November in Scottish History
- Today in 1695, Scotland made a serious bid to enter the lucrative English sea-trading market. ‘The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies’ issued a subscription list to stockholders in London. Later known as ‘The Darien Company,’ £300.95,000 sterling was quickly raised, but London merchants saw it as a threat to their own East India Company. They put pressure on the King, and the English subscriptions were withdrawn at the behest of their government. Within a year, thanks mainly to the enthusiasm of a misguided company director, Scottish subscriptions brought the capital back up to £400.95,000 sterling, a considerable proportion of Scotland’s entire wealth. This was the beginning of the ill-fated Darien affair: all the capital was spent, as ships and many lives were lost in a series of disastrous expeditions to a malaria-infested colony on the Panama coast.
- Tom Johnston, one of Scotland’s best known Secretaries of State, was born on this day in 1881. Born in Kirkintilloch, Johnston began as a journalist who impressed his contemporaries by organising Keir Hardie’s campaign for the rectorship of Glasgow University. As Secretary of State, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board was his most innovative achievement, and he handled rural Scotland’s resistance and hesitation towards the project intelligently. On leaving politics, he become the Hydro Board’s first head in 1945. Tom Johnston died in 1965.
- On this day in 1698 the Scottish expedition to Darien landed at ‘New Caledonia’. The expedition left Leith on the 12th July 1698, heading for the isthmus of Panama. The enterprise began in 1695 when the Scottish Parliament passed an Act for the establishment of the ‘Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies’. The Company was modelled on the English East India Company, and £400.95,000 capital was rapidly raised for the venture, a considerable proportion of Scotland’s entire wealth. Darien was chosen because of the ease of access to the Americas. The expedition was doomed: malaria was rife on the tropical coast, and the Scots were short of supplies, having no success trading with the Spanish who saw them as a threat. English colonies in the area also refused to help, and hostilities broke out with the Spanish. The badly organised enterprise deteriorated rapidly and ended in disastrous failure with the loss of over 2,000 lives. They abandoned Darien on 12 April 1700, and none of the ships returned to Scotland.
- Today in 1965, the Scottish child pop star Lena Zavaroni was born. She achieved national fame in 1974 when she was discovered on “Opportunity Knocks”. Zararoni’s best known hit was a cover version of “Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me”. However, despite being a household name by the age of 10, she spent the second half of her life in obscurity. She died tragically aged 35 from a chest infection, contracted after undergoing a partial lobotomy in an attempt to cure her of anorexia, an ailment she had suffered from since she was a young girl.
- Today in 1688 William of Orange landed in southwest England. Protestant statesmen had invited William to come to Britain and rule in place of the Catholic James II, ending the persecution of the Covenanters. James fled to France, and the following year William and his wife Mary (the eldest daughter of Charles I) were crowned as joint sovereigns. William’s victory over James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 effectively ended James’ hopes of restoration to the throne, and the Jacobite cause was born. William died in 1702, to be succeeded by his late wife’s sister Anne, with whose death in 1714 the Stewart dynasty ended.
- On this day in 1887 Celtic Football Club was formally constituted in Calton. The club was the brainchild of an energetic Irish priest known as Brother Walfrid who devoted his life to helping the poor. Following the success of Edinburgh’s Hibernian club, it was decided that the poor inhabitants of Glasgow’s East End would benefit from a similar Irish team, and the first Celtic Park was established on a vacant lot next to St Mary’s church.
- Today in 1974 Eric Linklater, the novelist and playright, died.
- Eric Robert Russell Linklater was a Scottish writer, known for more than 20 novels, as well as short stories, travel writing and autobiography, and military history. He was born in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, but was educated in Aberdeen.
- He was brought up principally in Orkney, and identified strongly with the islands. He was initially a medical student and then went into journalism, becoming a full time writer in the 1930s. He stood, unsuccessfully, in the East Fife by-election of 1933 as the National Party of Scotland candidate. Eric’s son, Magnus Linklater (born 1942) is a journalist and former editor of the The Scotsman.
- Today in 1866 Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister, died.
- James Ramsay MacDonald (12 October 1866 – 9 November 1937) was a British politician and three times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Originally a socialist, and from humble origins, he became the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924. His third period as Prime Minister was during the crisis of the Great Depression when he formed a “National Government” in coalition with the Conservatives and was expelled from the Labour Party.
- He passed away while on holiday aboard the ocean liner Reina del Pacifico.
- On this day in 1953 the Royal Yacht ‘Britannia’ left the Clydebank shipyards to begin her speed trials.
- Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia was the 83rd Royal Yacht since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. She is now permanently moored as an exhibition ship at Ocean Terminal, Leith harbour, Edinburgh, Scotland.
- On November 10 1871 the journalist Henry M Stanley found the missing Scottish missionary David Livingstone.
- Today in 1918 was Armistice Day, marking the end of hostilities in World War I
- Though Scots made up only 10% of the UK population at the time, a total of 147,609 Scottish people were killed during the war, a fifth of Britain’s total dead.
- On this day in 1869 Edinburgh University first admitted women to the study of medicine. Sophia Jex-Blake and her friend Edith Pechy were the first to attend the prestigious medical school.
- On this day in 1869 Edinburgh University first admitted women to the study of medicine. Sophia Jex-Blake and her friend Edith Pechy were the first to attend the prestigious medical school. Though Jex-Blake passed her exams, she was not allowed to graduate as regulations prevented women from actually serving on the wards. Petitions to the management failed to convince them to change the rules. Jex-Blake eventually managed to obtain her licence from the Dublin College of Physicians, and devoted her life to promoting the cause of female medicine, together with an active role in the women’s suffrage movement.
- Today in 1770 the adventurer James Bruce reportedly discovered the source of the Nile in north-west Ethiopia. Bruce travelled extensively through north Africa in search of the river’s source, 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 his travels in Africa have since proven largely accurate.
- On this day in 1797 Sir Charles Lyell, the important Scottish geologist, was born. In his seminal work, “Principles of Geology”, he challenged the dominant thinking of the time which was based on the biblical viewpoint. Building on the ideas of James Hutton, by careful observation he concluded that the Earth’s physical features and its inhabitants were the result of continuous physical and chemical processes occurring gradually over long periods of geological time. Lyell’s theory was revolutionary and infuriated the devout majority.
- He later supported Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution.
- On this day in 1996 the Stone of Destiny was finally returned to Scotland. Legend has it that the stone is a relic from the Holy Land and once belonged to the biblical Jacob. Whether this is true is doubtful to say the least, but from an early date the kings of Scotland were inaugurated sitting on a royal chair with the stone in its base. In 1296 Edward I removed the stone and installed it at Westminster Abbey. It remained there until it was kidnapped by Scottish nationalist students in 1951. They managed to hide the stone in Scotland for four months until it was found and returned to Westminster. It was moved from there to Edinburgh Castle in 1996 amid much celebration.
- Today in 1839 William Murdock, the Scottish engineer, died. Murdock invented coal-gas lighting, the first new form of lighting in the industrial age. It remained the principal form of illumination until Edison’s invention of electric lighting 100 years later. He was a close friend and associate of James Watt.
- Today in 1700 James Macpherson, the famous fiddling freebooter, was hanged at Banff. The town clock was said to have been advanced to forestall a messenger carrying a reprieve for his hanging. Legend has it that before the notorious outlaw musician was hanged for sheep and cattle stealing he treated the crowd to one of his own compositions, “Macpherson’s Rant,” and then broke the fiddle over his knee. When Burns heard of the tale he wrote the song “Macpherson’s Farewell”.
- On this day in 1093 St. Margaret of Scotland died. A leading member of the English Anglo-Saxon royal family and Queen Consort of Malcolm III Canmore, King of Scots, it was largely through her influence that the Scottish Celtic Church was brought into conformity with Roman Catholic Europe. Her daughter married Henry I of England and united the old royal line with that of the new Norman dynasty which had been established by William The Conqueror.
- On November 17 1292 John Balliol acceded to Scottish throne. Following the premature death of Margaret, “the Maid of Norway” and heiress to the Scottish crown, thirteen claimants to the throne had appealed to Edward I to choose which of them should be the next Scottish king. On this date, Edward awarded the crown to John Balliol, as he seemed the easiest man to manipulate. Edward’s price for adjudicating was recognition of his overlordship of Scotland. Balliol and the other claimants had agreed to this, but it soon began to cause problems when the scale of the demands became clear. John rebelled and Edward forced him to abdicate. War ensued. Scotland remained without a true king until Robert the Bruce, the grandson of one of Balliol’s rival claimants, took the crown in 1306.
- On this day in 1823 Lord Erskine, the Lord Chancellor, died. During his lifetime he became Britain’s foremost advocate through his defence of people accused of treason and corruption. His defence of Thomas Paine, accused of high treason for his Republican treatise ‘The Rights of Man’, cost him his position as Attorney General to the Prince of Wales. Later, Erskine totally alientated George IV by defending Queen Caroline against her husband’s attempt to deprive her of her rights and title.
- Today in 1785 Sir David Wilkie, the Scottish painter, was born. Son of the minister in the parish of Cults in Fife, Wilkie’s talent was precocious: the self-portrait opposite was painted when he was only 20, and indeed by the early age of 19 he had produced one of his most famous works, ‘Pitlessie Fair’. He sketched the faces of his Fife neighbours during church services to use in this work, and the accuracy of detail of real-life characters was a trait for which Wilkie was renowned. He became one of the most sought-after society portrait painters of his day. His detailed paintings of events mean that his pictures are often used for historic illustrations, most notably his painting of John Knox preaching in the pulpit.
- On 18 November 1998 Robin Hall, the Scottish folk singer and musician, died. Hall achieved national fame in the sixties along with fellow Scot, Jimmie Macgregor, on the BBC TV show, ‘Tonight’. Hits included ‘The Mingulay Boat Song’ and schoolboy favourite, ‘Ye Cannae Shove Yer Grannie Aff a Bus’.
- On this day in 1976 Sir Basil Spence, Scottish architect, died. Basil Spence is arguably the most internationally renowned 20th-century British architect, known principally for his breathtaking work rebuilding Coventry Cathedral. Born in India, he was the son of an Orcadian and was sent home to have his schooling at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh. Spence was an eclectic architect whose work ranged from vernacular-styled fisherman’s dwellings in Dunbar to opulent traditional country houses to ultra-modern pieces like the Edinburgh University library. He has been compared to Robert Adam by some for his detailed attention to interiors.
- On 20 November 1863 James Bruce, 8th Lord Elgin, the Scottish Liberal statesman and diplomat, died. During his career he served as Governor-General of Canada, 1847-54, and India, 1862-63 and was special envoy to China and Japan. During a visit to China he burnt down the emperor’s famous Summer Palace in Beijing, destroying thousands of priceless works of art, in order to intimidate the emperor and force him to sign an unratified treaty.
- On 20 November 1776 William Blackwood, the noted Scottish publisher and bookseller was born. He was the founder of the firm of ‘William Blackwood & Sons Ltd’, and also published the conservative satirical periodical, ‘Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine’.
- On November 21 1835 James Hogg, the poet known as the Ettrick shepherd, died in Ettrick. Hogg is primarily known today not only as the author of a series of pastoral poems, but also as the writer of the novel, ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, widely regarded as the first piece of modern Scottish fiction. A contrary figure in real life, Hogg almost bankrupted himself in attempts to be a successful shepherd – leading to his literary friends dubbing him “the Ettrick Shepherd”.
- On this day in 1880 Sir Alexander Cockburn, the celebrated Scottish jurist, died. Cockburn served as Lord Chancellor of England & Wales between 1874 and 1880. Although he had filled the position since 1859, he was the first person to be legally defined so. His definition of obscenity was used by the British and American legal systems until 1933, when it was rejected in America in a case involving the James Joyce’ novel, ‘Ulysses’. He also gave a landmark ruling on the definition of criminal insanity.
- On November 22 1515 Mary of Guise, the French Queen Consort of James V, was born. She was an astute and capable stateswoman who was regent of Scotland during the minority reign of her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. However, in spite of being a member of the de Guise family, the champions of Roman Catholicism in France during the French wars of religion, she was unable to stop the Scottish Protestant Reformation, which began during her reign.
- 22 November 1926 saw the publication of “A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle” by Hugh MacDiarmid, Scotland’s Greatest Twentieth Century poet. MacDiarmid was the principal character in the forming of the Scottish Renaissance of the inter-war years and a founder member of the National Party of Scotland.
- On this day in 1909 the historical novelist, Nigel Tranter, was born in Glasgow. Tranter is known as the most prolific Scottish writer of all time, leaving five books written but not yet published at his death. His novels were all based around Scottish history, and many Scots felt that their first introduction to their own history came through these books.
- On November 23 1844 Thomas Henderson, the famous Scottish astronomer, died. Henderson was the first person to measure the parallax, or distance, of a star (alpha centauri), from the Earth, and from the Sun. Henderson went on to become the first Astronomer Royal of Scotland.
- On 24 November 1996 Sorley MacLean, the noted Scottish poet, died. MacLean is widely regarded as the greatest Gaelic poet of the Twentieth Century, and he is to be credited with giving a new literary standing to a language which at times seemed close to extinction. Works include ‘Dain do Eimhir agus Dain Eile’ (Poems to Eimhir and Other Poems), a selection of mainly love poems written after MacLean returned from service in North Africa in 1943.
- On November 24 1572, John Knox, the leading light of the Scottish Reformation, died. Knox had been taught by Calvin in Switzerland and was a fierce champion of Presbyterianism. It was Knox’s sermon at St John’s Kirk in Perth that set the fire of the Reformation ablaze in Scotland, and also led to the iconoclasm that destroyed much of the nation’s artistic heritage.
- November 24 1542 saw the Scots army defeated at the Rout of Solway Moss. King James V had sent a huge force of 10,000 men into England which was defeated by an English force under the command of Sir Thomas Wharton. James died shortly afterward, and was succeeded to the throne by his baby daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.
- On November 25 1835 the steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, was born in Dunfermline. Carnegie’s family emigrated to America when he was still a child, and after a succession of jobs working on the burgeoning raliways there, he became convinced that steel would be where his fortune was to be made. Deeply affected by the deaths of striking workers at one of his steel mills, Carnegie became convinced that he should use his wealth for the benefit of others. By the time of his death in 1919 he had given away over 350 million dollars.
- On this day in 1897, Helen Duncan, the noted Scottish medium, was born in Callander. In 1944, she became last person in the UK to be tried, convicted and imprisoned under the 1735 Witchcraft Act. While in prison she was visited by Winston Churchill, who repealed this law on his return to power in 1951.
- On this day in 1836 John McAdam, the inventor of the “tar macadam” road surface, died. Although born in Ayrshire, McAdam had been a colonist in America, but returned after the American War of Independence, having supported the Crown. As a Deputy-Lieutenant in Ayrshire, he despaired at the condition of the roads, and began experimenting with different methods of road surfacing. He finally settled on a technique of using layers of crushed stone, getting smaller towards the top, which compacted under the weight of vehicles, creating a solid durable road surface.
- On 26 November 1917 Elsie Inglis, the Scottish nursing pioneer and suffragette, died. Inglis is perhaps best remembered for her role in the First World War, where, convinced that women could play an active role in the conflict, she led volunteer medical units of women who served in France and in Serbia, where Inglis herself was taken prisoner. Winston Churchill wrote that Inglis and her nurses “would shine in history”.
- On November 27 1996 the first deaths from an E.coli outbreak in Lanarkshire were reported. The outbreak was subsequently traced back to a butcher’s shop in the town of Wishaw, and by early 1997 twenty people, mostly senior citizens, had died, making this the world’s worst outbreak of E.coli poisoning.
- On 28 November 1930 W.Oliver Brown, the candidate for the fledgling National Party of Scotland, polled 4,818 votes in the Renfrew East By-Election. In doing this he became the first NPS candidate to save his election deposit. The National Party of Scotland amalgamated with the Scottish Party in April 1934 to form the modern Scottish National Party.
- On this day in 1666 the King’s army defeated Covenanting forces at the Battle of Rullion Green in the Pentlands. This battle was the conclusion of the Pentland rising which began in Galloway and led to a march on Edinburgh, which reached as far as Colinton before news of stiff defences in the city led to a withdrawal.
- On November 29 1489 Margaret Tudor, English princess and Queen of James IV was born. The daughter of Henry VII of England, she became the wife of James in a political marriage known as the “Union of the Thistle and the Rose”. It was through her bloodline that King James VI of Scotland was able to base his claim to the English crown on the death of his cousin, Elizabeth I.
- On November 30 1292 John Balliol was crowned King of Scotland. Balliol was the King to be crowned on the Stone of Destiny. Known as ‘Toom Tabard’, meaning empty coat, Balliol was seen as a puppet of Edward I of England. Edward had been chosen as an independent judge to select the new Scots king after the death of Alexander III. However, he chose Balliol in the belief that he would be most pliable in his attempts at gaining overlordship of Scotland.
- On this day in 1923, John Maclean, the Marxist political activist died. Maclean was a prominent Red Clydesider, serving six months in prison for his beliefs, and was appointed the official Bolshevik consul for Scotland by Lenin.
- Today in 1872 saw the world’s first international football match, between Scotland and England played at West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Glasgow. Four England v Scotland matches had already been played at the Oval, Kennington. However, they had been played by Scots resident in London, and as such were not regarded as official. The final score was 0-0.
And so ends November in Scottish History