Scot­land: Her Story

Rose­mary Gor­ing’s new book Scot­land: Her Story ex­plores the ex­pe­ri­ences of our coun­try’s of­ten­for­got­ten hero­ines. Here, the au­thor shares a few of the sto­ries of the women who in­spired her

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Contents -

Ex­tracts: In­spir­ing women

War­rant for the Count­ess of Buchan’s cap­ture, 1306

Is­abella MacDuff, Count­ess of Buchan, was Robert the Bruce’s sec­ond cousin. She was de­ter­mined to be present at Bruce’s coro­na­tion at Scone, on 25 March, at which by hered­i­tary right she was to place the crown on his head.

In car­ry­ing out her clan du­ties she in­fu­ri­ated her hus­band, who had switched his al­le­giance to Eng­land, and had to be re­strained from killing her by King Ed­ward I. He, in­stead, wished her to be hung in pub­lic in a cage, as ‘a spec­ta­cle and eter­nal re­proach’.

‘IT is or­dained and com­manded, by let­ters un­der the Privy Seal, to the Cham­ber­lain of Scot­land or to his Lieu­tenant at Ber­wick on Tweed, that in one of the tur­rets within the Cas­tle in the same place, in the place where it seems to him most suit­able, he shall make a cage of strong lat­tice, of bars, well strength­ened with iron, in which he shall put the Count­ess of Buchan.

And that he cause her to be so well and surely guarded in that cage that she can­not get out. And that he ap­point one woman, or two, of the said city of Ber­wick, English, who shall be free of sus­pi­cion, to serve the said Count­ess with food and drink and other things which are need­ful in that dwelling.

And that he has her so well and straitly guarded in that cage that she speak to no one, nei­ther man nor woman, who is of the Scot­tish na­tion, nor to any other, nor shall they have ac­cess to here save only the woman or women as­signed to her, and those who guard her.’’

Mar­tyrs on the mud­flats: an eye­wit­ness re­port, 11 May 1685

The trial and ex­e­cu­tion of the Wig­town Covenan­ters Mar­garet McLach­lan (or Lauch­li­son) who was 62, and Mar­garet Wil­son, who was 18, was ex­cep­tion­ally cruel. To set an ex­am­ple to oth­ers, they were tied at the low water mark on the mud­flats of Wig­town Bay. As one com­men­ta­tor wrote, “The old woman was bound fur­thest out, to bob like a fisher’s float on ev­ery ad­vanc­ing wave...”. This was in­tended to give the young woman time to re­nounce her con­vic­tions and save her­self. But as Pa­trick Walker, who wit­nessed it, shows, she would not do so. Sir Robert Gri­er­son of Lag was one of the Com­mis­sion­ers who con­demned the women for “non­con­for­mity”.

‘THE old woman was first tied to the stake, en­e­mies say­ing, “Tis need­less to speak to that old damn’d bitch, let her go to hell.” But say they, “Mar­garet, ye are young; if ye’ll pray for the King, we will give you your life.” She said, “I’ll pray for sal­va­tion for all the elect, but the damna­tion of none.” They dashed her un­der the water, and pulled her up again. Peo­ple look­ing on said, “O Mar­garet, will ye say it?” She said, “Lord, give him re­pen­tance, for­give­ness, and sal­va­tion, if it be Thy

holy will.” Lagg cry’d, “Damn’d bitch, we do not want such prayers; ten­der the oaths to her.” She said, “No, no sin­ful oaths for me.” They said, “To hell with them, to hell with them, it is o’er good for them.” Thus suf­fered they that ex­tra­or­di­nary and un­heard-of-death.’’

A Pi­o­neer’s Ac­count Su­san Al­li­son, Au­gust 1869

When she was 15, Su­san Moir’s fam­ily em­i­grated for Bri­tish Columbia where, eight years later, she mar­ried a cat­tle rancher, John Fall Al­li­son. They set­tled in a log cabin he had built on Lake Okanaga. Like many pi­o­neer wives she had to rely on her own wits to sur­vive. Here she de­scribes set­ting out with her hus­band on a busi­ness trip.

‘THE baby was now a month old and I got one of the women to make me a birch­bark bas­ket to pack him in. It was a very com­fort­able lit­tle nest and my hus­band said he would carry it him­self. As we needed only take one pack horse with a tent and food for three days we thought we could make the jour­ney with­out help. We were told that there were fires on the road when we started. My hus­band thought the fires might not be bad though the air was full of smoke. When we made the ‘Nine Miles’ it grew un­pleas­antly thick. As we neared Pow­der Camp we found the trees were blaz­ing on both sides of us. My hus­band handed me the baby to carry and went on lead­ing the pack horse. Poor pony he did not like the fire and had to be dragged along the road.

My hus­band wanted to turn back but I, not know­ing what was ahead, said “go on” and we pushed on un­til it be­came clearer. Near Sk­agit we met a man on horse­back who stopped to speak to us. He said “turn back while you can, no one can get through that fire, the Sk­agit is boil­ing.” But as the smoke and fire be­hind us looked far worse, we told him we would try it, and that he had bet­ter hurry if he wanted to get through. So we parted.

He had not ex­ag­ger­ated. When we got to the Sk­agit we found the tim­ber on both sides of the creek on fire. The rocks were red hot and the water was boil­ing or at any rate it seemed like it. We dared not stop but hur­ried on think­ing to get out of it. When we reached the Cedars, Pony and the other two horses had to be blinded [blind-folded]. The whole for­est seemed to be on fire [and] the heat was al­most un­bear­able. The smoke was suf­fo­cat­ing and we kept a blan­ket wrapped around lit­tle Edgar’s bas­ket. To add to our mis­ery a huge cedar crashed across the trail. I held the three horses and baby while my hus­band tore the bark from some of the cedars ly­ing near and made a bridge on to the top of the cedars over one side and down on the other, then led Nelly and Pony over this bridge with the third horse.

The bridge caught fire and his leg was badly burned, but we did get over, and a lit­tle far­ther we got be­yond the fire. We were afraid to camp but too ex­hausted to go far­ther that night. We left our dan­ger­ous camp early next morn­ing and reached Lake House where we camped and took our ease and rested till next day.’’

Cook­ing for Elsie Inglis’s Rus­sian unit Mary Lee Milne

Mary Lee Milne was a 43-year-old widow from Selkirk, who be­came cook for Elsie Inglis’s med­i­cal unit on the Rus­soRo­ma­nian front. She recorded what she wit­nessed in di­aries and in film, some of it taken at great per­sonal risk.

Hos­pi­tal A, Medgidia Satur­day 4 Oc­to­ber, 1916

‘THIS has been a ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing day. I went out with Bell to get meat, and whilst we were on the way the rail­way was bombed. We had just left it when the first fell. Then they

I think in all the times in my life I could count how many times ever I’ve got any­thing out of sex, now that’s God’s truth

came thick and fast all round us – it was a ter­ri­ble feel­ing, watch­ing where the next would come. We drove for our lives along a road which was turned into pan­de­mo­nium – horses and men fly­ing, hay carts over­turned, horses ly­ing dead. We picked up one man and took him with us – he had nine holes in his back. The en­emy was just over us all the time – quite aw­ful. Bell was won­der­ful. She paci­fied the fright­ened men, told them to lie down, held ter­ri­fied horses, and kept us all from feel­ing up­set. I was not re­ally afraid, but I just wanted to get back to Wil­liam [her brother]. I felt I didn’t want to be killed, and it was just as likely to be me as any­one here. How­ever, we got back to the hos­pi­tal with the wounded man, and for the mo­ment the en­emy has gone off. But at lunch time they came back in dou­ble the num­ber, and shelled the town afresh. They hov­ered over our camp for over an hour; then at tea time they were back again – guns fir­ing and shells fly­ing through the air... For the mo­ment we are all safe, but how long will it last?’’

Sex – damned thing Maggie Fuller, 1930s

This in­ter­vie­wee, who had a re­ally tough up­bring­ing in Leith, spoke un­usu­ally frankly to an oral his­to­rian.

‘Ithink in all the times in my life I could count how many times ever I’ve got any­thing out of sex, now that’s God’s truth. I hate the ruddy thing, I’ll be very frank with you. I think it is a dis­gust­ing hor­ri­ble thing, I re­ally do, aha. I didn’t use to feel like that, I just did it, but I never got any­thing, ex­cept with my sec­ond son, and an odd time since – not now, mind … damned thing.

‘‘I’d rather do with­out it, it’s been left like that, you know what I mean.

‘‘My hus­band is older than me … as re­gards a sta­ble man, you’ll not get bet­ter. I’ve been al­lowed to do ex­actly what I like, but as re­gards sex, it’s no use – if I hadn’t been a kind of sta­ble per­son I am sure I’d have gone off my ruddy head.

“You know I’d rather not have it, all that carry on, you know. It’s maybe me that’s cold, I don’t know, I never talked about it – too late in life to talk about it now.’’

Let­ter from No 1 Cat­ter­line Joan Eard­ley

Fa­mous for her rum­pled Glas­gow urchins and roar­ing seascapes, Joan Eard­ley’s work has been likened to Goya and Turner. Cat­ter­line, the name of the vil­lage near Stonehaven where she made her home, is now syn­ony­mous with her. Eard­ley had a long-stand­ing love af­fair with Audrey Walker, whom she met in 1952, and who was mar­ried. She wrote to her of­ten from her clifftop cot­tage.

14 Fe­bru­ary 1958

‘THE snow has been bliz­zard­ing down nearly all day – (What you had when you were here was just nuffink!) It is piled up against the door in great drifts, & even out of drifts it is eas­ily a foot deep. Any­way in be­tween

bliz­zards it has been so much just what I wanted for my paint­ing – that stupidly I imag­ined I could rush out & in with my can­vas – You know what a job it was set­ting up that can­vas at the back of the house. Well I’ve had it 3 or 4 times to do – & undo in the teeth of the gale. I gave up af­ter I think the 3rd time might have been the fourth – chiefly be­cause of the length of time that I ac­tu­ally had in which to paint was so brief – mostly only about 1/4 hr at the most be­fore the on­set of the next bl­iz­zard... You re­ally need to be tough for this game...

The snow will cer­tainly lie over to­mor­row – so I hope I shall get some more peace­ful work­ing times. An­gus will help me out with my easel, etc., in the morn­ing – but you see he won’t be here the rest of the time. This morn­ing he an­chored my easel with a real an­chor [she adds a draw­ing of this]. Cer­tainly ef­fec­tive – in fact I have left the easel out­side an­chored & half buried in the snow.

Stalked in the cor­ri­dors of West­min­ster Win­nie Ewing, 1967-8

Winifred Ewing’s re­turn as SNP MP in the Hamil­ton by-elec­tion of 1967 was cause for cel­e­bra­tion. Yet when she reached West­min­ster, and the noise of the pipe bands and cheer­ing crowds faded, the re­al­ity was less thrilling.

‘Iwas in­ter­rupted when­ever I spoke, I was reg­u­larly in­sulted and I was even de­famed once or twice... I was even stalked by a Labour MP, though

as he is still alive I shall not name him. That mem­ory is not one on which I want to dwell too much in any case, be­cause the whole ex­pe­ri­ence was very fright­en­ing.

The prob­lem started fol­low­ing a speech I made at the Ban­nock­burn Rally when I said the en­e­mies of Scot­land were not the English but “Scots traitors within the gate”.

This in­fu­ri­ated some Labour MPs who took the re­mark per­son­ally, though why they should I don’t know, un­less they had a guilty con­science. One of them seemed to be­come un­hinged by it.

I first no­ticed the prob­lem in the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Scot­tish Af­fairs. Wher­ever I sat this MP sat op­po­site. If I changed seats, he did so also. Then I no­ticed that he had started to fol­low me along cor­ri­dors, ap­pear­ing be­hind me with­out say­ing any­thing. It got so bad that on one oc­ca­sion I stopped dead in the cor­ri­dor as an old Tory, Boyd Car­pen­ter, went past and com­plained to him that this man – point­ing be­hind me – was fol­low­ing me ev­ery­where.

He was hor­ri­fied and told the MP to clear off and not do it again. But later I had to com­plain again in the li­brary, where he sat star­ing at me.

Em­rys Hughes and Wil­lie Bax­ter, in whom I con­fided, told me to com­plain to the Leader of the House, Fred Peart, as it was be­com­ing very dis­qui­et­ing for me.

I spoke to Fred af­ter a vote one night and he was very sym­pa­thetic and said he would have a word and make sure it stopped. Fred was also very hos­pitable and af­ter I had told him about it in­vited me for a drink in his of­fice be­hind the Speaker’s Chair, where he of­ten en­ter­tained his staff. I de­clined as I wanted to go home.

Off I set through the dark Cham­ber and into the Pub­lic Lobby to go to the stairs lead­ing to the Mem­bers’ En­trance, from where I could ring for a taxi. How­ever, as I left the Pub­lic Lobby, I saw the door swing­ing in front of me. I felt afraid but I went on through the door and down the steps, with the sound of my high heels click­ing loudly on the stone. As I turned a bend on the stair, there was my stalker right in front of me, look­ing very sin­is­ter in­deed.

I tried to hu­mour him as I wanted to reach the cloak­room – where there was an at­ten­dant – with­out hav­ing any­thing hap­pen­ing. He kept star­ing and fol­low­ing me, but I made it and breath­lessly told the cloak­room at­ten­dant what was go­ing on. Then I rushed back up the stairs to Fred Peart’s room, which I must have stum­bled into, ashen faced. He just looked at me and im­me­di­ately re­alised what had hap­pened, say­ing sym­pa­thet­i­cally, “Not again?” The Leader of the House took prompt ac­tion and I got a writ­ten apol­ogy – and, equally im­por­tantly, the stalk­ing stopped.’

As I turned a bend on the stair, there was my stalker right in front of me, look­ing very sin­is­ter in­deed

From left: Is­abella MacDuff at the coro­na­tion of Robert the Bruce at Scone in 1306, from a mod­ern tableau at Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle (Pho­to­graph Kim Traynor). A de­pic­tion of Mar­garet Wil­son, tied up on the mud­flats of Wig­town Bay, painted by John Ev­erett Millais; Win­nie Ewing, vic­to­ri­ous in the Hamil­ton by-elec­tion of 1967; Su­san Al­li­son, a pi­o­neer wife who had to sur­vive on her wits when the fam­ily em­i­grated to Bri­tish Columbia in 1869

Far left: the artist Joan Eard­ley Left: Mary Lee Milne, who was on the front line with Elsie Inglis

Scot­land: Her Story edited by Rose­mary Gor­ing, is pub­lished by Bir­linn, £20

Pho­to­graph: Gor­don Ter­ris

Au­thor Rose­mary Gor­ing at Mary Queen of Scots’ Bath­house at Holy­rood in Ed­in­burgh

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