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This Month in Scottish History
August


3 August 1855
The birth of inventor George Johnstone at West Linton near Edinburgh. The son of a minister, he was trained as an engineer and became the first Scottish motorist in 1894 with an imported Daimler. The next year he was driving his own invention, 'the Ghost Tram.' In 1896, Police in Glasgow stopped him for illegal driving in St. Enoch's Square and Dixon Street. He was unable to convince the magistrate that his car was not a locomotive and was forced to pay a fine, thus becoming the first motorist in Britain to be convicted of a driving offense.

4 August 1870
The birth of music hall entertainer, Sir Harry Lauder, at Portobello. The son of a potter, he worked from a young age first in an Arbroath flax-mill and then in a Hamilton coal mine. First prize in a singing contest encouraged him to consider show business and he eventually joined a singing group that took him on tour through the British Isles. His first songs were Irish or English, but by the time he came to London in May 1900, he was wearing a kilt and enthusiastically singing simple hearted Scottish songs. For many, he would come to personify the image of the thrifty Scot with his tilted Glengarry, long Inverness cape, MacLeod kilt, and six-inch briar pipe. His early hit songs were comic but with I Love a Lassie and Roamin' in the Gloamin,' inspired by love for his wife Nancy, he struck a sentimental chord. With a large repertory of his own songs, he toured America twenty two times and would eventually earn $5,000 a week and play golf with presidents. He entertained the troops in France during World War I and wrote Keep Right on to the End of the Road after his son John was killed in action. He gave many concerts for war charities and was knighted in 1919. He wrote four books of reminiscences, appeared in several movies, and entertained soldiers again in World War II. He died 26 February 1950 near Strathaven in Lanarkshire.

5 August 1600
The foiling of the Gowrie Conspiracy, a supposed plot against King James VI, soon to become King of England. According to the King, whose self serving account is the primary record of this odd event, he rode with Alexander, the Master of Ruthven, brother of John, Earl of Gowrie, to Gowrie House in Perth to speak with a man who had found a pot of gold. Once there, afraid he was about to be murdered, he summoned help and the Earl and his brother were killed. James' story was not widely believed as many thought he was jealous of the brothers’ close friendship with his wife, Queen Ann. Others, suspicious of his conduct towards Roman Catholics, suspected he was motivated by a desire to remove the Gowries, who were Protestants stalwarts. James may have been concerned by the arrival at Gowrie House of the sons of the first Earl of Gowrie, a participant in the Ruthven Raid of 1582, which had imprisoned James. He was not renowned for his courage so their presence may have caused an excessive reaction and his cry of 'treason' which resulted in their doom. This conspiracy, whatever its origins and extent, was the last attempt against the King before he left for England.

6 August 1881
The birth of Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of Penicillin, at Lochfield near Darvel in Ayrshire. After working briefly as a shipping clerk in London, he attended medical school and qualified as both a physician and surgeon. Serving in a military hospital in France during the First World War, he saw up close the failure of contemporary anti-septics, that cost so many lives that could have been saved, and determined to find an effective natural agent for treatment. He was to have a long and distinguished career on the research staff of St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington where he developed more effective treatments for Typhoid and Syphilis, searched less successfully for a cure for Influenza, and had his famous encounter with the dirty lab dish with the Penicillin that was growing on a mould. He found that in many instances it could destroy or inhibit virulent germs and this research was published in 1929. Unfortunately, this discovery remained a lab curiosity until the vast medical demands of the Second World War prompted additional and wider research. Building upon his work, two Oxford bio-chemists, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, found a means of purifying Penicillin with the result that it was used worldwide as a highly effective healing agent. Fleming was knighted in 1944 and all three men were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945. Sir Alexander died on 11 March 1955 and was buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

8 August 1746
Following the 1745 Jacobite uprising, the last and most threatening, the British Parliament promulgated the Highland Dress Act and the Disarming Act. This forbade the wearing of tartan, as any part of attire, under the penalty of six months imprisonment for the first offense and transportation overseas for the second. No Highlander could receive the benefit of indemnity without first taking the following oath: 'I, do swear, and as I shall answer to God at the great day of judgement, I have not, nor shall have, in my possession any gun, sword, pistol, or arm whatsoever, and never use tartan, plaid, or any part of the Highland garb; and if I do so, may I be cursed in my undertakings, family, and property; may I never see my wife and children, father, mother, or relations; may I be killed in battle as a coward, and lie without Christian burial, in a strange land, far from the graves of my forefathers and kindred; may all this come across me if I break my oath.' Not surprisingly, these severe measures were very unpopular. Because of the discontent, and the fact that the rebellions had ended once and for all, this legislation, through the influence of the Duke of Montrose, was repealed in 1782.

13 August 1888
The birth of John Logie Baird, pioneer of television and radio, at Helensburgh. Educated at Glasgow Academy and the Royal Technical College (now the University of Strathclyde), he lived for a while in the West Indies before returning to England to work as an inventor. He promoted and popularized the concept of television, making many test transmissions of images which enabled the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to show the first television picture in 1929. Unfortunately, Baird’s mechanical scanning process was later superseded by EMI’s superior electrical scanning process, though he continued to pursue refinements such as color and large-screen television. He also worked on radio direction finding (radar), which was later crucial in the defense of Britain during the Second World War, but for which he received little acknowledgement. Though not destitute, his career was not a great financial success. He died of bronchial problems in 1946 and was buried in Helensburgh.

14 August 1040
MacBeth, whose name means ‘son of life,’ commanding an army of clansmen from the northern province of Moray and Norse allies from the Orkney Islands, becomes King of Scots after defeating the army of Duncan I, consisting mostly of clansmen from Atholl, the south of Scotland, and some Irish mercenaries, near Burghead. Contrary to Shakespeare’s famous 'Scottish play,' Duncan was a relatively young man, thirty-nine years old, who was killed the battle and not murdered at Glamis Castle as he slept. In fact, said castle was not even built until several centuries later. Duncan was a rather ineffectual king increasingly unable to govern the kingdom and MacBeth, the Moramaer (Earl) of Moray, had legitimate claims to the throne both on his own behalf and through his wife, Gruoch, whose name has also been besmirched by the Bard. MacBeth is considered by many to have been the last truly Celtic King of Scots and appears to have been a wise ruler who presided over seventeen years of general peace and prosperity. For example, in 1050, matters in Scotland were quiet enough for him to go on pilgrimage to Rome where he "scattered money among the poor like seed."

15 August 1057
The defeat and death of MacBeth, King of Scots, at the Battle of Lumphanan in Mar near Aberdeen by Malcolm Canmore, the elder son of Duncan I, who had been killed by MacBeth in 1040. This was the culmination of a three-year military campaign conducted by Malcolm with the substantial backing of the English from Northumbria. Malcolm had first been established in Cumbria in the southwest then defeated MacBeth in the Lothians in the southeast and pursued him north to Mar. Seven months later, Malcolm killed MacBeth's adopted son and heir, Lulach, and became King of Scots in his own right. With Malcolm’s permission, both MacBeth and Lulach were interred at St. Mary’s Abbey on St. Columba’ sacred Hebridean island of Iona and are among the last Scottish kings to be buried there. They are two of the forty-eight Scottish kings, along with eight Norwegian and four Irish kings there. Malcolm’s reign, 1058-1093, would bring many changes, none more important than the efforts of Malcolm’s wife, the English St. Margaret, to romanize the Scottish Church.

15 August 1771
The birth of influential poet and writer, Sir Walter Scott, in Edinburgh. The son of a solicitor, he was lame from an early age and spent much recuperative time at his grandfather’s farm Sandyknowe near Kelso where he became enamoured with tales and songs of the borderlands. Educated at Edinburgh High School and Edinburgh University, he was admitted to the bar in 1792 and had a successful legal career, serving as Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire from 1799 to 1832 and Clerk of the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh from 1806 to 1830. However, it was a poet and writer that he made his reputation. A collection of ballads, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-1803), and a series of long narrative poems, including The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808), and The Lady of the Lake (1810), brought him enduring fame, national honors, and great fortune. In addition, he practically invented the historical novel and many of them had Scottish themes, especially Waverly (1814) and Rob Roy (1818), which popularized a Romantic image of Scotland worldwide. Later novels moved beyond the Scottish setting, with Ivanhoe (1819), set in medieval England, remaining a classic favorite of generations of readers. Unfortunately, his fortune was lost with the collapse of the publishers Ballatyne and Constable in 1826. Working tirelessly to pay off his creditors destroyed his health and he died in 1832 at his beloved home of Abbotsford near Melrose Abbey. Considered one of the outstanding literary luminaries of the Nineteenth Century, his legacy for later centuries is mixed as many still read and revere his works while others, primarily academics, subject his romantic vision, historical inaccuracies, and often belabored prose to withering criticism.

15 August 1856
The birth of labor leader and politician, James Keir Hardie, at Legbrannock, Lanarkshire. An illegitimate son of coal-miner William Aitken and domestic servant Mary Keir, he took the name of his stepfather, ship’s carpenter David Hardie. He was at first a socialist but later converted to Christianity. He married Lily Wilson, a publican’s daughter, in 1879. A coal miner from youth, he was fired and blacklisted many times for his pro-union activity. He became secretary to the Scottish Miners' Federation in 1886 and criticized certain Liberal members of Parliament for their conservative views regarding state intervention to assist miners. His agitation for an 8 hour work day and election to Parliament for South West Ham in 1892 as an Independent Labour candidate was widely noted, especially when he appeared at Westminster in a cloth cap. He presided at the Bradford conference that created the socialist Independent Labour Party (ILP) as an alternative to the Liberals. He lost his seat in 1895 but was returned to Parliament in 1900 where he vehemently opposed the Boer War. In spite of his past conflicts with the Liberals, he approved negotiations that reduced tensions and resulted in 29 Labour members in 1906 with he as their leader in Parliament. The following year, he traveled overseas and expressed support for Egyptian independence, Indian home rule, and the rights of native Africans. He detested both imperialism and militarism and promoted a general strike of international workers to prevent war. When World War I broke out in 1914, he was devastated by the lack of support from his own constituents and died of pneumonia on 26 September 1915. Many contemporaries regarded his single-minded devotion to the workers cause as fanatical but this has only added to his reputation with generations of Labour Party members.

19 August 1745
Charles Edward Stuart, otherwise known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ and ‘The Young Pretender,’ raised the royal standard of his exiled family at Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel in the western Highlands, thus beginning the last and greatest Jacobite Rebellion. Charles, who was born in Rome in 1720, was the son of James Edward Stuart, ‘The Old Pretender,’ and grandson of the Roman Catholic King James II and VII, who had been deposed in 1688. Though poorly supported by France and landing in Scotland with only seven men, Charles’ invasion was well timed as substantial numbers of British forces were engaged on the continent against the French in the War of the Austrian Succession. Several clans, including the Camerons and various branches of the MacDonalds, came out for Charles and Edinburgh was quickly occupied. Early military success, such as the Battle of Prestonpans, could not offset the lack of support for the Rebellion in the Scottish Lowlands and especially in northern England where the march of the Highland army on London was aborted near Derby. By this time, British reinforcements had gathered and the Jacobites were pursued back to Scotland and final defeat in April 1746 at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness. The British army under William, Duke of Cumberland, son of the Hanoverian King George II, and known in Scotland as ‘The Butcher,’ slaughtered the poorly equipped clansmen although Charles was able to escape. After months of hiding in the Highlands, he made his way back to the continent and spent the remainder of his life in exile, dying at Rome in 1788.

19 August 1808
The birth of engineer and inventor, James Nasmyth, in Edinburgh. The son of an artist, he studied engineering in London, operated machine shops in Edinburgh and Manchester, then settled at a foundry in Paticroft, England. He became known for his craftsmanship and steam-powered tools, building hydraulic presses and locomotives, and inventing a cylinder boring machine and the steam hammer. The forerunner of the pile driver, the steam hammer allowed large materials to be forged with accuracy and was an integral part of the Industrial Revolution. Nasmyth worked to improve efficiency in production and standardization of machine tools, which undermined skilled craft labor and ushered in the age of mass production. He retired early, in 1856, to devote the remaining years of his life to astronomy, building his own telescopes, charting the surface of the Moon, and being the first to observe the phenomenon of solar flares. Attaining a rare achievement as a financially successful inventor, he died on 7 May 1890.

21 August 1754
The birth of William Murdock (Murdoch), pivotal inventor of the Industrial Revolution, in Ayrshire. The son of an innovative mill wright and fascinated by steam engines, he migrated to Birmingham in 1777 and became an assistant in the company of James Watt and Matthew Boulton. He subsequently worked in the tin mines of Cornwell installing, repairing, and modifying engines. In 1784, he invented and built a model steam carriage, in effect a primitive locomotive. In the 1790s, he developed methods for making coal gas and using it to light his home. Returning to Birmingham to manage Watt and Boulton’s Soho factory in 1798, he began to manufacture coal gas commercially and the factory became the first industrial site to be lit by gas in 1803. Murdock was honored by the Royal Society with a gold medal in 1808, became a partner of Watt and Boulton in 1810, and died in 1839. He is remembered not only as the father of the gas light industry but as an ingenious engineer who also created the slide valve, a free standing engine, an oscillating engine, and early applications of compressed air systems still in use for the brakes of trucks.

22 August 1138
The Battle of the Standard fought between the invading Scottish army of King David I and local levies in the English county of Yorkshire at Northallerton. Taking advantage of the civil war raging between the usurper King Stephen and his cousin the Empress Maud, David marched through the northern counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Durham. The size of his army is uncertain but it included lowland Scots as well as contingents from the Highlands, the western Isles, and the Orkney Islands, and carried all before it until brought to a halt upon entering Yorkshire, the largest county in England. The elderly Archbishop of York declared that it was disgraceful to be conquered without a fight and rallied both the barons and people into raising an army. In its midst, they placed the mast of a ship, and on top of that a cross and the banners of three saints as well as a consecrated communion wafer, from which the battle got its name. The Archbishop blessed the army and presented it with the banner of Saint Peter, the patron saint of Yorkshire. David made a great mistake in his deployment, placing the men from Galloway, who had little armor, in the front ranks where they were no match for the mail clad Anglo-Norman knights. The arrows of the English were particularly telling against the Scots and, when an Englishman held aloft a bloody head that the Scots mistook to be that of their king, they retired from the field. However, despite losing the battle, David only retreated as far north as Carlisle. Indeed, King Stephen was so beset by the forces of Maud that he made a treaty with David in 1139 granting him Northumberland and parts of Cumberland and Durham counties. David then retired from the English wars and died in 1153, the year before Maud’s son, Henry II, succeeded Stephen with the intent to retake the lost counties.

23 August 1305
The execution of patriot and former Guardian of Scotland, Sir William Wallace, on the orders of King Edward Longshanks, in London. According to tradition, Sir William was born about 1270 at Elderslie in Renfrewshire, the son of a minor Knight. He apparently took up brigandage at an early age and only emerged from obscurity in May 1297 when he killed the English Sheriff of Lanark, supposedly in revenge for the death of his wife or lover. He soon became a leader, along with Andrew Murray, of a popular revolt against the hated English king who had deposed King John Balliol and ‘suspended’ the Scottish crown and nation in 1296. A series of Scottish military successes culminated at the Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11 September 1297, where Wallace and Murray destroyed an English army and killed the Treasurer of England, Sir Hugh Cressingham. Murray died soon after while Wallace took the war to the enemy by raiding into northern England. He was made Guardian of Scotland in March of 1298 but was defeated by Longshanks at the Battle of Falkirk on 11 July 1298, when the mounted Scots deserted and the spearmen were decimated by the English archers. Resigning the guardianship, Wallace traveled in France and perhaps Rome seeking to raise military support and diplomatic recognition for Scotland. Returning home to continue the fight, he was betrayed by Sir John Menteith and surrendered to the English who subjected him to a brutal death by hanging, drawing, and quartering. His head was placed on London Bridge, and his limbs displayed at Newcastle, Berwick, Perth, and Stirling as a less than successful warning to other rebellious Scots. Sir William’s refusal to ever acknowledge Edward’s lordship and his uncompromising opposition to the English has made him a symbol of Scottish nationalism to the present day. Though historically inaccurate, the 1995 movie Braveheart helped inspired efforts for greater self-government resulting in the reestablishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999 and making the name of William Wallace famous worldwide.

28 August 1640
The Battle of Newburn on Tyne fought between a veteran Scottish army commanded by Alexander Leslie and a hastily assembled English force. Angered by the attempts of King Charles I to impose an Anglican prayer book upon Scotland, as well as other religious 'reforms,' a Scottish army invaded northern England in a pre-emptive strike. Since Charles was attempting to rule England without a parliament, he did not have the financial means to raise and support a strong army. Bypassing the English garrisons of Newcastle and Berwick near the border, the Scottish army advanced to the banks of the Tyne River at the crucial crossing at Newburn. Action ensued with superior Scottish firepower raining down upon the English who had neglected to secure the high ground. The English fled, abandoning the line of the Tyne as well as the cities of Newcastle and Gateshead, while the Scots advanced through northern England with impunity and occupied Durham. With no defensive positions to fall back upon, the English retreated back to York. Lacking numbers and supplies, the Scots halted their advance but would not retreat until the King came to terms. Shortly thereafter, and for a variety of reasons, the English Civil War broke out in which the Scots would be major players though by 1651 they as well as the English, Irish, and Welsh would be under the thumb of the war’s victor, the dictator, Oliver Cromwell.

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); Gordon, Ian Fellowes. Famous Scots. London: Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, 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); Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation (2000); 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).


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