Scotland: The Land of the Leal

Above: Kilchurn Castle, Scotland. Photo by Connor Mollison on Unsplash

Journey through the Three Kingdoms, pt. I: Ireland

Journey through the Three Kingdoms, pt. II: England

Journey through
the Three Kingdoms, pt. III:

As with Ireland and England, Scotland too has a huge hold on the imagination of the whole Anglosphere, albeit somewhat different to that of her two sister Kingdoms. Ireland, apart from its role in the origins of Catholicism in the settler countries, is identified with genial song and drinking on the one hand, and endless and nasty sectarian strife on the other. England, apart from being the cradle of the language, has that mysterious bifurcation which both attracts and repels her children overseas. Scotland has a bit of both – which, given the roles both Irish Gaels and Northumbrian Anglo-Saxons played in her origins, makes sense. But beyond that, she has a nous of her own – a reputation for bravery, loyalty, and courage. The Scots too have their songs and whiskey, and their split between Presbyterians on the one hand, and Catholics and Anglicans on the other. Cutting across those divisions are the ones made by geography: the Border country (with England); the Lowlands; the Highlands; and the Islands. Each has their own songs and stories, their own customs, and their own atmosphere. The quirks of Scottish history are such that there are both more Catholics of Scots descent and more native speakers of Scottish Gaelic in Canada than in Scotland (although the two groups are not synonymous, and there are deadly Calvinist Gaelic-speaking communities).

But again, it is not by mistake that Scots in the Anglosphere are renowned for martial glory. This is why there are Scots regiments not only in the British Army, but in the Canadian, Australian, New Zealander, and South African ones as well – there are even a couple (in terms of origin, at least) tucked away here and there in the United States National Guard. The kilt, the bagpipes, the bonnet, the tam o’shanter – all are as familiar to the popular mind as advertising Scotch Whiskey itself. Clan Societies are to be found throughout North America, Australasia, and South Africa uniting Scotia’s families with one another – and St. Andrew’s Societies are seemingly there and everywhere else. Wherever Scots or their descendants may be found, late November will see St. Andrew’s Dinners, and late January, Burns Suppers. When I was a boy, one Scotch advertisement featured – in chronological order, you’ll notice – the great Scots heroes: Sir William Wallace; King Robert the Bruce; Mary Queen of Scots; Bonnie Prince Charlie; Robert Burns; Sir Walter Scott; and Robert Louis Stevenson. Three were warriors; three were writers; and one was a heroine – there you have the Scottish character on one liquor label!

Brought up reading the three writers on the liquor list, I have always loved Scotland – the more so because my French-Canadian father, like so many of our nationality – had a trace of Scots blood, and was quite the Jacobite. Our forebear, Laughlin MacKinnon, was born on the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides in 1725. With the rest of his clan, he was out in the 1745 rising.

“Gentlemen,” he cried, drawing his sword, “I have thrown away the scabbard!” (1907 illustration of Bonnie Prince Charlie)

The MacKinnons marched all the way to Derby with the Prince (I saw their southernmost spot when in England), and would gladly have marched on to Oxford and London – none of their number deserted in England, unlike some other clansmen. Unfortunately for all of the Three Kingdoms, cooler heads prevailed. The retreat began, ending in the horrible defeat of Culloden. Laughlin was at the battle, but unlike his two brothers, he survived. In 1772, he and his wife Catharine MacDonald made their way to Canada, ending up at Matane, Quebec, where he died in 1835 – surely one of the last survivors on either side of that terrible battle. His daughter Genevieve married a French Canadian, and – well, I’m one of the very many results!

Alas, I have not seen much of Scotland. The Border, with its fascinating array of ballads and ruined towers has so far always simply been something to be passed through on the train. Nor do I know the Lowlands south of Edinburgh very well, which is a pity. I would love to see, among many other things, Abbotsford, Sir Walter’s Scott’s baronial home; his daughter converted, and his descendants have been Catholic ever since. I have, however, been to Traquair House, home of the Catholic Maxwell-Stuart family. Not only have they kept the Faith, the main gates have been locked since Bonnie Prince Charlie rode through them – and shall remain so, unless and until his rightful heir should come. Even Queen Victoria was refused entrance through them, and sportingly entered through a side gate despite the affront – which speaks very well for Her Majesty’s spirit!

Edinburgh is the city I know best in Scotland, and there is much to see in the northern capital. The Royal Mile stretches between Holyroodhouse Palace and Edinburgh Castle. If you’ll start at the former, a tour is an absolute must. The palace is filled with memories of Mary Queen of Scots, who is, after all, a Servant of God, for all that her cause is sitting in stasis.

Mary, Queen of Scots with husband Francis II (King of France) in Catherine de’ Medici’s book of hours, c. 1574.

That she died for the Faith cannot be denied; how wise her actions were may be open to debate, but her devotion to the True Church is not. It is also where Bonnie Prince Charlie held court during the palmy early days of the 1745 rebellion, when victory seemed in sight. Towering over it is the great hill called Arthur’s Seat, a reminder that he is never far from the memory of the legendary King of the Britons wherever one goes in his isle.

Holyrood Palace

Next to the Palace are the ruins of Holy Rood Abbey, from which the Palace was named. It was an Abbey of the Canons Regular, founded in the time of Queen St. Margaret of Scotland to hold the Black Rood of Scotland, a relic of the True Cross brought by St. Margaret with her from England. After the Protestant revolt, the Abbey was secularised, the guest house became the beginnings of the Royal Palace, and the Abbey Church a Parish Church. When James II was viceroy for his brother Charles II in Scotland, he built the nearby Canongate Church for the Congregation, and turned the Abbey Church into the Chapel Royal and seat of the newly founded or refounded Knightly Order of the Thistle – Scotland’s answer to England’s Order of the Garter. But in 1689, with the overthrow of James’ rule in Scotland, the mob burned and plundered the Church, leaving it as you see to-day.

Moving along, we’ll ignore the rather ugly modern building that houses the new Scottish Parliament, and pass by the Canongate Church. Although part of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (which plays in the northern Kingdom the role the Church of England does South of the border), the Royal Arms on the building’s remind us of James II’s patronage. As we continue along the Royal Mile, we’ll pass – or perhaps pop in to – two of my favourite pubs: the World’s End and the Mitre. The latter was long a Jacobite stronghold, as both Catholic and Anglican supporters of the Stuarts believed in Bishops, and the Presbyterians did not. Down the hill from the Mitre is Old St. Paul’s, the Anglican church where believers in Episcopacy met after they were chased out of St. Giles’ in 1689.

St. Giles Cathedral

Continuing along, we’ll come to St. Giles’ Cathedral itself – which was only the seat of a bishop in Anglican times, but was the parish in Catholic days; its religious origins are obvious from its architecture. Although there are Chapels Royal scattered around the country, and the far more Kings of Scots were crowned at Scone further north, Charles I was crowned here, and in recent reigns – although coronations are not viable in Presbyterian theology – it is here that British Sovereigns come to be present with the Honours of Scotland – the Scottish Crown Jewels, of which more presently. King Charles III recently came here to his Scots capital for the ceremony. You will also find here the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle. It was only built in 1906, but is quite beautiful, and the Order’s Knights have a service here once a year, as their Garter counterparts do at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. In the yard is the Mercat Cross, the centre of the City, where new Kings have been proclaimed – most recently, Charles III.

Moving along further along the Mile, we find ourselves at last at Edinburgh Castle, home of the Honours of Scotland, and so, in a sense, the country’s answer to the Tower of London.

Edinburgh Castle

There is much to see within its precincts, not least St. Margaret’s chapel, founded by the Queen – and the only building left standing when King Robert the Bruce levelled the castle to deny it to the English. The Crown Room holds the above-mentioned honours – first used at the Coronation of Mary Queen of Scots. But the sceptre and sword of state were made for her grandfather, James IV, and were gifts from the Pope – hence the tiara and keys on the scabbard of the latter. We should also mention the lovely Scottish National War Memorial, a Neo-Gothic gem.

North of the Mile is St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral. As mentioned with St. Giles, Edinburgh was not an Episcopal See in Catholic times; it was part of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews – itself home to a cathedral and shrine of Scotland’s patron Saint. The building was wrecked and the shrine destroyed at the Protestant Revolt. But at the new cathedral, there is a renewed national shrine of St. Andrew, with a relic of the Saint. It is well worth visiting – not least to pray for the conversion of the Scots.

There are very many places to visit in and around Edinburgh – and even more in Glasgow. But we did so this time only to make a quick single stop: Glasgow’s medieval cathedral. Being the other Archdiocese in Catholic times Glasgow’s cathedral is quite impressive, going back to the 1100s. As with all pre-Reformation Catholic churches in Scotland, it is owned now by the Presbyterian Church. But in the lower church is the crypt of St. Mungo or Kentigern. In the Middle Ages, a trip to his shrine was considered equivalent to a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter – and it remains an important place of pilgrimage to-day.

Glasgow Cathedral

Across the Firth of Forth lies the town of Dunfermline, with its Abbey and Palace. Now a school, the Palace was where “the King sits in Dunferline toun, drinkin’ the bluid-red wine,” in the old ballad of Sir Patrick Spens. Now it is a school. But the Abbey, founded by St. Margaret, remains a church; inside is the tomb of King Robert the Bruce. Outside is the site of the former shrine to St. Margaret – still resorted to by pilgrims. But at the Catholic St. Margaret’s Memorial Church, there is a relic of the Saint herself which can be venerated.

Robert the Bruce
Queen St. Margaret of Scotland by Nicolas de Largilliere (1656-1746)

Continuing further north, we come to St. Andrews, where the ruins of the large medieval cathedral need to be seen. St Salvator’s Chapel is a beautiful example of late gothic architecture; founded in 1450 as a part of Bishop James Kennedy’s College of the Holy Saviour, it is a major witness to Scotland’s ancient Catholicism. Then there is the Old Course – literally the birthplace of Golf. As the oldest course in the world, it is much resorted to by lovers of the game.

Much as we would have loved to stop at Dundee and Aberdeen, the march of time was relentless, so off to Inverness we went. I would love to explore the Highlands and Islands, where there are many areas that have stayed Catholic since before the Reformation. But Inverness, a town well worth exploring (and having the largest Ordinariate community in Scotland) was itself shortchanged, as we arrived late. The next day’s observance was what had brought us.

On April 15, the Gaelic Society of Inverness and the 1745 Society co-sponsored a procession and service in commemoration of the slain at Culloden. The only place in the Highlands I had been to before, it struck me as strongly as ever. Here was the last stand of the Stuart cause – and of Catholic political relevance – against what passed for modernity at the time. The various clans there present – including my MacKinnons – were decimated. The Prince fled, and the hopes not only of Jacobite Scotland but England and Ireland as well went down to ruin. The Three Kingdoms were condemned to be what they are. But it occurred to me that having an Ordinariate parish so near might be a presage and a symbol of a better future for the trio. As one in whose veins flows the blood of all three peoples, I can only pray that it be so – and that their future health, holiness, and strength be emulated by their children scattered across the globe.

An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745 by David Morier (1705–1770).

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