Tag Archives: scotland

The Dear Loved Boy

The romantic is cursed with a delicate type of blindness, a reckless folly that begins by meaning no harm yet which in the end will taint its imprudent victim with a painful destiny.

“He gained the love of ladies gay
None e’er to him weas coy
Ah, woe is me, I mourn the day for dear Gilderoy”

The romantic sentiment is made from a fey alchemy: soft feelings, gentle indiscretions.  It is responsible for the quiet dismissal of reality; replacing it with an insidious fancy that invades the dull fabric of reason like a golden thread.

“With muckle (much) joy we spent our prime
Till we were baith sixteen
And oft we passed the langsome (long) time
amang the leaves sae green”

Admittedly such a deadly attitude is not as common now as it once was.  This is a cynical world.  But centuries before it was not so much the case. Imagination was different – like prisms, thoughts of love and romance was split like gems to achieve an entirely new purity, a new light.  Men saw a woman’s pale skin as a fleshly metaphor for virtue and truth – though the feminine tint was laced with arsenic.  And women saw romantic possibilities in the dark eyes, slim figure and the feel of restrained muscular strength of her gentleman as he held her on the dance floor.  This was a generation easily deceived by their feelings, more than willing to travel the labyrinth of ardor that stretched before them.

“O, that he still had been content
with me to lead his life,
But ah, his manful heart was bent
to stirring feats of strife,”

Patrick Roy McGregor, known as Gilderoy, Gilleroy, Gilder Roy or Gillie Ruadh (“the Red-haired Lad”) was an outlaw of democratic tastes:  he was a robber, a blackmailer, a cataran (cattle thief) and a murderer.  He and his band of criminals terrorized the lands throughout Aberdeen during the early 17th century.

But he was pretty.  His white skin and auburn hair were not reconciled to his violent tendencies.  And the ladies loved his beauty and were happily blinkered from his misguided daring.  He was ‘bonnie’, ‘handsome’ and ‘winsome’.  Their yearning and tributes appeared in stories, ballads, prose and verse.

“My Gilderoy, baith far and near
was feared in every toon,
And boldly bore awa’ the gear
of many a lowland loon (peasant, rogue)”

The ‘arch rebel’ was finally apprehended in 1636.  McGregor stood trial in Edinburgh with his associates John Forbes, Alistair Forbes, Callum Forbes, George Grant, John McColme, John McGregor McEane, Gillespie McFarlane, Alistair McInneir and Ewin McGregor alias Accawisch.

“At length, with numbers, he was ta’en,
my handsome Gilderoy”

The charges were many; a miscellany of achievements of a dubious personality:  “tressonable usurpatioun of our Souerane Lordis royal power”,  “pat violent handes in the persones of the said Alexander (Hay) and his wyfe, tuik thame captives and prissoneris, for thair ransome and libertie”, involvement in a number of “crewall slauchters” or murders.    His choice of victims was an egalitarian one, preying on common folk, lairds and ministers.  He was supposedly betrayed by his mistress Peg Cunningham, and was able to stab her to death before being arrested.    Even more flamboyant tales claim that he robbed Cardinal Richelieu and picked Oliver Cromwell’s pocket…but a ruffian’s accomplishments had their limits.

He was found guilty on July 29.  The pleasantly fitting Scottish word for verdict (“doom”) was that McGregor be “drawin backwardis upone ane cairt…to the mercat (market) cross of Edinburgh.” Along with John Forbes he would be hung until dead on a gibbet that was considerably higher than that of their associates.  They were also to have their “..heidis be strukin af from thair bodies, with their richt handis, and the said Gilroy his heid and richt hand to be affixit on the eist or netherbow poirt of Edinburgh, and the said John Forbes his heid and richt hand to be put upone the wast poirt thairof.  (heads be struck off from their bodies with their right hands, and the said Gilroy his head and right hand to be affixed on the east or netherbow port of Edinburgh, and the said John Forbes his head and right hand to be put upon the west port thereof)

“To Edinburgh they led him there,
and on a gallows hung;
They hung him high above the rest,
he was sae trim a boy”

Such was his fame that a garden of ballads blossomed directly after his execution, such as “The Scotch Lovers Lamentation:  or Gilderoy’s Last Farewell…To an excellent new Tune, much in request”    Such popularity speaks of an ill-conceived pride, a stumbling thrill, a naïve delight…the ingredients of a misdirected affection. There are times when a passion gallops like an unrestrained fever, and its victim is unprepared to deal with the machinations of its subtle sickness – the extravagance of undisciplined emotion.

Thus having yeilded up his breath,
I bore his corpse away;
With tears that trickled for his death,
I washed his comely clay;
And safely in a grave sae deep
I laid the dear loved boy,
And now forever I must weep for winsome Gilderoy.

Jacobite broadside - Gilder Roy in his genuine Highland Garb.jpg


The Green Lady, Part I

I have been reading an article on Aberdeen, a dour Scottish city that is nourished on rain and ghosts.  Its silhouette is harsh and medieval, and it rides the eastern coast of Scotland like a battalion of granite knights.

There was one ghost in particular whose bittersweet life was as toxic and romantic as poisoned wine.  Her name was Dame Lilias Drummond.  She married Alexander Seton in 1592 and was unimaginative enough to give him five daughters.  Disgusted with her chromosomal betrayal, he hid Lilias away in the stony bower of their castle, where she was starved to death.  Whether she died from a lack of affection or food is not known.  All during this wasting time, Alexander was carrying on an affair with another noblewoman, Lady Grizel Leslie.

He married the Lady Grizel six months after the death of Lilias.  The morning after their wedding night they saw, 50 feet above the ground, the letters D. LILIAS DRUMMOND carved into the wall, in ethereal rebuke.  Today Lilias can be seen walking the halls of her home, Fyvie Castle, lonely and patient – a lady in green waiting for justice.

A sad, pretty story.  One that made me research The Green Lady's life further.  Until I found out one singular detail.  It never happened.  Their marriage, in fact, was a happy one.  A bouquet of daughters was not a sin.  The Dame's death was from natural causes.

That, I thought, was that.  Yet why should it be?  Doesn't this instead open up wide mythical vistas?  The green Lady of Fyvie Castle doesn't exist.  So couldn't I come up with my own?


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The King’s Coat

"King Jamie hath made a vow,
Keepe it well if he may:
That he will be at lovely London
Upon Saint James his day"

Flodden Field is a grim, soaked name:  soaked in rain, soaked in blood.  The name is dark with lowering clouds, heavy against a gangrenous sky of gray and green.  It is without warmth, save for the life forces absorbed into the parasitic ground as the great men lay dying.  It is a name without horizon; a killing field symbolizing Scotland's shame and despair.

In 1513, King Henry VIII was in France.  He rode arched Friesian horses into his small battles,  feeling their muscular spirits through his hands and legs.  He wore suits of armor tattooed with gems so audacious that they made the sun look away in a fit of pique.  His tents were thick with tapestries; animals, a frozen heraldic population, stared from within their embroidered forests.  Local girls ran out with wild, scented garlands in their hands to take a look at the young and beautiful English king.

He left his wife at home.

Queen Katherine was made regent in the king's absence.  Symbolically, the cold and knight-errant island was hers.  But although she was mild and devout, a pale nun in cold velvet, there were fires lurking inside her.  Isabella of Castile was her mother:  leader of the Spanish Inquisition, a warrior against the Jews and Muslims; fearless, intolerant, brilliant.  It was her blood that warmed her daughter's pallid faith.

When it became known in Scotland that the king of England was away to France, James IV – linguist, scientist, builder, adulterer – raised his head from his mistress' breast to listen. 

The 'Auld Alliance' with France, nearly 250 years old, had to be honored.  England was ripe for invasion.  So, despite his queen's protestations and precognitive dreams, a massive army – with an arrogance as heavy as the armor on their backs – was assembled.

Queen Margaret begged him not to go to war with her brother.

"Then bespake good Queene Margaret,
The teares fell from her eye:
'Leave off these warres, most noble King,
Keep your fidelitie.'"

Flodden Field is located in Northumberland, the darkest and saddest of English counties.  The two armies met there in October 1513, behind a mourning veil of rain that beaded on the blades of swords like bold crystals.  Katherine wisely named the Earl of Surrey – 70 years old, memories of past battles stitched into his skin – as the commander of her army.  James, yearning for a chivalry which never existed, led his own army.  Overcome by foolish courage, he galloped beneath the royal standard of Scotland, a blood-red lion that roared in dismay.

The result was a famous English victory, at the cost of 1,500 men.  But the flat, blank field was suddenly mountainous with 10,000 Scottish corpses, and somewhere amongst them lay James IV, punished for his futile dreams.

His torn and bloody coat was sent to Katherine, who proudly had it delivered to her husband.  No one knows what Henry thought as he ran the shattered cloth through his fingers.  It is doubtful that he felt any guilt for his widowed sister, mourning far away from home.

"That day made many a fatherlesse child,
And many a widow poore,
And many a Scottish gay lady
Sate weeping in her bower."

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