Mary Queen of Scots’ Life in Scotland


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I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book – “Exploring Mary’s Scotland – Mary Queen of Scots’ Life in Scotland” which is available from Amazon.  The book is in two parts.  The first is an outline of the tragic queen’s life, and the second part is a guide to the most significant Scottish sites closely associated with her.

On 8 December in the USA and 18 January in Britain, a major new film “Mary Queen of Scots” staring Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbins and David Tennant will be released. I can only base my comments on the trailer, since I can’t see the film until 18 January.  The trailer has two error. Firstly Mary and her cousin and rival Queen Elizabeth never actually met.  Secondly it is unlikely Mary spoke with a Scottish accent, she is more likely to have spoken with a French/Scottish accent, having left Scotland at five and not returned until she was eighteen. However, together with “Outlaw King” about Robert the Bruce, it is to be commended if it increases interest in Scottish history.

Long before I knew that the film was being produced I started to research Mary’s fascinating life and times for the book.  There are many books in print about Mary and her struggle to rule Scotland at a tumultuous time in its history.  How does “Exploring Mary’s Scotland” differ from the rest?

As well as providing an overview of Mary’s life, and particularly her life in Scotland, it takes the reader on a tour of the Scottish sites closely associated with her. I believe this helps to bring her life and times alive.  And of course if you want to visit the sites, either in person or from an armchair, the book can be your guide.  It is a substantial expansion of my previous book, “Mary Queen of Scots – a Brief History,” as it is more than 2.5 times the size.

And if you read the book you will be able to judge the film, and point out to your friends and family all the historical inaccuracies!

The book is available as a printed book on Amazon now, and should be available in December as a Kindle book as well.  Links for the print book on Amazon are:








A few images from the V&A in Dundee, which I visited today.

This peculiarly shaped building on Dundee’s waterfront consists of a vast common space, with two galleries off it. The vast common space was full today, but it was a Saturday and only three weeks since it opened. I wonder if in time it will be seen as a waste of space.

One gallery is a permanent exhibition of Scottish design, which has a wide range of exhibits from an Adam fireplace, part reconstruction of a Macintosh tearoom, to Paisley pattern clothes and an Endura cycling bodysuit used to break the hour cycling record. The second gallery is for special exhibitions and at the moment has an interesting exhibition on ocean liners – certainly worth seeing. The Scottish design gallery if free to enter, the special exhibition has a charge (£12 for adults).

I am in two minds about the architecture of the museum. To my mind the height of Scottish architecture was around 1800, with developments such as Edinburgh’s New Town. I am a traditionalist. I would have preferred a modern interpretation and development on from that type of architecture, rather than this concrete clad steel building. However I have to admit that it is striking, and that it and the other developments along the waterfront such as the Discovery museum have certainly vastly improved what was for a time Scotland’s most down-at-heel city.

But the absence of any form of barrier between the walkway outside the museum and the water it bound to result in children, and indeed adults who aren’t concentrating, falling in!

V&A Dundee

The Battle of Bosworth

On 18 August I attended the Battle of Bosworth Re-enactment at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.  For any readers not aware of the history, the Battle of Bosworth took place on 22 August 1485.  The claimant for the crown was Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII. The king he was fighting against was Richard III, who was to die in the battle. Henry had his crowning backdated to the day before the battle, so he could charge anyone who fought against him with treason, and confiscate their lands!

Henry Tudor had been in exile in Brittany and France for 14 years.  He was the last significant Lancastrian claimant to the crown, and many of his relatives had been killed in the War of the Roses.  Henry landed in South Wales with a small army of French and Scottish mercenaries, and was joined by Welsh supporters (the Tudors were a Welsh family).  His smaller force took on Richard’s larger army near Market Bosworth in the Midlands.  Rather embarrassingly, recent research backed up by metal detecting has concluded that the battle took place about 2 miles from the Battlefield Heritage Centre, which was built on the then supposed site to commemorate the battle.

Richard III was not a popular king.  He had locked his young nephews in the Tower of London (the Princes in the Tower). They were the sons of Edward IV, and the elder boy should have been reigning as Edward V.  But Richard, who was supposed to be their protector, usurped the throne, and probably had his nephews murdered.

Although Richard’s forces on paper outnumbered Henry’s, when it came to it they seemed to lack commitment.  The Earl of Northumberland and a large detachment of Henry’s forces which the Earl commanded did not get involved in the battle.

Richard didn’t lack courage though.  Seeing Henry separated from his main army and only surrounded by a small bodyguard, he led an attack aimed at killing Henry.  Richard’s force was overwhelmed and Richard killed when a detachment commanded by Lord Stanley, who had been sitting on the sidelines waiting to become involved when he knew which side was going to win, intervened.

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The re-enactment was excellent, with I estimate at least a hundred well costumed participants on each side, plus a range of displays, such as jousting.

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But photographing re-enactments has is difficulties.  It is difficult to avoid including spectators, portaloos and Ford Transits in the image, as I know to my cost!  Also participant are clearly having a great time – about 90% of my images had to be deleted because participants were laughing, smiling or talking to the opposition, rather than looking terrified and aggressive.  Out of 450 images I only got 6 or so I was happy with.

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There were many displays, including the fletcher, that is the arrow maker.  The arrowhead is made by the arrowsmith (a blacksmith who specialises in arrowheads), and the rest of the arrow by the fletcher.  There are a surprising number of types of arrowheads.

  • The top one on the panel beside the fletcher is for starting a fire.  Cloth and tar are placed in the gap in the arrowhead, and set alight.
  • The second down makes a whistling noise when travelling through the air.
  • The third down is for hunting.
  • The fourth is for going through chain mail.
  • The fifth and sixth are for piercing plate armour.
  • The seventh is another one for chain mail.

Another display was the joust.  Great fun to watch.  They were moving at some speed. so I imagine rather dangerous to take part in!

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History and Me

My fascination with history has resulted in three books, which are available from Amazon and Apple’s ibooks.

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Mary Queen of Scots – a fascinating woman trying to rule Scotland at a tumultuous time.

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Exploring History in the Scottish Borders.  The border area is now a tranquil, beautiful area, but its history is far from tranquil.  In the past it made the American “wild west” of the 19th century look like a kindergarten!

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The true story of an ordinary soldier who fought and was captured in North Africa.  Bert was transferred from PoW camp to PoW camp, eventually gaining his freedom after the firebombing of Dresden in 1945, in the chaos of a disintegrating Germany.  I helped Hazel Spencer, Bert’s daughter, prepare Bert’s diaries for publication.

Visiting Two of Berlin’s Museums

On Wednesday 18 July I visited Berlin’s Museum Island, a complex of five international standard museums on an island in the centre of Berlin.


Pergamon Museum is the most famous, and even arriving at 10 a.m. when it opened, and on a Wednesday rather than at the weekend, we had to queue for over half an hour to get in.  Pergamon has some really impressive exhibits, including the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon. This was built on the instructions of KingNebuchadnezzar II around 575 BC.  Amazingly, in Babylon there had been an even bigger gate of similar construction immediately behind it, but there was not enough room in the museum to rebuild it.

The second museum we visited was the Neues Museum (New Museum), which is full of very old exhibits. The museum includes many exhibits from Troy and Egypt, including the famous bust of Nefertiti.  While photography is allowed in the rest of the museum without flash, photography isn’t allowed in the room with Nefertiti’s bust, perhaps because the museum wants to retain all image rights to Nefertiti. However photography is allowed outside the room, so you can photograph the bust from just outside the door to the room.  Germans and their rules! There were a number of people with smartphones, but I had a telephoto lens so managed to get a reasonable shot, albeit there is glare from the case.

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Another major exhibit is the Golden Hat.  This was spectacular – amazing that something as sophisticated as this was manufactured in the late Bronze Age, probably about 1000 to 800BC. I had not heard of Golden Hats before, but apparently four exist, this one plus two found in southern Germany and one in France.  The provenance of the Berlin Golden Hat is unknown. It was bought by the museum in 1996 from a dealer acting for a “Swiss collector”.  It is made from very thin gold (0.6mm thick), and would have been worn over a frame of organic material, which has now disappeared. Wikipedia has a good article about it.

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This hat has a complex motif showing the 19 year cycle of the sun and moon. Carving showing hats indicate that they may have been worn by priests in religious rituals.  Amazing.  Too little time to do justice to the exhibits.

Mary Queen of Scots Book

2018 is the 450thanniversary of a momentous week in Scottish history.  On 13 May 1568 Mary Stuart, the former Queen of Scots (she had been forced to abdicate only 10 months earlier) was defeated at the Battle of Langside, now a part of Glasgow, by her half-brother the Earl of Moray. On 16 May she left Scotland forever in a small fishing boat, to ask her cousin Elizabeth I of England for sanctuary and help in reclaiming her throne.

I have written a short book on her life, “Mary Queen of Scots – A Brief History” which focuses on her time in Scotland.  This is intended as an easy to read introduction and is available from Amazon and Apple’s iBooks.

On Amazon US.

On Amazon UK

On Apple’s iBooks:

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Political Spin in 1815



Above is a photo of St John’s Church, near Farley Mount in Hampshire.  It is a beautiful isolated church that I visited yesterday, which includes a piece of political spin relating to Scotland.

So what does the church have to do with Scotland?


The second photo is a memorial plaque in the church to the interestingly named Thrift Smith from Fifeshire “North Britain”, who sadly died aged only 27.  The reference to North Britain provides an insight into England’s view of the Union with Scotland at that time. Political spin was alive even then!

Thrift’s family address is a reminder of the attempt in the 18thand 19thcentury to downplay Scotland as a country, and turn it into a British region.  The best known example of this is the former North British hotel near Waverley Station in Edinburgh, which was renamed the Balmoral Hotel about 20 years ago when this practice was seen as outmoded and insulting.

Strangely enough I have not seen places in England referred to as being in South Britain.

Tomorrow, 21 June, is the anniversary of one of Britain’s greatest defeats in WW2, when after a brief battle Tobruk surrendered and 30,000 Allied prisoners were taken. Bert Martin was one of them, and spent the rest of the war in PoW camps in Italy and Germany. Bert kept detailed diaries, which are now held by the Second World War Experience Centre,, a charity dedicated to recording and conserving the experiences of people in WW2. Bert’s diaries are now published on Amazon and iBooks, and a review is attached. for FB