religion

From Burns Country to the Highlands

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Recently three of our staff from the learning team here at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum visited our fellow National Trust for Scotland property Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre. Parris, our Learning Officer, was accompanied by Caitlin and Lizzie who are both Learning Trainee’s, to attend the second Women in Scottish Heritage event (the first took place in October 2018 at NTS property Pollok House in Glasgow and was highly successful).

Our guest speaker was the amazing Talat Yaqoob from Equate Scotland and the title of the talk was “Authenticity and Confidence in an Unequal Culture”. The event was an opportunity to network with other women working for NTS, see some familiar faces and to find out more about what we can do in the workplace to make it an environment where all women feel confident to contribute. Did you know that women are more likely to apply for jobs if they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men are more likely to apply for jobs if they meet only 60% of the criteria? This was just one of many examples highlighted to us that clearly suggest inequality between the genders. However, it was not all doom and gloom; overall it was a very wholesome, interesting and hilarious talk.

2nd WiSH event at Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

We then got a women-themed tour led by Visitor Services Assistant Emilie which was utterly fascinating. Did you know where the saying no room to swing a cat comes from? It doesn’t mean an actual furry feline but a cat-o’-nine-tails whip which was used to flog Jacobite soldiers and supporters.

When museum people go to a museum they analyse EVERYTHING: so, we noted that the design of the exhibits and the interpretation was balanced and neutral, with the interactive elements of the Centre – the intense film and the eerie ‘night march’ corridor – being particularly effective in engaging visitors to imagine the dreadful circumstances the Jacobite army found themselves in. However, the Battlefield itself is incredibly atmospheric; on the days we visited the sun might have been shining but the wind made our eyes stream and carried our voices off in a gust, again it was easy to understand how difficult the terrain made it for the Jacobite army to do their famous Highland Charge.

Night March corridor inside the Visitor Centre.

 

 

A view of the Battlefield itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day we shadowed a Primary 6 class doing a formal workshop led by Raymond, another VSA, which consisted of a class-room based activity, a Battlefield tour and a museum tour. As a learning team we were able to see how we differed in our delivery, style and content. It was insightful to see how their team have adapted and tailored their programming according to their subject matter, collection and site. We also saw two ‘Presentations’ led by Raymond and James, another VSA, which are themed on a particular subject/person and include acting, costumes, objects and audience participation. This was highly entertaining and we had so much fun being picked on by both Raymond and James to get involved!

Caitlin and James doing their Highland Charge.
Caitlin enjoying being a human wardrobe.

 

Parris and James. CHARRRRRGGGGEEEEE!!!!

 

Props, objects and costumes used to deliver presentations.

 

Our properties are connected through shared history; both are about either a person or event from 18th century Scotland, with Burns acknowledging the Jacobite’s through his song ‘Ye Jacobite’s By Name’ written in 1791 and Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre even do a yearly project in January called ‘Bring on Burns’ with three Primary 6 classes.

All in all, it was a fantastic visit which had multiple continuous professional development benefits: we met other NTS colleague’s out-with the Ayrshire and Arran region, created a friendly partnership with Culloden’s engagement team, discovered what we could do to support other women in the workplace more thanks to Talat, learned lots about the Battle of Culloden and got to visit a massively important historical site which has a superb centre and great staff.

A warm thank you to everyone who we met, chatted with, fed and watered us or answered our questions – but a massive thank you to Sarah and Talat for a wonderful WiSH event and to Raymond, James and Emilie for a taking the time to talk all things learning and engagement, which is the bread and butter of heritage.

 

Get social with heritage! Here are the social media handles for the above mentioned organisations:

National Trust for Scotland

  • Instagram: @nationaltrustforscotland
  • Facebook: The National Trust for Scotland
  • Twitter: @N_T_S

 

Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre

  • Instagram: @cullodenbattlefield
  • Facebook: Culloden Battlefield & Visitor Centre
  • Twitter: @CullodenNTS

 

Equate Scotland

  • Instagram: @equatescotland
  • Facebook: Equate Scotland
  • Twitter: @equatescotland
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The Early Courtship of Robert and Jean

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The romance and marriage of Robert Burns and Jean Armour is well known and discussed; but how much do we really know about their early courtship? There are certain moments in the couple’s story that are set in stone, such as the year they met; the year of their wedding; their children’s births and deaths. These dates however only tell us the bare bones of their lives together; they do not give us an insight into their feelings, their thoughts, and their bond as a married couple. Catherine Czerkawska has written a novel around the couple’s lives, starting with their early courtship, through the heightened emotions of their separation and finishing with their married lives together. We all know how the relationship ended, but how did it begin in the first place? When and how did Robert Burns fall in love with his Jewel, Jean Armour?

Jean Armour’s parents were far from impressed with the new inhabitant near Mauchline, Robert Burns, otherwise known as Rab Mossgiel at the time. His reputation as a womaniser had preceded him, and James Armour deemed him an unsuitable match for his respectable young daughter, Jean. The news of Elizabeth Paton’s pregnancy only proved the rumours of his behaviour to be true. The rumours had been given life; there was no way of assuaging parents with young daughters of his virtues now. He accepted paternity of the child without complaint and endured three penitential sessions in the Kirk for his fornication. So how did respectable Jean Armour fall for his charms? In public Jean and Robert could only admire each other from a distance; her parents after all would never allow their daughter to become associated with such a man. Somehow admiration from a distance does not scream of a passionate and enduring romance, a love that could endure whatever comes. So how did this young couple’s love begin?

An open courtship was out of the question, the young couple needed a helping hand. Catherine Czerkawska in her novel mentions a woman called Catherine Govan, an elderly lady living in Mauchline who could perform the role of a ‘black-fit’. A black-fit was in essence a matchmaker; a person who could be a go-between for the young couple. This person was usually an older woman who wished them well and would keep their secret. Robert wanted to know Jean better, so he organised the services of a black-fit to assist them. The plan was for Jean to spend several afternoons with Catherine Govan, since she could teach Jean fine embroidery and needlework. In truth Jean only spent a short while at her lessons before sneaking off to meet her Robert somewhere more private. When the time came to return home to her parents, she would collect her needlework that Catherine had further embellished before heading home to her unsuspecting parents. In addition to this, Robert and Jean both asked a friend to act as a chaperone; therefore their public meetings in the Whitefoord Arms Inn were simply among friends, nothing noteworthy for gossip.

In the book Jean admires Robert’s love of reading, he was always in possession of a book and no moment was spent in idleness. In truth, Robert was like no other man she had met before, and despite all of her parents’ misgivings she could not resist him. Jean is portrayed as a spirited, lively and attractive young woman, not the passive woman she is often depicted as. Jean’s position in the relationship was far more dangerous, as a dependent upon her father, her relationship with Robert Burns could and ultimately did cost her dearly. She willingly chose to defy social and religious conventions placed upon a woman, as well as the possible risk of pregnancy, so she could be with him. For Robert Burns, Jean’s beautiful singing voice was the sweetest ‘wood-notes wild,’ and even when they were married it was something he still remarked upon. In his eyes, she was the epitome of a proper young lady; she was his Jewel before all others. The other ladies of Mauchline had their desirable qualities too, but none could rival Jean for his affections:

Miss Millar is fine, Miss Markland’s divine,

Miss Smith she has wit, and Miss Betty is braw,

There’s beauty and fortune to get wi’ Miss Morton,

But Armour’s the jewel for me o’ them a’.

Unfortunately the couple’s secret relationship had to come to an end when Jean fell pregnant. Robert was seemingly delighted with the prospect; he wrote a document outlining the marriage between Jean and himself. The young couple both agreed and signed the document, as far as they were concerned they were married with their first child on the way. Jean could not hide her growing condition forever though, and she had to tell her parents of her relationship and marriage to Robert Mossgiel. James Armour would not condone any of it; surely another man would still be willing to marry her, despite her condition. James sent Jean away from the prying eyes and gossip of Mauchline to stay with relatives in Paisley.

The Kirk Session Book
On this page Robert Burns acknowledges himself the father of Jean Armour’s children.

The marriage between Jean and Robert had not been officiated by the Kirk, so in James’ eyes the whole marriage was a falsehood. He destroyed the document by cutting out the couple’s names; the proof of the marriage was gone. James informed Robert that Jean had shunned him and had allowed her father to destroy their marriage document. Robert felt slighted and wronged; his Jean had proven to be fickle and undeserving. Jean was eventually allowed to return home after several months away, by which point Robert’s attention had wandered to Margaret Campbell, otherwise known as Highland Mary. The once promising early courtship and relationship had ended disastrously; it took two more years before they were fully reconciled and married.

The Session Book attesting Robert Burns and Jean Armour’s wedding in 1788. The only document where both of their signatures can be seen together.

The early courtship of Jean and her Robert was far from desirable; yet despite everything, they fell in love with each other. The secrecy, the pregnancy, the separation were only some of the trials they went through before they were officially married. The couple’s hardships had not torn them apart forever, their love had endured. Robert Burns had first met his Jean in 1785 and they were officially married three years later. By this time Jean had already given birth to four of the couple’s nine children. In September 1788 Burns wrote a letter to Margaret Chalmers about his Jean, he proudly declared ‘…I have got the handsomest figure, the sweetest temper, the soundest constitution, and the kindest heart in the county.’ The marriage was far from perfect; his infidelity is legendary after all, yet no one can doubt that they loved each other. The life and story of Robert Burns would seem somewhat lacking without his Jean; she was his friend, his lover and his wife. Thankfully the couple’s early courtship invoked true and deep feelings of love in them both; perhaps an impossible feat if it hadn’t been for the helping hand of a black fit as described by Catherine Czerkawska.

By Learning Trainee Kirstie Bingham

The Mauchline Holy Fair

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Robert Burns was raised to devoutly honour and respect the Kirk’s teachings and principles by his father, William Burnes. However that does not mean Burns always had an amicable relationship with the Kirk; you could say it was quite tumultuous at times. Robert Burns’s relationship with the Kirk took a distinct downturn during the years he was living at Mossgiel, near Mauchline. In 1786, Burns was sentenced to three penitential appearances by the Kirk session for his fornication, a humiliating experience in front of the entire congregation. This occurrence certainly affected Burns and he openly expressed his discontent at the Kirk’s hypocrisy in his personal and public writings.

In 1785 Burns wrote a poem called The Holy Fair, in which he exposed the moral tug-of-war that people felt between the Kirk and the pub. This feeling of being torn between the morality of the Kirk and the sociability of the pub was something that Burns himself would have experienced. This poem is a character study of a twice-yearly open aired Holy Fair that aimed to prepare the righteous for Communion in the parish. This consisted of preaching and prayer meetings lasting several days prior to Communion. But as Burns highlights in this poem, the purpose of the Holy Fair had deteriorated into a mixture of propriety and merriment.

The Holy Fair painted by Alexander Carse, 1830

We can see the character of Robert Burns entering the gate with a lassie on his arm; this lassie is called Fun, who the narrator met on his journey to the Fair. In the background we can perceive two more women, Superstition and Hypocrisy, who are introduced to us in the poem. The two sisters cloaked in black do not seem to interest the narrator as:

Their visage wither’d, lang an’ thin,

An’ sour as onie slaes.

In contrast to her sisters, Fun is vivacious and sociable; the narrator appears to take an instant liking to her friendly manner and accompanies her for the rest of the journey.

Quo’ she, an’ laughin as she spak,

An’ taks me by the han’s.

The three sisters personify the vying emotions at a Holy Fair. Many like Fun go ‘to spend an hour in daffin,’ since the sociability aspect of the Fair would have created a carnival atmosphere in the rural village. Fun personifies and exposes the truth that all those attending may not be thinking devoutly, but rather on the appearance and behaviour of others.

‘On this ane’s dress, an’ that ane’s leuk,

They’re makin observations;’

Furthermore many others attending merely went out of superstitious fear, even if they did not necessarily practice what was preached. The religious import of the Fair was not be equally felt by all though (even if they should wish it), since only those able to pay the entrance fee could have received preparation for Communion. This would certainly have caused a rift within the community, as those not attending would be judged for their lack of religious fervour. This fervour to the faith should be openly visible and embodied by the parish minister, but even he is not where you would think to find him. He is not preaching within the confines of his Kirk, instead he is outside with the social revellers. Is he preaching from his lofty position or equally enjoying the libations of the Holy Fair too? This sense of hypocrisy and superstitious fear was fuel for Robert Burns’s literary fire. This granted him the opportunity to create a cutting and humorous depiction on the seemingly sanctimonious behaviour of the Kirk and wider community.

Illustration of Mauchline Parish Kirk at the time of Daddy Auld

The Holy Fair is still held every year in Mauchline, with the Kirk and pub still prominent landmarks on either side. The sociability aspect of the Fair seems to have won out over religion, since the day is dedicated primarily to celebrating the village’s history and heritage instead. During the day there are often live performances outside and within Mauchline Parish Kirk, stalls from local businesses, and family activities. In addition to this, there is full access to the local museums and sites, many of which are dedicated to Burns. So it would seem Robert Burns’s exposé on the Holy Fair proved to be right after all, religion and sociability go hand-in-hand at the Fair. Unfortunately for the Kirk, it not only has to compete with the pub now, but Caledonia’s National Bard too.

 

By Learning Trainee Kirstie Bingham