They had in fact every reason to feel safe: they were women, they all belonged to the royal family of Scotland and they had found shelter in a wee chapel dedicated to Saint Duthac, the patron Saint of Tain, a holy man very much revered in medieval Scotland.
But they were not safe, not safe for the very same reasons. Because the Earl of Ross did not believe in chivalry, sanctuary or mercy.
It was the year 1306. Robert the Bruce had been crowned King of Scotland. But his country was far from peaceful and he was at war with King Edward “Longshanks” of England. Those were troubled times and battles were legion. So eventually the King decided to take his men to the hills, guerrilla warfare seemed more promising considering the layout of the land and the number of men fighting on his side. So Robert left his wife Elisabeth, his daughter Marjorie (from his first marriage) and his sisters Christian and Mary in the hands of his brother Neil and a few trusted men. He would not see the women for a long time.
After an arduous journey North, they finally took shelter in Tain in the sacred chapel where they were ceased by the Earl of Ross, taken prisoner and deported to various places in England. All in the name of King Edward “Longshanks”.
Neil Bruce was hung, drawn and beheaded; the women either sent to nunneries or kept in cages hanging from fortress walls like the young Marjorie, still a girl really, at the Tower of London. The Queen was kept in Burstwick in Holderness.
No chivalry, no sanctuary, no mercy – Robert the Bruce’s womenfolk met with a devastating fate in the old graveyard of Tain.
Not much is left there to remember their fear and helplessness. The chapel lies in ruins, the graves are of course of a much later date. But the violation of everything that was deemed to be right, is not forgotten. It has lived on in the memory of the Scots for nearly 700 years now.
For this and more on the female side of Scottish history: David R. Ross: Women of Scotland, Luath; 2010
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Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years.
Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.
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