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Stirling Bridges

A bridge has spanned the River Forth at Stirling for centuries. Not the same one obviously but the most famous of them was the one where William Wallace won his great victory over the army of Edward I of England (Edward Longshanks) at the eponymous battle in 1297.

The “old” bridge that still survives now carries foot traffic only. It was built 500-600 years ago. It is a lovely structure of four arches and three supports, here shown from the “east” bank.

Old Stirling Bridge

These are the approaches from the west. Note the cobblestones:-

Old Stirling Bridge Approaches

This is the old bridge from the modern road bridge:-

Old Stirling Bridge From Modern Bridge

And this is a view from the “west” bank. The Wallace Monument can be seen as a distant spire beside the lamp standard at the extreme right of the bridge as seen here:-

Old Stirling Bridge Spans

Two “modern” bridges also cross the Forth close by. This is the railway bridge from the modern road bridge:-

Railway Bridge at Stirling

The road bridge is in the foreground here with the railway bridge supports visible through its arches:-

Modern Stirling Bridges

The Wallace Monument from the old bridge:-

Wallace Monument

War Memorials at Stirling Castle

As at Edinburgh Castle there are War Memorials on the esplanade of Stirling Castle.

Again there is one to the Indian Mutiny, this one dedicated to the men of the 75th Stirlingshire Regiment who died at Seringapatam, Delhi and in the Relief of Lucknow.

Indian Mutiny Memorial, Stirling Castle Esplanade

The other side of the memorial names the officers (1 colonel, 2 captains, 6 lieutenants and 1 surgeon) but only gives the total numbers of other ranks (13 sergeants, 9 corporals, 3 drummers and 216 privates) – all of the 75th Stirlingshire Regiment – who died in the mutiny, 1857-8.

Indian Mutiny Memorial, Stirling Castle Esplanade

Again too there is a Memorial to the South African War (Second Boer War) dedicated to the men of the 1st Battalion (Princess Louise’s) Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

Boer War Memorial, Stirling Castle Esplanade

The plaque here gives the names of the officers and non-commissioned officers who died:-

Boer War Memorial, Stirling Castle Esplanade

The plaques on these two sides give the names of the privates:-

Boer War Memorial, Stirling Castle Esplanade

Staring out towards the scene of his great victory at Bannockburn is a statue of Robert Bruce.

Statue of Bruce, Stirling Castle EsplanadeStirling Castle 6 Bruce

1864

 1864cover

When this Danish TV series – the most expensive production in Danish television history – was first trailed on the BBC and I saw the blue uniforms I thought it would be about the War Between the States (known on this side of the Atlantic as the American Civil War) as the date fitted. I was immediately interested. I’ve read a lot about that conflict and watched the Jim Burns TV series several times. Looking more closely I realised that I didn’t recognise the painting shown on the trailer or the figures within it (I most likely would have for an American Civil War painting) and of course the uniforms’ details weren’t quite right.

I was therefore even more intrigued when it dawned the series was about the Second Schleswig War as that was something I knew vaguely about from History, at school. Once read, who can forget the comment the UK Prime Minister at the time, Lord Palmerston, made about the intricacies of the Schleswig-Holstein question – which in the series was uttered to that fine actress Barbara Flynn, in the person of Queen Victoria – that there were only three men who ever understood it; the Prince Consort, who was dead, a German professor who had gone mad and Palmerston himself, who had forgotten all about it?

As presented in the series, the war seems to have been provoked by Denmark in a fit of collective insanity. The programme, which has been criticised for historical inaccuracies (it would be difficult to portray any conflict televisually without some of that I’d have thought) certainly presented the Danish Prime Minister, Monrad, as an utter nutter. There seemed to be an element of hysteria in the air that prefigured the Germany of 1939. (Then again there was widespread welcome to Britain’s declaration of war in 1914, so no need to point fingers; except the UK hadn’t sought that conflict – at least not directly.)

However the dire results of the Second Schleswig War for Denmark meant that, to that country’s credit, no Danish military action outside its frontiers again took place until the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999.

Scenes were shown from both sides of the conflict and also the sidelines as Palmerston affected to intercede. The subtitles were no intrusion (1864 went out in the BBC 4 European detective slot on Saturdays at 9 pm.) As near as I could tell each nationality in the series spoke in its own language. (I have a smattering of German but no Danish except what I could glean from the dialogue’s similarities to German, English and, occasionally, Scots.)

For the series the necessity of introducing a human aspect to the conflict in the shape of estate manager’s daughter Inge and the two brothers Laust and Peter, with whom she has a special bond, allowed the introduction of those perennial literary concerns, love, sex and death. There was love to be sure, but not much sex – only four scenes as I recall, three of them having not much to do with love, plus another featuring boys attempting to masturbate – but enough death and destruction to slake anyone’s desires. The battle scenes were impressive – and visceral.

Overall the series was magnificent television, well worth checking out if you didn’t catch it, but I thought the elements of mysticism involving one of the soldiers from the village were unconvincing and the framing device wherein a disaffected young woman from our century sent to his house for a form of community service helps read out Inge’s memoirs to an old man (who is Inge’s grandson) was perhaps unnecessary, though it did give the sense of consequences cascading down the years and a contrast to the privations of the soldiers of 150 years earlier.

When I last looked in the BBC shop, the DVD of this was out of stock but the Blu-ray was available.

Ensign Ewart and the Scots Greys at Waterloo

200 years ago today the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars was fought at Waterloo. Famously remembered as a “close-run thing” (though the quote is apparently “It has been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life,”) it was a bloody nightmare. A total of around 48,000 men were killed inside 10 hours.

Last month I visited Edinburgh Castle. Among the memorials on its esplanade is this one, erected in 1938, to Ensign Charles Ewart, of the Royal North British Dragoons (more commonly known as the Scots Greys,) who captured the Imperial Eagle of the French 45th infantry regiment during the battle.

Ensign Ewart Memorial Edinburgh Castle Forecourt

The Eagle itself is normally on display in the relevant Regimental Museum in the castle grounds but it wasn’t on the day I visited. I think it’s on loan to the National Museum of Scotland at the moment. I did find, though, this Memorial to the men of the Scots Greys who died in the Great War.

Royal Scots Greys Memorial, Edinburgh Castle

Also, inside the Castle’s Great Hall, there is a painting, executed by Richard Ansdell some thirty years or so after the event, of the moment of the Eagle’s capture. Titled “The Fight for the Standard” the picture is huge – 13 ft by 11 ft. It is somewhat triumphal in tone and perhaps ridiculously sentimental given the likely conditions of the actual battle.

The Fight for the Standard by Richard Ansdell

Picture from Eric Gaba at Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps a more famous painting of the Battle of Waterloo is “Scotland Forever!” by Elizabeth Thomson, Lady Butler.

Scotland Forever!

The original is in Leeds Art Gallery but a reproduction is in the Regimental Museum.

Henry Bell Memorial, Helensburgh.

The first person to apply steam power to shipping was Henry Bell, in 1812 with his ship, the Comet and I posted about the two hundredth anniversary of the beginnings of steam navigation almost three years ago.

One of the obelisks I referred to in that post is on the front at Helensburgh. I photographed it last month.

Henry Bell Memorial, Helensburgh

Dunfermline Abbey Church

Dunfermline Abbey Church contains the tomb of King Robert 1 of Scotland (the Bruce.)

From North. The section on the left is relatively modern (1821.) That on the right is ancient.

Dunfermline Abbey Church from North

From Southeast. Ancient part to the left here, modern to the right:-

Dunfermline Abbey Church from South East

The square tower has “King Robert The Bruce” picked out in stone on the balustrade:-

Dunfermline Abbey Church, King Robert

Dunfermline Abbey Church, The Bruce

The Abbey Church contains some beautiful stained glass.

North Window:-

South Window:-

East Window:-

The interior decoration is splendid too. Archways and borders. Coats of arms on borders, sculpted faces on arch intersections:-

Dunfermline Abbey Church Interior Archways

Part-vaulted ceiling under Square Tower:-

Dunfermline Abbey Church, Part-vaulted Ceiling under Square Tower

Robert Bruce’s Tomb, Dunfermline Abbey Church

I visited Dunfermline Abbey and Palace back in January. At that time the Abbey Church was closed for the winter and consequently I couldn’t photograph the tomb of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, hero of Bannockburn and he of the spider. In mid April I was able to rectify that omission. The tomb is situated below the Abbey Church’s pulpit.

The pulpit surmounting the tomb of Robert I (as he was known) is rather ornate.

A rather macabre exhibit in Dunfermline Abbey Church contains a cast of Bruce’s skull.

Battlefield of Prestonpans

Recently I have been travelling quite frequently up and down the A1 from Edinburgh to Dunbar, mainly to visit Eric Brown.

I had always wondered what the prominent hill with the flag on it just off the road a few miles east of Edinburgh was. A few weeks ago detouring into Prestonpans on the return I found out. Coincidentally I was reading Violet Jacobs’s Flemington at the time.

On the B 1361 into Prestonpans there was a sign pointing to the Battlefield of Prestonpans, 1745, the first battle of the Jacobite Rebellion of that year. I had previously thought the battlefield would lie somewhat closer to the Firth.

The prominent hill is the battlefield viewpoint, a converted coal bing, seen here from its foot.

The flag flying at the summit is Bonnie Prince Charlie’s battle standard.

There is a cairn at the side of the B 1361 erected in memory of the dead of the battle:-

According to the information boards on the Battlefield Viewpoint this is the site of the 1745 battle:-

This is the approximate Jacobite position at the battle’s start. It has a golf range on it now.

The battle itself was over in about fifteen minutes. Most of the relatively inexperienced Hanoverian force fled at the first charge of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highlanders. This left the more hardened government troops sandwiched between the rebel wings. After suffering heavy casualties they gave way. Their commander Sir John Cope led some stragglers down a lane which to this day is named Johnnie Cope’s Road, but couldn’t get them to fight and left the field.

The song Hey Johnnie Cope Are Ye Wakin’ Yet? was written – by Adam Skirving, a namesake of the good lady – to commemorate the Jacobite victory.

This version, by the Corries, is preceded by an account of the first singing of the fourth verse of the UK National Anthem – the one which is no longer officially recognised.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Fourth Estate, 2012, 411 p.

Bring up the Bodies cover

From its opening words, “His children are falling from the sky,” to its final ones – a warning that there are no endings, only beginnings – this second in Mantel’s Tudor trilogy is a consciously literary endeavour. (The “children” are in fact falcons named after Thomas Cromwell’s offspring.) Not that it is in any way difficult. The narration is still in the third person but the use of “he” to refer to Thomas Cromwell does not induce as much confusion as in Wolf Hall – perhaps because the reader is more accustomed to it but also since Mantel uses “he, Cromwell,” more often than in the previous book. There are occasional flourishes of poetic language to leaven proceedings and emphasise the literariness of the endeavour.

The action covers the events surrounding Anne Boleyn’s trial and execution. The phrase “Bring up the bodies” is uttered to call her supposed lovers (all of whom have been in Cromwell’s sights since they mocked his patron Cardinal Wolsey during a masqued ball at court) in to their trial. Mantel does a fine job in portraying all this history (whose outlines are well known but for which few documents remain.) Her hero, Cromwell, is instrumental in securing confessions but the text still leaves open the possibility that Anne was innocent of the charges laid.

Anne’s crime, if any, would not have been adultery (though for her lovers it would have been.) Rather, her offence was “imagining the King’s death.” This tickled me since Mantel was herself recently criticised for imagining a Prime Minister’s death – some idiot Tory MP said Mantel ought to be prosecuted for it – even though the PM concerned had already died, and crime writers imagine people’s deaths all the time.

In the book, apropos of Thomas Wyatt (the poet) Cromwell muses, “You must believe everything and nothing of what you read.” Mantel is believable. Reading Bring Up the Bodies, a much better and more rounded book than Wolf Hall, may be the best substitute for being at Henry VIII’s court. (Better even; since there is no risk to life involved in the experience.)

And only one contender for Pedant’s Corner: when he had rode. Plus not a single typo anywhere. Remarkable for these times.

In the Spirit of Christmas

Midnight 24th December. Quiet has fallen. The hush is broken by the sound of male voices wafting over the broken ground from a hundred yards or so away:-

“Stille Nacht,
Heilige Nacht.”

Disbelieving British soldiers strain to make sense of what they are hearing, before joining in with Christmas songs of their own.

When day dawns, foodstuffs are exchanged, names and addresses noted down. A spontaneous outbreak of football occurs.

All this takes place exactly one hundred years ago today.

So goes the story anyway.

And it’s a great story. But how much truth is there in it?

There is almost no documentary evidence for games of football being played in No Man’s Land on December 25th 1914, though there is one reference to a tin of bully beef used as a makeshift ball. That there was a widespread ceasefire and a degree of fraternisation is, however, well attested and photographically recorded – but it wasn’t universal. Some who came out of the trenches were shot by snipers, others used the temporary lull to strengthen their defences. (The extent of this seems to have been relatively widespread and is not to be confused with the sporadic local truces – entirely sanctioned officially – arranged, for example, for the collection and burial of bodies which happened throughout the war.)

In any case even at Christmas 1914 the fighting was resumed within hours and no such extended expression of bonhomie occurred again. The armies’ top brasses made sure of that. As The Farm had it.

“The same old story again
All those tears shed in vain
Nothing learnt and nothing gained
Only hope remains.”

Yet the story of the Christmas Truce speaks to a hunger in us. We have a need for tales of humanity amidst carnage, acts of kindness between enemies, however sketchy their origins. It makes us believe that as individuals we too would behave well in adverse circumstances.

All together now. (Sorry, Gordon. It’s based on Pachelbel’s Canon.)

The Farm: All Together Now

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