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This Month in Scottish History
October


2 October 1263
The so-called Battle of Largs fought on the Ayrshire coast between Scottish royal forces and remnants of a Viking invasion force led by King Hakon of Norway. This expedition, the last Viking assault on Scotland, was mounted in an attempt to re-assert control over the Hebrides Islands off the western coast of Scotland. These islands, as well as the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and the Orkneys and Shetlands off the northern coast of Scotland, had long been under the Viking yoke but had become increasingly subject to pressure from King Alexander III of Scotland. The latter pretended to negotiate in good faith while Hakon's large fleet waited and was then smashed by a fortuitous tempest. The Vikings believed Scottish witches caused the storm though the Scots attributed it to Saint Margaret. In any event, survivors coming ashore near Largs and were attacked by vengeful Scots. Hakon landed a rescue force but was driven off in a battle or skirmish for which few details are available. Hakon and his surviving ships departed for the Orkneys where he died shortly thereafter. His successor, King Magnus, made an agreement with King Alexander III to formally transfer sovereignty of the Hebrides to Scotland in return for the payment of an indemnity. The Orkney and Shetland islands, however, would remain Norwegian until the Fifteenth Century.

2 October 1852
The birth of Nobel chemist, William Ramsay, at Queen's Crescent in Glasgow. The only child of civil engineer William Ramsay and Catherine Robertson, he received a classic liberal education at Glasgow Academy. Science, however, beckoned to him and he attended the universities of Glasgow and Tubingen in Germany, earning a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at the latter in 1872. While engaged in a teaching career at universities in England and Scotland, he synthesized various organic chemicals and studied the properties of liquids and gases. In 1887, he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at University College, London, where he worked with numerous skilled collaborators between 1892 and 1898 to discover an entire family of five inert gases which he named in Greek: argon (lazy), helium (sun), krypton (hidden), neon (new), and xenon (strange). He laid the foundations of nuclear science with work such as determining the atomic weight of the inert gas radon (a gas he had not discovered) and proving that helium was formed from the radioactive decay of radium. Ramsay was a good natured, innovative, and persistent researcher who both acknowledged and learned from his mistakes. He received a knighthood in 1902, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904, and numerous other awards. He remained at London until retirement in 1912 and died on 23 July 1916 at Hazlemere, Buckinghamshire, England. He was married to Margaret Buchanan in 1881 and had two children.

4 October 1694
The birth of Jacobite General, Lord George Murray, at Huntingtown, Perthshire, a son of John Murray, First Duke of Atholl. He entered the English army in 1711, but supported the unsuccessful Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1719 which sought to restore the deposed Stuart Monarchy in the person of the self styled James III, otherwise known as 'the Old Pretender.' Murray went into exile in Sardinia though he returned to Scotland after receiving a pardon in the 1720s. When James' son, Charles Edward Stuart, known as 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and 'the Young Pretender,' fomented another rebellion in 1745, Murray became the senior general in the Jacobite army. He captured Edinburgh, won an overwhelming victory over Sir John Cope at Prestonpans, and organized a skillful retreat of the Scottish army from Derby in England. On 17 January 1746, he defeated an English army at Falkirk but opposed Charles' decision to make a stand at Culloden, near Inverness, in April. As Murray foresaw, the rebels were annihilated there though both Charles and Murray escaped. The latter first reached Ruthven and then fled to the continent where he died on 11 October 1760 at Medemblik, The Netherlands.

6 October 1744
The birth of Canadian merchant and politician, James McGill, at Glasgow. After attending Glasgow University, he emigrated to Canada, making his headquarters in Montreal and becoming an important figure in the fur trade. He invested in the North West Company and real estate, becoming the richest man in Montreal. He represented that city in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada (Quebec) in 1792-1796 and 1800-1804 and was appointed a member of the province's Executive Council in 1793. During the War of 1812 between the British Empire and the United States of America, he served as an honorary colonel of the Montreal Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He died suddenly in Montreal on 19 December 1813. Fortunately, his will bequeathed one of his estates, Burnside, plus 10,000 pounds for the founding of McGill University, which received its charter in 1821 and began teaching in 1829.

7 October 1927
The birth of controversial psychiatrist, Ronald David Laing, in Glasgow to parents he said routinely beat him. Influenced by Freud and Marx, among others, he earned a doctorate in 1951 from Glasgow University. After serving in a British army psychiatry unit, he studied Freudian psychiatry at the Tavistock Institute in London. In the 1960s, he broke from tradition regarding the treatment of schizophrenics with the theory that psychotic episodes could be naturally healing if they occurred under the supervision of a therapist. His book, The Divided Self: An Existentialist Study in Sanity and Madness (1960), argued that schizophrenia was not a genetic or chemically based illness but perhaps a sane reaction to an insane world. He also strongly rejected treatments such as electroshock and straitjackets, preferring new treatments with drugs like LSD and Marijuana. Such ideas appealed to the rebellious 1960s counterculture but also prompted much criticism in medical circles. In 1964, he founded the Philadelphia Association which established several hostels for the humane treatment of schizophrenics. His contention that the strains of family life fomented schizophrenia also proved controversial and earned him an antifamily reputation. He theorized that some family members are forced to develop false fronts to effectively deal with stronger family members which engulfed the true or core personality of schizophrenics resulting in split personalities. His book, The Politics of Experience: The Bird of Paradise (1967), advanced his theory by arguing that insane, criminal, and revolutionary people were mystical explorers in a mechanized and vicious world. He wrote numerous other books including the autobiographical The Making of a Psychiatrist (1985). He died of a heart attack in St. Tropex, France, on 23 August 1989.

10 October 1802
The birth of writer and geologist, Hugh Miller, in Cromarty on the Black Isle. The son of a sea captain who disappeared when he was a young child, his formal education was minimal though he was influenced by the antiquarian and natural history enthusiasms of two uncles. Apprenticed as a stone mason at age 17, he practiced this trade in Ross-shire while experiencing and condemning the harshness of the Highland clearances. In 1829, he started writing verses and articles for The Inverness Courier and folk traditions later published as Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland (1835). He began working in an Edinburgh bank in 1834 and wrote on theology and Church politics. His opposition to lay patronage endeared him to Evangelicals and he edited The Witness, 1835-1856, a newspaper representing what became the Free Church of Scotland. He also used the paper to publish findings reflecting his deep interests in geology and paleontology. Unfortunately, he was apparently subject to profound sadness and inner turmoil resulting in his suicide on Christmas Eve 1856. The reasons will probably never be known but some have argued that he was unable to resolve the differences between scientific rationalities and religious dogma while others suggest he epitomized the classic dilemma between the dream world of the Gaelic Highlands and the grim reality of the industrial Lowlands.

11 October, Every Year
The Feast Day of Saint Kenneth, Missionary to the Picts and one of the foremost saints of Celtic Scotland. Born about 515 in County Derry, Ireland, and ordained 545 in Wales, he is believed to have visited Rome. Kenneth accompanied his friend Saint Columba or Iona to the Scottish mainland to Christianize the Picts. Near Inverness, he is said to have paralyzed the Pictish King Brude with the sign of the cross and subsequently converted Brude and his kingdom to Christianity. Kenneth is known to have traveled extensively in the Hebrides Islands where many place names are associated with him and he is believed to have founded the royal Scottish burgh of Saint Andrews in Fife. Returning to Ireland in 577, where he is known as Canice, he founded a monastery in Kilkeny and the cathedral of Saint Canice in Kilkeny is believed to be located on the site of his original church. Kenneth also wrote a commentary on the Bible known as Glas-Choinnigh.

12 October 1866
The birth of British Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald at Lossiemouth, Morayshire, an illegitimate son of Highland plowman John MacDonald and farm servant Anne Ramsay. A model student at Drainie Parish School, he moved to London in 1886 where he worked as a clerk and became a radical socialist. A voracious reader, he wrote for labor and socialist journals and became a member of the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He resigned from the Fabians in opposition to the Boer War, joined the London County Council, and was elected a Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for Leicester in 1906. He emerged as Labour's foremost orator and organizer and served as Party Leader, 1911-1914, but resigned in opposition to the outbreak of World War I though he later supported the war effort. Colleagues believed he betrayed his party while the public thought he betrayed his country and he lost his seat in 1918. Returned in 1922 for Aberavon and supported by the influx of 'Red Clydeside members, he was re-elected Party Leader and formed the first but short lived Labour Government in 1924. His second government, 1929-1931, had some diplomatic success but the Great Depression brought it down. Bowing to pressure from the King and other party leaders but alienating his own party, he headed a National Government, 1931-1935, which stabilized the economic situation but dealt less effectively with the rise of Nazi Germany. In failing health and under increasing political attack from critics such as Winston Churchill, who called him "the boneless wonder," he resigned in 1935 and died two years later. His wife, Margaret Gladstone, who bore him six children, had predeceased him in 1911.

13 October 1713
The birth of portrait painter and essayist Allen Ramsay in Edinburgh. The eldest son of a noted poet of same name, he studied painting in Edinburgh, London, and Italy. A significant figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, he was the leading British painter before Joshua Reynolds and was noted for his grand portraits of great personages such as British Prime Minister, the Scottish Earl of Bute, and French philosopher John Jacque Rousseau. Ramsay also made a lasting impression with his intimate and sensitive portraits of women, especially his second wife, Margaret Lindsay. In addition, he was notable in political pamphleteering, philosophical debate, and archaeological investigation. He was appointed Principal Painter in Ordinary to King George III in 1767 and died at Dover in August 1784.

16 October 1430
The birth of King James II, only surviving son of James I and the English Joan Beaufort, at Holyrood in Edinburgh. He became King in February 1437 at age six upon the assassination of his father. During his early reign, the strong central authority of his father collapsed as rival families such as the Crichtons, Livingstones, and Douglases battled for control. James assumed royal duties in 1449 when he married Mary of Gueldres and sought a restoration of authority. He seized the Livingston estates while maintaining an uneasy truce with the Douglases. Eventually he confronted the latter, stabbing the Earl of Douglas to death in 1452, seizing Douglas estates, and demolishing Douglas castles by 1455. Revenues from these seizures enabled James to consolidate his central government, make improvements in the administration of justice, and wage war against the English who held outposts in the Scottish borderlands. It was while besieging Roxburgh, which was successfully taken, that he was killed when one of his cannons exploded as he was standing near. His nine-year-old son, also named James, became yet another child monarch in Scotland.

17 October 1346
The Battle of Neville's Cross fought near Bishop Auckland in the northern English County of Durham between David Bruce, King of Scots, and the English led by the great northern families of Neville and Percy. The Scots invaded England in response to a plea from their French allies who had just been defeated by the English at the Battle of Crecy. Unfortunately, in a story all too familiar, Scottish courage could not withstand the hail of English arrows and they suffered the same result as the French. King David was himself wounded, in the face, and captured along with many of his men. His nephew, Robert Steward (later King Robert II) managed to lead a remnant of the Scottish army off the field and back to Scotland. David was to spend eleven years imprisoned in England and was eventually joined by King John of France who the English captured after the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. The following year, by the Treaty of Berwick which committed the Scots to paying a crippling ransom, David was returned to Scotland.

20 October 1792
The birth of noted imperial general Colin Campbell at Glasgow. A son of a carpenter named Macliver, he took his mother's maiden name of Campbell in 1807 when given a military commission as an ensign by the Duke of York. Lacking social influence, advancement was slow though his military experience was global. He fought in North America during the War of 1812, in South America during an 1823 insurrection in British Guiana, in China during the Opium War of 1839-1842, and in India during the Second Sikh War of 1848-1849, for which he was knighted. In the Crimea War against the Russians in 1854, his Highlander Brigade, 'the thin red line,' repulsed repeated Russian Calvary assaults at the Battle of Balaklava. In 1857, he was back in India for the Great Mutiny where he served as Commander in Chief and was able to relieve the cities of Cawnpore (Kanpur) and Lucknow. He was a meticulous and economical commander concerned about the welfare of his men though sometimes criticized for being too cautious. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Clyde of Clydesdale in 1858 with a generous pension and made a Field Marshall in 1862. He died at Chatham, Kent, England on 14 August 1863 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

23 October 2000
The election of Michael Martin, a Roman Catholic from Glasgow, as Speaker of the British House of Commons. He had served as Deputy Speaker from 1997 to 2000 and became the first Catholic to hold the office since the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Born in 1945 and educated at St. Patrick’s Boys’ School in Glasgow, he married Mary McLay in 1966 and worked as a sheet metal worker. He was a shop steward at Rolls Royce (Hillington) from 1970 to 1974 and trade union organizer from 1976 to 1979. He became a Labour Member of Parliament (MP) from Glasgow Springburn in 1979 and served as Personal Private Secretary (PPS) to Dennis Healey from 1980 to 1983. An experienced committee chairman, having served on the Speaker's Panel of Chairmen and chaired the Scottish Grand Committee since 1987, his working class origins greatly contrasted with his primary rival for the speakership, Conservative Baronet Sir George Young. Martin is a family man with broad interests in history, hiking, and Highland bagpipe music.

27 October 1761
The birth of pathologist Matthew Baillie at Shots Manse, Lanarkshire. A nephew of great anatomists William and John Hunter, He was educated at Oxford and became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society. His 1793 study, Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body, was the first systematic study of pathology ever undertaken and greatly advanced medical teaching. A devoted doctor, by 1800 his Practice was the largest in London. He died 23 September 1823 at Duntisbourne, Glouscestershire, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

31 October 1864
The birth of influential Archbishop of Canterbury, William Cosmo Gordon Lang, at Fyvie Manse, Aberdeenshire. Originally in training for a legal career, he attended Cuddesdon Theological College. After serving as an Assistant Curate in a Leeds slum, he was a Dean of Divinity at Oxford, and Vicar of the University Church. He then became, successively, Vicar of Portsea, Bishop of Stepney, Archbishop of York, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury from 1928 to 1942 when his friend King George VI created him Baron Lang of Lambeth. He was also a member of the House of Lords where he was a dedicated ecumenicist and active in ministry to slums and industrial areas. Public opinion suspected but later acquitted him of conspiring with other British officials to force the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 over the latter's involvement with a divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson. Lang died at Kew Gardens, Surrey, England, on 5 December 1945.

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); 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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