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This Month in Scottish History

2 July 1903
The birth of British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, in London. His family, the Earls of Home, had been Scottish landowners since the 13th century. Receiving a degree in History from Oxford in 1925, he was a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) from 1931-1945. He served as Neville Chamberlain's Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) and was briefly Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under Churchill in 1945 but lost his seat in the Labour landslide victory that same year. In 1948, he became President of the Scottish Unionist Party and served a second time as an MP, 1950-1951. Douglas-Home was known as Lord Dunglass until 1951 when he went to the House of Lords as the 14th Earl of Home following his father's death. He served in the Churchill government of 1951-1955 as Secretary of State for Scotland, then in the Eden and Macmillan governments of 1955-1963 as Secretary of State for the Commonwealth from 1955 to1960,  Lord President of the Council in 1957,  Leader of the House of Lords from 1957 to 1960, and Foreign Secretary from 1960. In 1963, after Macmillan's resignation and upon his advice, Queen Elizabeth summoned Douglas-Home to form a government and became Prime Minister. He then became the first person to surrender his peerage  in order to be elected to the House of Commons, winning a by-election to serve as an MP for a third time, 1963-1974. He was not generally successful as Prime Minister, especially in economic matters. The General Election of 1964 resulted in a Conservative defeat so he resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced the following year as Conservative Party Leader by Edward Heath. Douglas-Home served as Foreign Secretary during the Heath government of 1970-1974 and returned as a life peer to the House of Lords in 1975.  He died on 9 October 1995 at The Hirsel, Coldstream, in Berwickshire.

6 July 1747
The birth of American naval hero, John Paul Jones, a son of gardener John Paul and Jean MacDuff, at Kirkbean Parish, Kirkcudbrightshrie, southwest Scotland. After some education at the parish school, young John crossed the nearby Solway Firth, that separates Scotland from England, and became a sailor. He served on a variety of ships, including a slaver, and visited Virginia and the West Indies. While in the latter, he ordered a fatal flogging of a negligent seaman, for which he was charged with murder and imprisoned in the ‘tolbooth’ (jail) of Kirkcudbright. He was eventually released but, after killing a mutineer on another voyage, fled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he added Jones to his name. As a veteran merchant captain, the Continental Congress appointed him in 1775 as the first lieutenant in the fledgling American navy. A bold sailor and tenacious fighter, he became Captain of the Providence in 1776 and captured over twenty five British merchant ships. He sailed the sloop Ranger to France in 1777 where he was befriended by Benjamin Franklin who supported his plan of hit and run raids on the British Isles. In 1778, Jones brought consternation to the British government and public by raiding the Irish Sea where he took the British sloop Drake, spiked the guns of the forts of Whitehaven, pillaged the home of the Scottish Earl of Selkirk, and captured seven prizes. The following year, off the North Sea coast of England, he won immortal glory by fighting his worn-out Indiaman, the Bohomme Richard, to victory over the superior British frigate, the Serapis. It was here that he is supposed to have said "I have not yet begun to fight" when called upon to surrender. He returned to Paris with great acclaim and remained in Europe except for a trip to America in 1787 to receive a Congressional gold medal. He served as a Rear Admiral in the Russian navy against the Turks but rivalries with other officers, many of them British, limited his effectiveness and induced him to return to Paris where he died, almost alone and forgotten, in 1792. In 1905, his remains were located and a grateful nation, which properly considers him the ‘Father of the American Navy,’ re-interred him with honor in the crypt of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.

8 July 1249
The death of King Alexander II, son of William the Lion and Ermengarde de Beaumont, and succession by his seven year old son, Alexander III, who reigned until his untimely death in 1286. For many reasons, the reign of Alexander III is generally considered a 'Golden Age' in Scottish history. The Viking threat was finally ended by the destruction of their fleet near Largs in 1263 with the resulting addition of the Hebrides Islands to the kingdom. The unwarlike Henry III, who become Alexander's father in law with the 1251 marriage to Princess Margaret, was King of England and relative peace existed between the two kingdoms. Above all, Scotland's ports, especially Berwick on Tweed, were engaged in profitable trading with the Baltic, Germany, and the Low Countries. It was, however, the calm before the storm as Scotland would become enmeshed in four centuries of war and destruction after Alexander's death without a male heir. Many rivals, both serious and frivolous, for the throne appeared, most notably the powerful Bruce and Comyn families, but none more sinister than the English king, Edward I, otherwise known as Longshanks, son of Henry III and brother in law to Alexander, whose intent, in the end, was to reduce Scotland to a mere appendage of her more powerful southern neighbor.

10 July 1560
The recognition by the Scottish Parliament of the Reformed Kirk (Church) of John Knox (ca.1513-1572) as the Established Kirk of the Kingdom of Scotland. Protestant ideals from the continent had been introduced by the Lollards and Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart had been martyred in 1528 and 1546 respectively before the Lords of the Congregation led by Knox rose up to replace Roman decadence with John Calvin’s austere theology. Papal authority was abolished, the Mass was forbidden, and a Protestant Confession of Faith approved. Knox, in conjunction with some other ministers, wrote the First Book of Discipline which regulated parish affairs, such as education and poor relief, and established a church organization based upon the example of Geneva with elders, Kirk sessions, and a General Assembly. It would be a few more decades until this church, under the leadership of Andrew Melville (1545-1622), became the more familiar Presbyterian Church which, unlike the reformed Church of England, opposed the existence of bishops above all else.

11 July 1274
The birth of Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s greatest king, probably at Turnberry. His grandfather, Robert Bruce the Competitor (ca. 1215-1295), unsuccessfully claimed the vacant Scottish throne which went to John Balliol in 1292, and his father, Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick (1242-1304), in opposition to Balliol, resigned said earldom to young Robert in 1292 and retired to his English estates. In 1296, the young Robert the Bruce was among the nobles who gave fealty to Edward of England following his invasion of Scotland and deposition of Balliol but, thereafter he joined the rebellion of William Wallace and served jointly with John Comyn as Guardians of Scotland. In 1302, fearing plans to restore Balliol, Bruce returned to Edward’s allegiance and married Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of the Earl of Ulster. In 1306, he made a final choice for rebellion against the English and destruction of their adherents in Scotland. He was crowned King of Scots but was quickly defeated by the English and forced to flee to the western Isles. Three of his brothers and a brother in law were captured and executed and his wife, daughter, and sister imprisoned. Thereafter, he waged guerrilla warfare, winning many small battles and recapturing several English held castles. His destruction of a large English army at Bannockburn in 1314, a diversionary campaign in Ireland under his brother Edward, and especially years of devastating raids into northern England resulted in the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1328 which recognized the Bruce Monarchy and Scotland’s independence. The famous Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 by the clergy and nobles of Scotland supporting his rule was, in effect, also the Scottish Declaration of Independence and did much to enhance Bruce’s position as well as the Scottish cause. Bruce died on 7 June 1329 and was succeeded by his young son David II. Unable to go on crusade himself, his heart accompanied his great friend Sir James Douglas in battle against the Moors in Spain and was subsequently returned to Melrose though Bruce’s body was buried in Dunfermline.

13 July 1680
The last clan battle fought between the Campbells and the Sinclairs at Altimarlach near Wick in northeast Scotland. In contention was ownership of the Sinclair estates in Caithness as George Sinclair, Sixth Earl of Caithness, had died in 1676 without a male heir and greatly in debt to John Campbell, Earl of Glenorchy. A Sinclair kinsman, George of Keiss, resisted Glenorchy’s claim and seized the disputed territory in 1679. The following year, backed by King Charles II and the Scottish legal establishment, Glenorchy marched on Caithness with a force of over a 1,000 Campbell clansmen, plus a detachment of royal troops, commanded by his kinsman Robert Campbell of Glen Lyon, later to become infamous as the perpetrator of the massacre at Glencoe. On 12 July, Keiss mustered hundreds of his supporters on the banks of the River Wick. They were heartened when the Campbell force apparently withdrew and subsequently distracted by a ship laden with whiskey that ran aground. The unsuspecting Sinclairs celebrated their good fortune with excessive drink and the next morning were thus attacked and brutally slaughtered with so many dead it is said that the Campbells could cross the river on the bodies without getting wet. Keiss, however, was not among these and escaped to wage an effective guerrilla war against the Campbells. He also had friends in high places, most specifically James, Duke of York, brother and heir of Charles II. After closer investigation to Glenorchy’s highly irregular claim, the king granted him the Earldom of Breadalbane as compensation and restored the Earldom of Caithness to the Sinclair family.

14 July 1794
The birth of John Gibson Lockhart, writer, editor, critic, and son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott at Cambusnethan in Lanarkshire . The son of a Presbyterian minister, he grew up in Glasgow and was educated at the University of Glasgow, 1805-1808, and Balliol College, Oxford, 1808-1813, and began to practice law in Edinburgh in 1816. He was, however, more interested in literary pursuits and became a contributing editor of Blackwood’s Magazine in 1817 in which he established a reputation for both wit and sarcasm. He became close friends with Sir Walter Scott in 1818 and married his daughter Sophia in 1820. In 1819 he published a clever sketch of Edinburgh titled Peter’s Letters To His Kinfolk, followed by a successful series of novels. From 1825 until 1853 he was in London as editor of the Quarterly Review and wrote a series of biographies: Life of Burns in 1828, Life of Napoleon in 1829, and his magnum opus Memoirs of the Life of Scott in 1837-1838. Like Sir Walter, he died at Abbotsford, on 25 November 1854, and was buried near Scott at Dryburgh Abbey.

15 July 1914
The birth of Gavin Maxwell, writer and ornithologist, at Elgin. His father was an office in the British army who was killed in the First World War. He was raised by his aristocratic mother on their remote estate of Elrig in Wigtownshire in southwest Scotland. He was educated at Stowe College and Oxford University and developed a reclusive personality and an abiding love of nature. He had many, mostly unsuccessful, career choices which included service in the Second World War in the Scots Guard and the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), a shark fishery off the Isle of Skye, and portrait painting in London. He traveled widely, from Lappland to Sicily to Iraq, studying animals and people and he wrote several books about these adventures. He became especially fond of collecting otters and settled with them at Sandaig near Glenelg. His account of this, published in 1960 as Ring of Bright Water, was a best-seller which brought him fame and resulted in a beloved film. He wrote several other works, including the autobiographical House of Elrig, before dying of cancer on 7 September 1969.

17 July 1689
The Battle of Killiecrankie fought at the pass of same name along the northwest approaches to the city of Perth. Rebel forces, consisting of about 4,000 Highlanders and supporting the recently deposed Catholic King James VII and II, were led by John Graham of Claverhouse, otherwise known as ‘the Bonny Dundee’ or ‘Bloody Clavers.’ Government forces, numbering about 4,500 men from 5 regiments loyal to the new Protestant regime of William and Mary, were commanded by General Hugh MacKay. The Redcoats were only able to fire a few volleys with their muskets before being swept aside by the brutal charge of screaming Highlanders hacking with their Claymore broadswords. MacKay managed to escape with a small force and the impact of the battle was not great as government forces were able to reassert control over time as the Highlanders had suffered badly from the initial volleys, losing about 600 men and their commander, were distracted by the capture of the baggage train, and soon dispersed home with their loot. MacKay, however, learned from his defeat, which he blamed on the socket bayonets used by his soldiers which had to be plugged into the barrel of the musket so that one could either fire or use the bayonet, but not both. MacKay therefore invented the ring bayonet which was attached around the barrel and enabled a soldier to both fire and quickly thrust his bayonet.

17 July 1790
The death of economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith in Edinburgh. A posthumous son, he was born in June 1723 at Kirkcaldy and raised by his mother, with whom he maintained a close and life-long relationship. Educated at Glasgow and Oxford universities, he became Chair of Moral Philosophy at the former in 1751. Notoriously absent minded, he nevertheless won critical acclaim with the publication of The Theory Of Moral Sentiment in 1759 and lasting influence and fame with his seminal The Wealth Of Nations in 1776. The latter was a masterwork of political economy in which Smith set the foundations of Laissez-faire economics by arguing that self-interest and free trade, subject to minimal government interference, promoted competition which resulted in increased production and distribution of consumer goods which lifted and improved society overall. Smith became Commissioner of Customs in Edinburgh in 1777, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1784, and Lord Rector of Glasgow University in 1787. His circle of friends included Edmund Burke, David Hume, and Benjamin Franklin.

19 July 1333
The Battle of Halidon Hill fought between an English army commanded by King Edward III, the grandson of Scotland nemesis Edward Longshanks, and a Scottish force under Sir Archibald Douglas, regent for the young King David Bruce. The English were acting in support of Edward de Balliol, son of the deposed King John Balliol (reigned 1292-1296), who was a vassal of Edward III and in revolt against David. The Scots were attempting to break the English siege of the vital border and port city of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which had agree to surrender if not relieved by 20 July. The English blocking force consisted of three dismounted divisions protected by wings of archers mostly equipped with the dreaded longbow. The ranks of Scottish solders were decimated by the English arrows as they tried to cross the marshy ground between the armies and then advance up hill against their hated and better positioned foe. The few Scots who survived to reach the English lines were soon overwhelmed. Berwick surrendered the next day and Scotland had suffered yet another devastating blow in her ongoing struggle for political independence from England.

21 July 1796
The death of Robert Burns, Scotland’s great national poet, at age 37, due to complications of heart disease. Son of an unsuccessful tenant farmer in Ayrshire, Burns followed in his father’s footsteps though he spent the last six years of his life as an excise man in Dumfries. He did not have much formal education but read avidly and was well tutored by John Murdoch in genteel English verse as well as Scottish traditional verse and folksongs. A notorious womanizer with chronic ill health, Burns was acutely aware of social disadvantage and wrote with egalitarian sentiment, deep passion, and sardonic wit. His Poems, Chiefly In The Scottish Dialect (1786) established his reputation and included such gems as the satirical ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer,’ the nostalgic ‘Cotter’s Saturday Night,’ and the democratic ‘Twa Dogs.’ In 1790 he wrote his most famous work of narrative verse, ‘Tam o Shanter.’ He also wrote, collected, and sometimes refurbished numerous Scottish songs, some 200 of which were published, and thus preserved, in James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (6 volumes, 1787-1803) and about 70 in George Thomson’s Select Collection Of Original Scottish Airs (5 volumes, 1793-1818).His ‘Auld Lyne Syne’ has been adopted as a universal song of parting while ’Ae Fond Kiss’ and ‘O My Luve Is Like A Red, Red Rose’ are romantic classics. Known affectionately as ‘Rabbie Burns,’ he remains a revered figure whose poetry and songs continue to inspire. His memory is honored worldwide every 25th of January, his birthday, with Burns suppers which include a ceremonial serving of Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish he did so much to enshrine.

24 July 1411
The Battle of Harlaw fought between invading Highlanders and Islanders led by Donald, Lord of the Isles, and men defending the Northeastern Lowlands commanded by the Earl of Mar. Donald sought to secure the rich Earldom of Ross, which included the islands of Skye and Lewis, from the Duke of Albany, Governor of Scotland for the young King James I imprisoned in England. Donald was apparently encouraged in this by King Henry IV of England to weaken Albany's power. Donald assembled thousands of his MacDonald clansmen in Mull and marched up the Great Glen gathering in such allied clans as the Camerons, MacLarens, MacLeans, MacLeods, and Mackintoshes. With nearly 10,000 men, Donald seized Inverness, the leading city of the Highlands, and crossed the Spey intending to sack the great city of Aberdeen. Near Inverurie at a place called Harlaw, some ten miles from Aberdeen, they met a numerically inferior but more heavily armed force of city burgesses and knights of the great local families such as the Keiths, Forbes, Irvines, and Leslies under the Alexander Steward, the Earl of Mar and nephew of Albany. Brutal fighting raged throughout the day as the lightly armed Highlanders and Islanders made repeated charges against the Lowland spearmen and knights. There was no clear victor as both forces withdrew after nearly 1,000 Highlanders and 600 Lowlanders were killed, one of the bloodiest events in Scottish history and commemorated thereafter in song and verse as 'Red Harlaw.’ The results of this epic confrontation between the Gaelic speaking North and West of Scotland against the Anglo-Norman Northeastern Lowlands was that the city of Aberdeen was saved, the Earldom of Ross awarded to Albany’s son John, and Gaeldom failed to expand its influence outside the increasingly marginalized Highlands.

25 July 1848
The birth of British Prime Minister, Arthur James Balfour, on the family estate of Whittinghame, East Lothian,. He had a philosophical mind as well as a taste for music, especially the Baroque composer George Frederick Handel. With connections to the powerful Salisbury family, he entered Parliament as a Conservative (Tory) in 1874. In 1886, he rose to cabinet rank first as Secretary for Scotland and then shortly thereafter as Secretary for Ireland under his uncle, Prime Minister Lord Salisbury. He won little popularity in either Scotland or Ireland with his opposition to crofting land reform in the former and Home Rule in the latter. He succeeded his uncle as Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party in 1902, serving in a rather lackluster fashion in the first post until 1905 and more notably in opposition until 1911 where he resisted the Liberal Government’s reform of the House of Lords. During the First World War (1914-1918), he served in the coalition government as First Lord of the Admiralty and Foreign Secretary. He made the celebrated ‘Balfour Declaration’ in 1917 in favor of a Jewish homeland in Palestine which resulted first in a British ruled League of Nations mandate and eventually the independent State of Israel. He died on 19 March 1930 and was buried at Whittinghame. He was widely mourned by Jews and remembered ironically as a statesman who opposed nationalism in Scotland and Ireland but promoted it to great effect in Palestine.

27 July 1770
The death of colonial administrator, Robert Dinwiddie, in London. He was born near Glasgow in 1693 to Robert Dinwiddie and Elizabeth or Sarah Cumming. He worked in his father's counting house and later became a merchant. His career as a colonial official began in 1721 when he was appointed Collector of Customs for Bermuda. In 1738, he became Surveyor General, which included jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, Virginia and other southern colonies. In his colonial service, he was zealously dutiful to his offices and tended to maximize his position by emphasizing the royal prerogative. In recognition of this, he was appointed in 1751 as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Britain’s largest colony. A dedicated proponent of British western expansion, his tenure saw the beginnings of the frontier conflict that resulted in the French and Indian War, 1754-1763. To fight the French, he sought assistance from the Indians and the other British colonies, pestered the Virginia Legislature for defense funding, and promoted the use of regulars instead of less reliable militia. The pressures of office and the war impaired his health so, at his own request, he was relieved in 1758 and returned to England with his wife and two daughters. His importance in American history is due not only to his key role in the downfall of New France but also for his promotion and backing of a young Virginian officer named George Washington.

30 July 1856
The birth of Richard Burdon Haldane, First Viscount of Cloan, British Secretary of State for War (1905-1912) in the Liberal governments of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905-1908) and Herbert Asquith (1908-1912), in Edinburgh. Both a philosopher and a lawyer, he was most notable for instituting a major reorganization of the British army, which included the creation of the Imperial General Staff and the organization of a substantial expeditionary force which could intervene on the continent of Europe. The latter became the famous British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which proved so instrumental in defending France during the First World War (1914-1918). He was also a founder of the London School of Economics (1895), President of Birkbeck College (1919-1928), and Lord Chancellor in the first Labour Government (1924).

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); Fisher, Andrew. A Traveller’s History Of Scotland (1990); 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. Atlantic Monthly Press (2001); 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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