoration, unveiled in 1893, featuring Lincoln along with a representation of an emancipated slave, embodying the cause for which these men fought and died.
The monument is the only American Civil War Memorial outside of the United States, and was the first statue of an American president to be erected outside of North America.
(And did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on precisely the same day?)
LIGHTING THE WAY
Edinburgh's Central Library is the best-used public library in the city, and it was a gift to Edinburgh from the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose fortune was built in America. At the time of his death, Carnegie had given away over $350,000,000 to charities and causes around the globe, including establishing over 3,000 libraries.
Libraries were a great cause in Carnegie's mind. He wrote in his autobiography: "The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves. There is no escape from this." He saw the provision of raw information for the consumption of a public, eager to better their understanding and knowledge, as a great and important thing. It was no coincidence that his own father had helped to establish the first public library in Dunfermline, the town north of Edinburgh where Carnegie was born.
In the 1890s, Edinburgh was offered £25,000 from Carnegie to establish the city's first public lending library. That would constitute 'seed funding' to set up the library, on the understanding that the city itself would pay the balance of funds needed to finish the project.
At that time Edinburgh had no public library and - to Carnegie's horror - did not want a public library. They certainly did not want to have to pay for one! Carnegie's benevolence in establishing the fund was rejected, and he was told to give his money to another city, who would be more willing to supplement it with their own cash.
Carnegie was so determined that Edinburgh should have a public library facility that he doubled his endowment to £50,000.
Today Carnegie's library can be found on George IV Bridge, and above its entrance the motto 'Let there be light', reflecting Carnegie's original intention to enlighten and inform the world through his gifts.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
A text that remains oft-quoted even in today's era is the Constitution of the United States of America, a document detailing the principles and rights of the nation and its inhabitants. But much of that text was drawn from writings that had originally been composed here in Edinburgh over a century and a half earlier...
In 1638, the National Covenant was a declaration from the people of Scotland to protect the Scottish church from interference by the king, Charles I.
It was drawn up in Edinburgh and signed at the Greyfriars Kirk, and if we compare some of the phraseology of the National Convenant with some of the text of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, drawn up in 1787, we find some surprising similiarities...
It's not word-for-word, but it's not difficult to see that there was a influence on the wording of the later US Constitution from the earlier National Covenant. Which may not be entirely surprising given the over 50,000 Scots who emigrated to the American colonies between 1763 and 1776!
This mass migration is partly why the Scottish diaspora in North America is so strong, and why (in genealogical terms) more than 30 US presidents have documented Scottish heritage.
Four copies of the National Covenant document (which were originally distributed across Scotland) can be found in Edinburgh, including one on display in St Giles' Cathedral.
A GIFT FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
In Princes Street Gardens stands a statue by the sculptor Robert Tait McKenzie, a Canadian with many connections to America. He was linked to the University of Pennsylvania, and involved in the American Scouting movement.
In the 1920s, following the First World War, McKenzie created a sculpture called The Call 1914, showing a Scottish soldier in front of a frieze representing the transition of ordinary working men from industries like farming, fishing and mining into soldiers.
The sculpture took four years to create, and was cast in bronze at a New York foundry. The £10,000 cost of creating and importing the statue was met by American donors.
The statue stands facing Edinburgh Castle, and McKenzie had asked that on his death he would be buried in front of the statue. Alas, Edinburgh's laws on burials and public places made this impossible, so instead McKenzie's heart is interred in nearby St Cuthbert's graveyard, where a small decorative plaque marks its location.
FRANKLIN, MY DEAR...
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and was known as the First American, who travelled to the UK between the 1750s and 1770s. He spent much of his time in London, but also visited Edinburgh to meet notable figures like David Hume, with whom he lodged for three weeks in 1771.
Franklin was also granted an honourary doctorate from the University of St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university.
One of the places Franklin stayed during his visits to Edinburgh was Prestonfield House, which operates today as a boutique hotel and restaurant. Why not take afternoon tea in the plush surrounds of this incredible former estate property, and see a little of old Edinburgh the way that Franklin might have seen it during his time here.
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Born across the Firth of Forth in Fife, a county to the north of Edinburgh, Adam Smith is one of the best-known and most important figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, in the eighteenth century.
His work on economics in particular remains a text for our time, and it was this book - entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations - that garnered Smith his reputation as the father of modern economics (or modern capitalism, depending on your perspective!).
Smith himself never knew his own father (also called Adam Smith), who died a couple of months before his son was born. Few details of Smith's childhood are known - even his exact date of birth in 1723 isn't certain - until he started studying at the University of Glasgow at the age of 14. Here his academic prowess proved to be a great gift, and he later undertook post-graduate studied at Oxford University - although this seemed not to be a happy experience, and it is believed that he ended his studies there prematurely after experiencing the effects of a nervous breakdown.
Whilst giving lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Smith became acquainted with the philosopher David Hume, whose work he had read during his time at Oxford, and they established a firm friendship (despite Hume being 10 years senior to Smith).
In character Smith was perhaps considered a bit absent-minded, prone to distractions and known to frequently talk aloud to himself. Although he was known as a great writer and intellectual, in conversation he could be lifeless and un-engaging - some speculated that he dulled his conversation so as not to distract from sales of his books, in which he was more loquacious - and although he gave frequent public lectures he was an uncomfortable public speaker, the result of a speech impediment. There are few portraits of him from life because he disliked his appearance - he once remarked that "I am a beau in nothing but my books".
In 1759 Adam Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a study outlining Man's moral nature and his capacity to make decisions based on conscience and the impact on the social relationships with others. Smith intended this to be the first volume in an eventual series of 23 works which would consider in great detail every aspect of human experience... Although The Wealth of Nations would prove to be his more influential book, Smith considered Moral Sentiments to be the better work, and continued revising and editing the volume for subsequent publications right up to his death.
At the time he wrote and published The Wealth of Nations, in 1776, Smith was living in Kirkcaldy, the town in which he'd been born.
The house Smith wrote in was owned by his mother, with whom he maintained a close relationship until her death, just six years before his own.
Later Smith would return to Edinburgh to live in Panmure House, just off the Canongate on the Royal Mile - the building still stands, and today is a venue for economics forums.
One of the key ideas often cited from The Wealth of Nations is Smith's notion of an 'invisible hand', the unseen but active forces influencing and shaping a society's economic process, but the phrasing of 'invisible hand' occurs just three times in all of Smith's writing - once in The Wealth of Nations, once in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and once in A History of Astronomy, which was published posthumously in 1795.
A modern statue of Smith, produced by Alexander Stoddart, pictured above, features a rather playful allusion to this idea of an invisible hand, with Smith standing with a hand atop a sheaf of corn - and the cuff of his jacket conceals his hand rendering it 'invisible'...
Smith died at Panmure House on 17 July 1790, and left instruction to his executors - themselves major figures of the Enlightenment period, physicist Joseph Black and the geologist James Hutton - that all of his unfinished, unpublished work should be destroyed.
Smith didn't want any of his writing being published without his explicit editorial oversight. And so, of the 23 major volumes of work that he had planned and (it is believed) started writing, just Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations survive.
But these two works by themselves have been enough to secure Smith's place in the pantheon of great thinkers of the world, whose vision and ideas continue to influence society today, centuries after their deaths. Yet on his deathbed Smith regretted that he hadn't achieved more.
Adam Smith was buried just a stone's throw from his room at Panmure House, in the Canongate Kirkyard, where his grave today has become a small site of pilgrimage for economics students and others from all around the world, who commemorate Smith in a way that I think is rather fitting - by throwing small coins of their national currency on his grave, literally celebrating him with the wealth of nations.
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We talk quite a lot about Scots who have influenced the world, and the diaspora of Scottish migrants around the globe, but the reverse is also true - Scottish history is full of notable figures who weren't Scottish, people who came here from overseas, lived here, and left their mark on the country and its heritage.
Sometimes I worry that we focus a little too heavily on what I call the 'kilts and kings' version of Scottish history, and forget the more diverse range of people and influences that helped to shape the country.
This is the first of what may become an occasional series providing a platform to celebrate non-Scots who have had an influence on some aspect of our culture, with a brief introduction to three Polish figures who had associations with Edinburgh and the landscape of Scotland.
General Stanisław Maczek
Stanisław Maczek was born in what is now Ukraine in March 1892. At university he studied Polish language and culture, and at the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Maczek was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army.
In November 1918 he joined the Polish army, becoming a Major in 1919, and by the outbreak of World War Two, Maczek was commanding the first fully motorised tank unit of the Polish army. After fighting the German progression across Europe, Maczek and many of his unit made their way on foot through occupied France, and eventually were transported to London where a Polish armoured unit was being put together, under the oversight of the British Army.
The original intention was for this reconstituted unit of Polish combatants to be used as a defensive force to protect the eastern coast of Scotland, which was vulnerable to invasion from the North Sea. Maczek travelled to Scotland and spent two years training his men at Blairgowrie in Perthshire, before events of the war resulted in a change of plan, and Maczek's unit was instead dispatched to join the swathe of units being deployed to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
The unit under Maczek's command would later play a crucial role in the liberation of Breda, a town of 40,000 people in the Netherlands, which was wrestled from the control of the German forces without loss of life of any of the town's inhabitants.
Following the end of the war, Maczek returned to the UK, where he became commanding officer for all the Polish military units in Britain. During this time he was stripped of his Polish citizenship by the new Communist government of Poland, and being thus rendered stateless was denied a military pension from the British government... because he no longer had a nationality that they recognised.
In the post-war years, Maczek made his home in Edinburgh, working as a hotel bartender and becoming a popular figure with locals and visitors, many of whom were unaware of his distinction as a military commander.
In 1992, after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, Maczek was finally awarded Poland's highest military honour, the Order of the White Eagle. He died in Edinburgh in 1994, aged 102, and was buried (according to his wishes) alongside fallen comrades in the military cemetery in Breda.
Maczek had the nickname 'the Shepherd' amongst the men who served under him, for the care and consideration he afforded them. It is perhaps apt that the English translation of his Polish surname - 'maczek' - means 'poppy', the flower of remembrance.
In 2018, Maczek was honoured with a statue in Edinburgh's city centre, and a walkway across the Bruntsfield Links near his former home has been given his name. A memorial plaque can also be found at the address he lived at in the Marchmont area.
Wojtek the Bear
A more unusual hero is celebrated in Princes Street Gardens in the New Town, where visitors will find a near life-size statue of a bear.
The bear was called Wojtek, and he was adopted as a cub by soldiers in the Polish army during World War Two. They were on manoeuvres across Eastern Europe and they rescued Wojtek from a village where he had been chained up in the square for public entertainment.
The soldiers fed Wojtek cigarettes, and trained him to carry their packs and ammunition for the unit - he was more than just a mascot to these men, he was a part of the team.
At the end of the war, many Polish military personnel and their families were resettled in Scotland. But when the Royal Naval carrier ship went to collect Wojtek's unit in Italy, the soldiers were told they couldn't bring the bear on the ship - it was exclusively for military personnel and their families.
Undaunted, the Polish army did the only thing they could do, and they enlisted Wojtek as a private, making him formally a member of the Polish military services! He was brought on the ship to Scotland, where his men were re-housed around Edinburgh, and Wojtek himself was given to Edinburgh Zoo.
In the post-war years, Wojtek became a popular feature at the zoo, where locals would push cigarettes through the bars of the cage for his enjoyment.
Wojtek died in 1963 (of pretty chronic lung cancer) but is today commemorated publicly in the gardens, with a memorial that celebrates not just his nicotine habit but the role that the Polish community continue to play as an active, visible, and valuable element in society right across Scotland.
A third Polish military association can be found a little way from Edinburgh, near Peebles in the Scottish Borders.
In the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel is the world's largest relief map, reproducing the landscape of Scotland to scale in a model that is approximately 50 by 40 metres square. It's known as the Mapa Scotland, and it was created by a Polish military veteran called Jan Tomasik in the 1970s.
The building which is today a hotel formerly housed units from the Polish army who were stationed here for training in the 1940s. Like General Maczek's unit, the 1st Polish Corps, which had trained at Peebles, were employed to defend the Scottish coastline between Arbroath and Burntisland before being deployed in the D-Day landings.
Among the military veterans who were settled in Scotland after the war was Jan Tomasik, who bought the hotel building in 1968, and employed his former commander Stanisław 'the Shepherd' Maczek as a barman at the hotel property he owned in Edinburgh. During the summer months, Maczek and his family would visit Tomasik at the hotel outside Peebles, and it may have been in discussion with Maczek that Tomasik's plan for the 'mapa Scotland' took shape.
The map itself was constructed over six summers between 1974 and 1979 with employees of Krakow University in Poland travelling to Scotland to help build the 780 square metre model.
A huge pit was excavated in which the model would be created, and steel rods were used to create the to-scale topography of the Scottish Highlands, before brick levels created the base landscape of the country with concrete poured and shaped to form the peaks, valleys and coastlines. (Only the island archipelagos of Orkney and Shetland off the extreme north-eastern coast of Scotland aren't included in the model.)
Tomasik died in 1991, and left the model of Scotland as a gift to the nation from the people of Poland, to thank the people of Scotland for their kindness, hospitality and support during the war and in the years afterwards.
Today the model can be visited in the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel - my photos don't do it justice!
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On 12 April 1700 one of the most expensive failures in Scottish history was finally brought to a close, as the surviving members of an expedition to settle a Scottish colony on the isthmus of Panama in South America left that continent to return to their native lands.
The Darien project, as it was known, had cost over £400,000 (equivalent to over 20% of Scotland's wealth at the time), led to the deaths over 2,000 people, and left the entire nation state politically humiliated in the eyes of England. It remains a major turning point in Scotland's troubled relationship with England, and the aftermath of the collapse of the Darien Company would cast shockwaves rippling through Scottish society for the next century.
So what was Darien, how did it go so terribly wrong, and what happened afterwards? I'm so glad you asked!
Seventeenth-century Scotland was a very different place from the modern imagery of a nation bursting with confidence and culture.
The so-called 'Glorious Revolution' which led to the crushing defeat of Scots forces at the Battle of Culloden, had broken much of the traditional clan structures of the Highlands.
As a broadly agricultural economy, Scotland's population had been hit badly with a spate of poor harvests, and the already limited export market with Europe had been badly affected by famines which had swept across the Nordic countries.
Relations with England were poor, and the English Civil War and Wars of the Three Kingdoms had weakened the people and military might of Scotland, leaving the whole country in a state of restless depression. A political union with England had been suggested, but forces within Scotland felt that bolstering the Scots' financial independence with stronger export links to overseas markets would serve the country better without compromising its integrity as a self-governing nation.
There were several major trade routes around the globe at that time, but there was one major issue that any international trading nation had yet to surmount: there was no overland link between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, forcing ships to make a long detour around the bottom of South America.
So a plan was suggested by an enterprising Scotsman named William Paterson - who had previously helped to established the Bank of England - to seek to establish a colony on the north-east coast of Panama, and create a passage across the South American continent to provide a service route that could bring tremendous financial benefit to the people who facilitated it. (The construction of the Panama Canal in the twentieth century served essentially the same purpose.)
The Company of Scotland was established in 1695, and charged with raising funds from a variety of backers from across Europe to support the project. Over £400,000 was generated in just a few weeks, equivalent to a fifth of all the wealth in Scotland at the time, and men were enlisted to sail to Panama and be the first colonists to settle Scotland's presence overseas.
A flotilla of five ships flying the Company of Scotland flag sailed from the port of Leith in July 1698, with a total of around 1,200 people aboard. In order not to raise suspicion with English maritime authorities, instead of sailing south and into the Atlantic via the English Channel they instead sailed north, traversing the seas around the northern coasts of Scotland, and out into the North Atlantic above Ireland. They crossed the ocean and arrived in Panama at an area called Darien, landing on 2 November 1698.
Their problems began almost immediately. The settlement that they established - named New Edinburgh - was heavily fortified, with over 50 cannons that had been shipped from Edinburgh, but it had no regular supply of fresh drinking water. The land that they were clearing in order to be able to plant crops was unsuitable for cultivation, and the local communities - to whom the Scots believed they could sell good and trinkets, in order to establish relationships and raise some cash - didn't want what the settlers were selling.
Despite all this, and with an expectation that things would improve, a letter was dispatched back to Scotland trumpeting the early success of the venture, and two further ships with another 300 people were dispatched from Scotland bearing fresh supplies and new colonists with new enthusiasm.
But conditions in New Edinburgh had worsened. As winter turned to spring of 1699, malaria spread rapidly among the new colonists, killing as many as ten people a day by the summer. Food supplies were running short, tensions in the camp were high, and Dutch and English colonies to the north and south had been instructed by their governments not to help to the Scots for fear of upsetting the Spanish, who operated valuable silver mines in the area.
In July 1699, New Edinburgh was summarily abandoned by those who had survived this far. One ship of survivors returned to Scotland to carry news of the expeditions failure, while two more ships sailed north to the relatively small port town (at that time) of New York, on the east coast of America.
But back in Scotland, not yet having received news of the failure of the initial settlers, four more ships carrying another 1,000 settlers had already departed for New Edinburgh! They arrived to the broken and abandoned settlement in November 1699. Thomas Drummond, one of the original settlers who had sailed to New York, had returned to Darien with a fully loaded supply ship, but the new arrivals were devastated to not find a thriving, fully settled town, and were instead being asked to build one again from scratch.
Tensions with the local communities were worse than ever, with Spanish settlers turning against their Caledonian neighbours. A series of sieges and conflicts resulted in further deaths, disease spread unabated, and by the time the Scots finally abandoned their cause in April 1700 just a few hundred of the over 2,500 settlers who had set out on the expeditions were left alive.
In the aftermath of this failure, Scotland was bankrupted and many of the individuals who had invested heavily in the venture had their reputations broken and their business relationships destroyed.
Seeking financial support to overcome the failure of the Darien project, the Scottish government approached the English government to request a financial loan to bail them out. England's response was that a loan would be offered, but that it would be to everyone's advantage if it wasn't a transfer of money between two separately trading nations, but between two partners in a joint enterprise....
Finally, the political union that had seemed so unlikely and unwelcome just a few years before now sounded like the only way the Scots could survive the effects of their failure. The Scottish parliament debated and ratified the terms of the deal, and on 1 May 1707 the United Kingdom officially came into being. One of the terms of the Act of Union of 1707 was a financial payment of over £398,000 to Scotland to help ease its burden on the English economy.
And so the union between Scotland and England was finally agreed, with many lords and nobles - who were humiliated and facing financial ruin after their involvement in Darien - given gifts of land in England to sweeten their disposition to signing away Scots independence.
Today the Darien expedition is something of a shadow on Scottish history, a failure of enterprise and opportunity that led eventually to national downfall. Of course, for many the union with England was (and remains) a vital and valuable partnership, but it seems unfortunate that it wasn't as a result of celebration and shared vision, but came on the back of terrible national humiliation for Scotland. Which may explain why some still see the relationship between the two countries as an uneasy - and unequal - pairing.
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Within Scotland, the town of Arbroath - on the coast between Dundee and Aberdeen - has two major claims to fame. One is for the Arbroath smokie, a local smoked fish that is notorious for clearing kitchens with its rich aromas (and for that reason rarely found on restaurant menus - if you want to try it, pick up a smokie in a fishmonger and cook it in the privacy of your own home!).
But the second claim to fame is for being the location for the signing of Scotland's early statement of independence from England, known as the Declaration of Arbroath, which kickstarted seven hundred years of Scottish struggle for autonomy. And the date it happened - 6 April - is still celebrated in North America as Tartan Day.
Signed at Arbroath Abbey on 6 April 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath document is one of the earliest formal expressions of the Scots' desire to operate as an independent nation. The text is in the form of a letter to the Pope, detailing the history of Scotland as a self-governing nation, having raised "one hundred and thirteen kings ... without interruption by foreigners".
The letter seeks the Pope's support in standing against the English king, Edward I, and asks him to:
"warn the king of the English, that he ought
The letter makes the case that the Scots would use military might to meet any attack from the English, and asks the Pope to recognise their right to do so (despite the Pope having excommunicated King Robert I, known as Robert the Bruce, and given express right to Edward I of England to claims on Scotland as its overlord).
Interestingly, the letter isn't written directly from Robert the Bruce (who had been excommunicated for murdering John Comyn in the church at Dumfries in 1306) but from a cabal of lords and nobles, expressing a collective expression of sovereign independence, writing on behalf of the people of Scotland rather than from one single figurehead. Moreover, the lords write that if their king should move towards a position of English support, "we would immediately take steps to drive him out as the enemy ... and install another King who would make good our defence".
This is a notable assertion - to the Pope, of all people! - at a time when kings were generally believed to be appointed by God directly, and to operate with His blessing and support. The people of Scotland are telling the Pope that they will appoint a king to rule them - suggesting an assertion of the Scots' will not just against England but against the church itself.
Mostly, though, it is an expression of a collective will and a collective voice, arguing from the point of view of the common man, who wouldn't actually be given any formal political voice until over five hundred years later.
And most famously the letter contains this passage that is often cited, but which may not be an entirely accurate rendering of the original Latin text:
"whilst a hundred of us remain alive,
It's a line straight out of the Braveheart playbook of Scottish history!
And so began the long struggle for independence for Scotland, a battle waged by the people of Scotland over the last seven centuries.
Barely three hundred years later, Scotland and England would be brought into a union - firstly of shared monarchy in 1603, and then of joint government, in 1707 - that survives today.
But there is still a strong drive for Scotland to be able to stand apart from outside governance, and many people in Scotland continue to seek greater powers for the modern Scottish Parliament, furthering the devolution of political control from the British government at Westminster.
The latest formal public debate on the idea of independence took place in 2014, when the people of Scotland voted narrowly in favour of retaining the union as it stands. With developments in the Brexit situation since 2016, when Scotland voted to retain EU membership, there have been renewed calls for a further referendum on Scottish independence to be held.
So it is a debate that continues to be heated and divisive at times, but certainly one which shows no signs of abating.
No one can accurately foretell the future of Scotland - especially in 1320, before much of the political and social tumult which followed - but it is an interesting example of how Scotland's history manages to be bother distant and contemporary, as discussions that were being had seven centuries ago remain on the political agenda today.
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Edinburgh has had a Jewish population since the seventeenth century, when the some of the first Jewish migrants to Scotland came as merchants, medical students or professors.
In 1642, Edinburgh University established a position teaching 'Hebrew and Oriental Languages', for which they employed a "learned Jew" from Vienna named Julius Conradus Otto. It is thought that Otto had been born a Jew in Vienna, and later converted to Christianity. He remained in post at the university until his death in 1649. In 1665 a town council meeting refers to a man named Paulus Scialitti Rabin who had converted from Judaism to Christianity in order to be able to work as a religious teacher in the city.
The first recorded Jewish merchant given the right to operate in Edinburgh was a man named David Brown in 1691, although this was hardly the indication of a society fully open to freedom of religion - Brown was opposed by some on the council for being a threat to the religious community here.
In 1698 a Jewish trader named Moses Mosias was denied the right to operate in the city unless he convert to Christianity, and in 1717 a Jewish merchant named Isaac Queen was granted permission to establish a business in Edinburgh only after paying a fee of £100 - equivalent to around £12,000 in modern currency!
In 1788 a man named Herman Lyon arrives in Edinburgh from Prussia (modern-day Germany), bringing with him a family. He is listed as a 'corn operator' which sounds charmingly rural and agricultural, until you realise this was the descriptor used for chiropodists - those who treated corns and calluses on the feet!
Lyon practised chiropody and dentistry on the Canongate, in the vicinity of Moray House, and in 1795 he applied to Edinburgh Council to purchase land to use as his family's burial site.
In the absence of a dedicated Jewish burial ground in the city, his application was approved, and Lyon purchased a family plot on the top of Calton Hill - at that time being considered as a central cemetery for the growing New Town - for the princely sum of £17.
It's not certain when Lyon died, but he was indeed buried (along with his wife) in his tomb on Calton Hill, which later became overgrown and inaccessible. Lyon's subterranean burial site remains, albeit unmarked and invisible from the surface, just beyond the northern wall of the former observatory complex at the top of Calton Hill.
The Jewish community in Edinburgh grew over the following century. Many of those who came settled in the South Side or Newington area, having travelled from seaports like Hamburg in Germany, and from the Baltic countries and the Netherlands, setting themselves up in business as tailors, jewellers or furriers.
By 1816, there were twenty Jewish families in the city, a quorum of the population considered sufficiently numerous to warrant being granted their own dedicated burial ground.
Thus the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation opened the first Jewish cemetery in Scotland in the Newington area of the city, accessed via a narrow passageway off Causewayside known at the time as Jew's Close.
In the years following, as this small plot was the only dedicated Jewish cemetery in the whole country, and the bodies of a number Jews who had lived (and died) in Glasgow were brought here for the purpose of burial.
Jew's Close itself has long since been built over, and a large former police station stands on what was the original entry into the burial ground, which is not publicly accessible today but which can be viewed through a railing directly from the adjacent street, Sciennes House Place.
Today there are 29 gravestones which survive in this original Jewish burial ground, representing four generations of Jewish families. Many of the grave stones are badly eroded and worn from time, to the extent that the Hebrew lettering is all but unreadable on many of the memorials.
One of these graves is that of Moses Ezekiel, who died in 1850 aged 74 years old, having been registered as a sealing wax manufacturer in the city. It's also known that descendants of Herman Lyon, who was buried at the top of Calton Hill, were laid to rest at this site, along with the family of an Edinburgh University medical student - and possibly the first Jewish graduate from a Scottish medical school - called Lewis Ashenheim, who published a book in 1836 with the intriguing title Premature Burial Among the Jews....
The burial ground on Sciennes House Place was actively used until 1867, when the growth of the Jewish community in Edinburgh necessitated a larger burial site, and an area of the Newington Cemetery was set aside exclusively for Jewish burials, with later expansions to the Piershill Cemetery on the north east of the city, and then to the Dean Cemetery to the west of the New Town.
In 1909 the University of Edinburgh established the first dedicated Jewish Society in Scotland, and by 1911, Edinburgh had a community of around 2,000 Jews.
Today it is estimated there are around 7,000 Jews in Scotland, and whilst Edinburgh has a minority of that number their focus is still around Newington, where the synagogue on Salisbury Road, built in 1932, remains the focal point of worship and community.
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Sometimes all we get to see of a building is its front door, especially in a city like Edinburgh where many of the historic properties are still actively used as houses or commercial premises.
I don't take tours inside any of the paid entry attractions (although I may take you into a few choice locations on our tour!) so I'm used to only seeing the outside of a building.
Here are a few of my favourite doorways of the city, with some stories about the history hidden inside...
17 Heriot Row
Heriot Row remains one of the New Town's grandest addresses, and property on the street routinely sells for in excess of £1.5 million... Notable residents of the street include the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, and John Buchan, an author best known for his adventure story The 39 Steps.
Number 17 Heriot Row was the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it is reputedly from a drawing room window on the first floor that he would stand looking out at other children of the neighbourhood playing in the private gardens on the other side of the road. In those gardens is a pond with an island, and it may have been those early experiences which fed his later iconic adventure story, Treasure Island.
4 South Charlotte Street
Another New town address, on the corner of Charlotte Square at the west end of the city. Number 4 South Charlotte Street was the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell, who would later go on to lodge a patent for his invention of the telephone.
It's a useful reminder that before the New Town was the commercial district we see today, this area was built as a residential area for high-status families.
2 Advocate's Close
Just off the Royal Mile near St Giles' Cathedral is one of the most picturesque of the city's closes and wynds. Advocate's Close was formerly home to one of Scotland's Lord Advocates - the highest legal figure in the country - called Sir James Stewart. Stewart's house was actually at the bottom of the lane, but this doorway near the top of the lane is a powerful reminder that some of Edinburgh's Old Town houses have been occupied for over 400 years - look at the date above the doorway to see when this property was first constructed.
As Lord Advocate, Stewart's most notable case was the prosecution of a young student called Thomas Aikenhead for blasphemy, in the 1690s. Aikenhead became the last person in the UK to be executed for blasphemy...
Further down the Royal Mile, off the Canongate, is Acheson House, built in 1633 for Archibald Acheson, a major figure in the royal court of Charles I.
The crest above the doorway features a cockerel on a trumpet, the crest of the Acheson family, and in the middle of the date is a diagram made of the letters AA and MH superimposed on each other - for Archibald Acheson and his wife Margaret Hamilton.
Into the nineteenth century the house wasn't such a grand property, having become a brothel known locally as the 'cock and trumpet'....
Today Acheson House houses Edinburgh World Heritage, the city's premier heritage and preservation body.
The churches of Scotland are often the oldest structures to have survived the passage of time, and at Duddingston is a church reputed to be the oldest on Scotland's east coast.
One former door into the church - long since closed off - has an archway and stonework which dates back to the church's Norman origins in the twelfth century.
The church remains an active centre of worship for the community.
Earl of Morton's House, Blackfriars Street
Blackfriars Street is another fascinating lane in the Old Town, widened in the 1870s from its original layout as a narrow passageway just a few feet wide.
On the west side of the street are some of the original buildings which survived the wholesale renovation of Edinburgh, including a building which was formally home of the Earl of Morton, one of the regents who ruled Scotland during the childhood of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Today the building is a youth hostel, but above its original doorway is a fascinating emblem of two unicorns, standing aside a crown. This was the royal emblem of Scotland before the union of crowns, when Scotland and England came under one monarchy, in 1603.
The later royal emblem - still commonly used today - is of a lion and a unicorn with a crown between them, but this earlier symbol is still visible on a few surviving buildings from the sixteenth-century.
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Edinburgh's city centre (and, indeed, its surrounding areas) are packed with a multitude of churches, their spires and towers rising above the surrounding buildings.
Many church buildings in the city have been converted from ecclesiastical use, but one still functional church rises above (almost) all of them, and can be seen on the skyline from right across the city - I'd go as far as to say it's a more prominent feature than Edinburgh Castle itself!
St Giles' Cathedral is the largest of Edinburgh's Old Town churches, and sits right on the Royal Mile at the heart of the medieval city. The building is named for the patron saint of Edinburgh, St Giles, a Greek hermit who spent much of his life living in solitude in France. The church itself was established in the twelfth century, and the building has been developed and under almost continuous rebuilding until the nineteenth century.
Despite its name, St Giles is actually not technically a cathedral... In 1560, Scotland changed from being a Catholic country to a Protestant one, and part of this major social Reformation was for the church to get rid of the power structures imposed by bishops. Since a cathedral is (by definition) the seat of a bishop, and as the Church of Scotland no longer has bishops, the building at the heart of the Old Town is the High Kirk of St Giles.
It was the minister of St Giles' at that time, John Knox, who led the Reformation in Scotland, and he is commemorated with a statue in the church, as well as being buried in the former graveyard (now Parliament Square) just outside it.
At other times in its history, as the Church of Scotland underwent a number of shifts and changes, St Giles' became sub-divided and hosted no fewer than four separate churches under its roof, each with a separate congregation and preaching different interpretations of the same basic text. Today the building is reunited as a single church, and continues to be a popular venue for weddings, regular services, and live music.
The distinctive crown tower at the top of St Giles' - more properly known as a lantern tower - was added in the 1490s, and is one of only a handful of such structures in Scotland. It is this feature which can be seen above the rooftops of the city from miles around. Access to the tower for small groups is available on tours of the cathedral, giving visitors a unique perspective over the city centre.
Other highlights of the building include the Thistle Chapel, a highly decorative chapel at one corner of the building which was built in 1911. Knights of the Order of the Thistle, a chivalric honour bestowed on a maximum of 16 people at any single time, and dating from the seventeenth century, are celebrated here. Near the entrance to the Thistle Chapel is an original copy of the National Covenant, a document created and signed at nearby Greyfriars Kirk in 1638, demanding freedom and independence for the Church of Scotland from the monarchy.
The church also has a large stained glass window commemorating Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, above the main entrance on the west side of the building. A variety of other figures from Edinburgh's history have memorials inside the church, including the author Robert Louis Stevenson, medical pioneers Elsie Inglis and James Young Simpson, and warring nobles Argyll and Montrose.
Access to visit the church is free, but with donations requested.
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The new Mary Queen of Scots film hits UK cinemas today (although it's been out elsewhere for a month already) so here's my review, with an eye on the historical details that it gets right (and wrong!).
There seems no better time for cinematic visions of history which put women to the fore, and one period which lends itself to being viewed through a prism of womanhood is Britain in the sixteenth century, when both Scotland and England were ruled by queens. Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots were cousins, nearly a decade apart in age, whose lives and personal circumstances could hardly have been more different.
Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) had spent her childhood in France, become queen of France (by marriage) aged just 16, and returned to Scotland after being widowed at 18. Elizabeth Tudor (Margot Robbie) was the daughter of Henry VIII, having ascended to the throne on the death of her sister Mary, was unmarried and held the line of royal succession in her hand. If she were to die without producing an heir, the throne would pass to her cousin in Scotland, who would become queen of both the Scots and the English.
On one level, Josie Rourke's film is a story of two women managing the trials and tribulations of romantic life, and part of its weakness is in trying to put a new spin on the balancing act between finding love, holding down a job and managing the challenges of motherhood. For all that she is a traditional romantic heroine, Mary's struggle lacks much originality – in this sense, it is Elizabeth's story which is the more interesting, and Margot Robbie's portrayal of a conflicted monarch at war with her body, her heart, her mind and her advisors which has the more dramatic interest.
But, it is Mary's film, and as such all the key ingredients of the historic tragedy are woven into the drama, including several true elements from the historical record:
The film works best when not trying to juggle so many historical details, and much of the intrigue and discussion around the English queen's attempts to influence Mary's choice of husband, and for what political ends, is a little unclear. The fickle political landscape as a whole makes for unsatisfying viewing – it's not clear how (and why) Mary's half-brother James switches sides to lead the English army against her, and the film's weakest scenes are the conflicts between Scots and English armies, which lack both scale and sense of importance. This story is not an epic clash of swords and armour, and whilst there were significant battles during Mary's reign, they sit awkwardly in a version of the story which is otherwise much more emotional and cerebral in its focus.
The greatest liberty that the film takes – common to all dramatic versions of the Mary v. Elizabeth story – is the face to face meeting of the two queens. In reality, although attempts were made by Mary to meet her cousin throughout her life, the two women never met. It is a fitting climax to their struggle, though, that the two of them meet here shortly before the end of the film, when Mary flees Scotland to seek sanctuary from Elizabeth in England.
This scene is probably the film's strongest moment, being able to shed all need to cleave to a historical reality, and taking place purely in the space of dramatic invention. It is here, in a humble laundry shack in rural England, that the two women exchange words, and it is astonishing how much drama screenwriter Beau Willimon is able to pack into such a short scene. Both women bare their souls to each other, both are moved to tears, and both bring to bear threats upon the other. That it feels like such a genuine moment of interaction is testament to the skill of the two performers. The film is worth watching for these brief exchanges of dialogue, as the two women work to find a balance with each other. Having apparently found resolution, it is all the more shocking that Elizabeth moves immediately to have her cousin imprisoned.
Mary remained a prisoner of Elizabeth, at various houses and prisons across England, for the next 19 years, and the film finishes as it starts, in the moments leading up to her execution.
The line commonly attributed to Mary - “In my end is my beginning” - shows well her sense of place and perspective, recognising and understanding that her death was just the start of a mythologising of her life, and is the reason why her story remains compelling nearly five-hundred years after her death. This latest film is a worthy and watchable revisiting of a familiar tale, fitting the doomed romantic heroine's story into a narrative for the twenty-first century.
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Like many medieval settlements, Edinburgh at one time was a walled city.
Defences were essential to keep the city safe, and to protect its occupants from attack and invasion, as well as providing a boundary for the administration for taxes and laws which were levied on those within.
Edinburgh had always utilised the natural landscape for its protection, initially occupying the raised plateau of rock where Edinburgh Castle sits today, keeping the tribes living there safe from invasion by the virtue of up to 80 metres of sheer rock, which provided a pretty effective barrier against invasion!
As the city grew, the two glacial valleys north and south of the ridge along which the city expanded became integral to keeping Edinburgh protected. The valley to the north was flooded to create an artificial lake called the Nor Loch, which was, in effect, a castle moat protecting the whole city from invasion from the north. With no way across the valley, any would-be attackers were forced around to the east and western edges of the city.
With the castle rock to the west and the Nor Loch to the north, only the south and eastern edges of the city needed more substantial defences, and at different times in its history the southern side of Edinburgh was defended by a succession of three walls. Portions of each of these walls survive today, providing a sense not just of how well protected the city was, but the phases in which is grew and expanded.
The King's Wall
The first wall was built just after the city took on the mantle of capital for the first time, in 1437. Built in the reign of James II around the 1450s, the King's Wall was the first wall constructed as a defence, running along the length of the city from the castle down to near where the World's End is today. To give a sense of how narrow Edinburgh was at this time, the King's Wall ran between the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket and Cowgate which were, originally, beyond the city limits.
Two sections of this 500 year old structure still survive amongst the tangle of buildings and lanes of the Old Town. Just behind the Grassmarket, up the Castle Wynd Steps, you will walk along a length of the wall running east-west, demonstrating how the Grassmarket (or New Bygging as the area was known originally) was outside of the city. One further section of the King's Wall surviving on Tweeddale Court, running north-south as it returned to the line of the main street, forming the eastern boundary of the city.
The Flodden Wall
The King's Wall was superseded by the Flodden Wall, built in the aftermath of the devastating Battle of Flodden, in 1513. Expanding the city southwards for the first (and really only) time in its history, the Flodden Wall was built primarily by women, old people and children, as the working age, fighting age men of the city were all killed in the battle with England.
The Flodden Wall was built as a defence against any renewed attack by the English, and was 2 to 3 metres thick in places, and 7 metres high on average. It took around 60 years to finish building, and is made up of predominantly small pieces of stone, reflecting the less heavy workforce who constructed it.
Major sections of this wall have survived, notably along the line of the Vennel, just to the south of the Grassmarket, in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and along the line of the Pleasance at the eastern edge of the old city. The wall itself ran along the lane of St Mary's Street, to join back onto the Royal Mile at the World's End today, where a large fortified gateway called the Netherbow Port acted as the most heavily defenced entrance into the city.
The Flodden Wall has survived primarily because it was never tested in battle - the English never did push the advantage gained at the Battle of Flodden - and a century later the wall itself was extended.
The Telfer Wall
In 1624, following the death of George Heriot, a major figure in the court of James VI, the city was gifted a huge chunk of money to construct a hospital in Heriot's name. The city had no space on which to build a major hospital building, so part of the money was used to purchase land just outside the Flodden Wall, and to build an extension to that wall to run around it.
The wall was engineered by a man named John Taillfer, and in time became corrupted to Telfer, the name the wall has today. Sections of this short, third wall can still be found along the Vennel, where it joins with the Flodden Wall, and along Lauriston Place, along the edge of George Heriot's school today. It's interest to compare its style and colouring to the earlier wall, and to contrast the size of the stones form which its built - a century after Flodden the city had a heavy workforce available once again, and the Telfer Wall is made of predominantly large blocks of stone.
Together these three walls give a sense of the city's limits and protections, and offer an insight into how the city would have looked at different times in its history. To be able to touch stones which have stood on Edinburgh's streets for up to half a millennium also gives a palpable connection to the city's past.
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As we approach the centenary of the end of the First World War, there are many places across the country where commemorative events are being held, and Edinburgh has its own memorials for paying tribute to those who died during the conflict.
The Scottish National War Memorial is inside Edinburgh Castle, with books listing the deaths of service personnel from conflicts right across the twentieth century. The building itself was planned and commissioned after the First World War, and a conversion of a barracks block at the top of the castle was opened in 1927.
Over 147,000 names are contained within the lists in folders inside the memorial, recording deaths of soldiers under the unit and regiments in which they served. These were the deaths during World War One, and in the aftermath of World War Two a further 50,000 names were added.
Visitors can request copies of the listings with their relatives' names on them, but the space itself is a restful area inviting solemn reflection.
The losses to towns and villages between 1914 and 1918 were so immense that memorials were set up after the war around the country. A prominent feature in the centre of even a small town will be its war memorial, listing the names of those who lost their lives. Smaller communities were especially badly hit, with a disproportionately high number of deaths, and the memorials are an important way of not just recording but remembering the sacrifices that were made, and the impact they had on their communities left behind.
Even businesses set up memorials for employees who were lost in the war - the Royal Bank of Scotland offices on St Andrew Square in Edinburgh has two memorials to its staff who enlisted as soldiers, who were killed in both the First and Second World Wars.
There are numerous other sites around Edinburgh where war memorials stand - outside the City Chambers on the Royal Mile is a site where wreaths of poppies are laid, and every November a Garden of Remembrance is established at the foot of the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens, with a field of over 8,500 poppies commemorating named servicemen who lost their lives in the conflict.
The poppy is the symbol of remembrance in the UK, and during the two weeks leading up to the weekend nearest the 11th November - the date in 1918 when the armistice was declared - poppies are sold and worn across the country.
There are military memorials throughout Princes Street Gardens, commemorating specific units or conflicts, and at Haymarket to the west of the city centre stands a memorial clock erected by the Heart of Midlothian football club, commemorating players and club members who gave their lives during both the First and Second World Wars.
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On 1 May 1707, the formal Acts of Union which brought Scotland and England together under one government for the first time in their respective histories came into effect.
The two nations had been under one monarch for nearly a century, after the so-called Union of Crowns in 1603.
But separate governments had managed the power in the separate countries, with England ruled from London whilst Scotland was governed from the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, which at that time sat in the buildings adjacent to St Giles' Cathedral on the Royal Mile. The area today is still named Parliament Square.
A number of efforts had been made to bring the two countries under one government during the seventeenth century, although Oliver Cromwell had separated out the three nations (Scotland, England and Ireland) under his so-called Commonwealth, during the interregnum between Charles I and the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II. But it was really only after the ill-fated Darien expedition, which had sought to settle a new colony of Scots on the narrow strip of land between North and South America which made the political union between the countries an economic necessity.
The company behind the risky recolonisation was funded with almost a fifth of all of the money circulating in Scotland at the time, which was lost when the venture failed catastrophically. The English government was persuaded to bail out the financial losses that threatened to cripple Scotland, leading to the stabilising of currency rates between the Scots and English pounds, and ultimately to the establishment of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In order to save Scotland from financial ruin, a political union between the two countries would allow England to provide support to the nation under a favourable funding arrangement, and it was this need for stability which helped to further the cause for those seeking a political union in Scotland.
In 1707, the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh acted to make itself obsolete as it voted in favour of the union with England, and on the day the final treaties between the two countries were signed the bells of St Giles' Cathedral rang out the tune Why Should I Be So Sad on My Wedding Day? - a sign of the lack of public support for the union itself!
The novelist Daniel Defoe, at that time a spy in Edinburgh on behalf of the English government, reported that for every Scot in favour of the union, there were 99 against it - not an auspicious level of support for such a momentous political union.
The second Duke of Queensberry, resident at Queensberry House on the Royal Mile, was considered instrumental in securing the union, with his dedication to bribing the lords and landowners of Scotland in order to secure their assent to the union. Many noble families were gifted tracts of land in England - helping to expand their power and their economic potential - in exchange for support to the union. (It is pleasingly ironic that the home of a man who helped to secure the union with England is now incorporated into the modern Scottish parliament building...)
Signatures to the act of union were allegedly added in the modest summerhouse in the gardens of Moray House, today part of the University of Edinburgh. A structure believed to be part of the original summerhouse survives, and is visible in the university car park from Holyrood Road.
On 1 May 1707, Scotland and England formally entered joint rule under a single government, and remained that way until 1997, when in recognition of a majority level of support for self-governance among the Scottish people, permission was given for Scotland to establish a devolved parliament.
When this new devolved Scottish parliament sat for the first time, at the Assembly Hall off the Lawnmarket, on 12 May 1999, the session was opened by the oldest elected MSP, Dr Winnie Ewing, with the words: "I want to start with the words that I have always wanted either to say or to hear someone else say - the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25, 1707, is hereby reconvened."
After nearly 300 years, the control of Scottish politics was back in the hands of the Scots.
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The suburb of Cramond on the north west edge of Edinburgh is an area rich in history. I wrote recently about the Roman settlement at Cramond, and here's another story with some royal connections.
James V of Scotland, father of Mary, Queen of Scots, had his palace at Linlithgow and would travel through the Cramond area regularly to get from Linlithgow into Edinburgh.
Crossing the River Almond at Cramond is the old Cramond Brig, a bridge that provided access for traffic across the steep valley, and in 1532 James V was travelling through the area without his entourage when he was attacked by five robbers as he crossed the bridge.
A local man named Jock Howieson saw the fight and ran to help the stranger who was outnumbered by his assailants. Having successfully seen off the robbers, Jock Howieson escorted the man - who he didn't know to be the king - back to his home, where he provided a basin of water and a towel for him to clean his face and recover himself.
The king introduced himself to Howieson as a courtier in the palace at Holyrood, serving James V of Scotland. He told Howieson that he'd like to reward him for his help and kindness, and invited him to visit Holyrood where he would show him around the palace.
Howieson was pleased to accept the man's invitation, and was told that he should make his way to Holyrood the following weekend, and at the palace gates to ask for him by name, the 'Goodman of Ballengeich'.
The following week Jock Howieson travelled to Edinburgh, and presented himself at the palace gates, asking to be met by the Goodman of Ballengeich.
Presently the man emerged from the palace and greeted Howieson warmly. They began to tour the palace, and Howieson was asked if he would like to meet the king himself. He accepted the invitation, and at the doorway into the grand gallery where the king was assembled with his court Howieson was told, "You'll know the king immediately you enter the room, as he will be the only person wearing a hat".
As they entered the room, filled with people, Howieson looked around in vain for the king, but all he saw were courtiers removing their hats - turning to his guide he saw that the Goodman was still wearing his cap. Howieson reflected, "You said the king would be the only man wearing his hat, and as you and I are the only two people wearing caps - and as I know that I am not the king - then you must be him".
Howieson removed his cap and knelt at King James's feet. The king asked Jock if there was anything he wanted, in recognition and thanks for saving his life at Cramond Brig, and Howieson replied that all he desired was to own the farm on which he worked as a labourer.
The king duly rewarded Howieson with a gift of the lands and occupation of Braehead Farm, on condition that Howieson and his family always be ready with a basin of water and a cloth for the king to refresh himself anytime he passed through Cramond.
Braehead remains in the ownership of the Howieson family, and in 1822, when George IV visited Scotland on his royal tour, descendants of the Howieson family attended the king with a basin of water, as James V had requested three hundred years previously.
It's a pleasing story - and the bridge at Cramond is still worth visiting if you are walking through the area - but alas the details have no historical basis and are probably simply a creation from the imagination of Walter Scott, who wrote a version of the tale in his book, Tales of a Grandfather.
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Britain has long been recognised as the northernmost reach of the Roman Empire, with Hadrian's Wall across the north of England considered the final frontier of their global occupation. But the Romans also came into Scotland briefly, and evidence remains of their occupation of the area around Edinburgh, especially at Cramond. The area is a sleepy coastal suburb today but in the second century AD the fort here was the Romans' largest military settlement in Scotland.
At this time, around 140AD, the site of Edinburgh Castle today was occupied by a tribe called the Goddodin, known to the Romans as the Votadini. The Goddodin were known to be a fearsome and war-hungry group, with records suggesting they spent a full year feasting on the castle rock before heading south to fight the Angles - it's also considered that the Romans actively feared the Goddodin and so avoided engaging them directly in the territory of Edinburgh itself, instead establishing a settlement on the coast to the north.
Some historians suggest that Edinburgh's Dalkeith Road is a remaining section of Dere Street, the road built by the Romans to connect their settlements north of the border with York (Jorvik). Running through the south side of the city, the road then branched westwards along the edge of an ancient lake (where the Meadows are today) along the line of modern-day Melville Drive. It then ran out to the fort at Cramond, built on the edge of a natural harbour on the shores of the Firth of Forth.
Few, if any, physical structures of the Roman fort at Cramond survive today, but the foundations of a huge network of buildings are marked out in the area adjacent to the medieval Cramond Kirk, a later church built on the site of the Roman encampment. Concealed beneath thick foliage lie the remnants of an immense Roman bathhouse, a major feature of Roman settlements.
The fort at Cramond was active during the period of construction of the Antonine Wall, the defence built between Scotland's east and west coasts as a defence against the Picts (another tribe of which the Romans seemed to live in fear!). The infamous story of the 'Eagle of Ninth', a mythical, ill-fated mission by a legion of 5,000 soldiers who ventured into the misty Highlands of Scotland, never to be seen or heard of ever again, provides some context for their fear of the tribes occupying the highlands of mainland Britain, and the Antonine Wall was constructed to keep the Roman forts safe from attacks from the north.
The size of the encampment here, and the importance of the site as a militarily strategic river port, is reflected in some of the finds and archaeology which has been uncovered here. Beyond the traces of the buildings themselves, in 1997 the ferryman who ran a passenger service across the River Almond had to steer around what he thought was merely a rock jutting above the surface of the water. At low tide, however, the stone was examined and found be the tip of an immense carving of a lioness, a huge creative feature that archaeologists think may have been created as a grave marker or decorative tombstone for a significant general or military figure stationed at Cramond.
The Cramond Lioness, as she is now known, has since taken pride of place in Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. Carvings like the lioness indicate that Cramond was established as a major, and permanent, settlement for the Romans. But records suggest that Cramond was only actively occupied for about thirty years, between 140 and 170AD, and then briefly again from 205 to 214AD
Ultimately the Romans retreated south from Cramond, taking up residence around the English boundary defence of Hadrian's Wall which was a more effective (and better established) site. Some have suggested that Scotland's unforgiving (and unpredictable) climate may have proven too much for the Romans, for whom the warm and sunny shores of the Mediterranean could hardly have seemed further away!
Whether they were defeated by the Scottish weather or the fearsome people, the Romans left their mark on Scotland, and Cramond offers just one accessible site for historians to explore.
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of Roman Cramond is located not in the village itself, but about a half mile further along the coastline (accessible only via a longer path which runs inland to cross the River Almond over the old Cramond Brig) on the Dalmeny Estate. Walking along the beach here brings you to a small outcrop of rock, in which is carved the outline of an eagle, a symbol beloved of the Romans whose legions each had their own eagle emblem behind which they marched.
The Cramond Eagle - if that's what it is, the carving is too weathered to say for sure - is a firm marker of the occupation of this area by the Romans, and it's quite remarkable to think about the young men who may have carved this design in between their patrols of the Antonine Wall, standing on this rocky shore and looking out over a landscape that can only have changed rudimentally in the nearly two-thousand years since.
Perhaps the carving was only a form of graffiti, the way modern cities are 'tagged' with spray paint, but nonetheless it gives a truly human shape to the Roman presence here.
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A grisly commemoration today, as 8 February was the date in 1587 when the woman who would become one of Scotland's most iconic historical figures was executed. After 19 years imprisoned by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in an act that would be speculated about and studied by historians for the next half a millennium.
Mary's life is often told through a veil of doomed romance, casting her as a tragic heroine in a political struggle between nations, but whatever the theories that swirl around the events of her life (and death) it is plain that Edinburgh played a significant role in Mary's world.
Here are five sites in and around Edinburgh associated with Mary, Queen of Scots...
Just a few miles outside the city, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, sits the village of Linlithgow, with the remains of its spectacular red sandstone palace, dating back to the fifteenth century. Started by James I of Scotland, the palace was a major residence for subsequent monarchs, including James III and James IV who both made major additions to its structure. James V was born in the palace in 1512, follows just thirty years later by the birth of his child, a daughter, Mary.
At the time of Mary's birth, James V was recovering was a terrible defeat in battle at Solway Moss in the Highlands, and awaited news of the birth from his sick bed. It is said he was so distraught to learn that his wife had borne him a daughter instead of a son that the shock killed him, and so it was that Mary became Queen of Scots at just six days old...
Mary's birthplace is still a popular place to visit, and easily accessible from Edinburgh.
Tucked away on the Cowgate, in the shadow of George IV Bridge, is a small Catholic chapel, built in the 1540s to commemorate the birth of Mary, Queen of Scots. The chapel was managed by one of the formal guilds in Edinburgh, the hammermen - tradesmen who worked with hammers, such as silversmiths - and it is believed that Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, led prayer sessions in the small, wood-lined chapel during her time in Edinburgh.
In 1560, Scotland changed from being a Catholic country to being a Protestant one, and during the Reformation mobs stormed the nation's Catholic churches and destroyed all the iconography. They smashed windows and removed or destroyed statuary. Within the Magdalen Chapel are the only surviving, intact, pre-Reformation stained glass windows in Scotland - was it a miracle they survived the wrath of the mobs?!
THE PALACE OF HOLYROODHOUSE
Still a royal residence, and the official Scottish residence of the Queen, Holyrood Palace is one of Edinburgh's best-known attractions. At the bottom of the Royal Mile, and built adjacent to the Holyrood Abbey, which predates it by several hundred years, the palace dates from the sixteenth century, with additions made right up until the eighteenth century, and has hosted a variety of royal visitors in its history. Visitors today can view the state rooms along with historic quarters such as the bedroom where Mary, Queen of Scots, slept during her visits, and the chamber in which her secretary David Rizzio was brutally murdered in 1566.
In the grounds of the palace is a small structure standing by itself, popularly known as Queen Mary's Bathhouse, where it is alleged Mary would have bathed twice a year (whether she need it or not...!). In fact, archaeologists new believe this structure was once a pavilion, part of a royal tennis court, which may have been on this site in the sixteenth century.
Edinburgh's second visitable castle lies in ruins, just a couple of miles from the city centre. Craigmillar was formerly an impressive fortress, and Mary had made her home here during the period just after her return from France, aged 18. She had spent her childhood abroad, and returned as queen to a Scotland that was politically turbulent, bringing with her a huge number of staff and courtiers from the French court. Housed in the area around Craigmillar Castle, the area got nicknamed Little France, a name it continues to have today.
Mary sought refuge at Craigmillar following the attack on Rizzio at Holyrood in 1566. It was from her rooms in Craigmillar that she plotted revenge against her own husband for his suspected involvement in Rizzio's murder, and she spent three months here before returning to the city itself in June...
EDINBURGH CASTLE BIRTH ROOM
Within Edinburgh Castle is a small suite of chambers that were once Mary's rooms in the royal apartment block. The castle itself was always more of a fortress than a palace, so it tended only to be occupied by the royals in times of conflict, but Mary came here in 1566 in order to safely deliver the baby she was carrying. In June of that year, in a small room, just a few feet wide, with views over towards Arthur's Seat, Mary gave birth to a son, James, who would go on to be on of the most important monarchs in British history.
James succeeded his mother as ruler of Scotland when Mary was forced to abdicate the throne in 1567, becoming James VI of Scotland when he was just one year old.
Years later, in 1603, Elizabeth I of England would die, whereupon the throne of England passed to her nearest living relative. That would have been Mary, except Elizabeth had had Mary executed on 8 February 1587, at the culmination of a feverish period of paranoia and speculation. And so Mary's son took the throne of England, and became the first monarch to rule both England and Scotland jointly, the way our monarchy has done ever since.
Explore more of Edinburgh's history, and find out more about its associations with Mary, Queen of Scots, on my private city walking tours!
We're just a couple of days from one of Scotland's biggest annual cultural events - Burns Night commemorates and celebrates the life and work of Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard, or poet.
(In Scotland another word for poet is 'makar', and in 2004 the Scottish Parliament introduced the formal title of Scots Makar for a national poet. The current Scots Makar is Jackie Kay, but the two previous holders have been Liz Lochhead and Edwin Morgan.)
Burns remains one of Scotland's great cultural figures, and on 25th January each year - Burns' date of birth - dinners are held to consume traditional dishes and recite Burns' poetry. The highlight of such occasions is the traditional meal of haggis, neeps and tatties - a veritable Scottish trinity of foodstuffs!
Although these days visitors often seek a 'gourmet' version of haggis, the dish originated as a dish suited to the lifestyle and means of shepherds, combining cheaply available ingredients and a form which allowed it to be transported. The liver, heart and lungs of a sheep - known as the 'pluck' - are minced with suet, oats and spices, and stuffed into a casing to enclose it.
Originally the casing would have been a sheep's stomach or similar, today they are generally stuffed into synthetic casings. The effect was to create a bulbous sausage, something which could be stuffed into the belongings of the shepherd as he trailed his charges across the exposed Highland landscapes, and which could then be taken out, boiled over a fire, and then sliced open to eat the spicy contents.
Today, haggis is often served in different forms, deep fried in small balls as a bar snack, grilled as part of a cooked breakfast, stuffed into chicken to create Chicken Balmoral (after Queen Victoria's Highland estate), or even - purists should avert their gaze now - crumbled onto pizzas...!
Burns himself wrote an 'Address to a Haggis', which is recited at Burns' suppers as the haggis is brought into the dining room - often accompanied by bagpipes! - in which he describes it as "Great chieftain o' the Puddin-race" - the king of pies and puddings!
At such events the haggis is generally served with the other two staples of the dish, neeps and tatties. Neeps are mashed swede - a Swedish form of turnip, 'neeps' a shortening of 'turneeps' - which is much more golden and yellow than ordinary turnip. Boiled and mashed roughly with butter and salt, it's a rich and sweet vegetable dish. Tatties, then, are simply mashed potatoes - together the three elements don't offer a hugely varied palate of textures, but they do accompany each other well in terms of flavour!
A sauce may be added - whisky or pepper sauce is a good match - but for most people a liberal knob of butter is enough, without detracting from the rich flavour of the haggis itself.
In recent years the haggis has achieved a kind of mythical status, partly as a result of its scarcity in some parts of the world - the use of sheep lung as an ingredient put it beyond the limits of American health regulations, making it illegal to import or produce commercially in the United States.
Most surprisingly of all, considering the haggis is uniquely associated with Scottish culture today, some historians and food experts now believe the haggis to have been invented in England originally, before being 'exported' to Scotland!
Whatever its origins, and however it's served, be sure to try to sample this iconic dish sometime during your visit to Scotland...
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One of the reasons I love Edinburgh is that there always seem to be new things to discover about the city, new places to explore, and new stories to tell. This week I made one such discovery when I started looking into the curious name of one of the streets near the University of Edinburgh's campus buildings on the Southside of the city.
Having passed along Buccleuch Street many times (and having spent years trying to work out how to pronounce it!) I realised this week I'd never looked into the name 'Guse Dub' which is marked at the junction where the Buccleuch Free Church stands. I knew a little about Crosscauseway, the road which joins in from the eastern side, but nothing about this 'Guse Dub'.
A little light googling yielded some surprising results! Translated from Scots, the name 'Guse Dub' means, literally, 'Goose Puddle', and the junction historically was the site of a public wellspring and a small pond where ducks and geese congregated, at a time when this area was rural territory, well beyond the limits of Edinburgh's city wall.
This approach from the south was one of the main routes into Edinburgh - there is some speculation that one of the roads leading up the Southside was a Roman road dating back to the second century - and so it's not hard to imagine this junction, with a small collection of properties, maybe an inn or a stable yard, being a convenient resting point for weary travellers making their way towards the metropolis of Auld Reekie.
The goose pond was a recognised landmark as far back as the seventeenth century, and Walter Scott recalls the pond in some of his memoirs of childhood, days he must have spent playing in this area whilst his family had their home on nearby George Square.
Robert Burns lodged in a house on Buccleuch Pend (since demolished) a couple of doors down from this junction in 1784. The pond had been drained in 1715 - where did all the geese go, I wonder?! - although a public well and a horse trough remained on the site into the early 1900s.
West Crosscauseway, which runs from the eastern side of the junction, having crossed the main arterial road of St Patrick Street/Clerk Street, and nearby Causewayside, are both street names which feature an error of translation.
In Scots, a 'causey' was a street that was paved or which was more solid and established than an ordinary dirt track. In French, caucie meant a beaten or hardened surface, and with its many links to France, Scotland had taken the same concept and given it a Scots translation - hence, 'causey'.
So this main road - now the A7 into Edinburgh - was formally a causey, a paved road, and the road which ran parallel/beside it became Causeyside; the road which ran across it at right-angles was Crosscausey.
The road had been 'causeyed' in 1599, and the name Crosscausey was in use as far back as 1661.
Sometime in the nineteenth century, a process of formalising, or Anglicising, street names saw Causeyside unfortunately rendered as Causewayside and Crosscausey as Crosscauseway. But there never was such a 'causeway' as their names would suggest!
So, next time you stroll through the area near George Square and the city's Central Mosque, look out for Guse Dub and maybe if you stop for a moment, perhaps you might catch the sound of ghostly geese honking from their glory days around the long-gone pond...!
For more information about the Causey Development Trust, visit www.thecausey.org.
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The patron saint of Scotland - and also, incidentally, of Greece, Russia and Romania, among others! - St Andrew also has a town named for him on the coast of Fife, to the north of Edinburgh, where his relics were brought in the eighth century.
Legend has it that in the ninth century a Pictish king was expecting to lose a battle due to being greatly outnumbered, and vowed that if Saint Andrew granted his army a victory he would see the saint anointed as patron saint of Scotland. On the morning of the battle, a white cross was formed in clouds against the blue sky, resembling the cross of St Andrew, and upon winning the battle the king formally recognised St Andrew as the nation's patron saint, and the symbol of his cross became the national flag, the saltire.
In Edinburgh, one of the two large squares planned for the New Town in the eighteenth century was named for St Andrew, with an adjacent church bearing the saint's name too.
Whilst Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, St Giles is the patron saint of Edinburgh itself (and also of blacksmiths, lepers and people afraid of the dark, among others!).
A Grecian prince, by birth, in the eighth century BC, Giles became a hermit residing in a wood in rural France, completely isolated from society. He kept a small deer for company, and legend has it that when a hunting party passed through the woods, Giles threw himself in front of their arrows to protect his animal. He is a traditionally represented with arrows in his hand or abdomen.
It's not entirely clear how Edinburgh became associated with the saint - possibly the general poor health of its population led to St Giles being particularly prevalent in the prayers of residents - but the city's main cathedral in the heart of the Old Town is named for him.
A specifically Scottish saint, Margaret had, in life, been queen of Scotland, through her marriage to Malcolm III in the eleventh century. Margaret had established a ferry service across the Firth of Forth, to the north of Edinburgh, to allow pilgrims easy passage to the reliquary at St Andrews, and the ferry service continued running for nine centuries until the opening of the Forth Road Bridge in the 1960s.
Today the towns of North and South Queensferry survive at the respective sites of the ferry ports adjacent to the river Forth.
After her death, Margaret was canonised and made a saint. One of her sons, David I of Scotland, established a modest chapel in his mother's name, which can be found within Edinburgh Castle as the oldest surviving functional building in the whole city.
Another Scottish saint, Cuthbert was born and lived on the east coast of Scotland and in the Scottish Borders during the seventh century. During his lifetime it is believed that he established the first chapel on the site of the modern St Cuthbert's parish church, near Princes Street Gardens, alongside the stream which originally ran into the valley from the western end.
The current church is the seventh successive church to have been built on the same site in Edinburgh, and as such survives as the oldest continually used site of worship in the city.
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Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre is about to present the world premiere of a new play with its roots in the very heart of the city's Old Town. Glory on Earth is Linda McLean's dramatic vision of August 1561, when Mary, Queen of Scots returned to Edinburgh for the first time since Scotland had moved away from Catholicism to Protestantism, under the eye of John Knox, the fiery minister of St Giles cathedral.
The story examines not just the personal conflicts between these two iconic figures of Scottish history, but also the political, religious and social turmoil which engulfed Edinburgh in the sixteenth century.
The Reformation of the Scottish church transformed Scotland, and laid the foundations for a whole new relationship between the people and their church, with ministers now preaching in the language of their congregation, and dismantling the power structures that the Catholic church had established.
The impact of the schism in the religious fabric of Scotland can still be felt in the country today, and one of the most enduring consequences of the rise of Knox's vision of faith is still embodied by Scotland's focus on the importance of education for all - it became a matter of law in Scotland for people to be able to read the Bible, now that it was available in Scots/English, which necessitated a requirement for all social classes to be literate.
Thus the emphasis on the education system in Scotland became a matter of priority, and one which continues to be an important feature of Scottish society - it is unlikely to be a coincidence that Scotland became a seat of learning for great thinkers, academics, philosophers, and scientists into the eighteenth century, the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment.
Visitors to the city can still walk in the footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots, and John Knox today. St Giles' cathedral has a bronze statue of Knox, and in Parliament Square outside the church parking space number 23 is noted as 'the approximate site of the burial' of the Protestant reformer.
Meanwhile, visitors to the Palace of Holyroodhouse can still visit the private chambers and bedroom of Mary, as well as the birth room in Edinburgh Castle where she gave birth to her son James, a future monarch of Scotland and England.
The Lyceum's production - directed by artistic director David Greig, is a world premiere, and may shed a little more light on the tempestuous times in which it is set, putting the city of Edinburgh back at the front and centre of the world's stage.
Glory on Earth runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre from 20 May - 10 June 2017.
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Recently I had the pleasure of joining a 'hard hat' tour of one of the city's historic works in progress, a renovation and restoration of Riddle's Court on the Lawnmarket.
The project is being undertaken by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust (here's my previous blog about the Glasite Meeting House), a charitable body dedicated to protecting, preserving and providing access to some of the country's historic structures.
The development of Riddle's Court has been a long term project, and will be run by SHBT as the Patrick Geddes Centre, an educational resource centre for heritage and history groups in the city.
This tour was the final opportunity for visitors to explore this site before the building work is completed, and it was genuinely thrilling to be exploring such an historic building, in the company of Sarah Gear, the lead architect who has been responsible for designing and integrating the development around the core historic building.
Patrick Geddes had been a conservator and educator who had previously undertaken his own preservation and development of Riddle's Court, in the nineteenth century. He had transformed what by then were dilapidated structures into functional spaces for student accommodation, so the tradition of maintenance of these buildings in adherence with Geddesian philosophy is in itself honouring a part of Edinburgh's history.
Riddle's Court was previously a 16th-century mansion house complex near the top of the Royal Mile, occupied by high-status residents who benefited from being close to the castle for access to the monarch, King James VI. Indeed, this future king James I of England held a grand banquet in Riddle's Court in 1598, and one of the most exciting moments on the tour of the buildings was to be standing in the small antechamber where is it thought King James would have dined during that event.
A large number of decorated ceiling beams are some of the most historically interesting features of the site, with some of the decoration only discovered during the current renovation process. Adaptations had to be made to some of the plans for the internal structures of the building to avoid damaging these newly discovered features.
Another discovery during the works was an enormous stove area hidden behind masonry on the ground floor, where the banquet served to King James VI and his guests may have been cooked and prepared. Once the renovation of Riddle's Court is coplete, this area will be in the public toilets area of the building, so visitors will be able to explore this unusual feature for themselves!
As well as its royal history, the building has associations with other historical figures, including the philosopher David Hume, who lived on the site in the 1750s.
One particular privilege was being among the last members of the public to walk along the original line of Riddle's Close itself, the narrow lane along and around which the collection of buildings was developed. Once the renovation is finished, the steps of the original close won't be accessible to walk down, but will be preserved under glass for visitors to see.
This will be a feature of the finished building, with many original aspects of Riddle's Court remaining visible behind glass panels and sections, reflecting the integrity of the original structures and preserving them for observation and study by those who will be using and visiting the complex in the 21st century, over four hundred years after the original buildings were constructed.
Take one of my private Edinburgh walking tours to learn more about this historic site.
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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