Jun 242016
 

A vigil was held to celebrate the life of the remarkable MP Jo Cox, brutally murdered while looking after her constituents. Dame Anne Begg was one of several speakers at the event; her moving words were impromptu, but for Aberdeen Voice she has written a reconstruction of her message. By Dame Anne Begg.

Jo Cox Mem2I didn’t know Jo Cox but I had heard of her as someone to watch in the new intake of Labour MPs.

I was aware of her humanitarian work and a life dedicated to public service.

Exactly the kind of person who should be an MP.

I have fought most of my political life for increasing the diversity of our elected representatives, to make getting involved in politics attractive enough that more people, with a range of experiences and backgrounds, would want to put themselves forward.

I have fought so that people exactly like Jo Cox wanted to become an MP and was honoured to be elected to the Commons.

If her murder makes it harder to persuade good, decent people to put themselves forward for election, our democracy will be the poorer.

An attack on one is an attack on us all – politician and citizen.

I don’t think we appreciate in this country just how open and accessible our politicians are. We don’t appreciate that we can ask to meet our MP or MSP or Councillor and they will see us. You see them in your community, going shopping, attending local events, out and about and you can stop and speak to them. No body-guards, no cavalcade. Direct contact with the people they have been elected to represent. This is something very rare across the world.

If Jo’s murder makes it harder for us to have that direct access to our politicians because they have retreated behind security measures, our democracy will be the poorer.

Most politicians are decent, hardworking people who want the best for their communities and their country so the constant denigrating of our politicians has to stop.

Constantly saying that all MPs, all politicians in the UK, are corrupt, venal and just in it for themselves has to stop.

The personal abuse politicians get on-line and in e-mails has to stop.

The playing the man and not the ball when people, not surprisingly, disagree has to stop.

The trolling, abuse, threats and misrepresentation on social media has to stop.

The threats of rape, violence or murder that many women receive on social media has to stop.

If it doesn’t stop then the poison wins. Those who want to undermine our democracy win. Those who would do us harm, win.

And if they do, we lose the good, dedicated people our political system is crying out for.

We lose someone of the calibre and talent of Jo Cox.

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Aug 042011
 

Continuing on from Part Two of Blood Feud, Voice’s Alex Mitchell offers the final tranche of his account of Scotland’s troubled and violent history.  Last week Alex looked at how the fortunes of Clan Gordon changed in the turbulent times of Mary, Queen of Scots.  In the concluding part religious and political tensions erupt, James succeeds Mary, and the ancient clan feuds continue.

Lord James Stewart, Earl of Moray, became the first of four Reformation Regents.   He later became known as the “Good Regent Moray”, not least in contrast with his successors.   He was much better equipped for the responsibilities of kingship than was Mary Stuart, but, being of illegitimate birth, was ruled out of the succession.

He could attain kingly power only by becoming Regent for the infant James VI, which meant that Mary had to be removed, one way or another; and Mary, now widely denounced as an adulteress, a French/Papist whore and a husband-killer, had already self-destructed.

 But Moray himself was assassinated in Linlithgow in January 1570, aged 39, having been Regent for less than three years.

Normal hostilities were resumed.   An attempt had been made to end the ancient feud between the Gordons and the Forbeses by means of a marriage between the Master of Forbes and Lady Margaret Gordon, sister to the 5th Earl Huntly.   But the union was a failure, ending in divorce, and relations were more embittered than ever.   Following a running fight at Tillyangus near Alford in 1571, the Master of Forbes went south to look for allies.

Whilst he was away, the troops of Sir Adam Gordon, the victor of Tillyangus, attacked Corgarff Castle with the intention of claiming it for the deposed Queen of Scots.   Meeting with firm resistance, Gordon set the castle ablaze, and Margaret Forbes, being the wife of Forbes of Towie, and her children and servants, amounting to 24 persons, all perished in the flames.   This was a conspicuously dreadful deed, even by the standards of those times.

Infuriated to the point of madness by the cruelty of this act, the Master of Forbes lost no time in pursuit of his enemy.   He now had the support of the new Regent, the Earl of Mar.  

Forbes advanced northwards to Aberdeen.  

The Burgh was occupied by the Gordons, who received intelligence of Forbes’ approach and positioned themselves near what is now the top of the Hardgate, where it crosses Bon-Accord Terrace, whilst a party of musketeers were hidden in the hollow a little further west, now called Union Glen.   These last were instructed to wait until battle commenced, then to attack the Forbeses from the rear.

The conflict, since known as the Battle of the Crabstane, on 20 November 1571, lasted about an hour.   Finding themselves under attack from both front and rear, the Forbeses were thrown into confusion and were forced to withdraw, defeated, leaving some 60 persons dead and the Master of Forbes a prisoner of the Gordons of Huntly.

For the next 18 months,Aberdeenwas the base of Sir Adam Gordon’s operations in support of the captive Mary Stuart, held prisoner by her cousin Elizabeth Tudor for some twenty years until her (Mary’s) execution in 1587.

the last of the four Reformation Regents, the Earl of Morton, took a hostile attitude to the citizens of Aberdeen

Sir Adam Gordon subsequently fled toFrance, but only narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by the Forbeses whilst in Paris.   Gordon had been given 600 merks to leave Aberdeen, which was by now shifting away from its traditional reliance on the (Catholic) Earls of Huntly in favour of the (Protestant) Earls Marischal, to whose stronghold at Dunnottar Castle the Burgh’s title-deeds were sent for safe keeping in 1572.

But the last of the four Reformation Regents, the Earl of Morton, took a hostile attitude to the citizens of Aberdeen, whom he regarded as “art and part” of both the Gordon Rising and the Battle of the Crabstane.   In 1574, he imposed a fine of 4,000 merks on the Burgh and demanded assurances that, henceforward, the Burgh would be ruled by sincere adherents of the Reformed faith, which, in principle, would have ruled out both the Gordons and their long-standing associates, the Menzies family of Pitfodels.

The Battle of the Crabstane was so-called because there lay nearby a large stone, irregularly square in shape, known as the Crab Stane, which relates to an Aberdeen mercantile family descended from John Crab, a 14th Century baillie of Flemish origin.   Not far off was a longer, more slender stone, appropriately named the Lang Stane.   The two stones may have been march-stones (or boundary stones) from their Crabstone Croft.   It may be that the stones were once part of a stone circle.

They provided the names for two streets now in the neighbourhood, Langstane Place and Craibstone Street.   The Lang Stane may be seen at the east end of Langstane Place, i.e., at the south-east corner of the first house in Dee Street.   The Crab Stone abuts upon the pavement on the south side of the Hardgate near where it crosses Bon-Accord Terrace, close to where the battle between the Gordons and Forbeses took place in 1571.

The ongoing feud between the Gordons and the Stewarts flared up again in 1592 with the sensationally brutal murder at his mother’s house at Donnibristle near Culross of James Stewart, the 2nd Earl of Moray, son-in-law of the late Regent Moray, by George Gordon (1562-1636), the 6th Earl of Huntly.

Moray’s mother had a portrait painted of her son’s mutilated body, the famous ‘Death Portrait’, which depicts the ‘Bonny Earl o’ Moray’ as having been shot several times, hacked about the body and slashed twice across the face by sword.   The situation was that King James VI had asked Huntly to arrest the troublesome 5th Earl of Bothwell (nephew of Mary Stuart’s Bothwell) and his associates, of whom Moray was one.

There was some evidence of a ‘hit-list’ of the King’s enemies.   Certainly the King took no action against Huntly, who was never brought to trial, and in fact received a Royal Pardon a week after the murder.

However, after Huntly and his ally Francis Hay, the 9th Earl of Erroll, attempted a Catholic rebellion in 1594, King James felt obliged, for the sake of appearances, to have their castles at Strathbogie and (Old) Slains blown up; and Huntly and Erroll were forced to depart Scotland for France.   But they were soon pardoned and back home, and in 1599 King James promoted George Gordon to the rank of 1st Marquess of Huntly and the major responsibility of Lieutenant of the North.

Unlike his mother, Mary Stuart, King James knew who his real friends were, and kept them close, to the occasional extent of letting them get away with murder.   The Gordons had come through ‘interesting times’ and had survived, but they were never again to be as ‘gey’ as in the glory days of George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.

Jul 292011
 

Continuing on from Part One of Blood Feud, Voice’s Alex Mitchell offers up yet another slice of Scotland’s troubled and violent history.  Last week Alex looked at The Gordon, Forbes and Stewart Families in the Time of Mary Queen of Scots and King James VI  This week we see how the fortunes of Clan Gordon changes in the turbulent times of Mary, Queen of Scots. 

The Gordons, for their part, held back until the Earl of Huntly was ‘put to the horn’ or outlawed and rendered fugitive on a trumped-up charge of refusing to answer a summons from the Protestant-dominated Privy Council, of which he was still a member.

Huntly marched towards Aberdeenwith a force of about 1,000 men, almost all of them Gordon kinsfolk and dependents; no other gentry families joined his campaign to ‘rescue’ the Queen.

He mistakenly believed that many of the Queen’s troops would join his side.

He took up a commanding position on the Hill of Fare, near Banchory, but his men melted away.   His troops, now reduced to about 500, were assailed by some 2,000 men under the command of the Earls of Moray, Morton and Athole, and were forced down on to the swampy field next to the Corrichie Burn.
The Earl of Huntly, aged 50, corpulent and in poor health, and suffocated by his heavy armour, suffered a heart attack or stroke, and dropped down off his horse, dead.

Huntly’s body was thrown over a pony and taken to Aberdeen, where it was put in the Tolbooth and gutted, salted and pickled.   The body was then taken by sea to Edinburgh, where it was given a more comprehensive embalming.   After lying unburied in the Abbey of Holyrood for some six months, the mummified corpse of the one-time Cock o’ the North was brought in its coffin before the Scottish Parliament on29 May 1563 on a charge of  High Treason.

The coffin was opened and propped up on end so that the deceased Earl could stand trial and ‘hear’ the charges against him.

Those present included the Queen and Huntly’s eldest son George, himself under sentence of death, later repealed.   A sentence of forfeiture was passed, stripping the Gordons of all their lands and possessions, which reverted to the Crown and were redistributed amongst favourites, not least the Earl of Moray.

The Gordon armorial bearings were struck from the Herald’s Roll and the once-great dynasty was reduced to “insignificance and beggary”.   Huntly’s body lay unburied in Holyrood for another three years until21 April 1566, when it was finally returned to Strathbogie and interred at Elgin Cathedral.

It has to be said that Mary’s behaviour at this time makes little sense.

Two days after the Battle of Corrichie, Huntly’s son, young Sir John Gordon, aged 24, was ineptly beheaded in front of the Tolbooth inAberdeen, to the visible distress of Queen Mary, who was in residence just across the Castlegate and was seen to observe the proceedings from an upstairs window.

It had been rumoured that the Queen and Sir John Gordon were lovers, although this is unlikely given that Mary was constantly under the guard of the Protestant Lords.   They had achieved their twin purposes of destroying the Gordons of Huntly, the leading Catholic family inScotland, and of reassuring those Protestant Reformers suspicious of the Queen’s own Catholic leanings.

It has to be said that Mary’s behaviour at this time makes little sense.   She was a devout and observing Catholic herself, yet she acquiesced in the legalised persecution of fellow-Catholics and the forfeiture and redistribution of their land and property.

The assumption has to be that she was not in control of events, partly because she was young and inexperienced and was disorientated by her return to Scotland, a country she had departed for France at the age of five; but also because she was fatally uninterested in the processes and responsibilities of government, seldom attending meetings of her own Privy Council at Holyrood.   The judicial destruction of the Gordons of Huntly meant that Mary Stuart had lost her most substantial and dependable base of support, and put her thereafter in the grip of her political and religious enemies.

Mary Queen of Scots was made, probably unlawfully, to abdicate her throne on 24 July 1567, in favour of her infant son James, born 19 June 1566, by her second husband (and cousin) Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, from whom she was already irretrievably estranged.   Mary’s effective reign had lasted just six years, and was over before she reached the age of 25.

The birth of a male heir to the throne meant that she had served her purpose, was now surplus to requirements and was in any case by this time dangerously out of control, having fallen under the destructive influence of James Hepburn (1535-78), the widely-detested 4th Earl of Bothwell, a Protestant, but intensely hostile to England.

The Queen’s remaining authority was destroyed by the sensational murder of her husband Darnley, not yet 22 years of age, at Kirk o’ Field on10 February 1567.   Bothwell was instantly identified as prime suspect and the Queen as obviously complicit, an accessory, having gone to great lengths to seduce Darnley away from the protection of his Lennox Stewart relations in Glasgow and back to Edinburgh.

But how much did Mary really know?   She would not have stayed overnight in the house at Kirk o’ Field, just inside the Edinburgh city walls, only two miles from Holyrood, if she had known that its foundations were being stuffed with gunpowder.   To the end of her life, Mary Stuart was convinced that the plot had been to blow up her and Darnley together.   This is unlikely, given that the explosion, which literally blew the house sky-high, took place after Mary had left Kirk o’ Field for Holyrood, which most people took to mean that Mary must have been party to the plot to murder Darnley.

But was she? And which plot? Or whose plot?

No-one as unpopular as Darnley was going to survive very long in 16th centuryScotland; but why murder him in such a sensational, attention-grabbing manner, when he could have been quietly dispatched back at Holyrood?   Whatever the case, the ensuing scandal was hugely compounded by Mary’s subsequent marriage to Bothwell (in a Protestant church) on 15 May 1567.

Prior to all this, on 8 October 1565, Mary had restored George Gordon, the eldest surviving son of the 4th Earl of Huntly, to most of his father’s titles, including that of Lord High Chancellor, and some part of his former lands and property.   This was little more than two years after the deceased 4th Earl had been found guilty of High Treason, his son George imprisoned and put under sentence of death, and his entire family reduced to “insignificance and beggary”.

Mary was presumably trying to rebuild her support in the North-East, but it was too little, too late.   On top of everything else, the 5th Earl’s sister, Lady Jean Gordon, had made the mistake of marrying the Earl of Bothwell at Holyrood on24 February 1566.   She was cruelly thrown aside and divorced within the year in order that Bothwell could marry his Queen.

Coming in Part 3:   Alex Mitchell analyzes the changes sweeping through all aspects of Scottish life – dynasties rise and fall, clans battle for power and dominance, and religious conflicts dominate.