Prayer For the Faithful, by Saint Patrick

May the Strength of God guide us.fullsizeoutput_98

May the Power of God preserve us.

May the Wisdom of God instruct us.

May the Hand of God protect us.

May the Way of God direct us.

May the Shield of God defend us.

May the Angels of God guard us.

-Against the snares of the evil one.

May Christ be with us!

May Christ be before us!

May Christ be in us,

Christ be over all!

May Thy Grace, Lord, 

Always be ours,

This day, O Lord, and forevermore.  Amen.

 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

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Proud Mary-Part 2

“Mary, Queen of Scots entered the room where she would be executed. She told her friends and servants to ‘rejoice rather than weep for that the end of Mary Stuart’s troubles is now come … tell my friends that I die a true woman to my religion, and like a true Scottish woman and a true French woman.’

Mary was disrobed; her black garments were removed, revealing an outfit of deep red – the Catholic colour of martyrdom. She knelt down on a cushion, resting her head on the block, before stretching out her arms and crying in Latin “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” The axe came down, but landed on the back of her head rather than her neck. A second blow cut into her neck but a third was required to sever the head completely.

When the executioner lifted Mary’s head it tumbled onto the stage, leaving him holding her wig. Her hair was short and completely grey due to years of stress as a prisoner. A final surprise was waiting for the executioner – Mary’s little Skye terrier had been hiding under her skirts, soaked in blood.”  –Laura Brown, Historic Environment Scotland

 


Hello again, my friends.  I hope this day finds you well. I also hope that you are not too annoyed with me if ‘Proud Mary’ has gotten stuck in your head.  That song has been playing on a continuous loop in mine for the last two weeks! Perhaps publishing my article today will be the magic that makes it quit.

So, today we are going to pick up where we left off in my previous blog about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.

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On display at Edinburgh Castle

At the conclusion of Proud Mary-Part 1, we saw a grieving, young widow return to Scotland to reign over her home country alone.  Still mourning the loss of her French husband, King Henry II, Mary (a Catholic) now found herself at odds with a predominantly Protestant nation.  Many felt that the best chance for the country’s stability depended upon Mary marrying a man of the Protestant faith.  Mary fell in love with her cousin, Henry, Lord Darnley, and five years after the death of her first husband, she married once again.

But kind of like the the Ford Pinto of the 70’s or the Yugo of the 80’s, Lord Darnley turned out to be a bit of a lemon.  Reportedly spoiled, petulant, jealous, and given to carousing – basically a man of poor character – Darnley was never given any real authority.  Mary abandoned her plans to crown him as king and his arrogance and behavior put a terrible strain upon the marriage.

Darnley’s jealous behavior came to a head in March, 1566 after Protestant lords (and the nobles who had formed a rebellion against Mary in ‘The Chaseabout Raid”) influenced him to enter into a secret conspiracy with them to murder David Rizzio, Mary’s private secretary and BFF. The nobles felt that Rizzio had too much influence on Mary’s foreign policy and Lord Darnley had long been suspicious that Rizzio and Mary were more than just friends (in fact, the rumor mill speculated that Mary was carrying Rizzio’s child!).  knife-2317960_1280So, in front of a six-month pregnant Mary who was dining with friends at Holyrood House in Edinburgh, Darnley and his cronies dragged David Rizzio away from the table,
into the next room, and brutally murdered him.

Still reeling from the murder of her friend, Mary gave birth to a son a mere three months later, on June 19, 1566.  And not just any son, but the future King James VI of Scotland and I of England .  To the dismay of the Protestants, wee James was baptized into the Catholic faith at Stirling Castle in December, 1566. Apparently,  Lord Darnley did not attend the ceremony.

What do you think?  Wild ride so far?  Buckle up.  There’s more.

In the most mysterious of circumstances, Henry, Lord Darnley met his end on February 10, 1567.  In the early morning hours, the home at which Darnley was staying (Kirk o’ Field) was rocked by a massive explosion.  Darnley’s body and that of a servant were recovered in the garden, however, it was discovered that they had not been killed by the explosion.  Rather, they had been strangled!  Young Mary was now a widow for a second time.

This is where Mary’s story really begins to get complicated and just as I said in Part 1, sometimes deciphering fact from tale or opinion can be a bit of a challenge.  I will do my best to only provide you with those points on which multiple sources are in agreement.  If you want the finely detailed and verified facts on all things political, you’ll just have to wait for my book (just kidding).

Some historians speculate that by this point, Mary had formed a close relationship with a man named James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell.  Bothwell had been involved in aiding Mary after the death of her Italian secretary and some believe that the pair may have been lovers.  Scandal!

The question as to who murdered Lord Darnley loomed and not even Mary was above suspicion. Darnley’s influential family, however, accused Mary’s friend Bothwell in the assassination, claiming that with Lord Darnley out of the picture, Bothwell was free to pursue a marriage to Mary.  As the chief suspect, Bothwell was tried for the crime in April 1567 but was subsequently acquitted.  The question of ‘who done it’ remains to this day.

Shortly after Bothwell’s acquittal, Mary – who was returning to Edinburgh following a trip to visit her son – was intercepted on the road and abducted by Bothwell and his men.  He took her to Dunbar Castle (where sources say he may have forced himself upon her).  Because the exact nature of their relationship remains unclear, it is not known if Mary’s abduction was by force or if it was a pre-planned agreement between the two.  In any case, the pair were wed.

I don’t know if our Mary had poor taste in men or  if she was just unlucky in love, but her marriage to Bothwell also soured.  Are we surprised?  Their relationship was tempestuous and proved to be deeply unpopular in the eyes of both Protestants and Catholics.  Ultimately, an army was raised against them.  Bothwell fled and Mary found herself imprisoned at Lochleven Castle where she miscarried twins (could Bothwell have been the daddy?).  Mary was given a choice – abdication or death.  She chose abdication and her infant son James became the new sovereign – King James VI of Scotland.  Bothwell by this point had been forced into exile and would eventually die in a prison in Denmark (driven to insanity).

Mary had the heart of a fighter, though, and her pride would not be taken from her.  On May 2, 1568, the still twenty-something escaped from Lochleven Castle and raised a small army.  Unfortunately, her army was defeated in the Battle of Langside and Mary fled to England into what she hoped would be the protective arms of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

It was Mary’s hope that Elizabeth would be sympathetic to her cause.  But, if you’ll recall from Part 1, there had alway been conflict over to whom the crown belonged. Many Catholics felt that as the senior descendent of Henry VIII’s eldest sister, that Mary was the rightful ruler of the throne.  Elizabeth (obviously) saw Mary as a tremendous threat and over the next nineteen years kept a watchful eye on her by holding her captive in various castles throughout England.

During the years of Mary’s captivity, Elizabeth’s fears were realized, as Mary was found to be involved in numerous plots for assassination.  The big question remains: Was Mary tricked into expressing her support for this effort or was it a deliberate attempt to dethrone her cousin and claim the kingdom for herself?  Maybe one day history will be able to give an answer.

Whatever Mary’s intention (or lack of intention), she was and would always be perceived as a threat to her cousin.  So, in October 1586, Mary, Queen of Scots was tried for treason and condemned to death.  She was taken to Fotheringhay Castle and on February 8, 1587 – at the age of just 44 – was executed.

Poor Mary.  What had begun as a promising life and a bright future had turned into a tragic chain of events and a sad reflection of the time in which she lived.  The questions remain. Was Mary a misguided martyr, swept up in the political and religious frenzy of her day?  Or was she a Jezebel, scheming and dabbling in murder to achieve her goals? That is a question that perhaps only Mary herself could answer.

Sixteen years after Mary’s execution, Elizabeth died of natural causes and Mary’s son James ascended to the throne his mother had coveted. And in perhaps the ultimate poetic irony, some four centuries later, the rival queens’ final resting place lies in London’s Westminster Abbey…

only a short distance apart.

Cheers,

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Proud Mary-Part 1

Greetings everyone!  It feels like it’s been awhile.  A wonderful, restful vacation in sunny Florida and the regular busyness of life have taken me away from you lately.  It’s good to be back with you again.

Today, my blog topic is by special request from my friend and faithful reader, Paige. About to embark on a honeymoon trip to Scotland (fab decision), she asked if I would mind writing an article on the fascinating and controversial Mary Queen of Scots.  My friend has a similar interest in history so I am thrilled to oblige (even if it has taken me a long time to get moving on it!)  Paige, dear, this one’s for you.


So…if there is one takeaway from my research on Mary Queen of Scots, it is that the relationship between Scotland and England is a complicated one.  Always has been. May always be.

I want to begin by saying that the story of Mary is also complicated.  As with any events that took place half a millennia ago, sometimes that which separates fact from fiction is not crystal clear.  I imagine there will always be scholarly debate and political and religious bias which informs individual opinion, but I think most people would agree upon the major points of Mary’s life.  As for the finer, cloudier points, well, they are certainly fodder for the imagination.  That being said, let’s dig in.

Known also as Mary I or Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots was born in 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, about fifteen miles west of Edinburgh.  She was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scotland.  Mary’s mother was Mary of Guise (who played a prominent role in 16th century French politics) and she was the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England (you know, the one we all learned about in school that had his wife Ann Boleyn beheaded).

Mary was barely out of the womb when her father died and consequently, she inherited the Scottish throne.  At just six days old, tiny Mary became the infant Queen of Scotland.  Because she was obviously too young to rule (the child couldn’t even yet hold a cup), the country was ruled by regents until Mary became of age to assume her responsibilities.  Of course, in true human form, the regency itself was not without conflict.  The Catholic Cardinal Beaton and the Protestant Earl of Arran each claimed that the regency was theirs. Power, anyone?  Arran ended up in the position until Mary’s mother managed to remove and succeed him in 1554, serving until Mary became an adult.

With a passionate desire for Scotland and the powerful Catholic nation of France to form an alliance against England, Mary’s mother sent her young five-year-old daughter to be educated in the French court and to eventually marry the French Dauphin – Francis (the son of the French king, Henry II).  Mary Queen of Scots spent the next thirteen years in France, learning all the things that a young woman of noble birth should know:  several languages, horsemanship, falconry, needlework, poetry and prose, and music.  She was educated, talented, beautiful – quite the catch – and in 1558, she became the bride of the young French prince (just so we’re clear, I didn’t say the Fresh Prince – ha).

Meanwhile in England………

In 1558, Elizabeth I (a Protestant and cousin to Mary Queen of Scots) ascended to the English throne after the death of her sister.  Yet in the eyes of many Catholics, it was felt that Elizabeth was an illegitimate ruler and that our Mary Stuart, as the senior descendent of Henry VIII’s elder sister, was the rightful queen of England.  This issue of who the true and sovereign English ruler should be would mar Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship for the rest of Mary’s days.

 

playing-cards-167049_1280A happily ever after was not in the cards for Francis and Mary, however.  About a year after they were wed, following the accidental and untimely death of his father, Francis was crowned King of France (Mary as Queen).  And sadly, another year and a half after that in 1560, the young King Francis himself also passed away -from an ear infection that developed into a much more serious problem. According to a previous account by Francis’ father, Henry II, Mary and his young son had seemed to click from the very beginning.  Soul mates some might even say.

The loss of Mary’s young husband left her grief-stricken and the eighteen-year-old went home to Scotland to reign alone.  Her return came at a time of political and religious uncertainty, with Scotland caught in the throes of the Reformation and an ever-widening Protestant-Catholic split.

I try to imagine what Mary Queen of Scots would have been like at this point in her life. Eighteen, widowed and grieving, thrust into responsibilities and pressures not of her own choosing.  Possibly lonely.  The tender heart of a teenager caught somewhere between the child she was and the woman she was quickly becoming.

One thing is for certain, though.  Mary’s fascinating journey had only begun.

We’ll continue with more on the life of Mary Queen of Scots next time.  See you again soon, Friends.

Cheers,

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Happy Valentine’s Day

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A Red, Red Rose

-by Robert Burns (1759-96)

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to each of you today!

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The Bard of Ayrshire: Robert Burns

Welcome back! I hope everyone is having a terrific week.

Today I would like to pick up where I left off in my previous post about Scottish poet Robert Burns and the annual Burns Night celebration. I promised you I would go a little deeper into the life of the man who penned ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and who some 222 years later, is regarded as the national poet of Scotland. So let’s dig in!

Ol’ Rabbie was a handsome chap, eh?

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The eldest of seven children, Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in a small town in Ayrshire, Scotland. His father, William Burnes (the family later dropped the ‘e’), and mother, Agnes Brown, were poor tenant farmers. Because of their impoverished situation, young Robert’s formative years were spent engaged in hard, manual labor on the family farm. This facet of his life would shape his world view and inform his writing throughout the years.

Despite their difficult and humble circumstances, William and Agnes understood the value of education. So, in addition to farm labor, Robert and his siblings were given the opportunity to learn. As a result, Burns became an avid reader and at an early age began to show an aptitude for writing prose. According to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, he penned his first song at the tender age of fifteen – a love song to his crush, Nellie Kilpatrick, called “Handsome Nell” (also referred to as “‘O once I lov’d a bonnie lass”).

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This was only the beginning of Burns’ literary awakening. By the age of twenty-seven, he had already acquired fame across Scotland with his first collection of poems, entitled “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect”. In his short life, Burns would go on to pen hundreds of poems and songs, many written in the Scots language and many in English. Burns explored a vast array of topics in his writings – love, death, drink, humor, friendship, nature, nationalism, religion, politics, family, farming (which always remained close to this heart), and many many more.

It is undeniable that Rabbie led a…well…colorful and varied life. He became a Freemason in 1781. And as a result of his lifestyle choices (chiefly, his tremendous admiration for the fairer sex and drink), he also found himself in frequent conflict with the Church of Scotland. Though married to Jean Armour, Burns had numerous illicit relationships. He fathered twelve children (oh yes he did!), eight of which were born to his wife.

A rift in their relationship nearly led to Burns emigrating to the West Indies with is lover Mary Campbell (his Highland Mary). Mary’s sudden death and the sensational success of his first published collection of verse kept him in Scotland.” (BBC.co.uk -referring to a rift with wife Jean).

I wonder. If Mary had lived and Burns had emigrated to the West Indies, would he have found the same success as he did in Scotland? Would we still be speaking of him today? Would the world remember his name if that one piece of his life had been different? Interesting thought…

Burns’ late twenties were spent in Edinburgh, where by then he was known as The Ploughman Poet, a name which harkened back to both his upbringing and his affinity for romanticism and nature. Over the next few years, Burns continued to achieve success and admiration, with his womanizing and decadent lifestyle running parallel to his prolific working life. He lived his life in a way that was contrary to the moral standards of his day. Perhaps it was because of his lifestyle that his creativity flourished. To his core, Burns was not a conventional man. He was eccentric, independently minded, possibly stubborn, and a free spirit. You may not agree, but doesn’t it seem that many times the most eccentric in our world are the ones who produce the most memorable art and lasting legacies? Think Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Mozart, Wagner, Picasso, Van Gogh…Michael Jackson!

The final years of Burns’ life were spent in Dumfriesshire in the south of Scotland. He continued to write, and for a time, went back to his roots (no pun intended) to try his hand at farming. The endeavor proved unavailing, however, and in 1789 he began work as an Excise Officer.

Over the next few years, Burns’ health began to steadily decline. The early years of hard, physical work, an early bout of rheumatic fever that likely weakened his heart, and his decadent lifestyle had taken their toll. On July 21, 1796 – at just thirty-seven years old -the Bard of Ayrshire died. To make a sad situation even more cheerless, on the day of his funeral, his wife Jean gave birth to their youngest son Maxwell.

So, what was it about Burns’ relatively short life that left a lasting legacy in the hearts of the Scottish people? Why is he still so popular nearly two and a half centuries after his death? I think it is partly because of his humble beginnings and the fact that he lived among the ordinary people of Scotland. His writing clearly related his understanding of and solidarity with the common man. He understood their plight. Burns’ humor, his wit, his frequent political incorrectness, and the fact that he saw into the hearts of people (particularly the poor) were – and still are, the qualities that have endeared him to generation upon generation. Robert Burns was a Scot to his core, and remains a strong part of the Scottish identity today. Whether you prefer to call him Robert, Robbie, Rabbie, the Ploughman Poet, or the Bard of Ayrshire, one thing is for certain…his name is sure to live on for generations to come.

Cheers, Rabbie.

And to you, Friends.

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