Robert Burns (1759-1796) – the Poet

Robert Burns is the last of the four Famous Scots from the Past featured in our Fringe Festival exhibition this year. With limited space available, the challenge has been to choose a single document that helps us get closer to Scotland’s national poet.

We started by considering how the official records, in which NRS is so strong, could help tell part of the poet’s remarkable life.  By contrast with other archives and libraries which look after manuscripts of his poems and songs, NRS has little direct evidence of his creative life.

Would we choose the record of his birth and baptism in the Alloway parish register (one of the thousands of pre-1855 ‘Old Parish Registers’), or look to the end of his life, using the inventory of his estate, and court records, to trace how his affairs were handled for the benefit of his widow and children? Or should we explore his career as an exciseman, which can be charted in the Exchequer and other records? Continue reading “Robert Burns (1759-1796) – the Poet”

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)

 

“The daughter of debate that discord aye doth sow”
Elizabeth I, from her sonnet ‘The Doubt of Future Foes’
referring to Mary Queen of Scots

During her lifetime Mary Queen of Scots was a highly controversial monarch and she continues to divide opinion today. When we consider her reign, we often focus on the tragedy of her captivity and execution. These events tend to colour how we view her life, as if its trajectory was an inevitable journey towards the executioner’s block. This is not helped by the two melancholy portraits of Mary which are the most well-known: Clouet’s portrait of her in her white mourning (‘deuil blanc’) after the death of her first husband, Francis II, and the posthumous portrait showing the Queen as a Catholic martyr, now in the Blairs Museum. In the early years of her personal reign in Scotland, however, her success and personal popularity were such that no-one could have predicted her end. Continue reading “Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)”

Sir William Arrol (1839-1913) – The Engineer

B104_83_00001 CROP
Sir William Arrol aged 70, printed in ‘Sir William Arrol: A Memoir’ by Robert Purvis

A titan of engineering and construction, William Arrol established his company in the early 1870s, when Glasgow was developing as an industrial city and the revolutionary Siemens Martin process was enabling the mass production of cheap steel. Arrol made his name with the construction of the Forth Bridge (1890), and is also known for the second Tay Bridge (1887), Tower Bridge in London and elsewhere. Continue reading “Sir William Arrol (1839-1913) – The Engineer”

Madeleine Hamilton Smith (1835-1928) – The Accused

Madeleine Smith Snapshot
Portrait taken in court of Madeleine Smith from ‘The Trial of Madeleine Smith’ (National Records of Scotland, L034.087)

 

On 30 June 1857 the trial of Madeleine Smith began. A young woman from a prosperous Glasgow family, Smith was charged with, on three separate occasions, administering arsenic or other poison to Pierre Emile L’Angelier with intent to kill, twice in February and once in March 1857. It was this accusation and the subsequent trial which brought to light the great volume of letters which had secretly passed between them. Presented as evidence of  Madeleine and Emile’s relationship and meetings, these letters formed a core part of the trial, and because of their frank expressions of desire and affection, they scandalised and excited the Victorian public of the time. Continue reading “Madeleine Hamilton Smith (1835-1928) – The Accused”