Archive for the ‘ Scotland ’ Category

Scottish Highlands, Castles and Clans; Legends and Reality

Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.


asbtract: Forget the illusory Loch Ness Monster! Scotland’s Highlands has enticing legends based on real facts. Think Braveheart! Its William Wallace was just the beginning. The tales of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Rob Roy, the Red Robin Hood are as colorful. They are the stuff which gave life to the modern genre of historical novel. I went to look for them in their castles, glens and lochs, sifting through the entangling barnacles attached by the history of kings and Clan chiefs in their tartans and kilts, often in skirmish.


Doune Castle

The sign that welcomed us to Doune Castle recalled the sudden evolution of its fame “from a royal castle to a ridiculously silly film.” Its reference was to the movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a parody of the legends of King Arthur which was mostly shot here by the British film-maker Monty Python in 1974. That widely popular film has been the reason for the influx of tourists to Doune Castle. Tour guides oblige them by providing the visitors with face armor and a sword from the bygone days as they pose before the Castle.  My interest included reality as well as the legends about Scottish castles.

Doune Castle was an imposing medieval stronghold, in the village of Doune some 8 miles south of the fringes of the Scottish Highlands.  Originally built in the 13th century, the Castle was rebuilt in the present form toward the end of the late 14th century by Robert Stewart, then the Regent of Scotland, after suffering damages in the intervening Scottish Wars of Independence. Surviving relatively unchanged, Doune Castle represents the planning of a medieval royal castle with a courtyard in the middle of a range of buildings, two of which were completed. These were a large tower house comprising the rooms for the royal family and another tower with the guest rooms as well as the kitchen. The Castle is now owned and managed by The National Trust for Scotland for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, “the conservation charity that protects and promotes Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage.” The Trust owns 130 properties which include other historic sites as well as castles. Another organization, Historic Scotland which is an agency of the Scottish Government, is responsible for maintaining and running over 360 other historic monuments in Scotland.

Stirling Castle

Among the castles managed by Historic Scotland none is more important historically and architecturally than StirlingCastle.  Although located some 13 kilometers south of Doune, the town of Stirling is still close enough to the Highlands to be called considered as one of its “commercial” centers. The strategic value of this site has always been crucial to all of Scotland. The Castle sits on top of Castle Hill, dominating the plain around it. Steep cliffs on three sides protect it. Castle Hill controls the farthest downstream crossing of the important and long River Forth. This site is in the middle of the small central belt of Scotland where nearly 80% of the population of Scotland lives. The major cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh are each about 40 kilometers away. No wonder then that Castle Hill has had fortifications from the earliest times.  For a long time whoever occupied it controlled Scotland.

Most of the surviving buildings of the large Stirling Castle date from the 15th and 16th centuries. The Castle, however, hosts legends and history from centuries earlier. The Statue of Scottish King Robert the Bruce dominates the esplanade at the Castle, reminding you that after taking possession of it in 1315, he ordered its fortification destroyed to make it useless in case of reoccupation by his enemy, the English. The English had held Stirling for two years, and would come back to take it again in 1336. This seesawing, in fact, would be repeated several times afterward, as it had been before: in 1303 the Scots took Stirling from the English who had occupied it since 1298, having lost it in 1297 to the Scots led by William Wallace, after holding it since 1296 when Edward, the King of England invaded Scotland and thus began the Wars of Scottish Independence. That War would last for the next 60 years. The English occupation in 1336 was just the beginning of the second phase of the War. Stirling Castle would change hands again. Indeed, several later Scottish Kings and Queens would be crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots in 1542.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Stirling Castle has been put to siege at least eight times, the last time in 1746 by Bonnie Prince Charlie.  Bonnie (Scottish  for attractive) Prince Charlie was born Prince Charles in Rome to the Old Pretender,  Prince  James, himself the son of exiled Stuart King James II of England. In 1745 Charles landed in Scotland in order to capture the throne for his father from King George of England (and Scotland and Ireland). Bonnie Prince Charlie gained support from the Scottish Highlanders in his Jacobite (after Stuart King James) Catholic uprising against the Protestant English.  His army was successful at first and even took Edinburgh, but within a year he was defeated by the English and spent the next five months as a hunted man, barely keeping ahead of English forces with the help of the Highlanders. Charles’s adventure was short-lived but it spun a legend for him as a romantic hero. Notably, Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott featured him and his 1745 Jacobite Rising in his popular 1814 novel Waverley. Indeed, Bonnie Prince Charlie and others from the Scottish Highlands became main characters in a series of books Scott wrote which were pioneers in the genre of historical novels.

William Wallace

A prominent figure in Scott’s novels is William Wallace from the period of the Wars of Scottish Independence. By defeating the English in the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 William Wallace was able to take StirlingCastle. He was made Guardian of Scotland, and served until he was vanquished a year later by the English who in 1305 hanged him.  Little more is known about William Wallace, not even his birthplace and his father’s name. Yet he has achieved an iconic status in Scotland and beyond. As early as the 15th century he was memorialized in an epic poem by Blind Harry, The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Noble of Elderslie. In the 19th century Walter Scott re-invigorated Wallace’s reputation in his Exploits and Death of William Wallace, the “Hero of Scotland.”  In our times Wallace’s fame was spread world-wide with the 1995 motion picture Braveheart, a fictionalized account of his life, full of historical inaccuracies, which was a commercial success and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. “Mel Gibson was too short,” grumbled our guide at StirlingCastle. He conceded, however, that the movie in which Gibson played the role of Wallace “doubled the number of tourists to this Castle.”

Rob Roy

Another folk hero of the Highlands, the “Scottish Robin Hood,” did not have to wait centuries to become famous.  Rob Roy, a.k.a. Red MacGregor, became a legend in his own time (1671-1734).  A fictionalized account of his life, The Highland Rogue, was published in 1723. Once again, however, it was Walter Scott who made him known to the wider world. In his 1817 historical novel, Rob Roy, Scott depicts Red (haired) MacGregor as the leader of a band of Highlanders, an upright gentleman who was forced into a life of blackmailing and stealing cattle. He is bold and crafty. He is loved by many and feared by some. He stole from the rich to give to the poor.  In real life, Rob Roy had borrowed money to increase his cattle herd, but his chief herder disappeared with the money, causing Rob to default on the payment of the loan. The lender, the Duke of (Clan) Montrose, foreclosed on Rob’s land and this led to a blood feud and Rob Roy’s fabled adventures. The Duke of Argyll, John Campbell from another Scottish clan, eventually negotiated an amnesty and protection for Rob in return for his surrender to the authorities.


Argyll was the territory of Clan Campbell. Scottish Highland Clans were kinship groups – the Gaelic word clann means progeny – but included other locals who accepted the authority of the dominant family in the vicinity. Notwithstanding their claims to mythological Celtic founders, clans emerged in the 13th century when the Scottish monarchs’ termination of the Norsemen’s rule over lands in western Highlands, such as Argyll, created a space for the resident warlords to dominate local families who sought their protection.  King Robert the Bruce enhanced the clans’ position by granting them land in return for their support against the English during the early 14th century Wars of Scottish Independence. The Civil War of the 17th century pitted Scottish clans against each other. Some like Clan Campbell backed the anti-British Covenanters (bonding against religious impositions from England), more based on their own political interests than out of (Jacobite) love for the Scottish house of Stuart, while other Clans such as Clan Gordon supported the Royalists followers of the British Charles I, mainly because they were opposed to the Campbells and other Jacobite Clans. Yet in the folklore of Scottish Jacobites the Highlanders came to symbolize patriotic purity as against the corruption of the Union with England.

The suppression of the Jacobite Rising in 1745 undermined the system of clanship in Scotland. Troops from Great Britain undertook what amounted to ethnic cleansing, killing many and displacing others from clans who had supported the Jacobite cause. The mass forced emigration to other parts of Scotland and the North American colonies has come to be known as the Highland Clearances.  On the other hand, in support of the government, chiefs of some other clans formed what became known as the British Highland Regiments, primarily to safeguard their own interests as landowners. Only these clans were allowed to continue wearing Highland dress, especially tartan, which had come to be used for a sense of clan identity; others were barred so as to quash any further threat of a Jacobite type insurrection. This ban was not lifted until 1782 through the efforts of the Highland Society of London led by the Duke of Montrose. The rehabilitation of highland culture soon followed.

The Ossian cycle of epic poems published in 1736–1796 is credited with creating an international romantic vision of Highlands.  The author, James Macpherson, offered translations of what he claimed was poetry by the ancient Gaelic bard Ossian.  Works of Walter Scott further popularize the idealized image of the Highlands. His literary contribution aside, Scott’s singular success was the choreography of the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822. The monarch wore tartan and kilt. His trip resulted in a huge increase in demand for tartans and kilts. Individual clans now came to identify themselves with their own unique tartans. Tartans, indeed, became a primary symbol of Scottish identity. Soon all of Scotland identified with the culture of the Highlands, a phenomenon called Highlandism which was augmented by Queen Victoria’s interest in Scotland and “tartenry”, and her many trips to the Highlands.


Queen Victoria often stayed in or close to Callander, a small town which had become a popular “health resort” since the Scottish Railway reached it in 1859. After a visit in 1869, the Queen expressed her delight with the people and the surroundings of Callander, although she described it as having “a few good houses and many poor ones.” Today Callander is considered a “typical Victorian town” with a single street. On that street one finds such stores as Blythswood Care which offers “Christian Care for Body and Soul.” In the main square of town, there is a monument to the soldiers who died in WW I . Across the monument, on the day of my visit, volunteers were collecting donations for “our heroes” in the current Afghanistan war. One pound bought you three tickets to a lottery with the winning prize being one of the donated bottles of beer.

Callander also hosts a “Rob Roy & Trossachs Visitor Centre.” It is the largest town in the Trossachs National Park which is among the most beautiful natural attractions in Scotland.  This area was the stomping ground of Rob Roy, but also where the Argyll and Montrose Clans had fought battles as early as 1645. Callander is located in a thickly wooded valley of lochs (lakes). The Callander Crags visible from the town are a part of the Highland Boundary Fault. Callander’s location has given it the name the “Gateway to the Highlands.”


The Boundary Fault crosses mainland Scotland in a near straight line from the town of Stonehaven in the east to the town of Helensburgh in the west. It has left two distinctly separate geological terrains, the Highlands to its north and the Lowlands to its south. Scotland is a part of the North American plate, an extension of the Appalachian Mountains in eastern United States. The Highlands section which we were now touring was largely composed of ancient rocks from the Cambrian periods uplifted during the Caledonian Orogeny (mountain building era) about 400-500 million years ago, our guide said.  Periods of glacial activities have “scalped the landscape” by creating boulders and lakes. This was followed by a period of forestation.  The Romans called Scotland Caledonia which in the pre-Celtic language meant hard or rock. Our guide said:. “To the Romans, who never conquered more than half of Scotland, Caledonia also meant a wild country because of Scotland’s forests, consisting of mostly Norwegian pines, which at one time covered 90% of the land.” Much of that forest has been cut for farming, the guide continued.

Driving north of Callander for miles we saw only a few mountain peaks. There were more green gentle slopes .  Occasionally, there were small forests of pines and lakes , but only rare settlements with very few structures. In the 1880s this area became sheep country, our local guide said. We were able, however, to see a Highland  Cow, the “oldest registered breed of cattle.” For centuries the Highlands breed had lived in the rugged remote Scottish land. Not any longer; this Highland Cow, Hamish, was kept as a novelty for tourists.  As a sign explained its looks:  “The extremely harsh conditions created a process of natural selection,… with long horns and long wavy coats.”  The American cattlemen appreciated “the qualities of the Highland animal and imported them to improve the blood lines of their herds. As a result, the Highland contributed in a great way to the success of the American cattle industry.”

The Campbells

A competing theory in the etymology of Caledonia as the name for the Highlands attributes it to the Celtic Caledonii, one of the several tribes living here in ancient times. Since then different Celtic peoples and Norwegian Vikings, among others, have moved to the Highlands, creating a “melting pot,” in the words of our local guide.  Now, however, the Highlands, with its 230,100 people, is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world, having lost many persons in the 19th century due to a combination of the killing and displacing of many and the outlawing of the traditional way of life, following the Jacobite Rising, and mass migration to the urban centers during the Industrial Revolution.

For a glance at the past and future of the leadership of this changing population of the Highlands we went to the ancestral and current homes of a principal Clan which we had already encountered, the Campbells.  From the road we walked the path of  few hundred yards, lined in places with wild pink foxtail flowers toward the ruins of Kilchurn Castle.  An osprey dove for fish into the lake to our right. This was Loch Awe, one of the Highland’s largest freshwater lakes. It was around this lake that Clan Campbell established itself as one of the Highlands’ most powerful families. There were other Argyll clans that populated the lands surrounding the lake -the Macarthurs, MacGregors and Stewarts- but only the remains of the CampbellCastle now stand here. The ruins of these 15th and 17th century structures are so picturesque that they are among the most photographed sites in Scotland.

Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn was built on a small island in Loch Awe which was not much larger than the Castle itself. Sir Colin Campbell, the first Lord of Glen Orchy, built the first structures here around 1450. It was a five story tall tower house which had a courtyard. Here and in other spots among the ruins signs told the story of the evolution of Kilchurn from which “the Campbells of Glen Orchy began their rise to become one of the most powerful dynasties in Scotland.” We climbed what was left of the tower and noted that it looked onto Loch Awe. A map showed how it dominated the valley  (Glen) of Orchy, ensuring the Campbells’ rule over the area..

An outer wall defended this castle. Lake Awe was all  around  the island on which it stood. Within fifty years an additional hall was added, and other structures followed in the next two centuries. This was a “Cultured Castle” as a sign in a room said . “Visitors to Kilchurn were entertained with music and Gaelic poetry in the hall where you are now standing. The richly decorated room reflected the high status of their noble hosts.” The master masons’ marks on the portal of the Castle spoke of the large sums used to construct it. “Those days, masons were very much in demand and well-paid,” the local guide reminded us.

Toward the end of the 16th century, the Campbells changed their main residence to Fincharn Castle on the southwest shore of Loch Awe. In 1681 when their chief was made the First Earl of Breadalbane, the Campbells turned the Kilchurn Castle into a barracks, housing 200 troops during the Jacobite Rising. From 1715 to 1745, it was used as a British Government garrison. Toward the end, the Campbells chiefs tried unsuccessfully, to sell Kilchurn to the government. They had by now moved to Taymouth Castle in the northeast of the Highlands. In 1760, a major storm and lightning badly damaged Kilchurn Castle. The turret of a tower toppled upside-down in the courtyard which we saw was the evidence of the violence of that storm. Consequently, Kilchurn was completely abandoned.

Inveraray Castle

In the 1740s, the 3rd Duke of Argyll, chief of Clan Campbell, built a country house near the village of Inveraray on Loch Fyne, Scotland’s longest sea loch, which has since been the seat of his descendants.  The incumbent chief, the 13th Duke of Argyll and his family live in this Inveraray Castle. They occupy two floors and allow the public to visit several other rooms, for a fee. “That fee is to help pay for the maintenance of the Castle,” an attendant explained to me. “The public viewing is only in the summer, until October when the family comes back from vacation.”

The Castle is of the neo-Gothic design. The interior rooms I could see had collections of tapestries and paintings, notably a portrait of Queen Charlotte which that wife of King George III had given to the then Duke of Argyll. There were also items of special interest to the members of the Campbell clan, including a few mementoes from Rob Roy McGregor, such as his sporran (pouch) and dirk (knife) handle.

The Castle’s soaring central Armory Hall boasts of being the “highest room” in Scotland. The current Duke is the Captain of the “Elephant Polo” team that “twice” won the “world championship,” we were informed. He cuts a dashing figure in framed pictures that crowd the top of a grand piano in another, larger, room. This is where the family entertains when in residence. The photos also show the other members of the family. Amidst them, I was surprised to find a picture of the actress Audrey Hepburn. “Why her picture?” I asked an attendant.  “It is put there so that you would ask,” he said. “Actually, it was Frederick Loewe who was a guest here and he composed some of the original music of My Fair Lady right on that grand piano.” Hepburn only played Lisa Doolittle in that musical, but she was a far more attractive and familiar face for the tourists.  At the Castle’s souvenir shop a big poster of Downton Abbey TV series, the “Christmas” episode of which was shot in this Castle, greeted the tourists with another famous face: Maggie Smith stood in the middle of the other actors of the popular show.

The 3rd Duke of Argyll also re built much of Inveraray which is surrounded by his Castle and its 16-acre garden in an estate of 60,000 acres. The town is now mainly a street full of shops and restaurants catering to tourists. The street ends in a splendid beach at the salty Loch Fyne . I stood on that beach, on this last day of my short stay in Highlands, and let my imagination take me to the late 8th century when other visitors, the Vikings from Norway, came to this lake in their formidable longship – the legendary “monster”? They stayed in the Highlands for centuries.


Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise  distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.


In mid-July 2013 Edinburgh was crowded with foreign tourists. Two nationalities stood out as anecdotal proof of the phenomenon of “Emerging Economies”: the Chinese who came in groups and the Indians who came in extended families. On the Royal Mile of the Old Town, the hand–held signs for the city’s new Chinese and Indians restaurants competed with the iconic bagpipe players for attention. In the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, nearby, bleachers had already been set up for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo,  with “massed pipes and drums,” which is performed by the various international military bands every August as a part of the wider three-week long annual Edinburgh International Festival. This town claims, with some justification, that its Festival is the best in the world. “It is also the biggest,” the bagpiper on the Royal Mile bragged. I was grateful to have come now when it was still possible to see the less ephemeral exceptional sights of this ancient city where history is writ large.

We were on Castle Rock where it all began. This is the 300 million year old stump of a volcano worn by glaciers. The massive basalt rock dominates the landscape, looking impregnable from below. It was the most easily defensible hilltop on the invasion route from the south. Hence, it naturally became the “capital” of the Gododdin people who called it Dun Eiden (Fort on the Hill Slope). The Gododdin had followed their ancestors, the Votadini, the ancient Britons who established their settlements on Castle Rock and, on the other end of this hill ridge, Arthur’s Seat. When the Angles from northeastern England defeated the Gododdins and captured Dun Eiden in 638, they tacked onto the Celtic Eiden their own Old English word for fortified town, burh, dropping the prefix din, making it Edinburgh.

I stepped into the oldest surviving structure on Castle Rock, Saint Margaret’s Chapel. It was a small simple Romanesque building dating from around 1140, built by King David I, in memory of his mother, Queen Margaret. The wife of King Malcolm III of Scotland, Margaret was a pious woman who was canonized by the Pope in 1250. This Royal couple founded a dynasty of Scottish rulers beginning in 1057. Their home remained Dunfermline just across the estuary of the river Forth (Firth of Forth) which is now the border of Edinburgh, but they regularly came to their Edinburgh castle on the Castle Rock. Holding court at the castle began with David. He also founded an abbey in 1128 near Arthur’s Seat. The abbey, the ruins of which still exists, is named Holyrood, after a part of the True Cross (rood in Scottish), believed to have been brought to Scotland  by Margaret. A settlement that thus grew in David’s time, extending east from Castle Rock, became the town of Edinburgh.

What I could now see in Edinburgh, however, was built from the 14th century on. The Royal Palace on Castle Rock was constructed during the 15th and 16th centuries. Across it is the Great Hall, built as a ceremonial chamber for King James IV (1488-1513) which later served as the meeting venue for the Scottish Parliament until 1639. Castle Rock dominated the plain below, all the way to the Firth of Forth in the distance. Big guns aimed through the turrets at the attacking enemy below. The one at the very top of Castle Rock, a 15th century gun, stood next to Saint Margaret’s Chapel and was called Mons Meg, after a different Margaret; Mons was where it was first tested .

There are many other cannons, as well as vaults and prisons on Castle Rock but what makes the Scots most proud is the collection called the “Honours of Scotland.” I saw them in the RoyalPalace. They consist of a Crown, Sceptre and Sword. Each has a colorful history and, together, they are the oldest surviving crown jewels in Europe. The Crown was made in 1540 from the gold of Robert the Bruce’s 14th century coronet. He is considered a national hero as the King who successfully led Scotland in the Wars of Independence against England. The Sceptre was a gift to King James IV from Pope Alexander VI in 1494. It is embellished with several Christian symbols, including an image of Saint Andrew, the patron Saint of Scotland, holding a saltire (St. Andrew’s Cross) which is the national flag of Scotland. The Sword was a gift from Pope Julius II sent to Scotland’s King James IV in 1507. In 1652 it was broken into two halves in order to be concealed from the invading English troops of Cromwell.

When the Act of Union in 1707 dissolved the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of England and established instead the Parliament of Great Britain sitting in London, it ended Scotland as a separate kingdom and left the Honours of Scotland with no symbolic role to play. They were locked away in a chest at EdinburghCastle. They were practically forgotten until 1818 when a group, led by Edinburgh’s Sir Walter Scott set out to find them. Upon being discovered the Honours of Scotland have been put on public display ever since.

Next to the Honours of Scotland in RoyalPalace one can also see the Stone of Destiny, even a more potent symbol in the complex relations between Scotland and England. On this stone, believed to have come from the Holy Land, Scottish kings had placed their feet as a part of their coronation ceremony. In his invasion of 1269 King Edward I of England took the Stone from the Scone Abbey to England. It was kept there as a reminder of Scotland’s subjugation, inside the case of a throne upon which British monarchs, including Elizabeth II in 1953, sat for their coronation. The Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland in 1996 by the ruling Conservative Party in London as a gesture which it hoped would boost their sagging popularity before a general election.

The Honours of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny are located in the first floor of the former Royal Apartments in the RoyalPalace. On the ground floor is a small room where Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1566 gave birth to her only child who would become King James VI of Scotland a year later and King of England as well in 1603. Mary, whose portrait is on the wall of the Royal Apartments among those of other Stuart monarchs of Scotland, is “the most famous, most intriguing and most studied of all Scottish monarchs” according to the official tourist site of Edinburgh.

That is probably no exaggeration, as I later learned. Born in 1542, Mary became the queen of Scotland six days later when her father, King James V, died. King Henry VIII of England soon proposed a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary in order to create an alliance with Scotland. Thwarted, Henry launched a war with Scotland (1541-1551) which was continued after his death in several English invasions of Scotland. The infant Queen Mary was protected in EdinburghCastle for several months in 1548 before her French mother sent her for security to a castle most accessible to France. In fact, Mary spent most of her childhood in France and in 1558 married the French Dauphin (Crown Prince) Francis who, upon the death of his father, became king as Francis II almost immediately, thus making Mary the Queen Consort of France while she was also Queen Regent of Scotland. Francis died in 1560.  Five years later Mary wedded her cousin, the English nobleman Henry Stuart (Lord Darnely) who was now proclaimed Henry, King of Scots. James VI was their child. Mary soon became disenchanted with her husband who also made enemies of some powerful nobles. When King Henry was found strangled to death in 1567, it was said that Mary knew of the nobles’ plot to kill him.  A few months later, Mary married the Earl of Bothwell, a Scottish nobleman to whom she had turned for support against Henry. Mary’s subjects who suspected Bothwell’s involvement in the murder of their King were outraged and turned against Mary. She was forced to abdicate and fled to England for help. Her cousin Elizabeth was the Queen of England. She imprisoned Mary, perceiving her as a threat since Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own based on the support of many English Catholics. After 18 years of trying to gain her freedom Mary was charged and found guilty of participating in a plot to kill Elizabeth. She was beheaded in 1587, at age 44.

The Palace that Queen Mary used as residence in her 6 years in Edinburgh (1561-67) is at the other end of the ridge of Castle Rock. Called the Palace of Holyroodhouse, it was built by her father, King James V, at the site of the abbey that King David had founded four centuries earlier. This Palace has played a central role in Scotland’s history ever since. To begin with, it was here that some of the most dramatic events of Mary’s reign took place, culminating in the murder in the palace of her secretary, David Rizzio, in 1566.  Mary’s husband, King Consort Henry, is said to have believed the rumors that David Rizzio was Mary’s lover and had made Mary pregnant, and joined the nobles to murder him. The murder was the catalyst for Henry’s downfall with the serious subsequent consequences for Mary’s fate.

Palace of Holyroodhouse retained its role after Mary and is now the official residence of British Queen Elizabeth in Edinburgh. On the side of its entrance door there is a prominent marker of the symbols of the United Kingdom: the Lion and the Unicorn which are the heraldic supporters appearing in its Britain’s Royal coat of arms. The unicorn represents Scotland and the lion stands for England. The combination originated in the beginning of the 17th century when Kings James VI of Scotland became King James I of England as well.

Royal Mile

The distance of a little more than a mile between the RoyalPalace on Castle Rock and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which also passed by all the changing sites of the Parliament, has been used by various kings and queens as a processional route.  Hence it has been called the Royal Mile. This gently snaking road was the only street of Edinburgh until the 1760s. The oldest house still standing here is the one John Knox occupied from 1561 for eleven years.  He was the minister at the nearby St Giles’ Cathedral (called after the patron saint of Edinburgh) which is more properly named the High Kirk of Edinburgh, and is known as the Mother Church of Presbyterianism. The crown spire on the top of the Cathedral dates back to the 15th century, but the Cathedral as it stands today was constructed in 1883.  Many of the other buildings lining the Old Mile are six to eight stories tall 17th to 19th century tenement buildings. Indeed, on the Royal Mile one finds the largest concentration of surviving 17th century buildings in all of Britain. Renovated and restored, today this single avenue of Old Town with its many narrow alleys (closes and wynds) and stairs houses a thriving resident community. The street level, however, is given to shops, bars and restaurants catering to the tourists.

The souvenirs that the shops sell are primarily knitwear clothing for which Scotland has been famous, especially wool and cashmere scarves and sweaters. This despite the fact that on the days I was there, Edinburgh was experiencing an unprecedented hot summer. Prices were almost the same in all stores. The higher-priced cashmere, I was told, were manufactured in Scotland, unlike the lower-priced cashmere merchandise which had been made in “other countries such as Nepal.”  In the bars the overwhelmingly favored drink was beer. A bartender reminded me that in the 19th century, Edinburgh ranked in the same league with Munich as a brewing center and that in the early 1900 it had some thirty breweries. The Scots were, of course, quite happy to tell you about the drink that is named after them, Scotch whisky.  “Single malt Scotch is one that is made only from barley that came only from one of the four main regions of Scotland -Lowland, Highland, Isles, and Speyside- and distilled in only one distillery,” I was told. The geographic source of the barley determines its taste:  “lemon, grass, smokey, and banana” relating, respectively, to the four areas mentioned. Blended Scotch is the “mixture of several single malts or one mixed with scotch made from wheat.” Not far from the Castle one can see “the largest collection of Scotch bottles in the world, which started by six bottles given in the 1950s as a gift to its Brazilian collector.”  Each bottle in the collection is different, some “bottles” are in unusual shapes such as a golf club. “None of these bottles has been opened.”

Royal Mile, of course, had other monuments. They were accessible only through the throng of tourists that snapped pictures indiscriminately, and by stepping over the younger visitors spread on the sidewalks in front of their hostels.  In the century between the mid-1700s and mid-1800s Edinburgh nurtured the flourishing of a unique cultural and intellectual movement known as the Scottish Enlightenment.  Among its many philosophers, scientists and artists, two were especially honored on the Royal Mile near the Cathedral. A sitting statue of David Hume (1711-1776) celebrates this “Man of Enlightenment’s” many accomplishments as a philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist.  Situated before Edinburgh’s High Court Building, Hume is oddly depicted half-naked in a Roman toga. His toe is shiny from the local students’ rubbing it for good luck in their exams – an irony given Hume’s strong critical views on superstition.  Hume’s collaborator in the Scottish Enlightenment, Adam Smith (1723-1790), famous for his The Wealth of Nation, is depicted in a standing statue nearby with contemporary clothes, not idealized, to emphasis “his concern for the practical matters.”  Smith’s hand is hidden under a gown to hint his famous economic metaphor of the market’s invisible hand . Adam Smith is buried in the Canongate Church yard which is just a few blocks away. Also buried there is Robert Fergusson , a young Edinburgh poet (1750 –1774) during the Scottish Enlightenment who became highly influential, especially because of his impact on another poet, Robert Burns.  Burns (1759-1796) is “the national poet of Scotland,” I was told in Edinburgh’s oldest pub which boasted that it was where “Burns stayed during his last visit to Edinburgh.” Affectionately called Rabbie Burns, he was chosen as “the greatest Scot” in a poll recently conducted in Scotland.

Parliament Building

Canongate is a section of the Royal Mile which was once the abode of the Augustinian cannons (monks) of Holyrood Abbey.  Today it is home to the ScottishParliament Building. The choice of this site, near the ruins of Holyrood Abbey and the Palace of Holyroodhouse was symbolic. For more than one thousand years this was the seat of power, religious and royal. The Scottish Parliament’s powerful influence was most dramatically demonstrated in 1560 when it created a Protestant church, the PresbyterianScottishChurch that was independent of Rome and of the monarchy.

That church’s belief in a personal bond with God which saw no need for mediation through priests was the basis of a Covenant of  defiance in 1638 against attempts by King Charles I to impose the rule of bishops on Scotland. This led to a civil war with those who supported the king. As the war ruined the country and its economy, the wealthy Scottish merchants concluded that their only hope for making money in the profitable market of developing colonies was through union with England in its emerging empire. The 1707 Act of Union which brought Scotland and England under one sovereign and one flag resulted also in one parliament.  The removal of the Scottish Parliament lasted three centuries, but the separatist feelings persisted. They grew especially in the 1979 to 1997 period when Scotland was ruled by a Conservative Party government in London against which most of the Scots had voted.  When the Labour Party won in a landslide in 1997, a referendum was held on the resurrection of a Scottish Parliament. The Scots voted overwhelmingly in favor. In July 1999 Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the new Scottish Parliament.

To building for the new Parliament was designed by the then little-known Catalan architect Enric Miralles, chosen in an international competition. Its doors were opened in 2004, and it won Britain’s 2005 Stirling Prize for the year’s best new architecture. While the ScottishParliamentBuilding is lauded by architectural academics and critics as a superb example of “postmodern deconstructivism” which created an artistic union between Edinburgh and the Scottish people, culture and landscape, the project has been controversial. It went way over the initial budget and schedule and used some non-indigenous materials such as granite from China instead of Scotland.

I took the new ParliamentBuilding as the representative of the aspirations of the recently politically aroused people of Scotland. On the day of my visit, the annual Great Edinburgh Run was scheduled on the Royal Mile. It would pass by the ScottishParliamentBuilding. This portion of the Mile, High Street, was closed to traffic. The runners were walking to the start line. Several volunteers were stationed for assisting as “Stewards.” This gave me an opportunity to ask several residents about their views on the Parliament Building.

The Canongate Wall of the building which runs along the Royal Mile was especially eye-catching with its carvings, inlaid stones, and decorative attachments. “I like the lower section of that wall,” a woman who was volunteering for the Run, told me.  “The drawings on it remind me of the ScottishHighlands and Edinburgh’s Royal Mile; and it has quotes from famous Scottish people.” She said: “But I don’t like the upper part with the woods. I don’t understand the reason for the woods.” She was also critical of the choice of site of “this modern structure an area of old historical buildings, and the fact it had “cost too much.” The quotations on the wall were inscribed on the inlaid stones. I got closer to read some. “Who possesses this land? The man who bought it or I who am possessed by it?  / False questions, for this landscape is masterless and intractable in many terms that are human.” That was signed by the contemporary poet Norman MacCaig. Another from the middle 20th century poet Sir Alexander Gray read:  “This is my country/the land that begat me/ These windy spaces are surely my own/and those who toll here/in the seat of their faces/ are flesh of my flesh/and bone of my bone.” A third was a Scottish proverb: “To promise is ae thing/ to keep it is another.”

I spoke to a man in front of the side entrance to the Building which had clean lines . He said he liked “such simplicity.” He was puzzled and critical of “the jumble of wood, metal, fences, windows and casts” on a side wall nearby. His friend said he was satisfied with the unusual shaped protrusions on the next wall which he called “thinking pods” for the Members of the Parliament.  He also explained that the latticed forest of wooden poles on the wall at the front of the Building represented “Scotland’s birch trees or fields of barley.” He even defended the cost of the Building: “The fact that the Parliament is here has helped reduce unemployment in Edinburgh.”

No one denied the political value of the Parliament. The unicameral system with 129 elected members led by a first minister now has authority over matters which have been “devolved” from the United Kingdom: domestic affairs such as education, health, housing, transport and economic development. It can lower or increase the rate of income tax in Scotland by up to 3%. London has retained the power over “reserved matters,” including defense, foreign affairs and social security.   (Edinburgh’s local government is run by an elected City Council.)

For some Scots that is just the beginning of separation from England. Alistair, a Steward at the Run, said “people would now vote for full independence from the U.K.” A referendum on that question is scheduled for 2014.  “Scotland is different from England,” Alistair said.

“In Scotland, the people were always sovereign, so we had a ‘king of the Scots and not Scotland!’ In England the king was sovereign.” He was concerned, however, about the influence of “the propaganda from the BBC.” on the Scottish voters. “We have no real broadcasting counterpart to BBC.  Also the Scottish establishment is against independence.” He said “Energy industry is the way to re-industrialize Scotland.” He said “England relies on hydro-electric power of Scotland.” Alistair expected renewable energy to satisfy all of Scotland’s need by 2020. He laid claim to most of the U.K.’s oil as they came from “Scottish waters.”


Alistair’s views were basically shared by the musicians I met that evening. As I walked passed the Waterloo Bar , Allen was standing just outside taking a break. He invited me in: “Go in and grab a beer.” He was the leader of a group of musicians who were playing the guitar, banjo, and Celtic drum.  They sang Scottish folk songs. The ones who introduced the songs sometimes made comments expressing their pride in Scotland which were not without political overtones. “Scotland is a kingdom in its own right,” Allen said. “The English want our natural resources,” another added later. This was a jam session. Allen told us about the world wide influence of Scottish music. “American blue grass music comes from Scotland.” In his audience there were visitors from different lands. To my right sat a Norwegian couple. This was their first visit to Scotland. “What took you so long,” Allen joked with them alluding to their Viking ancestors who had come centuries before. Rita and Martin from Bristol, were spending the weekend here “to avoid the July 12, St. Patrick’s counterpart in Northern Ireland.” Martin said “We are not all bigots,” before insisting to buy me a drink. I asked for just a beer. He said no “you must also have a scotch to drink with the beer.” Martin told me to go to Clifton on my trip in Ireland for real good music. “Come visit us when in Bristol; give your address to Rita!”

New Town

Waterloo Bar is in Edinburgh’s New Town. The statue of the hero of Waterloo, Duke of Wellington, dominates the plaza in the next block. It was Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in the June 1815 Battle of Waterloo, Belgium, that ended his rule as Emperor of the French. Wellington was not a Scot; born in an Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning family, he was a 19th century British soldier and statesman. The New Town, unlike Edinburgh’s Old Town, mostly celebrates the British.  Its most prestigious shopping street is named after George III, King of Great Britain (1760-1820). It is north of Princes Street (named after the King’s two oldest sons) and south of Queen Street (named after the King’s wife). Of the three other streets that complete the main grid of the New Town, one is named after the King’s father, Frederick, and another after his royal family, Hanover. The statue of King George’ son, George IV, towers over George Street which ends in Charlotte Square (after the King’s Queen).

Not only in name but also in architecture and town planning the New Town is all King III’s legacy. It is considered the world’s most complete surviving example of Georgian town planning and architecture, styles named mostly after him (but also the three other King Georges -who together ruled less than him- his son and the two other English King Georges, I and II, who preceded him). It abounds in elegant terraces,  porticos, pediments and columns. Some of the best examples of such elements of the “neoclassical” (Georgian) architecture are on the north side of Charlotte Square, with the official residence of Scotland’s first minister in its center.

The Old Town had come to have a few Georgian buildings too, notably the City Chambers, now housing the City Council, which was built in 1753-1761, but by then the Old Town had become too crowded and uncomfortable for its wealthy citizens. Indeed, it was now referred to as Auld Reekie (Old Smelly) because, lacking a proper sewage system, residents “just dropped all their garbage out of windows into the valley below,” as the tour guides tell you. In the valley to the north of the Castle Rock was a boggy depression called the Nor’ Loch (North Loch). The Castle Rock on which tenements had gone up as high as they could -“creating the Medieval Manhattan,” the guides would say- had run out of space as it could not be expanded.

The North Loch has since been drained and replaced with PrincesStreetGardens, now Edinburgh’s best public park with the greatest number of visitors, residents and tourists alike. This project which began in the 1770s was a part of the larger one to build a new town. In the competition for this town, the plan submitted by an obscure, self-taught 23 year old, James Craig, won. His plan was laid out in the 1760s. The earth dug out for buildings in the New Town was dumped onto a part of the North Loch to provide a road link with the OldTown which is now called The Mound, splitting the PrincesStreetGardens into two.

Walter Scott

New Town played a significant role in uniting the Scots. The statue of George IV (on George Street) celebrated his exceptional visit to Edinburgh in 1822, the first by a reigning monarch in more than 150 years. Complying with the King’s stated wishes, the city of Edinburgh asked Sir Walter Scott to manage that visit.  Scott (1771- 1832) was a famed Scottish writer. King George IV had been a fan even as the Prince Regent and had invited Scott to dinner in 1815. Walter Scott was already a celebrity as a poet when he began turning his research in the oral tradition of Scotland into historical novels, pioneering that genre . The first was Waverley, published anonymously in 1814, followed by several other novels under the name of “Author of Waverley,” as Scott wished to maintained anonymity.

Scott was an advocate of the Union with England. This was evident in Waverley which could not be but pleasing to the British monarchy.  In that novel, the English protagonist, Edward Waverley, serving in the British army visits the Highlands in Scotland and, meeting Bonnie Prince Charlie and her group of rebellious Jacobites (who supported the cause of the old Scottish Stuart dynasty), goes over to their side, but eventually Waverley (true to the name reflecting his divided royalties) resolves in favor of living peacefully under the rule of the House of Hanover.

The popular appeal of Scott’s exploration of Scottish history also impressed the British Prince Regent. He was the one who gave Scott permission to search for the long-lost Scottish Crown Jewels, and granted him the title of baronet on his success in 1818. Scott used George IV’s visit as a way to heal the rifts that had long afflicted Scots society. He staged the event’s welcoming ceremony as a “Gathering of the Scottish Clans” with “acres and acres of tartan.” He persuaded the King himself to dress in tartan. This was a remarkable show of “Highlandism”.  Dressing up in tartan (a pattern consisting of multiple color, crisscrossed horizontal and vertical bands woven in multiple colors, each associated with a region but since the mid-19th century adopted by specific clans) and wearing the kilt (the knee-length garment with pleats at the rear which originated as the dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century)  were becoming fashionable among the Scottish middle and upper classes. The urbanized Lowland Scots who had formerly long despised the Highland rural people were now adopting their dress, proscribed after the 1745 rebellion against the English, as a way of distinguishing themselves as Scots from their fellow-British in England. Paradoxically, King George VI’s visit and Walter Scott’s novels came to play an important part in making Scotland fashionable in England.

The Victorian craze for all things Scottish among the British royalty was in no small measure due to Scott’s novels.  His being a Lowland Presbyterian, rather than a Gaelic-speaking Catholic Highlander, of course, had made him more acceptable to a conservative English reading public. In 1854, the North British Railway named its new Edinburgh’s central train station Waverley. The citizens of Edinburgh had honored Sir Walter Scott in 1844 by building a Victorian Gothic monument that dominates the south side of the PrincesStreetGardens at 200 feet 6 inches -the highest monument in Europe, as they tell you.  Inside that ScottMonument sits a statue of Sir Walter Scott. Nearby, a bridge over the railroad tracks called Waverley is a main road connecting New Town to OldTown.

New Town which began as a residential suburb soon became a magnet for shops and businesses. Princes Street attracted retail stores such as Jenners Department Store (founded in 1838) which is Britain’s oldest department store. Today those shops’ specialties are kilts with different setts or tartan patterns. I was told that the most popular patterns are the Royal Stewart and the Black Watch which includes Old Campbell.  The naming of the tartans after clans has been promoted by weaving companies which recognized its mercantile benefit. Sales clerks told me that although the tartan originated in woven wool, is it now equally liked in cashmere.

New Town’s George Street, on the other hand, turned into Edinburgh’s financial district with banks and office buildings. The big financial firms have since relocated to Edinburgh’s new Exchange district. The old banks’ spaces have been taken over by trendy bars and restaurants, such as Dome Grill Room.  Its elegant dinning space was crowded with well-dressed guests on the Saturday night I visited it. Not far from it, Rose Street hosted the more casual customers in its many pubs -seventeen of them by my count- where amateur musicians played.

Whether Old Town or New Town, historic Edinburgh offered so much to visitors that one had to agree with UNESCO which declared both World Heritage Sites in 1995.


Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.


abstract: I flew to Scotland the day after Andy Murray won the 2013 Wimbledon Championships singles tennis title. This report includes some of my observations about the impact of that momentous event on Murray’s home country. Aside from Dunblane where Murray learned to play tennis, in search of its  national provenance, I visited the Royal Tennis Court in the Falkland Palace where even a more historic figure played tennis some 480 years ago: Mary, Queen of Scots. Her home court now claims to be the oldest in the world. The tennis that is still played there, however, has relinquished the simple appellation in favor of real or royal tennis.


 The day after Andy Murray won the 2013 Wimbledon Championships singles title I flew to Edinburgh. The two events were not coordinated but, once in Scotland, I was curious to learn about the impact of Murray’s feat on his homeland. On July 7, Murray became the first British man in 77 years to win the Wimbledon. This was on top of two other recent major accomplishments:  Murray’s 2012 US Open victory which had made him the only British male to become a Grand Slam singles tennis champion during the Open Era, and his winning the gold medal in the 2012 Olympic men’s singles made him the first such British tennis champion in over 100 years.

All the British, of course, were ecstatic. The Scotts, however, were equally eager to claim Murray as their own and not England’s, their historic adversary. When the celebration of Murray’s victory began, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, unfurled the blue-and-white Scottish Saltire flag in Wimbledon’s royal box. This was taken by some to be an attempt to claim Murray as a contemporary Braveheart.  Braveheart, the 1995 Academy Awards winning film which generated world-wide attention about Scotland and its history, glorifies William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish warrior who led his countrymen in the War of Independence against England’s King Edward I. Saltire, or Saint Andrew’s Cross, is the national flag of Scotland.

First Minister Salmond was breaking Wimbledon rules, it was said. Some went even further and accused him of politicizing Andy Murray’s victory a year before Scotland’s scheduled referendum on independence. His spokesman denied any such motive, but British Prime Minister David Cameron lost no time in responding that the victory should be marked in truly British style: with a knighthood. The 26 year old champion is now Sir Andy Murray.

Back home the Scotts were not deterred. In numerous gathering they celebrated the victory by signing choruses of Flower of Scotland, a song that has become an unofficial national anthem of Scotland and pointedly refers to the victory of the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, over England’s Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The London newspaper The Guardian suggested that the animosity should be tamed centuries after those first skirmishes along the Scottish border. “Andy Murray: Scottish, British. Who cares? Today he belongs to us all,” was the pleading headline in the paper.

Murray has identified himself as Scottish and British. In his post-match interview, Murray called himself a “British Winner.” His position regarding the 2014 Scottish independence referendum has been less committal: “I will think about it, speak to some people and try to see what is best for the country.” After the US Open last year, Murray returned to his hometown of Dunblane for a victory parade. He has not yet arranged such a trip after Wimbledon since he presumably is busy preparing for this year’s American hard court season as the defending champion. Just a few days ago, however, Murray managed to spend some of his increasingly large tennis earnings to buy Cromlix House in the town of Dunblane, Scotland. This huge mansion, acquired at £1.8 million, will be refurbished as a five-star luxury hotel. By this, Murray has said “we will be able to attract new visitors to the area, create a number of new jobs and focus on supporting other local businesses….I’m pleased to be able to give something back to the community I grew up in.”

When I visited Dunblane I found it to be a pleasant, prosperous community. It is a small town of some 8,000 people. The major cities of Scotland are not far away. Within 30 miles is the biggest, Glasgow, with a population of 1.3 million, where Murray was born before moving to Dunblane. Edinburgh is 10 miles further away to the west. It has half a million residents but it is the political heart of Scotland. Newspapers have recorded the reaction of the “overjoyed” fans on the streets of Edinburgh the day Murray won the Wimbledon. In bars “Saltires were proudly waved as the crowd burst into impromptu choruses of Flower of Scotland. When I arrived a day later, however, there was no sign of celebration in Edinburgh except for a lone chalk-drawing on the sidewalk in WaterlooPlaza. The Plaza was perhaps as close to London’s Hyde Park Corner as one finds in Edinburgh for public expressions. It is located in front of The General Register House which is “the home of the National Records of Scotland and the Scotland People Family History Centre.”  Even birds were free to make their statements on the head of the statue of Wellington for whose famous victory the Plaza is named. The chalk-drawing showed Andy Murray in his tennis pose, racket in hand and emoting after a triumphant shot. Under the drawing was the artist’s simple comment: “Many Thanks.”  A couple of days later, even that drawing was gone, replaced by another about the poor, showing destitute people sitting on the sidewalk with this message: “If 1% of the rich gave 1% of the wealth to the poor, poverty will cease to exist.”

Surely there must be more lingering demonstrations of celebrations for Murray, I thought. The concierge at my hotel responded: “Not here in Edinburgh, maybe in Dunblane.”  Indeed, in Glasgow and St. Andrews, as well, which I toured in the next days, I found no traces of remembering Murray’s feat. Dunblane was a different story.  The newspaper The Scotsman reported “The town of Dunblane erupted with joy.”  As the broadcaster BBC commented:  “each and every one” of the people who “call Dunblane home…seemed to revel in the astonishing achievement of one of their own.” The Scotsman added: “They wore Andy Murray face masks, draped good luck banners from the rooftops and cheered themselves hoarse.” An impromptu parade was staged through the town with signs reading “The Boy Done Good” and “He Did It for Dunblane.” Murray acknowledged the mutual feeling: “It is just nice being able to do something the town is proud of,” he told the BBC. Because of the special recent history of Dunblane, Murray’s words reflected the almost cathartic nature of his victory.

In Britain Dunblane was known as “the little town where one of the darkest chapters in recent British history was played out.” On March 13, 1996, a middle-aged man opened fire in the DunblanePrimary School’s gymnasium, killing 16 students aged 5 or 6 and a teacher, before killing himself. That episode is remembered as “the deadliest massacre of children ever in the United Kingdom.” As a local artist put it “After the shootings, for years if I was in England, I never said I came from Dunblane, I said I came from ‘north of Stirling’” – a town which is a few miles away and has a famous castle used as the venue for an annual Braveheart Conference held in the shadow of a bigger than life statue of him.

Andy Murray has also carried the scar of that episode, to which he was a personal witness, in several ways. As his mother has related, “Andy’s class were on their way to the gym, his class were the next ones in.” Andy also knew the shooter. As he wrote in his autobiography Hitting Back, Murray had attended a youth group run by the shooter, a one-time Scout leader called Thomas Hamilton. A month before the 2013 Wimbledon, Murray spoke about the massacre publicly for the first time when he told a BBC interviewer: “You have no idea how tough something like that is.” He also said that he hoped his success in tennis had helped heal the hurt of the shooting in 13 March, 1996. Indeed, it has. That local artist has testified to this: “Last year [in England], a taxi driver asked me where I came from and I said ‘Dunblane’ and he said, ‘Oh Andy Murray’ and I just thought, ‘Yes’.”  As The Scotsman  put it  the day after Murray’s  victory at the Wimbledon, “Dunblane has been so long wreathed in shadows, but yesterday it basked in the sun and the historic achievement of the man who first picked up a racquet as a boy at the local courts.”

Thanks to Andy Murray’s example, the number of youngsters coached in the Dunblane Tennis Club has increased seven-fold in the last four years. The walls of the small clubhouse are adorned not just by Andy’s picture but also by those of his brother Jamie and his mother. Jamie is a also a professional tennis player who won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 2007 with Jelena Jankovic. Andy’s mother, Judith “Judy” Murray is a tennis coach and current captain of the British Fed Cup team. Murray’s tennis dynasty goes even further back: Fiona Bennie, the officer in charge of coaching tennis at the Dunblane Club recalled that she had been taught the game by Andy’s grandmother.

Long before the Andy Murray tennis dynasty and still more famous was another Scottish tennis player: Mary, Queen of Scots. She played “real tennis” on a court that was now 483 years old. I went to see this oldest tennis court “in the world” in Falkland, Scotland, just 30 miles north of Dunblane.

Eventful as Andy Murray’s young life might have been, there is no more colorful character than Mary in the history of Scotland [8]. Born in 1542, she became the queen of Scotland six days later when her father, King James V, died. King Henry VIII of England soon proposed a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary in order to create an alliance with Scotland. Thwarted, Henry launched a war with Scotland (1541-1551), which was continued after his death in several English invasions of Scotland. When the Scots suffered a serious defeat in this phase of hostility, Mary’s French mother sent her for security to a castle most accessible to France. In fact, Mary spent most of her childhood in France and in 1558 married the French Dauphin (Crown Prince) Francis, the son of Henry II, king of France and his wife, Catherine de Medici.  He became king as Francis II almost immediately, thus making Mary the Queen Consort of France while she was also Queen Regent of Scotland. Francis died in 1560.  Five years later Mary wedded her cousin, the English nobleman Henry Stuart who was now proclaimed Henry, King of Scots. Their child later became King James I of England. Mary soon became disenchanted with her husband who also made enemies of some powerful nobles. When King Henry was found strangled to death in 1567, it was said that Mary knew of the nobles’ plot to kill him.  A few months later, Mary married the Earl of Bothwell, a Scottish nobleman to whom she had turned for support against Henry. Mary’s subjects who suspected Bothwell’s involvement in the murder of their King were outraged and turned against Mary. She was forced to abdicate and fled to England for help. Her cousin Elizabeth was the Queen of England. She imprisoned Mary, perceiving her as a threat since Mary had previously claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own based on the support of many English Catholics. After 18 years of trying to gain her freedom Mary was charged and found guilty of participating in a plot to kill Elizabeth. She was executed in 1587, at age 44.

Mary played tennis on the court I was looking at now, at least in the years 1561 to 1567, after returning from France and before seeking refuge in England. Marked on a wooden sign as Royal Tennis Court this was in the gardens of Falkland Palace. A sign gave the date of the establishment of the court: “This tennis court dates from 1530. It was a was a part of James V’s transformation of the Falkland Palace into the finest Renaissance building in Britain.” James V was Mary’s father and “Since then generations of Scottish kings and queens have enjoyed playing tennis here.”  James V, whose wife, Mary’s mother, was from the noble Guise family of France borrowed the ideas of Italian renaissance from his contemporary Francois I, the French King (1515-1547) who was the first to bring the fruit of renaissance  (including Leonardo da Vinci and his Mona Lisa) from Italy. (The guide from the National Trust for Scotland that takes care of the Castle showed me in a book the designs from the Chateaus around Beloise, France, which were used to build the Falkland.) James V was probably equally influenced by the long-standing love of the French kings for tennis. Francois I, in fact, lived in the same Château d’Amboise where King Charles VIII died as a result of a fall on his way to the tennis game in 1498 when Francois was 4. Before that, yet another French king, Louis X had died in 1316 of a severe chill after playing tennis. Francois I who later became Mary, Queen of Scots’ father-in-law was himself an enthusiastic player and promoter of tennis, building courts and encouraging play among the courtiers and commoners.”

Mary returned from France quite a sportswoman. She would come to the Falkland Palace to play tennis, but also to hunt and ride horses. Indeed, she is said to have shocked the Scots with all these sports activity.  She would ride the horse the French way, not sideways as the English did, so as to be able to hunt. In St. Andrews just a few years after the famous St Andrews Links was chartered in 1553, Mary was playing golf in 1567.

Tennis was also a favorite game of the kings in England in this period, beginning with Henry V (1413–1422) . It made the biggest impact on Henry VIII (1509– 1547) who was of a similar age and dashing reputation as his contemporary Francois I of France. Henry VIII played the game with gusto at the at the tennis court in HamptonCourtPalace in London. The Royal Tennis Court of the HamptonCourtPalace was built between 1526 and 1529 and was last extensively refurbished in 1628. It makes the more modest claim that it is the oldest surviving real tennis court in England (not the world as the Falkland court claims), and that it has been in more or less continuous use since it was built. The Hampton court is now home to an active “real tennis” club, one of the fewer than fifty real tennis courts in the world, including several in the United States and the court in FalklandPalace. It is one of the few such courts in the world where the public can watch real tennis.

I was now standing in the gallery of the Falkland Palace tennis court. On this day there was no game being played. A sign at the court pointed out:

“As you can see this court is not like the law tennis courts of Wimbledon. All four courts and even the gallery where you are standing are an integral part of the court. For centuries royal tennis was known simply as tennis. After lawn tennis was introduced in the 1870s it became necessary to distinguish this original game from the new game of lawn tennis.”

The new name given for the original tennis is real tennis or royal tennis. As it is played today, it is a “mixture of tennis and squash,” with techniques, strategies and rules which are “more difficult and more complex.”  The rules were described in another sign at the Falkland court. Among them were these: “the ball can bounce off the walls and roof;” and points “can be won outright … if the ball enters the winning gallery.”  However, the real tennis shares the same basic scoring methods and terms, the signs said.  They gave the origin of the game:

“Tennis was probably introduced into Scotland in the 13th century. Tennis comes from the French word tenez, the warning that was shouted before each serve. … An early form of the game known as … game of the palm of the hand was played in the town squares and religious cloisters of medieval Europe. Royal tennis rackets are still shaped like the palm of the hand.”

That might explain the origin of the word racket: it is from the French raquette which could be, in turn, from the Arabic rahat al-yad (the palm of the hand) -although some argue that it is from the Flemish raketsen, derived from the French rachasser (to strike back).  Most of the other common tennis terms are from French: deuce from à deux le jeu (to both is the game or the two players have equal scores), love (zero) from l’oeaf (egg which is shaped like zero), and tennis which is the imperative form of the verb tenir (to hold).

“By 1599,” another sign at the Falkland Royal Tennis Court, reminded us “tennis had become part of everyday language.  In Shakespeare’s Henry V the Dauphin sends Henry ‘a ton of tennis balls.’ Shakespeare knows his audience will understand the insult –playing tennis was regarded as unmanly and effeminate.” This left me wondering what Mary, Queen of Scots would have thought had she survived to read this barb by the Bard.