Two Hours on the Royal Mile: Part 2

We’re back for part two in Scotland’s great capital: Edinburgh. When I left last time I was talking about some of the witchy goings-on throughout Edinburgh’s past, and I want to leap right back into it. So here goes!

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Ghost stories are pretty much Edinburgh’s forte, and there’s none more grisly than that of Burke & Hare. They’re one of the great criminal partnerships, aren’t they? Burke & Hare, Bonnie & Clyde, Thelma & Louise (OK, they’re fictional but we’ll roll with it). So how did they make their name? Back in 1823, the introduction of the Judgement of Death Act led to the number of bodies available for anatomical/medical research falling dramatically. Previously, medical schools were only allowed to use the bodies of people who had been sentenced to death for research purposes. So if there were fewer crimes punishable by death, as per the 1823 Act, there were fewer cadavers. The medical schools began to offer cold, hard hard cash in exchange for bodies and the sketchier members of society saw this as a money-making opportunity.

Burke and Hare didn’t jump straight into murder but began instead with grave-robbing. According to the stories, their dodgy dealings started when one of Hare’s lodgers, a pensioner named Donald, died before paying his rent of £4. Before he was buried, Burke and Hare pinched his body straight out of his coffin, proceeding to fish around in the medical schools looking for a buyer. They eventually found themselves at the office of Dr. Robert Knox who paid the princely sum of £7 10s for it (approximately £670 by today’s standards according to this site). Upon realising how lucrative this enterprise could be, they took the step up to full-on murder. Their victims were mostly women and almost all were intoxicated by the time they died, having been encouraged to drink more by Burke and Hare. One of the final victims was an 18-year-old mentally disabled boy named James Wilson. He was well-known in the area and so to avoid any awkward questions during the dissection, Knox removed Wilson’s head and feet before anyone recognised him. Hmm…

I don’t want to turn this into a rehashing of their entire deadly saga, but eventually, they were caught and put on trial for 16 counts of murder. It’s a famous tale and one I’m sure you’ll hear on most Edinburgh ghost walks. Another of the city’s more well-known residents was John Knox, a minister and theologian who is recognised as the founder of the Church of Scotland.

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He preached the Protestant cause in the latter half of the 1500s and is the author of a pamphlet which has the best title I have seen in a long time: The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women. Quite fun, right?! I’m just not a massive fan of the ideas it contains. Knox’s best-known work essentially described the reigns of women ‘unnatural’ and ‘wicked’, especially in relation to Mary I of England and Mary of Guise (mother of Mary, Queen of Scots). Note that all three of these rulers were all ardent Catholics, so I’m not surprised they were the focus of Knox’s scorn. The pamphlet was built on his opinion that, according to the Bible, “God, by the order of his creation, has [deprived] women of authority and dominion”. Problems developed for Knox when, in the same year of the work’s publication, Elizabeth I acceded to the throne. Although sympathetic to the Protestant cause, Elizabeth was not a fan of Knox’s ideas on female rulers, and neither am I. Getting on the Queen’s bad side was not one of his greatest moves, and her ardent dislike of his ideals stopped him getting more involved with the Protestant cause in England during her reign. Go, Liz!

Now back to the Royal Mile! The Museum of Edinburgh was our next stop. It’s a surprisingly spacious building which houses many artefacts that hold special significance for the people of Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole. These include a copy of the National Covenant, a key religious document in Scottish religious history, and a collar belonging to Greyfriars Bobby, one of the most/only famous Scottish dogs.

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I must admit that I was running out of time when I reached the Museum so I didn’t pay the attention that I normally do. I wish I had, but I was on a tight schedule so it was back on the road down to my final destination: Scottish Parliament. I’m not fully informed when it comes to Scottish politics, but when I found out that there has only been a Parliament in Scotland from 1998 it’s safe to say I was surprised; I thought it was a lot older. Now, I know this is not going to be news to some people, and may out me as a bit dim but as it turns out, Scotland did have its own Parliament for around 500 years prior to the Acts of Union in 1707. The current Parliament was created following a referendum in 1997, with its powers being outlined in the Scotland Act in 1998. These ‘competencies’ are still changing and have been amended twice since then. I really don’t want to get political in this post/on my blog in general. I’m strongly for everyone having their own opinion and having it respected, even if it disagrees with your own. So let’s not get into the politics or the topic of referendums…

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Thus concludes my tour of the Royal Mile in two parts! Wahey! Although I have been to Edinburgh plenty of times before, I still feel the need to go back and explore more, especially the New Town, the Castle, Holyrood Palace to name a few. It truly is a beautiful city, full of friendly people and good food. 10/10, would recommend.

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