Daily Archives: October 11, 2015

Noblesse obliges itself

Andy Wightman — as far as I can see (and I’m now through Chapter 5) — nods at it just the once:

The first Duke of Bucceuch, for example, was the illegitimate offspring of court harlotry and the Cawdor Campbells’ origins are with the kidnap and forced marriage of a twelve-year old girl.

The tenth Duke of Buccleuch is still the largest private landowner in the British Isles. The Buccleuch Estates amount to 270,000 acres, or 420-odd square miles, give or take. As Andy Wightman points out on his web-site (yes — I’m fascinatedly appalled or appallingly fascinated by all this):

… on Buccleuch Estate there are workspaces, sawmills and a variety of other business premises and they are liable for business rates (to be paid by the occupier who is often not the owner). But the estate as a business – the 270,000 acres – pays nothing. Why in Scotland in 2012 do landowners still get away with not having to pay their fair share of property taxes?…

Buccleuch Estates Ltd. is in fact a parent company for a range of businesses in Germany, Luxembourg, Russia, Germany and the UK. But “embracing the corporate business interests of the Buccleuch Family” rather suggests that the company is owned by the Duke of Buccleuch and family.

The fact is, however, that the shares of Buccleuch Estates Ltd. are wholly owned by Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd., a company with a total paid-up share value of £4, whose shareholders are four Edinburgh lawyers, whose total assets amount to £4 and which has not traded since its incorporation in May 1992.

Now, why would a Lowlands peer have business interests in Luxembourg? Unless, of course, it was for the tax-avoidance.

The Buccleuch dukedom was created for James Scott (a.k.a James Crofts and James Fitzroy), by-blow of Charles II Stuart’s dalliance in The Hague with Lucy Walter. He is better known in english history-books as the Duke off Monmouth. Monmouth was attainted for his 1685 rebellion against James VII and II Stuart, and was beheaded by Jack Ketch on 15 July 1685. Since Crofts’/Buccleuch’s/Monmouth’s wife, Anne, had been created duchess in her own right, the Scottish title persisted, despite her husband’s attainder.

Meanwhile let’s have a quick dekko at Muriel Calder, born 13th February 1498. She was the daughter and heiress of John Calder. Her uncle, Hugh Rose of Kilravock, intended to marry her off to his grandson, and thus keep the real estate in the family. Alas! The Kilvarocks had a thing going with the Urquharts of Cromarty, which ended up before the Justice General of Scotland. Who happened to be the Earl of Argyll, a Campbell. Who happened to make an offer of leniency, provided he became guardian of the young Muriel, with the right to marry her to one of his own kin.

9780747568759What happened next is one of the great horror stories of Scotland.

In 1505 Campbell of Inverliver was sent to collect the wee girlie. The Roses and Calders took severe umbrage, and set about the arrivals.  Campbell of Inverliver had to fight a running battle (in which four of his sons were killed), but stripped Muriel down to her nudies, and decorated a hay-stack with her clothes. In 1510 (do the maths!) Muriel was married, without the option, to Sir John Campbell (himself just 20 years old), and they produced a litter of offspring. More of the same, courtesy of Angus Calder.

These, of course, are the types we lesser beings are expected to respect, and to whom even doff our sweaty caps.


Filed under History, reading, Scotland, sleaze., social class

A very peculiar practice

Back in 1986, Andrew Davies wrote a black comedy for BBC TV, A Very Peculiar Practice. It went to a second series, and had a spin-off (a failed pilot?) based on the collapse of Communist Poland.

Well, odd-to-the-point of surreality as Davies’s take on the modern concrete university was, I think my day in St Andrews could match it.

St Andrews is a small town at the end of the East Neuk of Fife. It has a population of some 14,000, of whom half must be the around 7,000 students at the oldest university in Scotland. About a third of the student body come from south of the border, which must make it freakish among Scottish universities outside Edinburgh.

That last factoid might, just might have a connection with a not-quite-recent royal matching.

Oh, and attached to the town is a golf-course or three.

Wander the main drag, and note the proliferation of young-fashion stores.

That leads me to muse there is another oddity about the student population. It seems very, very well-heeled. Most undergraduate populations tend to the scruffy jeans-and-hoodie. St Andrews has a large contingent remarkable for what I tend to term the Morningside Glide. Morningside, for the uninitiated, is the terribly-naice suburb of Edinburgh, and was the natural home of Miss Jean Brodie. The Morningside Glide involves a young woman, clearly a bourgeoise of means, even aspirant bon chic, bon genre, swanning along with total insouciance, almost certainly wearing a tweedy cloak or (at the very least) well-draped shawl, who insists she walks straight at you, expects you to give way, and can look right through you. So clear the way.

Meanwhile, down on the Old Course, I was able to observe a foursome completing their round-of-golf. To be kind, they were not particularly good. But then, since this is still High Season, they would be paying £170 each for the pleasure and privilege. The grass is impeccably maintained, of course.

A very peculiar and expensive practice.

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Filed under education, films, Scotland, travel, underclass

This I know. This I like.

The normal:

Off the book-shop shelf, I pick up a book. I flick its pages. I scan a paragraph or two.

The less normal:

Occasionally, just occasionally, there is that electric moment. The hairs on the neck prickle. The consciousness kicks in. The book sells itself.

Just that latter occurred yesterday, in Waterstones on Edinburgh’s Princes Street.

The exact reference was page 3 of Andy Wightman’s The Poor Had No Lawyers.


And the quotation was from Tom Johnston, one of the Red Clydesiders of the early twentieth century, and — incredible as it now seems — Secretary of State for Scotland in the war-time coalition government.

Show the people that our Old Nobility is not noble, that its lands are stolen lands — stolen either by force of fraud; show people that the title-deeds are rapine, murder, massacre, cheating, or Court harlotry; dissolve the halo of divinity that surrounds the hereditary title; let the people clearly understand that our present House of Lords is composed largely of descendants of successful pirates and rogues; do these things and you shatter the Romance that keeps the nation dumb and spellbound while privilege picks its pockets.

Source: Tom Johnston: Our Scots Noble Families, page x.Tom_Johnston_(British_politician)

Wightman’s book was my reading on the last train south from Waverley, surrounded as I was by the hen-parties to Newcastle, and the rugby-men from Newcastle. Its will be my study for the rest of the weekend.
Meanwhile, this is Tom Devine on Johnston (page 551 of my well-thumbed paperback edition):

Scotland’s wartime supremo was the former Red Clydesider and Labour MP for West Stirlingshire, Tom Johnston, who had been appointed regional commissioner charged with responsibility for civil defence north of the border at the outbreak of hostilities. His success in that post and Churchill’s determination to avoid the industrial troubles on the Clyde during the Great War led the Prime Minister to appoint a man with a long and distinguished left-wing pedigree to the office of Secretary of State for Scotland in February 1941. Churchill had chosen wisely. Johnston was a giant figure in Scottish politics and is revered to this day as the greatest Scottish Secretary of the century.


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Filed under History, reading, Scotland, social class, socialism.

Where were we?


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October 11, 2015 · 11:27 am