Gerrard Curran reviews History Scotland (Issue 1): archaeology, history and heritage, Illustrated in Colour. Price £3.95. Published by RCAHMS, John Sinclair House, Edinburgh
THE EDITORIAL of this welcome new quarterly maps out the magazine’s policy: “This country is embarking on a radical new course into uncharted waters.” The aim is to get away from “a debilitating focus on the litany of past failures”. It would have been interesting if the offending historians had been named.
It is heartening, however, to read that there is no aim to jettison our (Scottish) history. On the contrary the aim is to explore all aspects of the country’s past and not just study the lives of rulers and élites.
The article which provoked the most thought in this reviewer was ‘New evidence concerning Mary Queen of Scots’. The new material, known as the ‘casket sonnets’, according to Peter Davidson, “neither acquit nor incriminate Mary of the murder of her second husband Lord Darnley”.
In a recent TV documentary Bothwell was described as a Scottish nationalist, the major thorn in the side of the English. His involvement with Mary was a disaster for himself and Scotland in the longer term.
The jailing of Mary in Scotland and capture of Bothwell in Denmark were outcomes which fitted in perfectly with the plans of William Cecil, chief secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth. Cecil’s long term aim was for England to rule Scotland through the Protestant lords and to keep Mary off the English throne.
In the review of the book An Antidote to The English the reviewer laments the author’s failure to deal with the issue of Scottish identity. However he praises Macdougall’s concise analysis of events, saying he was right to concentrate on matters which had repercussions for the Franco-Scottish alliance.
The most recent event dealt with in the magazine is the typhoid epidemic in Aberdeen in 1965, caused by infected tinned beef from Argentina -- the tins had been cooled in polluted river water.
The epidemic paralysed the commercial and tourist life of the city and people from the area suffered discrimination all over Scotland for some time afterwards. The row over Ian McQueen’s, (head of health and welfare) handling of the affair was a godsend to the government as it helped to conceal their culpability in the epidemic. In 1964, when the infection was discovered they failed to send back all the infected tins to Argentina.
The question and answer session with Chris Smout is of interest. Smout wrote the famous History of the Scottish people 1560 - 1950. His subject has now become environmental history.
One article tells of recovered artefacts from Cromwell ships sunk by Scottish storms. The finds puts the steadfastness of republican views of the Puritans in doubt. Other articles explore the subjects of stalking in Edinburgh, archaeological digs near Applecross and paintings of 18th century Scottish painter Richard Waitt.
If the magazine, which comes from the same publishing stable as the excellent History Ireland, keeps up the present high standard, it will become an important focus for discussion about Scotland’s turbulent history and heritage.
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