At the western end of the “Royal Mile,” and a little beyond, sits the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert, the oldest Christian site in Edinburgh. The church’s congregation states in its history that the church was founded in 670 A.D. by St. Cuthbert himself (pre-sainthood, of course.) Other histories are more vague, and simply say the 7th century, during or not long after the life of the saint. The church has been through several iterations, and the original building survives only as part of the foundation of the current building, built in 1894.
The first official mention, however, is in the records of King David I, when he granted the church building to the Holyrood Abbey. (There was only the Catholic Church in that era.) The area served by this church used to be quite large, with several “chapels of ease,” meaning other small churches or chapels in the parish. But after the 1560 Reformation, it became a Protestant church, and was known as the West Kirk. After the Restoration came in 1660, the West Kirk’s congregation was loyal to the Covenanters, and has remained part of the Church of Scotland.
In one of the iterations of the building, in 1773, some bones and a leaden urn were found inside a leaden coffin. The urn contained an embalmed human heart, believed to be the heart of a crusader, that had been returned to his family from the Holy Land. There was no indication in the source that anything was done with the bones or heart, so presumably, they were placed again in the new church building.
I was visiting the church grounds – the church was not open due to the pandemic – and there were a lot of people walking around. The Princes Streets gardens are quite popular at the noon hour. Residents of Edinburgh enjoy their parks and squares, and don’t give them up even in a light rain.
The Scott Monument is also on Princes Street, about midway along the stretch of city between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace known as the Royal Mile. It is the largest monument to a writer in the world. Scott was born and raised in Edinburgh, and spent some of his youth collecting folk tales from “the Borders,” an area to the south of Edinburgh.
Contemporaries of Scott’s considered these tales too lowly to dignify by writing them down, but Scott recorded them, and used these as inspiration for his poetry and romantic novels, the first such novel being “Waverley,” which he published anonymously in 1814. It was a new genre – the historical romance novel.
Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) is important to Scots and Scotland because he raised the image of Scotland at a time when Scots were considered dangerous by many in England, the Scottish Enlightenment notwithstanding. Gaelic had been outlawed in 1616, and tartans and bagpipes in 1746, after the Battle of Culloden, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, who claimed to be the rightful king of Scotland. It was a clear effort to suppress Scottish culture. Scott orchestrated the first visit by a British monarch in 171 years, and helped reinstate the language, dress, and music of the Highlands.
The monument is two hundred feet tall. Construction was begun in 1840, and the edifice was inaugurated in 1846. The sculpture of Scott and his hound, Maida, is made of a single, 30 ton piece of Carrara marble, created by Sir John Steele. There are 287 steps, divided by four levels (where you can stop and rest.) On one level, there is a museum, which was closed during my visit, in fact right now, no one can go inside at all.
While I loved Edinburgh, one of the disappointments of my visit was that many of the smaller museums were closed and did not anticipate opening again until 2021. The Sir Walter Scott Memorial museum and the Writer’s Museum, featuring Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson, were closed. The other disappointment throughout Scotland was the lack of music; there were no venues playing traditional music except for the occasional lone piper.
One country’s fight for freedom was another country’s rebellion. The India Cross, pictured below, is placed near Edinburgh Castle. It honors the “78th Regiment of Foot,” the Ross-shire Buffs, who died during the “Indian Rebellion.”
Sir Walter Scott helped raise the image of Scotland, but the Scottish Enlightenment was furthered by a host of people you’ve heard of, David Hume and Adam Smith among them, earning them each a statue along the Royal Mile.
Lesser known currently, but widely read in his day, was the poet Robert Fergusson. This statue of him stands in front of the Canongate Kirk, an unassuming church near Holyrood Palace. Robert Fergusson is buried here. Robert Burns himself paid for the tombstone, and then Robert Louis Stevenson (“Treasure Island”) himself was going to pay for the repair and renovation of that tombstone. In honour of the “three Roberts,” the Saltire Society had Stevenson’s words inscribed on the tombstone as part of the repair. (The Saltire Society was founded in 1936 to preserve Scottish culture and to encourage creativity.)
The Canongate Kirk was ordered built by King James VII (James II in England) in 1688. His idea was to create a chapel for the Order of the Thistle. The arms of King James were put above the door originally, but by the time the building was finished, those arms were replaced by the arms of King William III of Orange, according to the parish history. Politics moved at a speed faster than construction.
The current arms, near the top of the building, are of Great Britain, that is, England and Scotland. The plaque above the doorway indicates that the arms just above it belong to King James VII, the monarch who began construction.
The Canongate Kirk is where Adam Smith (1723 – 1790) is buried. The plaque marking his grave notes that he was the author of the “Theory of Moral Sentiments” and the “Wealth of Nations.” The slab below is engraved with one of his more famous quotes, “The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable.”
Adam Smith was an economist, author, and philosopher, educated at Oxford University, Balliol College, University of Edinburgh, and University of Glasgow, and considered the “Father of Economics,” or of capitalism, depending on your perspective.
One more person is buried here in Canongate Kirkyard whose name you might remember from the movie about Mary, Queen of Scots, with Vanessa Redgrave: David Riccio. Riccio was an Italian diplomat who became Queen Mary’s secretary. Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, became jealous of Riccio, believing that she favored Riccio over Lord Darnley. In 1566, a group of men murdered Riccio while he dined with the pregnant Queen, stabbing him repeatedly. In the movie, it was a ghastly scene, with Riccio crawling on the floor under the table, wounded, trying to escape. He was initially buried at Holyrood Abbey, but was later moved to Canongate Kirkyard.
The Stuarts ruled Scotland for around three hundred years. Robert the Bruce was a legendary leader in Scotland, though not a “king” in our modern definition of such. His son, Robert II, was the “High Steward” of Scotland, for King David II, his half-uncle, and succeeded David in 1371. Robert still carried the title “Steward,” which morphed into “Stewart” and “Stuart” over the next couple of generations as surnames came into use. The dynasty had remarkable longevity, despite the challenges of circumstance. James II became king at age 6; James III was dethroned by his son, James IV; James V inherited his throne at 17 months of age. Mary, Queen of Scots, was a Stuart, and became Queen while still an infant. Regents for the minors came and went, but the dynasty continued.
Scotland was joined with England when Mary (the one beheaded by Queen Elizabeth I of England,) Queen of Scot’s son, James VI of Scotland, became also James I of England in 1603 after Elizabeth I died without an heir. James I’s son, Charles I, was beheaded by Cromwell and the Glorious Revolution. After Cromwell’s death, Charles II, Charles I’s son, was invited to return. His successor, James II (VII of Scotland,) Charles II’s brother, although Protestant, tried to impose an Anglican prayer book on the Church of Scotland, which followed an austere Calvinist practice, and it was the final straw.
Mary, James II’s daughter from his first marriage, and her husband, William of Orange, both Protestants, were invited to assume the throne. William invaded in 1688, and Mary was declared Queen by Parliament in 1689, and they became King William III and Queen Mary (who bought a local mansion and created Kensington Palace.) They were succeeded by James II’s second daughter and Mary’s sister, Queen Anne, another Protestant, who died childless.
After James II’s first wife had died, but before he was deposed, James married Mary of Modena, a Catholic. They had a son, James Francis Edward, who was raised as a Catholic. When this James gained his age, he declared that, as James II’s son, he was the rightful heir to the thrones of England, Scotland, and, by this time, Ireland, as well, rather than George I of the House of Hanover, who Parliament had declared heir to the crown of Great Britain.
James Francis Edward’s claim was recognized as legitimate by Louis XIV of France, the King of Spain, and the Pope. James Francis had supporters, and not just Catholics. This was an age that still believed in the divine right of kings, and there were those who agreed that James should be king.
Parliament, however, had made their choice by rejecting his father’s continued rule and rejecting a Catholic successor, James Francis Edward, and by inviting William and Mary to accept the throne of Great Britain. Parliament passed the Settlement Act in 1701, which made it law that only a Protestant could succeed to the British throne. There was no interest in having the Catholic James Francis assume the throne, thus ending the Stuart dynasty.
Nevertheless, in 1715, James and his supporters attempted to regain the throne. This uprising became known as “The Fifteen.” James was disappointed by the too-weak support, and returned to France, where Louis XIV had been supporting him. However, Louis had died by this time, and James was no longer welcome. He went to Rome, where Pope Clement XI gave him a palace and an annuity. James married Maria Clementina Sobieska, and had a son, Charles Edward Stuart, born 1720. James Francis Edward became known as “the Old Pretender,” and Charles as “the Young Pretender.”
This Charles also became known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” He had many supporters, known as Jacobites, “Jacob” being the Latin form of “James,” after his father. There was an attempt to win the throne for Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, an attempt that was stronger than the Fifteen, but not strong enough to succeed. This attempt became known as “the Forty-five.” Bonnie Prince Charlie barely escaped with his life – he escaped, disguised as a woman servant, and was rowed out from the Isle of Skye to a small island, where he was rescued. It was the end of the Jacobite Restoration attempts. Ultimately, it was the friction caused by the Reformation, Protestant v. Catholic, the was the final undoing of the Stuart dynasty. On the Isle of Skye, the woman who rowed Charles to safety is buried in Killiemuir Cemetery, Flora MacDonald.
The Princes Street Gardens are filled with flourishes of decoration, mostly dating from the Victorian era.
It would take a long time to explore Edinburgh thoroughly. Like so many places I have visited, I hope someday I can return – I may need another lifetime….