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This Month in Scottish History

1 March 1546
George Wishart burned at the stake for heresy on the orders of Cardinal David Beaton. Wishart, who was born in Angus about 1513, had been educated at Aberdeen University and taught school at Montrose before fleeing to the continent after being charged with heresy for teaching the Greek New Testament. He studied under Calvinists in Germany and Switzerland and then at Cambridge, England, for several years before returning to preach in Scotland in 1543 where he was quickly arrested. Wishart, who was a friend of John Knox, was remembered for his courage and composed demeanor on the day of his death. It is even said that he gave the kiss of peace to his executioner.  Not surprisingly, he became a significant martyr to the budding Protestant (not yet Presbyterian) Church in its struggle against both the Scottish Crown and the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Beaton did not enjoy his 'triumph' for long. Two months later he was captured by a revenge minded mob and thrown from a window to his death.

3 March 1847
Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, born in Edinburgh to Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds. Bell immigrated to Canada with his parents in 1870 and married Mabel Hubbard in Boston on 11 July 1877.  Both his mother and wife were hearing impaired and he was greatly interested in training teachers of the deaf. In 1872, he opened a school in Boston where he gave lessons in speech. His interest in speech and sound caused him to conceive of the telephone and to experiment to construct one, which he successfully did in 1876 speaking the immortal words to his assistant "Mr. Watson, come here; I want you."  He was also greatly interested in experiments with airplanes, the phonograph, telephony, hydrofoils, an iron lung, and even the development of a new breed of sheep with extra nipples to suckle more lambs.  He died at his Cape Breton estate, Beinn Breagh (Beautiful Mountain), on 2 August 1922, with his wife following him five months later.  He was buried on his estate but he ordered the following inscription on his tombstone: 'Died a Citizen of the United States.'

5 March 1324
King David II, son of King Robert the Bruce (reigned 1306-1329) and Elizabeth de Burgh of Ulster, born at Dunfermline in Fife. His birth was unexpected because Elizabeth had spent so many of her  childbearing years as a prisoner in England. David became a child king in 1329 at the age of 5 and the kingdom was plunged into chaos. In 1332, he was deposed by an English-backed army under Edward Balliol, son of the deposed King John (reigned 1292-1296), which routed the royal forces at Dupplin Muir and killed the Guardian of Scotland, the Earl of Mar. The following year forces loyal to David were severely defeated by the English at Halidon Hill and the great port city of Berwick was lost. David fled to France while loyalist forces fought both Balliol and the English, who became increasingly distracted after 1338 by their war (Hundred Years War) against France. David was returned to power in Scotland by 1341 but, in attempting to honor the French alliance, led the Scottish army to destruction at the Battle of Neville's Cross in County Durham, England, in 1346. He was held by the English for over ten years, being ransomed in 1357, and reigning for another twelve years. He died little mourned, resembling his great father in few matters, and was succeeded by his nephew, the first Stewart monarch, Robert II.

6 March 1725
Henry Benedict Maria Clement Stuart, the last legitimate male Stuart heir to the British throne, born in Rome, Italy. He was the second son of James Edward Stuart, the self styled King James III and VIII, though also known as 'The Old Pretender.'  When his elder brother, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' invaded Scotland, he was placed in command of an army at Dunkirk which never left France. He returned to Rome where he would serve a long career with a number of posts in the Roman curia, among these being Cardinal of York, Titular Archbishop of Corinth, Bishop of Frascati, Vice-chancellor of the Roman Church, and Dean of the College of Cardinals. His ecclesiastical vocation enabled him to maintain the family's cause at the Vatican but it caused problems in his relationship with his brother and with Stuart adherents back in Britain. In 1788, upon the death of his brother, Henry began to call himself King Henry IX. In 1800, after his palace was sacked by a French Revolutionary army, he fled to Naples and then to Venice. A conciliatory King George III granted him a pension and in return he willed the crown jewels of his grandfather, the deposed King James II and VII, to the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV.  Henry, who died at Frascati in 1807, was known as both a patron of the arts and benefactor of the poor.

7 March 1676
Robert 'Rob Roy' MacGregor, third son of Donald Glas MacGregor, a Clan Chieftain, and his wife, Margaret Campbell, baptized as a Presbyterian at Buchanan, then known as Inchcailleash, near Loch Katrine. Rob was a renowned swordsman with an eye for other men's cattle and an active Jacobite. During the 1715 rebellion, Rob commanded several hundred clansmen which he used to conduct a private war, keeping out of the Battle of Sheriffmuir and harassing the Duke of Montrose and extorting 'blackmail' or protection money from the latter's tenants, perhaps at the instigation of the Campbell Duke of Argyll.  He was captured twice, once by the Duke of Montrose and again by the Duke of Atholl, but escaped both times. Under the Hanoverians as well as the Stewarts the name MacGregor was proscribed and they were excluded from the General Pardon of 1717. Rob came out again in the short-lived Rebellion of 1719 but surrendered to the English commander, General Wade, in 1722, narrowly avoiding transportation to the American colonies. He settled down at his home in Balquiddher, where his house still stands, and later converted to Roman Catholicism. Rob Roy remains one of Scotland's most romantic heroes and the subject of enduring speculation and myth, His resolution in adversity earned him a place in history, legend, and ultimately the cinema.

9 March 1566
Murder of David Riccio (Rizzio), favorite courtier and suspected lover of Mary, Queen of Scots, by men led by Lord Ruthven and the Earl of Morton.  The violent deed was performed in the Queen's presence despite the fact that she was pregnant with the future King James VI and I, and with the cooperation of her husband, Henry, Lord Darnley. There were many reasons for this brutal murder.  While Mary considered him a 'trusty servant,' the religious reformer John Knox looked upon him as 'that poltroon and vile knave Davie.'  Protestants disliked him because he was Italian and believed he was working for the Pope, the nobility viewed him as a 'base' man, and Darnley was jealous of Riccio's intimacy with the Queen. While it has never been proven, there has been some argument that Riccio was actually the natural father of James. Henry of Navarre, King of France, is supposed to have said words to the effect that James 'was as wise as Solomon as David was his father.'

9 March 1649
James Hamilton, 3rd Marquis and First Duke of Hamilton, executed.  He was a Scottish Royalist born in England, appointed a Privy Councilor in 1628, and sent to Scotland by King Charles II in 1633. In May of 1638, he became Commissioner of the Scottish Assembly and attended the post Covenant Assembly in Glasgow.  He withdrew from the latter in anger against the deposition of the Scottish bishops. In the subsequent Bishops' War, which Charles lost, Hamilton commanded the Royal Fleet to no great effect. In 1642, he attempted to prevent Covenant leaders from intervention in the English Civil War against Charles in support of Parliament. Hamilton received his dukedom for this effort but his later support of the Solemn League and Covenant resulted in his imprisonment in 1644. Released in 1646, Hamilton commanded the royalist army that was heavily defeated by Oliver Cromwell at Preston in 1648. His capture resulted in his trip to the scaffold.

10 March 1748
Noted Geologist John Playfair born at Benvie near Dundee. He was educated at St. Andrews, primarily in Mathematics, and graduated in 1765. He was minister of Liff and Benvie, 1773-1783, and appointed Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh in 1785. He developed an interest in Geology as a result of his friendship with James Hutton. Playfair was one of the original members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and supported Hutton's 'Theory of the Earth' with Illustrations Of The Huttonian Theory in 1802. He became Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh in 1805, published Outlines of Natural Philosophy in 1814, and died in 1819.

17 March 1058
Lulach, King of Scots, and sometimes referred to as 'the Fool,' stepson of MacBeth and son of Gruoch, killed in battle at Essie in Strathbogie by Malcolm Canmore, who would reign as Malcolm until 1093. Canmore, whose father Duncan had been slain in battle in 1040 by MacBeth, and not poisoned according to Shakespeare's famous 'Scottish play,' had invaded Scotland in 1054 with an English-backed army and taken his revenge three years later by killing MacBeth, though he had needed another seven months to finish the job with Lulach. Canmore's wife was the future Saint Margaret, an Anglo-Hungarian woman who would do so much to romanize the ancient Celtic Church of Scotland.

17 March 1473
King James IV, son of James III and Margaret of Denmark, who reigned 1488 to 1513 as one of Scotland's most energetic rulers, born probably at Stirling.  At the age of 15 he was manipulated into being the figurehead of a rebellion against his ineffectual father, resulting in the latter's mysterious murder. Seeking penance for the part he had played, he wore an iron chain thereafter around his waste as a reminder of his sin. From this inauspicious beginning, James became both a man of wide ranging intellect and an able administrator. He extended the monarchy's power in dealing with rebellious nobles and by suppressing the rival Lordship of the Isles which had long dominated Scotland's western seaboard. He married Margaret, sister of King Henry VIII of England, though he maintained the 'Auld Alliance' with France, resulting in his death along with the flower of the Scottish nobility upon the tragic field of Flodden in 1513. James' campaign in northern England, which sought to relieve pressure on beleaguered France, went well at first but became bogged down when confronted by a smaller English force led by the aged Earl of Surrey and Henry's Queen, Catherine of Aragon.  Attempting to break the stalemate, James left his strong defensive position and advanced upon the English, only to be surrounded on bad ground and annihilated by superior weaponry and tactics. This devastating defeat threw Scotland into chaos once again as the infant James V ascended the throne though the English were fortuitously unable to exploit Scotland's weakened condition, at least in the short-term.

19 March 1702
Death of William of Orange, who had reigned since 1689 as William III of England and II of Scotland, and was also ruler of the Netherlands, 1672-1702, with the title of Stadholder.  He was married to Mary, daughter of James II of England and VII of Scotland, who was deposed in 1688 in their favor.  William was a Protestant champion who spared no effort to defeat Louis XIV and the expansive power of France. William suppressed rebellions in both Scotland and Ireland and used the combined resources of Scotland and England as well as Holland to weave a grand alliance against France.  He was generally a moderating influence on English politics and instigated the Toleration Act of 1689 though his reputation was tarnished by his part in the infamous massacre of the MacDonalds of Glencoe in 1692. His wife died in 1694 and, as they had no living children, the throne went to Mary's sister Anne who would reign as the last sovereign of independent Scotland as the Act of Union with England came about in 1707. It is said that William's death was brought about by a fall from his horse, which had stumbled in a molehill. After his death, many of his enemies would toast 'the gentlemen in the velvet coat' (the mole).

24 March 1603
Death of Queen Elizabeth I of England and accession of King James VI of Scotland as James I of England.  This event was one of the happiest of James' life and something he had worked toward for years. He had even accepted Elizabeth's execution of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, and had cultivated a friendship with Elizabeth's chief minister, Sir Robert Cecil, who would prove instrumental in securing the succession.  James was eager to go to London though he promised to return to Scotland 'every three years' or so. In fact, he only returned once, in 1617, and ruled Scotland from England through the Privy Council. Although the Scottish and English crowns were now unified and those born after 1603 had dual nationality, an effectual union of the two governments and nations would not occur for another century.

25 March 1306
Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, crowned King of Scots at Scone, just six weeks after he had murdered rival, John 'the Red' Comyn, before the altar of the Greyfriar's Abbey in Dumfries.  This assumption of the vacant Scottish Crown ended the Second Interregnum, 1296-1306, imposed by King Edward I (Longshanks) of England who 'suspended' the crown and nation by force. Unfortunately, Bruce was not in a strong position and immediately suffered military defeat, first at the hands of Aymer de Valence and the English at Methven in June, then by Comyn's kinsmen, John of Lorn and the Clan MacDougal, at the Pass of Dalry (Dalrigh) in July or August.  Bruce became a fugitive hiding out in the western islands of Scotland and perhaps even in Ireland. His brothers Thomas, Alexander, and Neil as well as friend Simon Fraser and brother-in-law Christopher Seton were captured and brutally executed. His sister Mary, the wife of Sir Neil Campbell, and the Countess of Buchan, who had placed the Crown on his head, were suspended in cages from the walls of Roxburgh and Berwick castles respectively and exposed to the elements. Bruce's wife, Elizabeth, and his daughter, Margery, were also captured but treated better and held in England for many years.  Bruce's fortunes improved the following year, 1307, with the death of his implacable foe, Edward I, and a well-planned military revival.

30 March 1296
King Edward I (Longshanks) of England ordered the sack of the port city of Berwick. After repeated acts of interference by Edward intended to assert his claims to overlordship, King John Balliol, who had actually been installed as king four before by Edward when the Scottish dynasty had died out, concluded (or renewed as some argue) 'The Auld Alliance' with France. Earlier in March, the Scots raided northern England, thus enraging Longshanks and prompting the brutal retaliation at Berwick. After the city refused to surrender, the English stormed it and put all to the sword in a two day frenzy of pillage and death.  Berwick had been a primary trading city of the Scottish realm but never really recovered. It is said many thousands died and the mayhem would not stop there.  The Sack of Berwick set the stage for centuries of Anglo-Scottish warfare, first in the wars of Wallace and Bruce, then in continual cross border raiding and combat which really only ended with the collapse of the final Jacobite rebellion in 1746.

31 March 1635
Patrick Gordon, General and friend of Czar Peter the Great, born near Ellon in Aberdeenshire. His family being Catholic, Patrick was sent to the Jesuit College at Braunsberg but ran away to become a mercenary. He fought on both sides of the Swedish-Polish War of 1653-1661, being captured several times and fighting for his captors each time. In 1661, he joined the Russian army and eventually became a Lieutenant-General, Governor of Kiev, and friend of Czar Peter the Great. He defeated the Turks at Tschigirin in 1677, received the name Patrick Ivanovich, and the right to be addressed in the third person. By 1694, he was also an Admiral and chief military advisor to the Czar. He was left in charge at the Kremlin during Peter's notable tour of the West, 1697-1698, and put down a rebellion of the Streltsy, Peter's military nobility. Gordon died in 1699, much lamented by the Czar, and was buried in Moscow. Gordon's diary, published by the Spalding Club, Aberdeen, 1859, is an important source of information for Scottish mercenaries in Russian service.

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); 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).

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