Archives » History

Ringan Gilhaize by John Galt

Or, The Covenanters.

Edited by Patricia J Wilson. Scottish Academic Press, 1984, 375 p (including 33p Notes on the Text and 10 p Glossary) plus xii p Introduction ii p Notes, ii p Acknowledgements and iii p Note on the Text. Originally published in 1823.

Ringan Gilhaize cover

Compared to the lost cause of the Jacobites, endlessly retrodden by Scottish (and other) writers, the rise and defence of Calvinism in Scotland has been relatively neglected in the Scottish tradition. James Hogg’s The Brownie of Bodsbeckis an exception, as is Scott’s Old Mortality whose unsympathetic treatment of the Covenanting cause impelled Galt to write this riposte, and much more recently James Robertson gave us The Fanatic. The relevant events are seen through the eyes of the Gilhaize family but only in so far as any of its members were directly involved in them. The book is narrated by the titular Ringan Gilhaize and its first section tells of his grandfather’s activities during the Scottish Reformation, which in later life he endlessly recounted to the family round the fireside, and features his encounters with, among others, John Knox and James Stuart (the illegitimate half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots and whom on taking up the throne on her return from France she made Earl of Moray. A confirmed reformer, after Mary’s exile to England he became Regent of Scotland.) This time period was when the groundwork for the stern Calvinistic bent of Scottish Presbyterianism was laid and the text contains many examples of invective against prelacy, papistical idolaters and the Whore of Babylon.

The latter two sections deal with Ringan’s own life and times when, first Charles I and later his son Charles II, tried to reintroduce elements of episcopacy into Scottish religious observance. This led in the former’s time to the signing of the National Covenant and a few years later the Solemn League and Covenant, which latter was essentially an anti-royal but certainly anti-Catholic agreement between Scottish Protestants and the English Parliament for Presbyterianiam to become the established religion south of the border. (These two Covenants are sometimes rolled into one in people’s minds but it was from them that the Covenanters – in that word’s pronunciation the emphasis is placed on the third syllable – gained their name.) The Covenanter’s insistence on the view that no king could interfere between a man’s conscience and God and that rebellion against any king who attempted to do so was justified, effectively made the Covenanters heirs to the Declaration of Arbroath and holders of the Scottish conscience.

The text of “Gilhaize’s” account is mainly in English larded with Scots words and forms of speech but has that wordiness that is characteristic of novels of its time and of course is reflecting the language of between two and three hundred years earlier than when Galt was writing. The dialogue, moreover, tends to be in very broad Scots indeed.

The novel is in part a history lesson since “Gilhaize” has to provide the background to the events he himself took part in. He therefore mentions the protests in St Giles Cathedral against the prayers in Charles I’s new Prayer Book as supposedly started by Janet (aka Jenny) Geddes (though her name does not appear in contemporary accounts,) a defiance of authority which led to open rebellion and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. (For a long time these were known as the English Civil War despite the fact that they were precipitated by the necessity for Charles I to recall the English Parliament to provide money to suppress his Scottish religious rebels.)

After the Restoration of the Stuarts, fierce resentment resulted from Charles II’s apostasy in the matter of the Covenant which he had signed essentially in bad faith in what would now probably be called an act of real politique to bring the Scots Parliament onto his side in his war against Cromwell – a hopeless endeavour given the outcome of the Battle of Worcester. To the Covenanters signing was a sacred and binding act. Reneging on that could not be forgiven.

Galt’s focus on the affairs of one family allows him to illustrate the build up of both the petty and the major injustices of the anti-Covenanter legislation as well as Covenanters’ hatred of the favourite General of both the latter Stuart kings, James Graham of Claverhouse, whom the Covenanters dubbed “Bloody Clavers” for his enthusiastic prosecution of the sequestrations, fines, imprisonments and hangings which feed into the slow descent by Ringan into a haze of self-righteousness and moral zeal. A minor drawback of this is that most of the battles mentioned in the book take place off-stage since neither his grandfather nor Ringan himself were present at them. (Exceptions are Drumclog, Rullion Green in the Pentlands, and Killiecrankie, in all of which Ringan took part.)

The final vindication of the Covenanting resistance was the outcome of the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 – here Galt has Gilhaize believe in the false propaganda that a man child was palmed off on the nation as the lawful son of James VII (and II,) known to Covenanters as “the Tyrant,” and his papistical wife – which secured the Protestant ascendancy in the form of William and Mary.

Two hundred year-old fiction is problematic for the modern reader at any time – patterns of language have changed, writers no longer need to pad out stories to reach a required word count, sentences tend to be less laboriously constructed – but the remoteness here is compounded by the dense nature of the history, the numbers of historical figures, the intensity of the religious discourse. Throughout, the book rings with Biblical imagery and allusions.

Though in their particulars its concerns have now passed into history in Scotland (except for their remnants being attached to a certain football rivalry) Ringan Gilhaize, as an examination of the mindset of the religious zealot, the firm believer in a higher calling, is salutary, and still has resonance for the present day. I’m glad I read it even if the prose does not always flow as smoothly as I might have wished.

Pedant’s corner:- In the Introduction; “worthy the attention” (worthy of the attention, or, worth the attention.) Otherwise: “the Earl of Angus’ house” (Angus’s,) St Giles’ kirkyard (St Giles’s,) her Highness’ presence (Highness’s.) “When she heard the voice or anyone talking in the street” (the voice of anyone talking,) juncutre (juncture,) a capital letter in the middle of a sentence (this may have been to signify a spoken phrase immediately after it; but that was followed by an opening quotation mark to signal the speech’s continuation,) thougt (thought.) In the Notes; divive (divine.)

Inverkeithing, Fife

Just before the first Covid lockdown we visited with a friend the ancient town of Inverkeithing in Fife. We’d passed through it many times, even making purchases there. However we’d never taken a really close look. It has some interesting features.

Inverkeithing Mercat Cross:-

Inverkeithing Mercat Cross

Mercat Cross, Inverkeithing

Inverkeithing Mercat Cross Plaque

A short history of the town:-

Inverkeithing History

This is the lintel mentioned in that history above. The inscription reads, “God’s providence is my inheritance”:-

Lintel in Inverkeithing. From 1688

Lintels like this were commonly placed above the doors of houses built for newly married couples, usually with their initials and the date of the marriage. This one is more elaborate than most. “IT. BT. Except the Lord build the house they labour in vain that built it.”:-

A Marriage Lintel, Inverkeithing

For a time the explorer David Livingston lived in the town – in Moffat Cottage:-

Moffat Cottage, David Livingston's House, Inverkeithing

Plaque on David Livingston's House, Inverkeithing

Auckland Castle (ii)

I posted photos of the exterior of Auckland Castle/Palace and of its chapel here.

Proceeding from the chapel into the Palace proper you come into the impressive Bishop’s Throne Room:-

Bishop's Throne Room, Auckland Castle

Fireplace and painting:-

Fireplace, Bishop's Throne Room, Auckland Castle

Ceiling:-

Ceiling,  Fireplace, Bishop's Throne Room, Auckland Castle

The Castle/Palace interior has been updated/redecorated over the years and some of the older fixtures and fittings have been kept.

Old wallpaper:-

Old Wallpaper,  Auckland Castle

Fireplace, chairs and table:-

Fireplace + Chair,  Auckland Castle,

Fireplace tiles:-

Fireplace Tiles,  Auckland Castle,

I can’t now remember if this stained glass window was in the chapell or elsewhere:-

Stained Glass, Auckland Castle

Eventually the route through the Castle takes you to the Dining Room where the Zurbaran paintings are kept.

Dining Room:-

Dining Room, Auckland Castle

Dining Room linoleum:-

Auckland Castle, Dining Room Linoleum

Dining Room Ceiling:-

Dining Room Ceiling, Auckland Castle

Zurbarans Information Board:-

Zurbarans Information, Auckland Castle

The last of the rooms accessible to the public is the 1930s study of the then bishop:-

1930s Study, Auckland Castle,

Auckland Castle (i)

Auckland Castle (also known as Auckland Palace) in the town of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, is the former palace of the Prince Bishops of Durham.

It houses a collection of paintings known as the Zurbaráns, which are definitely worth seeing.

The exterior of the Castle/Palace wasn’t at its best when we visited as there was some refurbishment work going on at the side of the Castle nearer the town. That was swathed in plastic. (Our usual luck then.)

Gateway at side:-

Auckland Castle Gateway

Bishop’s quarters:-

Auckland Castle

Visitor’s entrance. This may have been temporary due to the works:-

Auckland Castle

The Castle’s/Palace’s chapel, to the right of the entrance, is impressive.

Altar + stained glass windows:-

Auckland Castle, Chapel Altar

A marble altarpiece sits against the wall:-

Auckland Castle, Marble Altarpiece

The chapel organ is set on the wall above your head where you enter. The organist’s access is via wht looks like a precarious circular staircase whose upper part is seen to the right here:-

Auckland Castle, Organ in Chapel

Ceiling. The ceiling isn’t curved. I stitched two photos to show it as a whole. It is elaborately painted:-

Auckland Castle, Chapel Ceiling

Clerestory detail:-

Auckland Castle, Chapel, Clerestory Detail

Marble pillar:-

Marble Pillar, Auckland Castle, Chapel

Tynemouth Priory and Castle (iii)

Outbuildings looking back towards Castle:-

Tynemouth Castle Outbuilding

Outbuildings as seen from east:-

Ruins at Tynemouth  Castle and Priory

Chapel?:-

Tynemouth Priory Ruins

The prominence on which the Castle and Priory stand made it an ideal point to place military defences.

Remains of World War 2 gun emplacements:-

Tynemouth  Castle, Tyne and Wear

World War 2 artillery piece on wall beyond old graves:-

Tynemouth Castle and Priory Fortification

The gun itself:-

Tynemouth  Castle and Priory Artillery Piece

Tynemouth Priory and Castle (ii)

We visited Tynemouth again in December 2019 and this time had a look round the Castle and Priory.

Priory ruins from entrance:-

Tynemouth Priory

Tynemouth Castle (entrance to complex) looking back from Priory:-

Tynemouth  Castle

Main structure of Priory:-

Tynemouth  Castle

Tynemouth Priory Ruins

More ruins:-

Tynemouth  Castle  and Priory, Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear

Ruins, Tynemouth Priory

From seaward side:-

Tynemouth  Castle, Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear

Stained glass window on small chapel:-

Stained Glass Window at Tynemouth Priory

The chapel feels quite cosy inside. Stained glass window:-

Tynemouth  Castle, stained glass, Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear

More stained glass:-

Tynemouth  Castle, Tynemoth, Tyne and Wear

Tynemouth Priory and Castle (i)

Tynemouth Priory and Castle are the most prominent (former) buildings in Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear.

It stands on a promontory overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne:-

Tynemouth Priory

On our first visit, in June 2019, we did not enter the premises.

Tynemouth Castle as seen from Tynemouth town. The Priory is unseen behind the castle in this view:-

Tynemouth Priory, from Tynemouth

From northwest, Priory to left:-

Tynemouth Priory from Northwest

Gallipoli by Alan Moorehead

Hamish Hamilton, 1956, 382 p, including ii p Bibliography and x p Index.

 Gallipoli cover

This book has been languishing on my tbr pile for decades. Quite why I left it so long I’m not sure but I’m glad now I picked it up. The author was clearly well versed in his subject. It is lucidly written and mercifully free of the alphanumeric soup of formation designations which tends to bedevil works of military history. This one focuses more on the personalities central to the story of Turkey’s involvement in the Great War – the Young Turks, Mustafa Kemal, Lord Kitchener, Winston Churchill, and the various commanders – as well as the details of the many military engagements which marked the Dardanelles enterprise.

The idea out of which the landings on Gallipoli arose came from Lt-Col Hankey, Secretary of the War Council, as an attempt to evade the impasse on the Western Front, where the Allies were neither advancing nor killing more Germans than British soldiers were being killed, by a flanking move through Turkey and the Balkans. Moorehead outlines the political manœvrings between Kitchener and Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) on the for side and Lord Fisher (First Sea Lord) with various others against. The issue would lead in the end to the break-up of Churchill and Fisher’s hitherto close friendship.

The aim of the operations was first, using obsolete battleships (whose loss could be borne) to force a passage of The Narrows, a pinch point between the Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmara, and then, on to Constantinople in the hope of prising Turkey out of the war. The initial solely naval effort to do so having foundered on an undetected minefield, plans were made for an amphibious landing (actually two) to take the Gallipoli peninsula and protect the flank of a further naval expedition though the Narrows. This amphibious landing was the biggest in history up to that point. It was planned in three weeks. (Compare Operation Overlord in 1944, which took nearly two years to prepare.)

Turkey had recently suffered a series of military humiliations in the Balkan wars of the early Twentieth Century, leading to the Young Turks seizing control of the government. Their hold was precarious though, and another defeat might have brought their downfall. The withdrawal of the Royal Navy, seen as all-powerful, and its French counterpart after their initial setbacks led to an upsurge in Turkish confidence and, Moorehead goes on to say, acted as a trigger for Turkish resentment to find for itself a target in its minority (and Christian) Armenian population upon whom the government thereupon instituted a policy of genocide – murder, rape (Moorehead uses the words “molest women” the first time he deals with this but the more accurate term later) and forced migration amounting to a death march. The strong implication is that without the Allied ships’ withdrawal the persecution of the Armenians would not have occurred.

The Great War in general was a catalogue of lost opportunities or doomed attempts to follow up early success. Moorehead says that over Gallipoli in particular hung a peculiar lethargy, a miasma of indecision. The one exception to this was Mustafa Kemal, who would come to be known later as Kemal Ataturk and who twice, in the hills above Anzac during the first landings and again near Suvla Bay for the later one, managed to be by happenstance in the correct spot to appreciate the danger for the Turks inherent in the situation and to forestall Allied progress. (Some idea of his desperation and borderline fanaticism is that one of his orders at Anzac read, in part, “I don’t order you to attack. I order you to die.”) None of this excuses the failure of General Stopford, commander at Suvla, (with his insistence, the weariness of his men notwithstanding, that no advance could take place without artillery support) to understand there were no Turkish entrenchments there which required such an insurance, nor of overall Commander Ian Hamilton to impress upon Stopford the necessity of quick movement into the hills when briefing him in the first place.

Moorehead is good on the conditions endured by the troops – not least the depredations ensured by the infestations of flies as summer approached, landing on food as soon as it was uncovered so that no mouthful was without its insect accompaniment – and their diverions when no fighting was taking place. With dead bodies and excrement also prevalent it is no surprise that dysentery was soon rampant among the soldiers – even the headquarters staff. British soldiers’ rations were almost entirely of bully beef, whose fat melted in the can, supplemented by plum and apple jam, with no vegetables to vary the diet. By contrast any army officer invited aboard one of the ships – away from the flies, the lice and the smell of death and decay – marvelled at clean linen, glasses, plates, meat, fruit and wine. (Of course, on land there was a decent prospect of surviving a battle; but if a ship went down you most likely drowned.)

As a precursor to Turkey’s entry into the war, and without their say, so the Germans had mined the Dardanelles (obstruction of which was an act of war) so blocking the vast majority of Russia’s exports. Russia’s grain and other exports piled up in the Golden Horn before their ships had to sail back to Russia. When the time was ripe once more to reopen trade the Revolution in that country had removed (the now Soviet) interest in the trade. According to Moorehead (at time of writing in 1956) that pre-war trade through the Dardanelles had never revived in the forty years since.

One of the aspects of the Gallipoli battles I had not realised before was the extent of submarine operations. Several British submarines penetrated into the Sea of Marmara and devastated Turkish shipping there. One submariner even swam ashore to blow up an important railway line. German submarines – easily able to access the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar as no technology then existed to detect or prevent them – managed to torpedo some Allied warships.

The campaign saw military innovation on a large scale: as well as the experimental use of submarines and aircraft, radio, aerial bombs, land mines and other new devices, it trialled the firing of modern naval guns against shore artillery and the landing of soldiers by small boats on an enemy coast. But the story is mainly of opportunities missed and

Nevetheless it may have continued for much longer (and Moorehead suggests even succeeded in its aims) had not the Australian journalist Keith Murdoch arrived and witnessed the danger and squalor in the dugouts, the sickness, the monotonous food, the general depression. Despite being only a few hours at the front, in collaboration with the only British journalist Kitchener had allowed on the expedition, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, he planned to bypass the usual channels and break the agreement not to send reports without submitting them first to the censor at headquarters. His private letter to the Australian Prime Minister reached the eyes of Lloyd George (by now UK Prime Minister) who himself bypassed official channels by circulating it directly to the Dardanelles Committee without first asking Hamilton for his comments. The man sent out to take over from Hmailton and assess the situation for himself, Lt-Gen Charles Monro, already firmly believed that the war could only be won on the Western Front by killing Germans, Turks did not count.

Thus was set in train the process, sanctioned in the end by a visit from Kitchener himself, which led to the withdrawal of troops, at first only from Anzac and Suvla. That this was accomplished without the Turks getting wind of it – at Anzac the opposing lines were in places no more than ten yards apart – and with no loss, with the help of the famous improvised device of the self-firing rifle using dripping water from a can to fill another attached to the trigger or fuses and candles to burn through string and release a weight, in retrospect still seems astonishing.

That left only the beachhead at Cape Helles, upon which the German commander of the Turks, Liman von Sanders, unleashed a delayed attack accompanied by the heaviest artillery bombardment of the campaign on the now depleted British force the day before the final 17,000 troops were to be taken off. The British fire in response, perhaps inspired by desperation, was so devastating that the follow-up Turkish infantry refused to charge – something rarely seen before on the peninsula. This repulse convinced von Sanders that there would be no further British evacuation, but of course there was. Yet again the withdrawal was completed in the utmost secrecy and highly successful. Despite widescale destruction of supplies as the withdrawal took place the booty of food, weapons and ammunition retrieved from Cape Helles by the Turks took two years to clear up.

The hopes of those who advocated withdrawal never came to fruition, none of the troops from Gallipoli (save the Anzacs) were ever sent to the Western Front. Many more than had landed on Gallipoli were posted instead to the Salonika front or drawn into the long desert campaign against Turkey in Sinai and Palestine. Towards the end of 1918 plans were even well advanced to try again to force the Narrows by ship but were pre-empted by the Armistice.

While never neglecting the other side of the argument Moorehead’s position on the Gallipoli campaign is clear throughout the book; that its objective was worthwhile, and achievable, that its success would have shortened the war, given succour to Russia and even prevented the Revolution there and so given history a different direction.

A cruel comment on the whole business is that no special medal was awarded to those who took part.

Pedant’s corner:- “England” or “English” are used extremely often as the descriptive term for the UK or British respectively, which last also of course encompassed Empire/Dominion troops. Otherwise; Novorossik (Novorossiysk,) De Robeck (at the start of a sentence x 2. The man’s surname was de Robeck, the capital ‘D’ is therefore erroneous,) Keyes’ (several times; Keyes’s,) “on the tide” (this was in the Mediterranean. I always understood that the Mediterranean had very little in the way of tides,) “for all the control exercised on then” (on them,) Liman von Sanders’ (von Sanders’s,) thtat (that,) d’Oyly-Hughes’ (d’Oyley-Hughes’s,) commandos (these didn’t exist in units called such until World War 2,) Xerxes’ (Xerxes’s.) “At the the front” (only one ‘the’,) “rising to a crescendo” (a perennial favourite, this; the crescendo is the rise, not its culmination.)

Forth Bridges, Dunfermline Palace and Dunfermline Abbey from Pittencreiff Park, Dunfermline

It’s mostly the Queensferry Crossing, not the two older bridges, you can see in this photo. (The white sail-shaped objects in the distance are the bridge’s cable stays.)

Forth Bridges from Pittencreiff Park Dunfermline

Looking the other way from the garden area there is a view of and Dunfermline Abbey and, to the left, the remains of Dunfermline Palace:-

Dunfermline Palace and garden from Pittencreiff Park

Dunfermline Palace:-

Dunfermline Palace and Abbey

Fifty Years Ago Today …..

…. five boys from the town nearest to where I live went off to watch a football match.

And never came back.

They were caught up in the crush on Stairway 13 at Ibrox Park – as it was then known – in which 66 people died.

No one in Markinch knew their fate until the last buses and trains through the town that night had come – and gone. And then they feared the worst.

The incident is still a sore memory in Markinch, it is almost as resonant, perhaps even equal to, Remembrance Day in importance.

The loss struck the town hard. Many of the present inhabitants were at school at the same time, if not the same year group, as the five, whom they remember vividly.

In the years after, one of the mothers would run down the street from her work every lunch time to be beside her boy.

The last big anniversary – the fortieth – saw a refurbishment of the town’s memorial, which till then had been a plaque lying on the grass overlooked by both the streets in which the boys had lived. An appeal to raise funds for refurbishment was inundated within days with contributions coming in from all over the world. So much so that the memorial was added to and made into a pair of stones one atop the other.

I posted a photograph of the upgraded memorial here.

There was a programme about the disaster on BBC Scotland on Monday 28th December, available on iPlayer for 11 months.

The disaster was also the subject of a piece in the Guardian earlier in December, mentioning previous crushes on the same stairway (ten years earlier one of these had resulted in two deaths) which ought to have brought about remedial action.

Sadly, it took the 66 deaths fifty years ago for Rangers FC to start upgrading the stadium.

As well as the memorial stone in Markinch there is a bench in the grounds of the local Kirk, St Drostan’s. Since St Drostan’s is on a hill the bench overlooks the town.

Ibrox Disaster Memorial Bench, Markinch

Names of the five boys:-

Nameplate, Ibrox Disaster Memorial Bench, Markinch

free hit counter script