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Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Scotland, War on Tuesday, 18 March 2014
This edited article about Canada first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 596 published on 16 June 1973.
Indians attacked the British under Abercromby's command
It began with a ghost in Scotland and ended in a massacre in America.
The ghost appeared to Duncan Campbell of Inverawe Castle in the western Highlands, not long after the rising of 1745, when so many gallant Highlanders had perished trying to place Bonnie Prince Charlie on the throne of Britain.
One night in those wild and dangerous times Duncan Campbell, the Laird of Inverawe, let a stranger covered in blood into his castle. The stranger said he had killed a man in a fight and that pursuers were after him. Campbell agreed to shelter him, but the frightened, blood-stained fugitive made him swear on his dirk that he would not betray him to his pursuers.
Suddenly, there was loud knocking at the door. Duncan Campbell opened it and was told by heavily armed men that his own cousin, Donald, had been murdered. Sick at heart, Duncan did not betray his unwanted guest because of his oath, but that night Donald’s ghost appeared to him and begged him to avenge his murder. Duncan explained that he could not and Donald said: “Very well, then, Inverawe. We shall meet again at Ticonderoga!”
The strange word meant nothing to Duncan Campbell, who later joined the famous Black Watch regiment, which had been raised some years before to police the Highlands. He often mentioned his experience, but none of the other officers had heard of Ticonderoga either.
In 1756, the Black Watch was sent to America where war had broken out once again between Britain and France, the French then owning Canada, and the British possessing 13 colonies which were to become the United States 20 years later. Britain had started the war, known as the Seven Years War in Britain and the French and Indian War in America, with a series of disasters. Her troops, which were trained to fight in the rigid patterns of European warfare, could not cope with the nightmare of war in the American forests, the sudden terrifying war-whoops, bullets and arrows cutting into the ranks, fired by unseen enemies behind dense masses of trees. And their red coats made them perfect targets for enemy marksmen.
By 1750, however, things were a little better. The great William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, had become Prime Minister at home and the war was being properly run, and the British Redcoats were learning something of forest warfare. True, British officers looked down on local American troops, however experienced, and some of the colonists were only too eager to let the British do all the fighting for them. But now, in mid-1758, a great expedition was sailing up the Hudson River to attack Montreal in French Canada by way of a series of lakes that stretched almost continuously up to Canada. Other attacks were under way from different directions, but this one was the big push.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Scotland on Monday, 17 March 2014
This edited article about Panama first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 593 published on 26 May 1973.
Scene at the departure from Leith of the Darien Expedition
It began to rain, not the rain that the colonists were used to back in their native Scotland, but steady, violent rain, day after day, night after night. Their tropical paradise of Darien on the lovely Isthmus of Panama was about to become a hell on earth.
The steamy, snake-infested swamps bred millions of mosquitoes and soon the colony, 1,200 strong, had lost a quarter of its population. And, as if disease and death were not enough, mutiny was in the air and there were rumours that the Spaniards and the Indians were about to attack New Edinburgh, which meant that their group of rotting shacks, was doomed.
Yet it had all seemed so wonderful to start with. A genius called William Paterson had first conceived the idea of the colony and it was not his fault that it crashed in ruins about him. He had started life as a poor Scots boy, born in 1658, who, when he was 19 had sailed away to the Spanish Main to seek his fortune. Some say he became a buccaneer, but whether he did or not, he certainly made a fortune in Jamaica.
This Scottish youth was extraordinary for two reasons. After next to no education, he grew up to found the Bank of England. It was his idea and he did more than anyone else to carry it through. And he had a unique dream of a peaceful trading colony in Panama. He did not want to kill Indians or fight Spaniards, nor did he want to build an empire. All he wanted was a series of trading ports where ships of all nations could dock, after which their goods could be carried across the Isthmus to the Pacific by wagon, later by canal. They would then be shipped to Japan, China and the East Indies, far more rapidly than the usual route around Africa.
His own poor, backward, much oppressed country, Scotland, seemed unable to support such a scheme. Though it shared a king – William III – with England, it was still independent of her. For the moment he kept dreaming, until the Scottish Parliament eventually passed an act forming The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, Paterson having been called in to give advice. He kept quiet about Darien in case someone got there first.
Now money had to be raised, £400,000, about £10 millions by today’s reckoning. The English refused to help because the all-powerful East India Company objected. So now it was up to the Scots.
Clearly, the task looked impossible, but they did it! Three-quarters of the sum was raised in a month, by nobles, merchants, and shopkeepers. Even the poor, subscribed small sums via their towns. In a fever of excitement the whole nation raised the money for Scotland’s colony, though only the directors of the company knew where it was to be.
It was obvious that Paterson would be in charge, but tragically, he was disgraced. Given £25,000 to buy ships in Germany, he sent £17,000 to a banker friend in London, who ran away with it. He was caught and £9,000 was recovered, but Paterson, the most honest man in a corrupt age where everyone had their hands in the till, was held not guilty but responsible. The missing money was to be deducted from his wages – he could bear that – but he had to hand over power to fools who were scandalously to ruin his scheme.
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Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Scotland on Friday, 28 February 2014
This edited article about Walter Scott first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 573 published on 6 January 1973.
The small boy sat in an inglenook by his grandfather’s hearth, hardly daring to move a muscle lest anyone realised he should long since have been in bed. Every now and then a booted figure would kick the logs into a sudden, blazing flurry of sparks and fire, the dogs would yawn and stretch and Walter Scott would be certain he would be discovered. But as so often happened the talk was so enthralling that no one noticed the spellbound boy in the corner. He was drinking in every word, and one day he would tell it all again, to a much wider audience.
Most nights, particularly when there was company, the talk would turn to the feuds and friendships of the Border country. This was where the Scott family had their roots and tales of their own ancestors and neighbouring clans would continue until the embers glowed dimly and the wine was finished. Walter Scott had been born in Edinburgh but a paralysis when very young had left him partly lame and he had been sent here to his grandparents in the Cheviot Hills to recover.
Not only did the wind-blown countryside restore him to health, but it also gave him a love of its history that he never forgot. The desolate Border country had a troubled and a lawless past. For 300 years the English and Scottish fought each other intermittently in this area, and in quieter times local Lords pursued feuds, cattle and sheep rustling were common and the peal of bells was as much a warning as an invitation to church.
Reminders of these grim times still abound. Ruined castles, and solid stone built towers used as strongholds can still be seen everywhere, while barns with eight-foot walls were a necessity if animals and supplies were to be kept safe. All too often a dark night, with the moon shining fitfully through windswept clouds, would find a small raiding party choosing an isolated target. Old scores could be settled, animals stolen, and the morning would see grim-faced defenders swearing revenge as they, too, planned an attack.
Yet there was another side to Border life. The courage and hardiness of the clansmen was matched by their love of poetry and music, and their skill at both. In addition to the stories of daring there were ballads in which love and adventure were nicely mixed. These, too, were remembered by Walter Scott. More than anything else, these childhood experiences shaped the man who was to become the most famous novelist and poet that Scotland has produced.
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Posted in America, Cars, Historical articles, History, Scotland, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about motor racing first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 565 published on 11 November 1972.
Jim Clark’s hands were red and raw and his arms ached with agony.
One thought haunted this Scottish racing motorist as he strained to keep his lead in the American Grand Prix in 1962. Would his gearbox hold out under the abnormal strain of clutchless gear changes at over a hundred miles an hour?
Seconds before, while he was battling to keep his slim lead over Graham Hill’s B.R.M., Clark’s clutch had given way under the terrific hammering it was taking.
The relentless Hill was almost on top of him now. With the end of the race in sight, ominous sounds came from the exhausted gearbox of Clark’s Lotus.
Sensing that defeat was about to overtake him on the brink of victory, Clark willed the engine to stay in one piece. The gearbox did hold out, and Jim Clark won the race just 8.8 seconds ahead of his rival.
Of such stuff are champions made. Clark was to glitter in many more races, and in all he was to win a total of twenty-five Grand Prix events, to become world champion and the fastest motor racing star of his time.
It was a meteoric career that began on a Berwickshire farm when Clark, at the age of nine, decided to ride over the fields in his father’s Austin Seven. An angry father kept Clark out of the driver’s seat until he passed the driving test at the age of seventeen and got a Sunbeam Talbot.
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Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Scotland on Wednesday, 12 February 2014
This edited article about Scotland first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 549 published on 22 July 1972.
James saw Jane Beaufort from his window in the Tower by C L Doughty
With his square jaw jutting, James I strode into the Highlands, determined to put an end to the troubles caused by his nobles. Soon all Scotland was smarting under the blows dealt out by the iron-willed king, as imprisonments and executions were swiftly carried out to punish the wild chieftains
“If God grants me life,” the new King of Scotland said determinedly, “I will make the key keep the Castle, and the brackenbush the cow.”
The listening courtiers well understood these words of James the First. He meant that he was going to keep his unruly nobles under control, and that if they broke the law they would pay for it.
It wasn’t long before Scotland’s wild chieftains felt the force of the King’s words. One day a lord struck another lord in the King’s presence. James commanded the striker to lay his hand on the table, then ordered the noble who had been struck to draw his sword and cut off the hand of the striker.
When a Highland thief stole two cows owned by a poor woman and beat her up, the woman complained to the King. James sent out a posse for the ruffian and when he was caught the King commanded that a picture of his misdemeanour should be painted on the man’s shirt. Then the robber was tied to a horse’s tail, dragged to the gallows and hanged.
It was a wild country that James had come back to rule. At the age of 12, in 1406, he had been captured by the English and brought up virtually a prisoner at the Court of England’s King Henry the Fourth.
Eighteen years were to pass before the English and Scots made a deal that allowed James to return to his kingdom. In those years at the English court he had watched how Henry the Fifth, who had succeeded his father, had suppressed the warring English nobles, and the lesson had gone home in the mind of young James.
He was a superb athlete, stockily built with broad shoulders. He was one of the best wrestlers in Scotland; he could run and ride like the wind and drill a hole through the centre of any target with an arrow from his longbow.
All the qualities of great kingship in the Middle Ages were within James, and for the task he faced he needed them. The country had been ruled in his absence first by the Duke of Albany, then by Albany’s son, Duke Murdoch.
Murdoch had none of his clever father’s attributes and many of the nobles rebelled under his governorship. Soon the Scots were only too pleased to pay £40,000 to the English to get back their King James.
James acted with swift decision. He imprisoned Murdoch, two of his sons, and the Earl of Lennox, Murdoch’s father-in-law. When another son of Murdoch raided the town of Dumbarton, James determined to teach the nobles a lesson – and ordered the execution of the four noble prisoners.
Scotland reeled under the blow. Nothing like it had ever happened before.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Legend, Scotland on Thursday, 6 February 2014
This edited article about the legendary sea serpent first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 546 published on 1 July 1972.
The sea was calm on that day in the June of 1808, when Mr. Maclean, the parish minister of the island of Eigg, took some of his parishioners for a row off the west coast of Scotland. Bent as he was over the oars, the good minister did not have a great deal of time to study the rugged coast which was being admired by his companions. He did, however, have time to notice what appeared to be a rock jutting out of the water, only a short distance away from his boat. Mr Maclean knew these waters well, and he was puzzled. He had never seen this particular rock before. Why then had it suddenly sprouted from the waters almost overnight?
It was at this point that an object reared itself out of the water, and Mr Maclean saw with horror that what he had taken to be a rock, was in fact an enormous sea serpent which was now making its way towards his boat. Fortunately, the minister and his companions were only a short distance from the shore, and he was able to reach it safely before the sea serpent could overtake them. Scrambling on to the beach, Mr Maclean looked briefly over his shoulder in time to catch sight of it lifting its monstrous head again before it disappeared under water.
Later, Mr Maclean gave a graphic description of his pursuer.
“Its head,” he wrote, “was somewhat broad and its form somewhat oval; its neck rather smaller, its shoulders, if I can term them, considerably broader, and thence it tapered to a tail which it kept low in the water. It had no fins, as I could perceive, and seemed to me to move progressively by undulations up and down. I believed it to be between seventy and eighty feet long.”
One may wonder how a man rowing for his very life was able to assimilate all those details. Be that as it may, this was the first time that the sea serpent literally reared its head to the public.
It may be wrong to say that the minister might have been exaggerating, for it has to be said that on that very same day the sea serpent was also seen by no less than the crews of thirteen fishing boats, who, like the minister, made for the shore as fast as they could.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty, Scotland on Thursday, 6 February 2014
This edited article about Lord Lovat first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 545 published on 24 June 1972.
The Man who lumbered heavily up the steps to the scaffold was so grossly fat, that it had been found necessary to summon two warders to help him climb them. But for all that, neither his weight not his great age of eighty had dimmed his wit.
“It seems quite absurd,” he said loudly, “to waste everyone’s time taking off a head that cannot go up three steps without three bodies to support it.”
It was at this moment that a stand bearing a crowd of spectators collapsed, and a number of people were killed, an event which caused the doomed man some malicious amusement. Having mounted the scaffold, he presented his executioner with a purse.
“Here, sir, is ten guineas,” he said. “Pray do your work well, for if you should cut and hack my shoulders and I should be able to rise again, I should be very angry with you.” Asking to see the axe, he felt the edge and added, “But I think it will do well enough.”
A few minutes later the executioner’s axe ended the life of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, a man whose whole life had been devoted to evil. It was a death which was long overdue in more ways than one.
Simon Fraser had been a traitor no less than three times to three different causes. He had changed his religion as easily as he changed his jacket, and he was an irreconcilable enemy of the law. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that at one point in his infamous career, a judge passing sentence on him in his absence had been moved to comment angrily that Fraser deserved to be executed five times in five different places for five different crimes.
Simon Fraser was one of those men who seem to turn naturally towards violence and crime. Soon after he had completed his education at King’s College, Aberdeen, he embarked on a reckless scheme to kidnap the heiress of Lovat, who was already engaged to be married. At the head of a band of ruffians he kidnapped first the bridegroom to be, together with his father. They were then both taken to a gibbet, where Fraser threatened to hang them both if they did not abandon the idea of the proposed marriage. Fearing, with good cause, for their lives, Fraser’s two captives hastily consented.
Fraser then attempted to capture the girl. Finding, however, that she was away in Perth he seized her mother, the dowager Lady Lovat, and forced her to marry him to ensure his own succession to the Lovat estates. A disreputable minister performed the ceremony, while in the next room Simon’s ruffians lustily blew the bagpipes – presumable to drown the dowager’s cries of protest.
All that Fraser achieved by this was to become a hunted man. His forcible abduction of the dowager had so incensed the Lovat family that they began legal proceedings against him. With the forces of the law at his heels, Simon Fraser fled first to his highland stronghold, and then afterwards to France, where the royal Stuart family were living in exile.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Mystery, Royalty, Scotland on Monday, 3 February 2014
This edited article about Scotland first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 538 published on 6 May 1972.
Breathlessly, the Master of Ruthven told king James IV a strange tale – that he had seen a cloaked figure stealing through the night in the streets of Perth, by Ken Petts
They were all there, friends of King James VI, on that morning of 5th August, 1600. John Ramsay, John and George Murray, and John Auchmuty, resplendent in the new green coats which they had bought for the occasion, standing in a group and smiling with amiable condescension at the others who were bustling around the courtyard in nervous anticipation of the King’s arrival. The Earl of Mar and the Duke of Lennox, too, were there, strolling among the yelping hounds which had already been brought out of their kennels in preparation for the hunt.
“The King!” someone shouted suddenly. “The King has arrived.”
Everyone turned towards the main entrance of Falkland House, where James VI now stood leaning on the arm of an attendant. He was smiling, everyone noted with relief, though this was not perhaps so very surprising as the King was never so happy as when he was at Falkland, his beautiful Fifeshire palace, with its deer park and easy access to the old burgh nearby. Here, more than anywhere else, he felt free from the troubles of state.
After the normal courtesies had been obeyed with a number of his guests, the King’s horse was brought forward. It was at this point that most of the guests tactfully looked the other way. James VI suffered from a weakness of the legs and body which sometimes made him no better than a walking invalid. Although this did not stop him from riding, it did mean that it was necessary for him to be hoisted into the saddle and then lashed to his horse. It was perhaps the most dignified way for a king to prepare for the hunt, and his courtiers were therefore always careful to show a complete lack of curiosity whenever this operation was being carried out.
On this occasion, however, the procedure was interrupted by the sudden arrival on horseback of the Master of Ruthven, a man who stood high in the favour of the King. Waving aside his servant, the King beckoned him forward.
Breathlessly, Ruthven told him that he had news which surely would be of great interest to the King. While walking in Perth the previous night he had come upon a cloaked figure stealing through the streets carrying a large pot of gold coins. Challenged by Ruthven, the stranger refused to give an account of how this treasure had come into his possession, whereupon Ruthven had taken him at sword point to Gowrie House, the home of his brother, Lord Gowrie. There he had locked him in a room in an unused part of the house without even informing Gowrie of what he had done. This, Ruthven told the King, because he wished his majesty to have the gold, which had obviously been stolen anyway.
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Posted in Architecture, British Cities, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Scotland on Friday, 31 January 2014
This edited article about Scotland first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 534 published on 8 April 1972.
A picture history of Edinburgh's Royal Mile by Peter Jackson
More than half a million years ago, great glaciers ground and crunched through Europe, scouring away the soil and rocks and leaving behind them, when the weather warmed, floods which smoothed the devastated areas into broad valleys.
One of these valleys lies like a midland girdle across the map of Scotland, studded with huge “bosses” of rock too hard for the ice to shift: the remains of old volcanoes. Once the floods retreated, early men clung to these giant crags. They built fortresses atop them, wattled huts surrounded by rough stone ramparts. In the valleys they hunted, and gathered berries and spring water.
Two of these great mounds dominate the city of Edinburgh. The narrow spiny strip running between them is one of the most historic miles in all Britain: the Royal Mile. If the Thames can fairly be called liquid history, this surely is solid history!
At one end, Castle Rock rears its head, crowned by Queen Margaret’s Chapel and the grim castle itself; at the other, Arthur’s seat, with the skeleton of the ancient Abbey of the Holy Rood, and the palace where David Rizzio, Queen Mary’s secretary, was dragged screaming from her dining-table, blood spurting from his dagger-wounds.
Mary’s unhappy ghost haunts the Royal Mile. At the further end, in the rough security of one of the castle’s tiny rooms, she gave birth to the baby who was to unite three kingdoms for the first time: James VI of Scotland and I of England (“the wisest fool in Christendom”). The castle, too, was her last stronghold; held by her loyal followers for three years when hope was virtually gone.
Scores of times, over the centuries, it was besieged, and stormed. Once the raiding party climbed the rock at black of night, led by a lad who had earlier learned to scale it in the dark to visit his girlfriend!
Edinburgh’s name is popularly believed to have come from King Edwin, the 7th-century King of Northumbria, who certainly needed a strongpoint to dominate the wild northern fringes of his territory. But there are other possibilities. The Gaelic eudin means “a hill-brow.” And it was 400 years after Edwin that the city really entered history, with King Malcolm III, who moved his capital there from Dunfermline. It was Malcolm’s beautiful and saintly Queen Margaret who ordered the building of the sturdy little chapel (the oldest building still standing in the city) on the summit of Castle Rock.
It was Margaret’s pious son, David I, who built the Abbey a mile away. Out hunting one day, he suddenly found himself cornered by a vicious white hart. He was only saved by a mysterious (he believed miraculous) “rude” (cross) which appeared between the beast’s antlers, forcing it back. In gratitude, he founded the Abbey of the Holy Rude in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat. He also granted the Canons of the Abbey the right to establish their own burgh (town) between the Abbey buildings and the burgh of Edinburgh, which had grown up around the castle.
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Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Scotland, War, Weapons on Thursday, 30 January 2014
This edited article about guns first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 533 published on 1 April 1972.
The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 saw the Turks using their great cannon Basilica II (seen bottom left), by Angus McBride
Europe found little peace, even after the end of the 100 Years’ War between England and France. Guns and cannon went on blasting the proud knights of medieval chivalry into oblivion. But in the east there was more than military change – there was military revolution!
It was high-noon on 1st May, 1453 and the merciless Mediterranean sun beat down on the men manning the crumbled walls of Constantinople. Only a quarter of a mile away were the Ottoman Turks with their great guns that blew holes in the city walls every time they hit.
The Turks were due to fire a monstrous weapon named Basilica II at any moment. Everyone on that wall knew just how long it took the enemy to clean, re-sight, re-load and fire their huge guns. But the Greeks and Italian volunteers manning Constantinople’s defences also had cannon. They were few and small, yet at least the defenders could fight back. Giovani Justiniani, an Italian mercenary, commanded this stretch of the wall in the name of Constantine XI, last and most tragic of Constantinople’s emperors. Perhaps others panicked as they saw the Turks make final preparations but Justiniani coolly aimed his own small gun at Basilica II – and fired.
The effect surprised everyone for Justiniani’s bullet slightly dismounted the mighty Turkish cannon, and Basilica II was so big and heavy that it took hours to line up again. Justiniani is said to have fired a culverin on that famous occasion. Some culverins were muzzle loaders, others breech loaders. The breech loading variety must have had a faster rate of fire, for the gunner only had to wedge a ready-loaded spare breech canister into the breech to reload his gun.
While giant guns almost always fired giant bullets, the smaller cannon could hurl a variety of death-dealing missiles. Wall-guns like Justiniani’s culverin were basically designed to break up an enemy assault, so the more bullets that were fired the better. One of the earliest ideas was to pour a nasty mixture called Langridge – old iron, nails, bolts, even flints and gravel – down the barrel of a gun, then blast away in the general direction of the foe.
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