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This Month in Scottish History
April


2 April 1854
The death of John Wilson, author and editor known as ‘Christopher North’. Born in 1785 in Paisley to rich manufacturer John Wilson and Margaret Sym, he attended Glasgow and Oxford universities, graduating from the latter in 1807. A distinguished scholar and athlete, he used his inheritance money to purchase an estate in England's scenic Lake District. He devoted much of his time to writing and was friends with both William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. He married Jane Penny of Liverpool in 1811 and published two collections of poetry in 1812. In 1815, he lost his inheritance because of mismanagement by a family member and returned to Edinburgh. He joined the editorial staff of Blackwood’s Magazine and wrote under the pseudonym ‘Christopher North’. He contributed to the 'Chaldee Manuscript,' 'Noctes Ambrosianae,' and' Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life,' the latter published as a book in 1822. He also published the novels The Trials Of Margaret Lindsay (1823) and The Forester (1825). He became Chair of Moral Philosophy in 1820, resigning in 1851 due to bad health.

2 April 1862
The birth of William Bauchop Wilson, labor leader and first American Secretary of Labor, in Blantyre, Lanarkshire. In 1870, his family emigrated to Arnot, Pennsylvania, where his early pro-labor activities resulted in eviction, blacklisting, assault, and incarceration. He was active in both the short-lived Miners' Amalgamated Association of the National Federation of Miners and the coal union of the Knights of Labor. In 1890, he was a founding member of the National Executive Board of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and went on to serve as District 2 President, 1890-1900, and national Secretary-Treasurer, 1900-1908. He was a Congressional Representative from Pennsylvania, 1907-1913, and Chairman of the House Committee on Labor the last two years. He sponsored an investigation of mining safety conditions and helped organize the Federal Bureau of Mines in 1910. He also promoted the eight-hour workday for public employees, anti-injunction legislation, the establishment of the Children's Bureau, and the creation of the Department of Labor, which he headed, 1913-1921. His work there involved reorganizing the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, developing agencies for industrial mediation, and forming the United States Employment Service to handle wartime work issues. He was President of the International Labor Conference of 1919 but was defeated in his 1926 bid to be a United States Senator from Pennsylvania. He married Agnes Williamson on 7 June 1883 and they had eleven children. He died on a train in Savannah, Georgia, on 25 May 1934.

6 April 1320
The celebrated Declaration of Arbroath, asserting Scottish independence from England, sent to Pope John XXII at Avignon. Arbroath was both a royal burgh and North Sea fishing port in Angus and its Abbey, from which the Declaration originated, was one of the richest in Scotland. Previous popes had supported Scottish independence but Pope John had accepted English claims so the Declaration was an eloquent attempt to counter enemy propaganda. Ostensibly a letter from the Scottish nobles pledging their support for King Robert the Bruce, it was more likely written by Bernard de Linton, Abbot of Arbroath and Robert's Chancellor. In committing Robert to completing the work of Scottish independence, it also bound the eight earls and thirty-one barons who set their seals to it. Among these were some whose support was lukewarm and this document strengthened Robert’s hand against them. It begins with a somewhat mythical narrative of the origin of the Scottish people and stresses the patronage of Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter. It goes on to describe, less mythically, the tyranny of Edward I of England and the liberty brought by Robert I. It also contains the stirring, often quoted, and strangely modern sounding affirmation of Scottish nationhood: "So long as a hundred of us remain alive, we will yield in no least way to English dominion. For we fight, not for glory nor for riches nor for honour, but only and alone for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life." Since 1997, April 6 has been celebrated in the Untied States of America and National Tartan Day.

9 April 1747
The execution of Jacobite schemer Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat and Chief of Clan Fraser, at Tower Hill, London. Born about 1667 at Tomich in Ross, he was a grandson of the 7th Lord Lovat and noted for his endless feuds, unbounded avarice, and shifting allegiances. His act in forcing the widow of the 9th Lord to marry him greatly offended her Murray kinsmen and earned him a death sentence in 1698. He won pardon through the intercession of the Duke of Argyll but was outlawed in 1701 for failing to stand trial for the rape of his wife. He went to France where he contacted the exiled Stuarts and returned to Scotland in 1703 on a Jacobite mission that he betrayed to the Duke of Queensbury. On his return to France, he was imprisoned for ten years. Escaping in 1715, he returned to Scotland to lead his clan against the Jacobite rising. He was again pardoned and granted life rent on the Lovat estates, gaining full title in 1730 and full possession in 1733. He hoped for greater rewards from a Stuart restoration and was secretly created Duke of Fraser in 1740 by James Edward Stuart, 'the Old Pretender.' However, the failure of Prince Charles Edward, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' or 'the Young Pretender,' to bring weapons and soldiers with him to start the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion caused Lovat to baulk. Hedging his bets, he forced his son Simon to join the rebellion while he pretended loyalty to King George II. Following their victory at Prestonpans, Lovat openly supported the Stuart cause though after the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in April 1746, the elderly Lovat was captured near Loch Morar and condemned to death by the House of Lords on 18 March 1747.

10 April 1512
The birth of King James V, son of James IV and Margaret Tudor, at Linlithgow, West Lothian. He was the father of Mary, Queen of Scots, and became king as a baby after his father was killed by the English at the Battle of Flodden Field in September 1513. This epic defeat removed a generation of leadership, including the King, many nobles, several clan chiefs, and thousands of Highland clansmen and Lowland soldiers. During his minority, James V was a pawn among the great families who battled for power. The Douglases gained the upper hand and kept the young James a prisoner. He later made a daring escape and organized anti-Douglas forces in order to rule in his own name. He maintained the French alliance, despite the fact that his mother was a sister of Henry VIII of England, and was generally an effective king. Like many other Scottish and English monarchs, James V was subject to male favorites, which did little for his reputation, and he had an obsessive fear of witchcraft. He died at age thirty in 1542. News that his army, including his favorite Oliver Sinclair, had been defeated by the English and that his wife had given birth to daughter, Mary, was too much for him and he died saying "It came with a lass (the Crown through a daughter of Robert the Bruce) and it will gang (go) with a lass." Mary did lose the crown, but to her son, the Protestant James VI, who later became King James I of England.

11 April 1827
The birth of soldier and explorer James Augustus Grant at Nairn. He was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, before being commissioned in the Indian Army in 1846. He served in the Sikh Wars and was decorated for his actions at the Battle of Gujerat during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. He is probably best remembered for going with John Hanning Speke, a friend and comrade from India, in the search for and discovery of the source of the Nile River, 1860-1863. Grant was given independent command of parts of the expedition during long periods. He was not there when Speke successfully identified the source of the White Nile at the northern end of Lake Victoria in July 1862. A discovery disputed by other explorers, Grant hurriedly published his own account of the expedition, titled A Walk Across Africa, shortly after Speke’s sudden death in a hunting accident in 1864. The title was inspired by a joke made by Lord Palmerston that Grant had faced a long walk across the continent and the account was based upon his journal describing native customs and events of geographical importance. For his services, he was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Geographical Society. He later won more renown for his part in the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Campaign of 1868 where he served in the intelligence department under Lord Napier, retiring that same year with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He died at Nairn on 11 February 1892.

13 April 1892
The birth of Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, pioneer of radar, at Brechin, Angus. The youngest son of a carpenter, he studied electrical engineering and Physics at University College, Dundee. He began working in 1915 for the London Meteorological Office using radio waves to track thunderstorm activity that was essential to the safe flying of early aircraft. He continued to work for the government where he supervised two radio research stations and later researched the use of radar, officially named Radio Detection and Ranging, for navigation. In the early 1930s, he was appointed scientific adviser to the Air Ministry with the job of making radar practical for air defense. Several important discoveries along the way were fundamental for the invention of a radar system. In 1922, the cathode-ray tube used for observing the returning radar signal became available. In 1936, pulsed radar, which could pinpoint locations, replaced continuous wave emitters that only detected the presence of objects. Finally, in 1939, the microwave transmitter was built which enabled the radar locator to function despite clouds and fog. The construction of a radar defense network, completed in secret, was instrumental in defeating the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940. He visited the United States in 1941 as a radar adviser and became a private consultant in 1946. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941, was knighted in 1942, and received the United States Medal for Merit in 1946. He lived in both New York and Canada but died in Inverness on 5 December 1973.

14 April 1736
The Porteous Riots broke out in Edinburgh over the execution of smuggler Andrew Wilson. He had won popular sympathy in aiding a friend’s escape from Edinburgh’s infamous Tolbooth Prison. At his hanging, a riot occurred and the City Guard fired on the crowd and killed and wounded several people. John Porteous, Captain of the Guard, was charged with responsibility for the incident, brought to trial and sentenced to death. His execution was postponed after he petitioned Queen Caroline who was acting as Regent for the absent King George II. This reprieve was not well received by the populace of Edinburgh. On 7 September 1736, an armed mob broke into the prison, grabbed Porteous and hanged him from a signpost in the street. It was believed that certain important persons, perhaps with Jacobite sympathies, were involved but, despite reward offers from the government, no one was convicted for the murder. Public support throughout Scotland was so unmistakably on the side of the rioters that the Parliamentary bill for the punishment of Edinburgh merely levied a fine of 2,000 pounds Sterling to be paid to Mrs. Porteous and the disqualification of the Provost from holding public office. The Jacobite overtones of the event were used by Sir Walter Scott in his novel The Heart of Midlothian.

16 April 1746
The Battle of Culloden Moor, also known as Drummossie, the last battle of the ‘Forty-Five Rebellion,’ where Jacobite rebels under Charles Edward Stuart, known as ‘the Young Pretender’ or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie,’ were defeated by government forces commanded by William, Duke of Cumberland. Culloden is about six miles east of Inverness, the capitol of the Highlands. During the brief and unequal fight, Prince Charlie lost about a 1,000 of his 5,000 man army, mostly Highlanders from clans such as Cameron and MacDonald, while the Redcoat force of about 9,000 suffered only 50 men lost. Superior numbers, firepower, and tactics won the day as the Highlanders were killed or dispersed. Scores of wounded were bayoneted on the field and hundreds more were hunted down and killed in subsequent weeks by British troops. Dodging spies and soldiers for five months, Charlie finally managed to escape to a France and exile. In tribute to Cumberland, George Frederick Handel composed ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’ and the flower ‘Sweet William’ was named for him in England. In Scotland, however, it is known as ‘Stinking Willie’ or ‘Sour Billy’ and Cumberland himself as ‘the Butcher.’ The battle was a crushing defeat and the effective end to efforts to restore the Roman Catholic Stuart Monarchy, in the person of Charlie’s father, the 'Old Pretender' James III, to the throne of Great Britain. This defeat also virtually ended the traditional Highland way of life. Afterwards, the only Highlanders bearing arms were in special regiments of the British army. The Gaelic language was discouraged and replaced by English, kilts and tartans were forbidden, and thousands were put off their land and resettled either in the coastal areas of Scotland or in the American colonies.

21 April 1671
The baptism of John Law, monetary reformer and proponent of the 'Mississippi Scheme' for New World development, in Edinburgh. Son of a wealthy goldsmith, he had great ability with finances and gambling and became known as 'Beau Law.' In London, he killed a man in a duel over a woman and was jailed before escaping to Holland. On the continent, he studied banking methods and eloped with another man's wife. In 1705, he was back in Scotland and unsuccessfully submitted proposals for reforming the economy, including the issue of bank notes, and petitioned for an indemnity from England. In 1716, his proposal for a joint stock bank in France was accepted and France’s first bank created. He became a French citizen and a Roman Catholic. It was his 'Mississippi Scheme' that organized a company to exploit French lands in the New World and resulted in the founding of New Orleans. He achieved wealth, election to the Academie Francaise, and appointment as Controller-General. Unfortunately, the company soon collapsed, the currency was devalued, and he was forced to flee to Venice where he died in 1729. His son, Jean, was later notable in India as one of the French opposing the British conquest of Bengal under Robert Clive.

24 April 1825
The birth of Robert Michael Ballantyne, early modern fiction author, in Edinburgh. He was a nephew of James and John Ballantyne, printers and publishers for Sir Walter Scott. Educated at Edinburgh University, he went to Canada in 1841 to work as a clerk for the Hudson's Bay Company and returned to Edinburgh in 1848 to work as a clerk for the North British Railway Company. Later that year, he published his first book, Hudson’s Bay, Or, The Life In The Wilds of North America. Success enabled him to become a partner in the publishing house of Thomas Constable, 1849-1855. He went on to write and publish more than ninety books, mostly adventures for children. Based upon personal experience, his heroes were models of morality and self-reliance. Snowflakes and Sunbeams, Or, The Young Fur Traders (1856) is an adventure story based upon his time in Canada. Annoyed by a geographical mistake he made in The Coral Island (1858), he thereafter traveled continually to research story backgrounds. He spent three weeks on Bell Rock to write The Lighthouse (1865), time as a London fireman for Fighting the Flames (1867), and lived for months with tin miners for Deep Down (1868). He was especially careful with details of local plants and animals that served to give believable settings to his dramatic adventures. He married Jane Dickson Grant in 1866 and they had four sons and two daughters. His autobiography, Personal Reminiscences In Book-Making, was published in 1893, the year before he died in Rome.

26 April 1711
The Birth of philosopher and historian David Hume near Edinburgh. He failed in family sponsored careers in law and business and, until over age forty, was employed only twice, spending a year in England as a tutor to an insane nobleman and as a military aide, 1745-1747, to General James Sinclair on an expedition to the French coast and embassies in Vienna and Turin. His first major philosophic work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740), was poorly received and his controversial Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, completed in the 1750s, was published posthumously. His reputation during his lifetime rested upon his work as an essayist and historian, especially his Political Discourses (1751) and six volume History of England (1754-1762). When he went to France in 1763, he was revered as a literary celebrity among the philosophes. He retired to Edinburgh in 1769 and died there on 25 August 1776, just four months after writing his autobiography. He is considered an important philosopher though his philosophical writings went unnoticed during his lifetime. It was Immanuel Kant’s intellectual debt to him that stimulated interest in Hume, particularly his skeptical (for lack of a better term) philosophy as an alternative to the systems of rationalism, empiricism, and idealism. His notion of causality, that virtue and vice are derived ultimately from impressions of pleasure and pain, demonstrates an anticipation of Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism.

27 April 1296
The disastrous Battle of Dunbar fought between English forces under the Earl of Surrey and the Scottish ‘host’ of King John Balliol (reigned 1292-1296). In 1294, King Edward I of England had demanded that Balliol, who Edward made King of Scots in 1292, supply him with Scottish soldiers to fight in France. The Community of the Realm forced John to refuse, renouncing his alliance with Edward, and joining instead ('The Auld Alliance.') with France. Edward’s response was invasion and the brutal sack of Berwick, one of Scotland’s major ports and trading centers, on 30 March 1296. The main Scottish army was north of Dunbar so an English army under John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, besieged Dunbar Castle and confrontation soon occurred. As the English maneuvered to cross the Spott Burn, the Scots mistook this as a retreat and abandoned their vantage point upon the brow of Spottismuir to charge headlong into destruction. Many Scottish nobles were taken prisoner and sent as hostages to England. Dunbar Castle fell soon thereafter and the resistance of the Scottish nobles collapsed as Balliol was captured and ritually stripped of his kingship. The sacred Stone of Destiny was removed to London and Scotland became a province ruled by an English Viceroy. For Edward, the problem of Scotland seemed to be settled once and for all and is perhaps best summed up with his statement "A man does good business when he rids himself of a turd." Scottish patriots such as William Wallace and Andrew Murray would soon disabuse Edward of this confidence.

28 April 1742
The birth of Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira, at Arniston in Midlothian, a son of Robert Dundas. He was a career politician who served in several offices under William Pitt the Younger and was known as 'King Harry the Ninth' and ‘The Uncrowned King of Scotland’ for his skillful management of Scottish politics, 1775-1805. Educated at the University of Edinburgh, he joined the faculty of advocates in 1762 and was Lord Advocate, 1775-1783. In the British Parliament, he represented Midlothian, 1774-1790, and Edinburgh, 1790-1802. He distinguished himself as a public speaker and, after holding minor offices under the Marquess of Lansdowne and Pitt, became Home Secretary in 1791 and Secretary for War, 1794-1801. He was also influential in the affairs of India, especially the East India Company. A close friend and ally of Pitt, he became a peer in 1802 as Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira. In 1804, he became First Lord of the Admiralty but was investigated by a special commission of inquiry regarding his financial management of the Admiralty as Treasurer between 1782 and 1800. The commission’s report in 1805 resulted in his impeachment and, though he was acquitted of wrongdoing, he never again held public office. He refused the offer of an earldom in 1809 and died on 28 May 1811 in Edinburgh.

By William John Shepherd

Note On Sources: Some dates are based upon concise chronologies published by Ronald McDonald Douglas in his Scottish Lore And Folklore (1982) and John Wilson McCoy in the pages of The Highlander magazine in 1997. Additional dates and information have been gleaned from my varied readings in Scottish history. These sources include but are not limited to the following: Brown, P. Hume. A Short History Of Scotland (1908, 1961); Donaldson, Gordon and Morpeth, Robert. A Dictionary of Scottish History (1996); Fisher, Andrew. A Traveller's History Of Scotland (1990); Gerber, Pat. Stone of Destiny (1997); Gordon, Ian Fellowes. Famous Scots.(1988); Keay, John and Julia (eds.). Collins Encyclopedia Of Scotland (1994); Mackie, J.D. A History Of Scotland (1964, 1991); MacLean, Sir Fitzroy. A Concise History Of Scotland (1970, 1988); Prebble, John. The Lion In The North (1971, 1973); Sadler, John. Scottish Battles (1998); Smout, T.C. A History Of The Scottish People, 1560-1830 (1969, 1998); Traquair, Peter. Freedom's Sword: Scotland's Wars Of Independence (1998); Warner, Philip. Famous Scottish Battles (1975, 1996).


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