I'm sorry, and I know this is just Friday fun, but actually I don't think my
comments are harsh at all.
At least Welsh Henry Tudor could reasonably claim he had taken the throne of
England by conquest (much good it did the Welsh, methinks), but James VI
just found he had inherited wealthy England, and off he went, never to
return to Scotland again. Hardly a conquest that.
I am (by birth) about as English as English can be, but I have been in the
highlands for long enough to know that this part of the UK was as conquered
and colonised as anywhere else in the former Empire. We are talking about
centuries of destruction, first by the Scots Stuart kings, then by Butcher
Cumberland (whose war crimes were applauded by Handel back in London in his
anthem 'Behold the Conquering hero comes', and so on. The romantic
reinvention of the highlands as a quaint playground full of noble savages
for William IV, Queen Victoria, and their wealthy friends just hastened the
destruction of the real thing. At least the Irish didn't suffer that
As for the Scots military muscle, will English schoolchildren and new
immigrants be taught that infamous quote of General Wolfe at Quebec,
referring to his Highland regiments: 'They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed
to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall'? Rather like the
Gurkhas, eh what? Who start being recruited just as the government discover
the supply of highlanders is drying up - too many had been driven out, given
up in despair, sold into slavery or just returned home from the army to find
their homes destroyed and their families turned out. (And the retired
Gurkhas now find themselves without an army pension and surviving on
charity. So much for civilisation!)
Of course, there was that parcel of rogues who sold the Scots out in 1707
and started calling it 'North Britain' instead. In every empire there have
been people from all over who took advantage of it if they could. How many
later 'Romans' actually came from Rome?
But that's not to under-rate the achievements of the Scots engineers,
doctors, scientists, ship and railway builders who helped build the
Victorian age. I remember people in India saying to me years ago, 'At least
the British gave us our railways'. And yes, there were still locomotives
and ferries running that were built in Glasgow a century earlier. Well
that's something to weigh against all that bloodshed, deceit, arrogance,
racism, exploitation and destruction.
As you see, I'm not much of a fan of empires generally. Like that great
highlander, Calgacus, said of the Romans at the battle of Mons Graupius,
"They make a wilderness and call it peace"
What about tests for citizenship and our schools getting some different
perspectives on Empire from the peoples affected...
What does all this have to do with archaeology? Well, archaeology is about
interpreting the material evidence of the past, and perhaps all we ever do
is impose our prejudices on its unspeaking rubbish and ruins.
John Wood of the highlands