Let us now visit a few castles, chapels and other historic ruins in Edinburgh. We even get a visit to the sea-side. Make sure you all have your notebook and pen at the ready for furious and studious note-taking. (Remembering now, that there is a little of the virtuous geek in all of us, even if we fail to admit it to the world.)
Let’s hop off at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, nestled beautifully at the bottom of the royal mile, just outside Edinburgh. For a while it was home to the infamous Mary Queen of Scots. (Not all was her fault.) Men seem to have enjoyed arranging much of her early life, marrying her off to the French King Henri II’s heir, the Dauphin Francis. This was a bit of bad planning on the part of the local Scottish power brokers, with-in two years the Dauphin was dead as a door nail. This is a lesson for all of us here, to keep our ears clean and free of bacteria. (Yes, an ear infection got the chap.) On the upside for Mary and the Dauphin, married life was bliss until the vow, ‘Death do us part’ was invoked. Neither found themselves married to the other long enough to detest the sight of each other, fight about who does the dishes, cooks dinner, hangs the washing on the line or commit mortal sins such as forgetting birthdays, anniversaries or to harp at the other to put the towels on the rack to air.
History books give accounts of Mary, as ‘Tall, and graceful with a quick wit.’ The 1500s was not the century for any women with power at her finger tips, to be craving romantic love, or a cottage with the white picket fence and roses lining the drive. Alas, Mary succumbed to matrimony for the second time, marrying for love. And, what a little scoundrel Lord Darnley turned out to be. (He should have been christened Lord Dastardly.)
As we enter Mary’s bed chamber at Holyroodhouse, we view the very room where Darnley, threatened the heavily pregnant queen, and walk onto observe the antechamber where Darnley, (who it seems was a spoiled, petulant and jealous wretch.) and his band of co-conspirators dragged Mary’s secretary David Riccio to and then stabbed him to death, 57 times. (Well that’s what the plaque on the wall said, anyway.) Yes, he did only die once, but it took 57 stabs to get him dead, ok.
This of course, was the beginning of the end for Mary. History reports that the birth of their son did not improve relations. Is this really a surprise to any of us? Babies are endless rounds of sleepless nights, feeding, and nappies to change. Seriously, if this man’s jealous of the woman’s secretary, he’ll be feeling really put out now that she’s off on permanent baby duty. There’s no longer any-one there to make him tea, and warm his socks by the fire each night before bed.
And surprise, surprise, Darnley gets a good stab in the back, murdered just outside the walls of Edinburgh on 10 February, 1567. Local gossip has the prime suspect, as guess who? Yes, the grieving widow, Mary!
Mary might have survived this sordid tale, but she does it again! Quite obviously, she’s not fond of her own company, and it seems she’s also very, very, very stupid! She doesn’t even marry someone the people (her subjects) love, she gives them Lord Bothwell. Well, that all goes to pot doesn’t it. The protestant lords rise up in protest, and she’s soon arrested. Bothwell’s a lying, rotten, scoundrel (This chick has a bit of a pattern going here, don’t you think?) and he skips off to Scandinavia.
Mary loses the crown, abdicates in favour of her son & the reckless, senseless, stupid, women – pops on down to England begging her cousin Elizabeth I to assist her. And, assist Mary, Elizabeth did! With, 19 years imprisonment in the Tower of London, 3 meals a day, and an eventual decision that it was to be off with Mary’s head! Let’s try and work out who had the highest IQ here out of this pair?
Over five centuries later, Holyroodhouse remains a working palace. One still frequented by the British Royals today, as a residence and used for official state functions. Thus ends the lesson, Amen. (And no, I did not feel the spirit of Riccio wailing with grief, anger and despair while stepping on the blood soaked stone where his murder took place, almost 500 years ago)
Ok, I really don’t think any of you have enjoyed enough British history yet, so let us visit Tantallon Castle, nestled majestically on the cliffs of the Firth of Forth. This awe inspiring piece of architecture was seat of the Douglas Earls Angus, and one of the most influential baronial families in Scotland for more than 300 years. Tantallon has everything sweeping cliffs, ocean and beach. The beach is quite useless to us because it’s probably only 1 degree Celsius outside, and I don’t envisage either Morag or me taking up on a bit of sun-bathing today!
One of the last great castles to ever be built, the remains hint at what would have one been massively thick and impregnable walls. Lofty towers oversee the remains of private closes, and enclosed courtyards, almost impossible to penetrate. (At least we know that throwing a party here would have been an entirely private affair. Have the music up as loud as you want. And definitely impossible for the local louts to gate crash at 1am on a Saturday morning as you’re all just starting to party hard!)
What is amazing is the architecture. That we had such intelligence, (I’m speaking of the human race in general here, not all of us reading this blog) and a firm grasp regarding the concepts of engineering only five or six centuries ago, is truly breath-taking. What is even harder to comprehend is the concept that buildings, castles, forts, monasteries, cathedrals, churches, and stately homes are littered throughout Europe in such profusion.
What you do need to consider though, is that for the frantic pace of building that took place over these centuries, world population levels during this period are estimated to have sat at a mere 450 million. (Small, when compared to our 6 billion today.) Yes, I know people had lots of time on their hands. (There was no TV, computer games or a quick trip to the ice skating rink to pass the time of day.) But also consider, these craftsman, had no 21st century technology either. No cranes, back hoes, hydraulic drills, or lifts. Every single piece of sandstone, was probably moved by hand, carved by hand, and any machinery used was primitive in the extreme by our modern standards.
Despite the ravages of time, this magnificent structure managed to survive three great sieges, in 1491, 1528 and 1651. (Try finding a modern building today that could survive ‘three great sieges’. Most would fall with the first barrel of artillery to bludgeon them. That’s what happens when you let building standards fall.)
Oliver Cromwell’s forces marched on Tantallon Castle, in 1651. Cromwell is another historic figure who should have been shot dead and put out to pasture. He seems to have spent much of his time running around damaging towns and inflicting outright vandalism and destruction to historical monuments throughout the country, notwithstanding that he also seemed to spend an awful lot of time running around killing lots of innocent people, because they wouldn’t agree with his views.
And so, this fortress was finally left to the passage of time in 1651, when it suffered damage so tremendous, that it was then abandoned by the Douglas Earls. Life now only to the local wilderness, animals, and green pastures, that have taken up residence inside this once great Scottish castle.
Now, all that meticulous note taking and ferocious arching of my brow, has absolutely exhausted me. I’ve just discovered Camembert Cheese in Spanish clay pots on the trip home via the local co-op store. The pots perfect for serving Crème Brulée in. I just now need to buy and scoff 3 more of these Camembert pots to have a uniform set of four. I may need to engage some homeless people to take carriage of the actual Camembert cheese, because I’m not sure that even I can eat three more slabs of Camembert to obtain the correct number of Brulée pots.
I also contemplate how I’m going to fit three more of the pots into my hand luggage. I made a pact to myself that traveling light was the only way to make this trip successful. I’m finding though that my suitcase seems to be like a bottomless pit. One of two things is happening: I’m either losing things, (and my memory is automatically blanked of owning items I started out with); or my packing prowess has improved tremendously.