Who is Scotland’s greatest hero?

With many tours under my belt over 20 odd years, it’s a question I have been asked many times. Here I list a few of the main contenders; in no particular order. I have a shortlist of my own, but how about you? All these are SCOTS.

King Alexander III (1241-1286) Son of Alexander II, and a direct descendant of the first king of the Scots, Kenneth mac Alpin, Alexander was born at Roxburgh in 1241. Alexander III was crowned king at Scone in 1249 when he was eight years old. Two years later, he married Margaret, daughter of King Henry III of England. He had been engaged to her from infancy. He defeated an invasion by King Haakon of Norway at the Battle of Largs in 1263. Following this, the Treaty of Perth transferred the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to Scotland from Norway. As part of the peace-making, his daughter married Haakon’s grandson, Eric II – their daughter Margaret later became Queen of Scotland. This is a favourite claim, as there is a superb whisky of the same name; Dalmore, King Alexander III. Six different cask finishes are exquisitely curated to create a one of a kind whisky with a rich and enticing flavour profile.

Baird – John Logie (1888-1946)  – Started the first TV station in the world.  Bell – Alexander Graham (1847-1922)  – Inventor of the telephone and involved in genetics and phonetics. Connery – Sir Sean (1930- ) – the greatest president Scotland never had? (a legend in his own lunchtime). Doyle – Sir Arthur Conan (1859-1930) – Based his famous detective Sherlock Holmes on a forensic scientist. Kidd – Captain William (1645-1701) – The treasure of this famous pirate, hanged in 1701, has never been found.

James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose (1612-50) Montrose, Leslie, Argyll, Leighton, Charles II Graham was brought up at Kincardine Castle and succeeded his father as 5th earl of Montrose, November 14, 1626. In 1637 he took part in drawing up the National Covenant at Greyfriars’ Kirkyard in Edinburgh, after King Charles I attempted to introduce an episcopal “Book of Common Prayer” which was seen as an attempt to anglicise Scotland and the church. In 1643 he was imprisoned for five months in Edinburgh Castle.  In 1644, the Scots army entered England in alliance with the English Parliament and the Puritans against King Charles I. Scotland had not been in open rebellion until that time. Montrose obtained a commission as Lieutenant-general in Scotland from the king at Oxford, passed back into Scotland in disguise and raised the dis-affected and largely Catholic clans of the Highlands, plus some Irish soldiers, on behalf of the king, barely numbering 2,000 men, Montrose, now elevated to marquess by the king, conducted in the Highlands a brilliant series of campaigns. With skill and leadership, he won victory after victory over forces sometimes three times as numerous as his own at Tippermuir, September 1, 1644, Inverlochy, February 2, 1645, and Kilsyth, August 15, 1645 (where for once he had 5,000 men). Finding now that the royalist cause in Scotland was hopelessly lost, Montrose was ordered by the king to abandon his efforts and he escaped abroad to Norway. But in 1649, after being shocked when the English Parliament beheaded Charles 1, he resolved on one more desperate effort on behalf of Charles II. In April, 1650, he landed in Caithness, but few men rallied to his standard and he had lost many of his men in a shipwreck in Orkney. His small force was defeated at Carbisdale on 27 April, 1650. He was betrayed by MacLeod of Assynt for the then huge sum of £25,000 and was delivered into the hands of the Scots government. He was taken to Edinburgh and, without trial, was sentenced to be hanged and dismembered as a traitor. The capital sentence was carried out in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, on May 21, 1650. Eleven years later the remains of the “great marquess” were buried in St. Giles, where a monument was erected to him in 1888, inscribed:

Kenneth mac Alpin (? – 858) Dunadd. The House of Alpin was founded around 500AD by Fergus, the chief of the Scots of Dalriada who became established in Argyll. Their capital was at Dunadd, with a footprint carved in the rock where the kings were proclaimed. While king lists have survived, little is known about them as individuals until the 36th king, Kenneth, son of Alpin, burst upon the pages of history. His name is variously written as Kenneth mac Alpin or Kenneth MacAlpin or King Kenneth I. His father died in 834 and Kenneth came to the throne. His mother may have been a princess of the Picts, by 843, uniting the whole of Scotland north of the river Forth under one monarch for the first time as the kingdom of Alba. It is said that Kenneth held a banquet at Scone after his succession and murdered seven earls of Dalriada who might have disputed his position. Under increasing pressure from the Vikings on the western shores, Kenneth moved the religious centre of his kingdom to Dunkeld and his secular capital to Forteviot, both in Perthshire. On his death in 858 in Forteviot, Kenneth was buried on Iona.

Macbeth (1005- 1057) Macbeth of Shakespeare’s play was very different from the real man, in Morayshire, his origins are obscure. His name “mac-Bethad” means “Son of Life” and his mother was Donada, a daughter of Kenneth II or III or possibly Malcolm II. His father was Finlay McRory, Mormaer (Lord) of Moray. Macbeth married, Gruoch, a grand-daughter of Kenneth II, king of Alba. She already had a son, Lulach, by a first marriage (to another Mormaer of Moray).  Unlike in Shakespeare, Macbeth was a powerful and successful monarch who ruled from 1040 to 1057. He was confident enough of his position to go on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050 and is said to have been so wealthy that he “scattered alms like seed corn”. Macbeth was defeated by Malcolm Canmore, helped by an English army, at Dunsinane (Perthshire) in 1054. But Macbeth continued to rule for another three years. A second invasion in 1057 saw his defeat and death on August 15 at Lumphanan, near Aberdeen. He was killed by Malcolm and his English allies led by Earl Siward of Northumbria. Like many of his royal predecessors, Macbeth was buried on Iona.

Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734) The first Gregor in Scotland was said to have been a son of King Kenneth MacAlpin in the 8th century and the clan motto, in Gaelic, means “My race is royal”. The clan MacGregor is reputed to be one of the oldest in Scotland and became established in Argyll and Perthshire, in Glenorchy, Glenstrae and Glenlochy – the clan probably built the original Kilchurn Castle at the Pass of Brander near Glenstrae. But Robert the Bruce granted a substantial part of the MacGregor lands to his close friend and supporter Neil Campbell (the only ever good Campbell). Over the centuries, Campbells and MacGregors were in conflict and as the Campbell’s very often had the ear of the monarch, the MacGregors were often the losers. Over the years, the MacGregors gradually lost title to their lands and became tenants of the more powerful Campbells. In order to survive, the MacGregors often raided neighbouring land, stealing cattle and anything else worth taking. Since the MacGregor lands were on the edge of the Highlands, there were often soft targets in the richer lands of the Central Lowlands to the south, in Stirlingshire. But they were not averse to raiding other clan lands – in 1558 many MacLarens, including their chief, were murdered during a MacGregor raid. As the son of a senior member of the clan, he was well educated, not just in reading and writing but in the crafts of fighting and swordsmanship. While Gaelic was his native tounge, he spoke (and wrote) in English also. The MacGregors, including Rob Roy, continued to support the deposed King James VII against William of Orange and Queen Mary. When John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee (also known as “Bonnie Dundee”), raised an army in support of James (and his Jacobite cause), the MacGregors joined him. Rob Roy and his father fought at the Battle of Killiecrankie on 27 July, 1689 and although both sides lost many men, Rob and Donald Glas survived. Rob, was he a spy, was she a double agent? He was certainly a superstar!

Bonnie Prince Charlie a grandson of King James VII who was driven out of Britain in 1688 because of his support of the Catholic faith. (Jacobite came from the Latin word for James – Jacobus). King James VII tried to regain his throne. But on July 12, 1690, William defeated James in the Battle of the Boyne, Ireland. King James VII died in exile in 1701. There were further Jacobite insurrections in Scotland, particularly in 1715 when James Francis Stuart (nicknamed “The Old Pretender”) landed in Scotland. After two months he was advised to withdraw and left once more for France, never to return. William and Mary died childless and her sister and successor Queen Anne also died without issue. Parliament then decided in 1714 (by a majority of one) to ask George, the Elector of Hanover in Germany to become king of Britain. George’s mother was Sophia, a grand-daughter of King James VI. Even so, the rules of succession gave James Francis Stuart a stronger right to the throne, a point not lost on the Jacobite supporters, most of whom were in Scotland. In 1718, James Francis Stuart married Princess Clementina Maria Sobieski of Poland who was one of the wealthiest females of royal birth in Europe. Their son, Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Maria Stuart was born in Rome on 31 December 1720. The Pope gave his personal blessing to the infant. “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and “The Young Chevalier” (the French word for Prince). Charles was treated as a Prince in Italy and later in France. The French and British were at loggerheads (as on so many occasions over the centuries) and in 1744 offered a fleet with 7,000 soldiers to help Charles restore the Stuarts to the British throne. But many of the ships were lost in a storm and wrecked on the Dunkirk coast. We all know the rest of the story, hero or stupid misconception of a man?

Wallace may be derived from “Walays” the term used by the English to describe anyone who came from Wales. Some of these Welshmen accompanied the Fitz-Alans (later to be the High Stewards of Scotland) and they settled near Paisley – at Elderslie. The Wallaces also owned land at Riccarton, near Kilmarnock and it is possible that Wallace’s father was born there. What is fairly certain is that Wallace had an older and younger brother, Malcolm and John. But the date and place of Wallace’s birth are both uncertain – the most likely location is Elderslie in Renfrewshire. Scotland found itself towards the end of the 13th century without a monarch and a number of contenders who were vying for the role. In 1296 Edward summoned 2000 of the landowners and senior clergy to Berwick where they were required to sign an oath of loyalty to him. This became known as the “Ragman Roll”. In May 1297, Andrew Murray, from the Black Isle, north of Inverness, raised the Standard of Scotland at Avoch Castle, igniting a revolt. Wallace and Murray joined forces in the fight against the occupying English, neither Wallace or Murray were fighting to gain the throne of Scotland but in order to free the country from English domination. The Scottish army led by Wallace and Murray arrived in September 1297 at Stirling, an important cross-roads in the country. Their army gathered at Abbey Craig, overlooking the river Forth (and now the site of the Wallace National Monument). The English army was commanded by the Earl of Surrey who was Edward’s “Keeper of Scotland”. He had defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in the previous year. On 11 September the English army began to advance across the bridge over the Forth in a bend of the river. When only a portion of the English forces had crossed, Wallace signalled for the Scots to attack. The Scottish pikemen advanced on the mounted and armoured Englishmen and drove them into the river. The remainder of the army, including the Earl of Surrey, turned tail and headed south. The Battle of Stirling Bridge was Wallace’s greatest triumph. Wallace was NOT Braveheart by the way, that was indeed Bruce.

King William I “The Lion” (1143-1214) NOT the Lionheart! William the Lion William “The Lion” was a grandson of King David I and came to the throne after the death of his elder brother, Malcolm IV in 1165. The nickname “The Lion” was accorded to him after his death and may have been due either to his valour and strength or, more likely, to the heraldic symbol which he adopted – the red lion rampant on a yellow background – which has remained a royal flag to this day. William was crowned at Scone (Perth) on December 24, 1165 at the age of 22 and was to reign for nearly 50 years. Early in his reign he attempted to recover land in Northumberland which had been given to King David in 1149 by King Stephen of England but which had been ceded by his brother Malcolm. The stories of his butchery of the local population were chronicled in detail by later (English) historians. However, he was ultimately unsuccessful as he was surprised by an attack by the English army while besieging Alnwick castle. In the mist, he mistook a party of English knights for his own. He is said to have fought fearlessly but his horse was speared and he was captured. He spent five months as a prisoner of Henry II while the English army plundered the south of Scotland as far as Edinburgh. William was released under the Treaty of Falaise. Under this, William was forced to swear allegiance to King Henry II of England. This lasted until after Henry’s death in 1189. At that stage he was able to negotiate out of the oath by providing money to King Richard (the Lionheart) who needed finance to go on a crusade to the Holy Land. In 1178 William founded the Abbey of Arbroath which was dedicated to Thomas à Becket who had been murdered by Henry II in 1170. The Abbey was later to be place where the famous “Declaration of Arbroath” was signed in 1320 by the Scottish nobles in the time of Robert the Bruce. In 1186 William married Ermengarde de Beaumont who bore him a son in 1198 (later King Alexander II) when William was aged 53.

Or do you have a person male/female I have not mentioned? paul@mcleanscotland.com

For anyone wishing more information on James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose  http://montrose-society.ndo.co.uk/graham.htm

marking stone location where MacDonalds gave up the chase after the defeated Campbells
James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose