Elizabethan England’s most celebrated poet and playwright, in underground kind of way, was Christopher Marlowe, although he was soon eclipsed by Mr. Will Shakespeare, whose popular plays would define the mainstream for centuries to come. It was the 90s. The 1590s to be precise. Marlowe was at the height of his powers, writing the politically subversive and experimental poetry that would come to define his generation. Doctor Faustus, for instance, would stand the test of centuries as a profound representation of Renaissance humanism.
Many have tried to label Marlowe. Attaining his MA at Cambridge, he was a member of a generation of college wits. The civil service was not large enough to accommodate the young poets of London, so they turned to more edgy professions, like poetry.
Poet, playwright, spy, homosexual, Catholic, atheist: even if the labels didn’t make any sense, they stuck. Marlowe’s response? Haters gonna hate.
Here are five reasons why Marlowe was basically a hipster:
1. He avoided all labels.
Although Edward II depicts the homosexual relationship between a king and his favourite courtier (fun fact: Edward II is Longshanks’ son in Braveheart), Marlowe cannot be outed of the closet based on textual evidence alone. In a similar way, scholars have argued about whether Doctor Faustus celebrates or a condemns Renaissance humanism and the pursuit of scientific knowledge–they have to settle on seeing the play as expressing a paradox. Neither can they determine with absolute certainty whether he was an atheist, or for that matter, a closet Catholic. You can’t pin Marlowe down or place him in any particular intellectual camp–being classified would make him way too mainstream.
2. He was over-educated and underemployed.
Sound familiar? Like a certain generation of young, college- and university-aged people today (such as yours truly), he had no money unless he sought patronage. Furthermore, his education in classical literature went nowhere towards finding him a job. He couldn’t just be a cobbler like his father, Mr. John Marlowe. Way too mainstream. Instead, the only way Marlowe was able to get his MA was by serving in Her Majesty’s Secret Service–such as it existed back then. Marlowe was sent to France to spy on Catholics for Elizabeth I, or at least that’s what scholars have argued. If only that was all you had to do today: become James Bond for a while and then bang! your degree is conferred, your tuition paid. (I’ll stop dreaming about it now.)
3. He was into retro.
Marlowe painstakingly tried to bring back the first-century Roman poet Ovid. Although he was not alone in reviving interest in Ovid’s poetry, most people came to know Ovid only in grammar school textbooks. Marlowe remixed a collection of Ovid’s poems, the Elegies, by translating them into English verse. Then he brought Ovid to popular audiences by writing highly pretentious allusions to Ovid’s Metamorphoses into his plays. I don’t suppose you’d understand the reference, but…
4. He was unappreciated as an artist for centuries.
Marlowe’s art was so ahead of his time that his seventeenth- and eighteenth-century readers devalued him as only a necessary precursor to the Bard–John the Baptist to Shakespeare’s Christ. Well, the Romantics reappraised him after almost 200 years and his works, which explore tyranny and the dark side of politics, had new resonance in the twentieth century. Like Vincent Van Gogh, the archetypical unappreciated artist, the genius in Marlowe only became relevant after his death.
5. He wrote in blank verse before it was cool.
Rhymes were way too fashionable. Not to mention, they were just distasteful. I mean really. His contemporaries were infatuated with couplets, Spenserian stanzas, and rime royal. Marlowe was one of the first to realize that rhymes were overrated. Iambic pentameter blank verse in English, so characteristic of Shakespeare’s great dramatic speeches, was actually pioneered by his more underground predecessor. Unfortunately, Shakespeare is given all the cred for this. What everyone should come to realize is that Marlowe was not some kind of mindless trend follower; he started one of the greatest poetic trends in English literature, thank you very much.
Joseph Boyden begins The Orenda with an allusion to the lost world of Huronia that is suggestive of a certain insight proposed in John Crowley’s Aegypt sequence: the world was not always what it has since become. Huronia, the land of the Wendat nation, has since vanished, along with their magic ties to orenda, the life force the suffuses all things, living and dead. Whether The Orenda is a historical fantasy is debatable–there are magic tricks, dream prophesies, and prayers and libations of all kinds, though none or very few unexplainable by science. However, The Orenda is certainly a historical novel, and therefore invested in showing us a forgotten world and time.
Before the arrival of the crows–the Jesuit missionaries who first called First Nations magic unclean–the Wendat had a power that the Christian European world could not comprehend. This is what the Jesuit priest Père Christophe discovers while living away from the security of the settlement of Kebec, behind a Wendat palisade deep in the woods. This ‘primitive’ village is the primal setting of the Canadian consciousness, at least according to Margaret Atwood in her 1970s book Survival, and thus promises to be a gripping Canadian epic.
The first heart-stopping sequence sets the tone for the rest of the novel with the brutal slaughter of the family of a young girl. Snow Falls witnesses her father sing his death song as his skull is bashed in by a club and he falls, arms outstretched and blood pooling around his head. The man who committed the murder is Fox, brother of Bird, who is a respected war chief of the local Wendat village. Bird is at war with the Haudenosaunee, who soon pursue him to avenge Snow Fall’s capture. As the war party trudges away through the snow, Christophe carries Snow Falls to safety and tries to win her trust. Despite her rebellion, he sees her father, splayed in the same shape as he fell when he died, in the silver crucifix around the Jesuit’s neck. It is implied that she believes her father’s orenda has come to rest in the crucifix. This belief in the orenda is what defines her people as different from Christophe’s.
‘Orenda’ is the closest word the Wendat have for ‘soul,’ though it also implies ‘power’ and is a mystical force that unites not only humans, but all things–trees, animals, stones. You could also say the orenda is like ‘the Force’ in Star Wars, which borrows ideas from world religion, or Polynesian ‘mana.’ The difference between Christian soul and Huron orenda proves to be a vast gap that must be bridged if Christophe is to save the ‘savage’ Wendat from what he sees as the demons of Satan.
Though we see Bird and his brother Fox engaged in committing horrific violence within the first few chapters, we later see them at home in their longhouses with their families. We grow to see these characters as heroes defending their traditional way of life. Though in one sense, Christophe–or Christophe Crow, as the Wendat call him–is the antagonist of this novel, the reader cannot help but feel sympathy for him and admiration for his intelligence and bravery. Snow Falls naturally draws our sympathy as we see her grow from a scared Haudenosaunee orphan into a grown Wendat woman who may one day become a seer.
The Orenda is a novel composed of various heroes who come together as antagonists to each other, because of their cultural differences. Even the enemy who we rarely see, the Haudenosaunee, Bird describes as being not so different from the Wendat. But if every character has a good orenda, then what happens to ruin the magic that the Wendat once had?
Joseph Boyden poses the question of who’s responsible with a beautifully structured tragedy. Is it Bird’s adoption of Snow Falls that begins the war that will see the end of his world? Is it the disease the Jesuits bring with them? Is it Christophe Crow’s clumsiness? Or was it just a few bad harvests? Boyden sows the seeds of the end in the beginning, as the Wendat sow the seeds of the three sisters–squash, corn, and beans–each spring to be harvested–or burned–in the fall.
At times The Orenda causes you to remember the present social troubles of First Nations by glimpsing the birth of the patterns of destruction that have assailed them ever since. You see alcohol, suicide, physical and sexual abuse, and the way of regarding First Nations as “savage” that eventually results in the formation of Residential Schools. All that bloody and painful history has its origins in the fatal story that involves Bird, Snow Falls, and Christophe Crow.
Even before I began to read The Orenda, I expected it to be a defining epic of Canadian history, an absolute must-read. I also expected it be similar to the movie Blackrobe. Indeed, several scenes in The Orenda appear to have been either inspired by Blackrobe, or the source material it has in common with it: The Jesuit Relations. But The Orenda goes deeper in describing the ripples the Jesuits caused in Canadian history. The past and future are present, says Aataentsic the Sky Woman.
I saw Blackrobe once in high school at the same time as I studied–too briefly, perhaps–the civilization of First Nations before and during European contact. I remember learning about all the anthropological points between distinguishing the Algonquins and Iroquois, the genocidal wars the Iroquois won with Dutch muskets, and then New France’s reaction, or rather inaction, regarding the wars. Our schools spend too little time teaching about First Nations history. But The Orenda can satisfy your curiosity about any blank spots in your mental timeline. I personally find the old-school map included in the hardcover edition and the references to Huronia and Kebec (instead of Quebec) work wonderfully at alienating Quebecois readers who are familiar with their country/province so that they can be carried into the perspective of those who lived during that time.
The Orenda is part of Joseph Boyden’s saga of the Bird family, and the first prequel. Certainly the first to go back so early in the history of the family. I have read Through Black Spruce before, a tale of a comatose bushplane pilot (named Bird) who remembers how he dealt with a gang of drug dealers in Northern Ontario while his daughter speaks to him while he recovers in hospital from a crash, recalling her own journey to find her sister. It has the same stark, affecting style as The Orenda and it explores some of the social issues in First Nations communities–issues that we now know go back to the seventeenth century. Three Day Road is another in the saga, a book I may pick up in the future.
The Orenda won Canada Reads in 2014, was a Governor General’s Literary Awards finalist, and made the longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The Orenda‘s orenda is strong. Read it.
My most recent poem to be published was printed in Read this Dammit!‘s January edition: “Janus: God of the Gateways.” You can pick up a copy on McGill campus in the news racks in the Leacock Building or at the MacLennan Library. I am quite happy that I was able to read it at the Paper’s Edge Coffee House at Burritoville last Friday. I was also able to read scene 1 of my novel, in which I feel quite confident. For your reading pleasure, here it my poem. Sorry if it’s a bit of a let down. It should speak to everyone who has ever raised his or her hopes too far for nothing, whether for a material pleasure or a relationship.
Remember my previous poem “I See You Too?” This one takes a similar but different angle.
We first see Ren Daiyan, the heroic protagonist of Kay’s newest novel, as an angst-ridden adolescent in a grove, wielding a bamboo sword to channel his anger. Living in a time of famine, and of war against the barbarian Kislik tribe, he is deeply aware of the diminished glory of the empire of Kitai. In its Twelfth Dynasty (a society based on Song Dynasty China), Kitai is forever overshadowed by the glory and ruin of the Ninth Dynasty (the Tang Dynasty). Kay weaves a theme through his novel that resonates harmoniously with what readers can expect in an epic fantasy novel. Diminished empires have been part of the epic fantasy genre ever since Tolkien described the fall of Númenor and Gondor. Even so, River of Stars is best described as a historical fantasy, using Kay’s technique of the “quarter-turn of the fantastic,” in which he depicts a reflection of a real-world society with magic that the society would have believed in. In Under Heaven, Kay described the fall of Ninth Dynasty Kitai during the years of tribulation that are referred to as the An Li Rebellion. In River of Stars, which is a sequel to Under Heaven (although Stars can stand by itself), we see the Kitan court’s pathological fear of the military, along with the emperor’s deep, conflicting desire to reconquer the Lost Fourteen Prefectures, Kitai’s old territories which are now ruled by the Xiaolu. Ren Daiyan’s dream is to enter the court and lead an army to reconquer the Prefectures, restoring the glory of Kitai. He is, however, only a teenager—not quite a man—fighting imaginary enemies in a glade. After killing a band of outlaws single-handedly on the road one day, his life changes irrevocably. The arc of his life then follows a larger-than-life curve. He wanders down paths with random forks, always keeping his single desire at heart: the restoration of an empire. Meanwhile, Kay weaves a brilliant subplot involving the poet Lin Shan. A woman given a man’s education by her devoted father, Shan is an expert calligrapher and the founder of a new genre of poetry: the ci. A succinct definition of ci is “new words set to old music,” which may refer to a theme in Kay’s novels of historical patterns being repeated in slightly different ways, during each time cycle. When Shan meets her poet idol Lu Chen, just before he is sent into exile, she becomes drawn into the world of court intrigue, where she must use her power as a poet to protect those she loves. In his signature manner, Kay depicts her feminine viewpoint in the present tense, to demonstrate how focused and observant (in-the-moment) a woman must be to survive in a ruthless, patriarchal world. Shan speaks out of turn with the men, asserting herself in ways that have become taboo, ever since women were blamed for the laziness of the Ninth Dynasty court. However, the present-day Twelfth Dynasty is just as decadent as the Ninth, though its glory is less. Shan is invited into the Genyue, a beautiful imperial garden sponsored by the Flowers and Rocks Network. The brainchild of prime minister Kai Zhen and his ally Wu Tong, the garden is a vision of harmony created at the expense of the lives of many peasants. Shan will have to court imperial patronage and favour here, placing her life in danger, even as Daiyan fights the Flowers and Rocks as an outlaw. Their lives inevitably interweave, like silk. Mixing the worlds of politics, art, and war is Kay’s trademark, and he does this while asking many questions about how history must be remembered, and how seemingly inevitable events actually carry themselves out. Kay also asks how legends are made, a process that may involve valiant actions on the part of real men and women, but also, inevitably, storytelling—and a dash of fantasy about the past, which inflates heroes to truly immense proportions. All this is to say nothing of Kay’s wonderful poetic ability, the quality of his words that elevates his novel beyond the limitations of epic fantasy, into a more literary domain. Veterans of Kay will find nothing lacking in River of Stars and newcomers can find a great introduction to the author here. However, I suggest that a reader new to Kay should read Under Heaven first, if they wish to receive the full weight and effect of River of Stars. Other reviews: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/02/interview-guy-gavriel-kay-author-of-river-of-stars/http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/river-of-stars/http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2013/04/what-were-reading-river-of-stars-by-guy-gavriel-kay/
[The review is done here. Following are some observations on the book itself, concerning my previous studies on Kay, and containing some spoiler material.] Being a Kay veteran (I have read all of his books now), I smiled on occasion while reading River of Stars. This smile emerged not directly as a result of what the author wrote, but in how what he wrote found reflections in his earlier novels. I do not know whether Kay’s intent is responsible for these echoes, or if it is simply a set of imagery and wording that keeps popping up in his body of work, but I am inclined to think it is a mixture of both.
One thing to understand about Kay’s novels, is that all of them are in some way connected to his initial trilogyThe Fionavar Tapestry. Fionavar is known in his other novels by other names, such as Finavir (in Tigana) and Fiñar (in The Lions of Al-Rassan). The mentioning of Fionavar, or phrases that refer to the weaving of the Tapestry (such as “brightly woven,” “a bright loom,” or, in River of Stars, “the Weaver Maid”) tie each of his novels to Fionavar, which is the first world, the world of which all other worlds are merely reflections or echoes. Whether it is the author returning to similar images or themes due to the unconscious patterns of his mind, or a deliberate attempt to establish parallelism across his novels, Kay’s repetitions can all be attributed to the Tapestry. In River of Stars, there are two easy examples of parallelism: one is a reflection from The Summer Tree and the other is from The Lions of Al-Rassan. The Xiaolu emperor has a custom where women dance around a fire for him. This dance also serves to demonstrate power, when the emperor forces the leaders of subservient tribes to dance. In The Fionavar Tapestry, the nomadic Dalrei tribe, a horse-riding people of the plain, have a prominent custom of almost exactly the same type as the Xiaolu. The parallelism suggests that in some mysterious way, the Xiaolu are reflections of the Dalrei. Secondly, there is a moment in River of Stars greatly similar to one in The Lions of Al-Rassan. The brother of the war leader of the Altai tribe essentially repeats King Ramiro’s speech, which describes his dream of being able to ride his horse into the sea on the other side of Al-Rassan (in the Altai’s case, Kitai), claiming all the lands behind him as part of his kingdom. The language of the two speeches are so closely linked that the only explanation is that Kay is trying to deliberately draw a parallel. Those familiar with the poetry Kay brings to his writing will know that he would never repeat himself out of laziness. The King Ramiro grace note suggests that readers who are familiar with Kay should compare the narrative arc of restoration and reconquest in River of Stars to the perspective of the Jaddites in their reconquest of Al-Rassan. The Jaddite reconquest was seen as an arrogant assertion in Kay’s earlier novel, a “reconquest” of a land that was never theirs in the first place. This adds to the sense that the Altai have no right to conquer the Xiaolu—but also challenges the idea that Kitai has a right to reconquer the Lost Fourteen, which have for so long been in Xiaolu hands. After all, whether the peasants in the Lost Fourteen must pay taxes to the Xiaolu or the Kitan emperor makes no difference to them. We find ourselves asking, “How long do a people have to live in a country before they become native to it?” This question was also asked in Kay’s novel Ysabel, regarding Phelan the Roman’s integration into Celtic lands in the south of France, over the thousands of years he’s been living there. As a matter of fact, the moral ambiguity of reconquest becomes one of the central issues in River of Stars. The novel ends up questioning whether it is best to attempt to amend the brokenness of an empire through reconquest, or whether peace is best established in other ways, such as through compromise. River of Stars sets up a narrative of wrongness, thinning, recognition, and healing (terms by John Clute; see link) quite distinctly in its narrative arc—and in a distinctive Kay-like manner, questions that arc. In a way, his novel attempts to answer the question, “Is an individual really, in the words of Ninth Dynasty poet Sima Zian, ‘powerless to amend a broken world?'” The answer might surprise you. No more spoilers; read the book.
After the disaster of Culloden, the Duke of Cumberland continued to repress the rebellion, to put it lightly. Really, he opened the way up for genocide.
Having captured Lord George Murray’s orders to the Jacobites, which had been issued the day before the battle, he supposedly found a line that revealed the Jacobites were to give no quarter to the Hanoverians. Using this conveniently forged piece of enemy instruction, Cumberland felt justified to give no quarter to the Jacobites, either. Cumberland’s letter to his men following up on this discovery read as follows: “Officers and men will take notice that the Public orders of the rebels yesterday was to give us no quarter” (Magnusson 622).
In the end, it was Cumberland who really gave no quarter.
Following atrocities such as the massacres the followed the Battle of Culloden, it is difficult to assign blame onto any one individual. But we can pretty well blame Cumberland for most of it. His orders were stated obliquely, leaving the correct course of action he expected ambiguous—but he intended this. He likely wanted soldiers to draw their own conclusions about his desire, while ever so slightly suggesting that they should take an eye for an eye. The order would then be untraceable to Cumberland.
This resulted in wholesale massacres. Dragoons scourged the Highlands, on the search for anyone associated with the rebels. They slaughtered fugitives as well as bystanders. They robbed livestock, burned barns to the ground, and raped the wives of those they sought. These days have passed into Scottish legend.
The atrocities of the slaughter were assisted by understanding that the Gaels were subhuman, vermin to be exterminated. The statistics are as follows:
3,471 Jacobite prisoners
120 of which were executed,
600 died in prison,
936 sold in the West Indies as slaves,
1,287 released or exchanged (Magnusson 624).
Among the legends of that time is one about James Wolfe’s virtue, which may be true, or might not: you decide.
Apparently, he refused to shoot a wounded Highlander shortly after the battle, claiming he would rather resign than betray his honour. Cumberland himself ended up shooting the Highlander, possibly under the orders of General Henry Hawley, Wolfe’s superior.
What is interesting is how Wikipedia states this story was popular among the Royal Highland Fusiliers, a Scottish regiment that fought under Wolfe during his campaign in North America. It makes you wonder how much Wolfe wanted the Highlanders to understand that he was merciful. Merciful, despite his statement made famous by Alistair MacLeod, that it was “no great mischief” if the Highlanders fell in battle. He must have relied strongly on the perception of being merciful, to earn his men’s loyalty, since his army of highlanders might have fought against him at Culloden, or knew those who had personally, and resented him.
Whatever the case with Wolfe, Cumberland was gloating in his triumph in the wake of the repression, and London celebrated with glee. The Duke was appointed chancellor at Aberdeen University, while in London he had a beautiful flower named after him, called Sweet William. Its scientific name is Dianthus barbatus.
The Jacobites also honoured him by naming a flower. This one was a foul smelling ragwort called Stinking Willie.
But this witty response did nothing to prevent the English from consolidating their military and cultural domination over the Scots. The policies, meant to assimilate Highlanders were similar to the tyrant Brandin’s policies in Tigana following the Battle of the River Deisa.
These were the Disarming Acts. They demanded all weapons in Scotland be surrendered. These included guns, claymores, and bagpipes. I hear bagpipes are deadly at a range of sixty feet (never mind the dying cat inside). But really, these singularly loud instruments of the Highlanders were used to rally troops and encourage them to fight in battles—so as far as the English were concerned, they had to go.
Tartan was banned, the great plaid, the kilt, and every other part of traditional Scottish garb. This is extra significant to Scots, because the different tartan patterns are unique to your family, or clan, sort of like a plaid coat-of-arms. I believe this would have been an attempt to dissolve the clan system in Sotland, which meant a direct attack on Highlander kinship relations.
Furthermore, the traditional language of Gaelic was to be repressed. If Brandin of Ygrath were the Duke of Cumberland, this would be the spell that erased the country’s name, by erasing its language. In Gaelic, Scotland is called “Alba.” Even into modern times, the speaking of Gaelic was considered taboo.
Various attempts have been made to resuscitate the vanishing language. One of the most famous was the discovery of Ossianic poetry, a set of Gaelic verses rumoured to have been written by an ancient author called Ossian. However, Ossian was revealed to be a hoax, fabricated by James Macpherson. It might speak to the romantic desire to revive a perishing language, which had once been so central to his culture, that Macpherson invented a Gaelic Homer to legitimate the language in the eyes of others.
The Disarming Acts carried lasting devastation on Scottish culture. But what ever happened to the Bonnie Prince, you ask?
Well, he decided to flee for France. 5 kilometers to the south-west of Culloden, he met some of his Scottish officers at a Fraser safehouse. By 20 April, he was staying at Arisaig until news of approaching redcoats forced him to take a boat to the Outer Isles. However, in a fateful moment he was taken in a storm and was shipwrecked on the isle of Benbecula—which is situated between North and South Uist, my ancestral homeland.
Irony of ironies: had he stayed, the French would have saved him. Two ships, the Mars and Bellona, landed on 30 April at Loch nan Uamh with money and brandy … four days after he had left.
Instead of seeing safety too soon, he was going to run into some ancestors of mine in Uist. With a £30,000 bounty on his head, everyone of Hanoverian sympathy was searching for him, and even some neutral folk would have been tempted by that much cash. His narrow escapes are the stuff of legend, but nothing compares with how he dressed up in drag to flee the redcoats closing in on him, with Flora Macdonald leading him to safety.
I have a hard time imagining why a Broadway musical has not yet been made of this event.
The 24-year-old Flora Macdonald came to North Uist to help his brother with the cattle and sheep, when she ran into the Pretender. Together, they hatched a desperate plan to bring Charlie to the isle of Skye disguised as her Irish maid Betty Burke. What followed was 11 days of fun, laughter, and a Tony Award-winning musical score. With bagpipes.
And an award-winning wardrobe to boot. According to Magnusson, the Pretender looked pretty … convincing (if a bit tall) for a lady. S/he wore a “white blue-sprigged calico gown with a quilted petticoat, a sturdy waterproof overcoat and a woman’s head-dress” (626).
They reached Skye before dawn and parted at McNab’s Inn in Portree, now called the Royal Inn. (Now, does the name change refer to a Scottish or an English king?) The site is a tourist landmark in the town today.
Flora Macdonald, who shares a name with my grandmother’s grandmother, was arrested later, but not executed for her treason. She was released and married Alan Macdonald of Kingsburgh in December 1750. Later, she immigrated to the American colonies, losing her money when the colonies became the United States, during the War of Independence. She returned to the isle of Skye, and was buried at Kilmaur.
Every family has heroes like Flora; but every family also has villains.
The following came as a mild shock for me, since I discovered not everyone who shares my mother’s last name in Scotland was a Jacobite, though my uncle had assured me of this.
It turns out, Reverend John Macaulay of Benbecula sent a message to his father, Reverend Aulay Macaulay, telling him to capture the Prince upon his arrival at Harris.
Fortunately, Donald Campbell showed up when Reverend Aulay came with his parishioners by boat to collect the lucrative bounty. Campbell put his value on hospitality above his loyalty to the Whigs, and convinced Macaulay to lower his hand and spare the Prince. Campbells have married into my family, so I can only hope some of that good nature flows through my veins.
On a more positive note, my ancestral blood might also be responsible for my interest in history and writing. John Macaulay was the grandfather to Lord Babington Macaulay, a Whig historian in the nineteenth century.
This brings us to the end of this epic of the Battle of Culloden. Alongside the description of the battle, its causes, and aftereffects, we have had a glance at Scottish culture more generally. It has been a great journey, and I think I will be posting more historical posts like this in the future. Next post will be a review of Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo in the Bone.
Maclean, Fitzroy. Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. New York: Penguin 1995.
Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2000.
On 16 April 1746, the Scottish Jacobite army, led by Prince Charles Edward Stewart, fought the English Hanoverians in the bloody Battle of Culloden—the last pitched battle on British soil (the Battle of Britain in World War II was fought in the air). A last stand such as this defines an age, and many legends and songs about “Bonnie Prince Charlie” have celebrated the heroism of that day and mourned the fatal outcome. The loss at Culloden, the climax of Prince Charlie’s Rising, preceded the English repression of Scotland and attempts to obliterate Gaelic culture.
For those familiar with Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, it can be said that Culloden is Scotland’s Battle of the River Deisa. It is a last stand (close to a river, the Moray Firth, no less) against a dominating force which eventually consolidates its control over the defeated defenders with slaughter and cultural repression, in an attempt to assimilate them. History has seen a few such battles…
Culloden features prominently in Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief and in popular fiction such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, in which one of the protagonists, Jamie Fraser, is a veteran of the battle. For those interested in such novels, or Scottish history more generally, this three-part telling of the battle (before, during, and after) is for you.
My personal interest in this battle extends deeper than a mere interest in Scottish history, since Scotland and particularly the Jacobite cause is within my heritage. People from my own ancestry played key roles in the build-up to the battle and the aftermath. My mother is a Macaulay and her mother was a MacDermid, and her grandmother shared a name with one of the key players in the Prince Charlie legend: Flora MacDonald. Furthermore, Campbells and MacDonalds appear with frequency in my family tree.
According to my uncle, who is the genealogist of my family, my ancestors were Jacobite politically and Catholic devotionally, which fits because Jacobites tended to be Catholic rather than Presbyterian or Anglican. My family is originally from South Uist, North Uist is more Protestant.
Now, to begin with the boring part (actually, not that boring) to the narrative, a.k.a. the politics. The reason for why.
Anyone familiar with films such as Braveheartwill know that Scots have hated the English frequently in their history. The iteration of anti-English feeling that is called the Rising “arose” (get it?) as a reaction to the Act of Union in 1707, which unified Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and England into Great Britain.
Many of those who opposed the Union in Scotland wanted the old Stewart dynasty, instead of the Hanoverian kings of England (the first being George I), who were from a German family. Even among the anti-royalists, Stewarts were preferred over foreign Hanoverians. “Jacobite” came to refer to those who supported the Stewart cause, after “James,” the name of many Stewart kings.
The first Jacobite uprising followed the Act of Union and revolved around the pretender to the throne James Edward Stuart, who Louis XIV, the Sun King, recognized as King James VIII and III. The two numbers in his title refer first to his position on the Scottish line and then the English line. For some reason, Scotland really liked to call their kings James. During the first Rising, the Scots, as usual, had the support of France, a partnership called the “Auld Alliance.” Basically, the country that hated England the most after Scotland was France.
The first Rising ended when Prince James returned to France before ever setting foot in Scotland. Later Risings, such as the one 1715, also ultimately failed.
Now the Rising of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who will serve as the tragic protagonist of my narrative, is also known simply as “The 46.” It began with the mounting (to avoided the word “Raising”) of the Prince’s standard on 19 August 1745. By this time, Jacobite support had waned considerably. Since 1727, George II sat on the English throne, proving that the Hanoverians were here to stay. Meanwhile, the Jacobite leaders were still largely in Rome, bickering over futile plans to win back the throne. It might be said that Charlie had higher “standards,” which he “raised” but that’s enough with the bad puns.
What enabled him to raise his standard? Well, in 1743, the Jacobites saw an opportunity. The hilariously named War of Jenkins’ Ear, in which British captain Robert Jenkins had his ear cut off by a Spaniard who did not apologize, had hurt England’s feelings, making it enemies with Spain. And then came the War of Austrian Succession, which was unpopular except among our favourite rebels, the Jacobites, since it drove France and Spain to war against England. Party time! The time was ripe for a Pretender’s dreams, and Bonnie Prince Charlie landed on the isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on 2 August, hoisting the standard 17 days later.
Here’s where Alistair MacLeod’s ancestor comes in. Meeting Charlie at the landing site was MacLeod of MacLeod, who stands as a bit of traitor, unfortunately. He mentioned his arrival to the English government—in a shrewd, say-no-more kind of way—as if he expected no one would notice. A tough legacy to live down for Alistair. And all the way from South Uist, the rocky homeland of my Scottish ancestors, came MacDonald of Boisdale to tell Charlie to go back to Italy. These people two did not want a war. But the exiled prince gave MacDonald a sly look (in a very Alessan di Tigana moment) and said, “I am come home.”
So the struggle began. Rounding up his allies and dealing with the clansmen who supported the Hanoverians, Prince Charlie fought a guerilla-style war against the redcoats throughout Scotland. In September he promoted Lord George Murray and the Duke of Perth as Lieutennant-Generals. Both men would play crucial roles at the Battle of Culloden.
The high point of the campaign was capturing Edinburgh. Fighting off English dragoons with his army, Prince Charlie marched into the Scottish capital after the Camerons beat the sentries guarding the city. He was proclaimed King James VIII on 17 September.
Unfortunately, that title meant little so long as the Rising itself was unconcluded. During a siege on Stirling Castle, morale fell apart. On 30 January, the Duke of Cumberland claimed control of the English army from General Henry Hawley and scattered the disorganized Jacobites, setting off for Linlithgow. The leaders convened in Falkirk, agreeing after much debate to march north, where they would encounter Cumberland for a final decisive battle.
The battle would take place on Culloden Moor, and it would see the end of the Rising, though not before a much romanticized battle, in which heroism meets the hard flying nails of grapeshot from regimented English canons.
Stay tuned for Part II of the epic of the Battle of Culloden, and learn how the battle was fought (including a guest appearance by the infamous James Wolfe, the Conqueror of Canada, of Plains of Abraham fame).
Maclean, Fitzroy. Highlanders: A History of the Scottish Clans. New York: Penguin 1995.
Magnusson, Magnus. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2000.
A group of editors gets together to write a parody of a conspiracy theory. What if the parody ends up becoming perceived as the source of ultimate truth for an actual underground group that styles itself after the Templars and Rosicrucians?
The answer lies in the pages of Umberto Eco’s intellectual thriller Foucault’s Pendulum. In a way, the book is Dan Brown on steroids. Conspiracy theories abound in dizzying multitudes. Heretics, Knights Templar, Assassins, cabalists, Diabolicals, Masons, Jesuits, the Bavarian Illuminati, and the School of Night all become implicated in one giant Plan that spans centuries and has formed the very shape of history.
The editors at Garamond Press in Milan, Italy compose the Plan as a parody of a Templar plot that Colonel Ardenti believes he has uncovered from evidence found in Provins (Provence). However, as the editors mock Ardenti’s leaps in logic, their research into secret societies and the occult inspire them to create their own ultimate Plan.
However, the pastime, begun for the editors’ amusement, eventually begins to poison how the editors think. The Plan becomes real; life imitates art. And the central object that ties the created reality together—the thing that may reveal the greatest secret of all—is Foucault’s Pendulum, located in a Paris museum.
Though it was published in 1989, Foucault’s Pendulum continues to excite readers today. With the popularity of such authors as Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons (and his new thriller Inferno), interest in conspiracy theories and secret societies is running high.
Also, if reading Foucault’s Pendulum, you are reminded of the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise, you were not alone. In the Plan, Ismaili Assassins inspire the secret rites of the Templars, and dispense secret information to them about a powerful artifact with which they could control the world.
Perhaps Foucault’s Pendulum inspired Assassin’s Creed; perhaps Assassin’s Creed inspired Foucault’s Pendulum! After all, the programers were (obviously) Assassins themselves… And the only way to tell if someone really is an Assassin, is if they deny it.
Such is a sample of the kind of warped thinking into which the editors of Eco’s thriller fall. It combines the paranoid thought patterns of conspiracy theorists and witch hunters with the ars combinatoria, which seeks to interconnect all human knowledge. In Cabala, for example, passages of Hebrew scripture may be randomly combined with each other in order for new truths to emerge. In a similar way, the editors of Garamond Press enter statements of knowledge into a computer called Abulafia, which reconnects the entered statements randomly. Thus they emerge with a list, such as the following:
“The Templars have something to do with everything
What follows is not true
Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate
The sage Omus founded the Rosy Cross in Egypt
There are cabalists in Provence
Who was married at the feast of Cana?
Minnie Mouse is Mickey’s fiancée” (364).
The editors connect the random terms into a narrative and come up with the grand and exquisite claim that Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene and it was His marriage that was feted at Cana. In a clever way, Eco ridicules the exact same Templar conspiracy discovered in The DaVinci Code, which (coincidentally?) reveals the “truth” about Jesus Christ.
This is one example of Eco’s exploration of signs and symbols and how people connect them all together, even when no such connection exists objectively. It is the way that Garamond Press’ target audience, the Diabolicals, think.
I personally find Eco’s ideas fascinating, especially in the context of historical fantasy. In Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay discusses the philosophical implications of how desire influences how narratives of random historical events are told. These events become signs of a pattern, or signs of a plan to history’s unfolding. Eco shows how such plans may be interpreted from random data. Furthermore, he implies that in hyperreality, a universe where reality has largely been replaced by symbols and simulations of reality, the creation of such a plan in a spirit of fictitious play may have actual, historical consequences.
Eco explores these ideas because he is a semiotician, a scholar who studies the structure of signs and the processes in which they develop signification. For example, his most famous novel, the medieval mystery The Name of the Rose, explores how signs can be interpreted, or misinterpreted. In Foucault’s Pendulum, Eco explores similar themes. Symbols and signs have such a wide range of meanings that everything (a rose, a triangle in a Leonardo DaVinci painting, historical events) can be interpreted in hundreds or thousands of different ways.
Indeed, it would be a legendary meeting if it were possible for Eco to meet Dan Brown’s protagonist Robert Langdon, who is a symbologist, a professional who interprets the historical meaning of symbols. While Langdon sees a triangle in Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper and interprets it as a symbol for the sacred feminine, Eco would perhaps more closely analyze at the process of how Langdon came to make that interpretation. Perhaps Leonardo had intended to make a symbolic triangle. Then again, the triangle may have been a random shape that Langdon only perceived to signify something.
We see symbols everywhere, but where are the real ones? This is a mystery that Eco leaves ambiguous, to his credit. After all, life is much more interesting with symbols to interpret that do not have fixed meaning.
On the whole, Foucault’s Pendulum makes for an engrossing read. Irony, a concern with symbols, and plenty of lists: these signature features of Eco’s style combine to create a unique reading experience. As the Garamond Press editors formulate the Plan, scenes pass almost exclusively in dialogue-based exposition, but somehow, Eco makes it work. Do not expect Eco’s thriller to read like a Dan Brown novel, but expect it to be richer, to fascinate and challenge you intellectually.
And take care you don’t become a Diabolical while reading it.