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Scots Humour and Heroism
Chapter XIII - Some Points of History


"The whole History of Scotland," says Maarten Maartens, "is a fierce romance of piety and passion; and, wherever you look into it, it enthrals you with its strong human love and hate."

Now, if one half of the nation found its romance in its fidelity to the Stuarts — and let us not forget the tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots — the other half of the nation found as heroic, and no less deep, a call in the Religious Covenants.

Look first at the Highlands— which may well be considered, as Oxford has been considered, the Home of Lost Causes.

Does not the unswerving attachment of the Highlands to a Family that was not always equally loyal to them, awaken our admiring wonder; as it was unquestionably the motive that led them to so much brilliant, though it were short-lived, achievement?

For, twice at least, the clans combined to hurry the Kingdom into the gravest peril; and on four separate occasions their rebellions were distinctly formidable.

There was the career of the Marquis of Montrose, who in 1644 espoused the cause of Charles the First, in the nation’s quarrel; and, in engagement after engagement, swept the Parliamentary armies before him, till the victory of Kilsyth laid all Scotland at his feet. The hill-men, no doubt, could not utilize their success; they failed to consolidate their gains; and Montrose was captured and carried to Edinburgh. There he was condemned, and there he was executed in the Grassmarket on the 21st of May 1650. His trial has been made famous by Aytoun in the "Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers."

Then there was Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, a persecutor indeed of the Covenanters, yet in his way a patriot. When James the Second had fled, in 1688, Claverhouse was one of the first to take up arms on behalf of his sovereign, and against what he deemed the usurpation of William and Mary. The Camerons, the MacDonalds, and other clans flocked to his standard; and with a handful of Highlanders he routed, by one headlong charge, the forces of Mackay at Killiecrankie in 1689. But "Cruel Claverse" fell on the field; and the Highlanders went home.

Then again there was the Earl of Mar, who in 1715 raised the standard of revolt in aid of James the Pretender. The clansmen were swiftly successful and overran the North. The Highland army marched in triumph to Preston in England. But impetuosity alone could not win a campaign. They were worn out; then driven back; and finally cut to pieces at Sherrifmuir in Scotland. The leaders perished on the scaffold.

But the most formidable insurrection that ever occurred in Britain was that to which reference has already been made, when, in 1745, the Young Pretender Charles Edward landed at Moidart in Invernesshire and summoned the clans to his side. He marched on Edinburgh and captured it; he proclaimed his father as James the Eighth; he held court at Holyrood.

Tall and graceful, polished and knightly, the young Prince must have seemed a veritable hero of romance; and his courage and gaiety never failed. To all, this sudden success was intoxicating, but it could not last.

The Jacobites were ill organized; and England was strong.

Many of the Highland chiefs remonstrated with the Prince. They knew his attempt was foredoomed to failure, and they counselled him to withdraw from it. Amongst those that gave this sound advice was Lochiel, the Head of the Camerons, who, moreover, — so runs the legend — had been warned by a seer to hold aloof from Charles Edward, as disaster was impending on his path. But Lochiel’s sensitiveness to a point of honour overruled his wisdom. Charles appealed to his loyalty — and not in vain.

He said, "In a few days I will erect the Royal Standard, and have myself proclaimed as Charles Stuart —come over to claim the crown of his ancestors. Lochiel, whom my father told me was my firmest friend, may stay at home and learn from the newspapers the fate of his Prince."

"No," said Lochiel; "I will share the fate of my chief, and so shall every man over whom fortune gives me power."

In this spirit the greater part of the Highlands responded to the call. With enormous enthusiasm the Highland forces marched against General Cope, and defeated him at Prestonpans. They then advanced into England, went as far as Derby, and threatened London.

The Highland host, however, were disappointed that the English Jacobites did not join them, and they returned to Scotland. There at Falkirk Moor they won another victory; but they were routed with appalling slaughter at Culloden, in June 1746. Charles Edward had to flee for his life, and a price was put on his head.

Though the whole land must have known a good deal about his movements and his hiding-places, no one betrayed the secret. For five months he wandered in the Highlands and Islands, and at last in September he escaped to France.

The most surprising part of the story is his rescue by Flora MacDonald. She was twenty-four; and although not a Jacobite, she contrived on the Island of Skye a plan for getting him safe off. At the risk of her life, she took him three days in an open boat, from Benbacula to Portree. He was disguised as an Irish peasant-woman. At the very last, he was almost discovered by a cousin of her own, an officer in King George’s army. The Government was very severe with the rebels and with all that helped them; but Flora MacDonald was treated with clemency. The romance appealed to all. One likes to think of what King George said. "As king of England, I cannot approve of the insurrection of the clans; but, as Elector of Hanover, I wish you to give the Prince my compliments, and tell him I admire his fidelity to principle; and that I wish him well." After this one is prepared to learn that, in later years, Flora MacDonald received support from the Government.

For generations, Culloden remained a name of ill omen in the Highlands. Many of the clans were almost exterminated, most noble houses were ruined. The tartan itself was for a time forbidden.

Now was the great time of Jacobite lyrics. They sprang up everywhere, as the Prince’s misfortunes increased. Loyalty to Prince Charlie became with many a kind of religion.

Though most of these ballads are filled with a sense of loss and unutterable regret, there are a few that are quite gay. Such is the song composed to immortalize the exploit of the pipers who, finding no ford when they reached the river Esk, swam across and danced themselves dry on the other bank.

Wi’ a hundred pipers an’ a’, an’ a’, (an’ a’ = and all)
Wi’ a hundred pipers an’ a’, an’ a’;
We’ll up an’ gie them a blaw, a blaw, (blaw = a tune on the pipes)
Wi’ a hundred pipers an’ a’, an’ a’,
It’s owre (owre = over) the Border awa’, awa’;
We’ll on an’ we’ll march to Carlisle ha’,
(Wi’ its yetts (yetts = gates), its castle an’ a’, an’ a’,)
Wi’ a hundred pipers an’ a, an’ a’.

Our young sodger lads looked braw, looked braw,
With their tartans, an’ kilts an’ a’, an’ a’,
With their bonnets and feathers and glittering gear,
An’ pibrochs, sounding sweet an’ clear;
Will they a’ return to their am dear glen?
Will they a’ return, our Hieland men?
Second-sighted Sandy looked fu’ wae (fu’ wae = full of sorrow),
And mothers grat (grat = wept), when they marched away.

O, wha is foremost o’ a, o’ a;
O, wha does follow the blaw, the blaw’
Bonnie Charlie, the King o’ us a’, hurra!
Wi’ his hundred pipers an’ a’, an’ a’;
His bonnet an’ feather are wavin’ high,
His prancin’ steed maist seems to fly,
The nor’ wind plays wi’ his curlin’ hair,
While the pipers blew up an’ unco flare (unco flare = surprising blast).

The Esk was swollen sae red and sae deep,
But shouther to shouther (shouther = shoulder) the brave lads keep,
Two thousand swam o’er to fell English ground,
An’ danced themselves dry to the pibroch’s sound.
Dumfoundered the English saw — they saw,
Dumfoundered they heard the blaw,
the blaw; Dumfoundered they a’ ran awa’, awa’,
From the hundred pipers an’ a’, an’ a’.

But for the most part all the Jacobite songs have a tone of deep sadness, though they may be gay on the surface.

The carnage at Culloden, as on so many Highland conflicts, brought mourning into all the glens. It repeated in the Highlands what the terrible disaster of Flodden Field had occasioned in the Lowlands more than two centuries before, when Scottish arms suffered their most crushing defeat.

There the flower of Scottish youth, nobles and commoners— with their rash King James IV. at their head— were all slain. This is the theme of Scott’s "Marmion".

Tradition, legend, tune, and song,
Shall many an age that wail prolong;
Still from the sire the son shall hear
Of the stern strife and carnage drear
Of Floddens’ fatal field,
Where shivered was fair Scotland’s spear,
And broken was her shield.

We mention it here by way of educing a parallel to the state of feelings in the Highlands after 1746—which were then as desolate as Edinburgh and the Lothians were in 1513. The most celebrated of all Scottish dirges has come down to us from the days of Flodden. It is called the Flowers o’ the Forest. It is too quaint and primitive to be omitted here, though the original form is lost.

I’ve heard them liltin’ at our yowe (1)-milkin’,
Lasses a-liltin’ before br’ak o’ day:
But now there’s a moanin’ on ilka green loanin, (2)
The Flowers o’ the Forest are a’ wede away (3).

At buchts (4), in the mornin’, nae blithe lads are scornin’;
Lasses are lanely , an’ dowie (5), an’ wae:
Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’ (6), but sighin’ and sabbin’,
Ilk ane lifts her leflin, an’ hies her away,

In hair’ st (7), at the shearin’, nae youths noo are jeerin' (8);
Bandsters are lyart (9), and runided, an’ grey;
At fair or at preachin’, nae wooin’, nae fleechin’ (10):
The Flowers o’ the Forest are a’ wede away.

1) Yowe = ewe. a) loaning = narrow path between fields. 3) a’ wede away = all weeded out. 4) buchts = enclosures in the fold into which ewes were driven to be milked. 5) dowle and wae = down cast and sorrowful. 6) daffing and gabbing = gaiety and raillery. 7) hairst = harvest. 8) jeering = jesting. 9) bandsters are lyart and runided = sheaf-binders are elderly and wrinkted. 10) fleeching = flattering speech.

At e’en i’ the gloamin’ nae swankies (1) are roamin’,
Lassies are eerie (2) whaur ance they were gay:
An’ ilk ane sits weary, lamentin’ her dearie;
The Flowers o’ the Forest are a’ wede away.

Dool (8) and wae for the order — "our lads to the Border"!
The English for ance by guile wan the day;
The Flowers o’ the Forest, that went aye the foremost,
The prime o’ our land, are cauld i’ the clay.

We’ll hae nae mair liltin’ at the yowe-milkin’,
Women an’ bairnies are heartless (4) an’ wae;
Sighin’ an’ moanin’ in ilka green loanin’ —
The Flowers o’ the Forest are a’ wede away.

1) swankies = strapping young countrymen. 2) eerie = inexplicably timid and anxious. 3) dool = grief. 4) heartless = despairing.


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