Down with kings and queens! Down with lords and earls and princes and princesses!
I'm not feeling more than usually treasonous today, I'm just thinking about how so many of the stories we tell about Scottish history tend to focus on those figures from the upper echelons of society.
Listen in to any tour guide plying their trade along the Royal Mile (and, for reasons of full disclosure and research, I have done my share of earwigging on other guides over the summer!) and the chances are they're banging on about some king or queen and the awful or marvellous things they did or said.
But what about the ordinary folk of Edinburgh? What about the everyday citizens, the people not blessed with status or wealth, those folk like me and you who lived drab, wretched lives and never got to see the inside of a palace or the throne room of a castle?
Their stories are also important! Because, actually, they were the people who really made up the bulk of what happened through history. So to help correct some of the narratives about high status historical figures getting all the attention, here are some of the ordinary people who played their part in Edinburgh's extra-ordinary history...
Make your way down the Royal Mile and peering out from above one of the lanes on High Street is the face of a young boy - this is no merely allegorical figure, but Joseph McIvor, a 12-year-old boy who was living in the building on Paisley Close in 1861.
One night during November the building - which by that time was already several hundreds of years old - finally collapsed, reduced to a tangle of rubble and timber, and Joseph McIvor was one of the survivors pulled out alive by rescuers who attended the site.
The collapse of Paisley Close was a major moment in Edinburgh's history, and led directly to the Victorian-era 'Improvements' which saw a significant amount of the city's medieval building removed and replaced with modern alternatives. These are the buildings that you typically see in the Old Town today.
Joseph McIvor wasn't the only survivor of the Paisley Close disaster, but his face was attached to the building that was put up as a replacement - along with the words he is alleged to have called out from under the rubble: "Heave awa', lads - I'm no' deid yet!"
Feted with a pub named in her honour on the Grassmarket today, Maggie Dickson was put on trial in the 1720s for concealing her pregnancy (a crime in itself) and for killing the baby when it was born. Despite her protestations about the baby having died naturally, Dickson was sentenced to be hanged.
Except by some quirk of fate, she survived the execution, and was discovered alive in her coffin sometime shortly before her burial!
Her survival, and the controversy that followed, led (it is said) to the adoption of a new detail in the legal legislation of the time - the sentence was thereafter to be hanged until dead - an important judicial distinction!
If Maggie Dickson can hardly be claimed as an 'unknown' figure in the city, John Livingston is a man I would bet no tour guides trouble themselves to mention. He was an apothecary (a kind of chemist) and a medic in the sixteenth century, and was successful enough in his business to have been able to afford to purchase land and establish a grand estate for himself past Bruntsfield, to the south of the Royal Mile.
Sadly Livingston only got to enjoy his life at Greenhill for around 15 years, before his death in 1645. His work had taken him into regular contact with victims of the plague, many of whom were quarantined out of the city, and most of whom would be buried in the communal plague graves in the area of Morningside.
Livingston contracted plague and on his death was buried on the estate he'd bought for himself - his grave can still be visited just off Chamberlain Road today.
A figure whose name was linked to that of Mary, Queen of Scots - Rizzio was her secretary, and in 1566 he was murdered in the queen's chambers at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
There remains debate and speculation around the reasons and motives for Rizzio's death, but what can't be denied is that his killing in 1566 set Mary (and, by extension, Scotland) on a course that proved to be significant. The chain of events which followed Rizzio's murder saw Mary accused of complicity in the death of her own husband, and from there into the care of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who kept Mary a prisoner for 19 years before finally executing her.
As I talk about on tours quite often, if Rizzio hadn't died that night in March 1566, the next 400 years of Scottish history could have turned out rather differently...
What started as an ordinary Sunday morning in 1637 led Britain into a state of civil war - and by some accounts it was a woman named Jenny Geddes who started it!
She was a market trader in Edinburgh who opposed the use of Charles I's Book of Common Prayer in the Scottish Church. Since the Reformation the Church of Scotland had followed a different path from the Church of England, and much of what Charles I had ordained as head of state was incompatible with the practices of the Scottish church.
When the minister of St Giles' Cathedral began reading from Charles' preferred liturgy that monring in 1637, Geddes was sufficiently outraged to throw her stool at the minister - the riot which followed spread across Scotland, and paved the way for the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, aka the English Civil War, which would see Charles I executed and the whole nation plunged into bloody conflict.
If Jenny Geddes could be charged with starting a war, Charles Ewart might be held responsible for single-handedly ending a battle...
Ewart was part of the British armed forces fighting Napoleon's troops at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and was responsible for securing the French army's eagle standard, the flag and emblem which identified the troops and whose capture symbolically represented their defeat.
In the years after Waterloo, Ewart became something of a reluctant celebrity on the dinner party circuit, regaling diners with stories from the battle and his part in Napoleon's defeat. When he died he was buried at his home near Manchester, but his body was later moved to the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, where he was given a full ceremonial military burial. A nearby pub - the highest in Edinburgh - is also named for him.
Picture the scene: Edinburgh, midsummer, 1696. Twenty-year-old student Thomas Aikenhead is walking through the city centre with his friends, when he is overheard to remark that he wished he were in Hell, where it would at least be a bit warmer than an Edinburgh summer...!
A harmless joke to our modern ears, but in 1696 such a comment as that could get a person reported for blasphemy. Which, sadly, is what happened to poor Thomas Aikenhead.
At his trial later that year he found himself facing mounting accusations of denouncing the church, denigrating Christ and corrupting the word of God. His defence was that he was a young man and sometimes said stupid things without thinking. Sadly, his prosecutor was James Stewart, the Lord Advocate of Scotland, who secured a guilty verdict on the charges of blasphemy, and with it a sentence of death.
Aikenhead became the last person in the UK to be executed for blasphemy, on a cold morning in January 1697, when it is to be hoped he did end up in Hell, which certainly would have been a lot warmer than Edinburgh that day....
Born on the Vennel in the Old Town, in 1900, Bessie Watson had been encouraged to learn to play bagpipes as a way of keeping her lungs strong against the risk of TB.
At the age of nine she took part in a procession in Edinburgh, playing her pipes before gathering for a rally led by Emmeline Pankhurst, the coordinator of Britain's Votes of Women campaign in the early 20th century.
Such an impact did young Bessie make with her bagpipes, playing for the Suffragette cause, that a few weeks later she met with Emmeline Pankhurst's daughter, Christabel, who presented her with a brooch depicting Queen Boudica, an ancient British female leader celebrated for leading an uprising against the Romans.
As she grew older Bessie Watson became a key figure in Scotland's suffragette movement, playing her pipes for King George V, on the platform at Waverley Station as women prosecuted for demanding their voting rights were taken away to prison, and playing outside Edinburgh's Calton Jail in support of suffragettes who were imprisoned there.
Watson died in 1992, and is celebrated with a (slightly difficult to find) plaque on the Vennel where she lived, which was unveiled by Scotland's first female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in 2019.
Undaunted by being declined the opportunity to join Edinburgh's medical school in the 1860s, on the grounds that they didn't allow women to train as doctors, Sophie Jex-Blake rounded up another six women who wanted to become medics and persuaded the university to allow them to begin their studies.
Known as the Edinburgh Seven, they were the first women to be allowed to train as doctors in Scotland, and some of the first in the UK, but were never allowed to finish their studies after a riot in the city opposing the university allowing them to study alongside male students.
Jex-Blake later qualified as a doctor overseas and returned to Edinburgh to establish two important institutions - a hospital for women and children, in Bruntsfield, and a medical school to train women as doctors! Her medical school would formally merge with the University of Edinburgh in the 1890s to allow women to train (and graduate) as doctors for the very first time.
In 1813, one of the university's medical graduates was James Barry, who immediately joined the British navy as a medical officer. Barry rose to become the highest ranking officer in the British armed forces, and spent much of the rest of his later career advising military establishments around the world on the best way to care for their patients.
Only after Barry's death, in 1865, when the nurse arrived to prepare his body for his funeral, was it discovered that Barry was in fact a woman - having been born Margaret Ann Bulkley, she had concealed her identity from an early age in order to pursue the career she wanted...
A significant historical figure, becoming influential in British medicine, there is still a lot of mystery around Barry/Bulkley's life, so well established was her change of identity throughout her life. She isn't (to my knowledge) publicly celebrated anywhere by Edinburgh's medical school.
Finally a figure whose name I only learned recently. Robert Morham was Edinburgh's lead city architect in the middle of the nineteenth century, responsible for building more public structures (schools, police stations, swimming pools) than any of the great architectural figures we tend to celebrate on tours.
Morham laid out Princes Street Gardens, and was instrumental in shaping the style of the city as we see it today, and gave the city many of its functional buildings which continue to serve residents and visitors in the city. That his name isn't so well known is, in my opinion, truly a situation which requires correcting.
So, there you have it - a handful (or two) of 'ordinary' people whose lives left an impact on Edinburgh or Scotland, but who are often overlooked in favour of kings and queens... Their stories are equally important and - I think - more interesting than the more well-known histories.
History, as the maxim has it, is written by the winners - but not all of those winners necessarily get the recognition they deserve.
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