Category Archives: Stewarts

Game of Crowns: the 1715 Jacobite Rising

The handwritten order for the massacre of Glencoe

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-30394285

I was at the opening of this exhibition last night. It’s been created by the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, to mark three hundred years since the Jacobite Rising of 1715.

Many people have heard about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the events of 1745, but the 1715 Rising is less well known – yet it makes just as compelling a story. The star this time is not Bonnie Prince Charlie but his father James, known as James VIII and III by the Jacobites. James was born in 1688 into a world of complex family relationships, intrigue, rivalry and betrayal, which played out on an international scale. The exhibition traces his story, focussing on his unsuccessful attempt in 1715 to win back the crowns of Scotland and England. It displays some of the remarkable documents which survive from that time, including the secret orders for the massacre of Glencoe which are mentioned in the press release. It’s not all drama and violence though – you can even play a game of Top Trumps, scoring the characters for a range of attributes including length of wig!

I was fortunate enough to be at the opening because I was involved in researching and scriptwriting the various interactive elements of the exhibition. These include an interactive family tree and timeline,  and audio scripts which are spoken by key characters in the story – James, Queen Anne, George I etc. You can also listen to these on the National Library of Scotland website. I was working on this during the run up to the Independence Referendum, and it was impossible not to get goosebumps at the sense of history, and the connections between events 300 years ago and today. Professor Chris Whatley expanded on that theme as he spoke at the opening last night. Sheena Wellington, who gave an unforgettable performance of A man’s a man for a that at the opening of the Scottish parliament, sang Derwentwater’s Farewell last night, one of several Jacobite songs you can listen to in the exhibition.

Game of Crowns runs until next May. If you’re in Edinburgh, go along and have a look. It’s good to see some of the treasures held by our National Library, and together they tell a fascinating story. Towards the end of the exhibition you’ll see the baptismal certificate of James’ infant son Charles – better known today as Bonnie Prince Charlie. 1715 was not the end of the story….

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.

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The James Plays

I spent most of Saturday in a world of love, violence, feuding, greed and ambition. Fifteenth-century Scotland.

The new trilogy of history plays, The James Plays, is being performed for the first time at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, and will travel to London when the Festival is over. On Saturday there was an opportunity to watch all three plays in one day – James I: The Key Will Keep The Lock, James II: Day Of The Innocents and James III: The True Mirror.

The early Stewarts were easily my favourite aspect of studying Scottish History at St Andrews, so it was partly a trip down memory lane. The programme for the plays contained mini essays about each king’s reign written by St Andrews academics – and what a joy to read the story of James III as told by Norman MacDougall, whose Special Subject on James III was so much fun!

So what about the plays? As a trilogy they were superb. I loved the fact that each play had a very different feel, both in the writing and the production. James I offered a hugely entertaining portrayal of 15th-century Scotland, with a host of strong characters and great performances. James I is variously remembered as a tyrant or a strong ruler, and Rona Munro’s interpretation of how his style of kingship may have come about was both interesting and convincing.

James II had a darker feel which was powerfully communicated. While not every aspect of the interpretation was how I would have imagined events taking place, the portrayal of the manipulated child king who was haunted by the events he had witnessed was very effective.

James II is the only one of the three kings whose story I have seen dramatized before, in The Ballad of James II, performed at Rosslyn Chapel in 2007.

I enjoyed James III as a climax to the first two, but it was the part of the trilogy which I personally found least satisfying. It was a vivid imagining of the possible story of Margaret of Denmark, and Sophie Grabøl’s performance was impressive. But the development of Margaret’s character left us with a fairly one-dimensional picture of her husband.  Only once, I felt, did he almost spark into life, when he seemed to taunt his people with having too narrow a view to grasp what he could have offered them. Personally I would have enjoyed seeing this, or other, aspects of his personality and reign explored. Instead this play was the one which probably travelled furthest from history to imagination – the result was an enjoyable performance, but for me it had less impact than the previous two.

Still, watching all three plays one after the other was a thrilling experience. James I, James II and James III, remembered in Scotland at last! See them if you can.

© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.

Stirling

I spent today at Stirling Castle. On my own. Part proper work, part research, part sheer indulgence.

The proper work bit was to see the exhibition Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown before it closes next week. It’s fun to go along and watch people interacting with the displays.

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The staff were fantastic. The man who sold me my ticket told me about the special exhibition, about these documents which are ‘the oldest thing you’ll see today, older than any part of the castle’. The guide in the room was doing a brilliant job of making 700-year-old Latin texts sound interesting to a group of schoolchildren. The running totals on the ‘who would you vote for’ between Wallace and Bruce were up in the 600s, with a narrow lead for William Wallace. The exhibition was remarkably busy.

I was in Stirling Castle about twenty years ago on a Scottish History trip from St Andrews, and then again about ten years ago. But so much restoration work has been carried out on these magnificent Stewart buildings that it was well worth another visit. It’s fabulous to see the coloured reconstructions of the Stirling heads, and so much more. I love to think that many of these depict the men and women of James V’s court – it’s like having the pictures in Hello spread out across the ceiling!IMG_2108

I wandered down the hill to the Church of the Holy Rude, which I’m not sure I’ve ever visited before but I particularly wanted to see today – that was part of the ‘research’ bit.

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The infant King James VI was crowned here in 1567 when his mother Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate.

Behind the church is a graveyard which was partly laid out by the Victorians, and has some rather unexpected statues of figures from Scottish reformation history dotted around, including this truly bizarre monument to two famous Covenanting martyrs who were drowned in the Solway.

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There’s a small hill in the graveyard. Climb that hill and look around, and you really are in the heartland of Scotland’s history. The surrounding landscape has been fought over again and again – Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn, Sauchieburn …..  The castle of the Stewart kings looms high, not just a strategic fortress but also a self-confident expression of dynastic power and artistic ambition. The medieval church has its own story to tell through the centuries, and then there are those figures of the Scottish reformation, interpreted through Victorian eyes. Whistlestop tour through the centuries!

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© All content copyright Flora Johnston. You may reblog or share with acknowledgement, but please do not use in any other context without permission.