LONDON LETTER

THE SCOTS CAN’T FORGET PRETTY MARY

Beverley Baxter June 1 1952
LONDON LETTER

THE SCOTS CAN’T FORGET PRETTY MARY

Beverley Baxter June 1 1952

THE SCOTS CAN’T FORGET PRETTY MARY

LONDON LETTER

Beverley Baxter

ON June the second next year, Queen Elizabeth will be crowned in Westminster Abbey. Once more we shall gaze upon the genius of the English for pageantry and hear the trumpets proclaim yet another coronation in England’s long story. I am aware that I have used the word “England” but have done so deliberately. As we say in parliament, “That point will be dealt with later.”

If all goes well we shall see that grand old lady Queen Mary in a place of honor. We shall share the joy and the sadness of the Queen Mother. As for the Queen herself we shall wait for that supreme moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury will turn to the nort h, the west, the south and the east, declaring to each that this is our undoubted Queen, and four times will come the vibrant answer: “God save Queen Elizabeth!”

Somewhere in the proceedings the j scholars of Westminster School will shout: “Vivat Vivat Regina Eliza-

beth!” When the Queen ascends the three steps in the chancel a sweep of strings and a choral outburst will lift her on the wings of music. Even the assembled peers will place the j coronets on their heads as if a stage j manager were directing them.

How do I know all this? Because I saw the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and, if the gods are kind, I shall see the coro| nation of Queen Elizabeth II.

I There is only one shadow on this happy picture and I regret to state ! that it comes from Scotland. Just : now the protesting Scots are being

j comparatively quiet but I predict j that when coronation year comes j into being the trouble from the north j will start up again.

I am well aware that a great numI her of Maclean’s readers are of Scot! tish origin. The name “Maclean,” itself, has the very whiff of the ! Highlands. My wife is a Macintosh

and even the Baxters were supposed to have come from Stirling, although there is more legend than certainty about that. Therefore it is with some diffidence, in fact with some apprehension, that I embark upon this letter from London for I intend to speak of the Scot with perhaps less reverence than is customary.

The Scot is an honest man. In my youth when I sold pianos on credit in Toronto we made private enquiries before delivering the instrument. If the customer’s name was Baldwin we felt fairly confident but still looked into it. If his name was O’Brien we made certain that his Celtic enthusiasm for music had not outstripped his capacity to meet the payments. If his name was MacPherson we just delivered the piano.

In the Scots we are presented with a race sturdily and basically honest. Yet there is a strange romanticism about the Scottish people that leads them to deceive themselves. Let me give an example.

Many years ago I spoke at the annual dinner of the Caledonian Society of London with W. S. Morrison (now the Speaker of the House of Commons) as the principal guest. There was a choir of London Scots who sang about the Hebrides and the longing of exiled Scots for the Highlands. There was hardly a dry eye. Then Morrison addressed them, the subject of his address being “Perseverance” which, in his rich brogue, he pronounced “pairsevairance.”

You might have thought Morrison had spent the years climbing a lonely road, struggling on without a word of encouragement or any recognition. Yet he had hardly entered parliament before he was made a minister and was being touted as a future prime minister.

There was the immortal toast to Burns, the bringing in of the haggis, the swirling of the pipes and the présentât ion Continued on page .52

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London Letter

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of a glass of whisky to the chief piper. I would not have been surprised if the entire assembly had marched to Euston Station and taken the overnight train to Scotland, nevermore to return.

But did they? Not at all. Their chauffeured limousines were waiting outside to take them to their homes in Berkeley Square or Park Lane or Belgrave Square. They were chairmen of banks or insurance companies or some such institutions and had not the slightest intention of ever leaving London as long as they lived.

Which brings me back to the coronation. Nothing is more certain than that a few weeks before the crowning of Elizabeth there will be an outcry from Scotland that she should be designated not Elizabeth II but Elizabeth I. We have already had a preliminary protest and are expecting a much stronger one later on.

The Scots do not deny the existence of Elizabeth I but their case is that she was the Queen of England and reigned before the union. Therefore the ruling sovereign next year should either be crowned Elizabeth I, or Elizabeth I of Scotland and Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

Admittedly their case is not merely meticulous but highly emotional. Is it not a fact that Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded by the signed order of Elizabeth I of England? Poor pretty Mary! What a terrible thing that so lovely a neck should have been severed by the headman’s axe! There are few of us today who will not agree that it was a sad deed. But why was she beheaded?

With increased diffidence I now must take upon myself the task of asking the Scots to look on Mary with the eyes of realists and, for once, to put aside their incorrigible romanticism. As every schoolboy knows (or ought to know) Mary became Queen of Scotland before she was a week old and wasn’t yet a year old when the regent Arran promised her in mar-

riage to Prince Edward of England.

You might argue that at this age a young female could hardly be expected to know her own mind but it should be remembered that those were the days when royal matches were arranged by governments and the happy pair seldom saw each other until the nuptial day.

How wisely Arran foresaw the future. The union of Mary and Edward would presage the union of Scotland and England, thus ending the long and bloody feud between the two countries. But what did the Scottish parliament do? The foolish fellows proclaimed Arran’s promise as null and void. Naturally this led to war and the Scots suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of the Sassenachs. But did defeat change the iron determination of Scotland’s rulers? On the contrary it only strengthened their resolution. Mary was placed in hiding, out of reach of the English, and was offered in marriage instead to the eldest son of Henry 11 of France and his infamous wife Catherine de Medici.

Hardly anyone (except themselves) ever speaks a good word for the patient downtrodden English but I am determined that in this case justice shall be done. As you are aware, Mary was in line to the English throne (being the great-granddaughter of Henry VII) yet she was persuaded to sign a covenant that if she died childless her rights to the thrones of both Scotland and England should be transferred to France.

No one will contend that in the twentieth century we can judge the morals of the sixteenth century as if it were today. We know from the records of the time that Mary was handsome, accomplished, joyous and romantic, but she certainly connived at the murder of her husband Darnley, and was never unduly scrupulous when it came to a night of the long claymores. I only mention this to emphasize that, in the sixteenth century, life was exciting but brief.

This indisputable fact remains that the rivalry of Mary and Elizabeth for the throne of England became a danger

to the realm and that Mary was a party in various plots to assassinate Elizabeth. The blood of good men on either side was being spilled and I don’t think we should be unduly tender toward the ladies in question merely because of their sex.

Eventually Mary quarreled with her own barons and threw herself on the mercy of Elizabeth. That wise counselor Lord Burleigh, the head of the Cecil family which has been ruling England off and on ever since (the Marquis of Salisbury, the present head of the family, is the Tory Leader of the House of Lords) demanded of Elizabeth a signed order for Mary’s execution.

Elizabeth held out as long as she could, until the wily Cecil asked her to sign it provisionally. This she did whereupon Burleigh at once cut off Mary’s pretty head. Are we to denounce him for the act? Yes, if you are against capital punishment, but otherwise Mary’s very existence threatened the life not only of Elizabeth but England itself.

So, in due time, came the Union of England and Scotland, and the feuds, or at any rate the wars, were at an end. There was genius in the union, not only politically but in the realm of human achievement. The English were visionaries, dreamers, poets, explorers. They were always looking for something lost beyond the ranges and did not know what to do when they found it. So along came the Scots and showed them. On almost every British ship that sails the seas today there is an Englishman on the bridge and a

Scot in charge of the engine room. Seldom has any marriage of two races borne such wondrous progeny.

Shall we in 1953 deny the existence of Elizabeth I whose reign saw such a renaissance of the arts and government and exploration as has no parallel in history? Must we not praise Shakespeare for fear of denigrating Burns? Are we at our public banquets to raise our glasses to the toast of “Queen Elizabeth I of England and Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom”?

What about Her Majesty’s Canadian subjects? What about the South Africans? What about the Maoris in New Zealand? They were not included in the British Empire until long after Elizabeth had been embalmed in history. I see no reason why the Scots should have the sole right of dating history.

One might think from a racial point of view that the angry men of the north would be content that the Queen Mother is a daughter of Scotland and that Scottish blood flows in the veins of the young Queen now on the throne.

I do not claim for a moment that the outcry represents a majority view in Scotland. It comes largely from the Scottish nationalists who are demanding home rule and who stole the Scone of Destiny to demonstrate their fitness for self-government. Personally I see no reason why Scotland should not have her own parliament and I would support that measure if it ever comes before the House of Commons.

May I then bring my musings to a close with a well-meant reminder to Scots where’er they be. You will remember that marvellous short story, The Village That Voted the Earth is Flat. The vote was unanimous but the earth remained a globe.

England is the senior partner in the union and we cannot lower a curtain upon her earlier existence as a separate nation. Therefore I think the Scots should, with the rest of us, proclaim Elizabeth II as our undoubted Queen. But if that is too much to ask then why not call her Elizabeth I within the borders of Scotland, and Elizabeth II in the greater family of British nations and colonies?

Thus the romanticism of the Scot would be appeased and the Scone of Destiny could rest reasonably secure in Westminster Abbey,