On Seeing Stirling Palace In Ruins "An Idiot Race To Honor Lost"

Robert Burns

"An Idiot Race To Honor Lost"

Context: In 1787 Robert Burns temporarily left Edinburgh where he had been lionized as a literary genius, but generally misunderstood, for a trip through the Highlands, perhaps in memory of Highland Mary. His companion was William Nicol, Master of Edinburgh High School, one of his close friends. They visited Felkirk, Stirling, and the nearby field of Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce in 1314 established himself on the Scotch throne by defeating Edward II of England. On their return to Stirling, with a diamond that he had recently purchased, Burns inscribed some treasonable verses on the window pane of the inn. Six weeks later, worried about what he had written, he returned to Stirling and smashed the glass, but he could not blot out the lines. Too many people had seen and copied them. Some of Burns's ancestors had espoused the cause of the Stuarts, a family acting as regents in Scotland as early as the twelfth century. Because of the marriage of James IV of Scotland to Margaret Tudor, eventually James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603. After the death of Anne, the last of the Stuarts to rule England, the crown passed to George I of the House of Hanover. However, the Jacobites continued to support various pretenders. Burns himself was not really politically minded. He was a sort of sentimental Jacobite, upheld by his own discontent. While denouncing the rulers of his country, he was really expressing the private ills that he enlarged to include the world. Unfortunately, he was imprudent in his expression of these opinions. He was being feted in Edinburgh and had created a number of enemies. One can see what his detractors, quick to denounce him for his exuberant living, would make of his brief poem about Stirling Palace. Built on the summit of a hill above the city, it had been the birthplace of James II and other rulers. Mary Stuart and James VI were crowned there. It had been damaged during a three-month seige by Edward I in 1304, and further ruined when it was recaptured by the Scots after Bannockburn. The "outlandish race," of course, were the Hanoverians, of another land and another language, and therefore to a Jacobite, even a sentimental one, an "idiot race," and "to honor lost." However, that the better one knew them the more one despised them was certainly poetic license. Here is the entire poem.

Here Stuarts once in glory reign'd,
And laws for Scotland's weal ordain'd;
But now unroof'd their palace stands,
Their sceptre's sway'd by other hands;
The injur'd Stuart line is gone,
A race outlandish fills their throne,
An idiot race to honor lost,
Who knows them best, despise them most.