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This Month in Scottish History

1 November 1828
The birth of geophysicist, Balfour Stewart, in Edinburgh. Educated in Dundee and the universities of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, he traveled to Australia and returned to Britain in 1856 to work at Kew Observatory, becoming director in 1859. He made important discoveries in mathematics and radiant heat, the most important of which was the relationship between the earth’s magnetic field and the atmosphere. He became Professor of Natural Philosophy at Owens College, Manchester, was honored with the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society, and was President of the Society for Psychical Research from 1885 until his sudden death in December 1887. His 1875 book, The Unseen Universe, co-authored with a man named Tate, caused a stir as the first serious scientific attempt to establish a spiritual rather than a materialistic view of the universe.

4 November 1771
The birth of poet and journalist, James Montgomery, at Irvine, Ayrshire. The son of a Moravian minister, he became a shop assistant and then a journalist. He wrote numerous hymns, more than a hundred of which are still in use, and versified renderings of the Psalms, over 20 books in all, which are noted for the combination of simplicity, insights, and fervor. His descriptive poems include The Wanderer of Switzerland (1806), Greenland (1819), and The Pelican Island (1828). More than a hundred of his hymns remain in use. He was editor and proprietor of the newspaper, The Sheffield Iris, in Sheffield, England, and was awarded a pension in 1835 by Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. He died in Sheffield on 30 April 1854.

5 November 1787
The birth of explorer and naturalist, Sir John Richardson, at Dumfries where his father was provost and a friend of Robert Burns. John studied medicine at Edinburgh University and served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Afterwards, he returned to Edinburgh and joined John Franklin on an expedition, 1819-1822, across northern Canada to explore the arctic coastline. He made a second expedition in 1825 exploring the Mackenzie River and then served for twenty years as physician to the Royal Hospital at Haslar. He was knighted in 1846 and made his third and final expedition, in 1847, which was an unsuccessful search for the missing Franklin. In addition to contributions to Franklin’s narratives, he wrote selections on botany, zoology, and ichthyology for other Arctic studies and published a journal in 1851 of his search for Franklin. He died in June 1865 at Grasmere, England.

10 November 1685
The birth of Lord Advocate, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, at Bunchrew, near Inverness. Educated at the universities of Edinburgh and Leyden, he became Sheriff of Midlothian in 1709, and later became one of Scotland’s most admired and trusted judges. A staunch Whig, he supported the government during the 1715 rebellion, but promoted leniency for the rebels and protested against trials in England and forfeiture of their estates. He became Lord Advocate in 1725 and won public support for his efforts to limit punishment for Edinburgh in the aftermath of the Porteous Riots of 1736. He was President of the Court of Session from 1737 and Laird of the Culloden estate from the death of his brother in 1735. The later role put him in contact with many Highland chiefs and he used his great diplomatic skills to keep many of them from supporting the 1745 rebellion of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie.’ However, the Duke of Cumberland ignored his pleas for leniency for the Jacobite rebels. Forbes died soon thereafter, in 1747.

13 November 1715
The Battle of Sheriffmuir, the major battle of the 1715 Rebellion, fought between rebels led by the Earl of Mar and government forces under the Duke of Argyll. The rebels, known as Jacobites for the Latin word for James, supported the restoration of the deposed Catholic Stuarts in the person of James, ‘the Old Pretender,’ over the Protestant King George I who had been imported from Hanover in 1714. Many also opposed the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland. John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, also known as 'Bobbing John' because he changed sides so often, became the unlikely leader of the mostly Highland Jacobites. The government commander, John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, was an experienced general from the continental wars. He had about 4,000 cavalry and infantry to oppose about twice that number in Mar's army when they met on the field of Sheriffmuir, not far from Dunblane. The charging Highlanders advanced on the right flank but Argyll’s cavalry won on the left resulting in an inconclusive battle. Argyll had greater casualties but Mar apparently lost his nerve and retreated back to Perth, thus surrendering the strategic initiative to Argyll. Soon news arrived that another Jacobite force had surrendered at Preston in England. The Old Pretender arrived in December but it was too little too late and he and Mar fled to France leaving their followers in the lurch. In the aftermath, many were executed and others deported to the colonies as indentured servants. The government made other efforts at pacification including the collection of weapons and extensive road building but the flames of final rebellion were not yet extinguished.

14 November 1747
The birth of seminal Geologist, Sir Charles Lyell, at Kinnordy, Angus. Educated in England, he graduated in Classics from Oxford University in 1819. Highly influenced by the lectures of Dr. Buckland and the research of William Smith on fossils, he traveled extensively in Europe gathering information for his Principles of Geology (1830). This and the later Elements of Geology became the standard textbooks on Geology in the nineteenth century and enshrined many of the ideas of James Hutton. Lyell became Chair of Geology at London University in 1831, was a Fellow of the Royal Society, was knighted in 1848, and died in 1875.

15 November 1915
The birth of Sir David Stirling, the creator of the elite British Special Air Service (SAS) special forces regiment, at Keir, Stirlingshire. A son of Brigadier Archibald Stirling, he attended Cambridge, went mountain climbing in the Rockies and the Alps, and joined the Scots Guards after World War II began in 1939. He transferred to the Commandos in 1940 and the special operations ‘Layforce’ for service in the Middle East in 1941. In July 1941, he organized a special force to raid German and Italian airfields far behind enemy lines. To confuse the enemy, it was named the Special Air Service and operated with great success throughout the war in the Middle East, Italy, and Northwest Europe. Unfortunately, Stirling was captured in January 1943 and spent the rest of the war imprisoned first in Italy and later in Colditz, Germany. After the war, he lived in Rhodesia and Kenya where he promoted racial equality, was a high level television executive in Hong Kong, and operated a private and international security service. He won the DSO in 1942, an OBE in 1946, and was knighted shortly before his death in November 1990. His creation, the SAS, went on to become the most famous special forces unit in modern military history, serving with distinction in such disparate places as Malaya, the Falkland Islands, London, Oman, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

19 November 1600
The birth of King Charles I, son of James VI and Anne of Denmark, at Dunfermline. The last king born in Scotland, he grew up in England after his father became King James I of that kingdom in 1603. Charles succeeded to both thrones in 1625, the same year he married French princess Henrietta Maria (for whom the American State of Maryland is named). Inspired by his father, he advanced an exaggerated notion of the sovereign’s rights that involved him in a series of conflicts with his subjects in both England and Scotland. Fiscal disputes induced him to suspend the English Parliament in 1629 and rule on his own while ecclesiastical conflict, both the imposition of bishops and the foolish attempt to introduce the English Book of Common Prayer, resulted in war with Scotland and humiliating defeat, 1639-1641. The recalled English Parliament rebelled against him in 1642 and, with assistance from the Scots, defeated Royalist forces by 1646. Surrendering himself to the Scots that same year, Charles was traded to the English in return for a promised indemnity that was not paid. Increasingly alarmed by the military rule of Oliver Cromwell and viewing Charles as still the legitimate sovereign, the Scots broke with the English and but defeated by Cromwell at Preston in August 1648. Charles was executed on 30 January 1649. He became a martyr and won respect at the moment of his death in a way that his obstinacy was unable to inspire in life.

21 November 1839
The birth of painter and engraver, William Keith, at Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire. A son of William Keith and Elizabeth Bruce, he was descended on his father’s side from the Earls Marischals of Scotland. The family emigrated to America during his youth and young William was in California by 1859. Fascinated by both the Pacific Ocean coast and the Rocky Mountains, he sketched and painted numerous landscapes. He was first employed by the Northern Pacific Railroad to paint characteristic scenes along its routes and was able to go to Germany in 1869 to study. He later lived in California again as well as New Orleans and visited Germany again and Spain too in the 1890s. He became famous as one of California’s most famous nature lovers whose landscapes, especially of the giant Redwood trees, were noted for the wealth of colors of sunsets and morning skies. An industrious painter, he was busy well into his old age, dying in 1911. His first wife, Elizabeth Emerson, was also an artist, and his second wife, Mary McHenry, was the first women graduate of Hastings College of Law. Keith’s work is on exhibit in the Corcoran gallery of Art, the National Gallery in Washington, and many other public and private art galleries.

23 November 1909
The birth of prolific writer, Nigel Tranter, in Glasgow. Educated at George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, he trained to be an accountant but took up writing in 1936. Virtually his entire literary career, which was only partly interrupted by army service in the Second World War, concerned Scottish history and he is credited with popularizing it on a grand scale worthy of Sir Walter Scott. His non-fiction works, from his first book, The Fortalices and Early Mansions of Southern Scotland (1936) to Tales and Traditions of Scottish Castles (1993), reflect his life long interest in architecture. However, his unparalleled knowledge of Scottish history was put to most effect in the over eighty novels that he wrote. His hallmark was to tell a good story based upon the historical record and utilizing believable characters and dialogue. Among his most notable novels were The Gilded Fleece (1943), Balefire (1958), The Bruce Trilogy (1969-1971), and The Wallace (1975). Two of them, The Freebooters and The Stone, are about the Stone of Destiny, which was of great interest to him. He died in January 2000.

24 November 1542
The Battle of the Solway Moss, an abortive invasion of England, results in another military disaster for Scotland. King Henry VIII of England had set his greedy eyes upon Scotland which was ruled by his nephew, King James V. James was not much of a warrior and was well aware of the disaster that upon his father, King James IV, against the English at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. By 1542, Anglo-Scottish relations had become so bad that James decided to make a pre-emptive invasion of England. His nobles also remembered the beating at Flodden so many of them refused to cross the border at Fala Muir. A smaller expedition, perhaps numbering as little as10,000 or as much as 20,000, crossed the border at the Solway Moss where the army refused to obey Sir Oliver Sinclair, James' favorite who tried to take command. At this point, a small but very tough English force, probably about 3,000 men, attacked and the Scots were shamefully routed. It is said that only about 20 Scots were killed though many others drowned while fleeing. Some 1,200 were taken prisoner, including 2 earls, 5 lords, and over 500 knights. Many of these would later return to Scotland to work in the English interest. The news of this defeat, in conjunction with the birth of a daughter, the future Queen Mary, instead of a male heir, destroyed James' morale and he died, aged only 30 years. Once more Scotland was plunged into anarchy with a child monarch (the infant Mary), a divisive regency, and a brutal enemy at the border.

24 November 1572
The death of religious reformer and Reformation leader, John Knox, at Edinburgh. Believed to have been born about 1513 in East Lothian and probably educated at St. Andrews University, he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest though he studied law and became a notary around 1540. A friend of reformer and martyr George Wishart, he was involved with those who assassinated Cardinal David Beaton in 1546 to avenge Wishart’s death. The next year he was among those captured by French troops of Regent Mary of Guise and served as a galley slave until 1549. As an ally of English reformers trying to counter French influence in Scotland, they secured his release and he spent 12 years of exile living in England, Germany, and Geneva where John Calvin influenced him. After his return to Scotland in 1569, he became a priest at St. Giles and allied with Protestants known as the Lords of the Congregation. That same year, English support enabled them to establish Protestantism in Scotland by abolishing Papal authority, forbidding the mass, and approving a Protestant Confession of Faith. Knox and five other ministers wrote the First Book of Discipline that regulated parish revenue, education, and provision for the poor. He clashed notably with Mary, Queen of Scots, criticizing her private practice of Catholicism as well as her romantic indiscretions. He approved the murder of her Italian favorite, David Riccio, though he is not known to have been involved in her forced abdication in 1567. He himself was criticized for his marriage in 1564 to the 17 year old daughter of Lord Ochiltree and spent his last years in infirmity due to a stroke. He was still able to preach in the vehement style of Wishart and gave his last sermon on 9 November at St. Giles, just 15 days before his death. His death left a void in the leadership of the Scottish Reformation that was later filled by Andrew Melville.

25 November 1034
The death of King Malcolm II, of the House of Atholl, and succession of his grandson, Duncan I. Born about 954, Malcolm was a son of Kenneth II, who had died about 995, though Malcolm only succeeded in 1005 after killing his cousin, Kenneth III. With no sons, Malcolm arranged strategic marriages for his daughters, one to Crinan, Abbot of Dunkeld (the parents of Duncan I) and another to Sigurd, Earl of Orkney. After Sigurd’s death in Ireland against Brian Boru at Clontarf in 1014, his son Thorfinn became a vassal of Malcolm, thus bringing Sutherland and Caithness into the Kingdom of the Scots. Malcolm allied with Owen, King of Strathclyde, to defeat King Cnut of England at Carham in 1018, which expanded the kingdom to the banks of the Tweed. After Owen’s death, Malcolm violated traditional inheritance patterns to take over Strathclyde, though this resulted in his murder at Glamis. His successor, Duncan, would become famous as the kindly old king murdered by the MacBeths in the Bard's 'Scottish Play.' Of course, this is false, as Duncan was a rather young man who, by all accounts, did not prove a good king. He was defeated in an attempt on Durham in 1039 and was slain in battle by rival MacBeth in 1040. MacBeth represented Moray and was married to Gruach who had claims by descent to the Scottish kingship.

27 November 1763
The birth of geologist, William Maclure, in Ayrshire. Considered the ‘Father of American Geology,’ he published the first widely available geologic map of the United States in 1809. He first came America at age 19 but returned to London where he became a successful businessman. He returned to America again in 1796 and dedicated himself to making the first geologic map of the country. He traveled throughout and made geological observations of the region east of the Mississippi River and especially in the Appalachian Mountains. His crudely drawn map classified rocks and showed the distribution of rocks by color. The map was used in Observations on the Geology of the United States (1809) and was published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. He viewed American development and expansion from a rural and agricultural perspective which resulted in his opposition to the construction of the Erie Canal. He attempted to establish an agricultural school, first in Spain and later at New Harmony, Indiana, but these efforts failed and disillusioned, he eventually moved to Mexico, where he died.

30 November, Every Year
The Feast Day of Saint Andrew, patron saint of Scotland as well as Greece, Russia, and Romania. Andrew, a Hebrew fisherman like his brother Simon Peter, was the first disciple of Jesus and is also the patron saint of fishermen. After the ascension of Jesus, he went as an apostle of Christianity to Greece. He is supposed to have been crucified at Patras on an X shaped cross which inspired the white cross on the blue field of the Saltire flag. His remains went to Constantinople and later to Amalfi. In the eight century, a Pictish king, Angus, adopted him as patron saint after legend says the X shaped cross appeared in the sky during a key battle. Relics, perhaps from Saint Wilfred’s Hexham Abbey or appropriated by Saint Regulus, were brought to Fife for the church at Kilrymont, that became the cathedral of St. Andrews, which replaced Dunkeld in importance. This is not a public holiday but a day much celebrated by Scottish expatriates worldwide.

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); Herman, Arthur. How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001); 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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