Q. of Scots takes Edinburgh

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Edinburgh (oilpaintingfactory.com)

Here is Margaret, Queen of Scots, entering Edinburgh in 1503, riding with new husband James of Scotland, as seen through the lens of historical novelist Philippa Gregory in her Three Sisters, Three Queens (2016):

The day of our entry into Edinburgh is my last day as a Tudor princess before I am crowned in my new kingdom, and the king takes me up behind him on his horse, as if I were a simple lady and he my master of horse, or as if he had captured me and was bringing me home. We enter Edinburgh with me seated behind him, pressed against his back, my arms wrapped around his waist, like a peasant girl coming home from a fair. It pleases everyone. They like the romance of the picture that we make, like a woodcut of a knight and a rescued lady; they like an English princess being brought into their capital city like a trophy. They are an informal, affectionate people, these Scots. I can’t understand a word that anyone says, but the beaming faces and the kissed waving hands and the cheers show their delight at the sight of the handsome wild-looking king with his long red hair and beard, and the golden princess seated behind him on his horse.

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(English Monarches)

The city is walled with fine gates, and behind them the houses are a mixture of shanties and hovels, some good-sized ones with plastered walls under thick, thatched roofs, and a few newly built of stone. There is a castle perched on the very top of an incredibly steep hill at one end of the city, sheer cliffs all around it and only a narrow road to the summit; but there is a new-built palace in the valley at the other end, and outside the tight fortified walls of the town are high hills and forests. Running steeply downhill from castle to palace is a broad cobbled road, a mile long, and the best houses of the tradesmen and guildsmen front this street and their upper stories jut over it. Behind them are pretty courtyards and the dark wynds that lead to inner hidden houses and big gardens, orchards, enclosures and more houses behind them with secret alleyways that run down the hill.

At every street corner there is a tableau or a masque, with angels, goddesses and saints praying for love and fertility for me. It is a pretty little city, built as high as it is broad, the castle standing like a mountain above it, the turrets scraping the sky, the flags fluttering among the clouds. It is a jumble of a city, being rebuilt from hovels to houses, from wood to stone, gray slate roof replacing thatch. But every window, whether open to the cold air, shuttered, or glazed, shows a standard, or colors, and between the overhanging balconies they have strung scarves and chains of flowers. Every poky little doorway is crammed with the family clustered together to wave at me, and where the stone houses have an oriel window, or an upper story and a balcony, children are leaning out to cheer. The noise of all the people crammed into the little streets and the shouting as the guard push their way through is overwhelming. Ahead and behind us there must be at least a thousand horses with Scots and English lords intermingled to show the new unity that I have brought to Scotland, and we all wind our way through the narrow cobbled streets and down the hill to the palace of Holyroodhouse.

Ah, such a charming scene! But you get a hint of how petty and egotistical Gregory paints Queen Margaret. As a bonus, read the next passage, plucked actually from just before the entrance to Edinburgh, in which Margaret complains of being ignored by the king.

In the next four days before the wedding my new husband comes to visit every day, but mostly he talks to Thomas Howard [an English general who leads the guard of the large traveling party, or progress, from England] rather than to me. The old man has fought the Scots up and down the borders, but instead of being enemies for life, as anyone would expect, they are inseparable, sharing stories of campaigns and battles. My betrothed, who should be courting me, reruns old wars with my escort, and Thomas Howard, who should be attending to my comfort, forgets I am there and tells the king of his long years of campaigning. They are never happier than when they are drawing up a map of ground where they have fought, or when James the king is describing the weaponry he is designing and having built for his castles. Both of them behave, as soldiers together always do, as if women are completely irrelevant to the work of the world, as if the only interesting work is invading someone else’s lands and killing him. Even when I am seated with my ladies and the king comes in with Thomas, he wastes only a few moments being charming to me, and then asks Thomas if he has seen the new guns, the Dardanelles gun, the new light cannon, if he knows of the famous Scottish cannon Mons, the largest in Europe – which was given to James’s grandfather by the Duke of Burgundy. It is most irritating. I am sure Katherine [of Aragon, betrothed to Margaret’s brother Harry (Henry VIII)] would not stand for it.

I realize it is bad form of me to chuckle at that sort of thing in this day and age, but sorry, I can’t help it. It is fun, and whether it truly reflects the thinking of Margaret I will leave to historians. So far, in my reading of several reviews, there has been no complaint that Margaret is drawn by Gregory as a ninnyhammer.

Still, I’m sorry, I can’t resist going back a few paragraphs further to quote more in this vein, in regard to James’s big red beard. After describing his handsome face, she adds:

Except for the beard, of course. There is no getting away from the beard. I doubt there is any way to get past the beard. At least he is combed and washed and scented; it is not a beard that might have a mouse nesting in it. But I would have preferred him clean-shaven, and I cannot help but wonder if I can mention this. Surely it is bad enough for me to have to marry a man who is old enough to be my father [she is 13 and he 30] and with a smaller kingdom than my home, without him bringing a fox’s brush to bed with him?

As the owner of a beard myself, never shaved off since 1976, this passage is somewhat dismaying. Oh well.

I have finally sent away for the Library of America’s Henry James: Collected Travel Writings. When I get it I will no longer have to invent thrilling snippets of discourse about the battle between classical and modern architecture. Only kidding. But James’s observations, even if they don’t entirely make the case for me, will offer recurrent chapters in the great style wars. I hope readers will be looking forward to them.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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One Response to Q. of Scots takes Edinburgh

  1. Pingback: Wild wood Scottish palace | Architecture Here and There

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