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Rare medieval letters relating to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are to be exhibited together for the first time. The exhibition entitled ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’ will open at Stirling Castle next month and brings together two unique manuscripts which provide a fascinating insight into the different paths taken by these two leaders in securing the Scottish crown.

Wallace Letter  Copyright of the National Archives

Wallace Letter
Copyright of the National Archives

On display will be a 700-year-old letter from King Philip IV of France to his agents in Rome commanding them to ask Pope Boniface VIII to support Wallace. Written in November 1300, the letter was discovered in the Tower of London in the 1830’s and is currently on loan to the National Records of Scotland from The National Archives in London. In 2011 a panel of experts concluded that it was likely to have been in Wallace’s possession, although how and why remain unclear.

The Wallace letter will appear alongside a letter to King Philip IV of France. Dating from 1309 it was written by Scottish barons attending the first parliament following Robert the Bruce’s seizure of the throne in 1306. Their declaration of support for Bruce as the rightful king of Scots marked an important moment in the recognition of his crown. The document is preserved in the National Records of Scotland.

Bruce letter  Copyright of the National Records of Scotland

Bruce letter
Copyright of the National Records of Scotland

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop said that the bringing together of these documents for the first time would “provide a fascinating insight into one of the most turbulent periods in Scotland’s history. This is a fantastic opportunity for visitors to view these rare and special documents which provide a tantalising glimpse into the lives and legacy of two of Scotland’s most famous historical figures.”

Tim Ellis, Keeper of the Records of Scotland and Chief Executive of the National Records of Scotland, added that the “death of Alexander III in 1286 triggered a dynastic scramble that came to a head in 1306, when Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne. This exhibition brings together for the first time two archival treasures connected to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and adds to our understanding of this fascinating period of Scottish history. We’re delighted to be holding the exhibition which has been made possible through support from Historic Scotland and The National Archives.”

The ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’ exhibition will form part of a series of events at Stirling Castle which will tell the story of the events leading up to the Battle of Bannockburn, which marks its 700th anniversary this year. This will include a living history event ‘The Road to Bannockburn’ and an exhibition of paintings by renowned artist Iona Leishman.

Dr Lorna Ewan  Historic Scotland

Dr Lorna Ewan
Historic Scotland

Lorna Ewan, Head of Visitor Experience for Historic Scotland, who operate Stirling Castle, pointed out that the castle had “played a key role in the events leading up to Bannockburn. The siege of the castle was the catalyst for Edward II to send a 17,000 strong army to Scotland who met Bruce’s men at Bannockburn so it provides a fitting location to tell the story to visitors.

Over the weekend of the 24th and 25th May, the Road to Bannockburn living history event will explore the events that led to this decisive clash. Visitors can find out about the tactics and weapons of the armies and join our forensic team in discovering more about the injuries sustained by the soldiers.

“Meanwhile Iona Leishman’s exhibition of paintings will provide a poignant overview of the realities of war. Together with the Wallace and Bruce exhibition they will provide visitors with an insight into one of the most famous periods in Scotland’s history.”

The ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’, exhibition which is part of the Year of Homecoming programme, will open at Stirling Castle on 3rd May and will run until 1st June.

Craiglockhart – where Sassoon met Owen in 1917

We’re entering the second week of this year’s History Festival. What makes this event special is the way in which it blends expert knowledge with trips to the places where history was made, the way in which it takes history out of the classroom and into bookshops and tearooms, galleries and theatres.

Siegfried Sassoon  by George Charles Beresford (1915) (Picture: Public Domain)

Siegfried Sassoon
by George Charles Beresford (1915)
(Picture: Public Domain)

Tomorrow for instance (Tuesday the 19th), there’s a special event to celebrates the war poets of Craiglockhart. Now part of Edinburgh Napier University. the campus started life in 1880 as a Hydropathic establishment where the wealthy could take fashionable water treatments. However, it took on a completely different role during the First World War when it was turned into a hospital for officers suffering from shell-shock (what we’d now call PTSD). And in the summer of 1917, the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen met there. The University has a small special collection of material covering the history of Craiglockhart and Catherine Walker, its curator, will host a guided visit and talk about the many interesting characters who have had links with the place over the years.

On Wednesday, you can travel back in time to experience the classrooms of the Victorian era. The Victorian Schoolroom is located in Leith Walk Primary School and when ‘pupils’ can go through an hour long lesson using Victorian-style slates and slate pencils, old fashioned pens and ink from ink wells. The events are led by experienced, volunteer role-play teachers – corporal punishment however is NOT on today’s menu!

Billy Kay - speaking on both nationalism and wine!

Billy Kay – speaking on both nationalism and wine!

The historian Billy Kay is leading two discussions on his favourite topics – Scottish nationalism and wine! Earlier this year, he produced and presented a series for BBC Radio Scotland on the history of Scottish nationalism. ‘The Cause’ ranged from the identity forged in the Wars of Independence, through the radicalism of the 19th century, to the dramatic transformation of the SNP from a small, marginalised “sect” to a dynamic political machine capable of winning two elections and a referendum.

Much longer ago, Billy wrote a fascinating book on what he genuinely believes should really be regarded as “Scotland’s other drink” – Claret! Though made in Bordeaux from grapes not girders, claret once linked Scotland with France, so closely that it was known as the “Bloodstream of the Auld Alliance.” Billy looks at the fascinating history of the Scots involvement with not just claret but also other great wines of the world. Both events will be held at the Adam House Theatre in Chambers Street.

The waterfront at Seattle
Creative Commons

Andrew McDiarmid

Andrew McDiarmid

by Andrew McDiarmid
Owner of Simply Scottish in Seattle

Greetings! I’m Andrew McDiarmid. I was born and raised in Edinburgh in Scotland and emigrated to the States with my family in 1990. I now live and work in Seattle and produce a podcast of music and features called Simply Scottish.

Previously a weekly radio show on radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, it’s now a podcast on iTunes, the Celtic Radio Network, and at www.simplyscottish.com. I’m going to be writing for the Caledonian Mercury, and I thought a good way to introduce myself and get to know you would be to explore with you what the phrase “simply Scottish” means!

SS Podcast Hi-Res Logo 2208x2208Could there be anything more simply Scottish than a dry stane dyke? Found all over Scotland and elsewhere in the British Isles, these walls are made of large stones held together without the use of mortar by the compressional force of each interlocking stone. You’ll find them lining driveways, forming boundary walls between fields, and standing as retaining walls in towns and villages.

Actually, a number of things could visually symbolize the words “simply Scottish.” For me, it’s my mother, Samantha. Her personality and character embodied a number of qualities I deem to be simply Scottish: an unshakable belief in God, loyalty to family, an adventurous spirit, unselfish kindness, a no-nonsense attitude, thriftiness, and a healthy dose of humor. She traveled the world and had a 40-year career as a teacher. Her students and friends loved her for these virtues. And I am largely who I am because of her influence.

Some years ago, when Simply Scottish was a radio show airing on various public radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, we commissioned Vincent Rooney, an artist in Scotland, to create a painting called “Simply Scottish.” He painted a small cottage by a burn, nestled at the foot of rolling Scottish hills. The artwork still hangs in the bedroom of my father, my co-host on Simply Scottish during the initial years of its production.

Simply Scottish  Painting by Vincent Rooney

Simply Scottish
Painting by Vincent Rooney

When my father and I chose the name for our show, we did so not only because it employs the memory-enhancing technique of alliteration, but because we wanted to get to the heart of Scotland and being Scottish, past all the hype, stereotype, assumption, and misunderstanding. We want to present Scotland simply and earnestly. We want to let the country’s beauty speak for itself and allow the friendliness and authenticity of Scotland’s people send its own invitation. In true Scottish fashion, we don’t want to boast. We want to welcome people to our land, because we know they will grow to love it and appreciate it in their own fashion and in their own time. And those who are Scottish by birth or who live there will gain new appreciation and insight about this small but mighty nation.

So what do you think embodies the phrase “simply Scottish?” It could be an object, a place, a person, an event, a sound, a taste, or a smell. It won’t be the only thing, but to you, and perhaps to many others, it communicates “simply Scottish.” Beyond hype or stereotype, it is pure and powerful. It is Scotland, distilled.

I will highlight your responses in upcoming posts in the Caledonian Mercury and perhaps build an episode of the podcast around them. If there’s enough response, I’d like to attract the attention of a publisher with the idea of a beautiful coffee table book with pictures and descriptions of the various things that embody the essence of Scotland. Whatever happens, we’ll all have a better idea what Simply Scottish means to Scots and Scotland lovers around the world.

Send me your ideas today!

Join the “simply Scottish” conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #simplyscottish.

The Rich Landscape of the Finzean Estate

The sun may be shining. The fields are gradually turning from green to gold. The soft fruits are ripening on the cane. The long summer nights are still with us. The air is yet warm and balmy. And yet, there are people who are already turning their attention to the autumn and the harvest season, none more so than Frieda Morrison, the Artist In Residence at Edinburgh University’s School of Celtic and Scottish Studies and a passionate exponent of the songs and traditional music of the North East of Scotland.

Frieda Morrison Host of the  Deeside Harvest Folk Festival

Frieda Morrison
Host of the
Deeside Harvest Folk Festival

Through her music and video production company, Birseland Media, she’s well on her way to producing the final line-up for this year’s Deeside Harvest Folk Festival at the end of September. It’s an event which has developed a reputation for bringing new and exciting sounds to Deeside. And she says that, once again, the team has come up with something really special, providing “a platform for some of Scotland’s finest folk musicians. The North East of Scotland,” she adds, “has a unique cultural heritage and this, combined with the finest of food from the region creates an opportunity to build a ‘folk n’ food’ event that will give people a ‘real sense of place’.”

A number of talented acts have already confirmed their place in Finzean Hall, an award-winning building rebuilt in 2003. Finzean itself is a small but thriving community with a determination to breathe life into this part of rural Aberdeenshire.

Fraser Fifield Multi-instrumentalist

Fraser Fifield

The performers include the recently re-formed Malinky and Fraser Fifield, a local hero with an international reputation. Fifield is a multi-instrumentalist. The performance in the video below gives an impression of his range. He can play a wide range of wind instruments, as well as being a composer. One of the leading jazz magazines (Jazzwise) described his as “someone who can blow a low whistle like Charlie Parker…and knock out an air on a sax like a Highland traditionalist.”

Other include Aileen Carr, one of the finest ballad singers in Scotland, Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre, singer-songwriters and instrumentalists and the Shetland duo Blyde Lasses who perform on fiddle, concertina and vocals who’ve just launched their debut album.

For more information:
W: www.harvestfolkfestival.com
E: [email protected]

The Collection has its own YouTube Channel

Some of the most acclaimed singers in Scotland have come together to perform songs from The Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection – a treasure trove of songs associated with the North East of Scotland. Their performances were videoed allowing the most extensive historical collection of Scots ballads and songs to be made available online from today for the first time.

Frieda Morrison Artist in Residenceat the School of Scottish Studies

Frieda Morrison
Artist in Residenceat the School of Scottish Studies

In total, sixteen singers were recorded performing 35 songs which were collected in the early 20th century by schoolmaster Gavin Greig and minister James Bruce Duncan. The singers taking part are Aileen Carr, Jo Miller, Alison McMorland, Geordie McIntyre, The Spiers Family, Lucy Pringle, Steve Byrne, Siobhan Miller, Brian Miller, David Francis, Mairi Campbell, Scott Gardiner, Kath Campbell and Frieda Morrison.

The collection as a whole was edited by Dr Emily Lyle of the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, at the University of Edinburgh, and her associates, in a series of eight volumes and published between 1981-2002. Today’s development — the online songs project — has been developed by broadcaster and traditional singer Frieda Morrison who is Artist in Residence at the School.

Her role is to promote Scots language and song, and her latest project seeks to make some of the Greig-Duncan songs available to fans of the Scots singing tradition around the world. She has also been involved in introducing songs to schools and other groups via workshops and performances. She described the project as “”a huge step. It will help widen access to this important collection by enabling students from all over the world to see live performances of these precious songs. It is a great opportunity for Scotland to shine brightly.”

One Scotland’s most iconic pieces of historic theatre, Sir David Lyndsay’s drama A Satire of the Three Estates, will be performed tomorrow and this coming weekend in its original format for first time since 1554. It will take place in Linlithgow Palace Peel which will provide the 16th century setting for what is believed to be the first ever full-length production of the play. Directed by Gregory Thompson, it will star actors including Tam Dean Burn, Liam Brennan, Jimmy Chisholm, Alison Peebles and Gerda Stevenson.

Fiona Hyslop MSP

Fiona Hyslop MSP

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs welcomed the forthcoming production, saying “To see A Satire of the Three Estates performed in the stunning setting of Linlithgow Peel will be a fantastic experience. The play is one of the finest examples of the use of Scots language and many of its themes are still relevant today. It looks at Scottish society and national identity in the 16th century and asks how Scotland should move forward. Over 400 years later, as we approach next year’s Independence Referendum, we are once again asking what is the best way forward for the future of Scotland.”

There will also be hour long Interlude performances based on the original play performed in the Great Halls at Linlithgow Palace and Stirling Castle on Tuesday 11 June at Linlithgow Palace and Thursday 13th June at Stirling Castle. The Interlude performed on Thursday 13th June will take place in the magnificent setting of Stirling Castle’s Great Hall and will include a drinks reception at Stirling Castle before the main performance with the opportunity to take an exclusive evening visit of the beautifully restored Royal Palace apartments.

Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace

For further information on the events including how to book tickets, please visit these pages on the Historic Scotland website.

These performances are part of a two-year project supported by Historic Scotland with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project is set to throw the spotlight on this satirical political drama penned more than 400 years ago. It allows researchers from the universities of Edinburgh, Brunel, Southampton and Glasgow to delve below the surface of these plays and explore how far each play might have been shaped by the spaces where they were performed.

TagoreNapier University in Edinburgh has opened a special centre dedicated to the life and works of Rabindranath Tagore (right), the first ever Indian Nobel Prize Winner. Tagore was a Bengali poet and philosopher who is said to have reshaped his region’s literature and music, by introducing new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature. In his time, he was highly influential in introducing the best of Indian culture to the West. The opening of the centre — to be known as ScoTs (the Scottish Centre for Tagore Studies) — marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Based in the university’s Institute of Creative Industries, which has the second largest Indian student population of any Scottish university, ScoTs will “promote Indian culture, education, philosophy, art and literature by highlighting Tagore’s legacy’’. The first chair of the centre will be Professor Indra Nath Choudhuri (below), a former Member Secretary and Academic Director of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

“Edinburgh Napier is the only university in the world,” he said, Indra Choudhur, Chair of Tagore studies“besides Tagore’s own university, which has a Tagore centre and which India recognises. It shows how much Scots are keen to the organic unity of minds, lives and culture which enable us to seek the truth, the ultimate aim of education. Tagore said that education is not to gather knowledge but to create drive for knowledge and ScoTs will ultimately create that kind of a drive for the broadening of the horizon of knowledge.”

Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and wrote thousands of poems, songs, novels and short stories before his death in 1941. He had strong links to Scotland, holding a long standing friendship with pioneering town planner Sir Patrick Geddes. Tagore’s grandfather, the entrepreneur Prince Dwarkanath, was also honoured with the Freedom of the City award by Edinburgh in 1845.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, described Tagore as India’s “greatest artist, musician and poet”. She added that he had “many close ties to Scotland. ScoTs will celebrate these connections and Tagore’s legacy, deepening the relationship between our two countries. I am delighted that the centre is being launched in this, our Year of Creative Scotland,” she said.

The Centre was set up under an agreement with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), which is funding two PhD fellowships on the works of the influential writer.

Professor Dame Joan Stringer, Principal & Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University, said: “It is a great honour to welcome Professor Choudhuri to the University. The works of Rabindranath Tagore have an eternal appeal and we are proud to be able to celebrate his vision and influence by establishing Scotland’s first centre for Tagore studies.”

Public Information Feature

Young visitors to Stirling Castle will be able to find out more about one of Scotland’s most famous poets later this month. The castle is holding its inaugural ‘Burns for Bairns’ tours which will provide young visitors with the opportunity to learn more about the famous bard, his poems and Scotland during that time, as part of its Burns celebrations at the castle.

The special tours are a spin off from the hugely successful adult Burns tours which have taken place at the castle over the past few years, and will once again be running this year.

Guides will regale visitors of all ages with tales of Burns, who himself visited the castle in 1787, as well as conducting some of the tour in Scots – the language of Burns’ verse. Visitors will also be able to show off their own poetry prowess at the castle’s poetry corner which will challenge them to create a masterpiece of their own.

This year, there will also be the opportunity to find out about the origins of the Burns Supper when the castle’s Great Hall hosts a special ‘Whisky and the Haggis’ event complete with the dressing of the haggis. And for adult visitors, experts from local distillery Deaston will also be on hand to explain the whisky making process in fine detail.

The Regimental Museum of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders at the castle will also be getting into the Burns spirit with Burns themed events running over the weekend including an art exhibition and children’s activities.

Gillian MacDonald, Executive Manager at Stirling Castle explained that “We’ve held a Burns event the past few years at the castle, which always goes down really well with visitors. As we’d recently launched children’s tours at the castle, it seemed the natural next step to look at doing a special themed event for our young visitors and who better than Burns?

“We hope that they provide a great addition to the castle’s Burns experience alongside our existing adult tours and with the Great Hall hosting a special event looking at the origins of the Burns Supper, it’s a great place to celebrate the bard’s birthday!”

‘Burns for Bairns’ will run at the castle at 11.15am and 2.15pm on the 26th and 27th January. Adult Burns tours will take place at 12 noon and 2pm on the 26th and 27th January. The ‘Whisky and the Haggis’ event will run from 11-4pm on both days.

Scottish culture can be found all over the world, though mainly in the Commonwealth and former colonies (such as the USA). However, it came as a surprise to us to learn that there is a Highland Games in the Swiss town of Fehraltorf, not far from Zurich. Like most Highland Games, it has a nightlife and the Scottish Band “Celtica Rock” showed just how international and inventive “Scottish” music can be. We’re obliged to the German journalist Udo Seiwert-Fauti, a long time Scotophile, for drawing our attention to this wonderful global phenomenon.

“It could be said in the present day that Scottish patriotism is now more rampant than at any time since the Wars of Independence” — Professor Allan MacInnes of Strathclyde University

The eminent writer and broadcaster, Billy Kay, returns to the airways this month with a major series on Scottish Nationalism. In “The Cause” on BBC Radio Scotland, he explores themes of identity, culture, history and politics to trace the development of Scottish nationalism and the rise of the SNP.

He speaks to people who have devoted their lives to a movement which a few decades ago was regarded as peripheral and irrelevant, but which is now at the centre of national life.

Former Party Chairman, James Halliday, and the editor of the Scots Independent, Jim Lynch, along with seminal figures like Gordon Wilson, Winnie Ewing, and the family of the hugely important figure of “King” John MacCormick all tell their version of their story from within the movement.

However, as Billy points out, “others recall the sneers, the personal hostility and animosity their Scottish patriotism provoked at one time and the sacrifices many people made for the cause of Scottish independence in the past.”

Modern Scottish nationalism is discussed by Humza Yousaf MSP, whose father was the first Asian member of the SNP, and by First Minister Alex Salmond who looks forward with optimism to the future.

The commitment and passion of many of the activists interviewed is put in context by eminent historians such as Professors James Mitchell and Richard Finlay of Strathclyde University and Dr Peter Lynch of Stirling University.

They are joined by authorities on earlier periods of Scottish History – Fiona Watson from the University of Dundee for example highlights the importance of the Wars of Independence in the creation of our national identity.

The series also hears from the people and samples the atmosphere at live gatherings which celebrate that history. There are many of them, everything from the battle field of Bannockburn to Arbroath Abbey where the Declaration of Arbroath was proclaimed.

In Bonnymuir, the 1820 Society commemorates the “Radical Rising” of working class men who carried a banner with the words “Scotland Free or a Desert”.

In the former mining community of Redding near Falkirk, the men of the Sir William Wallace Grand Lodge of Free Colliers hold their annual demonstration to remember the struggle of Scottish miners for freedom and their identification with the struggle of Bruce and Wallace for Scottish independence.

Billy also stresses the crucial role of writers, thinkers and artists, people like Hugh MacDiarmid, R B Cunninghame Graham, Eric Linklater and Compton Mackenzie. Their role is considered by commentators on Scottish cultural history such as Tom Nairn, Paul Henderson Scott and Tom Normand of the University of St Andrews.

“This cultural dimension,” he says, “will grace the series, with poetry from Barbour to MacCaig and readings from Burns, Scott, Stevenson and MacDiarmid. Music and song will also feature from Burns “Scots Wha Hae” to the Corries “Flower of Scotland” and Hamish Henderson’s “Freedom Come All Ye”.

The moving theme music is by Sarah MacNeil’s band Cherrygrove – Sarah is a student at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire who composed “Free or a Desert” to commemorate the Scottish political martyrs of 1820, John Baird, Jame Wilson and Andrew Hardie.

The series of five programmes starts on September 24 at 14.05, repeated September 29 at 6.04 and October 1 at 02.00 on BBC Radio Scotland.

– Billy Kay has been documenting Scottish life and culture for many years. His award-winning production company, Odyssey Productions, has made programmes which have been broadcast around the world. Billy’s contribution to Scottish culture was recognised when he won the Heritage Society Award, joining the distinguished company of previous winners Sorley Maclean and David Daiches.