Mary Queen of Scots Visit to the Scottish Borders

Earlier this year I visited Jedburgh, and the house Mary Queen of Scots is believed to have stayed in during a visit to Jedburgh in October 1566.  The house is now a museum, dedicated to Mary.

Mary Queen of Scots House

Mary Queen of Scots House

I attach photos of what is now called Mary Queen of Scots House, and of the ruins of Jedburgh abbey.  Jedburgh Abbey was burnt down by Henry VIII’s forces in 1523, and when partially rebuilt destroyed again in 1544 and 1545 during the “rough wooing”.  The rough wooing was an attempt by Henry VIII to terrorise the Scots into agreeing to their infant queen Mary being married to Henry’s son Edward when she was of age (often in the 16th century 12 years old would be considered to be old enough for the bride).

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

Mary visited Jedburgh just 6 months after she had given birth to the future James VI/I, to preside over the 16th century equivalent of a circuit court.  During her visit she learned that James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, had been hurt.  Mary had been romantically linked with Bothwell.  He had been involved in a skirmish with border reivers, and the injured Bothwell was taken to Hermitage Castle (see photo).  When she heard of Bothwell’s injury, Mary made the 25 mile journey to Hermitage with a small party to see him.

Hermitage Castle 2 – Legends and History

Hermitage Castle

After two hours with Bothwell, Mary rode back to Jedburgh.  Perhaps she had pressing business in Jedburgh, or considered it inappropriate to spend the night in the castle.  Having cycled between Jedburgh and Hermitage, I can confirm that this would have been a difficult and exposed journey across high and bleak moorland.  On her return journey, although Mary was an expert horsewoman, her horse threw her. When back in Jedburgh she was ill with a fever that nearly killed her.  During her long imprisonment in England, Mary is reported to have said that she wished she had died in Jedburgh.

Mary Queen of Scots House is near the centre of Jedburgh and has excellent displays on the tragic queen’s life.

To learn more about the fascinating history of the Borders area, “Exploring History in the Scottish Borders” is available from Amazon.

 

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Exploring History in the Scottish Borders

Exploring History book cover

The Scottish border area is steeped in history. This is the divide between the north and south of Britain, and the often fraught relationship between England and Scotland has left its mark.  Centuries of war and bloodshed didn’t produce Robin Hood characters, it produced a tough and often violent people, the border reivers.  In the 16th century the Scottish borderland made the American Wild West of the 19th century look like a kindergarten.

Illustrated by many full color photographs, “Exploring History in the Scottish Borders” provides an overview of the history of this turbulent area. The Borders’ past has left a legacy of splendid castles, beautiful ruined abbeys, and a depth of history few other areas can match. This book tells the story of the of the English/Scottish borderland from the time of the Romans, through the Scottish wars of independence, the turbulent 16th century and Henry VIII’s “rough wooing”, up until the reopening of part of the Waverley Line by Queen Elizabeth in 2015.

After centuries of conflict what was once the most violent part of the UK is now one of the most peaceful. It is a great place to visit – for many visitors it has more to offer than the nearby Lake District. Like the Lake District the Borders has beautiful countryside and strong literary connections, but the Borders also has a depth of history that the Lakes just cannot rival. It is also much less crowded and commercialized.

If your family comes from the Borders, or you are interested in Scottish history, this book should be of interest.  Armstrong, Bell, Douglas, Elliot, Gordon, Graham, Hepburn, Home, Irving, Jardine, Johnstone, Kerr, Little, Maxwell, Nixon, Pringle, Rutherford and Scott are all key Border families.  These families have shaped the modern world; their descendants include two U.S. Presidents, one British Prime Minister, the first man on the moon, and numerous major scientists.

Available from all Amazon sites in paperback and kindle format.  29,000 words and 33 original color photographs.

Hold down the control key and click on the following link for your Amazon site to get directly to the book.

USA:    www.amazon.com/dp/B0183U12R8

U.K.:  www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0183U12R8

Canada: www.amazon.ca/dp/B0183U12R8

And please just search for it on other Amazon sites.

Ian Douglas

Greenknowe Tower and the Snowdrops

Greenknowe Tower with Snowdrops

I was robbed!  Two weeks ago in England I paid £5 to see some snowdrops.  Today (1 March) in Scotland I saw a beautiful field of snowdrops in front of Greenknowe Tower for nothing.

Greenknowe Tower is an L-plan tower and is near the village of Gordon in the Borders.  It is as old tower of the Seton family, although since it doesn’t have a roof or windows I don’t think they live there anymore. It is looked after by Historic Scotland.

Greenknowe was built in about 1581.  It was built for defence by gun, and has many gun ports to provide the defenders with an excellent field of fire all round the tower.  It also like many Scottish tower-houses has an iron yett.  The yett is an iron grill like a portcullis, but while a portcullis is raised and lowered vertically, a yett opens like a door.

Greenknowe Tower yett

Greenknowe’s yett, with the Seton crest and build date on the lintel above it.

 

Sweetheart Abbey’s Lost Prayer Book

As someone who is fascinated by the history of the Scottish Borders, it was great to read yesterday that a small 700 year old treasure, a prayer book, of one of the great Scottish Abbeys, Sweetheart Abbey, had been returned to Scotland and was now being held in the National Library of Scotland. This had been lost for 300 years. Rather than just blog a summary, I have published the National Library of Scotland’s full press release below.   

Sweetheart Abbey's Prayer Book

                                                    National Library of Scotland Press Release

Sweetheart Abbey Breviary arrives at the Library

Historic monastic manuscript is major acquisition for National Library of Scotland

A monastic treasure written in Scotland 700 years ago has been acquired by the National Library of Scotland.

The early 14th century Breviary, from Sweetheart Abbey near Dumfries, is the Library’s most important medieval manuscript acquisition for 30 years. It is an extremely rare example of a medieval religious manuscript which was both written and used in Scotland.

Unlike many remaining Scottish liturgical manuscripts, which exist as fragments only, the Sweetheart Breviary is an entire volume in a remarkably good condition. It consists of 200 vellum leaves, and contains the text for many of the monastic prayers used each year in medieval Scotland.

Sweetheart Abbey was the last Cistercian monastery to be established in Scotland. It was founded in 1273 by Dervorgilla de Balliol, mother of the Scottish king John Balliol, in memory of her husband John de Balliol. On her death in 1290, she was laid to rest next to her husband’s embalmed heart and the abbey was named in her memory. The Breviary was written between 1300 and 1350.

The first leaf of the manuscript bears a large inscription in a medieval hand: ‘Liber sanctae Mariae de dulci corde [a book of St. Mary of Sweetheart]’. Only four other manuscripts survive from the library of this abbey, bearing similar inscriptions, but none of these volumes was apparently written in Scotland.

The Breviary is remarkably compact and, although comparatively modest in decoration, is a very attractive volume. It includes a calendar, featuring a number of Scottish saints, which further confirms its strong Scottish connections. The Cistercian elements in the liturgy are also in keeping with its origins and use at Sweetheart Abbey.

Its whereabouts were unknown for some 300 years until it recently came on the open market in an auction in Vienna. Prior to that, the last known trace was in 1715, when it was described in the printed library catalogue of the English antiquarian Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725).

‘We are delighted to have made this significant addition to the national collection. It is a rare survival that will shed new light on our collective past,’ said National Librarian Dr John Scally.

The National Library of Scotland acknowledges the generous assistance of, and contributions from, The Friends of the National Libraries, The Soutar Trust, The National Library of Scotland Foundation, and the B H Breslauer Foundation in the purchase of this manuscript, and for their prompt decision-making in making these contributions.

 

Orchardton Tower

Orcharton Tower Orchardton is the only round tower house in Scotland of its era, although there are at least 23 in Ireland.  It is situated in Galloway, post code DG7 1QH.  The nearest town is Dalbeattie.

The tower is thought to have been built for John Cairns.  The land was originally owned by the Douglases, but is likely to have been confiscated from them when they were toppled from power by James II in 1455.

The builder may well have come from Ireland – then as now much there would have been a great deal of contact between Dumfries and Galloway and Ireland. Orcharton Tower inner.jpg

The tower house is in fact quite narrow, and much of the accommodation would have been in an attached building that now only exists in a few layers of stone above ground.  The tower is now a shell, but there is a spiral stairway which allows the visitor to walk to the top.  Like many tower houses for defense the entrance door was on the first floor.