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Braemar Highlands
Part the Fourth - Chapter VIII


Braemar becomes a Royal Residence—Highlanders’ Love to the Queen—Prince Consort, etc.

The old race which took an active part in the rebellion has died out; a great number of their descendants emigrated; while the asperities of the remainder were considerably softened down by time, the great mollifier, previous to the arrival of the Queen and Prince Albert to sojourn in their midst. And what •has transpired since 1848 has dissipated for ever all remains of antagonistic feeling to the Royal house, [which superseded their favourite one of Stuart.

In confirmation of this statement (as some maintain that the people are still Jacobite, though covertly), I may adduce some few testimonies from the people themselves; not given to serve any purpose, but just in the course of ordinary and easy conversation, and without knowing that what they said would ever be made use of:—

‘Ay' said an intelligent old Highlander with whom I was talking one day on the exploded Jacobitism of the people; ‘ay, had ye come here maybe forty years ago, ye would have seen a gey difference in the state of the people. They were rouch, rouch (in the sense of being disaffected); but I could say now, to my certain knowledge, that there’s nae a man in the country but would lay down his life for the Queen, if there was the needs be.’

From many such testimonies I select another somewhat amusing. In conversing with a really superior Highland woman one day, I asked,

‘Are there any Fenians among you?’

‘Na, they needna come here.’

‘Wouldn’t they find much sympathy?’

‘I’m thinking no. I doot there would be a stout battle if they came this gate.’

‘Would you turn out in defence?’

‘That we would’ men and women. It wouldna be,’ she added with increasing energy, and a peculiar j intonation of voice which threw a world of meaning into her statement; ‘it wouldna be as lang as there is life in our bodies that they would touch ae hair o’ her head. Na, it wouldna be that,’ she continued; ‘for we’re nae feart for a feicht, if they would only come to that wi’ it. What we dinna like is that sleekit ways o’ theirs, maybe twa or three o’ them cornin’ o’er the hills, an’ doing mischief afore we kent o’t. But they’re nae like to hae the chance o’ that | either noo, for fouk has their e’en about them.’

‘You seem to love the Queen very much.’

‘We dee that.’

‘As well as ever you liked Charlie Stuart?’

‘Ay! every hair o't!

‘This may be the case of those in the immediate vicinity of Balmoralwas the remark of a southern gentleman; ‘but in the remoter parts of Braemar the people are Jacobite still.’ To correct that and similar ideas, I give the following perfectly reliable statement from a professional gentleman, intimately acquainted with the people in the parts of Braemar most remote from Balmoral:—

‘Some ladies, belonging to one of the old Jacobite families, from a different part of the Highlands, came to sojourn for a time in Braemar. Never doubting but they would meet with sympathy for their strangely cherished feelings of antipathy and opposition to the present Royal line, they spoke of them freely, but, to their great chagrin, met everywhere with rebuff They went then to the village of Inverey, where the people, were formerly red-hot Jacobites, assuring themselves that there at least it would be different. Their disappointment, however, was greater than before; for the people pretended that they did not even know who was meant when they mentioned the name of Charles Stuart.’

‘The line of demarcation that separates sovereign from people,’ writes one in a weekly newspaper some little time ago, ‘at once forbids the union of a common tie. The right divine is an impassable boundary. Ordinary humanity cannot reach it, but must stand aloof to admire and do homage to the regal power above it; or it may rudely gaze, but not dare to claim the crowned head as a link in the great chain of human feeling. The glow of sympathetic union does not exist; for the regal performers possess the sad prerogative of being able to clasp no man’s hand in the fellowship of mutual joy or sorrow.’

Wherever such a state of matters exists, it certainly is not at Braemar, where the Queen for a time exchanges courtly splendour and ceremonial for her quiet Highland residence, and a life unostentatious almost as that of a private lady. How much she enjoys the temporary release, is made known by the publication of the beautifully simple record of her domestic life during these short periods.

It ought to be stated, however, that condescending as Her Majesty may be in her intercourse with her Highland subjects, and however much she may and does make them feel that she is their friend, she never so descends as to become anything less to them than their Sovereign and Queen. And it is the beautiful blending in her of the assured firmness of one born to rule, with much of the simple, loving, tender woman, which has taken such hold of their hearts,—a hold still further deepened by the excellence of her moral character, her name being an embodiment of everything honourable, pure, and good. Deeply do they feel what Tennyson has so well expressed in his lines :

'A thousand claims to reverence close In her as Mother, Wife, and Queen'

An old woman one day, while giving a most graphic account of her own and others’ earlier interviews with the Queen, their extreme nervousness, etc., said, with inimitable pathos,

‘But she’ (the Queen) 'said she didna want us to feel like that, for she was just a woman like oursel’s.’ One or two instances of their nervousness on first meeting the Queen, etc., may at least have the merit of being amusing, as given in their own words :—

Shortly after the Queen came to. Balmoral as I was on the road to Crathie one day, I met a lady and gentleman coming walking away up. As I guessed in a minute wha it would be, I fell a-shakin’. There was nae way o’ getting aff o’ the road, so I thoucht I would just try and keep as far frae them as possible. But they came straught up to me, and the Prince asked if I could tell them where the man lived who built the bridge. I kent weel aneuch where the man lived; but I couldna tell him, I was shakin’ at sic a rate. He thoucht I didna understand him, and asked again; but it was just the same. Then the Queen speired, an’ she spak’ real plain; but it didna matter, I couldna get oot ae word.’

‘And did you not speak at all V ‘ Not a single word could I say, and I suppose they thoucht there was nae use of fashing themselves mair wi’ me, for they went away lauchin'.

Another instance, equally amusing, was that of an elderly woman on meeting the Queen for the first time. Like the former, while on her way to the village of Crathie, she met the Queen and a lady walking on the road; and finding that there was no way of getting off, resolved to keep as close to the opposite side from that on which they were walking as possible.

‘Hech me! but if I wasna a bonnie woman that day! I’m thinking that I got my colour up; and I didna grow better, I can assure ye, when I saw them leave the side o’ the road, an’ come walking awa up to the middle o’ it. An’ syne the Queen came richt in afore me, an’ looked into my face an’ said,

“ It’s a fine day."

Here the old woman stopped abruptly; but I queried, ‘And what did you say?’

I said Yes.'

‘Nothing more? ’

‘Nae ae word.'

The inexpressibly droll manner in which she made the last two statements made it impossible to keep from a laugh, in which the old woman joined as heartily, as any of us.

It would be easy to multiply instances also of the Queen’s condescension, or, as they phrase it, ‘goodness' were it right to drag forth acts done in the sweet secrecy of her Highland retirement, and place them under the glare of the public eye.

Not less strongly did the affections of the people twine round Her Majesty’s Royal Consort. Very vividly indeed is the simplicity, manliness, and purity of his character still remembered and commented on; and how keen even yet their sense of loss! ‘The name of the righteous' it is said, ‘shall be in everlasting remembrance;’ and truly his hallowed memory is yet green and fragrant, though his outward form be seen no more.

As I have in every instance, when I could lay my hand on the material, given a brief sketch of the descent, character, and doings of the Braemar proprietors, the series will be fittingly closed by slightly sketching in like manner that of the late proprietor of Balmoral—‘ Albert the Good!

Towards the close of the last century there dwelt in the castles of Ehrenberg and Rosejtau, Francis Frederick, the then reigning Duke oi Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld, with an interesting family of six children. The monarchy represented by this ducal house was, in comparison with surrounding powers, unimportant. Yet since that time these six young princes and princesses have, either in their own person or through children, taken important places among the Royal families in Europe.

One of them, Princess Victoria Maria Louisa, by her marriage with the Duke of Kent, became the mother of Her present Majesty, our own beloved Queen. Ernest, the eldest son, succeeded his father on the ducal throne in 1806. And of the two sons afterwards born to him, the youngest, Albert Francis Augustus Charles Emanuel, contracted the happiest and most brilliant of all the Coburg alliances; and never perhaps did the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland rejoice more heartily than on the day when he led to the altar Victoria, his cousin and our Queen.

Sometimes our nation has rejoiced when subsequent events have proved that there was little real cause to do so. In this instance, however, the nation had not to regret its joy as premature. Wisely and well did he fill the high position to which he had aspired, and much true service did he render his adopted country. But as it does not come within the scope of the present work, I can enter on no detail. I may, however, be permitted to notice in passing, how favourably he contrasted in most respects with the husbands of former queens regnant—Philip of Spain, for instance. No monument exists in all our land to perpetuate his odious memory, nor sculptured tablet to record or commemorate a good deed.

How different with the lamented Prince Consort! And while the various towns and cities throughout the empire seemed to vie with each other in loading his memory with honour, his Highland tenants of Balmoral, Birkhall, and Abergeldie also spontaneously united to erect an obelisk in the grounds near the castle; while the Queen, in response to this genuine outburst of affection, caused a bronze statue of the lamented dead to be placed in its close vicinity.

Coming yet further down the hurtling stream of time to the husband of Queen Anne, Prince George of Denmark, we will again find that contrast is favourable to the Prince Consort. Though Prince George was no monster of superstition and cruelty, nor unfaithful to his adopted country, like Philip, and though he lived in harmony with his wife the Queen, yet in an intellectual point of view how inferior!—his abilities being so slender as to render him contemptible in the eyes of his wife’s relations, one of whom used to say sneeringly, that he had tried Prince George in every way, but found nothing in him!

Not so was it with Prince Albert, the late proprietor of Balmoral, who not only possessed great intellectual powers, but also used them freely in promoting the best interests of his adopted people. It only, however, comes under the scope of the present work to illustrate by some few facts and incidents, how he brought these powers to bear on the moral and physical improvement of his Highland tenantry of Birkhall\ Abergeldie, and Balmoral.

Much good was in the first place done indirectly, by affording on a large scale employment to the people. His fertile genius projected many improvements on the Balmoral estate, while his sound judgment and elegant taste had ample scope in carrying them into practical effect, by building, enclosing, and remodelling all that was awry or become effete.

More, however, was done directly. Under his supervision three schools were erected: one a female school near the village of Crathie; another for boys and girls at Strathgirnock; a third, also for boys and girls, near Birkhall, the property of the Prince of Wales.

Previous to the erection of the school at Girnock, there had been one supported by a society in Edinburgh; but for a considerable number of years before the arrival of the Queen and Prince Consort at Balmoral, its support had been withdrawn, and in consequence the school had fallen into decay. The building and endowing of a school in that locality was a great boon to the inhabitants of the district, as they were some five miles distant from the parish school.

The intellectual improvement of the people was still further sought by the establishment of a library, from which the tenants who wished it were supplied gratis with books once a-week.

In addition to the building of schools, the village of Crathie underwent a complete transformation. Many tasteful and commodious dwellings were erected, while the old ones were so altered as to be placed almost on a par with the new in point of appearance.

I may notice, lastly, the very deep interest he took in his numerous employes. Not only did he put money into their possession by providing work for them, but also seemed anxious that they should use it in such a way as to be of real service to them. He took pains, I was also informed, to acquaint himself with the character and circumstances of each, and then contrived in a judicious manner to give every encouragement to the industrious and well-conducted.

Under such surveillance, almost fatherly in its care and goodness, drinking and every species of immorality was discountenanced ; while, by the example and influence of high morality, and by the esteem and veneration with which his character had inspired them, they were stimulated to high purpose—namely, the determination to merit his approbation. And now that he is passed away, not a single dissonant note is heard among the sweet harmonies which his singularly excellent character produced on the heart -chords of his humble tenants of Balmoral. ‘ He was noble, great, and good,’ says one; 'His very appearance showed what he was', said another. ‘Oh, he was a fine character,’ says a third,  with a degree of consideration for others rarely met with.’ One fact mentioned by this person in support of his statement as to the considerate element in the Prince’s character was this, that such of his servants as would by others have been paid every six months, were by him paid at the end of every third: this with the view to prevent any necessity for contracting debt, of running up accounts on the one hand, or allowing people to lie long out of their money on the other.

Another thing which strikes one forcibly while talking with them about their late proprietor is, that almost invariably their remarks are interspersed with phrases indicating their deep sense of the irreparable loss sustained by Her Majesty, and particularly the Prince of Wales, in being deprived of the wise and skilful guide of his youth. How truly in this unselfish manner, not with the loud sound of formal sorrow, but with the deep-ringing tones of personal feeling, they did, and do still,

‘Mourn for a noble Prince—

A Prince of Royal race;
Mourn, that in yonder palace-home
Death made one vacant place,
And laid with unexpected blow
A husband and a father low.

‘Mourn for their widowed Queen—
Bereaved—who stands alone!
Though loved by every British heart,
And Sovereign of the Throne;
Whose early love, whose hope, whose stay
In manhood’s prime has passed away.’

Our finale, however, must not be too much in the baritone; so I cannot conclude this volume better than by quoting some lines written by an old Scotchman, who dearly loves his Queen and country:

‘In rural peace and privacy,
’Mong nature’s landscapes grand,
Surrounded by true Highland hearts
Amid the mountain land,
Far from the glare and gauds of state,
In happiness and glee,
Long may Victoria freely roam
Beside the “bonny
 
DeeI”

‘Amid our mountain scenes sublime,
Afar from courtly care,
Oh, may the loftiest of the land
Life’s noblest blessings share!
Safe in her princely Highland home
May she live blithe and free,
And Britain’s honoured Queen long bless
The beauteous banks o’
 
Dee!


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