December in Scottish History

December 1st

  • On this day in 1787, the first modern lighthouse in Scotland was lit at Fraserburgh. Built by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson at Kinnaird Head, the lighthouse was built on top of a 16th-century castle, and is now Scotland’s Lighthouse Museum.

December 2nd

  • Mary Slessor, the Scottish missionary, was born on this day in 1848 in Aberdeen. The family moved to Dundee where Mary, the daughter of a shoemaker, found work in the jute mills at the age of 11. Having brought up her siblings following her father’s premature death, Slessor applied to the Foreign Mission Board of the United Presbyterian Church for a posting to West Africa. Slessor’s work as a missionary in Nigeria took her remote regions unvisited by white men. Horrified at the ritual slaughter of babies by the indigenous people, Slessor adopted many children. She herself was eventually adopted by the local tribe, who called her “ma”, and protected her from the pitfalls of jungle life.

December 3rd

  • Robert Louis Stevenson died in Samoa on this day in 1894. The Scottish novelist, poet and traveller Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850. After considering professions in law and engineering, he pursued his interest in writing. A prolific literary career ensued, which included ‘Treasure Island’ (1883), ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ (1886) and ‘Kidnapped’ (1886). Stevenson travelled extensively to America and the South Seas, settling in Samoa in 1890, and getting involved in life and politics there. In the tropical climate, his imagination turned to Edinburgh, and he wrote ‘Catriona’(1893), a sequel to ‘Kidnapped’. At his death he left an unfinished masterpiece ‘Weir of Hermiston’, set in 19th-century Edinburgh and the Lammermuirs.

December 4th

  • Today in 1795 saw the birth of Thomas Carlyle, the leading Victorian intellectual, in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire. Educated at Edinburgh University, Carlyle hoped to enter the ministry, but lost faith in the foundations of Christianity and trained as a mathematics teacher instead. His love of German literature led to his translations of Goethe, Hoffmann, and Tieck, which are now regarded as masterpieces. Carlyle’s work is difficult to categorise; he was neither a philosopher, poet nor novelist, and more than a critic. His work ‘The French Revolution’ presents historical facts, but also sets out to question the nature of the facts historians deal with. Carlyle was influential in the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1856, and he died just too early to witness the inauguration of the similar institution, a Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which he had firmly advocated.
  • This day in 1649 witnessed the death of the Scottish poet, William Drummond. Born in Hawthornden, Midlothian, the son of a courtier to James VI of Scotland, the Edinburgh-educated Drummond was one of the first notable Scots poets to write exclusively in English. His works include the elegy, ‘Tears on the Death of Meliades’, and the poem, ‘Forth Feasting’ (1617). In addition to his poetry, he wrote the posthumously published ‘History of Scotland 1423 – 1524′ (1655). The major Scottish poet of the later Renaissance, critics are divided on the extent to which he can be viewed as a “Scottish” writer, as his works belongs to the English tradition of Spenser and Drayton in their use of sonnets and madrigals.
  • On this day in 1423, the Treaty of London provided for the release of James I from English captivity. The terms agreed in London for the release of James I from his 18-year captivity in England included a ransom of £40.95,000 paid in six annual instalments, the provision of 21 hostages as security and an undertaking that the Scots would give no further assistance to the French army until James’s obligation were met in full.

December 5th

  • On this day in 1560 King Francis II of France, the husband of Mary Queen of Scots, died. Francis was the Dauphin of France – the eldest son of the king and heir to the throne. He married Mary, Queen of Scots in 1558 when she was 14. She secretly agreed that should she die without any heirs, Scotland would fall to the French Crown. The Scots were worried that the Catholic Francis might eventually become King of Scotland. Francis succeeded to the French throne in July 1559 but died of an ear infection on 6 December 1560, the monarchy falling to his mother Catherine de Medici.

December 6th

  • Today in 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stewart and the Jacobite Army began their retreat from Derby. After a decisive victory in the ’45 campaign at the Battle of Prestonpans, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ reached Derby on the 4th December. With the Jacobites’ arrival only 150 miles north of London, there was widespread panic. However, with the promised French and Spanish invasion of England conspicously absent and with limited support from the English Jacobites, a reluctant Charles was forced to heed his advisers and withdraw from Derby only two days later.

December 7th

  • St. Columba was born in Donegal, Ireland on this day in 521AD. Also known as Colum-Cille, an aristocratically-born Columba was banished to Scotland, following battles over monastic possessions. In 563, with 12 companions, he established a monastery on Iona, possibly on the site of an existing church. Columba is credited with converting King Bridei , the leader of the Picts in Scotland, to Christianity. Columba died on Iona in 597 A.D, and his biography by Adamnan is a main source of information for the period and in describing the Christianisation of northern Scotland.
  • Today in 1545 saw the birth of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, the Anglo-Scottish aristocrat and second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary marrried Henry, her first cousin, on the 29 July 1565, to be the uncrowned ‘King Henry’. The marriage ceremony was a Roman Catholic one, although Darnley professed to be Protestant. After the ceremony, Darnley managed to alienate and antagonise the Scottish nobility, become estranged from his wife, and meet a violent death. Darnley was the second husband of Mary and father of King James VI of Scotland and James I of England. He was assassinated in February 1567 by person unknown, although Mary’s third husband James, Lord Bothwell, was seriously implicated in the murder.

December 8th

  • On this day Mary, Queen of Scots, was born at Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian in 1542. The only surviving child of James V and Mary of Guise, Mary ascended to the Scottish throne following her father’s death when she was only six days old. Mary was next in line to the English throne, following Henry VIII’s children, as the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England. The infant Mary was betrothed to the six-year-old Edward in 1543, but within a year, the vacillating Scots parliament had reneged on the agreement and taken the young Mary to Stirling Castle. The Scots wanted to return to the traditional alliance with France. Hence began the series of savage attacks on Scotland known as ‘The Rough Wooing’, which saw the Borders being ravaged and the Abbey of Holyroodhouse being set fire to.The Scots whisked Mary off to France in 1548, after arranging her betrothal to the French Dauphin.
  • On this day in 1174, William I ‘the Lion‘ was released under the terms of the Treaty of Falaise, following a five-month imprisonment after invading Northumberland. William was forced to surrender Stirling and Edinburgh Castles to Henry II, whom he agreed to accept as his feudal overlord as part of the treaty’s terms. William is credited with adopting the Lion Rampant as the Royal Emblem of Scotland, hence his nickname.

December 9th

  • This day in 1165 saw the death of Malcolm IV, King of Scotland. The eldest son of David I, Malcolm had been King since 1153, when he succeeded his grandfather at the age of 12. The accession of a boy king led to upheavals in the kingdom, and the resurfacing of old enmities; from rebellions in Moray and Galloway, to Henry II of England deciding to reclaim the English counties of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmoreland. Nicknamed ‘the Maiden’ because of his youth and unmarried status, Malcolm died at Jedburgh, aged 23, and was succeeded by his younger brother William I, ‘the Lion’.

December 10th

  • 10 December 1747 saw the death of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President of the Court of Session. As a prominent Whig, like many Scots Forbes supported the Hanoverian cause and used his influence to dissuade a number of clans from joining the Jacobites. In this sense he was at least partly responsible for the failure of the Jacobite Rising. However Forbes was a fair-minded man who tried his best to mitigate the terrible reprisals following the Battle of Culloden.

December 11th

  • On December 11 1710, William Cullen, the first professor of chemistry at Glasgow University, was born. Cullen was keen to maintain the link between chemistry and medicine, and on his move to the University of Edinburgh he gave lectures on clinical medicine at the Royal Infirmary. He also published the first modern Pharmacopia in 1776, and he remained an important member of Edinburgh society throughout the Enlightenment period. Cullen’s pupils included Joseph Black, perhaps the greatest chemist of the era.
  • On 11 December 1928 Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish designer and architect, died. Although in his lifetime Mackintosh was more feted on the continent than in his native land, he did achieve success with the firm of Honeyman and Keppie for most of his career, and some of his greatest works include the House for an Art Lover, the Scotland Street School, and the Glasgow School of Art.

December 12th

  • On this day in 1574, Anne of Denmark, the wife of King James VI, was born. Anne and James were a devoted couple, despite James’ attachments to men. They had married by proxy in Oslo in 1589 and had a total of eight children together. Anne was very fond of the entertainment at court, particularly masked balls in which she was often a keen participant. Her husband was to outlive her by six years after her death in 1619.

December 13th

  • Today in 1585 saw the birth of William Drummond of Hawthornden, the noted Scottish poet. Drummond was one of the first notable Scots poets to write exclusively in English after the Union of the Crowns in 1603. He became a close friend of the English playwright, Ben Johnson, who visited him at Hawthornden, in Midlothian. His works include the elegy, ‘Tears on the death of Meliades’, and the poem, ‘Forth Feasting’. Drummond also wrote critically of the Covenanters.
  • 13 December 1911 saw the death of Thomas Glover, an industrial pioneer in Japan. Born in Fraserburgh, Glover is little known in his native land, but is considered a national hero in Japan. He played a major role in dragging the country into the modern world, bringing the first steam train to Japan, and creating the huge shipyard in Nagasaki which would eventually form the bedrock of the giant Mitsubishi Corporation.

December 14th

  • On this day in 1730, James Bruce, the Scottish explorer, was born. Bruce travelled extensively through north Africa in search of the source of the Nile, even becoming a respected friend of the Abyssinian royal family, and in 1790 he published a lengthy account of his travels. Due to a self-confidence bordering on arrogance he made many enemies, notably Samuel Johnson, who criticised his writings and cast doubt on their veracity. Very little was known about Africa at the time, and this lent credence to the claims that Bruce had embellished his account. Although he turned out to be mistaken about the source of the Nile, the descriptions of Bruce’s travels in Africa have since proven largely accurate.
  • On the 14 December 1542, James V died at the age of 30. The monarch’s death left the crown to his six-day-old daughter Mary. After a succession of regents, power passed to James’ widow, Mary of Guise, who was to be the champion of the Catholic cause during the Reformation period.

December 15th

  • The Zoological Society of Glasgow was founded on this day in 1936. The Society was formed with the aim of establishing a zoo within the city of Glasgow. Initial plans were for this to form one of the attractions of the 1938 Empire Exhibition. However, this proposal was rejected by the exhibition organisers and so the society had to look further afield for locations. Calderpark was identified as a suitable location and, although the Second World War postponed developments for several years, the zoo was finally opened in July 1947.
  • On 15 December 1951 the Scotland striker Joe Jordan was born. At Hampden in 1973, Jordan came on as a second-half substitute and scored the winning goal in Scotland’s 2-1 defeat of Czechoslovakia, allowing Scotland to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

December 16th

  • On this day in 1653 Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. Cromwell was the only invader of Scotland to conquer the whole country.
  • Today in 1263 the Norwegian king, Haakon the Old, died in the Bishop’s Palace, Kirkwall, Orkney. He had used Kirkwall as a base for his fruitless attempt to maintain Norse rule over the Western Isles. After a crushing defeat at the Battle of Largs on October 2 1263, Haakon’s battered fleet returned to Kirkwall where the King, dispirited and fatigued, fell ill and died in the early hours of the morning of the 16th.

December 17th

  • On December 17 1907 the great scientist William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, died. Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1846-1899, he was one of the greatest scientists of his day. As well as being instrumental in the invention of the telegraph machine, Thomson proposed the absolute scale of temperature now known as the Kelvin scale and also established the second law of thermodynamics.

December 18th

  • Today in 1745 the last battle ever fought on English soil occurred. The skirmish took place at Clifton between retreating Jacobite troops on their way back to Scotland under the command of Lord George Murray, and Hanoverian forces under General Bland. The Jacobites were triumphant.
  • On 18 December 1661 the ship “Elizabeth”, of Burntisland, was lost off the English coast. Among the cargo lost were the Scottish records being returned from London. The archives had been removed to London on the instructions of Oliver Cromwell.

December 19th

  • On this day in 1887 Balfour Stewart, the Scottish meteorologist and geophysicist, died. He was noted for his studies of terrestrial magnetism, and his research on radiant heat contributed to the foundation of spectrum analysis: he made the important discovery that objects radiate and absorb energy of the same wavelength. In 1887, Stewart suffered a stroke while crossing to spend Christmas at his estate in Ireland and died soon after at the age of 59.

December 20th

  • Today in 1933 the entertainer Andy Stewart was born in Glasgow. Stewart is perhaps best known for his STV show, ‘The White Heather Club’, which began in 1960, and his songs “Ye canna shuv yer granny off a bus” and “Donald where’s yer troosers”. He died in 1993.

December 21st

  • On this day in 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie. All of the 259 crew and passengers on board died, when a bomb exploded. 11 townspeople died when burning wreckage from the fully fuel-laden plane crashed into the town. It took 10 years to bring the Libyans accused of the atrocity to trial. They were tried in a Scottish court, set up in a specially constructed facility, at a Dutch air base.
  • Today in 1805 Thomas Graham was born in Glasgow. One of the founders of modern physical chemistry, Graham is often considered the father of colloid chemistry thanks to his work on permeable membranes, for which he coined the term ‘dialysis,’ and he is known for Graham’s Law describing the diffusion of gases. His statue stands in Glasgow’s George Square.

December 22nd

  • Today in 1715 James Francis Stewart, ‘The Old Pretender,’ landed in Scotland from France. Many Scots considered him the rightful heir to the throne. Louis XIV of France promised to recognise him as James VIII of Britain, but in 1713, Louis made peace with Britain and James was forced to leave France and settle in Rome. Stewart joined the Earl of Mar’s Jacobite uprising of 1715, but was unsuccessful and was forced to flee abroad after only a few weeks. His son Charles, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, led the 1745 rebellion.
  • On this day in 1820 the convicted leaders of the Radical revolt set sail to Australia on the convict ship Speke. Only one, Andrew White, returned to Scotland when pardoned. The leaders of the revolt had been protesting against poor conditions for weavers, and were sold out by government agents, which resulted in the capture of the rising’s leaders in a skirmish at Bonnymuir. Those who refused to plead guilty to treason were executed, and the remainder were sentenced to transportation.

December 23rd

  • On this day in 2000, the legendary band leader and accordionist, Jimmy Shand, died. Born in the Fife mining village of East Wemyss, he worked the pit as a youngster, but his outstanding musical talent, evident at mining dances and busking trips to Dundee, soon allowed him to become a professional musician. Shand’s recordings are famous throughout the world due to his distinctive playing style on the button accordion, which inspired a generation of younger players. His band gained great notoriety as the house band first on BBC radio, and later, with the advent of television, on ‘The White Heather Club’. Jimmy died in Auchtermuchty where they erected a statue in his honour.
  • Today in 1682 James Gibbs, the Scottish architect, was born. Famous commissions included the London churches of St.Martin-in-the-Fields, and St.Mary-le-Strand. He was the author of ‘A Book of Architecture’, which in the 18th century was the most widely used reference and pattern book in Britain and its colonies.

December 24th

  • On this day in 1165 William I, “The Lion,” was crowned at Scone. He was known as ‘The Lion’ because of his standard, a red lion rampant on a yellow background, which remains Scotland’s royal standard today. His 50-year reign was initially marked by conflicts with Henry II of England, during which William was captured and had to pay homage to Henry in exchange for his release, and sign the humiliating Treaty of Falaise. The Scottish subjects were taxed heavily to cover the cost of the English forces’ occupation of their country. 15 years later Richard I, seeking funds for his crusades, released Scotland from this treaty in exchange for a huge sum of money.

December 25th

  • On Christmas Day in 1950 four young Scots retrieved the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey. Used as the coronation stone of the Scottish kings from the 10th century, and supposedly a relic from biblical times, the stone was taken to England by Edward I as a symbol of his overlordship. A group of four Nationalist students removed it and took it north of the border in a Ford Anglia. It remained hidden until they placed it in Arbroath Abbey in April 1951, where it was discovered and returned to England. In 1996 the stone was placed in Edinburgh Castle amid much ceremony on St. Andrew’s Day.
  • Today in 1745 the Jacobite army reached Glasgow. The military campaign to return a Catholic Stewart king to the throne in place of the Hanoverian Protestant King William III was initially very successful. After winning a series of battles they marched south, getting as far as Derby. The army was tired from the long march, and Prince Charles’ tacticians were determined that it would be a mistake to attack London, so they instead turned back north, against the wishes of the prince, reaching Glasgow on Christmas Day.

December 26th

  • Today in 1251 Alexander III, the King of Scots, was married to Margaret, the daughter of Henry III, King of England, in York. King Henry demanded Alexander pay homage after his marriage, but he refused. Margaret provided him with three heirs, but she died young. All three of Alexander’s children also pre-deceased him, and it was agreed that his grand-daughter Margaret, the ‘Maid of Norway’, would succeed him. He married again, seeking a male heir, through whom succession would be more sure. Alexander himself died young when he fell from a horse at Kinghorn in Fife. His grand-daughter, Margaret, died at sea on her way to claim the throne. Scotland was then left heirless, ultimately resulting in years of bloodshed at the hands of Edward I.

December 27th

  • On this day in 1904 J M Barrie’s play “Peter Pan” premiered at the Duke of York Theatre, London. Barrie was born in Kirriemuir. Though he first gained recognition as a writer of novels set in rural Scotland, it is as a playwright that he has become a household name with his timeless creation, Peter Pan. There has been a century of speculation about the motives of the man who created an imaginary world where children never grew up, and who perhaps never truly grew up himself, yet there is no doubt about the imaginitive force of this story which has delighted generations of children and adults alike.
  • On this day in 1647 King Charles I, imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle, reached an agreement with the Scots. In exchange for military allegiance in the English Civil War, he promised to establish Presbyterianism in England – but only for three years.

December 28th

  • Today in 1879 the Tay Bridge disaster occurred. 75 passengers were killed when the structure collapsed under a train during a storm. The subsequent inquiry found that the bridge’s designer, Thomas Bouch, had not made sufficient allowance for wind pressure and that the contractor had used imperfect metal castings. Bouch was widely blamed for the tragedy and died of ill health brought on by his ordeal shortly thereafter. The foundations of the collapsed bridge can still be seen today as one crosses the Tay on its replacement.
  • On this day in 1734 Scotland’s famous outlaw, Rob ‘Roy’ MacGregor, died. He was immortalised in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, ‘Rob Roy,’ and though the dramatic licence employed by Scott was considerable, MacGregor’s life story is fascinating. Born in the Trossachs, he was a successful soldier from an early age. After a loan repayment to the Duke of Montrose was apparently stolen, a warrant was issued for his arrest. When his wife and children were evicted by the Duke’s factor MacGregor began a campaign of violence and robbery against Montrose’s property, supported by the Duke of Argyll. Rob Roy Many adventures ensued, most famously his daring escape from the back of a horse, when he cut his bonds and leaped into the river Forth. He was eventually captured and sentenced to transportation, but he even managed to escape that when he received a pardon at the last minute.

December 29th

  • Today in 1766 saw the birth of Charles Macintosh, the inventor of waterproof clothing. Macintosh was born in Glasgow, where he was first employed as a clerk. He devoted all his spare time to science, particularly chemistry, and before he was twenty resigned his clerkship to take up the manufacture of chemicals. In this he was highly successful, inventing various new processes. His experiments with one of the by-products of tar, naphtha, led to his invention of waterproof fabrics, the essence of his patent being the cementing of two thicknesses of India-rubber together, the India-rubber being made soluble by the action of the naphtha. For his various chemical discoveries he was, in 1823, elected a fellow of the Royal Society.
  • On this day in 1809 William Ewart Gladstone, the British Prime Minister, was born. He was a notable political reformer, known for his populist speeches, and was for many years the main political rival of Benjamin Disraeli.
  • Gladstone was famously at odds with Queen Victoria for much of his career. She once complained “He always addresses me as if I were a public meeting.” Gladstone was known affectionately by his supporters as the “Grand Old Man” (Disraeli is said to have remarked that GOM should have stood for God’s Only Mistake) or “The People’s William.” He is still regarded as one of the greatest British prime ministers, with Winston Churchill and others citing Gladstone as their inspiration.

December 30th

  • On this day in 1899 Rangers played their first match at the new Ibrox stadium. The match was a 3-1 victory over Hearts in the Inter-City League. Within months the stadium included two covered stands and had a capacity of 75,000.
  • Today in 1899 the Albion Motor Company was established. At first the firm made motor cars and commercial vehicles, but from 1913 concentrated on the latter. During World War I the premises were enlarged to produce military vehicles. The firm amalgamated with Leyland Ltd in 1951, and the works continued to make complete vehicles until the 1970s.

December 31st

  • Today in 1720 Prince Charles Edward Stewart, The Young Pretender, was born in Rome. Known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, after the Gaelic pronunciation of his name, he led the 1745 Jacobite attempt to overthrow the Hanoverian monarchy. Charles was raised to believe he was the rightful heir to the throne, and French military support lent credence to his claim. Though many Scots were reluctant to join him, he eventually managed to raise an army which was initially quite successful, taking Edinburgh easily and defeating government troops at Prestonpans. However his youthful self-confidence, though infectious, led to some foolish military decisions at Culloden where the Jacobite forces were utterly destroyed. Charles managed to escape the ensuing massacre thanks to the assistance of a network of Highland supporters who hid him and eventually smuggled him to France. He spent the rest of his days in Rome and died a fat and bitter man.
  • Today in 1929 72 people died in Paisley at the Glen Cinema fire. 750 boys and girls were enjoying the Hogmanay special matinee when fire broke out in the projection room. Thick smoke and fumes billowed into the cinema, and the fire officers and other rescuers had to make masks out of what was to hand.

And so ends December in Scottish History