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Waverley Scotland’s Grand Tour – Part One: Holyrood and the Palace
We would like to begin a series of history and place to promote our notebooks and our books. This first blog is about our tour that starts in Edinburgh – at Holyrood and the story behind the Holyrood tartan.
Today Holyrood is an area in Edinburgh, to the east of the city at the foot of the Royal Mile. It is at the edge of an open space called Holyrood Park, and has the dramatic volcanic rock Arthur’s Seat dominating the skyline.
With a palace, an abbey, a parliament and a park, it is easy to spend a full day exploring Holyrood. This quarter contains a diverse range of architecture, and it is an open space where you can climb the dormant volcano to enjoy 360-degree views of Edinburgh.
Holyrood Palace, Holyrood Abbey, Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat, as well as the Scottish Parliament building sit here. The view from the top of Arthur’s Seat also gives a sense of how the land once looked when the only building for miles was the Abbey.
Holyrood Abbey, Caledonia (i.e. Scotland)
When Holyrood Abbey was established in 1128 ‘Edinburgh’ did not exist. In fact, Edinburgh only became established in the middle of the 15th century. Today Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. Before that, the royal family was more itinerant and had a palace at Stirling and Perth. Scone was the capital of Scotland and for centuries the only local landmark in the area was Holyrood Abbey.
The name behind Holyrood
The naming of ‘Holyrood’ is shrouded in myth and its origins are told in many forms of a story around it making it a blend of mystery and legend. Here goes:
At Holyrood King David I of Scotland founded his abbey.
King David I is reputed to be one of Scotland’s best kings. He was known as an excellent organiser and used Norman principles to guide his rule. He was deeply religious and founded many abbeys and churches, Holyrood being one of them.
One story is that King David was out hunting, in what is now called Holyrood Park. He startled a stag, and as he was attacked by the horns of the animal, a holy cross appeared and he used it to defend himself from the animal. King David 1 called the cross a ‘Haly Rude’ i.e. Holy Rood – or ‘Holy Cross’. The stag ran off, or retreated and disappeared. King David built an abbey to mark the religious experience. He called the Abbey ‘Holy Rood’ to mark the message from God. While there is no evidence that the story is true, we do know that more monastic buildings were added around 1195. The buildings included cloisters, a chapter house, guest houses and a refectory.
The enlarged abbey prospered, and from an early date contained royal chambers for use by the sovereign.
It was during the 1400s that the Abbey guesthouse was changed into a royal residence. After 1560 The Palace of Holyroodhouse was expanded during the Scottish Reformation.
Holyrood Palace - 14 state apartments
Today the Palace of Holyrood is run by the Royal Collection Trust. There are 14 state apartments that are open to the public (when the Palace is open to the public). Queen Elizabeth II uses Holyrood Palace for her stays in Edinburgh. Royalty has used Holyrood Palace for over 500 years. In current times, when not occupied by the Royal family, or locked down in the pandemic, you can visit The State Apartments of the Palace itself, and see displays of stories of its most famous residents from the past and the present. Possibly one of the most exciting periods and stories is that of Mary Queen of Scots at Holyrood. See below <Mary Queen of Scots at Holyrood Palace>
Margaret Tudor - sister of Henry VIII and James IV
Another notable story is that of Margaret Tudor, who was Henry VIII’s sister. “Meg” is often overlooked by historians. At 13 years old Margaret Tudor travelled to Scotland to marry James IV. By then, James IV had seven illegitimate children. Margaret’s father Henry VII was determined to rule over a harmonious relationship between Scotland and England. Margaret was not happy with her three-week journey north. However she received a warm welcome. Wearing stunning dresses and jewels on her early appearances when she arrived in Scotland, Margaret was met with a welcome in Scotland. The ever-charming James IV was kind to Margaret Tudor. Despite his womanizing nature and keeping the relationship with his mistress with whom he had three children, James IV was consistent in his treatment to Margaret. She gave birth in 1512 to James V. Later, Margaret would become great grandmother to James VI and I, who in 1603 united the crowns of Scotland and England.
However, in the Reformation, Margaret’s tomb was desecrated and her skeleton was burned. She has no monument, like her first husband James IV. This period, of course, was the beginning of the Reformation, which began in Germany in 1517 with Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. While Luther wished to reform, rather than split the church, his Theses led to the Reformation that swept through Europe. In England it built on unhappiness that had been building since the 14th century.
The Reformation swept through Europe and affected England in a slightly different way, partly because of the Henry VIII issue over the king’s unhappiness with his wife Catherine of Aragon.
In 1503 James IV converted the royal chambers into a palace. Nothing remains of the early Palace buildings. On the first floor there were royal lodgings and a chapel, and James added a tower on the south side. The Palace gardens were begun and a loch next to the Abbey was drained in 1507.
James V and new royal lodgings, and a new tower
In 1528 construction began in the north-west corner of the Palace, and a huge tower was built with round corners. The tower had a drawbridge and probably a moat. The tower provided security. Today the tower is the oldest part of the Palace that survives. The tower is now the Mary Queen of Scots’ Chambers. Additional reception rooms were added on the west side as well as a gateway built from two towers, parapets and large windows. More work was done to the south, and a new chapel was built.
Queen of Scots at Holyrood Palace
Holyrood Palace is perhaps most famously known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542 – 1587). The Palace was used as a location for the 2019 Universal Pictures film ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’. Mary, Queen of Scots and daughter of King James V, lived at Holyrood Palace from 1561-1567. We have much detail about Mary because she wrote many letters.
The north-west tower is still reputed to show the blood of Rizzoli on the floor. The chambers here display items themed around Mary. We will do a feature on Mary in more detail in the future but here will mention the importance of her years at the Palace in Holyrood. Mary married her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545-67), in the chapel at the Palace in July 1565. They had not been married long when Darnley became jealous of Rizzio. Darnley murdered Mary’s private secretary David Rizzio (1533-66) in Mary’s private apartments in March 1566. Mary was dining with Rizzio and her assistant, when Darnley burst in. Apparently Rizzio died at Mary's feet. He was allegedly stabbed 57 times, with Darnley assisted by a small group of men. (NB in history, Rizzio is sometimes spelled 'Riccio'.) Mary took flight immediately. A few months later she gave birth to her son James at Edinburgh Castle. Today there is a small plaque marking the point of the murder in the Audience Chamber, and a red mark on the floor.
James VI was crowned in 1567. By now much improvement work was needed and the Holyrood Palace was repaired. The Palace gardens were enlarged. James VI of Scotland became James I of England, and he returned to Edinburgh in 1617.
Charles I succeeded his father James I and his Scottish coronation took place in Holyrood Abbey in 1622. However, a fire broke out in the east side of the Palace in 1650 when Oliver Cromwell and his soldiers visited and much of the Palace became abandoned afterwards. The Palace that remained was used as a barracks.
Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. By 1671 Holyroodhouse had
become a royal palace again. An eight-year period of restoration work began,
overseen by King Charles II. The work was paid for by the Scottish Privy Council.
Ceilings were redone in plaster, and the walls with detailed woodwork. The
Great Gallery was hung with 111 portraits of the kings of Scotland – all of
them painted by the Dutch artist Jacob Jacobsz de Wet II. The designer Sir
William Bruce added a tower to the south-west of the Palace to balance that of
the north-west, and he retained the existing plan of the Palace Edinburgh’s
royal and government role was celebrated in the rebuilt Palace. By 1679 the
Palace looked like it does today.
Queen Victoria visited in 1850 and the Palace was renovated for her visit. A new fountain was added and Prince Albert took interest in the changes to the Palace grounds. At this time they added a new garden.
George V 1910 and modernisation
Central heating was added in George V's reign, and the kitchens were modernised along with new bathrooms and a lift. With many more additions, the Palace became the official residence of the Queen in Scotland.
Queen Elizabeth II
Today, Holyrood is also the home of the modern Scottish Parliament Building.
The original Parliament of Scotland was the national law maker of the independent Kingdom of Scotland, from the early 13th century until 1707, when the Kingdom of Scotland merged with the Kingdom of England under the Acts of Union 1707 to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Parliament of Scotland was closed and a Parliament of Great Britain was created, at Westminster in London.
In 1997 the Scottish people voted for Scotland to have a Parliament once more. The Parliament was established by the Scotland Act 1998. The first meeting was on 12 May 1999.
Ten minutes' walk northwards from Holyrood brings us to the Burns Monument and the old High School, to the Calton Hill, with its Observatory, its Nelson Column, and its abortive National Monument in memory of Waterloo. The notorious Bothwell, it is said, first attracted Queen Mary's attention by launching his steed down the steep north face of the crag.
From here we are but a short step from Princes Street, the Royal Mile and the rest of Scotland.
And so here we are, January 25th. Burns Night.
We have been featuring Burns’ epic poem Tam O’ Shanter, today being the 5th and concluding part with a simplified English translation.
The story behind the poem is interesting.
This marvellously vivid piece of description, represents more fully than any of Burns' other poems the greatness of his imaginative gifts; and apart from songs and the Elegy on Captain Henderson is the only very notable example of his muse during the last nine years of his life.
Yet it owes its origin to mere accident.
The churchyard surrounding the ruined kirk of Alloway was the burial place of his father, and when Burns in 1789 met Captain Francis Grose while he was staying with Robert Riddell at the Friar’s Carse, when visiting Scotland to making drawings for his work on The Antiquities of Scotland, he suggested to Grose to insert a picture of the ruined kirk in his volume. But as no architectural interest attaches to the ruin, Grose only agreed to the request on condition that Burns should "furnish a witch story to be printed along with it". Apparently what Grose expected and Burns first intended was a witch story in prose, for he sent three samples from which Grose might chose; and it was only by a happy second thought that Burns found in one of the tales the theme for his immortal Tam o' Shanter.
Here is the Tam O’Shanter story in Burns's own prose: —
On a market-day in the town of Ayr, a farmer from Carrick and consequently whose way lay by the very gate of Alloway kirkyard, in order to cross the river Doon at the old bridge, which is about two or three hundred yards further on than the said gate, had been detained by his business till by the time he reached Alloway it was the wizard hour between night and morning.
Though he was terrified with a blaze shining from the kirk, yet, as it is a well-known fact that to turn back on these occasions is running by far the greatest risk of mischief, he prudently advanced on his road.
When he had reached the gate of the kirkyard, he was surprised and entertained, through the ribs and arches of an old Gothic window, which still faces the highway, to see a dance of witches merrily footing it round their old sooty blackguard master, who was keeping them all alive with the power of his bagpipe.
The farmer, stopping his horse to observe them a little, could plainly descry the faces of many old women of his acquaintance and neighbourhood. How the gentleman was dressed tradition does not say, but that the ladies were all in their smocks: and one of them
happening unluckily to have a smock which was considerably short to answer all the purposes of that piece of dress, our farmer was so tickled that he involuntarily burst out with a loud laugh, 'Weel luppen Maggy wi' the short sark!', and, recollecting himself, instantly spurred his horse to the top of his speed.
I need not mention the universally known fact, that no diabolical power can pursue you beyond the middle of a running stream. Lucky it was for the poor farmer that the river Doon was so near, for notwithstanding the speed of the horse, which was a good one, when he reached the middle of the arch of the bridge, and consequently the middle of the stream, the pursuing vengeful hags were so close at his heels that one of them actually sprang to seize him; but it was too late; nothing was on her side of the stream but the horses tail, which immediately gave way at her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke of lightning; but the farmer was beyond her reach.
However the unsightly tailless condition of the vigorous steed was, to the last hour of the noble creature's life, an awful warning to the Carrick farmers not to stay too long in Ayr markets.
From Robert Burns' Poems, Edited by T.F. Henderson, published Heidelberg, 1906.
Illustration : Alloway Kirk from Grose's The Antiquities of Scotland
A traditional Burns Supper can be a formal dinner held on, or around, Burns Night. Guests normally dress in traditional Highland dress – the men in kilts or tartan trousers and the women in smart dresses or formal evening wear, perhaps with a dash of tartan. Burns himself did not wear tartan but now the night is something of an occasion. Families and friends might dress up and have something along the same lines, or have a quiet evening celebrating Scotland’s national poet and the universal themes he immortalised. Some elements will be common to each meal. Outside of the normal toasts, there may be a keynote speaker (at a big dinner this might be a celebrity or personality).
The Selkirk Grace :
This is a Scottish Prayer associated with Robert Burns. After the host’s words of welcome, when the guests are seated, this grace is said:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
A soup made with chicken with giblets, leeks, water, rice, bay leaf and seasoning.
(A vegetarian dish is offered also)
Other soups commonly on a Burns Night menu :
Scotch Broth (Soup of barley; lamb, mutton or beef, root vegetables; pulses)
Cullen Skink (Soup of smoked haddock, potatoes, onions)
Address To A Haggis
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.
Haggis, Warm ‘n Reekin’, wi Champit Tatties Mashed Neeps and a Wee Dram
Haggis – traditionally made with a sheep's pluck and stomach-bag, the lungs and heart minced, the liver chopped; suet; oatmeal; onions; chopped parsley, herbs and seasoning, served with mashed potatoes and mashed turnips, presented with a small glass of Scotch whisky.
A vegetarian or vegan dish is always offered now of course.
A classic trifle, made with whisky, Scottish raspberries, jelly and custard, with grated chocolate.
Oatcakes and Ayrshire Cheese ; A Tassie o’ Coffee and anither Wee Dram
The Immortal Memory :
The Immortal Memory celebrates Burns' enduring spirit, in a tribute to Robert Burns.
Ca’ the Yowes : a song, by Robert Burns. The chorus:
Ca' the yowes to the knowes,
Ca' them where the heather grows
Ca' them where the burnie rows,
My bonie dearie.
Tam O’ Shanter :
A recital of ‘Tam O’Shanter’– the epic poem in which Burns paints a vivid picture of the drinking classes in the old Scotch town of Ayr in the late 18th century. where the speaker is expected to recite the poem from memory. First lines :
When chapmen billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors, neebors meet,
As market days are wearing late,
An' folk begin to tak the gate;
While we sit bousing at the nappy,
And getting fou and unco happy,
A Toast to the Lassies :
These days this toast may be a humorous speech. It is treated as a highlight of the evening. The speaker is expected to praise the role of women in the world today. There will be some references to Burns work. It is about women and their influence and effect on men, perhaps alluding to some of those present.
The Reply or Toast to the Laddies:
Again, this toast is expected to be a highlight of the evening. A female guest will give her views on men. She has to think on her feet and reply to any specific points raised in the previous toast. Also she needs to be witty and humorous and not offensive. Done well, it is full of charm.
Is There For Honest Poverty : a song, by Robert Burns.
"A Man's a Man for A' That", also known as "Is There for Honest Poverty" is a 1795 song by Robert Burns famous for its expression of support for the principle of equality for all people. The first verse :
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave - we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.
Vote of Thanks and anither Wee Dram
Auld Lang Syne
Today we are sharing the third part of Tam O’Shanter and Burns Supper thoughts.
A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns. Burns Night is Monday 25th January.
Anyone can host one. It can be a small gathering of family and friends. Or it can be organised on a much grander scale with strict ceremonial tradition.
Once Burns Suppers were ‘men only’. Things have changed and now such clubs and suppers are fewer in number. The ‘men only’ was modelled on a format followed by the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club, a men-only debating society, co-founded by Burns in 1780.
The first Burns Supper was a memorial dinner with nine guests. It was held in the poet’s birthplace of Alloway, in July 1801, where they enjoyed a dinner of haggis and sheeps’ head. “The Address to the Haggis was read, and every toast was drank by three times three.”
It was a clergyman – the Rev. Hamilton Paul – later the author of an 1819 edition of The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns with A Life Of The Author who organised what was the forerunner of the Burns supper we know today.
Robert Burns however, preferred the company of women to men. Had he attended one of these first celebrations he may have looked at his silver pocket-watch and wondered when the female guests would arrive.
“The finest hours that e’er I spent were spent amang the lasses, O’.”
Burns loved women, penning some of his finest verse for the "lassies". Without them his volumes of poetry would have been considerably thinner. He wrote the poem, ‘The Rights of Women’ in 1792, in its day, innovative and groundbreaking. In the poem, written for Louisa Fontenelle, an actress who caught Burns’ eye when playing at the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, he calls for respect for womankind. Fontenelle recited the poem at her benefit performance in November 1792.
Extract from “The Rights Of Women”:
There was, indeed, in far less polish'd days,
A time, when rough rude man had naughty ways,
Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,
Nay even thus invade a Lady's quiet.
Now, thank our stars! those Gothic times are fled;
Now, well-bred men - and you are all well-bred -
Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)
Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.
“The Toast to the Lassies” is an essential speech at any Burns’ Supper. Together with the lassies’ reply, it performs a key part of the supper. “The Toast to the Lassies” now demands wit and entertainment, and adds hugely to the sense of occasion of the whole event.
We introduced this blog theme yesterday, explaining that in the past 10 months or so, we have missed the face-to-face interaction with our overseas customers. Many of our customers we have known for more than 25 years. These friendships are unusual in that many have been formed simply by meeting at trade shows – reinforced sometimes with only occasional visits to their country, or when they have visited us on our home ground.
Conversation has in recent years, of course touched on Brexit, but always there is some talk of Scotland – hopes and plans to visit. Often Robert Burns is mentioned, but even the best English speakers have difficulty in understanding his poetry. Burns' verse is written not only in the Scots language but also in the Scottish English dialect of the English language.
With so many 'on-line' gatherings planned, there are even more opportunities this year, for folk from beyond these shores to experience something of the work of Burns and gain some insight into how Burns is celebrated.
As Burns’ Night itself approaches, on 25th January, we offer some help with 'Tam O’ Shanter'. You can find below the second group of verses as written by Robert Burns, together with a translation in English which keeps the spirit of the work. We will share subsequent parts each day, concluding on the 25th. Stay posted!
'Tam O' Shanter' is Burns’ epic poem in which Burns presents a vivid picture of the drinking classes in the old Scottish town of Ayr in the late 18th century. The poem features several characters : Tam himself, his friend Souter (Cobbler) Johnnie and Tam’s long suffering wife Kate. We meet Kirkton Jean, the ghostly, "winsome wench", Cutty Sark and Tam’s horse, Maggie.